Den Of Thieves

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MA 15+Den Of Thieves

Directed By: Christian Gudegast

Screenplay By: Christian Gudegast

Story By: Christian Gudegast & Paul Scheuring

Produced By: Mark Canton, p.g.a Tucker Tooley, p.g.a.

Produced By: Gerard Butler Alan Siegel

Starring: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson, Meadow Williams, Maurice Compte, Brian Van Holt, Evan Jones, Mo McRae, Kaiwi Lyman, Dawn Olivieri, Eric Braede, Jordan Bridges, Lewis Tan, Cooper Andrews, Nate Boyer, John Lewis.

I’m a huge fan of Heat (1995) – a crime thriller that graces my ‘Best of the Thrillers’ list and I’ll go there and state one of the best crime thrillers ever made.

In the same vein of Heat, Den of Thieves shows an armed robbery with machine guns and ski masks: these guys are ex-military and they handle their hard-wear like they’re still on the field of battle.

Led by special forces-trained and recently paroled, Ray Merriman (Pablo Schreiber), meet the Outlaws.

But when a robbery goes wrong and cops are killed, the Major Crimes Unit gets involved.  These guys are like a gang with tats included.  Add a badge and you’ve got the Regulators.

As the leader, ‘Big’ Nick O’Brien (Gerard Butler) says, they literally take no prisoners.

So, you get the tone of the film from the start with a familiar storyline where two crews face-off in a male-dominated pissing competition to see who can be the grande of men.

And I was dubious about rapper, Curtis James Jackson III, AKA 50 Cent, playing a major role as Enson Levoux; part of the Outlaws crew.  But hats off – 50 Cent can act as one big, scary robber/family man.

Talking of big scary dudes, it was cool to see some Pacific Islanders as part of the Outlaws crew; the effort made to authentically show Los Angeles’ southern-most neighbourhoods and one of many differences between Den of Thieves and its crime thriller predecessors.

The macho element pushed to its limit aside, there’s a point in the film where the script makes light of this brute male force with 50 Cent as Enson Levoux scaring the be-Jesus out of his daughter’s prom date by ushering him into a room full of his crew to confirm that yes, he’ll take care of his daughter, and yes, he promises to get her home by 11.30pm.

And the humanisation of these scary guys breaks the tension and leads to a more complicated and layered film with a high stakes play made by the Outlaws to rob the Federal Reserve Bank; a feat never successfully achieved and all the while under the surveillance of the Regulators leading to each crew trying to out-smart the other: showing brain more than brawn wins the game.

There’s clever building of tension with screenwriter and first-time director Christian Gudegast creating a film made of rapid gun fire and bullet casings spilling across the hood of cars, the soundtrack heaving with each impeding battle.

One notable scene with Big Nick and Ray Merriman shooting at a firing range – no words needed, just a show of skill and the double tap as ‘silver back’ Merriman shows his special ops training with a perfect configuration of shots through the target’s heart.

But a few holes in the story let down the believability.

Big Nick asks the question himself in the film, why did the Regulators go so bad?

And would police, even American, L.A. Major Crime Unit cops, open machine gun fire in a traffic jam?

And a few other bits (don’t want to give away too much of the story) that dent the cleverness of this multi-layered plot.

Overall, I was impressed with this film.  Even if Gerard Butler (and yes, I’m going to say it, Al Pacino did the same in Heat) overplays his role, just that little bit.

Yes, there’s echoes of Heat here, but there’s also a nod to other classics such as, The Usual Suspects.

Although a missed opportunity to make a unique classic itself, Den of Thieves evolves from a pissing contest into a layered absorbing entertainer ending with a knock of my knuckle-duster on the cinema cup holder in salute.

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Lady Bird

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MA15+Lady Bird

Directed and Written by: Greta Gerwig

Produced by: Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Evelyn O’Neil

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges.

We’ve all been there – growing up, becoming a teenager, trying to find your own identity whilst also trying to deal with so many pressures that seem insurmountable when you’re only 17. It’s the age when events conspire to seem like the biggest tragedy, provoke the most embarrassment or the deepest emotion, without any sign of how to get beyond them.

So it is for Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, played with intense believability by Saoirse Ronan, who is trying to find her sense of self while living in Sacramento, California during 2002.

She constantly clashes with her mother Marion (the outstanding Laurie Metcalf), who is a prickly, bossy woman with a life full of pressures and stresses her daughter barely glimpses or understands.

These two are so alike yet they can’t see it: opinionated, emotional and yearning for something beyond their ordinary existence.

Writer Greta Gerwig in her directorial debut said that this mother-daughter relationship is the love story of the film, and this relationship is what resonates far more deeply than the daughter’s awkward dalliances with two boys.

The opening scene shows us Lady Bird and Marion both sighing with deeply shared emotion after listening to an audio book during a long car ride, an experience that draws them closer together, yet within moments a carelessly expressed comment leads to a huge misunderstanding and a reckless reaction.

This scene sets the tone for the rest of the movie, with numerous situations between the mother who loves but cannot communicate with her daughter without provoking a backlash, and the daughter who in her turn feels misunderstood and unwanted.

The director aimed to have each of these people be “painfully failing to reach each other”, an aim that is convincingly and realistically achieved.

Gerwig’s skill allows the audience to cringe in shared dismay at each new outburst, seeing it coming and wondering why Lady Bird and her mother can’t help themselves or learn from their earlier mistakes.

The director succeeds in making the film “frothy and exciting like waves breaking on a beach”, followed closely by “a sudden undertow…and before you know it, you are in much deeper waters than you expected.”

This is exactly how it felt watching “Lady Bird” – one moment you’re laughing at the silly things and situations the main character experiences, and then the whole mood changes and things get serious when moments of amity are quickly shattered by a thoughtless or misconstrued comment.

Lady Bird also struggles to be one of the cool, sophisticated kids at school, ashamed of her family’s working class roots.

She falls madly in love with boys because she hungers to be in love more so than with an actual person.

She lies to find acceptance with the cool gang at school.

Her experiments with fashion, alcohol, drugs and music all reflect her constant drive to discover who she is (hence her rejection of her birth name in favour of the more exotic “Lady Bird”).

Her struggles and relationships with her family, best friend and assorted acquaintances are often depicted with humour, reflected by the audience’s gentle laughter at her predictable reactions, behaviour and affectations.

Her friendship with a girl at her school (Julie, played by Beanie Feldstein) is particularly sweet, showing how teenagers often view the world naïvely.

What was particularly moving about this film was how little people learn from their mistakes, repeating them in astonishing variations even when they gain some wisdom.

There is no happy ending, no neat resolution with all forgiven, just an ever-evolving awareness, hard-won maturity and an appreciation of one’s childhood home and family, just like real life.

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Fifty Shades Freed

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MA15+Fifty Shades Freed

Directored by: James Foley

Screenplay by: Niall Leonard

Based on the book by: E L James

Produced by: Michael de Luca, E L James, Dana Brunetti, Marcus Viscidi

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Eloise Mumford, Rita Ora, Jennifer Ehle, Marcia Gay Harden.

If you have read any of the books in the Fifty Shades trilogy or seen either of the previous two film adaptations, chances are you will probably want to see the concluding film just out of curiosity or in order to feel complete.

Originally inspired by the Twilight saga, Fifty Shades Freed continues the Mills’n’Boon-style story of the ludicrously wealthy yet brooding and mysterious mega-squillionaire Christian Grey and his icky obsession with the dewy-eyed yet incredibly sexy Anastasia Steele.

Fifty Shades Freed was filmed around the same time as Fifty Shades Darker, helmed by the same director, James Foley, and with many of the same production crew, which lends this film a consistent look and feel, although it isn’t as dark cinematographically as its predecessor. The highlight this time is the use of lots of pounding or atmospheric songs, particularly a re-working of the classic INXS “Never tear us apart” warbled moodily by Bishop Briggs. There is also some occasionally humorous dialogue that helps lighten the mood and makes the main characters seem almost three-dimensional.

The main advantage of the film adaptations is being spared the dire writing style of E L James, with her grating descriptions of Ana’s “inner goddess” and coy references to her genitals. The plot and situations remain incredibly predictable and unoriginal, the dialogue is often trite and cringe-inducing, and actors such as Marcia Gay Harden and Jennifer Ehle are wasted in blink and you’ll miss them roles.

The main theme of the third film is revenge, with disgraced ex-publishing boss Jack Hyde (Jekyll and Hyde, get it?) hovering menacingly in the background plotting moustache-twirling vengeance against Christian Grey for being a successful businessman with much nicer suits, to say nothing of having snared the bootilicious Ana, whose penchant for wearing gossamer-thin yet uncomfortable looking underwear makes me long for a return to Bridget Jones’ more sensible grannie undies.

Newlyweds Christian and Ana delight in lots of would-be kinky (but actually rather boring) sexual escapades in exotic locations, with the threat from villainous Jack kept a secret by Christian, who is a bit slow appreciating that Ana is a modern woman who can actually look after herself. The biggest issue this photogenic couple faces aside from Jack’s threatening behaviour is Ana becoming pregnant, and Christian’s horror because he believes he is incapable of being a good father based on his own horrendous upbringing by his “crack whore mother”.

There is a reasonable amount of tension due to Jack’s escalating threats and extortion that force Ana to be secretively heroic and take matters into her own hands. The ironically annoying aspect of this film (given the series is known for its soft porn sex scenes) is the constant interruptions so that the overly horny couple can have lots of sex – in a car, the shower, a bath, on a table, etcetera, etcetera, always ending in such unrealistically excessive orgasmic ecstasy, which tends to dissipate whatever tension has been building in other scenes.

Christian’s continued bossiness and domineering ways have worn really thin by now, and I almost cheered when Ana told him off during a key scene to grow up. Her spurt of assertiveness endowed their confrontation with the closest thing to true, adult drama this series has ever depicted.

Definitely a film for Fifty Shades fans only.

Insidious: The Last Key

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MInsidious: The Final Key

Directed by: Adam Robitel

Based on Characters Created by: Leigh Whannell

Written by: Leigh Whannell

Produced by: Jason Blum, Oren Peli, James Wan

Starring: Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Kirk Acevedo, Caitlin Gerard, Spencer Locke, Josh Stewart, Tessa Ferrer, Aleque Reid, Ava Kolker, Pierce Pope, Bruce Davison, Javier Botet.

Set as a prequel to the original, Insidious: The Last Key begins with parapsychologist, Dr. Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) growing up in 1954, living in an abusive home: 413 Apple Tree Lane in Five Keys.

Elise has the gift, she was born with the gift.  And her father hates her for it.

She lives with her brother, Christian (Pierce Pope) who’s understandably afraid of the dark, and is given a silver whistle to call his mother if he ever feels scared.

But when their mother dies, Elise finally leaves home at 16, leaving her little brother and the terrors of her childhood behind, including Key Face (Javier Botet), a demon who convinced her that setting it free would bring her more light.  Key Face wants Elise to set them all free from The Further, because she’s the only one who can.

A phone call from Ted Garza (Kirk Acevedo), the current inhabitant of her childhood house, brings her back to all those bad memories.  Haunted, Ted asks for help.  And reluctantly, Elise returns with her new family, Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson): The Spectral Sightings crew.

There’s a different feel to this fourth instalment, with new director, Adam Robitel bringing a more human drama to this otherwise suspenseful, supernatural franchise.

There’s less reliance on the soundtrack, the suspense built on silence broken by footsteps on floorboards and the squeaking turn and fixing of a light bulb.  It’s a slow burn that builds into a surprisingly sinister tale.

But I had trouble with holes in the script – OK, maybe not holes.  Everything was there, but there wasn’t enough weight given to the why and backstory of Key Face.  I don’t want to give too much away, but the death of Elise’s mother felt superficial to me, not supernatural.

And her death is an important part of the film as the story relies on this essential part of the fable and the power of Key Face.

The object of the whistle gives the supernatural a touch-stone of reality.  And restraint makes the ghosts from The Further all the more believable.

So, there’s thought about the detail here which makes the glossing over the essential annoying.

Lin Shaye as Dr. Elise Rainier continues to bring authenticity to the difficult role of a parapsychologist who can commune and see ghosts.  And the humour of Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson as Specs and Tucker works in this instalment; the humour given more time to work unlike the over-editing in Chapter 3 (where Leigh Whannell was also the writer), which rendered the jokes mis-timed and inconsequential.

As producer Blum says of writer Leigh Whannell: “There is a real relationship that has evolved between the audience and the characters in the movie.  Leigh understands that what makes a good scary movie is not the scares, but what comes in between them.”

And seeing Spectural Sightings together in their van, AKA, The Winnebaghost, with Tucker sporting an impressive mullet, was a definite highlight.

Insidious: The Last Key manages to create a unique tone and story to the previous instalments.  A more adult and suspenseful drama with some good humour to break the tension with a few scares that could have been so much stronger with better understanding of the Key Man and his power.