Tag Archives: violent

Ripper Street (series finale)

Somewhere around series 3, Ripper Street lost its way and never found it again. It retained its beautiful language, a Western version of Shakespeare for lack of a better description, but it lost the drive of the characters and the inciting conceit of Edmund Reid’s policing.

In series 4 and 5 it all comes back around and, with contortions that PT Barnum would have hired, they manage to close the story. Sadly it isn’t with great skill, but with a wedge and shim. Series 4 leaped ahead in time, and the final episode in series 5 attempts, clumsily, to put a shape around the whole through a collection of vignettes to wrap up the present stories, and flashbacks to provide a mirror and meaning to them.

Does it work? Sort of, but it all feels so very forced. The show was provided more than enough advance notice to plan a better arc through its final 2 series. Instead we got the White Chapel Golem, which wasn’t uninteresting, but with a meandering plot and too much going on (and a load of death). We are left, at the end, with an idea and melancholy that has carried through the series as a whole. It is, to its credit, unwilling to go for the easy and pleasant solutions to all the issues, but in other ways it gave in exactly to expectations.

Ripper Street, as a series, was ambitious and richly textured. The first series is still the best focused, and the rest of the run certainly has moments and merits, if not stellar choices. I would have been happy with the conclusion at the end of series 3, but the 2-series wrap up did keep my attention, even if I was less than thrilled with the direction of that resolution.

On the up side, it was relatively self-contained so if you want to stop at 3, you don’t lose much by doing so. But, if you want to go forward and see the wrap-up for all the various characters, you have that option.

Ripper Street

Free Fire

So, if Monty Python and Quentin Tarantino had a co-production to recreate the Black Knight of The Holy Grail as a heist gone wrong, you’d get Free Fire. This is an almost ceaselessly vulgar and violent confrontation at (of course) a gun sale gone wrong. Whether that is a good thing for you or not, is going to be a matter of mood and taste.

Director and co-writer Ben Wheatley reteamed with his High-Rise writer, Amy Jump, to bring this blood-fest to screen. The humor is dark and just as often missed the mark as hits it. On the other hand, the sound effects and engineering are really quite amazing. The biggest directing mistake Wheatley made was never giving us an overhead shot of the participants making their way around the killing field. It would have helped a little with the geography of the fight if folks were more easily located.

At the extreme end of the characters are Sharlto Copley (Chappie), Sam Riley (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). Neither plays a believable character, but they certainly do so with abandon. It is the combination of both of them that is the excuse for the mayhem that follows.

As basic tough guys Cillian Murphy (Peaky Blinders), Jack Reynor (Sing Street), Noah Taylor (Deep Water), Babou Ceesay (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), and Michael Smiley (Luther) fill out the gangs. Each feels a bit like stock characters, but none are overly empty of interest.

But the two that really stand out as characters for me were Armie Hammer (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) and Brie Larson (Kong: Skull Island). Each clearly has another life somewhere and all manner of things going on under the surface that we never get to understand, but which make their performances interesting rather than just loud.

Generally speaking, this isn’t a film for the weak of stomach or with sensitive hearing (language or gunfire). It, frankly, isn’t a very good film either, but it certainly will have its audience. I did laugh, on occasion, and winced a great deal through moments…even cheered once or twice quietly inside at the demise of a character or two. But there is little story and little to recommend. It is a vignette drawn out in loving detail for 90 minutes of lead filled hell. If that’s for you, then go for it, but there are plenty of better bullet strewn extravaganzas that actually have characters and plots you can latch onto.

Free Fire

Get Out

Wow. Just, wow.

Probably the best horror film I’ve seen in ages. It has only one open question (resolved about 2/3 through) and one surprise; it derives its horror from how real it all feels. It is honest and rarely keeps you waiting when you’ve gotten ahead of it. That allows you to feel the tension of Daniel Kaluuya’s (Sicario) character to the fullest. He never comes off as dumb. He unpuzzles the plot as fast as the audience and acts. Part of what makes it so scary is the feeling that he really can’t avoid the inevitable. It is a powerful and compelling performance.

Helping that along are some equally solid performances by Bradley Whitford (Saving Mr. Banks) and Allison Williams (Girls). The rest of the family is a bit less believable with Catherine Keener (Begin Again) being marginal, but intriguing, and Caleb Landry Jones (Stonewall) just feeling out of control. I think that was writer and first-time director Jordan Peele’s intent, but I wish he had reined it in more to keep it just a bit less obvious.

However, as the horror of the situation unfolds, we are swept along. It is uncomfortable and frustrating, embarrassing and angering. And, yes, pretty terrifying, but not in a monster-going-to-eat-your-face way, but more in a this-feels-almost-like-it-could-happen way. It makes Peele a great choice for the upcoming series adaptation of Lovecraft Country, which also has to walk that line. (Also a book I highly recommend.)

But Get Out goes beyond just the typical horror movie/teen angst level. There is a sociological aspect to this movie. It will be taught in years to come in universities and high schools by those brave enough to do so. The resonance of the tale, both as personal nightmare and social commentary is loud and disturbingly clear.

If this had released even 8 years ago (maybe less), it would have felt like propaganda or blaxploitation. In today’s times of stress and fear it comes across more as object lesson and metaphor. What is white privilege? What is it to abandon your own culture or have it co-opted? We get a complete spectrum of the latter with LilRel Howery (Carmichael Show) at one extreme end, Kaluuya as a middle ground, and Lakeith Stanfield (War Machine) at the far extreme end, with two painful touch-points by Marcus Henderson (Pete’s Dragon) and Betty Gabriel (Good Girls Revolt) as the family help. It isn’t, of course, that straight forward, but from an academic standpoint it is ripe for debate and examination. Add to it the realities of the plot itself, once revealed, and it is even more powerful.

This film had a huge reception in theaters, earning $250M worldwide. And while $$s aren’t always the best way to judge a film, in this case it is a great measure of the chord it struck. This isn’t an easy film to watch, but it is well done, well conceived. Like Hell or High Water, it is a movie of its time, though with frankly much more meat to the bone. If you somehow missed Get Out, make time for it. It is a great ride that also happens to comes with a message. If nothing else, it is guaranteed to start a conversation.

Get Out

Cardinal

Apparently, the new Norwegian substitute is Northern Canada. In this case, north of Toronto. Like Bellevue, Cardinal is a serial murder procedural in the thinly populated, icy north of Canada. Billy Campbell (Helix) and Karine Vanasse (Revenge) deliver nicely conflicted detectives in the introductory series (based on Forty Words for Sorrow) to what could be a good run of stories to come.

It is a dark tale, and a tad graphic, but all in service to understanding the characters. A good part of that darkness, and its effectiveness, is down to Brendan Fletcher (The Revenant), who has a ridiculously long cv for his career. Along with Allie MacDonald (Stories We Tell), the two are a twisted pair who we can’t help but want to watch, even if we don’t root for them.

Originally aired on CBC, it appears to be difficult to find, so the best I can say is watch for it when it airs elsewhere (and it will).

Cardinal Poster

Sleepless

Unlikable people doing unlikable things in stupid ways doesn’t add up to a good movie. We don’t even get an anti-hero to latch onto. Jamie Foxx (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and Michelle Monaghan (Pixels) are simply just bad at their jobs, whether or not they are also bad/dirty cops.

To balance that, as inept bad guys we get Dermot Mulroney (August: Osage County) and Scoot McNairy (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), neither of which seems to deserve the empires they lead.  The only truly likable character in the entire film is Gabrielle Union, but she also pulls some stupid moves. Octavius J. Johnson (Ray Donovan), is mostly just a hot potato used to drive the action; his portrayal of the son has little depth and generates little sympathy.

To be fair, all these choices and lacks are the fault of writer Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton) and director Baran bo Odar (Who Am I). The script is ill-conceived and poorly researched while the acting is relentlessly dark with few positive hooks for us to want to hold onto. Even an anti-hero needs to pull our sympathies in some way if we are to commit to them.

The cast was unable to rise above a bad foundation of this film. The idea that it could have a sequel (and boy do they set it up) was simply the bitter icing on the unpalatable cake at the very end. Basically, skip this one.

Sleepless

Witching & Bitching (Las brujas de Zugarramurdi)

Imagine From Dusk till Dawn in Spanish … and with witches rather than vampires… and you have some sense of this horror mash-up. It manages to ride the line of dark humor and midnight horror well, never quite flying off the rails of the genre it has embraced. And within that boundary it succeeds. That is a credit to director/co-writer Álex de la Iglesia (Oxford Murders). A more general assessment of it would be considerably less kind, but it isn’t pretending to swim in the big pool.

The acting is, by design, broad and unrealistic. This allows for a considerable amount of slapstick humor as well as situational. Eventually it provides the bedrock for the insanity that is the final act. Though full of well-awarded actors, only Javier Botet (Mama) had hit my radar before, and he is more often than not loaded down with heavy make-up so you could be forgiven for not recognizing him in this or previous roles.

Witching is a movie for popcorn lovers of horror. But, be warned, the subtitling is rapid fire. If your Spanish is strong, no problem. If it is weak or non-existent, prepare for a marathon. The movie is also full of splatter and intentional grotesqueries. It is a fun run, but not a brilliant one. It does really try to have complete throughlines, motivations, and plot at least. Sit down expecting nothing more than entertainment and you’ll likely have enough fun to make it worth your time.

Witching & Bitching

The Girl With All the Gifts

You have to respect a horror film that really considers the biology and implications of their conceits. Zombie films, in particular, tend to be rather silly, even when fun. It has been a long while since I’ve seen a world where the science was derived from real life and thought through to give us a plot. Think 28 Days Later or Pitch Black (or even to some degree The Great Wall). Girl is a plague story with planned and realistic motivations, and with a script that doesn’t insult the viewer. In fact it goes places and considers issues with an incredible intelligence that belies its gory genre.

At the head of it all is the diminutive Sennia Nanua in her first major role. Expect to see more of her. She is confident and layered in her performance in a way that few young actors can achieve. She is supported by a talented adult cast as well. Paddy Considine (Miss You Already), Gemma Arterton (The Voices), Fisayo Akinade (Cucumber), and Glenn Close (The Great Gilly Hopkins) round out the main cast and become Nanua’s way to understand her world.

I have to believe that part of the reason for the success of this picture is the wide range of material under the directorial belt of Colm McCarthy. He does a great job of revealing the world and focusing the performances for Carey’s adaptation (of Carey’s own novel), navigating the genre without losing its humanity. McCarthy also understands the rhythms needed, keeping the emotional intelligence and human moments suitably calm so that the explosions of violence have impact. Even where it is predictable it is often unpredictable or satisfyingly complete; it never feels cheap. It is a rare that a director doesn’t give in to the histrionics and clichés in established horror tropes.

If you are looking for something fun and intelligent, this is your bowl of popcorn. It is full of action as well as thought and is every bit as good as you may have been hearing. If it weren’t for the genre, you’d probably have heard a whole heck of a lot more about it.

The Girl with All the Gifts

Nocturnal Animals

Feel what you want about writer/director Tom Ford’s (A Single Man) films, the man can compose a shot as well as he could design a suit. As his Sophomore delivery to screen, Nocturnal Animals is rich, moody, and gripping as it weaves together three narratives of past, present, and fictional. It also garnered many nominations, though few wins.

The movie, as a whole, is an interesting piece of psychological noir and certainly an intriguing harbinger of what may come from Ford next. He doesn’t tackle easy stories, nor does he flinch from the darker sides of relationships and people. Mind you, he also always finds a way to dress pretty people well, but that is his world; it isn’t a huge surprise and it is always part of the story. Nocturnal Animals is worth your time, but expect to be wading through some seriously dark muck to get to the end. It is complicated and dark (did I mention that already?) and I really can’t discuss it without exposing it, so I have to stop here. Suffice to say that whatever you’ve seen in the trailers and heard in the ads isn’t even really what the film is about.

Driving the story, Amy Adams (Arrival) turns in yet another quiet, intense performance. She is a woman filled with regret and longing and we feel it all keenly. The focus of all that emotion is Jake Gyllenhaal (Demolition) in two roles: one real, one imagined. He pulls off both well.

Within the fictional world, Michael Shannon (Elvis & Nixon), nominated for an Oscar, provides us yet another Western law man with a history and an agenda. If I sound weary of these kinds of characters, I am. Much like the performances by Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones I recently discussed, despite being well done, there isn’t much new. To be fair, Shannon’s character is fictional, even within the movie, so some of the predictability is a feature of the structure. The role does allow Shannon to continue to add to the facets he puts on screen nicely, however.

Then there is Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Avengers: Age of Ultron), who embodies a truly nasty character. Gone, utterly, is the sweet, well-meaning kid from Kick-Ass. Taylor-Johnson is a the metaphorical embodiment of evil and capriciousness. Again, his character is inflated by the conceit of the film, but he manages to make it feel disgustingly and terrifyingly real.

In a much smaller role, as Adam’s mother, Laura Linney (Genius) encapsulates an entire life and relationship in the space of a couple minutes. It is a wonderfully simple performance, but loaded with subtext. Without this short on-screen battle with Adams, the story would have been much weaker.

As a side-bar, I watched this as a self-made double-feature with Trolls. Can I recommend that for anyone else? Well, Trolls was a good pallet cleanser after this much darker tale. But, surprisingly, they do work together. Both films are stories of trying to define and find happiness. Yes, it is a bit of a stretch, but it was one of the more bizarre pairings I’ve ever tried and it only proves that almost anything can be put together and unexpected relationships will be exposed.

Nocturnal Animals

Hacksaw Ridge

The story of Desmond Doss is as intense and conflicted as this newest film from director Mel Gibson (The Expendables 3). The main tale, of Doss’ desire to serve in WWII as a medic but not kill, is a timely message about conviction and beliefs in the face of authority. Andrew Garfield (99 Homes) plays Doss well and subtly, bringing to mind Gary Cooper’s award winning role as Sergeant York. Garfield embodies the man and is a pillar of quiet strength amid his struggles and amidst the horrors of the landmark battle that gives this movie its name.

But, as good as Garfield is, his is not the performance that stood out for me. In truth, it is Hugo Weaving (The Dressmaker) as Doss’ father whose arc is most affecting for me. Tom Doss as a damaged WWI vet is a complicated and deeply troubled man. It is because of him, good and bad, that Desmond becomes who he is. While less impactful on screen, Rachel Griffiths (Saving Mr. Banks) as his mother is also a nicely layered influence in his life.

Vince Vaughn (Lay the Favorite), Luke Bracey (Point Break), and, in a surprisingly good turn, Sam Worthington (Everest), as part of Doss’ unit, offer up some important friction points. The troops, in general, are all quite good, but far too many to list. Each manages to get you to care enough to worry for them on the battlefield which is essential for the success of the story.

Also, the script smartly provides insights to Doss by starting early in his life and adding appropriate, if somewhat contrived, flashbacks to show us the genesis and core of his choices. Gibson handles most of the story and the script well. The scenes of home, the pivotal moments of Doss’ life, and the tragedy of Hacksaw from the perspective of the allies are all painfully real.

Where this film becomes a conundrum for me is toward the end when the tides of the battle change. Gibson’s choices during the final scenes of battle make the routing and slaughter of the Japanese soldiers feel justified, even triumphant, which is so counter to Doss’ path that I found it disturbing. This hearkens back to my discussion of John Wick a few days back about how violence is too often celebrated in film. Gibson, to be clear, isn’t celebrating the carnage so much as lingering on it with visual joy through slow motion and other tricks. The effect is to make it feel triumphant rather than horrific… at least it worked that way on me given how the rest of the battles were shown.

From an Oscar’s point of view, I don’t see Hacksaw walking away with any statues. The possible exception may be sound mixing (the story of the work on the soundscape for this film is really pretty amazing), but I think it is a small possibility. This is a good film and an important one for the era we now find ourselves. It is one you should see, despite any of my misgivings about its ultimately confused message.

Hacksaw Ridge

The Equalizer (2014)

Before Fuqua and Wenk rebooted The Magnificent Seven, the director/writer duo tackled the 80’s show, The Equalizer. Frankly, this earlier collaboration is much more successful. Fuqua took his time building the character and back-story for Denzel Washington (Fences). The plot is tight and with little chaff. They also managed to get me to let go of Edward Woodward’s portrayal of the original character by capturing the root of his drives and wrapping them up in something new and plausible. OK, didn’t completely forget Woodward, but I was able to watch this rendition of the idea with an open mind thanks to the careful story telling.

Washington is surrounded by a bevy of actors, though he still dominates the movie. Chloë Grace Moretz (Clouds of Sils Maria) turns in a nicely understated performance that is the catalyst for plot. Bill Pullman (Independence Day: Resurgence) and Melissa Leo (Snowden) play an unlikely but comfortably aging couple that add support. And for Angel fans, there is always Vladimir Kulich without his Beast make-up.

My only gripe in the cast was Marton Csokas (Falcón). It is an interesting character, and a scary one at that, but beggared credibility for me. Unlike Washington’s work, the character felt more cliché rather than new and I could easily predict his dialogue and actions simply because there was little to guess at.

Like John Wick, the Equalizer kills by necessity and often after giving people a choice. But, though Washington is also rather cold and methodical about his attacks, they are clearly filmed for us to enjoy. We are not left with any sense of regret for his actions, we celebrate them. That is the point of the film and character, so I’m not criticizing, but seeing it in such close proximity to Wick, it is an interesting comparison to make.

As a franchise launch, this was a solid start. Whether that momentum can be maintained with the sequel will really depend on how much care they give the script and its production. On the up side, Wenk is still writing, but a director has yet to be confirmed at this time.

The Equalizer