Hard boiled True Detective sizzles with intrigue

s2-key-art-charactersWelcome to True Detective, where everybody has a dark past, is full of white hot rage and feels like punching someone several times. There are no clean cut square characters in creator Nic Pizzolatto’s HBO landscape of broken souls, messy personalities and anger management blues. Everybody is guilty. It just matters how far they have plunged down the rabbit hole of regret.

Pizzolatto staked himself to a career of cool guy nods and free seats at any restaurant in Hollywood when he crawled up inside Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle last year in the debut season of the HBO drama. Ever since he threw that batting practice fastball to the actor who couldn’t miss at the moment, everything is different. Nic changed things. The expectations raised. The main cast members doubled and the plot thickened.

Season 2 takes place in LA, the city of seriously deranged angels. Three different law officers(Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, and Taylor Kitsch) come together on a dead body on a piece of land that may cause a stir for a career criminal(Vince Vaughn) trying to go businessman legit. Nothing goes as planned. A premium cable drama doesn’t walk a straight line. Think of a storyteller going over all the daily vitamins for success. Darkness, bad deeds, corruption, extortion and more murder follow the next seven episodes.

Let’s go down the main characters one by one, like a viewer sitting down with each person at an interrogation table with two 60 watt bulbs flashing in their face. Continue reading “Hard boiled True Detective sizzles with intrigue”


Prisoners: Hugh Jackman’s finest hour

Hugh Jackman was snubbed for his work in this powerful drama about child abduction.

web1_prisoners-2When I left this movie, the first thing I wanted to do was go home and hug my son.  The second thing I wanted and needed to do was inform everyone within a ten mile radius how important it is for this movie, Prisoners, to be seen.   Easily one of the year’s best films, French Canadian director Denis Villenueve’s spellbinding tale will get inside your bones and stay there a while.  Few movies have the power to be present you with a moral dilemma and take the necessary time to lay out their story while inserting every scene with authentic tension.  Never mind the trailer that some believe gives away too much.  What you get there is a basic setup that covers a third of the film’s running time.  Prisoners is full of juicy compelling moral questions and features the best ensemble cast of 2013.  Let’s dig in.

Hugh Jackman’s work as Keller Dover deserves Oscar attention.  It goes without saying that the actor is as versatile a talent in Hollywood as one can find, but here he puts on display his best screen work to date.  He turns it all up a notch.  Forget his Oscar nominated work in Les Miserables last year.  That is surface imitational work compared to what he does here as Dover, a father who won’t be stopped until he finds out where his daughter is.  A survival specialist who keeps natural selection close to heart, Dover won’t be stopped and Jackman electrifies with his portrayal.   This is the same man who grows claws out of his hands as Marvel’s Wolverine and dances on Broadway.  Jackman is astounding and the emotional glue that holds the film together. Continue reading “Prisoners: Hugh Jackman’s finest hour”

Dallas Buyers Club is acting at its finest

McConaughey and Leto deserved the Oscars they won with their work in DBC. All power here.

Dallas-Buyers-Club-FeatureIn 2009, Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner starred in a throwaway romantic comedy called Ghosts of Girlfriend’s Past.  Watching the film, you had a feeling these two actors were capable of higher quality filmmaking.  Fast forward to November of 2013 and that wish of mine has been granted.  McConaughey and Garner share the screen here in Dallas Buyers Club, in one of the better films of 2013.  Dare I say it isn’t an outstanding film because the directing and writing isn’t as memorable as the performances but the overall impact here creates a crowd pleasing film that will win at the box office.

Make no mistake, though, it’s not often that a film like Dallas Buyers Club comes along and rocks your soul without manipulating it first.  The greatest thing about this movie is that it is powerful without really trying to be and that happens because two actors, McConaughey and Leto, give Oscar worthy performances and the writers and director don’t get in their way.   What the film lacks in sophisticated storytelling and direction, it makes up for with brilliant transformative performances.

The movie tells the story of Ron Woodroof, a Texan infected with the AIDS virus who takes matters into his own hands by finding his own cure and not just helping himself but developing a system that helps fellow victims of the virus as well.  In 1985, there wasn’t a cure for AIDS and all people could do was hope to land themselves in an ill-fated drug trial.  If you got it, you had 30 days to live in agony before expiring.  Woodroof was far from a perfect man but wasn’t going to just wither away.   The movie is an understated gut punch because the story is powerful enough to get into your senses and electrify you for 2 hours.  Some true stories have to acquire a loud musical score, actors who overact and screenplays that use a Kleenex box as their defense mechanism.   Dallas Buyers Club doesn’t want your sympathy.  It wants your attention and the material speaks for itself.  The mood is grim yet doesn’t shy away from a comedic moment and the look is gray yet allows a few colors to pop in the process. Continue reading “Dallas Buyers Club is acting at its finest”

“Out of The Furnace” is all heart and grit

Casey Affleck is the secret weapon in this deck of heart and grit. See it for the acting.

Out+of+the+Furnace+MovieWhen I exit a movie, I make an attempt to break it out into categories instantly.   Is it worth watching, worth fighting for or simply one you can miss?  Some movies are easier to review than others but more than a few movies are hard to put a rating on.  Letter grade or number style ratings can force a film critic into a room where he isn’t comfortable.  With Out Of The Furnace, I put myself in a predicament.  I liked what I saw.  There were some parts I even liked a lot.  Other parts I was okay with.  In the end, I can easily recommend Scott Cooper’s grim covered blue collar menace filled tale, but it didn’t blow me away like I thought it would.   Let’s break it down into great, good and average parts.

There’s a quiet sense of power that turns more conventional thriller layers of the movie into something more and I lend that credit to director Cooper.  He creates realistic people with his characters and works very well with actors.   You can’t build chemistry in a film school and in this film the ease with which the actors work is evident from the start.  The relationship between Bale and Affleck’s brothers, which is built up slowly over the film’s first half, is genuine and powerful.  This is the best part of the film.  Affleck’s Rodney, a torn apart Iraq soldier trying to make a living at home that doesn’t include giving his life to the mill, where his brother Russell(Bale) works and his father contracted a disease from.  A scene between the brothers where Russell pleads Rodney to get a regular job is punctuated by Affleck’s tenacity he brings to the broken man. Continue reading ““Out of The Furnace” is all heart and grit”

The Edge of Tomorrow: Groundhog Day Meets Terminator

Tom Cruise delivers the goods in this sci-fi action blast. See it..like right now. It’s Groundhog Day mixed with the Terminator.

2014-07-10-EdgeofTomorrowMovie2014Thank you Tom Cruise for bringing reliability back to the movies. Taken for what it is, Edge of Tomorrow is pure adrenaline packed excitement. If you dare to think during this flick or try to figure out every detail of the story, your brain will hurt and the enjoyment level drops. Leave it to Tom Cruise to provide us with a cinematic summer jolt of old fashioned action and thrills. With fine support from Emily Blunt (kicking ass with authority on screen), Cruise delivers again here and makes up for the misfire that Oblivion was.

Cruise plays William Cage, a coward who doesn’t want any part of the latest mission to bring a stop to an alien invasion. He is thrown into combat against his will and when he does something unexpected on the battlefield, Cage starts reliving the day over and over again, as he dies and comes back stronger than ever each time. As a fellow movie critic said after the film, the movie is like a great video game. You play it and die, but you keep hitting reset and playing over and over again, trying to reach new levels.

As a member of the audience, we are thrust into the position of Cruise’s Cage and that is key to the enjoyment of the film. Imagine if you were picked up out of your ordinary life and thrown into a war against an enemy who could not be beaten on a fair playing field. Imagine if you kept dying over and over in different ways and you were stumped on figuring out a way to get better. It would be scary and nerve racking. That’s the trick that director Doug Liman and Cruise work on the audience here. Fear, shock and blunt force action= summer entertainment at its finest. Continue reading “The Edge of Tomorrow: Groundhog Day Meets Terminator”

The Purge Anarchy: Powered by Frank Grillo’s take on The Punisher

Frank Grillo is the late night avenger in this great sequel that pummels the first film.

GrilloCare for an entertaining fleeting dose of action packed cinema this summer! Welcome to the land of the purge, where people get 12 hours to set free all their animalistic demons and unleash evil on the streets. DeMonaco assembles a new cast of characters for this second go around in a series that is likely to only grow with the coming years. Ethan Hawke anchored 2013’s original, and while it made a ridiculous premise stand up inside a home invasion setting, the ending left more to be desired.  The Purge: Anarchy delivers on the promise of the original by taking the action to the streets and putting the badass better than ever Frank Grillo at the center of the action.

Grillo is a re-invigorated 51 year old action hero dropped into a plot that suits all his strengths. You have noticed him stealing scenes in films for the past few years. The trainer in Warrior, the sergeant in End of Watch and the wandering ex-con in Joe Carnahan’s captivating survival flick, The Grey. Grillo plays Leo, a man hitting the streets for a different kind of purge. Leo wants to cleanse his soul of deadly revenge, and when he stops to help a group of innocents on the verge of slaughter, he picks up the film and carries it for the entire running time.

In case you haven’t heard, Grillo was born to play Frank Castle, the Punisher, one of the roles Hollywood still hasn’t done right in two attempts. As my colleague, Max Foizey, proclaimed after the credits, “The Punisher was dropped into The Purge.” That is basically the ticking heartbeat of this film. Grillo unplugged! Continue reading “The Purge Anarchy: Powered by Frank Grillo’s take on The Punisher”

The Drop sneaks up and floors you

The Drop is James Gandolfini’s last hurrah but it’s Tom Hardy’s masterpiece.

“There is no devil. I think some people die here and they go see God and he tells them no, you can’t come in. You will be alone…forever.”-Bob Saginowski

the-drop-posterTom Hardy is amazing and carries the latest Dennis Lehane joint, The Drop. The movie is a equal parts gangster thriller, subtle romance and quiet character study. It will be known as James Gandfolfini’s last completed work but let it be known that the film belongs to Hardy, rocking ANOTHER accent here as Bob Saginowski, a quiet calculating man who tends bar for Gandolfini’s Marv, a old lion still trying to play the criminal hustler game.

Michael R. Roskam’s direction, along with Lehane’s adaptation of his short story entitled Animal Shelter, keeps you off balance. The first half of the film is slow building and resembles the increasingly fast shaking of a tree. Little plot points fall to the ground throughout the 105 minute running time, but you don’t really know the characters until about halfway through. That’s good filmmaking and even better acting.

You have no clue what to make of Hardy’s Bob and that is the way it should be in this pot boiling thriller. Is he slow witted or slow? Is he up to something or is he just plain? Why is he so quiet yet observant? Hardy spins a cobweb around his character and keeps the viewer a distance. Like Russell Crowe or Clive Owen at their best, Hardy lets his facial expressions do the heavy lifting. A stare down with Belgium marvel Matthias Schoenaerts contains about four lines of dialogue but the way the two men stare at each other makes it seem like paragraphs are being recited. In this movie, dialogue doesn’t have to spoken for actions to be expressed. The actors don’t need to bore us with words. I felt like I knew these guys in one life and had no clue they existed in another. There is a darkness in Hardy’s Bob that I couldn’t put my finger on until the climax of the film, when a bomb suddenly detonates inside the plot and springs the film towards its final resting place. Continue reading “The Drop sneaks up and floors you”