REVIEW: 12 YEARS A SLAVE

 

CAST

Chiwetel Ejiofor (Doctor Strange)
Michael Fassbender (Alien: Covenant)
Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther)
Paul Dano (Swiss Army Man)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Sarah Paulson (The Runner)
Alfre Woodard (Luke Cage)
Adepero Oduye (Geostorm)
Garret Dillahunt (Winter’s Bone)
Brad Pitt (Ocean’s Eleven)
Scoot McNairy (Argo)
Taran Killam (Epic Movie)
Chris Chalk (Gotham)
Paul Giamatti (The Hangover – Part 2)
Michael K. Williams (Gone Baby Gone)
Bryan Batt (Scream: The Series)
Quvenzhané Wallis  (Annie)
Marc Macaulay  (The Punisher)
J.D. Evermore  (Django Unchained)

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Adepero Oduye in 12 Years a Slave (2013)In 1841, Solomon Northup is a free African-American man working as a violinist, living with his wife and two children in Saratoga Springs, New York. Two white men, Brown and Hamilton, offer him short-term employment as a musician if he will travel with them to Washington, D.C. However, once they arrive they drug Northup and deliver him to a slave pen run by a man named Burch. Northup proclaims that he is a free man, only to be savagely beaten with, at first, a wooden paddle, then, a leather belt. Northup is later shipped to New Orleans along with other captive African Americans. He is told by the others that if he wants to survive in the South, he must adapt to being a slave and not tell anyone he is a free man. A slave trader named Freeman gives Northup the identity of “Platt”, a runaway slave from Georgia, and sells him to plantation owner William Ford. Tension grows between Northup and a plantation overseer which ends with Northup savagely beating and whipping the overseer. To save Northup’s life, Ford sells him to another slave owner named Edwin Epps. In the process, Northup attempts to explain that he is actually a free man, but Ford tells him he is too afraid and that he cannot help him now.Paul Dano and Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave (2013)At the plantation, Northup meets Patsey, a favored slave who can pick over 500 pounds of cotton a day, twice the usual quota, whom Epps regularly rapes and abuses. Some time later, cotton worms destroy Epps’s cotton. Unable to work his fields, Epps leases his slaves to a neighboring plantation for the season. While there, Northup gains the favor of the plantation’s owner, Judge Turner, who allows him to play the fiddle at a neighbor’s wedding anniversary celebration and to keep his earnings. Northup is also raped by a female slave in the middle of the night. When Northup returns to Epps, he uses the money to pay a white field hand and former overseer, Armsby, to mail a letter to his friends in New York. Armsby agrees and accepts Northup’s saved money, but immediately betrays him to Epps. In the middle of the night, a drunken Epps wakes Northup and questions him menacingly about the letter. Northup is narrowly able to convince Epps that Armsby is lying and Epps relents. Solomon then emotionally burns the letter he intended to give to Armsby.Lupita Nyong'o in 12 Years a Slave (2013)Northup begins working on the construction of a gazebo with a Canadian laborer named Samuel Bass. Bass is unsettled by the brutal way that Epps treats his slaves and expresses his opposition to American slavery, earning Epps’s enmity. Northup overhears the conversation and decides to reveal his kidnapping to Bass. Once again, Northup asks for help in getting a letter to Saratoga Springs. Bass agrees to send it. One day, the local sheriff arrives in a carriage with another man. The sheriff asks Northup a series of questions to confirm that his answers match the facts of his life in New York. Northup recognizes the sheriff’s companion as Mr. Parker, a shopkeeper he knew in Saratoga. Parker has come to free him, and the two embrace, though an enraged Epps furiously protests the circumstances and tries to prevent Northup from leaving. Northup gives an emotional farewell to Patsey and rides off to his freedom. Patsey faints as Northup leaves.After being enslaved for 12 years, Northup is restored to freedom and returned to his family, leaving behind the other slaves. As he walks into his home, he sees his wife with their son and daughter (fully grown) and her husband, who present him with his grandson and namesake, Solomon Northup Staunton. Northup apologizes for his long absence while his family comforts him. The film’s epilogue displays a series of graphics recounting Northup’s unsuccessful suits against Brown, Hamilton, and Burch, along with the 1853 publication of Northup’s slave narrative memoir, Twelve Years a Slave. The memoir describes his role in the abolitionist movement and the mystery surrounding details of his death and burial. Patsey and Northup never met again.To watch 12 Years a Slave is to be confronted with the grim reality of slavery in a way that’s never been done before. To say this is the best film ever made about slavery feels trivial, as slavery is a subject in film that has been shown with naive romanticism from films like Gone With the Wind or silly exploitation from something like Django Unchained. Both of which serve to make the topic digestible. To watch 12 Years a Slave is to experience a level of despair and misery that can become overwhelming. It’s a film of such ugliness, such blunt emotional trauma, that it may haunt you for hours if not days after seeing it. So why should you watch a film that could leave you reeling and devastated? Because, it’s also one of the greatest cinematic achievements of our time.

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REVIEW: THE GIFTED – SEASON 1

MAIN CAST

Stephen Moyer (True Blood)
Amy Acker (Angel)
Sean Teale (Reign)
Natalie Alyn Lind (Gotham)
Percy Hynes White (Rupture)
Coby Bell (Burn Notice)
Jamie Chung (Office Christmas Party)
Blair Redford (Satisfaction)
Emma Dumont (Aquarius)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Hayley Lovitt (Ant-Man)
Toks Olagundoye  (The Neighbors)
Joe Nemmers (American Crime)
Jeff Daniel Phillips (Westworld)
Elena Satine (Revenge)
Garret Dillahunt (12 Years a Slave)
Sharon Gless  (Cagney & Lacey)
Jeffrey Nordling  (Nashville)
Zach Roerig (The Vampire Diaries)
Michelle Veintimilla  (Gotham)
Frances Turner (The Exes)
Danny Ramirez (Assassination Nation)
Skyler Samuels (Scream Queens)
Raymond J. Barry (Falling Down)
Ray Campbell (Breaking Bad)
David Norona  (The Mentalist)
Stan Lee (Avengers Assemble)

What ingredients are necessary for a successful show about powered individuals? Cool abilities? Flashy visuals? Likable characters? Interestingly, Fox’s The Gifted manages to have them all despite following some formulaic paths to tell its story. Any worries viewers might have about the young, good-looking, CW-like cast should be tossed aside. Everyone from the headstrong but calculating mutants to the strangely sympathetic government enforcers to the argumentative but caring siblings in the Strucker family have levels of complexity not often seen in comic book shows.It helps that there are powers on display right away that we haven’t seen on previous superhero-as-outcast shows. Of particular interest is Jamie Chung’s character, Claire a.k.a. Blink, whose ability involves creating writhing purple portals that allow her to travel instanteously from one point to another. Having her character join the Mutant Underground as someone still new to her abilities is something we’ve seen in shows like The Tomorrow People or Alphas, but that trope is usually reserved for the main character. Here, her burgeoning powers and escape from the law are merely used to set up one of the big motivations for the mutants to come out of hiding.The Gifted’s main story, arguably, revolves around the Struckers, who live in a world where anti-mutant laws are in effect and the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants have gone off the grid. Public fear of the dangers of super-powered individuals has led to strict government control and prejudice in the form of derogatory terms like “mutey.” Reed Strucker, played powerfully by Stephen Moyer of True Blood, helps prosecute those mutants who use their power to break the law, and the initial concern that he and his wife (Amy Acker of Person Of Interest) share centers around their son Andrew, who’s being bullied at school almost to the breaking point.Viewers can probably guess what happens next, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable to watch unfold. The irony of Reed working against mutants and then finding out about his son’s powers being awakened by the strong emotions associated with abuse by his peers is richly nuanced and informs everything the family does afterwards. There are some surprises for the family along the way as well to sweeten the pot, but as Reed seeks help from the Mutant Underground, his discoveries concerning the Magneto-like Lorna a.k.a. Polaris (Emma Dumont of Aquarius) provide a pleasantly paradoxical reluctance and incentive for Lorna’s boyfriend, the light-manipulating Marcos a.k.a. Eclipse (Sean Teale of Reign), to help the Struckers.What they’re escaping from is the Sentinel Services, a group of elite enforcers who apparently go after those with particularly destructive or potentially game-changing abilities. Two things stand out about the introduction of these mutant hunters. First, the lead agent, Jace Turner (Coby Bell of Burn Notice), is oddly sympathetic while being coldly rigid in rounding up mutants; and second, the Sentinel Services have mysterious ways of tracking the seemingly untrackable and bring a lot of high-tech toys to take down those with powers. The combination makes for a very interesting, dynamic enemy opposite quite flawed protagonists — just how we like it.Characters in the background felt strong and full of promise as well. Although Acker’s Caitlin Strucker didn’t have quite enough to do in the pilot, her screen presence has always been unmatched and as the season goes on she becomes a more prominent character and crucial to the mutant underground, her daughter Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind of The Goldbergs), who could have easily disappeared into the background as just another pretty face, is wonderful both when she was fighting with her brother and when she was supporting him with secrets of her own. And a mutant to keep an eye on, just from the sheer awesomeness of his powers, is John (Blair Redford of Satisfaction), who has a number of abilities hinted at by his alias “Thunderbird” that will not be spoiled here.The Gifted has what it takes to be another “X-Men adjacent” hit for Fox Television alongside FX’s Legion. The latter is much more esoteric but does have several things in common with this new mutant offering, including the manner in which Andy Strucker’s (Percy Hynes White of Murdoch Mysteries) powers manifest. The series builds towards a great finale that changes the entire dynamic of the show and leads into what should be an awesome Season 2 later in the year.

REVIEW: TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES – SEASON 1 & 2

SarahConnorChronicles

MAIN CAST

Lena Headey (Game of Thrones)
Thomas Dekker (Heroes)
Summer Glau (Arrow)
Richard T. Jones (Godzilla)
Brian Austin Green (Anger Management)
Leven Rambin (The Hunger Games)
Garret Dillahunt (Winter’s Bone)
Shirley Manson (Knife Fight)
RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Owain Yeoman (Supergirl)
Sonya Walger (Flashforward)
Nick Wechsler (Roswell)
Dean Winters (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)
Charlayne Woodard (The Crucible)
Tony Amendola (Annabelle)
Sasha Roiz (Caprica)
Jonathan Sadowski (Friday the 13th)
Brendan Hines (Lie To Me)
Catherine Dent (Taken)
Alessandra Torresani (The Big Bang Theory)
Tiya Sircar (The Vampire Diaries)
Andy Umberger (Angel)
Lee Thompson Young (Smallville)
Neil Hopkins (Lost)
Peter Mensah (Spartacus)
Bruce Davison (High Crimes)
Karina Logue (Scream: The Series)
Craig Fairbrass (Cliffhanger)
Dean Norris (Breaking Bad)
Zack Ward (Transformers)
Busy Philipps (The Smokers)
Leah Pipes (The Originals)
Jon Huertas (Sabrina: TTW)
Mackenzie Brooke Smith (Supergirl)
Dorian Harewood (Earth: Final Concflict)
Stephanie Jacobsen (Alex Cross)
Adam Busch (Buffy)
Richard Schiff (The Cape)
Eric Steinberg (Stargate SG.1)
Todd Stashwick (The Originals)
Rebecca Creskoff (Bates Motel)
Carlos Jacott (Firefly)
Samantha Krutzfeldt (A Mann’s World)
Connor Trinneer (Stargate: Atlantis)
Chad Lindberg (The Fast and The Furious)
Chad L. Coleman (Arrow)

When we first heard that FOX was making a Terminator series, we mostly groaned and rolled our eyes. It just sounded like a bad idea and a cynical ploy to capitalize on a flagging movie property. What’s more, when you think of Terminator, you think of big movies with huge effects and action sequences that set new standards. You don’t think of “Terminators of the Week” battling on smaller screens with tighter budgets.

 It was the first regular episode after the pilot that I feel the show really came into its own. That’s when the tone of the series was established, the more deliberate and introspective pace. Summer Glau’s performance as Cameron changed a bit.
 It’s the mark of a good show when, one by one, all of your issues are accounted for. In the episode Heavy Metal John does what he has to do despite Sarah’s overprotection. He’s becoming the leader he needs to become, and when Sarah says it’s too soon, Cameron says something to the effect of “Is it? The world ends in 4 years…” At the same time, Sarah came to value Cameron’s strategic value. She might not trust her (and should she?), but she no longer denies her the tactical advantage they have when using her.
As for the missing Terminator parts, the show picked up the ball there and ran with it. Agent Ellison finds the missing hand, and destroying the Terminator Cameron disabled becomes a great scene and establishes the use of thermite. When a show proves to you that it’s got the bases covered, and that it isn’t being sloppy with its storytelling – it gains your confidence and makes tuning in each week that much more satisfying. Terminator pulled this off in just nine episodes – which is remarkable considering they had only so much time and never planned on having such a short season because of the writers strike. There were a number of stylistic flourishes throughout the show that demonstrated how the series was different from the movies, and that this wasn’t going to be a show that was afraid to strike out on its own. Sarah’s dream where she assassinates the creators of the atomic bomb was particularly inspired. Bruce Davison (as Dr. Silberman) describing in awed rapture the events from T2 was a terrific bridge between this series and one of the most famous sequences of the entire franchise. The series ended on a high note, with Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” playing while a Terminator does what Terminators do. Only this time it’s done in a stylistically original way. It’s another scene that serves as an example of how the show stepped out on its own. It shows a level of creative maturity not usually found in franchised properties.
Then there’s the introduction of Brian Austin Green as Derek Reese. This was a decision that had us – and other fans – concerned that the show was making a big mistake. Why Green? It seems there could have been dozens, if not hundreds of other actors to take on this role. Actors who didn’t play the keyboard wielding dweeb on Beverly Hills 90210. Yet, again, the show proved worthy of our confidence and trust. Green did an excellent job, and played Reese not as your standard badass, but instead a man of emotional depth who had been turned into a soldier because the world around him fell apart.
Green’s best moments came in the finale. First, he uses a little girl to creatively settle a hostage situation. Then, he takes John to the park to celebrate his birthday. Without getting specific, there’s a touching moment, playing on the time travel device. “Happy Birthday,” Derek says, and leaves it at that. It’s an emotional note that was never quite achieved in the movies – and proof that the episodic format allows for greater complexity and character development than we’ve seen in the franchise. It’s also encouraging that the characters had become so resonant in these early episodes – and bodes well for the future.
No one likes to see a good show go under, especially just as it’s approaching new heights, and the recent cancellation of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008-2009) proved almost equally disheartening. At least the latter had a fighting chance, though: the mid-season replacement pulled down great numbers at first, but its popularity rapidly declined during the initial nine-episode run. Higher production costs didn’t help matters, either…yet Chronicles was renewed for a full-sized second season, where it expanded the series’ mythology and tossed in a few stand-alone episodes. Featuring plenty of terrific characters, tense action and special effects on par with Hollywood blockbusters, there was plenty to like…but roughly a month after the season finale aired, it was confirmed that the series wouldn’t return.
Nonetheless, this second and final season stands as one of the better stretches of television in recent memory. In an accompanying behind-the-scenes featurette, creator Josh Friedman admits that the cast and crew had no idea that Season 1 would end where it did—but you’d never know from watching, since the series stops and re-starts so seamlessly. Opening adventure “Samson and Delilah” kicks things off in a major way, punctuated by a gripping slow-motion sequence set to a musical cover by Shirley Manson of Garbage fame. Speaking of Manson, she’s front and center this season as Catherine Weaver, the mysterious leader of ZeiraCorp, a growing corporation with an interest in advanced technology. She’s eventually joined by former FBI agent James Ellison (Richard T. Jones); Ellison acts as her head of security and a mentor to ZeiraCorp’s experimental computer, who’s known as “John Henry”. Though more intelligent and efficient than the world’s greatest minds put together, this powerful entity is still a child learning about the the world and the humans in it.
Naturally, such a vague company—especially one with its hands in high-tech gadgetry—soon ends up on the radar of Sarah Connor (Lena Headey), who continues to forge onward with her son John (Thomas Dekkar), John’s uncle Derek Reese (Brian Austin Green) and Cameron, a Terminator sent from the future to aid them. New to the crowd are Jesse Flores (Stephanie Jacobsen) and Riley Dawson (Leven Rambin); both serve as love interests to Derek and John respectively…but like Catherine Weaver, they seem to have somewhat questionable pasts. Far more than the typical good-versus-evil formula that typically dominates modern sci-fi, The Sarah Connor Chronicles takes a decidedly different approach: it focuses on human existence and emotion as much as firefights and chase sequences. The formula works amazingly well during this season of 22 episodes.
 After the blistering “Samson and Delilah”, things don’t let up for a while. “Automatic for the People” introduces Riley and takes our heroes inside a nuclear power plant—but a major clue is unearthed, as Sarah discovers a list of events, places and other clues about Skynet, the company that Sarah believes will bring about Judgment Day. “Mousetrap” is a standout episode for a number of reasons: not only does it push the story further onward, but it’s one of the more suspenseful and exciting episodes in the bunch. “Allison from Palmdale” stands tall as a solid origin story for Cameron, while the extended “Goodbye to All That” sends John and Derek on a field trip with a Terminator model 888 in hot pursuit. These episodes—and several others, of course—show how much Season 2 has expanded the story’s scope. Well over half the episodes are shot on location in various parts of California and beyond—and with the vague threat of ZeiraCorp looming overhead, tension remains high throughout the first half of the season.
As the season’s second half approaches, things start to get a little cloudy…both for the narrative itself and the show’s ratings, which gradually slid as the season progressed. “Self-Made Man” and “Alpine Fields” are two stand-alone episodes designed to draw in new fans, as the creative team felt that a continuous thrust forward would hurt the series’ chances of survival. Unfortunately, these two episodes are some of the least impressive: while decent enough on their own terms, they feel completely out of context and arrive at the wrong time. These may have added a few viewers, but I imagine they probably confused and frustrated those expecting the series to continue its steady pace forward. Nonetheless, “Earthlings Welcome Here” gets things back on track…but within the context of the series’ original broadcast dates, it may have come too late. This would be the last episode before the holiday break, with Chronicles returning two months later in the dreaded Friday night timeslot…which television fans refer to as “the kiss of death”.
It’s sad, really, because The Sarah Connor Chronicles really got back on its feet from that point onward. “The Good Wound” was much better suited to draw in new fans than a stand-alone episode: taking several cues from Terminator 2, this Sarah-centered adventure re-acquaints us with an important figure from her past. The next several episodes flesh out story elements introduced earlier in the season, as Sarah, John, Derek and Cameron set out to solve a mysterious factory explosion in the desert. After “Some Must Watch While Some Must Sleep”, Chronicles sprints to the finish line: Jesse and Riley’s pasts begin to unravel, John Henry and ZeiraCorp’s true intentions are revealed, Sarah and company head off into unfamiliar territory and several major characters meet their doom. It all culminates with “Born to Run”, which ends the series on a high note, tying up several loose ends but leaving others to the imagination. Poignant, clever and almost hopeful, it’s a fitting farewell to a series that was killed off too early.

Regardless, Warner Bros. has given The Sarah Connor Chronicles a strong send-off on DVD, as this second season arrives in a fully-loaded six-disc collection. The series’ crisp cinematography and ambitious sound mix—both of which feel more like big-screen efforts than typical TV fare—are supported by a solid technical presentation, while fans can also look forward to a collection of entertaining and informative bonus features. Though Friedman’s excellent series now joins the gone-too-early ranks

REVIEW: LOOPER

CAST

Bruce Willis (Red)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises)
Emil Blunt (The Girl On The Train)
Paul Dano (The King)
Piper Perabo (Coyote Ugly)
Jeff Daniels (The Martian)
Noah Segan (Cabin Fever 2)
Pierce Gagnon (Rio 2)
Xu Qing (League of Gods)
Tracie Thoms (Wonderfalls)
Garret Dillahunt (Killing Them Softly)
Nick Gomez (Hours)

In 2044, 25-year-old Joe works for a Kansas City crime syndicate as a “looper.” Since future technology has made it near-impossible to dispose of bodies, the syndicate uses time travel, invented thirty years later and outlawed instantly. Managed by a future man named Abe Mitchell, loopers kill and dispose of face-concealed victims, and are paid with silver bars strapped to the target. To prevent connections to the syndicate, loopers kill their future selves with gold bars strapped to them when they retire, effectively ending the contract and “closing the loop”.Joe’s friend Seth, part of a minority that manifest low-level telekinesis (or TK), confides that his old self has escaped, after warning him of a person in the future called the Rainmaker who will overthrow the five major bosses and close all loops. Joe reluctantly hides Seth in his apartment’s floor safe, but is taken to Abe by Kid Blue, one of Abe’s elite “Gat Men.” Joe reveals Seth’s location instead of forfeiting half his silver, and Abe’s men cut an address into younger Seth’s arm, then begin severing body parts. As Old Seth’s limbs disappear, he goes to the address and is killed. When Joe’s next target arrives, it is his older self with his face uncovered. Before Joe can kill him, Old Joe shields himself, knocks younger Joe unconscious and escapes. Returning to his apartment, Young Joe fights with Kid Blue, only to fall off a fire escape and black out.In another timeline, Young Joe kills his older self as he arrives. He moves to Shanghai, where his drug addiction and partying persist, becoming a hitman to finance himself. Years later, he meets a woman during a bar fight and they marry. Thirty years after, Joe is taken to close the loop and his wife is killed in the process. Overpowering his captors, Joe sends himself back to 2044 thereby altering history. When Old Joe sees Young Joe fall, he shoots the Gat Men and drags him away. Old Joe begins to manifest vague memories of Young Joe’s actions in the present, and meets his younger self at a diner to explain that he intends to save his wife by killing the Rainmaker as a child. Kid Blue and several other Gat Men arrive at the diner and a gunfight ensues: Young Joe collects a corner of Old Joe’s map as both escape. Young Joe follows the map to a farm where Sara and her son Cid live. Sara recognizes the number on the map as Cid’s birthday and birth hospital’s code. Young Joe guesses that Old Joe is going to kill all three children born at the hospital that day, not knowing which one will become the Rainmaker, so he waits at the farm to protect Cid and Sara.Jesse, another Gat Man, comes looking for both Joes at the farm, but Cid and Young Joe hide in an underground tunnel. Later that night Sara and Young Joe have sex, and Sara reveals she has TK powers. Cid’s powers are revealed to be even stronger, with Sara hiding in a safe when he has a tantrum. In the morning, Young Joe wakes to find Jesse holding Sara at gunpoint in the living room. Frightened, Cid falls down the stairs and telekinetically destroys Jesse. Young Joe realizes that Cid will become the Rainmaker, using his powers to control the city, and that Old Joe will now know this from his memories.Kid Blue captures Old Joe and takes him to Abe. Old Joe breaks free and kills Abe and his henchmen, then travels to Sara’s farm. While Young Joe kills Kid Blue, Old Joe pursues Sara and Cid. Cid’s cheek is grazed by Old Joe’s bullet, and he creates a telekinetic blast that destroys much of the surrounding cane field and wrecks Young Joe’s van, but is calmed by Sara before he can kill anyone. Telling Cid to run into the still-standing cane, Sara stands between Old Joe and her son, and Young Joe realizes that the death of Cid’s mother will turn him into the Rainmaker. Unable to run due to injuries to his legs sustained when Cid wrecked the van and knowing Old Joe is out of range of his weapon, he shoots himself, erasing Old Joe’s existence and saving Sara. The film ends with the implication that Sara’s demonstration of love towards Cid has healed the rift between them, meaning Cid will not become the Rainmaker, and they will have a much better life – especially as they find Joe’s silver in the van.This is a brilliant movie experience, its an wholly original and entertaining idea, that the writer/director has managed to successfully transpose to film.

 

 

REVIEW: REVENGE FOR JOLLY

CAST

Brian Petsos (Bridemaids)
Kristen Wiig (Paul)
Elijah Wood (Lord of The Ring)
Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
Adam Brody (Jennifers Body)
Ryan Phillippe (Cruel Intentions)
Garrett Dillahunt (Deadwood)
Amy Seimetz (You’re Next)
Kevin Corrigan (The Get Down)
David Rasche (Ugly Betty)
Gillian Jacobs (The Box

The film reverts 36 hours earlier after a man pulls up at a house and confronts another man at his front door. The tale centers on Harry (Brian Petsos), a freelancer who spends a great deal of time with his beloved female pup, Jolly. Owing a group of people a large amount of money for refusing to do them a favor, he plans to leave town to avoid the debt. One day when he returns home, Jolly is found dead. Stricken with grief and anger, Harry enlists the help of his close cousin Cecil (Oscar Isaac) to find Jolly’s murderer, dragging him through a path of destruction.At a bar, they interrogate a rude bartender, Thomas (Elijah Wood), getting a lead on a man named Bachmeier (Ryan Phillippe), a regular visitor and suspect who was given Harry’s address upon request. Harry snaps and shoots Thomas dead for that reason. Next, they track down known hooker, Tina (Gillian Jacobs), who was recently seen with Bachmeier. Refusing to pay her for sex and written info, Cecil is shot by Tina in the hand with a gun, but Tina joins her friend Vicki (Amy Seimetz) in death when Harry shoots them, as he grows overly vengeful.The following stop takes Harry and Cecil to a law firm office, where they confront and wipe out three unscrupulous lawyers, Bobby (Bobby Moynihan), Eichelberger (David Rasche) and Danny (Adam Brody), for withholding info. The receptionist eventually tells them Bachmeier is at a wedding reception. There, Harry and Cecil show up uninvited and hold the people hostage, although Bachmeier is not present and his sister, Angela (Kristen Wiig) informs them that her family is dysfunctional. After killing many people in attendance, assaulting Angela and shooting her husband, Gary (Garret Dillahunt), a man soon gives them Bachmeier’s address. The film returns to the beginning. Harry pulls up at a house, leaving Cecil in his car to approach an armed Bachmeier at his front door. Harry blames him for Jolly’s death, and Bachmeier invites him in like nothing is wrong. The final image shows two shots fired inside the house, though it is only seen from a distance on the outside.While this is a comedy, it is not a movie with comedy that will make you laugh yourself crazy. However, the comedy here is so bizarre and outrageous that it just works out quite nicely. I enjoyed this oddball comedy and was rather entertained by it.

REVIEW: THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD

CAST

Brad Pitt (Killing Them Softly)
Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone)
Sam Shepard (BLack Hawk Down)
Jeremy Renner (The Avengers)
Sam Rockwell (Iron Man 2)
Paul Schneider (Elizabethtown)
Garret Dillahunt (Winter’s Bone)
Mary-Louise Parker (Red)
Zooey Deschanel (Tin Man)
Alison Elliott (Birth)
Ted Levine (The Silence of The Lambs)
Michael Parks (Argo)

In 1881, young, starstruck Robert “Bob” Ford (Casey Affleck) seeks out Jesse James (Brad Pitt) when the James gang is planning a train robbery in Blue Cut, Missouri, making unsuccessful attempts to join the gang with the help of his older brother Charley (Sam Rockwell), already a member. The train turns out to be carrying only a fraction of the money originally thought, and Frank James (Sam Shepard) tells Charley Ford that this robbery would be the last the James brothers would commit. Jesse returns home to Kansas City, bringing the Fords, Dick Liddil (Paul Schneider) and his cousin, Wood Hite (Jeremy Renner). Jesse sends Charley, Wood and Dick away, but insists that Bob stay. He wanted the younger man just for his help in moving furniture to a new home in St. Joseph, Missouri. Bob becomes more admiring of James before being sent back to his sister’s farmhouse, where he rejoins his brother Charley, Hite, and Liddil.Liddil reveals to Bob that he is in collusion with another member of the James gang, Jim Cummins, to capture Jesse for a substantial bounty. Meanwhile, Jesse visits another gang member, Ed Miller (Garret Dillahunt), who gives away information on Cummins’ plot. Jesse kills Miller, then departs with Liddil to hunt down Cummins. Unable to locate him, Jesse viciously beats Albert Ford (Jesse Frechette), a young cousin of Bob and Charley. Liddil returns to the Boltons’ farmhouse, and argues with Hite, which ends with Bob Ford killing Hite. They dump his body in the woods to conceal the murder from Jesse.Jesse and Charley Ford travel to St. Joseph where Jesse learns of Hite’s disappearance, which Charley denies knowing anything about. Meanwhile, Bob goes to Kansas City Police Commissioner Henry Craig (Michael Parks), saying he knows Jesse James’ whereabouts. To prove his allegiance with the James gang, Bob urges Craig to arrest Dick Liddil. Following Liddil’s arrest and confession to participation in numerous gang robberies, Bob brokers a deal with the Governor of Missouri, Thomas T. Crittenden (James Carville). He is given ten days to capture or kill Jesse James, and promised a substantial bounty and full pardon for murder.Charley persuades Jesse to take Bob Ford into the gang; the brothers return to St. Joseph. Introduced as cousins to the Howards (the James’ pseudonym), they stay with the family, including Zee James (Mary-Louise Parker) and their two children. Jesse wants to revive his gang by robberies with the Fords, beginning with the Platte City bank. On the morning of April 3, 1882, Jesse and the Ford brothers prepare to depart for the robbery. Jesse reads in the newspaper about the arrest and confessions of Liddil. While the three men are in the living room, Jesse removes his gun belt and climbs a chair to clean a dusty picture. Bob shoots Jesse in the back of the head and flees with Charley. They send a telegram to the governor to announce Jesse’s death, for which they were to receive $10,000. However, they never receive more than $500 each.After the murder, the Fords become celebrities, touring with a theatre show in Manhattan in which they re-enact the assassination, but people soon dislike that Bob shot Jesse, unarmed, in the back. Guilt-stricken, Charley writes numerous letters to Zee James asking for her forgiveness, but does not send them. Suffering from terminal tuberculosis, he commits suicide in May 1884. Bob works around the West. On June 8, 1892, Bob is murdered by Edward O’Kelley (Michael Copeman), at his saloon in Creede, Colorado. O’Kelley is sentenced to life in prison, but Colorado Governor James Bradley Orman pardons him after ten years in 1902.Get ready for the assassination everyone knows is coming but no one can prepare for. Never has been a film that tells you the entire story in the title and can still surprise the viewer with beautiful cinematic moments.

REVIEW: KILLING THEM SOFTLY

 

CAST

Brad Pitt (Fight Club)
Ray Liotta (Hannibal)
Richard Jenkins (The Cabin In Teh Woods)
Scoot Mcnairy (Batman V Superman)
Ben Mendelsohn (The Dark Knight Rises)
James Gandolfini (8mm)
Sam Shepard (Black Hawk Down)
Garret Dillahunt (Terminator: TSCC)

In the fall of 2008, during both the American financial crisis and the presidential election campaign, an older man named Johnny “Squirrel” Amato (Vincent Curatola) plans to rob an illegal poker game. He enlists two younger men to do the robbery: Frankie (Scoot McNairy), a former business associate, and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), a heroin-addicted Australian expatriate who is stealing purebred dogs for money. Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), the proprietor of the poker ring, is revealed to have previously orchestrated an inside job by paying two men to rob his own illegal poker room. He holds up under rough questioning by the hitman Dillon (Sam Shepard), though later he openly admits his involvement to various criminals who laugh it off, and Markie suffers no retaliation. Squirrel anticipates that the Mafia will automatically blame Markie for the heist.

Frankie and Russell, though obviously amateurs, do the holdup and leave with the money. However, Driver (Richard Jenkins), an emissary for the Mafia, discusses the recent robbery with an acquaintance of Dillon, a hitman and mob enforcer named Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt). Although Jackie understands Markie was uninvolved in the recent heist, he believes Markie should be murdered in order to restore the mobsters’ confidence in the local illegal gambling scene.

Upon completing the crime, Russell travels to Florida to sell the dogs. While in Florida, he inadvertently informs a man named Kenny Gill (Slaine) of his involvement in the heist while trying to recruit him as a drug dealer. Kenny informs Jackie, who deduces that Russell, Frankie, and Squirrel are the perpetrators. All of this occurs during a backdrop of televised speeches about the financial crisis given by then-President George W. Bush and then-Senator Barack Obama made during the 2008 US Presidential election.

Jackie carries out the hit on Markie himself, killing him in his car, but brings in another older hitman, Mickey Fallon (James Gandolfini), who is on parole in New York, to kill Squirrel. Jackie explains to Driver how he prefers “killing them softly”—shooting his victims from a distance, without warning, giving them no opportunity to experience fear or despair—and that his acquaintance with Squirrel risks complicating this approach.

Mickey postpones going through with his assigned hit, instead indulging in drunkenness and sex with prostitutes in a hotel room. During conversation with Jackie, Mickey also reveals that he has violated his parole, and doesn’t seem to care about or really comprehend the consequences; instead he goes off on drunken tangents. It becomes clear to Jackie that the respected hitman has lost his nerve and ability to do his job. Jackie eventually decides to carry out the hit on Squirrel himself. He convinces Driver to arrange Mickey’s arrest before the job has been completed.

Russell is arrested on a drug possession charge and deported; meanwhile, Jackie confronts Frankie and convinces him to trade Squirrel’s whereabouts for his life. Jackie has Frankie drive him to Squirrel; upon reaching Squirrel’s apartment complex, he kills Squirrel with a shotgun. After confirming Squirrel is dead, Jackie has Frankie drive him to get his car several hours away. Frankie becomes very nervous and begins speeding. Unable to get Frankie to slow down, Jackie takes over driving. Once they arrive at the parking garage, Jackie shoots Frankie in the head without warning. Jackie then wipes down any fingerprints he might have left and leaves the scene.

On the night of the presidential election, Jackie meets with Driver to collect his fee for the three hits. On the TV in the bar, Barack Obama is giving his election victory speech. Jackie sees that he has been paid $30,000. He alleges that at $10,000 each, Driver has underpaid him for the jobs—on the argument that it would have cost $15,000 to have Mickey kill Squirrel. Driver responds that Dillon charges ten, and tells Jackie to take it up with Dillon. Jackie tells Driver that Dillon died that morning. Referring to Obama’s speech, Jackie says angrily, “This guy wants to tell me we’re living in a community? Don’t make me laugh. I’m living in America, and in America, you’re on your own. America is not a country; it’s just a business. Now fucking pay me.” The film smash-cuts to black, leaving the issue unresolved.

The message of this film appears to be two fold. One: America is a business, just like the Mob. Two: the Mob and Politics are sometimes one and the same. When there is a financial Depression, the Mob suffers as much as the country. Make if this what you will. Superb acting by all. Plenty of blood and violence for all looking for this sort of thing.