“Jackpot” (Arme Riddere, 2011) is capable, candy-colored, often giddily gruesome Euro-action from Norway, replete with lottery winnings, double-crosses, discreet vivisection and a shootout in a strip club called “Pink Heaven” with a single survivor whom the police want explanations from. Based on an outline by best-selling crime novelist Jo Nesbø, Magnus Martens’ black, deadpan pulp conjures earlier movies that range from “A Shallow Grave” to “A Simple Plan” to “Fargo” to “Pulp Fiction” while still offering its own toothsome zing beneath frisky homage. Read the rest of this entry »
Stylish sardonic northern European miserabilism of a pleasing if lowwww-key order is much in display in Tomasz Thomson’s “Snowman’s Land” (2010), a grumpy assassin-on-the-run tale that snappily moves from city to snowbound neverwhere. The writer-director’s smartly shot deadpan and genial disorientation recalls a multiple of movie predecessors, including “Pulp Fiction,” with which the film shares one very dangerous device. And all that beautiful snow! Too bad about the blood. And the waiting. And the waiting. And more blood. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
What’s the old saying? Keep your enemies closer but fuck your brother in the ass?
Actually, the more modest old saying that applies to Sidney Lumet’s masterful thriller contains its title: “May you be in heaven a half hour ‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.’” A lot of swoon-derful prose has been applied to this dark delight, a trim, fierce, modestly budgeted movie, shot on high-definition video with multiple cameras, and man, it almost feels wrong to add to it. This is a wowser, a marvel and a gem. When Lumet’s fortieth or so feature in a fifty-year career of terrible lows but tremendous highs premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, it was darker than a dark horse, it was a dark horse in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. And yet, at 83, Lumet (working from a first-time script by playwright Kelly Anderson) fractures time, charts double-crosses and breaks bones with all the alacrity of a much younger man. My favorite moment in a Lumet interview on this go-round is one where he’s asked about the tone of the movie. “Network,” surely no one would ever make a film darker than “Network,” the interlocutor asks. “How does it feel to have made something much darker?” “It feels terrrrrific!” Lumet answers, grinning the well-earned grin of a lifetime lived well.
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Screenwriter Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List,” “All The King’s Men”) crafts a solid old-school saga of the all-American rise and fall of an African-American entrepreneur. How old? The end credits put a cap in the face of the audience, in a nod to Edwin S. Porter’s 1903 classic “The Great Train Robbery.” Director Ridley Scott studiously obeys the laws of the gangster genre, just as heroin trafficker Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) sticks to the corporate protocol of the Italian mafia. Lucas is an exemplary Harlem entrepreneur bringing fiscal efficiency to his hierarchy. Copper Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) faces the corrupt hierarchy of the New York Police Department. His anomalous professional standards make him a pariah among all the dirty cops who shake down drug dealers. Frank and Richie are heroic loners at odds with their peers. The denouement where they go into buddy mode for big-time payback strains credulity, but many facets of the story track with the careers of real figures. In this period film set during the Vietnam War, you locked your automobile door by inserting a key. Microwave ovens were new. Timeless values are championed by the criminals, not the cops. Kingpin Lucas preaches: “What matters in business is honesty, integrity, hard work, loyalty and never forgetting where you came from.” He tutors underlings about “trademark infringement.” He debates business philosophy with a mafia don who argues that monopolies are un-American. Frank’s last stand: “This is where I’m from. This is where my family is. My business. My mother. This is my place. This is my country. This is America.” Scott and Zaillian, though, never ask if American capitalism is just federally insured gangsterism. With Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Josh Brolin, Ruby Dee and Common. 158m. (Bill Stamets)
“I always believed it was the things you didn’t choose that make you who you are,” narrates young private investigator Patrick (Casey Affleck, “The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford”) in this adaptation of a Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River”) novel by Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard. In classic noir mode, Patrick makes this existential observation before he and his partner and lover Angie (Michelle Monaghan) are hired to trace a missing girl in their native Dorchester. The complexity of the storyline, as finely directed by Ben Affleck, is made by hard choices, and often bad choices, of flesh-and-blood characters—not by the handiwork of a plot-for-plot’s sake screenplay. Patrick will face a last-reel choice that makes clear the story’s deeper design: either path would lead to an equally profound ending. When characters utter such lines as “God made you barren” and “Murder is sin,” they speak with Old Testament bluntness. Tactical ethics never felt so ugly. With Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, John Ashton, Amy Madigan, Titus Welliver, Amy Ryan and a Brueghel gallery of Dorchester denizens for local discolor. 113m. (Bill Stamets)
Simmering and brooding and hinting and teasing and taunting are not to every taste; some of the early reviews of Andrew Dominik’s follow-up to his thematically similar, but more jagged “Chopper” (2000) were dismissive, suggesting that the film’s reach exceeded its grasp at its great length. But beyond the melancholy, co-dependent relationship, filled with jealousy and resentment, yet a tacit give-and-take, between the famed criminal Jesse James (Brad Pitt, face quietly expressive) and hanger-on and wannabe Robert Ford (Casey Affleck, needy, ticcy), there is a beauty in this imagined nineteenth-century American west (shot in Midwestern Canada) that amply employs gifted cinematographer Roger Deakin’s superb eye for light and composition. “Chopper” was also about crime and fame and ego, yet “The Assassination” is about as stylistically dissimilar as two movies could get. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who wrote the score for “The Proposition,” provide the requisite sonic gloom here. With the Sams Shepard and Rockwell. Political fixer James Carville is repulsive in a needless cameo. 160m. Anamorphic 2.40 widescreen. (Ray Pride)
Autumn is upon us if the sere, severe, serious likes of “The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford” and James Gray’s brutal, assured third feature, “We Own The Night” are filling American screens. In his earlier features, “Little Odessa” (1994) and “The Yards” (2000), the 38-year-old demonstrated his affinity for the grand canvas upon which an intricately orchestrated tale is told. Gray regulars Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg play Bobby Green And Joseph Grusinsky, brothers in 1988 New York. Read the rest of this entry »
After writing three Jason Bourne screenplays, screenwriter Tony Gilroy directs “Michael Clayton,” his first drama. His title character (George Clooney, also an executive producer) is a “fixer” at the Manhattan law firm Kenner, Bach & Ledeen. Like the corporate “kidnap and ransom” negotiator in Gilroy’s “Proof of Life,” Michael Clayton is asked to do an awful lot, although his tasks here lack the international travel and gunplay of his counterparts in Gilroy’s earlier screenplays. “I’m not a miracle worker. I’m a janitor,” he tells a client who asks for too much. (Or, as director John Ford once downplayed his calling: “I’m a traffic cop in front of the camera.”) Read the rest of this entry »
Bryan Barber’s oft-magical Prohibition in the South-set Outkast musical, “Idlewild,” is a dynamic feast of anachronisms and heartfelt investment in older styles of storytelling—cliché, elevated—that may suffer from an accelerated cutting style, but even the most begrudging reviews by intelligent reviewers who got to see the movie before last Friday’s opening (which I did not) have indicated that, as messes go, this is one joyous and generous picture. Read the rest of this entry »
“Requiem for a Pretension”? Well, I guess movies about meth and crank in the heartland ought to be ugly as sin, or uglier than “Spun,” and the DV-inflected hallucination-degradation fest “Iowa” (2005) fits both qualifications. Matt Farnsworth wrote, directed and stars—blandly—as the fallen factory worker who turns to dealing. Feats of greed, rape and awful sex are in the mix, too. What was that line Brad Pitt has in “Kalifornia”? Something like “Dog shit, dog shit, porn, porn, stanky, stanky”? “Iowa” reaches those heights, too. With John Savage, Rosanna Arquette, Diane Foster, Michael T. Weiss, David Backus and Amanda Tepe. 104m. (Ray Pride)