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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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.

Phantom Thread

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MPhantom Thread

Writer/Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Produced by: JoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison, Daniel Lupi

Music by: Jonny Greenwood

Editing by: Dylan Tichenor

Costume Design by: Mark Bridges

Production Design by: Mark Tildesley

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville, and Vicky Krieps.

A romance for those who don’t like romance.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such an absorbing and beautifully crafted gothic love story.

There is such a subtle and careful intimacy of a man measuring a woman’s waist and arms and bust – a vulnerable exposure allowing a man to know so much.  Then to be made perfect; wearing his creation is to want to always stay in the light of his eyes because in his eyes you are beautiful.

It’s an old-world love story of a gentleman who has the temperament of a wilful child, his annoyance shown by the jutting of his teeth, and a woman who blushes under his attentive stare but refuses to be changed by him.

Phantom Thread is set in 1950s post-war London, circling around Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel-Day Lewis) and his obsession of thread and lace and pearl; where a dress is more than a piece of clothing – it’s where secrets are kept, sewn into the seams, where locks of hair are held to be always closely kept.

This is the man of, The House of Woodcock.

Living with his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), Reynolds confesses his incurable bacholar-hood, calling to his sister to ask whomever the current fancy to leave when he no longer sees them; when they cease to exist in his mind and become like ghosts.

It’s an oddly close relationship, but brother and sister partnerships opening haute couture Houses common at the time.  And Reynolds needs his no-nonsense sister to protect him as he creates; the only one to understand him since his mother died.  His mother the love of his life and her loss one he’ll never recover: her apperition still haunting the corners of his mind, absorbing any threat for his attention.

His mother’s ghost remains while the objects of his fading desire, die.

Finding himself restless, Reynolds escapes to the country where he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), an embarrassed waitress who quickly becomes far more than a passing fancy, or muse.

She’s a woman with her own tastes.

This is the second collaboration between Daniel-Day Lewis and writer and director, Thomas Anderson, the first, There Will Be Blood (2007).  And another success with his performance making me both want to slap and kiss the man but most importantly to always have his attention because that’s the only time to feel alive: that’s how believable Daniel-Day Lewis is in his role as Reynolds.

Anderson has also brought frequent collaborator Mark Bridges (Inherent Vice, The Master, There Will Be Blood), to create intricate costumes, made from scratch, creating 50 unique garments for the movie, including nine original pieces showcased in a Spring fashion show sequence.

Add music by Radiohead’s, Jonny Greenwood alongside the charm of drawing rooms and tea served in bone china, you have a moving story made aesthetic.

Not that the love story here is all romance – there is far more of the darkness of human nature here.

It’s what love and obsession can do to a soul that’s fascinating to watch: the dance of jealousy and annoyance; the settled and open, to the demanding and cold.

The archetype of a man still in love and grieving for his mother, who only wants to be obeyed; and a spiteful woman, jealous of all other women and demanding of attention.

This is what love can do to us.

And love stories like these will always be relevant – to be ‘protected from ghosts and dust and time’.

I’m not usually one for romances, but Phantom Thread is a thoroughly absorbing enchantment.

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I, Tonya

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MA15+I, Tonya

Directed by: Craig Gillespie

Produced by: Bryan Unkeless, Steven Rogers, Margot Robbie, Tom Ackerley

Screenplay by:  Steven Rogers

Cinematography by: Nicolas Karakatsanis

Starring:  Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Paul Walter Hauser, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, Mckenna Grace.

‘I was loved for a minute, then I was hated – then I was a punchline.’

Based on one of the biggest scandals in sporting history, I, Tonya shows that truth can be fluid.

The film is structured around interviews with Tonya Harding (MARGOT ROBBIE), her now ex-husband, Jeff (SEBASTIAN STAN) and Tonya’s mother, Lavona (ALLISON JANNEY), when questioned about the surrounding circumstances that led to the knee-capping of rival ice skater, Nancy Kerrigan (CAITLIN CARVER).

What fascinated writer and producer, Steven Rogers about the project was just how different the stories told by Tonya versus Jeff were about the incident that ruined her career.

Tonya is candid in her re-telling of the events leading up to that fateful incident but with the contrasting perspective of Jeff, it’s hard not to question the truth of each story.

To demonstrate: the film makers show the continued falls of Tonya on the ice, her re-telling of the episodes making the excuse of her blade being incorrectly repaired and out of alignment to flash backs of her unhealthy lifestyle of smoking and downing shots.

Although it’s difficult not to question the truth of the story, what the film gives the audience is the circumstances Tonya overcame to become an ice skating phenomenon – to this day, one of only six women in the world to make the triple axel.

And she did it 25 years ago.

A feat the film makers had to use visual effects to achieve because of the immense difficulty.

Currently, there’s only two skaters in the world to have any hope of pulling off the triple axel but are unwilling to risk injury in the lead up to competing in the Olympics.

What makes Tonya’s success all the more amazing is her difficult upbringing, as she states, ‘I don’t have a wholesome American family’.

With a mother who strives to make her angry because Tonya skates better when she feels she needs to push back, Lavona is shown in interview with cigi and pet bird on her shoulder included.

The film shows Tonya suffering abuse from her mother, pushing her to the limit from four years of age, through to her teenage years where she met Jeff who continued the abuse with his fists.

When news broke world-wide of the attack on Nancy Kerrigan, I remember thinking it was Tonya who did the deed.  An incorrect assumption.   And the film shows there’s so much more to the story than petty jealousy.

Oscar-nominated, Margot Robbie gives a gritty performance, digging deep to show the true nature and character of Tonya.

The highlight for me was Allison Janney as Tonya’s mother, Lavona – her performance had to be believable so the audience could digest her bizarre behaviour.

Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.

And the difficulties and destructive nature of Tonya’s relationships are the humour in the film – it’s just so bad, it’s funny.

The structure of the film, with the narrative based on the interviews, to flash backs that either support or contradict what’s being said keeps the pace running – camera work of Tonya skating is used up close and personal giving a rawness and faster-paced action.

Yet, I felt I wanted just that little bit more from the script.

I was fascinated by the different perspectives and the perversion of truth.  Yet, the incident of the knee-capping itself was down-played to the extent of a one-minute shot.

What’s a knee-capping compared to the abuse Tonya suffered her whole life?

The view taken was to show the other side of the story, not what was portrayed in the media.

The truth of the story?  It’s all about perspective.

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Darkest Hour

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: PGDarkest Hour

Directed by: Joe Wright

Written by: Anthony McCarten

Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Anthony McCarten, Lisa Bruce, Douglas Urbanski

Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristen Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup and Ben Mendelsohn.

Set over the course of four weeks in 1940, Darkest Hour is based on the true story of Winston Churchill and the immense burden he carried as newly-appointed Prime Minister when Nazi Germany invaded Western Europe.

It’s a critical time in history.  A decision must be made to either fight in another world war against all odds, the Germans surrounding the entire British army on the shores of Dunkirk – or to negotiate with a madman.

The fight on Dunkirk is fresh in the minds of film enthusiasts after the recent release of Christopher Nolan’s memorable, ‘not-a-war movie’, Dunkirk.

Darkest Hour shows a different version of WWII, focussing on the same time in history yet here the story unfolds not on the ground – the soldiers dodging bullets or falling into the icy waters – here, we follow the men making the decisions and observe the politics and strategies of war held behind closed doors.  And with Churchill, sometimes the most important conversation taken on the telephone behind the door of the lavatory.

Darkest Hour is based on the beginnings of WWII, yes, but the story is about the man – Winston Churchill and all his flaws.  A man who has never taken the tube (well, only once during the strikes), a man whose wife (Kristen Scott Thomas) finds him intolerable but loves him anyway.  And no matter his power or position will always know him as, Piggy.

Churchill never gives up, and it’s precisely his flaws that give him the strength to succeed.

Gary Oldman is every bit deserving of his recent Golden Globe award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama.  See his acceptance speech here.

As Winston Churchill, Oldman’s barely recognisable as he embraces the part and becomes every bit the British Prime Minister affecting all the required mannerisms of the mumbling, alcoholic, cigar smoking, yet brilliant mind and oration of the man.

Ben Mendelsohn finally gets to be the good guy, here as King George VI.  Not the regal performance of Colin Firth in, The King’s Speech (2010) but suiting the tone of the film better with the gritty human nature of the characters used for amusement amongst all the seriousness of the story.

And there’s not many tricks here – director Joe Wright (Atonement, Hanna, Pride & Prejudice, Anna Karenina) keeping any effects subtle with a sometimes lofty birds-eye-view to convey the overall feeling of politicians seeing the population as small parts to be manuvered for the greater good.

Mostly, this is a character-driven film, focussing on the dialogue and emotion of those who discuss the fortunes of thousands of lives.  We, as an audience, get a window into the world of Churchill as he weighs the cost; to ultimately decide no cost is too much – there is only perseverance to fight until the very end.

So, for all Churchill’s flaws, we are shown true grit and the character required when the world ceases to make sense.  And can the man speak!  The real pleasure of the film watching Churchill use his words to win over a nation, his famous speeches delivered by the believable performance of Gary Oldman.

Would I watch the film again?  Probably not.  This isn’t a thriller that keeps you on the edge, this is a stirring education and insight into just how close we came to losing our freedom.

Nat’s Top 10 Movies for 2017

It’s a personel moment when a film reaches into your mind to take you on a journey.  And I’m happy to say this is what the films below have given me over the past year.

Being an avid fan of the horror/thriller I was surprised when I realised  IT didn’t make it into my top 10 for 2017.  However, after a re-watch I found that, although a great coming-of-age film (still rating:★★★★), IT was more a monster movie than a thriller with Pennywise a little too animated for my taste.

So, brace yourself because it was more about the suspense and intellectual thrill that tickled the grey cells this year, with a bit of humour thrown in the mix.

10.

MOONLIGHT

Drama ★★★★☆ (4.2/5)

Moonlight is unique in that it’s both raw and subtle, creating something else, a feeling that stays with you that’s beautiful because it’s laid bare.  What a rarity and an experience you won’t soon forget.

9.

DUNKIRK

Action / Drama / History ★★★★☆ (4.2/5)

Nolan has used his talent to bring the true story of Dunkirk to the screen without over-dramatising, allowing us to admire the courage and valour of the civilians of Britain who saved more than 330, 000 soldiers’ lives.

Suspense like a ticking time-bomb.

8.

WIND RIVER

Crime/Mystery ★★★★☆ (4.2/5)

After writing the screenplay for the two highly regarded crime/thrillers, Sicario (2015) – which I gave a 5/5, and, Hell or High Water (2016), Taylor Sheridan has returned as writer and as director (debut) of the crime/mystery, Wind River: a tragedy based on actual events, beautifully told, where each moment, word and gesture show more than just the surface.

7.

GOOD TIME

Drama/Arthouse ★★★★☆ (4.2/5)

The Safdie brothers (Josh and Ben) return with their fifth feature film, building on their gonzo-style street films with Official Selection and winner of the Cannes Soundtrack Award, Good Time.

And I was hooked from the opening scene.

6.

PADDINGTON 2

Comedy for kids but made to be enjoyed by all: Hillarious! ★★★★☆ (4.2/5)

When any thought of reality is overwhelmed with wonder.

5.

BLADE RUNNER 2049

SciFi ★★★★☆ (4.3/5)

Atmospheric and quietly menacing.

And that’s the quality of the film, subtle: complicated emotions yet, made to feel simple.  A kind of gentle unfolding with an underlying darkness driving life into the shadows, but the shadows fighting back, like life…

Ah, don’t you love it when a movie makes you feel all moody when you leave the cinema!

4.

SUBURBICON

Comedy/Crime/Mystery ★★★★1/2

Deadpan delivery of the clever, the very dark and the very funny.

3.

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

Fantasy/SciFi ★★★★1/2

Rian Johnson also wrote and directed, Looper (2012) and has brought that same attention to the script here, revealing layer upon layer of story to take the audience on a journey totally unexpected.

No other word to describe: Epic!

2.

Miss Sloane

Drama / Thriller ★★★★☆ (4.6/5)

This is a thoroughly absorbing film because its cleverness is combined with an undercurrent of emotion that’s felt without needing explanation. 

Classy and smart all the way – brilliant.

1.

MOUNTAIN

Documentary ★★★★★

Unbelievable as it may be, but a documentary tops my list of best films of 2017: I felt like my soul was being fed by this symphony of poetry, imagery and sound.

A combination of sound and stomach clenching cinematography creates a thrill as people fly down slopes or jump into the air 1000s of feet above the earth, death defying leaps, where there really must be an element of insanity, to even think, yet, it’s not about thinking, it’s about feeling alive.

Enjoy!

Pitch Perfect 3

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MPitch Perfect 3

Directed by: Trish Sie

Story by: Kay Cannon

Produced by: Paul Brooks, p.g.a, Max Handelman, p.g.a, Elizabeth Banks, p.g.a

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Hana Mae Lee, Alexis Knapp with Jan Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks.

Firstly, I admit to being a Pitch Perfect novice.  In fact, a novice to any musical – I really don’t get it and find the idea cheesy: go watch a film clip if that’s what you want.

But, I can be open-minded and am a sucker for a good joke.  And thankfully, Pitch Perfect 3 had more going for it than sometimes out-of-sync, 20-something-year-olds, having their first life-crisis viewed through a soft-focus lens.

Producers Paul Brooks of Gold Circle and Max Handelman and Elizabeth Banks of Brownstone Production have returned after the huge success of the previous Pitch Perfect instalments which made more than $400 million at the global box office.

Writer Kay Cannon, who wrote the first two films of the series, has also joined the team, sharing screenplay credit with Mike White – this time bringing more music and action to the final reunion of the Bellas.Pitch Perfect 3

The story so far shows the girls post-graduation from Barden, embracing their new careers as personal trainers and vet nurses, producers of hip hop artists (where I admit the over-produced version Beca makes to improve a track called, Bend Over was worse than the supposed bad original: picking on the authentic, yo!) to the (speaking of authentic) Fat Amy Winehouse with Rebel Wilson still bringing it with those facial expressions and dead-pan delivery of the disgusting that’s funny cause she’s so cute.

But the girls don’t feel like they’re winning in life-after-college, so when they get an invite for a reunion of the Bellas, they can’t wait to get back on stage again.

And the singing is good.  If the lip syncing was sometimes very bad.

Pitch Perfect 3

Rudy Rose joins the cast in the attempt-to-be-cool villain and lead singer in a band called Evermoist, which competes against the Bellas in a USO tour that involves playing in front of army boys.  Add country band Saddle Up and DJ Dragon Nuts and DJ Looney, the Bellas get their much needed competition, that really becomes more about signing a contract with DJ Khaled, AKA Bill – the simplified name, Billy kinda cracking me up with the script adding some odd-ball humour.  As did Lilly (Hanna Mae Lee) with her truly random behaviour…

It wasn’t until Beca tells Theo (the music exec and key part of DJ Khaled’s crew, so a big deal regarding the competition) that he looks like a turtle, and then to face-off the awkward moment, that I really started to get into the film.

So, really, I think the idea is to have so many different characters with unique personalities, so the audience will identify with at least one?

But what they all have in common is they look like they’re having a good time.

This is a high-energy movie where some noise in the audience is all part of the experience.

The best and most believable performance had to come from competitor’s Saddle Up, also a band in real life and the DJs were pretty good (also real-life musicians – Trinidad James and DJ Looney).  But jeez, I did not get into the Evermoist crew.  But I guess that’s the point, being the villains and all.   Still…

So anyway, the Bellas get back together and jet-set around the world in this USO tour, when suddenly Fat Amy’s long-lost Dad (John Lithgow) finds her in Europe (having been banned from the US for his criminal activities).  And I have to admit, Lithgow pulls off a pretty decent Aussie accent.

So that adds a few twists to an otherwise musical about the usual friendship/finding love formula.

What can I say, a musical, yes, but with some good comedy and odd-ball random moments thrown in for the non-musical fan.

Pitch Perfect 3 was quickly forgotten but fun while it lasted.