Tag Archives: crime

Hotel Artemis

9 Jun

 

At the Hotel Artemis, you can check in any time you’d like but – like the Eagles tune tells us – it’s pretty damn hard to leave. Why? Well for one thing, it’s a safe house for criminals. And two, outside in the grubby L.A. streets, mobs are rioting over the privatization of water.

“Hotel Artemis” takes place in the near dystopian future, though it’s hard to get a full register of what that’s really like; similar to Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel,” the film’s mostly an inside job. Lording over the den of thrives is a boozy, disheveled Jodie Foster, referred to as The Nurse, with a Master Blaster of an orderly at her side by the moniker of Everest (played by hulking former wrestler Dave Bautista, so winning in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Avengers” films) who enforces house rules and metes out small doses of medical aid. Among the potpourri of personalities checked in are Sterling K. Brown’s dapper bank robber, Charlie Day channeling his inner Joe Pesci as a jabber-jawed arms dealer and Sofia Boutella’s super sleek assassin (she played a similar role in “Atomic Blonde”). About halfway in, a banged-up capo known as the Wolf King of L.A. (played by a game Jeff Goldblum, who’s onscreen too little) shows up to raise the stakes. If the invocation of another “Wolf” in L.A. crime doesn’t seem like a grab at something from Tarantino’s hip criminal universe (Harvey Keitel’s fixer from “Pulp Fiction”) then maybe the fact that all the “guests” are referred to by their room name – substitute “Niagara” and “Waikiki” for “Mr. Pink” and “Mr. Black” and you get the picture – might tell you what screenwriter/director Drew Pearce is angling for. “Artemis” even has its own McGuffin (a mysterious pen) and a wounded cop (Jenny Slate) with information to share. 

Much is packed into a lean 93-minute runtime. First-time helmer Drew Peace, who wrote the screenplays for “Iron Man 3” and “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” shows a knack for snappy action the way stuntman turned filmmaker David Leitch demonstrated with “Atomic Blonde” and “Deadpool 2.” The rub, however, is that as a narrative, “Artemis” jumps around too much, and not everything quite fits (perhaps over-enthusiastic editing had a role to play). As a result, the only characters that resonate even faintly are Foster’s wheezing hotelier and Brown’s remorseful perp saddled with a blundering older brother. It doesn’t help that in an era of grand set designs, the glimmers of the outer-scape feel cheap, plastic and uninspired – not in the cheesy, good way that “Logan’s Run” made so indelible, but more like the stagy street riots in David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis” (2012) or the Orwellian future-scape in “Equilibrium” from 2002, if you even remember that one. Peace is blessed with a great cast, and the actors all provide above-the-bar turns. It’s just too bad in execution “Artemis” feels more like a staged (and very promising) concept than the mean teeth of true criminal intent.

Advertisements

You Were Never Really Here

15 Apr

 

Seven years ago Scottish director Lynne Ramsay served notice with the psychological thriller “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” In that film, a family is torn apart by a son’s increasingly disturbed behavior. Things proceed edgily and eventually go off the rails, violently and shockingly. In her latest, “You Were Never Really Here,” audiences don’t have to wait long for an eruption of carnage when an equalizer/hitman is employed to retrieve a state senator’s daughter from a high-end brothel in midtown Manhattan.

If that sounds like the boilerplate to “Taken” or “Taxi Driver,” you’d be right to think so – at least on paper – but for Ramsay, getting at her protagonist’s state of mind and backstory is anything but a linear exercise. In wisps we catch Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) in military fatigues within the confines of a desert encampment feed a candy bar through a chain-link perimeter to a youth who is promptly shot dead by a surprising source. Later, ostensibly in the FBI or some investigative law enforcement unit, Joe uncovers a van full of dead bodies. And then there are the flashbacks to a highly abusive father and Joe’s attempts at suicide via asphyxiation (dry cleaning bags being the impermeable of choice). These images are littered throughout, giving brushstrokes of insight to the enigmatic Joe, bearded, burly and employing the peen end of a hammer to bash his way through his first assignment. To save the senator’s daughter (Ekaterina Samsonov), he employs the same implement – a new one of course, selected carefully from the hanging racks of a Home Depot, Ace Hardware or the like – working his way through the Manhattan brownstone in a more “Old Boy” style than Travis Bickle might consider. Continue reading

Death Wish

7 Mar

 

I like Bruce Willis, I do. But, sorry Bruce, you’re no Charles Bronson, not even close, and even more to the point, Eli Roth is no Michael Winner.

Who might Micheal Winner be, you ask. He’s the guy who directed the original “Death Wish” back in the 1970s with Bronson as a New York City architect looking to avenge the death of his wife and rape of his daughter. Winner was also responsible for two of the series’ feeble follow-ups (“Death Wish II” and “Death Wish 3”) and “Won Ton Ton: the Dog who Saved Hollywood” (1976). Weak tea to be sure, but that said, that 1974 collaboration yielded a palpable revenge fantasy chock full of sharp, witty commentary and a Bronson brimming with nonchalant machismo. In the Roth/Willis updating, motive, cathartic process and emotion get tamped down in favor of staging and contrivance.

While much of the narrative bare bones based on Brian Garfield’s novel remains, much has changed as well. The setting has flipped from New York to Chicago, and the avenging Paul Kersey is no longer an architect but a surgeon who’s been witnessing the city’s 20 year high crime rate firsthand via his operating table – the opening scene of a cop rushed into the ER feels a bit heavy-handed and becomes an omen as to how Roth, the gore-meister behind “The Green Inferno” and the “Hostel” films, wants to go. There’s a wealth of technological advancements from the past 40-plus years (PCs, cellphones, social media, GPS and smart cars to name a few) that feed nicely into the plot. Willis’ Kersey too is not an urban dweller, but lives in the affluent ’burbs. The crew that take out his wife and daughter early on are less cruel than the Bronson versions (the incident is on his birthday, but there’s no rape that we see) but the violence that Kersey ultimately dishes out is far more decisive and sadistic. Continue reading

The Snowman

24 Oct

 

This much-hyped thriller (“produced by Martin Scorsese”) based on Norwegian author Jo Nesbø’s crime series becomes its own enigmatic entity. “The Snowman” is both a wonderment to behold and an endless aching thud of frenetic plot manipulations that insult the audience’s intelligence – something that’s bound to happen when you build a thriller by proxy (two or more screenwriters). It makes you step back and ponder what might have been. The prospects are endless, as all the pieces are right there; they just don’t fit and flow.

The tale is set in Oslo and the surrounding countryside, captured in gorgeous scenic shots. Everything is gray, drab and snowbound, also a fair assessment of all the characters skulking about a dark whodunit that reaches for the moody grandeur of a David Fincher film (“Se7en” or “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) but winds up closer to “Body of Evidence” (1993), which effectively killed Madonna’s acting career and probably had Willem Dafoe thinking about swapping agents.  Continue reading

Good Time

25 Aug

It’s “Rain Man” meets “Eddie Coyle” in this up-in-your-chest New York City heist flick. The film, by Boston University grads Benny and Josh Safdie, is imbued with the type of on-the-street grit that made Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” so indelible, and the riveting electric score by Daniel Lopatin notches up the emotional disarray in every frame. If there’s one thing “Good Time” is not, is short on mood. The setup bookends the central narrative with scenes of a baby-faced young man by the name of Nick (played convincingly by Benny Safdie, doing double duty) under duress while in therapy sessions with a wild-haired psychiatrist (Peter Verby, whose face is a cinematic wonder in its own right). In the opener, Nick’s asked to give free association responses to random terms. His answers to “scissors and a cooking pan” (“You can hurt yourself with both”) and “salt and water” (“The beach”) are telling – not in the actual response, but how he responds. He clearly has some form of developmental handicap.

The scene smolders in tight closeups, but before the grim gravity of Nick’s prospects can take root fully – or the psychiatrist can dig any deeper – Nick’s brother Connie (Robert Pattinson) bursts through the door and extracts his sibling. Has Nick been saved? For the moment, yes, but not in the bigger scheme of things. The two are incredibly tight (the Safdies are clearly drawing on their own sibling bond) but pretty much have only each other to draw on and limited financial resources; to keep the pack together, Connie cooks up a plan to rob a bank in the middle of the day, the execution and choreography of which is so hauntingly reminiscent of “Dog Day Afternoon” you half expect Al Pacino to pop out with chants of “Attica.” The lads do make off with the cash, but matters with ride sharing, dye packs and Nick’s emotional instability provide steep obstacles. It’s a riveting game of cat and mouse as the brothers dash down littered alleyways and into a mall atrium with the police a hot breath away. Just as they look to be in the clear, Nick crashes through a glass pane and is taken into custody. Where the story goes next is as unpredictable as its protagonist. Continue reading

Logan Lucky

22 Aug

It’s only been four years, but feels much longer, since director Steven Soderbergh last treated filmgoing audiences to one of his quirky, deconstructive gems. Granted, “Side Effects” (2013) was something of a disappointment, but the director’s HBO biopic of flamboyant performer Liberace that same year generated plenty of heat, as did his previous feature, “Magic Mike” (2012). Soderbergh, an against-the-grain filmmaker, has always been one to toss the dice, be it his casting of a martial arts expert or a porn star in character-driven lead roles (“Haywire” and “The Girlfriend Experience”) or being one of the first to deliver a film simultaneously into theaters and on-demand (“Bubble” in 2005). For his latest, the American auteur taps into the skin of some of his more commercial fare – “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Out of Sight” – while farming fresh territory.

So it’s no surprise “Logan Lucky” is a heist caper – though not nearly as hip as the “Ocean” films. It’s set at a massive Nascar speedway in North Carolina, with the bulk of its protagonists down-on-their-luck West Virginians. Glitz and glamour are scarce, but arrive in the form of Riley Keough (so wickedly good in “American Honey” and adding to her stock here) as one of the Logan clan in on a plot to drain the speedway’s vault, and Katie Holmes as the ex-wife who’s traded up in social class and occupies a sprawling McMansion. At the center looms lovable Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum, who’s been in several of Soderbergh’s more recent projects, including the Mike in “Magic Mike”) a golden-armed QB who never made good his promise to play at the collegiate or professional level because of a bum knee; as a result he toils as a second-string laborer, and a prideful one at that, refusing financial help from the ex who’s constantly offering to buy him a cellphone so they can better coordinate handoffs of their beauty pageant-obsessed daughter. Continue reading

Wind River

14 Aug

Taylor Sheridan, the screenwriter behind “Sicario” who garnered an Oscar nod for “Hell or High Water” last year, gets back in the director’s seat (he helmed a “Saw”-esque flick in 2011 called “Vile” that you might have missed) for “Wind River,” a crime thriller set high in the Wyoming wild. Much like “High Water,” the landscape and desolate character of the setting becomes a central player in the action – and there’s oil to be had as well.

Jeremy Renner stars as Fish and Wildlife officer Cory Lambert, who gets enlisted by FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to help solve the murder of a young Native American woman (Kelsey Asbille) on an Indian reservation. They’re assisted by the local sheriff (Graham Greene), who has ties to the native community. From Florida and unfamiliar with Native American traditions, Banner couldn’t be more of a fish out of water, and she’s also got that wet-behind-the-ears, can-do gene that made Clarice Starling so indelible in “The Silence of the Lambs.”

What drives “Wind River” isn’t so much the present action but the heavy backstories the characters carry, which burn with real, raw emotional palpability. Lambert, married to a Native American, lost a daughter due to negligence – he’s haunted by not knowing the full details – and saw his marriage dissolve because of it. The weight of that resonates in the tired creases of Renner’s face and becomes Lambert’s unenviable yet natural bond with the victim’s father (Gil Birmingham, whose rendering of parental despair is heartbreaking). Then there’s the plight of the native population ground down by alcoholism, drug addiction and broken dreams, an ensnaring downward cycle on sharp display.

Bodies pile up, and the narrative cuts back on itself smartly and seamlessly as Lambert and Banner get closer to the truth. The scenes of rape and murder are brutally graphic, yet serve to illustrate the depths of disregard when humans get blinded by rage, desire and pack mentality. The issue of racism gets explored as well as in the deep, snow-covered heart of the reservation and oil-drilling site, which is guarded by imported security forces; as the screw turns, the sense of law and order there become a wispy notion. “Wind River,” like “Hell or High Water,” ultimately becomes a Western in construct, with Renner’s reluctant Lambert something of a “Shane”-like last barrier. The combination of character, setting and weave makes well-known tropes fresh and new.