Joe Carnahan’s CopShop

It’s always cool when one of my favourite filmmakers not only puts out two films in the same year, but that they both end up being ones I absolutely love. Joe Carnahan gave us the knockout action SciFi Boss Level earlier in 2021 (highly recommended) and now we have CopShop, a tough as shit, gritty as fuck, funny as hell homage to the lower budget, one location cop thrillers of the 70’s, particularly one I need not name drop but pretty much set the bar, and whose influences are there. Hitting new collaborative notes in his ongoing working relationship with Carnahan is Frank Grillo, who also headlined Boss Level and here plays greasy, self centred mob fixer Teddy, wanted by several hitman including gruff, violent Bob Viddick (Gerard Butler) and off the chain mega-psychopath Anthony Lamb (Toby Huss). Teddy deliberately gets himself thrown into county lockup which he thinks will be safe, but both contract killers follow him there for a bloody showdown as cops are picked off one by one, a cat and mouse game ensues and we gradually learn more about these characters. Grillo uses his hair as an asset to performance here and it’s hilarious to the point where one character makes fun of it in reference to a Tom Cruise flick. Butler is mean, efficient and darkly sarcastic while Huss, never an actor to back down from a challenge, is a terrifying nightmare tornado of perverse looney toons energy, a seriously diabolical, constantly hilarious and severely scary villain for the ages. As great as these three actors are, the real star of the show and my favourite character is Alexis Louder as Valerie, the toughest cop in the county and the real protagonist amidst this stable of shady scumbags. She’s terrifically resilient and charismatic, owning the emotional grounding, dark humour and lethal physicality of her role to the point where I wanted to see a sequel with just her pitted against a whole new roster of baddies. The film has Carnahan’s typically realistic, candid dialogue that I always appreciate so much and a kinetic, propulsive forward momentum that is reminiscent of his excellent 2006 Smokin Aces, although much lower in pitch, tone and budget. I enjoyed the morally sticky, ambiguous nature of Butler and Grillo’s characters who are genuinely hard to read and predict, while Huss’s mad dog cavorts around the precinct like a bull in a CopShop. This was a ton of fun for what it was, and I love seeing mean, unapologetically brutal, off the cuff genre efforts still surface in this day and age. Great times.

-Nate Hill

Brad Furman’s City Of Lies

Question for you: did the LAPD use propagandist maneuvers and media manipulation in the 90’s to fictitiously outline an ongoing east coast/west coast gang war that never even existed and then, using covert tactics and unstable deep cover operatives, deliberately and unlawfully orchestrate behind the scenes murders of influential rappers Christopher ‘Notorious BIG’ Wallace and Tupac Shakur? This film certainly seems to think so, and the fact that it was suspiciously buried in distribution hell for three plus years following its production and snuck unceremoniously into release just this year has me thinking so as well. City Of Lies, based on the documentarian book LAbyrinth, is a fascinating, paranoia laced, very well written procedural thriller starring Johnny Depp as real life LAPD detective Russell Poole who never stopped trying to find out who really shot Biggie and Forest Whitaker as a reporter interested in the case who spends some time with him trying to get to the truth. The film is centralized around 2015 when the final chapter of Russell’s almost career-long investigation arrives at a conclusion but it leaps all over the 90’s for stylish, eerie, memory laden flashbacks that evoke everything from Tony Scott to Bourne movies and the filmmaking aesthetics, score, soundtrack and performances are all exemplary. Depp has had the misfortune of being dealt a few shitty hands lately which I won’t go into too much, but a mystifying scandal was whipped around this film itself to scapegoat him when it appears the real reason this film was buried was… well, just look at the subject matter. He gives a pained, haunted, understated, against type and altogether gripping performance here that hopefully is the start of a surge of roles that sees his phoenix ascent upwards from the quagmire of bullshit he’s been put through. Whitaker is fantastic as well and quite soulful in the third act and director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) assembles an unbelievable supporting cast just packed with character actor talent including Michael Paré, Toby Huss, Xander Berkeley, Rockmund Dunbar, Laurence Mason, Louis Herthum, Shea Wigham, Dayton Callie, Biggie’s real life mother Voletta Wallace playing herself, Obba Babatundé, Kevin Chapman, Glenn Plummer and the great Peter Greene as a particularly acid tongued LAPD commander. The film has a way of swerving just south of every question asked and a knack for making you feel like this story is open ended and unsolved. Unsolved is different than unproved though, and if everything that Depp’s Russell Poole cataloged and uncovered is for real then it’s no wonder this film never saw a major release and was held up for so long. Whatever really happened back then, this is one finely crafted thriller with a galaxy of terrific performances, a taut, engaging narrative and an incentive to shed light on those who abuse power, should know better, and need someone to call them out on it. Who better than a good cop like Poole, and who better to bring his story to life than an actor like Depp, who can pretty much do anything but tries something we’re not used to seeing from him everyday: play a regular guy just trying to do the right thing in the face of absolute corruption.

-Nate Hill

Sarah Adina Smith’s Buster’s Mal Heart

Sarah Adina Smith’s Buster’s Mal Heart is one of the best, most striking and unique films I have seen in some time for exactly the reasons it might be one of the most frustrating, maddening experience for other viewers. This film is like a Rubik’s Cube except it’s not square, all the pieces are the same colour and they’re all in different time zones. It’s a complex, dreamy, intangible, non-traditional narrative full of idiosyncratic asides, shifting plane storytelling, non linear abstraction and all sorts of brilliant filmmaking wizardry and it cast a spell on me I can’t quite describe in writing. Rami Malek and his perpetually glazed faraway gaze play Buster, a deeply troubled family man who works night shift at a desolate highway motel, the perfect breeding ground for psychological unrest to creep in and do some real damage. What *does* creep in is a mysterious stranger who calls himself The Last Free Man, played by eternally boyish, gnome looking curio DJ Qualls. This guy pays in cash to stay off the grid, raves about impending Y2K and foretells an event called the Inversion, which will forever alter time and space as we know it. Fast forward some years and Buster is a maniacal bearded homeless waif who breaks into empty vacation homes in the Montana mountains and tries to piece together his identity, his past and future to no avail as authorities close in. You can’t really describe this film in terms of plot because it’s not about that, it’s about mood, feeling, disorientation and atmosphere, all of which are my cup of tea over logic and plot structure. Director Sarah Adina Smith is a brilliant artist who uses strange, otherworldly editing techniques, coaxes bizarre, darkly humorous performances from her actors and whips up a world from which there is no cognitive escape for the duration of your stay. The positively extraterrestrial original score by Mister Squinter is amazing too. This isn’t a film to be understood though, it is one to be felt and later deciphered. You know when you wake up from a particularly elaborate and thoroughly profound dream, then you sit there trying to collect pieces of it using conscious thought processes and you simply cannot get them in line because they are not of this world? That’s how I felt immediately after this film, as the experience washed over me and although I knew deep down where it’s essential what this film means, I couldn’t explain it in waking terms or paint that meaning in anything outside subconscious awareness. If you enjoy challenging stuff like the work of David Lynch, Guy Maddin or other artists who successfully employ dream logic in cinema (not an easy thing to do) then you’ll love this enigmatic, indistinct yet achingly specific gem.

-Nate Hill

Halloween Double Bill: 1978 and 2018

Image result for halloween 1978 halloween 2018

Frank and Paul are back, this time to discuss John Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece, Halloween and how it stacks up to David Gordon Green’s direct sequel. They also discuss the Rob Zombie remake as well as the legacy of the franchise and how it has endured over time.

David Gordon Green’s Halloween

David Gordon Green’s update on John Carpenter’s Halloween is currently slashing its way through theatres, and aside from a few nit-picky asides, it’s a winner, both in terms of a genuinely scary horror and as the long awaited sequel to a film that practically reinvented the printing press of the horror landscape.

The new Halloween is sleek, vicious, aesthetically pleasing and brings back Michael Myers to do far more killing than he ever did the first time around, as this takes place in a universe bereft of any other sequels, an interesting choice which gives the it a fresh, immediate vibe. Also back is Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode, who has calcified into a paranoid, blunt realist who doesn’t so much worry if Michael will come home, but just somehow knows it in her bones. Judy Greer is fantastic as her estranged daughter Karen, Toby Huss provides great comic relief as her husband and Andi Matichak is a sensational find as Laurie’s granddaughter Alyson, who echoes both the resilience and vulnerability we remember in Laurie when she was her age. Will Patton also kicks ass as the Haddonfield Sheriff’s deputy, always great to see him.

It’s nice to see references that aren’t overt or forced, but woven into the narrative almost seamlessly and with purpose. Many instances feel serendipitous, and as the infamous classroom scene always intones and reiterates here, fate is an inexorable bitch from which there is no escape. Green and his team have lovingly made Michael the relentless stalking Shape we fondly remember, using fluid tracking shots, lingering suspense, mounting dread and those classical music cues to herald his arrival on the fringes of nocturnal suburbia like a monster in a bad dream. There are impeccably orchestrated scares involving a closet and a motion sensor light that are impressively effective and nerve shredding. There were a few things that felt dumb, like the extended involvement of a Dr. Loomis proxy called Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) who at first is welcome until his arc gets inexplicably loopy, as well as some ham fisted writing for Alyson’s male friends, one of whom is so irritating I wish they’d casted an actor who looked and sounded like less of a ripe cheese, but oh well, at least he’s short lived.

Now, my favourite thing about the film: that beautiful score, and I’m not just referring to the original jangly tune. Carpenter himself, his son Cody and Daniel A. Davies worked together to not only rework the iconic theme a bit but compose swaths of new stuff, atmospheric passages and nightmarish synths that are instantly worthy of the main theme. This is definitely the best sequel since the original Halloween 2, which can be considered a companion piece to Carpenter’s first anyways as he reportedly directed chunks of it. This feels like a slasher should, but it’s also smart, deliriously stylish and scary in that elemental way where it’s not the violence itself that haunts the experience, but the spaces in between where Michael is lurking with intent and the suspense builds. That’s what Halloween is about.

-Nate Hill