Boiler Maker Redemption

Small Town Crime (Theaters-NA; Streaming-January 2018) Rated: R  —  Runtime: 91-92 M Small Town 2018minutes

Genre: Crime-Drama-Mystery-Suspense-Thriller

els – 7.0/10

IMDB – 6.6/10

Amazon – 4.0/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 7.0/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 3.9/5

Metacritic Metascore – 68/100

Metacritic User Score – NA/10

Awards: None

Directed by: Eshom Nelms, Ian Nelms

Written by: Eshom Nelms, Ian Nelms

Music by: Chris Westlake

Cast: John Hawkes, Octavia Spencer, Robert Forster, Anthony Anderson

Film Locations:  Utah

Budget: $NA

Worldwide Box Office: $NA

Mike Kendall (John Hawkes) is a big-time drunk and a small-town ex-cop.  A small-town ex-cop because he is a big-time drunk. Riding shotgun, too drunk to drive, with his uniformed partner; occurring immediately before he becomes an ex-cop, in the wee hours of night, they pull over a car and the driver shoots and kills Mike’s partner.  Mike, because he was drunk, is thrown off the force and he sinks further into the bottle but truly believing the police will forgive, forget and hire him back.

Coming around from his nightly bender, Mike finds a badly bloodied girl by the side of the road. He rushes her to the hospital but she soon dies and the death is ruled a homicide.  Seeking redemption, Mike sets out to solve the murder, dragging his family, bartenders, hookers, pimps, grandfathers, and assorted none-too friendly cops along for his burlesque, but borderline professional investigation, into multiple gruesome murders.

The Nelms brothers have woven a fateful crime story worthy of the Cohen brothers’ The Big Lebowski or Fargo. Less comedic than Lebowski and less dramatic than Fargo but all three display the same irreverent contempt for criminals and their slapdash, albeit, serious and consequential, escapades.  The Nelms’ writing and directing are reminiscent of Dragnet’s Friday, just the facts — ma’am.  Watching the movie you wish they would develop some of the more interesting sub-plot lines but in the end the movie does just fine without the added knowledge or clutter.

The acting is superb.  John Hawks is masterful in delivery but he really pulls you in and along with his bumbling style and looks.  His appearance and his face are one with a character that has been on a multi-year drunk.  Gaunt and not too pretty he somehow succeeds in getting you to cheer for him no matter how much his bum nature comes into full gnarly view.

A fun movie, not too serious but captivating just the same.  A worthy addition to pulp fiction and film noir. Escapism with a style all its own.

 

All Chan, All Good

The Foreigner (Theaters-September 2017; Streaming-January 2018) Rated: R  Runtime: M Foreigner 2017113-114 minutes

Genre: Action-Crime-Drama-Mystery-Suspense-Thriller

els – 7.0/10

IMDb – 7.1/10

Amazon – 4.6/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 5.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 3.8/5

Metacritic Metascore – 55/100

Metacritic User Score – 7.1/10

Directed by: Martin Campbell

Written by: David Marconi (screenplay), Stephan Leather (novel)

Music by: Cliff Martinez

Cast: Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan

Film Locations:  London, England; Larne, Northern Ireland

Budget: $35,000,000

Worldwide Box Office: $140,793,485

Quan (Chan), a widower, lives a quiet London life, looking after his only daughter and his restaurant, his only major concerns are the boys chasing after his beloved teenaged girl.  Then a new IRA faction blows up a bank, killing his little girl, who was shopping at a dress shop adjacent to the bank, and Quan’s life and priorities change. He wants to know who killed his daughter, who was responsible.  He wants justice.  When the officials are unable to give him any names or promise any arrests, soon, he organizes his vigilante squad of one and slowly narrows down the possibilities; Jackie Chan style, but without malice for dogs or the innocent.

Jackie Chan steps past his normal fun side, giving the audience a taste of his drama and emotional acting abilities, and proves that his serious character portrayals are real, believable and effective.  Not since his role as a morose handyman in the 2010 Karate Kid have I seen him in such a convincing dramatic role, but this time the screenplay (Marconi) and supporting actors are not relegating him to a least common denominator of mediocrity and cheesiness.  The screenplay flows well, it’s coherent, and has enough twists to keep you guessing, but it does have a flaw, and unfortunately its a big one. Brosnan’s Liam Hennessy role is muddled, his level of involvement and guilt in the IRA bombing is never completely resolved. Maybe it’s intentional but it adds clutter to the plot and its conclusion. That aside, this is a typical Martin Campbell film, full of action, intrigue and entertainment, always spot on and fun; ok, maybe the Green Hornet was a dud, but usually his films are a must see, as is this one.

This was a fun action-drama to watch.  Jackie Chan displays what made him famous, his martial arts moves, but in the film he also displays his serious side and lets us know that, yes, he can play that part.

Raw Infamy

Last Rampage (Theaters-2017; Streaming-2017)  Rated: R  Runtime: 92-93 minutesM Rampage 2017

Genre:  Crime-Drama-Mystery-Thriller

els – 7.0/10

IMDb – 5.4/10

Amazon – 3.7/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 5.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 4.1/5

Metacritic Metascore – 49/100

Metacritic User Score – NA/10

Directed by:  Dwight H. Little

Written by:   James W. Clarke (book), Alvaro Rodríguez (screenplay)

Music by:  Tobias Enhus, Richard Patrick

Cast:   Robert Patrick, Heather Graham, Bruce Davison, Chris Browning

Film Locations:   Club Ed Film Set – 150th Street E, Lancaster, California, US

Budget:   NA

Worldwide Box Office:  $6,294

This is a true tale, lifted from the pages of James W. Clarke’s 1999 book: Last Rampage: The Escape of Gary Tison. It’s a story of the gruesome, murderous crimes committed by a pair of maniacal felons following their escape from prison. The movie portrays sociopaths Gary Tison (Patrick) and Randy Greenawalt (Browning) in their twisted, bloody run from the state police and justice, through the barren, dry hills of Arizona.

Gary Tison, a hypnotic, Charles Manson like figure, begins his criminal life as a petty thief but quickly escalates to a major felon by taking the life of a prison guard. Greenawalt, a thoroughly remorseless and creepy individual, executes two truck drivers while they sleep, and is a suspect in several similar murders. Both men are serving life for their homicides. Miraculously the two get themselves transferred, for “excellent behavior”, to a low-security jail on the outskirts of Florence, Arizona where, with the help of Tison’s 3 matriarchally, brainwashed and programed young sons, plan their escape. The boys casually waltz into the prison on visitor’s day, whip out their guns, demand the release of Tison and Greenawalt and the 5 of them drive off into the dusty Arizona countryside, somehow staying one step ahead of the law. Death of the innocent and innocence follows Tison and Greenawalt in their lurching, chaotic escape to Mexico. For 10 days, killing grounds are everywhere and anywhere they meet the unwary and the innocent. For 10 days, the young boys’ probity, their innocence, slowly drains away to the horror that is their father.

Last Rampage, a gritty, no frills look at two demented beings, is structured by Dwight H. Little, the director, to exhibit the criminal monsters in a sharp, glaring  light of fact; a truth that is hideous and raw. A hard white light flooding the scene with no sympathy, no quarter, just evil shown as it is: evil.  A true tour de force in the crime genre with the exception that the opening scene was pointless.

The acting is superb, although Robert Patrick may carry his role as hell’s spawn with him longer than he may wish. Patrick and Browning’s sociopathic characters are displayed with an authoritative, emotionless, punch-to-the-gut performance, inciting the viewer to casually, almost clinically, conclude that death would be good for these two.

Art Imitates Life

American Made (Theaters-2017; Streaming-2018)  Rated: R  Runtime: 115 minutesM American Made 2017

Genre:  Action-Adventure-Biography-Comedy-Crime-Drama-Mystery-Suspense-Thriller

els – 6.5/10

IMDb – 7.2/10

Amazon – 3.5/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 7.0/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 3.8/5

Metacritic Metascore – 65/100

Metacritic User Score – 6.8/10

Directed by:  Doug Liman

Written by:   Gary Spinelli

Music by:  Christophe Beck

Cast:   Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright

Film Locations:   Atlanta, Ball Ground and Madison, Georgia, US; New Orleans, US; Araracuara, Caqueta and Medellin, Columbia

Budget:   $50,000,000

Worldwide Box Office:  $135,581,390

Barry Seal (Cruise) is a hustler, a con, a drug smuggling, gun running, money laundering, CIA operative; a Medellin Cartel useful stooge, and all around terrific husband and father who will not let anything get between him and an illicit mountain of cash. Seal is a TWA pilot who can’t make ends meet or fulfill his adrenaline needs, so he turns to flying drugs from South American to supplement his legitimate wages and feed his risk cravings.  He soon attracts the attention of the CIA who need a gofer to conduct business between the agency and Panama’s Noriega. This leads to running CIA supplied guns to Panama and the Cartel in Columbia.  Return flights are loaded with Columbian cocaine netting Seal $2000 per kilogram smuggled.  The amount of drugs involved eventually causes Seal to run out of banks and closet space for his green abundance. The entire story is told with more humor than drama, concentrating on Seal’s/Cruise’s smile and devil be damned style. You know Seal is man without a conscience but he is so darn likable and fun.

American Made is aptly directed by Doug Liman who keeps the focus of the movie light and airy, bordering on silly, against a background of drugs and the ensuing trail of death and ruin; and somehow it all works. Liman last worked with Cruise in the fantastic and critical acclaimed 2014 sci-fi flick: Live Die Repeat: The Edge of Tomorrow.  A little known, but talented writer, Gary Spinelli wrote the screenplay for this movie and auctioned it off to Universal for a cool million back in 2014. At that time Ron Howard was pegged to direct the movie. Filming started around May 2015 and continued off and on until January 2017.

This film is blithely marketed as a true story, a biography. As with all things Hollywood, that statement stretches reality to the breaking point. Barry Seal was a pilot for TWA and he was a drug smuggler; that part is true, after which the rest of the story gets the Hollywood treatment where the truth is pitted against fiction; may the highest gross potential wins.  The CIA part of the story may or may not have happened but the official line is it did not or at least not till much later in time.  Seal was busted for drug smuggling and money laundering and was facing serious time in the pen. He cut a deal with the DEA to help bring down the Columbian Cartels in exchanged for a lighter sentence.  At this point it appears the CIA, in conjunction with the DEA, stepped in to also gather information on the Nicaraguan Sandinistas.  Subsequently, Seal, at an airport in Nicaragua, took photos of Pablo Escobar, Ochoa, plus a Sandinista government official, Federico Vaughan, directing the loading of cocaine onto a DEA aircraft.  These pictures leaked out to the general public, after which Escobar placed a bounty on Seal’s life; supposedly $1,000,000 for capture and return to Columbia or $500,000 for his death. In early 1986 Seal was assassinated by Escobar’s hit men in front of a Baton Rouge, Louisiana Salvation Army facility.

Seal’s American Made life is a comedy.  Seal’s real life was a tragedy. Aristotle said in the 4th century BC, that art imitates life, mimesis, whereas Oscar Wilde in 1889 said the life imitates art, anti-mimesis. Here art imitates life, but comedy polled better than tragedy: money wins. Ok, that might be a bit heavy.  It’s a good movie so kick your feet up and pass the popcorn.

 

With a Little Help from My Mum

Kaleidoscope (Theaters-2017; Streaming-2017)  Rated: NA  Runtime: 99-100 minutes

Genre:  Drama-Mystery-Suspense-ThrillerM Kaleidoscope 2017

els – 7.0/10

IMDb – 6.0/10

Amazon – 3.5/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 6.4/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – NA/5

Metacritic Metascore – 52/100

Metacritic User Score – NA/10

Directed by:  Rupert Jones

Written by:   Rupert Jones

Music by:  Mike Prestwood Smith

Cast:   Toby Jones, Anne Reid, Sinead Matthews

Film Locations:   London, England

Budget:   NA–Low Budget Indie Film

Worldwide Box Office:  $6,906 (Limited Release)

Carl (Jones) is a lonely man. Just out of prison, for what is never stated, he attempts a lonely hearts, social network consummated, date for the first time in 15 years. The date appears to be just what Carl needs to jump-start his life and leave his ill-defined past behind; until his mother (Reid) calls.  The call releases his past in waves of psychological, matriarchal malevolence, torturing his mind with fits of murderous rage and metaphysical straight-jackets. His date goes downhill and his mother shows up at his flat to complete the twisted anguish taking place in Carl’s mind.

Kaleidoscope was written and directed by Rupert Jones, a sophomoric directorial effort in the feature film category, blood-tied to a clan of English stage and movie actors; father Freddy Jones, mother Jessie Heslewood, and brothers Toby and Casper Jones. His main efforts prior to this film were in the realm of shorts and music videos, including directing: Most Likely You Will Go Your Way  by Bob Dylan. Jones weaves a captivating psychological thriller that holds you, rivets you, to Carl’s revolving kaleidoscope of shifting past memories and misty glimpses of the present. A surprisingly great movie from one with such an unsuspecting thin cinematic resume.

Toby Jones and Anne Reid play Kaleidoscope precisely as needed: a dysfunctional family, and play it as if it were their reality. Their whole body, visual as well as vocal, creates a truly intricate and color-saturated story that the sparse dialogue only begins to animate into a meaningful coherence. Toby’s silent looks speak volumes while Reid’s wrinkles and loose skin invoke not sympathy, but a cold certainty that she should be tossed from a fast train or a high balcony.

This is a remarkable movie; psychotic portraits vividly drawn on a Kandinsky canvas, divorced from any obvious visual realities. The visuals keep you engaged but the reality is hidden; past is prologue, present is interesting, if not terrifying. A low-budget masterpiece; a great story with great direction and acting.

Do it the Hard Way–Do it Yourself

Hollow in the Land (Theaters-2017; Streaming-2017)  Rated: NA  Runtime: 92-99 minutesM Hollow 2017

Genre:  Drama-Mystery-Thriller

els – 5.0/10

IMDb – 5.6/10

Amazon – 3.7/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 7.2/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 4.1/5

Metacritic Metascore – 54/100

Metacritic User Score – NA/10

Directed by:  Scooter Corkle

Written by:  Scooter Corkle

Music by:  NA

Cast:  Dianna Agron, Rachelle Lefevre, Shawn Ashmore

Film Locations:   Castlegar, Canada

Budget:   NA–Low Budget Indie Film

Worldwide Box Office:  NA

Alison Miller (Dianna Agron), a young woman, bereft of parents; mother dead, father serving time for drunken vehicular homicide, is desperately trying to keep her immature and obnoxious brother out of jail until he turns 18, all the while, working at a factory owned by the family of the young boy killed by her father. On the one-year anniversary of Alison’s father’s crime, her brother disappears after his girlfriend’s father is murdered. Alison begins trying to unravel mystery of her brothers whereabouts and the events that led to his suspicious disappearance.

Hollow in the Land was filmed in the small logging and mining community of Castlegar, British Columbia, home town to this movie’s director and writer: Scooter Corkle. The town is nestled in the valley at the confluence of the Columbia and Kootenay Rivers with the picturesque Selkirk Mountains towering above; sometimes referred to as a mountain hollow; pronounced holler if you are from West Virginia. Hollow also signifies the meaningless and pointless existence of the Millers, living as outcasts among small town hypocrites and cheats.

As a low-budget film, everything works except the story. It pulls all the right emotional strings, but intellectually it’s a beginning to end bust.  You watch the movie and just keep repeating to yourself: why, why does Alison do what she does?  A little thought shows a better way, a simpler plot with the same outcome, without traipsing down alleys and back roads, leading to the same place as the freeway. The movie starts out very slow with digressions that are simply insane and after 15 minutes of that goop, your mind tells you to get up and walk away.  If you stay it gets a little better and a little quicker, but just a little.

Some scenes should have been left on the cutting room floor, including a clip of Alison’s brother and his girlfriend swapping saliva, unconvincingly, for what feels like 20 excoriating minutes. A glancing blow of that scene would have been sufficient. The girl, moments after her father is murdered, is shown in an angelic, peaceful sleeping pose. Ain’t life wonderful? A few moments later the curtain opens, literally, to Alison and the girl’s mother, ex-wife of the murdered man, having a touching shower scene together. Made sense to someone.  Additionally, there are scenes and script that cause brain cells to scream out in anguish. Alison working for the family that lost their son due to the actions of her father. Why, why, why?  Alison playing amateur sleuth and never sharing anything with the police even though one of her few friends is a deputy.  Why, is never explained.

This is a flip of a coin movie. Heads watch it, tails, trim your toenails. As a mystery it is pretty good.  The process to the solution of the mystery is incoherent and the trips down the back roads are maddening.  Hollow may actually mean that the movie is insignificant and meaningless.

 

Friendship and Vengeance

The Ballad of Lefty Brown  (Theaters-2017; Streaming-2017)  Rated: R  Runtime: 111 minutesM Lefty 2017

Genre: Action-Drama-Mystery-Thriller-Western

els – 7.5/10

IMDb – 6.3/10

Amazon – 4.0/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 6.2/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 3.6/5

Metacritic Metascore – 63/100

Metacritic User Score – 7.5/10

Directed by: Jared Moshe

Written by: Jared Moshe

Music by: H. Scott Salinas

Cast: Bill Pullman, Peter Fonda, Joe Anderson, Tommy Flanagan

Film Locations:  Montana–cities of: Bannack, Virginia City, Nevada City and Harrison

Budget:  NA

Lefty Brown (Pullman), a hapless cowboy and life long partner and friend to his boss, the newly elected senator from Montana, Edward Johnson (Fonda), are riding the grassy hills, searching for horse thieves, when they are bushwhacked by a group of rascally devils in which Johnson is killed and Lefty is knocked silly but survives. As Lefty regains his senses, what little he ever had, he vows vengeance on the killers of his companion of 40 years. Thus begins the Lefty’s quest across the desolate and open lands of Montana, hunting for the killers of his one true friend; a hunt that tests his fortitude, his courage, and his loyalty, but it is the hunt for the truth that ultimately defines his essence as a man.

In 1955 Gunsmoke premiered on CBS television and ran for 20 years and 635 episodes, during which time it became quintessence of the western genre and likely, the most beloved. The core, twin pillars of the show included the just and honorable, but isolated, Marshall Dillon (James Arness) and his trusty but ornery sidekick: Fetus (Ken Curtis). The Ballad of Lefty Brown is the story of Fetus with Chester’s (Dennis Weaver) limp thrown in for good measure, out to avenge Matt’s death. Pullman plays Fetus aka Lefty to absolute perfection.  It is one of the greatest pieces of acting that I have seen in years. I hope they reserve one of the best actor awards for him. His acting is worth the price of admission, but watch it also for the supporting acting, the fervent story and the grand panoramic cinematography.

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