Archive for the Hit Men Category

DEAD MAN DOWN (2013)

Posted in 2013, Crime Films, Gangsters!, Hit Men, Killers, Michael Arruda Reviews, Revenge! with tags , , , , , on March 12, 2013 by knifefighter

MOVIE REVIEW:  DEAD MAN DOWN (2013)
By Michael Arruda

 DEAD-MAN-DOWN-Poster

DEAD MAN DOWN might be the best film playing right now in theaters that no one is talking about.

It’s the latest thriller by Niels Arden Opley, the man who directed the original THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2009) and stars Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace, who of course played the lead in Opley’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.  It’s both an intense actioner that goes for the throat, and a love story that is as sincere as it is offbeat.  I loved it.

New York City crime lord Alphonse (Terrence Howard) is not having a good week.  Someone is killing his men while leaving him cryptic, yet threatening messages.  He’s coming unglued.  In a fiery shoot-out, Alphonse is nearly killed, but he’s saved by one of his boys, Victor (Colin Farrell), and as a result, he rather trusts Victor.

Not a good move on Alphonse’s part, as it turns out Victor is the man behind the threatening messages and deaths, as he’s seeking vengeance for the death of his family, which came at the hands of killers hired by Alphonse a while back.

Victor is one slick operator, and his meticulous plans for revenge are moving forward without a hitch, until he meets his neighbor, Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), who lives in the apartment across from his.  Beatrice is a shy young woman with a scarred face, the result of a car accident in which she was struck by a drunk driver.

Victor and Beatrice go out on a date, and it’s there that she drops a bombshell on him: she knows that he’s a killer and she’s seen him kill a man.  She tells him she won’t go to the police as long as she does one thing for her:  kill the man responsible for her scarred face.

To further complicate matters, Victor’s best friend, Darcy (Dominic Cooper), is intent on moving up in Alphonse’s organization.  To do this, he makes it his mission to find out who is terrorizing his boss, and as an investigator, Darcy is no slouch and continually creeps closer to the truth, that his best friend Victor is the culprit.

And when Victor and Beatrice begin to share genuine feelings for each other and fall in love, giving them something to live for, their “all in” attitude towards vengeance takes a hit, but with Darcy busy uncovering the truth for his boss Alphonse, there’s no going back.

DEAD MAN DOWN is an adult thriller that pushes all the right buttons.  Its screenplay by J.H. Wyman tells a compelling story about intriguing characters, both good and bad, who I really cared about.  The dialogue is first-rate, and the plot solid, all the way down to its riveting conclusion.

This one includes a lot of memorable scenes.  From Victor and Beatrice’s poignant first date, where Beatrice says she swears when she’s drinks, and Victor says he does too, and they proceed to take turns swearing at their dinner table, to the sad scenes of Beatrice being antagonized and called a “monster” by the neighborhood kids.

There are also several explosive action sequences, including a couple of fiery shoot-outs, a car chase, and, better yet, some excellent scenes of suspense, one of which features some hungry rats.  Director Niels Arden Opley operates at the top of his game here.

You may ask why Victor allows himself to be blackmailed by Beatrice in the first place, and why he doesn’t just kill her to shut her up.  The fact is that Victor hates killing, which makes his quest for revenge against Alphonse all the more effective, as it shows how deeply Victor has been scarred.  Beatrice has scars on her face, but Victor has scars on his soul.  There’s a powerful human element in this movie that, in spite of its preoccupation with retribution, shows a value for life and love that I found refreshing.  Victor and Beatrice may hate the people who hurt them, but they don’t hate the human race, and they’re saved from falling into an emotionless abyss when they fall in love with each other.

And the love story between Victor and Beatrice works.  I totally bought their relationship, mostly because Farrell and Rapace share some nice chemistry together.

Beatrice lives with her mother, and these scenes reminded me of similar scenes in the recent Jason Statham actioner PARKER (2013).  In PARKER, it’s Jennifer Lopez who lives with her mother, but that love story between Lopez and Statham didn’t work, mostly because strangely—what were the writers thinking? — Statham’s Parker was interested in another woman.  Here, in DEAD MAN DOWN, there’s no “other woman,” leaving little doubt that Victor and Beatrice have feelings for each other.

I’ve never been a big fan of Colin Farrell, but he’s grown on me.  He surprised the heck out of me with his portrayal of the vampire in the remake of FRIGHT NIGHT (2011), and while he did little for me in the remake of TOTAL RECALL (2012) he’s superb here in DEAD MAN DOWN.  As a very quiet and introspective killer, his performance reminded me a lot of Ryan Gosling’s in DRIVE (2011).

And Noomi Rapace is just as strong.  She makes Beatrice such a vulnerable character that you can’t help but feel for her, even when she’s coercing Victor to kill a man for her.  She’s an incredibly gutsy woman, driven by her thirst for vengeance, and she has no problem standing up to a known killer like Victor and getting him to do what she wants.  Rapace succeeds in making both sides of this woman believable.

Dominic Cooper, who has turned in two very memorable performance in recent years, as Iron Man’s father Howard Stark in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011), and as Abraham Lincoln’s vampire hunter teacher in ABRAHAM LINCOLN:  VAMPIRE HUNTER  (2012), shines here as Victor’s buddy Darcy.  It’s a gritty performance that works on more than one level.  Darcy is kind of a slimy guy, yet he genuinely values his friendship with Victor and is legitimately upset when he ultimately learns the truth about his friend.

Terrence Howard, another actor with an IRON MAN connection, as he played Tony Stark’s buddy Rhodey in the first IRON MAN (2008), is solid as crime lord Alphonse, even though the character is anything but.  Alphonse is not the most successful criminal, and he allows himself to be rattled and shaken a little too easily for my liking.

Isabelle Huppert adds fine support as Beatrice’s mother Valentine, and Armand Assante makes for a chilling baddie in his scene-stealing cameo as the bigger crime lord who pretty much tells Alphonse to get his ship in order or else.

If I have any complaints it’s that crime boss Alphonse crumbles too easily.  I expected him to show more of a backbone.  I also thought Darcy’s investigative efforts went too smoothly.  Everything he does seems to turn up a lead.   The guy’s a regular Sherlock Holmes, for crying out loud.   And the concluding gun fight was a little far-fetched and reminded me somewhat of the overblown conclusion to DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012), only not as bloody.

But these are minor complaints.

DEAD MAN DOWN is an exciting thriller wrapped around a touching love story that is every bit as satisfying as its vengeance plot.  It’s well acted by top-notch actors of the field, directed by a talented director making his American theatrical debut, and sports a screenplay that gets just about everything right.

I give it three and a half knives.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda  gives DEAD MAN DOWN ~three and a half knives.

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JACK REACHER (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Conspiracy Theories, Crime Films, Fast Cars, Hit Men, Martial Arts, Revenge!, Rogue Cops, Tom Cruise Movies with tags , , , , , , , on December 24, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: JACK REACHER (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

jack-reacher(THE SCENE: A Shooting range. Strangely no one is there shooting.  All is silent.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES approach.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Today’s movie, JACK REACHER, has as its villain a sniper who shoots some innocent people in a rather jarring opening scene.

L.L. SOARES:  In light of the recent horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut, we’re just not in the mood to joke about this stuff.

MA:  That being said, our somber mood doesn’t in any way detract from our feelings towards this movie, one way or the other.

LS:  Nor do we believe such movies cause people to commit violent acts.

MA:  We both have seen our share of ridiculously violent movies, and we, like you, readers, take them for what they are: fiction, not reality.

LS:  Anyway, moving right along, hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s Cinema Knife Fight review. This time around we’re reviewing the new movie JACK REACHER, starring Tom Cruise.

MA: I’m not a Tom Cruise fan, so I wasn’t really looking forward to this one.

LS: You mean a new Tom Cruise movie isn’t a big event in the Arruda household?

MA:  Nope.

LS: So, does that mean you hated JACK REACHER?

MA:  You know me better than that.  You know I have an open mind.

LS:  You have a mind?

MA:  I have a mind to throw a cream pie in your face!

LS:  Yummy!

MA:  Anyway, why don’t you tell everyone what this movie is about first?

LS: Sure.

JACK REACHER is a character who has appeared in numerous novels by writer Lee Child (real name Jim Grant). This particular movie is based on Child’s novel ONE SHOT.

As the movie opens, we see a man in a multi-level parking garage aiming a sniper rifle. He looks around at various people in a park before he starts firing on them, killing five people. The police are able to track down a suspect and arrest James Barr (Joseph Sikora), who is back home after a stint in the Army in Afghanistan. When he is being interrogated by the police, he writes down “Get Jack Reacher,” but the police cannot find this man, since he lives off the grid and does not have a permanent address, or anything else that leads back to him. Reacher (Tom Cruise) sees Barr’s face on the news, however, and goes to the police station to investigate. The police, who have been unable to find Reacher, are surprised when he shows up on his own.

Reacher is a former military policeman, and at first, it’s not clear why Barr asked for him. Everyone assumes that Reacher is his friend, but Jack denies this. He discusses the case with the arresting officer, Emerson (David Oyelowo) and the District Attorney, Alex Rodin (Richard Jenkins, who we recently saw previously this year in THE CABIN IN THE WOODS and KILLING THEM SOFTLY), who is prosecuting Barr, but when they are not willing to involve Reacher in their investigation (they only give him a limited number of facts), he says he is leaving town. What stops him is Rodin’s daughter Helen (Rosamund Pike) who is also a lawyer like her father, but she is defending Barr.

Reacher reveals that, in the Army, he tracked some murders down to Barr, but Barr was able to avoid being imprisoned. However, Barr is afraid of Reacher and swore to the man at the time of his arrest back then that he would never do anything like that again. It turns out that Barr asked for Reacher’s involvement because things may not be as they seem in this particular case. And if anyone can uncover the truth, it’s an investigative pit bull like Reacher. Jack works with Helen Rodin to find the truth, both for Reacher’s peace of mind, and for Helen to be able to defend Barr in court.

The more Reacher snoops around, the more it becomes clear that someone doesn’t want him sticking his nose in the investigation. Things are done to get Reacher to drop the case, but he isn’t so easy to get rid of. The storyline eventually involves a long, high-speed car chase, and a bloody showdown at a construction site.

Just what is Barr’s involvement in this case? Who is trying to eliminate Reacher? And who can he trust? These are just some of the questions that pop up during the course of JACK REACHER.

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I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one. Based on the trailers, I thought it was a movie where Cruise would be playing an unstoppable killing machine, like he did in the movie COLLATERAL (2004), where he played a merciless hit man. But JACK REACHER was different than the way the trailers made him look.

MA:  Yes, the movie did play out differently from what was hinted at in the trailers, which for me, was a good thing. I expected a DIRTY HARRY clone, a glossy and superficial storyline with Cruise smart-assing his way through the script, but that’s not what JACK REACHER is at all.  Fortunately, it’s better than that.

LS:  Instead of playing an over-the-top vigilante, Cruise is rather low-key as Reacher, keeping things intense throughout. You’re never exactly sure what Reacher’s limits are, and if he is willing to cross certain moral and legal lines to achieve his goals. While reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s iconic Dirty Harry character, Reacher is more complex, and it’s interesting to see Cruise bring the character to life.

In the books, Reacher is six foot five and about 250 pounds. He’s an intimidating character. Obviously, Tom Cruise does not share the same dimensions, and yet, he’s able to make it work. You believe he is a driven, formidable individual who is not to be messed with.

MA:  And that’s the best part of Cruise’s performance for me.  I believed him in this role, and I bought that he could do the things he does in this movie.  While watching the film, I believed I was watching a guy named Jack Reacher, not golden boy actor Tom Cruise doing his shtick.

So, I have to admit, I enjoyed Cruise a lot in this movie.  He did a good job bringing Jack Reacher to life, especially since he’s not a huge hulking figure like the character in the book.  The other thing that worked for me is that while Cruise still looks great for his age (he’s 50) he’s looking a little older here, a bit more weathered and rougher around the edges, and it added to the believability of his character.

Cruise seemed natural in the role, and he never came off as arrogant, which I liked.  All in all, he makes for a very compelling Jack Reacher.

LS: The rest of the cast is pretty good, too. Especially Rosamund Pike as Helen.

MA:  Really?  I wasn’t as crazy about Pike.  I thought she ran hot and cold.  While I believed Helen was a smart attorney, she too often took a back seat to Jack Reacher and his unconventional methods. She spends most of the movie reacting to things he’s done, rather than doing things on her own.  Now, I realize this is a movie about Jack Reacher, but this is what I’m talking about in terms of Pike’s performance:  she didn’t flesh out Helen as much as I wish she had. Ultimately she’s there just to be rescued, and for a dedicated attorney who really wanted to keep her client off death row, I never really felt this passion.

I enjoyed her more, going back a ways, in the Pierce Brosnan James Bond flick DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002), in which she had a small but memorable role.

LS: I thought Pike’s character in JACK REACHER was believable as a woman who is not totally confident in what she is doing; who wonders if taking on this case was a mistake at one point. She is willing to let Reacher take over, because he is much more determined and not easily swayed when people try to put him off the scent. She’s not a particularly self-assured character, and I liked that. The fact that she does become sort of a damsel in distress toward the movie’s end was a little distressing, but it fit the storyline and didn’t strain believability The fact is, not everyone’s brave all the time, or indestructible.

Richard Jenkins as D.A. Alex Rodin, and German director Werner Herzog, as a mysterious man called The Zec, are also very good. I am a big fan of Herzog, as a director. He has made some cinema classics, like AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD (1972) and FITZCARRALDO (1982), both of which starred the great Klaus Kinski, and he has recently been making some documentaries as well, some of which have been quite popular, like GRIZZLY MAN (2005).  He has done some acting before, mostly in independent films like Harmony Korine’s movies JULIEN DONKEY-BOY (1999) and MISTER LONELY (2007), and he’s quite good here.

MA:  Jenkins delivers another excellent performance in what is becoming a regular occurrence, and Werner Herzog is very creepy as the villain The Zec.  The only problem I had with the character is when all is said and done, his villainous plans don’t seem anywhere near as dastardly as you would expect from a guy as scary as he is.  While Herzog creates a disturbing heavy in The Zec, the guy’s not exactly the most ambitious villain you’ll see in a movie.

LS: I agree. Herzog goes to all this trouble to make The Zec creepy as hell, and you think this is going to lead to some truly intense confrontation between him and Reacher at the end, and what happens is a bit of a disappointment. Although, what happens is believable behavior for both of their characters.

Even Robert Duvall shows up late in the film, as a former Marine named Cash who runs a shooting range, and who becomes Reacher’s unlikely ally.

MA: I thought Duvall was great.

And I also really liked Alexia Fast as Sandy, a young woman who crosses paths with Reacher when her not-so-smart friends are hired to rough up Reacher, and she’s used as bait.  Things don’t turn out too well for them.  But Fast makes Sandy both sexy and vulnerable, and you really feel for her, as does Reacher, in an almost paternal way.  For a small role, I thought Fast stood out as Sandy

LS: I agree, I liked Fast a lot as Sandy. I thought she would have a bigger role in the movie as it developed, but she’s in it just as long as she needs to be. She’s a stand-out here, and I want to see more of her. She really shines.

I also really liked Jai Courtney in the role of Charlie, who turns out to be the main villain here. Courtney previously played Varro in the Showtime series SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE (2010), and I think he is just as intense as Reacher by the end of this movie. Early on, you think he’s going to be a pushover, but he’s not at all, and there’s a great fight scene toward the end between him and Reacher.

MA:  Yes, that is a great fight scene, and I liked Courtney a lot too.

LS:  Aside from the acting, I also found the storyline pretty riveting.

MA:  Ditto.

LS:  The screenplay is by Christopher McQuarrie, who also gave us the scripts for the excellent THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995), and another Tom Cruise movie, VALKYRIE (2008). McQuarrie also directed JACK REACHER, and this is his second time in the director’s chair (the first was THE WAY OF THE GUN (2000) starring Ryan Phillipe and Benicio Del Toro, which I also liked). The script and the direction here are quite good.

MA:  I agree.  JACK REACHER is a riveting movie, and one of the reasons why is the direction by Christopher McQuarrie.  There’s some pretty cool fight scenes in this one, and one helluva car chase sequence that was as good as anything we saw in DRIVE (2011) and reminded me of one of the all-time best car chases on film, the Steve McQueen movie BULLITT (1968) directed by Peter Yates.

LS: There are also some great scenes of dark humor, like whenever Reacher goes up against the local thugs. I actually laughed out loud a couple of times.

MA:   You’re right.  There were some genuine funny lines.

And while I enjoyed the script, in that Reacher has a lot of memorable lines, and the dialogue rings true throughout, I thought the plot grew more contrived as it went along.  The whole conspiracy aspect gets old, and then it plays the “someone you trust is really working for the bad guys” card.  While the character of Jack Reacher remains compelling throughout the movie, I can’t say the same for the plot.  I thought it grew predictable towards the end.

LS: The last 15 minutes or so are the weakest part of the movie in my opinion, and things tie up a little too easily after the complexity of the rest of the movie. But it’s not enough to ruin what came before it.

MA: While I liked the pacing for the most part, I thought at two hours and ten minutes that it ran a little long.  I could have used about 15 minutes shaved off this one.

LS: I’m always complaining about how movies seem to be longer than they need to be. It’s quantity over quality, with directors and studios thinking movies have to be long to seem worth the price of a movie ticket, often to the detriment of the movie itself. But, in this case, I thought JACK REACHER was fine at its length. There never was one part that I felt went on longer than it needed to. And I thought the pacing was good.

Except for some issues I had with the ending, JACK REACHER works, and it’s a good vehicle for Cruise, who clearly would like to turn this into a franchise (there are about 18 books so far in the series, so there’s a lot of possible material there).

MA:  And that would take him into his 70s, where he’d still be sporting dark brown hair and kicking bad guys’ butts.  Will Cruise ever show some gray hair?

LS:  One word of warning, however. Some audience members may have an issue with the overwhelming use of guns throughout the movie.

MA:  Guns in a movie?  Oh my!  It’s guns in real life they ought to be worried about.

LS: I agree, and I hesitate to bring this up. But in the beginning of the film, especially, where the sniper kills his victims, it may be too much for some viewers after the recent real-life tragedy in Connecticut. This will not be true of everyone, but I wanted to put it out there. As time goes on, and people see this movie later on DVD or Netflix, they’ll wonder what all the hubbub was about. It’s all about timing.

MA: Yeah, in that way, the timing for the release of this movie couldn’t have been worse.  In fact, it was supposed to open in some markets last week, but the producers delayed its premiere.

And yes, the opening scene is very jarring because of what just happened in Connecticut.  I found it painful to watch, as I’m sure a lot of other people will as well.

But moving away from real life for a moment, another reason this scene is so riveting is the way it’s shot by director McQuarrie.  It’s shot through the eye of the shooter, and as such it’s a very uncomfortable scene to watch, and yet, it’s not tasteless in terms of graphic violence.  I’m not even sure we actually see someone shot.  I think the shots occur off camera in quick clever cut-ways just at the dreaded moment.

LS: Yet it’s intense, and it works.

MA: This scene would have been tasteless if the movie were glorifying sniper shooting, but it’s not doing that at all.  Sure, there’s a lot of killing in this movie, but none of it is glorified.

For a PG-13 movie, I thought JACK REACHER did a good job cranking up the intensity.  In addition to this opening scene, there’s also a disturbing scene involving someone chewing his own fingers off.  Now, nothing is shown here, but it still works.  It’s compelling storytelling.

LS: That scene involves The Zec, and again, I was disappointed they built him up to be such a scary character and then pretty much don’t do anything with him.

I was surprised it was PG-13, because it didn’t seem to be sanitized or dumbed down, like a lot of movies are to reach a wider audience.  JACK REACHER has teeth. It’s a solid thriller, and a better movie than I expected.  I give it three knives.

MA:  I give it three knives as well.   I also liked it more than I thought I would. Jack Reacher is a character who I enjoyed watching, and I think I’d enjoy seeing him in other movies as well.  And Tom Cruise does a nice job bringing this guy to life.

Jack Reacher is a character who I enjoyed watching, and I think I’d enjoy seeing him in other movies as well.  And Tom Cruise does a nice job bringing this guy to life.

In addition to being a solid action movie, JACK REACHER is also a decent detective film, as it’s fun seeing how Reacher goes about piecing together clues and figuring out the answers to many of the movie’s questions.  The evidence against his friend is overwhelming, yet Reacher sees a something right away at the crime scene which raises a red flag for him, and what he sees, as he explains it, makes perfect sense to us the audience.

LS: As Reacher says several times in the movie, Barr is not his friend.

MA: Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher probably does more sleuthing than Robert Downey Jr. in the recent SHERLOCK HOLMES movies.

While I found the plot somewhat more contrived towards the end, the concluding segment to JACK REACHER, where Reacher has to come to the rescue of Helen, I found very satisfying.  It’s an exciting sequence.

That being said, things do get wrapped up neat and tidy by the end of the movie, probably too much for my tastes, although I didn’t have a major problem with this since it sort of  fits in with Jack Reacher’s style.  He’s a slick professional who never leaves traces of himself behind.  When he finishes a job, he makes a clean exit, disappearing into the night once more.

JACK REACHER is a very good movie, solid and compelling throughout, well worth a trip to the movies.

And on that note, we leave you.

LS:  Until next time.

(MA & LS exit in silence, as 26 candles illuminate the field behind them.)

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives JACK REACHER ~ three knives!

LL Soares gives JACK REACHER ~three knives.

KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012)

Posted in 2012, Bad Situations, Crime Films, Gangsters!, Hit Men, Killers, Murder! with tags , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

killing-them-softly-poster1

(The Scene: A poker game in the back room of a building.  Around the table playing cards sits a tough group of mobsters and killers.  The door bursts open, and two men in masks holding guns enter the room shouting for everyone to put their hands up. Another door opens and MICHAEL ARRUDA enters.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Whoa!

FIRST ROBBER:  Put your hands up!  Give us the money!

MA:  I don’t think you want to do that.  Do you realize who these people are?

FIRST ROBBER:  Shut up!  Just give us the money!

MA:  I’ve got some beer and chips in the back.  Wouldn’t you rather have that?

FIRST ROBBER:  No, I wouldn’t rather have that!  Just give us the money already!

MA: Okay.  If you say so.  Come with me.

(They walk towards the back when a third door opens, and L.L. SOARES enters.)

L.L.SOARES:  What’s going on here?

MA:  We’re being robbed.

LS: Did you tell them who it is exactly who’s playing here?  That these guys are all killers and that if they do this they’re as good as dead?

MA: I tried.

FIRST ROBBER: Shut up!  (to LS)  You!  Put your hands up!

LS:  What if I don’t wanna?

FIRST ROBBER:  Then I’ll blow a hole through your skull.

LS:  I’d like to see you try.  It’s going to be real difficult for you to see straight with an ax sticking out of your head.

FIRST ROBBER:  An axe?

(LS suddenly retrieves an axe from behind his back and strikes the robber in the head.)

MA (winces):  Ouch!  That’s gotta hurt!

FIRST ROBBER (with an axe embedded in his skull and blood pouring down his face):  Damn your fast for a big guy, I didn’t even see that coming!  How the hell were you hiding an axe behind your back?

LS:  Trade secret.
FIRST ROBBER:  You’re right.  I can’t see straight to save my life.  I’m outta here!  (Flees)

SECOND ROBBER:  Hey!  Where are you going?

MA:  Probably to the hospital.  I’d leave too if I were you.  The next weapon on our list isn’t an axe.  (holds up a nutcracker.)

SECOND ROBBER:  Yikes!  (runs away).

LS (to players):  All set.  You can get back to your game now. And we can get on with our movie review.

MA:  Yes, today we’re reviewing the new thriller KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012) by writer/director Andrew Dominik.  Shall I start us off?

LS:  Sure.  I’ve got to find me another axe anyway. Just in case we have any more visitors. I really wish I’d packed the chainsaw for this trip.

MA:  KILLING THEM SOFTLY is the latest film by writer/director Andrew Dominik, a guy who’s known for making an underwhelming number of movies.  His last film, the critically acclaimed THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007) was made in 2007.  He’s not exactly churning them out every year.

LS: That doesn’t mean much. The great Terrence Malick, who made one of my favorite movies of last year, THE TREE OF LIFE, went through a period of 20 years between DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978) and THE THIN RED LINE (1998) where he didn’t put out anything. And Stanley Kubrick, arguably the greatest director whoever lived, took his sweet time between movies. It’s not quantity, brother, it’s quality!

MA: You’re comparing Dominik to Malick and Kubrick?

LS: Not yet. But there’s definitely potential there. He certainly isn’t a bad director. And he made the excellent Australian prison movie CHOPPER (2000) with Eric Bana. Not bad for resume for his first three films.

MA: True, and you’re right about quality over quantity, but I find it a little strange, that’s all.  I mean, what the heck are they doing when they’re not making movies?

LS:  Does it matter?

MA:  Not at all.  I’m just curious.

Anyway, KILLING THEM SOFTLY is the story of some low-life crooks who cross paths with dangerous higher tier criminals, set against the backdrop of the troubled economy in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration, so one of the themes in the movie is that crooks are struggling too.

LS: And that they’re not the only crooks. The news, like you said, is constantly rumbling about the Wall Street debacle and how we were teetering on the cliff of financial upheaval. Of course, that’s also when Barak Obama was a Senator campaigning for the presidency for the first time against John McCain, so we hear them on the news as well. I think this footage was a double-edged sword. In one way, it kinda worked because it was drawing a parallel between low-life crooks and the swindlers on Wall Street, and how everyone was feeling pretty desperate around then. In another way, it brought a whole political agenda to the movie that really wasn’t necessary. I think in the long run, I would have preferred the movie without it.

MA: I thought it added to the ugliness of the whole story.  I liked the footage.

Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) are hired by Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) to rob a poker game run by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta).  The players at this game are an exceedingly dangerous lot, the likes of which a guy like Amato would never dream of stealing from, but the angle here, as Johnny explains it to Frankie, is that some time ago Markie robbed his own game, and since he’s a likeable guy, the players when they found out years later, let him get away with it.  Amato tells Frankie that if Markie’s game is robbed again, everyone is going to blame Markie, and he’s the guy who’s going to take the fall.  The real robbers would get away with it.

LS: Or so he thinks.

MA: So, Frankie and Russell pull off the job, which of course upsets the criminal powers that be.  The man at the top, a guy named Dillon (Sam Shepard) has his man Driver (Richard Jenkins) hire a professional killer Jackie (Brad Pitt) to find the guys who robbed him and kill them.  They pretty much know that Markie wasn’t involved, yet decide he should be punished anyway, to send a message.

LS: Well, he’s not completely innocent. He did hire other guys to hold up that poker game years ago. I actually think Jackie’s logic makes complete sense. Markie had it coming. Oh, and did I mention that Brad Pitt is like the personification of cool in this movie. Jackie is friggin terrific.

MA: Jackie also enlists the assistance of a New York City hit man Mickey (James Gandolfini) since Jackie knows one of the guys he has to kill, and he doesn’t feel comfortable doing it.  As he says, he likes to kill his victims softly, from a distance.  Up close and personal, he explains, it gets messy and emotional, and he doesn’t like that.

LS: Thus, the title.

Gandolfini is actually pretty great here. Mickey is a complete sad sack, always whining and he seems to be always on the verge of tears. Instead of doing his job, he’s too busy drinking and spending all his money on prostitutes. It’s a big leap from the confidence and scariness of his most famous role, Tony Soprano.

(TONY SOPRANO enters the room)

TONY SOPRANO: Are you effin kidding me here? This Mickey is a wimp. I woulda eaten him for breakfast. So are all these guys. I woulda taken care of this whole situation in like five minutes and there would have been a lot of dead bodies on the floor.

LS: Yeah, this town really could have used a Tony Soprano.

MA: But the fact that it’s not that organized, that people get away with stuff like this, is what makes it interesting.

TONY SOPRANO: I still say I would have cleaned this up before lunchtime. And that Mickey is a friggin embarrassment.

LS: No one is disagreeing with you, Mr. Soprano.

TONY SOPRANO: Good. Youse guys make sure and keep it that way. I gotta go back to the Badda Bing now. My favorite girl is dancing tonight.

(SOPRANO exits)

LS: That was scary.

MA: Not really. You forget, this is Cinema Knife Fight Land. We’re in control here.

LS: Oh yeah. I forgot.

MA: Anyway, back to my review, Jackie sets out to complete his job, spending nearly as much time working as haggling with Driver over how much he’s going to get paid and terms of the hits, as well as dealing with Mickey who seems to be in no shape to pull off a hit.  Meanwhile, Frankie realizes that the robbery might have been a dumb move once he learns there’s a contract out for his life.

KILLING THEM SOFTLY is one cynical movie.  Its stylish creative script tells a gritty story that hooks you immediately and in spite of its ensuing ugliness doesn’t allow you to turn away.  It’s not an enjoyable movie by any means.  It’s dark and it’s depressing.

I liked it.

LS: If you didn’t like it, I would have had my doubts about your reviewing skills.

It’s a solid little movie. It’s also based on the novel “Cogan’s Trade” by one of the best crime fiction writers of all time, George V. Higgins. He’s the guy who also wrote the classic THE FRIENDS OF EDDY COYLE which was made into a great movie in 1973 by Peter Yates starring Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle. Higgins had a thing for dialogue – he was a master at it. And as you can tell, most of KILLING THEM SOFTLY is people talking. Sure, there are moments of brutal violence, but most of the time, people are talking things out. And the dialogue is really good. My only complaint is that there’s so much dialogue that sometimes the movie seems a little stagey – which is something that usually happens when people adapt plays for the movies – but it didn’t bother me that much, because the dialogue is so good! Higgins was a master at that stuff.

And Higgins was from Boston – our old stomping grounds – and set his stories there. You can’t really tell where KILLING THEM SOFTLY takes place – it could be any economically depressed town in the US. There is a scene where Frankie mentions local cities like Holbrook and Somerville, but it really could be anywhere.

MA; Even though this movie sports a strong cast, the true star of KILLING THEM SOFTLY is writer/director Andrew Dominik.  He scores high on both fronts.

His screenplay, which as LL mentioned is based on the novel “Cogan’s Trade” by George V. Higgins, is dark and cynical, and but it’s also full of sharp clever dialogue, some of it funny, but most of it plain sad.  There’s just a bunch of sad characters in this movie.  I didn’t particularly like Frankie as a character, but I certainly felt bad for him and didn’t want to see him fall victim to the likes of a hired killer like Jackie.

LS: You didn’t like Frankie? I thought the guy was at least sympathetic. The character who annoyed me the most was Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), an Australian low-life who grated on me with every scene. Don’t get me wrong, Mendelsohn does a great job bringing this guy to life, but every time I saw him, I wanted to smack the taste out of his mouth.

MA:  Yes, he was annoying.  I liked the clever juxtaposition of the crime story told in this movie with the economic woes going on in the country as a whole.  There are nonstop newscasts playing in the background throughout this movie first of press conferences of President Bush speaking about the imminent economic crisis, and then of newly elected Barack Obama speaking about hope and unity, sentiments the characters in this movie, in the midst of their own troubled lives, don’t share at all.

I loved Brad Pitt’s speech at the end of the movie, where he says America isn’t a community, it’s a business, and we’re all on our own.  It’s an incredibly cynical soliloquy.  For a moment I thought I was on Facebook.

LS; It was a helluva lot more poignant than something you’d read on Facebook, you goober.

MA:  No, I meant how people go on relentless political tirades on Facebook.  His speech was like that.

LS: Yeah, except it friggin ROCKED.

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MA: I enjoyed Dominik’s work behind the camera just as much as his script.  There were some very taut scenes in this film, including the robbery of the poker game, which I found very gripping.  I kept expecting someone to pull a gun and start a bloodbath.

LS: Yeah, that was always a possibility.

MA: The scene where Markie is worked over is brutal.  He gets the crap kicked out of him big time, and it’s as unsettling a beating as you’ll see in a movie.  Better yet, Dominik didn’t use CGI blood here, so things looked real.

LS: The way that scene is filmed, the points of view, the use of sound when the punches land, was pretty much perfect. One of the best “guys getting the crap kicked out of him” scenes I’ve seen in a long time.

MA: However, later in a key murder scene, CGI blood is used, and so in spite of some very stylish camerawork, I found this scene less satisfying.

LS: I don’t know, I liked that scene a lot, too. That murder scene is actually poetic, the way every bullet shatters car glass that cascades like rain. And during that scene, the song “Love Letters” by Ketty Lester is playing. It’s a creepy little love song that was also used to similar effect in David Lynch’s masterpiece, BLUE VELVET (1986), and was most probably meant to be a moment of homage to Lynch’s film.

MAPoetic, but fake looking.  It didn’t wow me as much as it wowed you.

KILLING THEM SOFTLY reminded me a little bit of Quentin Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS (1992), although it’s not as “in-your-face” as that movie.  It’s much more reserved and less visceral, making its points more through characterizations than violence.

And while the cast is very good, it’s an ensemble cast, and no one person dominates.

LS: In an ensemble story like this, that involves a lot of people and lots of dialogue, it’s really easy to misstep, but Dominick handles everything really well. It doesn’t hurt that he’s got a dream cast here. These actors must have relished the chance to be part of such a great script, though. We should mention again that Dominick also wrote the screenplay.

MA: I enjoyed Brad Pitt a lot as Jackie Cogan, the enforcer who’s all about the business and getting the job done. It’s a subtle performance, nothing like his lively turn in Tarantino’s INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009).

LS: You know, Brad Pitt is a really underrated actor. He is better known for his appearances in the tabloids, where every move he makes with Angelina Jolie is scrutinized, than for his acting, which is a shame. He’s certainly not just a pretty boy. This guy can friggin act. The first time he completely blew me away was back in FIGHT CLUB (1999) and he’s had lots of great roles since then, including his hilarious one in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. KILLING THEM SOFTLY just reinforces how great this guy is.

MA:  Agreed.

Scoot McNairy makes for a very sympathetic Frankie.  We just saw McNairy in ARGO (2012), and before that in MONSTERS (2010).  I thought James Gandolfini was excellent as Mickey, the New York hitman dogged by his personal problems and alcoholism.  Once again, Richard Jenkins makes his mark, here as Driver, coming off two memorable performances, one in CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011) and the other in LET ME IN (2010).

LS: Richard Jenkins is a terrific character actor. One of the best in the business. I first really started to pay attention to him as an actor when he played the father (actually most of the time, he was a ghost) in the HBO series SIX FEET UNDER (2001 – 2005), but he had been in tons of movies before then, and he’s been working a lot since. He’s really a great go-to guy for directors. And I hope they keep hiring him, because it’s always a treat to see Jenkins at work.

MA: Ray Liotta, looking older and flabbier, is nearly as sympathetic as McNairy was as Frankie.  I found his Markie likeable, mostly because almost everyone else in this film is unlikeable.

LS: Yeah, you can see why he got a pass the first time around. As we’re told, “Everyone likes Markie.” And Liotta is perfect in this role. He’s been in tons of great movies, but he might always be known best as Henry Hill in Martin Scorcese’s excellent GOODFELLAS (1990).

MA: Vincent Curatola is also very good as Johnny Amato, in a small role.  Speaking of small roles, you can put down Sam Shepard’s performance as Dillon in the “blink and you’ll miss him” category.  I don’t think he’s in the movie for more than sixty seconds.

If there were any drawbacks to KILLING THEM SOFTLY it’s that it’s a difficult movie to like.  It presents a very cynical story with characters who really aren’t very likeable.  It doesn’t mean it’s not a good movie, but it’s not something I’m going to want to rewatch any time soon.

LS: I disagree completely. But then again, I have never had a problem with cynical stories or unlikeable characters. This movie is dark, sure, but the characters are fascinating. And I think Brad Pitt is likable as hell here. How can you not like a character who is so damn cool? He dominates every scene he’s in.

MA: See, I didn’t find him all that cool. …

LS: WHAT???

MA: On the other hand, I did like the film’s unconventional directorial style a lot.  It definitely does not play like a traditional glossy Hollywood production. This is a gritty movie that gets down and dirty.  You can almost smell the blood, sweat, and death.

LS: Exactly, and that’s why it’s so good.

MA: Not perfect, and not for everyone, but in terms of telling its story, it’s a killer.

I give KILLING THEM SOFTLY three knives.

LS: Well, I guess I liked this one a little more than you did. I give it three and a half knives. Like you said, it’s not perfect. But it’s really good. And this is one of those movies that, the more I think about it over time, the more I’ll like it.

MOBSTER 1: Are you guys done talking yet?

LS: Yep, that’s our review.

MOBSTER 2: It’s about time.

MOBSTER 1: You two were disrupting the poker game with all that chatter. The other guys got so pissed off they just got up and left. You know how much money that cost me?

MOBSTER 2: Yeah!

MOBSTER 1: Looks like I’m gonna have to take it out of your hides.

MOBSTER 2: It’s time for a beatin’!

MA: Well, if you got another axe like you said, now is the time to use it.

LS: Naw, I couldn’t find another one.  Damn, I wish I’d brought the chainsaw.

MA: What are you saying? That we better start running?

LS: Exactly.

(LS and MA flee the scene)

MOBSTER 1: Hey! Come back here!

MOBSTER 2: Yeah, gets your beatins like a man.

(FADE OUT)

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives KILLING THEM SOFTLY ~three knives!

LL Soares gives KILLING THEM SOFTLY~three and a half knives.

Cinema Knife Fight COMING ATTRACTIONS – NOVEMBER 2012

Posted in 2012, Coming Attractions, Hit Men, Martial Arts, Vampires with tags , , , , , , , , on November 3, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT – COMING ATTRACTIONS:
NOVEMBER 2012
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene:  A lavishly decorated bedroom.  Several beautiful Asian women lay on a huge bed.  L.L. SOARES karate chops his way through the bedroom door.)

ASIAN WOMAN:  Can we interest you in some pleasure?

L.L. SOARES:  You’re business.  (Lifts axe above his head.)  This is pleasure.  (Swings axe, and women run away, screaming in terror.)

(MICHAEL ARRUDA enters the room.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Scaring the women away again, I see.

LS:   At least I’m trying to scare them.  What’s your excuse?

MA:  Huh?

LS:  When was the last time you went on a date?

MA:  Shh!  I’m too busy watching all these movies.  Speaking of which, it’s time for our November Coming Attractions column.  There are some interesting movies this month.

We kick things off this weekend with a review of THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS.  I have to say, I’m really looking forward to this one, as the trailer is pretty cool.  It looks like it’s going to be a hoot.

Directed by RZA of hip hop fame, with a screenplay by Eli Roth and RZA, this actioner takes place in feudal China and features assassins, warriors, and soldiers all fighting over a treasure of gold.  It stars Russell Crowe, RZA, and Lucy Liu.

Based on its stylish and high-octane trailer, this one looks like fun.

LS:  What’s not to love? I’m a big fan of RZA and the Wu-Tang Clan, I’m a big fan of Eli Roth, and this one is produced by Quentin Tarantino. It looks a little one of those super-stylized martial arts flicks, like Tarantino’s KILL BILL movies, and it should be a great time.

I hope it lives up to our expectations.

MA:  On November 9, the action continues with our review of the new James Bond flick, SKYFALL.  I’m actually reviewing this one with Nick Cato.  (turns to LS)  Do you have something against James Bond or something?

LS:  Not really. I’ve just never been a big fan of the series. I know some people are nuts for James Bond movies, but I’ve found a lot of them to be kind of…well…boring. Truth is, I think Daniel Craig is great in the role, and I liked him a lot in CASINO ROYALE (2006), but I figured that the new one should be reviewed by hardcore fans, and I know you dig the series. And I know Nick is a huge fan, too. So I decided to sit this one out and let two Bondies review the new movie.

MA:  Bondies?

LS: Or whatever it is you Bond fans call yourselves. Bondians? Besides, it gives me a weekend off.

MA: I remember not knowing what to expect with the first Daniel Craig Bond movie, CASINO ROYALE, because I’d heard they had made lots of changes, but I ended up loving that film and enjoying the next one QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008) even more.

I enjoyed Craig’s interpretation of Bond: a much grittier, darker hero, than the previous Bonds, and he’s as rough and tough as Sean Connery’s original interpretation of 007.  The two Craig Bond movies really didn’t play like previous Bond films.  The filmmakers deviated from the traditional Bond formula, and the films were better for it.

The only thing I’m concerned about is I enjoyed the previous two films so much, I wonder if this film will be as good?  Of course, there have been so many James Bond movies, and they have a proven track record, so I’m reasonably confident this movie is going to be good.

In addition to Daniel Craig as James Bond, the cast also includes notable actors Javier Bardem, who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN in 2007, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, and Judi Dench, who returns for the seventh time as M.

LS:  On 11/16, we’ll be reviewing TWILIGHT BREAKING DAWN PART II.

(MA groans).

LS:  Don’t worry, it’s almost over. BREAKING DAWN PART II is the final film in the TWILIGHT series. At least I hope it is. You should be proud of yourself. We’ve sat through every single movie in the TWILIGHT franchise. That’s quite an accomplishment! We can’t just walk away and not watch the final one.

MA: Why not?

LS: Because the fans expect us to see it and review it. And, most likely, rip it to shreds.

MA:  I have nothing to say about this one, other than I can’t believe I’m still alive after having to sit through the previous movies in this series.  God-awful, and then some!

The weekend of 11/23, Thanksgiving weekend, has a couple of movies that might be of interest. First, LIFE OF PI opens on 11/21.  I don’t know much about this one, other than it’s directed by Ang Lee and looks to be some sort of fantasy. Then there’s the remake of RED DAWN also opening that weekend.

LS:  I think it’s a long-shot if we review either one. Most likely we’ll take that weekend off. Even we deserve a holiday. Besides, if no one else on the staff reviews them, we’ll no doubt have something else cooked up for our readers.

And we finish the month with a review of KILLING THEM SOFTLY, which opens on November 30.  This one has Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini as hit men who are called in to handle some yahoos who robbed a mob-run poker game. It actually looks pretty cool.

MA:  I agree that this one looks good. It looks like a hard-edged crime thriller, and it’s got a solid cast. Along with Pitt and Gandolfini, there’s Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, and Sam Shepard.

It should be a strong way to finish the month.

Okay, that wraps things up for November.  We’ll see you on Monday with our review of THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS.

LS:  Thanks for joining us, and we’ll see you again soon.

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (2012)

Posted in 2012, Crime Films, Gangsters!, Hit Men, Nick Cato Reviews, Psycho killer with tags , , , , , , on October 20, 2012 by knifefighter

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (2012)
Movie Review by Nick Cato

Martin McDonagh, who directed Colin Farrell in 2008’s IN BRUGES, returns to the director’s chair to once again guide Farrell through another dark comedy that’s also more violent than most horror and action films; by the crowd’s reaction (at least where I attended a screening), they seemed to love it or hate it. Or in this case, SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS apparently left some viewers undecided.

Farrell plays Marty, a struggling screenwriter. His best friend Billy (played by the wonderfully demented Sam Rockwell) attempts to help him write his current project (titled SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS) and keeps coming up with some really “out-there” ideas. But Farrell takes them, and before long his screenplay begins to take shape.

Unknown to Marty, Billy is involved with an unusual money making scheme with his senior citizen friend Hans (played by Christopher Walken in one of his funniest—and most heartfelt—performances in years). Hans and Billy kidnap dogs from wealthy-looking people and then wait for “missing dog” signs to appear, and then return the mutts for reward money. Hans is using his share to help pay medical bills for his cancer-stricken wife, Myra (and although she only appears for a short time, actress Linda Bright Clay does a fantastic job portraying Hans’s better half).

Things take a wicked and funny turn when Billy kidnaps a Shih Tzu that belongs to a gangster (Charlie, played with anarchic abandon by Woody Harrelson). Before long Charlie has his goons ripping L.A. apart looking for the pooch, and when they discover Hans’s operation, Charlie decides the best way to get to Hans (who he can’t find) is to get to his wife.

Fans of singer Tom Waits are in for a real treat; his performance as psychopath Zachariah shows he can act as well as pen a solid tune. And one of his scenes is arguably the funniest in the film.

SEVEN PSYCHOPATH’s plot is simple, but thanks to writer/director McDonagh, there’s plenty of depth to each character, and the story reveals levels not common to mainstream Hollywood comedies. What I liked best was how we see the struggle of a writer; Marty is at wit’s end and is just desperate enough to accept Billy’s crazy ideas to get his screenplay moving (an early scene featuring an unforgettable cameo by Harry Dean Stanton, as a psychopathic Quaker, had me in stitches). And as the film moves along, Billy’s psyche is unraveled one funny layer at a time, in the end turning him into something I think few people will have expected.

I’m sure the violence level will turn some people off: there’s graphic throat slashings, countless bullets-to-the-head, and in one dream sequence, a head explosion that rivals anything in David Cronenberg’s SCANNERS (1981). SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS does a good job going from laugh-out-loud funny to halting the viewer with a grim kill scene…and thanks to the aforementioned part by Linda Bright Clay, a few serious, tension-filled moments worthy of any blockbuster thriller.

Most of the second half takes place in the desert, as Marty, Billy, and Hans both hide and wait for Charlie to find them. During this sequence, Hans takes a tape recorder and explains his idea for Marty’s screenplay. What he says is shown at the end of the film, and it’s classic Walken all around. I’m a major Walken fan (I even sat through his 1995 turd-bucket SEARCH AND DESTROY), and am thrilled he has taken this role that will surely go down as one of his all-time best. Or at least all-time funniest.

If your sense of humor leans toward the dark side, check out SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS. It’s as grim as it is funny, and unlike the majority of junk coming out of Hollywood, features a textured story that will surely hold up well to repeat viewings.

4 out of 5 bloody Knives.

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato

Marty (Colin Farrell) attempts to understand suggestions for his screenplay given by Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken).

 

Nick Cat gives SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS  ~FOUR knives.

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: THE OUTSIDE MAN (1972)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2012, Action Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Crime Films, Drive-in Movies, Fast Cars, Gangsters!, Hit Men, International Cast, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

THE OUTSIDE MAN (1972)

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

Ah, the 1970s.  Not only was it a great time for gritty independent film-making, it was also a happy time for international productions.  You could have a film made in France, with a Spanish director, costumes by a British woman, stars from America and Poland and Germany and Thailand, produced by Italians, and with music by some Paraguayan rock star with a sitar and a hookah pipe.  When the movie was completed, it would be instantly dubbed into every language in the world, given an exploitive advertising campaign, and plopped into drive-ins and grindhouse theaters everywhere.  Italian horror movies did this for years, touting American actors in the lead roles but with a rainbow coalition of production credits that always made you go ‘hmmmm.’  Most of the time, we were duped into yet another six day wonder about women in bikinis and zombies in a Nazi-patrolled oasis (and there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with that!)  Every once in a while, a real treat would emerge from this United Nations of Sleazy Filmmaking—movies like THE OUTSIDE MAN (1972) a great gangster action movie with an A-list cast and a crazy diverse group of people behind the camera.

Look out! The OUTSIDE MAN is coming!

Directed by Frenchman Jacques Desrayaud, who also created THE SWIMMING POOL (1969) and LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN (2001), and written by Jean-Claude Carriere (who wrote such high class films as BELLE DE JOUR, 1967, THE TIN DRUM, 1979, THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, 1988, SOMMERSBY, 1990, CYRANO de BERGERAC, 1990 and THE HORSEMAN ON THE ROOF, 1995), and we have a highly respected couple of filmmakers who had worked with the likes of Luis Bunuel, Wayne Wang, Hector Babenco, Peter Brook, Louis Malle, and, well, Jess Franco (I guess everyone hits rock bottom at some time or another).  Very impressive credits to their names and some major connections.  Also behind the scenes we have music by Michel Legrand (THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, 1964 and YENTL, 1983), cinematography by Silvano Ippoliti (GREAT SILENCE, 1968, SALON KITTY, 1976 and CALIGULA, 1979), and produced by Jacques Bar (LET SLEEPING COPS LIE, 1988, and THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, 1998).  This is some pedigree, with some of the greatest Europeans working in the 1960s and 1970s.  But there’s a bit of a CHINATOWN feeling to it all . . . “It’s an art film; it’s exploitation.  It’s an art film; it’s exploitation.”

But it’s the story and the cast that make THE OUTSIDE MAN so much damn fun!  This is one back-stabbing, sleazy, nasty picture . . . and it was rated PG back in the day!

We start in Los Angeles, amidst music that sounds like leftovers from STARSKY AND HUTCH (“You got no trouble with Jesus, You got no trouble with me!”) and it’s sung by Joe Morton, future star of BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET (1984), SPEED (1994), and the TV show LAW AND ORDER!  That astonishing cast flashes across the screen, but more on them as they appear.

Jean-Louis Trintignant (LES BICHES, 1968, MY NIGHT AT MAUDE’S, 1969 and RED, 1994) stars as Lucien, a hit man with the heaviest French accent ever.  The handsome Frenchman is delivered a suitcase full of money and orders from a Los Angeles crime family to assassinate another mob boss.  When he arrives at the target’s house, he finds a mansion with a fleet of cool cars out front, a fountain, and Victor Kovaks, played by Ted de Corsia (THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, 1947 and THE KILLING, 1956) and his beautiful, much younger wife Jackie, played by POLICE WOMAN herself, Angie Dickenson (also in RIO BRAVO, 1959 and DRESSED TO KILL,  1980).  She sports a great bikini and a pool-boy.  Lucien kills Victor and calmly walks away from the scene of the crime.  When he gets back to his hotel, he finds that someone claiming to be his secretary has already checked him out and taken everything from his room, including his wallet and passport.  Suddenly, someone is shooting at him wherever he goes.  Turns out, the assassin after him is ice-cold Roy Scheider (JAWS, 1975, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, 1971 and BLUE THUNDER, 1983).

Sexy redhead Ann-Margret goes blonde for THE OUTSIDE MAN.

After escaping, Lucien hitches a ride with housewife Mrs. Barnes, played by Georgia Engel (Georgette on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and Esmeralda on the soap opera PASSIONS).  Her kid is played by Jackie Earle Haley (BAD NEWS BEARS, 1976, WATCHMEN, 2009, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, 2010 and SHUTTER ISLAND, 2010).  The boy says, “What are you, a foreigner?”  They watch STAR TREK on television, as well as Friskies commercials.  Our favorite killer calls Paris on her phone (“Who’s gonna pay for this?”) while Jackie Earle listens in.  Lucien smacks the crap out of the kid (according to reports, the slaps were real and brutal), then he leaves them, getting into an elevator with. . . NO!  Roy Scheider!  Luckily, two women get in and all Scheider gets to do is light Lucien’s cigarette.  Then, the shooting and chasing starts again.

Lucien, obeying orders, goes downtown following a group of bikers and a Jesus-freak hitchhiker who tries to convert the assassin.  Scheider accidentally kills the hitchhiker, so Lucien is driving around with a religious nut with long blond hair and a bloody hole in his head and a giant golden cross around his neck!  More chasing and shoot-outs ensue.

Lucien hears a description of himself on the news, but the wife and pool-boy of his victim have given incredibly erroneous descriptions of him, which makes him start to wonder if it was all a set-up.  He’s told to seek out the ex-moll of his boss, a stripper in a club named Nancy, played by Ann Margret (BYE BYE BIRDIE, 1963, TOMMY, 1975 and GRUMPY OLD MEN, 1993) in a very low-cut, revealing white outfit and a blonde Marilyn Monroe wig.  “I tend bar with my tits hanging out,” she says.  “Victor made sure that was the only job I could get.”  According to her, Victor’s brother, Alex, will run the mob better.  Alex, aka the pool-boy, is played by Umberto Orsini from THE ANTICHRIST (1974) and EMMANUELLE 3 (1977).  Nancy takes him to her friend Karl’s place where he can lie low for a while.  Karl’s a hippie played by Carlo de Mejo, who was in THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981), CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD/THE GATES OF HELL (1980), and MANHATTAN BABY (1982.)  Who knew a Lucio Fulci regular would be in the same movie as Ann Margret?

Meanwhile, Scheider has tracked down Georgette and followed the trail to Nancy who leads him to Lucien.  Cue exciting chase involving hit-men, Nancy, and the police!  Eventually, the French mob, led by Antoine (Michel Constantin of LE TROU, 1960 and THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, 1978) gets to America and decides to join forces with Lucien.

Who is trying to kill Lucien?  Who hired the assassin in the first place?  Can Karl and Nancy be trusted?  What about the wife of the target and his brother, the pool-boy?  Will Lucien make it back to Paris, or will he be trapped in the States and hunted like a dog?  Where can I get one of those fabulous suits Scheider and Trintignant wear throughout the movie?

The pacing, as in most European films of the period, is a little slow for today’s ADD tastes, but it works beautifully in the context of the movie, which stresses cool and hip over action-packed thrills.  There are car chases, foot chases, shoot-outs and more, but this is more FRENCH CONNECTION (1971) than DIE HARD (1988).  If you can groove on that kind of atmosphere, you’ll dig this one.

A shootout and a car chase during a funeral? Must be THE OUTSIDE MAN.

The music is groovy and funky, the women are smoking hot, the men are cool as can be, the cars are yacht-sized and beautiful, and the plot twists and turns like crazy.  This is the kind of cool every stupid OCEANS 11 movie wants to be, but falls short.  This is the kind of cool that cults are built around, and the movie throbs with it.  There are gorgeous hookers, loads of neon, drugs, strippers covered in glitter, pink Cadillacs, drive-in theaters, a Talia Shire cameo, roller derby scenes, scary layouts at funerals, an Alex Rocco cameo and more.    But that cast!  Where else will you see Police Woman making out with a star of EMMANUELLE 3 while being followed by Ann Margret, one of the sexiest women ever, who is rooming with the psychiatrist from the GATES OF HELL (1980) and pursued by Sheriff Brody, while Ted Baxter’s girlfriend mothers the guy who would one day play Freddy Krueger?  Plus, a small part by John Hillerman who played Higgins on MAGNUM P.I.!  This is the ultimate six degrees of separation matrix!  You can use this movie to connect anyone to anyone!

MGM has put out a beautifully restored copy available on CD-R through Amazon.

I give THE OUTSIDE MAN three and a half European hit-men out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

Quick Cuts: Favorite Movies by DAVID CRONENBERG

Posted in 2012, 70s Horror, 80s Horror, Body Horror, Classic Films, Cult Movies, David Cronenberg, Disease!, Disturbing Cinema, ESP, Evil Kids!, Hit Men, Indie Horror, Parasites!, Telekinesis with tags , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2012 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS Presents: THE MOVIES OF DAVID CRONENBERG
Featuring: Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Paul McMahon, Mark Onspaugh, and Jenny Orosel

Director David Cronenberg has been giving us nightmares for over 40 years.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  With the release of David Cronenberg’s latest movie, COSMOPOLIS (2012), we’ve decided to take a look at our favorite Cronenberg movies.

*****

L.L. SOARES: David Cronenberg is such an iconic director, and has made so many great films to choose from. But, without a doubt, my all-time favorite Cronenberg film is CRASH (1990), which happens to be based on one of my all-time favorite novels (of the same name) by J.G. Ballard. With an amazing cast that includes James Spader, Holly Hunter, Deborah Kara Unger, Rosanna Arquette, and Elias Koteas as charismatic anti-hero Vaughan, it’s the story of a man (Spader as “Jim Ballard”) who experiences a traumatic car accident and then discovers a strange cult-like group of people that fetishizes (and just about worships) car crashes. Cronenberg captures the cold, antiseptic feel of Ballard’s very bleak novel, and the movie was pretty controversial (like a lot of Cronenberg films) when it first came out.

(Not to be confused with the Paul Haggis film “Crash:” from 2001)

Cronenberg has made so many great movies. But my other favorites include:

DEAD RINGERS (1988) —With Jeremy Irons in one of his best performances ever as twin gynecologists who share a relationship with one woman (Genevieve Bujold), who can’t tell them apart. Then things start to get violent.

VIDEODROME (1983)—With James Woods as a man who finds a very disturbing cable TV channel that changes his life in scary ways. Including the famous scene where Woods has a VCR slot in his stomach. Also starring Blondie lead singer Deborah Harry.

THE BROOD (1979) —the first Cronenberg film I ever saw, and still a favorite, with little monster kids created from the rage of Samantha Eggar. With Oliver Reed.

NAKED LUNCH (1991) —The underground classic novel by William S. Burroughs was considered unfilmable, but that didn’t stop Cronenberg from bringing it to the big screen. He makes it coherent by mixing a lot of Burroughs’ wild imagery with biographical incidents from the writer’s life.

*****

JENNY OROSEL: I have a soft spot in my heart for CRASH (1990), seeing as I got my driver’s license in a CRASH t-shirt (I got my license late—I’m not that young). The humor was lost on my tester.

NAKED LUNCH (1991) blew me away because I had no idea how anyone could turn that book into a movie, and I think he pulled it off the only way possible.

*****

 

NICK CATOSHIVERS (a.k.a. THEY CAME FROM WITHIN) (1975) is my personal favorite Cronenberg film. It’s a genuinely scary tale of a parasite that turns the residents of a luxury condo into possessed sexual predators. It’s not his best technical achievement, but it gets the goosebumps going better than most standard horror films.

While I’d like to list VIDEODROME as my second favorite, that honor goes to CRASH (1996). Only Cronenberg can take such a bizarre subject (people turned on by car crashes) and make it a film that holds up amazingly well to repeat viewings. It’s unlike any film before or since.

*****

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Without doubt, my favorite David Cronenberg movie is THE FLY (1986), which is one of my favorite horror movies from the 1980s, one of my favorites of all time, and certainly one of my favorite remakes.  I love the performances by Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, the gruesome special effects, and how this film captured how it would really be to have your DNA mixed with the DNA of a fly, a concoction that would occur at the molecular level.  Cronenberg is masterful at the helm here.

Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

I’m also a fan of VIDEODROME (1983) and THE DEAD ZONE (1983).

*****

 PAUL MCMAHON:  It feels traitorous to choose only a single Cronenberg film as my favorite, so I’ll pick two.

First, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005). Its brilliance starts with the emotionless opening sequence of random cruelty that mirrors our fears. The film moves you through the realization of a specific act of violence and explores the way that one event changes the people involved. Violence shoves its way into your life and grows roots. No matter how you try to hide from the memory of such a traumatic event, it never goes away and never lets you forget. Cronenberg’s movie dramatizes this brilliantly, and is very uncomfortable to watch.

Second, and I’m just realizing this is another brilliant representation of trauma —THE BROOD (1979). This time the violence comes from divorce and the ensuing custody battle over a young daughter. THE BROOD features a progressive psychotherapist who has developed a way to make his patients’ internal and invisible pain manifest physically, where it can be seen and acknowledged. Cronenberg himself was struggling through just such a divorce while he directed this movie, and his pain bleeds through the screen. Like the patients of Dr. Raglan, David Cronenberg crafted a physical representation of his inner turmoil. He has said that it’s the one film of his that he cannot bear to watch again.

*****

MARK ONSPAUGHSCANNERS (1981) —So audacious and amazing! I remembered hearing something about this movie and my wife and I were at a theater where they showed a red band trailer. I whispered, “I think this is the movie where people’s heads blow up,” knowing she’d want to look away —she didn’t hear me —man, did she shriek when that happened! For months after it came out, a friend and I kept repeating Michael Ironside’s line, “I’m gonna suck your brain DRY!”

THE FLY (1986) —It was Cronenberg who layered in the romance into Charles Pogue’s script, elevating this movie from mere creature feature to a masterpiece of horrific tragedy. I don’t think Jeff Goldblum or Geena Davis have ever been better.

So many to choose from, including EASTERN PROMISES (2007), HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005) and SPIDER (2002). If you want to take what amounts to a class in cinema, watch SPIDER with the director’s commentary – I don’t want to spoil it for those who didn’t see it, but there is a major change in the movie I didn’t even detect, at first – brilliant.

*****

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  And that about sums up David Cronenberg.  Thanks, everyone!

L.L. SOARES:  And thank you, readers, for joining us today!

—-END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Paul McMahon, Mark Onspaugh, and Jenny Orosel