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crime thriller

Joker (2019)

DIRECTOR: Todd Phillips

CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy, Zazie Beetz, Brett Cullen, Bill Camp, Shea Whigham

REVIEW:

With the simply-titled Joker, an independent stand-alone existing on its own unconnected to any other film in any Batman franchise, director Todd Phillips and star Joaquin Phoenix have gone even further afield of the stereotypical tropes and restrictions of a “comic book movie” than the likes of The Dark Knight, Deadpool, or Logan (rarely for a comic book movie, it shares with the last two examples a well-deserved R rating; this is an adult movie which is thoroughly intended for adults and inappropriate for younger viewers). This is a “comic book movie” in a loose definition of the word, owing more to Scorsese—Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy in particular—than the pages of the Batman comics. Taken on its own merits, Joker is a slow burn but darkly engrossing ride following in gritty, down-to-earth fashion one man’s descent into madness. It’s the kind of movie it’s arguable to say is conventionally “entertaining”, but it’s powerful and disturbing, and not easily shaken off afterwards.

Continue reading

Widows (2018)

DIRECTOR: Steve McQueen

CAST: Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya, Brian Tyree Henry, Liam Neeson, Robert Duvall

REVIEW:

Widows could be considered a heist movie, but it’s not a testosterone-fueled action flick, and it’s even further away from a lighthearted lark in the vein of something like Ocean’s ElevenJust a cursory glance at the filmography of director and co-writer Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame, 12 Years a Slave) shows he’s a filmmaker of more serious intentions, and thematic subtext related to female empowerment, corruption in politics, race relations, and social injustice make Widows about more than “just” a heist movie.  One could argue McQueen and co-writer Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) bite off more than they can chew—the narrative is prone to spending too much time on side tangents and could have benefited from a leaner, tighter edit—but there’s enough here to make Widows an engaging, if imperfect, slow burn crime drama/thriller achieving a little uniqueness by boasting an all-female lead cast. Continue reading

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)

DIRECTOR: Fede Alvarez

CAST: Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, Sylvia Hoeks, Lakeith Stanfield, Stephen Merchant, Vicky Krieps

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL REVEAL “SPOILERS”

“Generic” is not a word that should be used to describe Lisbeth Salander, but The Girl in the Spider’s Web brings her close.  An adaptation of the book, the latest installment in the so-called Millennium Series, continued by David Lagercrantz from where late crime journalist and author Stieg Larsson left off, and a soft reboot quasi-sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, adapted to film both in Sweden (by Niels Arden Oplev and starring Noomi Rapace and the late Michael Nyqvist) and in an English-language remake (by David Fincher and starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig), The Girl in the Spider’s Web continues the series transition in Lagercrantz’s hands from dark, serious, slow burn murder/crime mystery into more straightforward action/spy thriller territory, sacrificing some depth and character along the way.  The result is a watchable and engaging action/spy thriller but arguably a poor Lisbeth Salander story. Continue reading

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

DIRECTOR: Drew Goddard

CAST: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Lewis Pullman, Cailee Spaeny, Chris Hemsworth

REVIEW:

Bad Times at the El Royale has issues—sometimes overly self-indulgent in its own dark quirkiness and excessively Tarantino wannabe—but as an obvious homage to the kind of movie Quentin Tarantino might churn out, it serves up enough twists and turns combined with a dark sense of humor to keep the audience engaged and guessing through a slow burn pace.  Like Tarantino himself, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who enjoy this kind of movie, it’s an enjoyably dark and twisty ride. Continue reading

Hotel Artemis (2018)

DIRECTOR: Drew Pearce

CAST: Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Dave Bautista, Charlie Day, Jenny Slate, Jeff Goldblum, Zachary Quinto

REVIEW:

Hotel Artemis is a slick, engaging action thriller that holds the attention while it lasts (which is just shy of an hour and a half) but ends up feeling a trifle insubstantial and underdeveloped.  Its vibe is halfway between comic book and Tarantino wannabe, and it boasts enough flashy action sequences, colorful characters, tension, and a few twists and turns to engage in the moment, even if the conclusion underwhelms. Continue reading

Lawless (2012)

DIRECTOR: John Hillcoat

CAST: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce, Mia Wasikowska, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Dane DeHaan

REVIEW:

Based on Matt Bondurant’s 2008 historical novel The Wettest County in the World, a semi-fictionalized account of the Prohibition-era bootlegging activities of his grandfather Jack Bondurant and his grand-uncles Forrest and Howard, Lawless doesn’t reach the level of the bootlegging film classics it aspires toward, but it’s still an entertaining and engaging, if unspectacular, outlaw adventure that’s soaked in enough blood and moonshine to appeal to fans of the genre.  Its release in late August, generally regarded as a dumping ground for films the studios are not confident enough about to release at the height of summer, is a bit of a shame.  Lawless is a well-made movie that deserves a higher profile than it received. Continue reading

Fracture (2007)

DIRECTOR: Gregory Hoblit

CAST: Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling, Rosamund Pike, Billy Burke, David Strathairn, Cliff Curtis, Fiona Shaw, Bob Gunton, Embeth Davidtz

REVIEW:

Fracture is not a great thriller, and ultimately somewhat fizzles with an anti-climactic conclusion, but it’s a slick entry that serves up enough juicy twists and turns to draw us in.  Plus a movie that features the entertainment value of Anthony Hopkins in Hannibal Lecter mode (though here Hopkins restricts himself to chewing the scenery, not any cast members) has at least a few scenes worth watching on that score alone. Continue reading

The Lookout (2007)

DIRECTOR: Scott Frank

CAST:

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode, Isla Fisher, Bruce McGill, Greg Dunham, Carla Gugino

REVIEW:

The Lookout is a decent little thriller that sets out with unambitious goals and mostly fulfills them. As the directorial debut of accomplished screenwriter Scott Frank (Dead Again, Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Minority Report), it’s a modest effort that has an interesting premise, does a few things effectively, most things adequately, but too many things weakly to earn it more than a lukewarm recommendation. The best things about it aren’t directly related to the thriller angle, principally the effective development of an individual struggling with brain damage. Continue reading

Shaft (2000)

DIRECTOR: John Singleton

CAST:

Samuel L. Jackson, Vanessa Williams, Christian Bale, Jeffrey Wright, Toni Collette, Richard Roundtree, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Dan Hedaya, Busta Rhymes, Daniel von Bargen, Pat Hingle, Josef Sommer, Philip Bosco, Mekhi Phifer

REVIEW:

Shaft originally hit the screens in 1971, at the height of the ‘Blaxploitation’ era, with Richard Roundtree starring as ‘the black private dick who’s a sex machine to all the chicks’. Almost thirty years later, John Shaft made a return to the screen- sort of. Continue reading

Payback (1999)

DIRECTOR: Brian Helgeland

CAST: Mel Gibson, Maria Bello, Gregg Henry, William Devane, James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson, Lucy Liu, David Paymer, Bill Duke, Jack Conley, John Glover, Deborah Kara Unger

REVIEW:

Payback, from director and co-writer Brian Helgeland (Oscar-winning screenwriter of 1997’s LA Confidential in his directorial debut) is a deliciously hard-boiled crime caper and an ode to film noir.  It’s actually more-or-less a remake of John Boorman’s 1967 Point Blank, and both films are based on Richard Stark’s novel The Hunter, but Payback has enough style and personality to stand on its own as an engaging 100 minutes that serves up a noir-esque narrative, supplies a lineup of colorful characters, gives Mel Gibson some juicy one-liners to chew on, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Continue reading

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