Movie Review – Killing Them Softly

Killing Them Softly (2012)
Written & Directed by Andrew Dominik

In the fall of 2008, with the presidential election and the financial crisis playing out in the background, Frankie and Russell carry out the robbery of a Mafia-run poker game. Planned by their friend Johnny “The Squirrel” they target a competition run by Markie, a man who once held up his own game and so now suspicion surrounds him. They figure everyone will think Markie did it again and he’ll feel the brunt of the mob. However, the Mafia calls in Jackie, a well-known hitman who immediately knows Markie isn’t this stupid. It’s only a matter of time until all parties involved in the heist are found and Jackie has to deliver his revenge. From there, things get dodgy as the film meanders off, focusing on side characters and slowing the momentum of the story way down.

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Movie Review – Lawless

Lawless (2012)
Written by Nick Cave
Directed by John Hillcoat

In 1931, among the foothills of Virginia, the Bondurant brothers were successful moonshine runners. Forrest (Tom Hardy) runs the operations with a cool even hand making sure to reign in wild man Howard (Jason Clarke) the youngest and greenest brother Jack (Shia LeBeouf). They also have the local law under their thumb by sharing some of the product from time to time. Things change when U.S. Marshall Charley Rakes (Guy Pearce) is assigned to the region and works alongside the state’s attorney to pressure the Bondurants into handing over a more significant percentage of their profits. Meanwhile, Jack becomes obsessed with courting the preacher’s daughter (Mia Wasikowska) while Forrest strikes up a growing intimacy with city girl on the run Maggie (Jessica Chastain). Oh yeah, Gary Oldman plays a Chicago gangster who has moved into the area. Movie crowded enough yet?

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Movie Review – Hot Summer Nights

Hot Summer Nights (2018)
Written & Directed Elijah Bynum

Daniel is shipped off to stay with his aunt in Cape Cod during the summer of 1991. He’s not a summer bird or a townie and has trouble finding where he fits until he meets Hunter, a local who deals weed to all comers. Daniel also strikes up an intense flirtation with Mckaya, the neighborhood “hot chick.” He’s feeling a restlessness and takes up dealing with Hunter, pushing him to expand his operation and get involved with some unscrupulous people to have enough product. As would be expected, the two young men get in over their heads and are forced to face bleak, very real consequences.

Hot Summer Nights is a damn ambitious movie. From the opening scenes to the final reveal of the title screen it moves along at a Goodfellas like energetic pace fused with the currently popular retro neon 80s vibes. The problem is that the script believes it is much smarter than it ends up being. I was struck with how strong the style and technical aspects of the film were, but how utterly lacking in character development the entire story was. You have critical characters introduced and then forgotten for half the movie while other significant players pop up for the first time ⅔ into the picture only to linger on the periphery, feeling like we are supposed to know more but never getting that.

The first sign that Hot Summer Nights has problems is the disembodied narration from a 13-year-old boy who claims to have lived in Cape Cod and heard multiple rumors about this whole affair. This narration disappears about a third of the way into the picture only to be brought back up in the conclusion. This entire trope resonated with me as the core element of Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, a decidedly not 1980s/90s movie. Hot Summer Nights seemed not to be sure what period it references. The soundtrack included a large number of songs from the 1970s and early 80s while the movie itself makes references to many pieces of late 1990s/2000s cinema (American Beauty, Donnie Darko, Boogie Nights). Other than a couple of references to Terminator 2 this picture doesn’t feel firmly grounded in anything other than a particular aesthetic du jour.

The actors present here would lead the audience to believe they are going to get a great character piece. We have Timothy Chalamet, Thomas Jane, Maika Monroe, and Maia Mitchell who are all very good to decent performers. Alex Roe rounds out the cast as Hunter, a new face to me and he was good with what the script gave him to work with. So that script is the Achilles heel of the entire production, so over-energized with dumping a ton of ideas and stylized scenes that it fails to make us genuinely care for and understood the relationships between its principal characters.

Thomas Jane is introduced early on as police Sgt. Frank Calhoun, a member of the local law who has strong notions about Hunter. The problem is that Calhoun is gone from the movie for about 45 minutes until we see him again. Also, the conflict between Calhoun and Hunter is never fully fleshed out until a scene near the end that weakly connects the police officer to Hunter’s drunken dad. Their story is much like the other relationships in the picture; it’s introduced and then just left to flounder while the movie moves onto the next thing it wants to do or establish.

Hot Summer Nights is the definition of a middle of the road movie. There’s so much personality exuding from the film that you can’t help but become involved. There’s not enough meat on the bones for you to walk feeling like you watched anything memorable. The script slides so easily into cliche or derivative scenes that are so obviously more than an homage and border on intellectual property theft. Not the worst movie A24 has produced so far, but nowhere close to a great one.

Movie Review – Bad Times at the El Royale

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)
Written & Directed by Drew Goddard

The El Royale is a unique Lake Tahoe hotel in that is straddles the California/Nevada line. The place was one a prestigious getaway for many of the Rat Pack and other glittering stars of a bygone age. By the time the film begins, 1969, the glory days are gone, and the hotel has fallen into disrepair. On this fateful day, a priest, a lounge singer, a vacuum salesman, a mysterious woman have checked in. El Royale has only one troubled staff member who seems to discourage these people from staying but reluctantly gives in. By the end of this night, all of these guests will be changed forever, facing their fears and discovering the dark secrets behind the El Royale.

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Movie Review – Mojave

a24 visions

Mojave (2016)
Written & Directed by William Monahan

mojave

Tom is an incredibly famous and successful Hollywood director who is drowning the sorrows of his personal life in alcohol and partying. After a particularly draining bender, he drives his jeep off into the Mojave Desert for some solace. Tom is in an accident that flips his vehicle over, and he continues on foot only to encounter a malevolent stranger who is stalking the sands. Jack is a grizzled and articulate man wandering the desert armed with a hunting rifle. Tom suspects no good can come of this and a physical struggle ensues that leaves Tom with the gun and on the run from Jack. Tom’s paranoia leads to a tragic mistake that Jack intends to use against him even after the director escapes the desert.

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Movie Review – Dark Places

Dark Places (2015)
Written & Directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner

dark places

In 1985, a brutal murder occurred in Kinnakee, Kansas. The culprit appeared to Ben Day; the victims are his mother and two of his sisters. Little sister Libby Day survives and goes on to testify that she saw Ben committing these acts. Jump to present day, Libby has squandered the last of the money she got from her book about the events and the goodwill of people who have heard her story has dried up. She is approached by Lyle, a member of the Kill Club, a group of amateurs that takes murder cases and reopens them to try to solve them. They believe Ben is innocent though he’s never appealed his life sentence. Libby is skeptical but eventually agrees to pursue their leads and uncovers the secrets of those final days of her childhood innocence.

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Movie Review – You Were Never Really Here

You Were Never Really Here (2018)
Written & Directed by Lynne Ramsay

you were never really here

Joe is a man who lives a brutal life. He rescue girls caught up in human trafficking, typically being forced to work as prostitutes. This way of living, of earning money is catching up to Joe. He continually has flashbacks to his childhood abuse and depends on prescription meds to calm his mind. A new call comes in from a state senator, Albert Votto. Votto’s daughter is a frequent runaway, and he has word she’s being held in a brothel in the middle of Manhattan. Joe ventures out to rescue her and finds himself caught in a web of lies that started with Votto. But his mind and body may not be able to handle this one.

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