Joe Carnahan’s Boss Level

If I was mayor of FilmTown, I’d make the day a new Joe Carnahan film came out a national holiday. The guy is such a great storyteller and to me, each of his movies over the years is a solid gold classic, from the gritty Narc to the cult status Smokin Aces to the emotional masterpiece The Grey to the criminally overlooked Stretch. His new film Boss Level just dropped on Hulu and various other platforms for rental and let me tell you, it’s my favourite thing I’ve seen in awhile and most definitely of 2021 so far. The infusion of action and SciFi has always been a great love of mine and when done with wit, intelligence, inspiration and badassery it can be a truly special sub-genre. Frank Grillo stars as ex special forces soldier Roy Pulver, who finds himself in a curious metaphysical time loop on the day of his death: he wakes up, is immediately confronted with a host of eccentric and quite lethal contract killers, some of whom he is able to kill, and others not so much. The day is often a variation on the same template, but one thing remains unchanged: at some point, in some way, he always ends up dead. Who placed him in this purgatorial halo of mayhem? Does it have something to do with his ex girlfriend (Naomi Watts) who works at a mysterious physics research lab owned by a Machiavellian despot (Mel Gibson) hellbent on some nefarious agenda? Well of course it does but the fun is in seeing how, and how with each new day, or each new crack at the level as this thing is a terrific mirror board for video game concepts, he learns a little more, and gets a little closer to figuring out what’s happened, who has it in for him and why. Grillo is a great choice for an action hero because not only is he physically adept and imposing, he also has acting talent and charisma for days and just feels like someone you want to be around. He narrates the film in hilarious, touching and sardonic voiceover and makes Roy a terrific character creation. Gibson is in scenery chewing Bond villain mode, munching on a giant cigar and commanding hordes of minions like some dark god, while Watts is terrific as ever. Keep an eye out for Will Sasso, Michelle Yeoh, Annabelle Wallis, Quinton Rampage Jackson and Ken Jeong as a lippy bartender. This is a wonderful motion picture with balls to the wall ruthless gory action, absolutely hilarious and colourful dialogue (Carnahan has a way with words like no other), a SciFi concept that is just this side of silly yet still tantalizes the brain (the Osiris Spindle is such a cool idea) and feels intricate and trippy enough to keep us guessing and immerse us in the world. You know what really hit it home for me though? Roy is a real character with an arc who not only has to fix the dilemmas imposed upon him by an external antagonist, but fix his own heart and mend his own wayward tendencies, particularly in the relationship with his son (Rio Grillo, Frank’s real life kid) who he’s never seemed to find the time for, until now when all he has is one day, but a day that scintillates into eternity. There is real pathos in this story and for a 90 minute action film with this much destruction, mayhem, crazy characters, conceptual exposition and layered plotting it’s rare to find an emotional core emanating from it as well, but this one really has it all. Kinda like Source Code meets Groundhog Day with splashes of Bond and this exhilarating undercurrent of video game thematics, and also fiercely and singularly its own thing. Best film of the year so far.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory with Nate: Fire With Fire

Fire With Fire is one in a long string of recent direct to video flicks that Bruce Wilis seems oddly intent on appearing in. Some are cool (Catch 44), some are halfassed (The Prince) and some are just plain poo (Set Up). This one falls in the first category. It’s an overblown and unbelievable little thriller but it has a great cast on it’s side, and when you score Vincent Donofrio for your villain role, you’ll always at least have some merit. The story is pure B movie: a studly firefighter (Josh Dumahel) ends up seeing something he shouldn’t and gets on the wrong side of a vicious neo nazi psychopath (Donofrio) and his crew. Just his luck though, as his foxy girlfriend  (Rosario Dawson) happens to be an FBI agent working on a task force headed up by a gruff senior operative (Bruce Willis). Willis has been trying to nail Donofrio and his gang for years, and he finally has a handy little firefighter witness to testify. Donofrio won’t stop though, making their lives hell as he shakes their shit up right left and center. He’s a hell of an actor, especially when playing the baddie (his turns in The Cell, Daredevil, The Salton Sea and Men In Black are legendary), and this loose cannon weirdo white supremacist nut job is one more to add to the canon. Duhamel does his classic laid back pretty boy thing, Dawson is tough and oh so attractive as always, and Willis dials up the grumpy metre for a nice little jaded turn that i actually really enjoyed. Vinnie Jones lends his mug to the role of second in command, 50 Cent shows up (wherever Willis and Deniro go in B movie land, he unnervingly seems to tag along), and watch for more work from Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, Julian McMahon, Richard Schiff, Arie Verveen and Kevin Dunn. I like the chaotic formula employed here: a bunch of characters running around, large cast, flashy violent spectacle, flamboyant villain. It almost seems like a 70’s genre piece, and I’d love to have seen a hand drawn, retro style poster with a bunch of stuff sprawled together in a mural like those old school flicks used to do. It sure would beat the generic, vanilla design they went with and I feel like the film deserves more. Great stuff.