THE ICE ROAD (2021)

June 24, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Somehow, it’s already time for Liam Neeson’s semi-annual macho thriller. In this one, he gets to drive a big rig. Over a frozen river. He also gets to wear flannel, chew on a toothpick, and punch two guys (but no wolves) … all while doing the right thing in order to save some trapped miners. And it’s not about the money. Well, it starts out about the money, but in the end, it’s not about the money!

Neeson stars as Mike, a trucker whose spotty employment record is likely as much his own doing as it is that of his brother John/”Gurtie” (Marcus Thomas), who is not just a super mechanic, but also a war veteran with some mental challenges. The VA hospital quickly diagnoses Gurtie with PTSD and prescribes multiple pills for him. Mike tosses out accusations and the pills, as the two brothers head to Winnipeg for a rescue mission.

Jonathan Hensleigh also wrote and directed the 2011 film KILL THE IRISHMAN which I enjoyed. This time he serves up some nice opening shots that give us a real feel for the isolation and frozen tundra of the setting. When the mine collapses, trapping the workers, the oxygen clock starts, and Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne) is charged with finding 2 other available and experienced truckers who can drive over the ice road and deliver the necessary equipment within 30 hours. Mike and Gurtie are chosen for one truck, and Tantoo (Amber Midthunder, “Legion”) is chosen for the other. She has extra incentive, as her brother Cody (Martin Sensmeier, WIND RIVER, 2017) is one of the trapped miners.

We do get brief segments with the miners, including Cody and Lampard (Holt McCallany, “Mindhunter”) who are focused on saving as many men as possible. Of course, all of this is the fault of yet another big, bad corporation led by a profit-oriented GM (Matt McCoy, known by “Seinfeld” fans as Lloyd Braun). Along for the ride with the truckers is Varnay (Benjamin Walker, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, 2016), introduced as an insurance actuarial. And yes, there’s more to his story.

If you’ve ever seen “Ice Road Truckers” on the History Channel, you have some idea what’s about to occur. Thrills, chills, and unforeseen obstacles come at a rapid-fire pace … as if driving 75,000 pounds on 30 inches of slowly melting ice-covered rivers wasn’t enough. This is a wild movie, so expect even more. The bobbleheads on the dash aren’t just good luck charms, and everyone isn’t who they seem. Big companies who cut corners and those who don’t treat vets properly are the targets here, but it’s to be enjoyed as a frigid and perilous rescue mission – and one more chance for Liam Neeson to prove he’s a man’s man.

Available on Netflix beginning June 25, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


WRATH OF MAN (2021)

May 6, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Cinematic Alert: Guy Ritchie has gone straight! That’s right, the filmmaker we’ve come to bank on for dynamic action, creative editing, and clever, rapid-fire dialogue laced with dark humor and outright hilarious, offbeat moments, has delivered a straightforward, by-the-book revenge-crime thriller. Of course, despite it being about as good as anything else in the genre, we just can’t help but feel a little (and maybe a lot) disappointed that Ritchie has shifted his approach and left us wondering why. After all, he’s the genius behind THE GENTLEMEN (2019), SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (2011), and SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009), as well as his brilliant first two films: LOCK, STOCK, AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS (1998) and SNATCH (2000).

The film opens with an armored vehicle heist that ends in gunfire. This heist and the crew of criminals are the key to the story, and Ritchie utilizes his non-linear, multiple perspective story-telling technique to fill in the gaps for us and provide context to everything else that unfolds. Needless to say, there’s more to this heist than what we initially witness. Jumping ahead a few months, the next thing we see is Jason Statham as the mysterious “H” joining Fortico, the cash truck/armored vehicle company victimized in that early sequence. H is clearly wound tightly and not great at making friends … at least until his heroics thwart another attempted robbery and saves the lives of co-workers Bullet (Holt McCallany) and Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett).

H’s motivation is slowly revealed, as is the fact that he’s not such an outstanding citizen himself. However, it’s clear his mission of revenge is the most important thing in his life, and he’ll stop at nothing to get the person he’s after. His target is part of a criminal team of former military buddies that include Jackson (Jeffrey Donovan), Ian (Scott Eastwood), Brad (Deobia Oparei), and Sam (Raul Castillo), who want nothing more than one huge score so they can walk away and enjoy life. Other key members of Fortico’s staff are played by Niahm Algar, Eddie Marsan, and Rob Delaney. H’s contacts are played by Lyne Renee, Darrell D’Silva, and Andy Garcia, while singer Post Malone (billed as Austin Post) makes an appearance as a robber.

Filmmaker Ritchie is working with many of his regular collaborators. He co-wrote the screenplay with Marn Davies and Ivan Atkinson, and it’s based on the 2004 French movie, LE CONVOYEUR (“Cash Truck”) by Nicolas Boukhrief, Eric Besnard. Others from his usual team include cinematographer Alan Stewart, composer Christopher Benstead, and editor James Herbert. It’s not unusual to find Jason Statham bring his action expertise to a Guy Ritchie crime movie, but Statham really plays it straight here as he sets out to settle a score. The almost non-existent wise-cracking leaves us feeling a bit adrift due to expectations, but the result is a fine, action-packed movie with one excessively long shootout near the end. Ritchie has certainly earned the right to make the movies he wants, but in the words of main character H, “I do bear a grudge.”

Opens in theaters on Friday May 7, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


RUN ALL NIGHT (2015)

March 13, 2015

run all night Greetings again from the darkness. Imagine if Liam Neeson’s burned out Air Marshall from Non-Stop was instead a one-time mob hit man who had seen better days. That seems to be the inspiration for director Jaume Collet-Serra’s film (yes, he directed Non-Stop as well). When a guy is a drunken mess with no family who speak to him and only one friend – his old mob boss – a nickname like The Gravedigger tends to conjure better days of yore.

Neeson plays Jimmy Conlon, the has-been hitman whose only remaining friend is boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). These days, Conlon expends more effort emptying a glass than fulfilling a contract.  Shawn respects their history and does all he can to protect his long-time friend who seems intent on boozing himself to death. As is customary in these “crime doesn’t pay” films, things get really messed up in the blink of an eye. Thanks to a wrong place at the wrong time moment, Conlon protects his own son (Joel Kinnaman) by shooting Maguire’s misguided son (Boyd Holbrook). Thus endeth the friendship.

The script is from Brad Ingelsby who wrote the original script for Out of the Furnace (2013), but most of it is pretty predictable. Still, with an excellent cast and some wildly creative camera work from cinematographer Martin Ruhe (Harry Brown, The American), this one offers plenty on the entertainment scale. The restaurant scene where Harris and Neeson face off is alone worth the price of admission.

As you might expect, there is plenty of gun play and swagger, but as the title suggests, mostly it’s a game of running and being chased … featuring a crazy car chase. Neeson has an extended public bathroom fight scene with Holt McCallany, and the detective played by Vincent D’Onofrio continues his decades long pursuit of Neeson’s character. Bruce McGill plays Harris’ right-hand man and Common is a steely new age hit man. Kinnaman’s wife is played by Genesis Rodriguez, and the film’s most bizarre scene features a grizzled Nick Nolte – you will find yourself asking “is that him or not?”

Mr. Collet-Serra has directed Unknown and Non-Stop, so Neeson is quite comfortable working with him, and you should certainly know what to expect going in. The friendship between two mobsters ends the way most do, and it’s another take on the blood family vs mob family loyalties. The Gravedigger may have one foot in his own grave, but he also has enough left for one wild night.

watch the trailer:

 


GANGSTER SQUAD (2013)

January 9, 2013

gangster Greetings again from the darkness. Admittedly, I am one of those who take movies very seriously. Good movies make me happy (even the sad ones), and bad movies make me sulk. Every now and then, one comes along that I find myself enjoying despite the warning buzzers blasting in my film snob brain. Such is the latest from director Ruben Fleisher (who also directed the entertaining Zombieland).

“Inspired by true events” should always be interpreted as a disclaimer that the movie will play fast and loose with history and the details of the story. Sean Penn plays Mickey Cohen, a renowned Los Angeles gangster from the late 40’s. Due to widespread police corruption, Police Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) authorized an “off the books” team to take down mob operations (gambling, prostitution, etc). This much was gangster4documented in Paul Lieberman’s book. How this story is presented by Fleisher and screenwriter Will Beall (signed on for the Justice League movie) has more in common with a comic book than actual history.

The movie is extremely beautiful to look at. It’s slick and stylish with a glamorous color palette, and the production design is top notch – capturing the look and feel of a booming Los Angeles. If you are expecting the next L.A. Confidential or even The Untouchables, you will be disappointed. It’s more in line with Dick Tracy, Scarface, and Hoffa. In other words … it looks great and the action, characters and dialogue are all way over the top!

gangster3 The cast is superb, but most are underutilized. Josh Brolin is the tough leader of the squad that features Ryan Gosling (the token cool womanizer), Robert Patrick (the token dead-eye gunslinger), Anthony Mackie (the innercity, knife-wielding token black cop), Giovanni Ribisi (the token geeky electronics expert), and Michael Pena (the rookie and token Hispanic cop). Unfortunately, my crude descriptions are just about as in-depth as the movie goes with any of them. In fact, Yvette Tucker playing Carmen Miranda, gets almost as much screen time as any of these cops as she sings “Chica Chica Boom Chic”.

The violence is cartoonish in its fervor. The aim of these gangsters is among the worst in movie history, and that’s quite an accomplishment. Using Tommy Guns and pistols, my estimate is that one in every 167 shots actually hits an intended target. Many elaborate set pieces are destroyed in the process. The exception is Robert Patrick’s character, who is actually featured in a detective serial. He never misses … even after being wounded. Penn plays Cohen as a ruthless mob boss, unwilling to accept any failure from his crew. And you know what that means. No pink slips here … just ugly death via power drill, burning elevator or classic car tug-of-war.

An interesting note is the presence of three actors from recent cult TV shows. Holt McCallany (Lights Out), Mireille Enos (The Killing) and Troy Garity (Boss) all have key roles in the film, as does Jon Polito, whose face gangster2and voice make him a must-cast in any gangster film.

If you are able to turn off the logical and reasoning part of your brain … just sit back and enjoy Emma Stone smoking a cig while wearing a red evening gown, an understated Ryan Gosling with an odd speech pattern, Sean Penn wearing a prosthetic nose and spewing hilarious bad guy lines, and the creepy feeling that Josh Brolin is just 25 years away from looking and sounding exactly like Nick Nolte … then hopefully you can take this one for what it is – a guilty pleasure.

**NOTE: the closing credits are a work of art … a tribute to the classic postcards from early Los Angeles

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you’re up for a rollicking good time … bullets flying, tongue firmly planted in cheek

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you expect historical accuracy and pure drama in your gangster flicks

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRVvEHk7xOs