May 2024


crime drama

Cherry (2021)

DIRECTOR: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

CAST: Tom Holland, Ciara Bravo


After becoming two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s primary recurring directors, helming Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, The Avengers: Infinity War, and The Avengers: Endgame, the sibling directing duo of Anthony and Joe Russo have switched gears to something completely different, taking a lower-profile more indie movie detour from CGI-heavy star-studded special effects and action extravaganzas. To this end, they’ve brought along their sister Angela Russo, who gets a screenwriting credit, and reunited with Marvel star Tom Holland, going far away from Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Nico Walker, Cherry is a bit of a mess whose social commentary tries to tackle too many societal ills and is sometimes lost amid the Russos’ excessive directorial flourishes, but it’s still an engaging and compelling docudrama that has something to say.

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Joker (2019)

DIRECTOR: Todd Phillips

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


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.

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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


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

Proud Mary (2018)

DIRECTOR: Babak Najafi

CAST: Taraji P. Henson, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Billy Brown, Danny Glover, Xander Berkeley, Neal McDonough, Rade Sherbedgia


One strongly suspects Proud Mary would have been straight-to-video fare if not for the presence of multi-Emmy and Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson in the title role, and that’s where the quality level lies.  Proud Mary is an enjoyable enough diversion in the moment, but a generic and uninspired shoot-em-up that doesn’t offer anything memorable. Continue reading

I, Tonya (2017)

DIRECTOR: Craig Gillespie

CAST: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Alison Janney, Paul Walter Hauser, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, McKenna Grace


I, Tonya is not a straightforward docudrama of the infamous 1994 assault on figure skater Nancy Kerrigan that implicated her rival Tonya Harding, Harding’s husband Jeff Gilooly, and other associates.  Rather, director Craig Gillespie and screenwriter Steven Rogers have tackled the material as a dark comedy which in the third act has tinges of something the Coen Brothers might have come up with (given the amount of criminal bumbling that takes place, that’s a not altogether inappropriate approach to take).  The movie takes its material from the sometimes completely contradictory interviews of Harding, Gilooly, and others, giving us multiple unreliable narrators, and also asks us to, if not necessarily condone or exonerate Harding, to come to at least some measure of understanding of what led up to the moment that, fairly or unfairly, would define her. Continue reading

The Accountant (2016)

accountant3DIRECTOR: Gavin O’Connor

CAST: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, John Lithgow, Jeffrey Tambor, Jean Smart


The Accountant is a curiously inert thriller mixed with a character study, or perhaps, as some have called it, a character study masquerading as a thriller.  A perfunctory attempt at portraying the symptoms of a character with high-functioning autism/Asperger’s (the movie is slightly vague about his specific diagnosis) gives way to a generic shoot-em-up.  An unneccessarily convoluted narrative structure—featuring flashbacks to several different time periods in the main character’s life, myriad superfluous subplots and extraneous supporting characters—serves only to muddy the waters and disguise the fact that, when all is said and done, there wasn’t that much to it.  For a movie centering on a man of simplistic single-minded purpose, The Accountant seems desperate to convince us it’s more complex than it actually is. Continue reading

Sicario (2015)

DIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve

CAST: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Daniel Kaluuya, Victor Garber, Jeffrey Donovan, Jon Bernthal


Sicario, the latest from Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners), is not for those seeking a couple hours of escapism from grim realities at the movie theater, nor is it an action movie.  It’s also further evidence that Villeneuve has a bleak worldview.  But for fans of gritty, down-to-earth crime dramas that deal in shades of gray and don’t shy away from unsympathetic characters or downbeat endings, Sicario may have things to offer. Continue reading

Black Mass (2015)

BulgerDIRECTOR: Scott Cooper

CAST: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, David Harbour, Peter Sarsgaard, Corey Stoll


Black Mass, a docudrama of the unholy alliance between FBI agents and 1970s-1990s crime lord Whitey Bulger, has a feel of “Scorsese-lite” (Jack Nicholson’s mob boss in Scorsese’s The Departed was loosely modeled after Bulger).  Solid acting and some memorable individual scenes enliven a straightforward gangster crime drama that’s otherwise serviceable but generic.  Black Mass is reasonably engaging, but nothing groundbreaking, and there’s a sense of a rushed and underdeveloped storyline.  Among the many gangland flicks to come out over the years, it’s not a bad installment, but also not a classic.  A chilling lead performance by Johnny Depp is likely to linger longer in the memory than the pedestrian narrative. Continue reading

The Drop (2014)

downloadDIRECTOR: Michael Roskam

CAST: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts, John Ortiz


The Drop is the kind of slow-burn, low-key crime drama that can be rewarding to fans of the genre who appreciate a story that unfolds at its own pace, but will be dismissed as boring by mainstream crowds, devoid of sex, explosions, car chases, or gunfights.  What little violence there is comes in brief, sudden bursts, few and far between.  If you’re looking for action, this is not the movie for you.  Even for those interested, a little hunting for a theater may be required; The Drop was initially released as a low-profile indie film in only 809 theaters, delaying this review for a week until positive critical reviews and a decent performance at the box office led to an expansion of showings.  Despite the lack of attention, The Drop comes from a respectable pedigree.   Continue reading

Gangster Squad (2013)

Image result for Gangster Squad

DIRECTOR: Ruben Fleischer

CAST: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Sean Penn, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, Michael Pena, Nick Nolte


Gangster Squad is an unabashedly pulpy gangster flick that feels practically like a comic book come to life, but while it serves up the tropes that fans of the gangster genre come to see—lots of pretty period cars and clothes, hard-ass lawmen versus cartoonishly evil gangsters, a pretty moll, lots of Tommy guns blazing, and a few shoot-em-ups—it all feels superficial. It doesn’t help that, in its basic plot, Gangster Squad comes across like a lesser knock-off of The Untouchables, which is not a flattering comparison for the movie to invite upon itself. Gangster Squad might be an entertaining enough diversion, but it’s a mediocre and forgettable lightweight.

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