Movie Review – Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013)
Written & Directed by David Lowry

Ruth tells Bob she’s pregnant and he couldn’t be more excited. Bob needs to pull off one more robbery, and they’ll be set, able to escape their small Texas town and start over somewhere else. However, things don’t go as planned; a shoot out ensues with an officer wounded and Bob taken into custody. Ruth is taken in by her father figure Skerritt and raises her daughter as a single mother. Patrick, the officer, wounded in the shoot out, begins coming around to Ruth’s place to help her out and they slowly develop feelings for each other. Meanwhile, Bob escapes prison and starts making his way to Ruth, to take her and their daughter away to a better place.

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Movie Review – American Hustle

American Hustle (2013)
Written by Eric Warner Singer and David O. Russell
Directed by David O. Russell

Inspired by the FBI’s Abscam operation to take down organized crime and later public corruption, American Hustle shakes off the procedural to tell a more stylistic and fictionalized version of the events. Irving Rosenfeld is a con artist in New Jersey who has found a soulmate and partner in Sydney Prosser. The two are running an art scam, and some loan sharking but get caught by FBI agent Richie DiMaso who coerces them into using their skills and connections to start taking down bigger fish. Irving’s life is complicated by his irresponsible wife Rosalyn whose son he has adopted which causes him to refuse to leave her. DiMaso gets the pair embroiled with the mayor of Camden, New Jersey and on the ground floor of the mob-led rebuilding of Atlantic City. As expected the stakes crank up to a frenetic level and Irving finds himself deeper and more threatened than he ever wanted to be.

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Movie Review – Destroyer

Destroyer (2018)
Written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi
Directed by Karyn Kusama

Erin Bell has been worn down by her life as a police detective and the alcohol she downs to self-medicate herself. An envelope arrives at her desk containing an ink-stained bill which suddenly pulls her back into memories that are seventeen years old. Erin and her partner Chris went deep undercover to join a bank robbing gang run by Silas, a sociopath. The envelope is a sign to Erin that Silas is back and she starts to hunt down old associates as a means to find where her enemy is and finish him. To do this, she must cross every line that an officer is expected to uphold and will even kill to find this man that has tormented her mind for decades.

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TV Review – True Detective Season 3

True Detective Season 3 (HBO)
Written by Nic Pizzolatto, David Milch, and Graham Gordy
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier, Daniel Sackheim, and Nic Pizzolatto

In 1980 two children go missing in a small Arkansas town. The detectives assigned to the case are Wayne Hays and Roland West. Hays is a stoic and determined investigator having spent his tour of duty in Vietnam as a tracker, wading deep into the jungle often alone. West is a more boisterous personality, a hard drinker, and a man who knows how to navigate the political game that makes up policing. The two men find themselves going down a rabbit hole of dead-end leads as they race against the clock to locate the children. In 1990, after the case is rushed to a close by the district attorney a new lead emerges that brings Hays back from a desk job. These new revelations confirm doubts Hays had about the person ultimately charged. However, they also create a whole new host of questions and confusion about what happened to the kids. Finally, in 2015, Hays is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and the passing of his beloved wife, whom he met back in 1980. Hays’ son has worked with a true crime television series to have his father sit down and be interviewed about the case that has haunted the old man for so many years. As Hays’ mind slips away his hold on the present begins to crumble and soon finds himself pinballing across decades in his brain, finally intent on uncovering the truth.

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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.