Triple 9 (2016)

Released: February 26, 2016. Directed by: John Hillcoat. Starring: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie. Runtime: 1hr 55 min.

In John Hillcoat’s latest film Triple 9, he brings us into the world of criminals and corrupt cops being blackmailed by the Russia mafia in Atlanta, Georgia, a location that is never exactly clear.

After the criminal crew rob a bank to get to a safety deposit box and Irina (Kate Winslet) doesn’t pay up, the rag tag group of criminals is forced to do another job so a Russian mafia boss can be released from prison.

To perform the tricky job, they have to kill a cop across town to get the police force on the other side of town.

The funny thing about Triple 9 is that the final result is incredibly “meh” but the opening 20 minutes is seriously really awesome. Heist films are really one of my favourite sub-genres. I love the intensity of them.

And Triple 9 had a really great opening, especially the getaway. When they bring out the red smoke with their red clothing and masks looking all like Deadpool; the look of it is super intriguing.

I thought when we learned what they stole – just information from a safety deposit box – wasn’t that high-stakes. But when we learn that the Russian mafia seriously mean hardball, the stakes get higher.

But since the crew are essentially being forced into these jobs, and based on the contents they’re stealing, it doesn’t feel like an honest heist film. It feels like that took a backseat where just general gangs, crime on the streets and corruption drive the car.

Triple 9 1

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Aaron Paul, Clifton Collins Jr., and Anthony Mackie in Triple 9. So. Damn. Dark. (Source)

There’s one totally enthralling gang bust scene in the film and that, and the beginning, are the high points. Otherwise, it feels super mediocre. There is a lot of carnage and violence that makes it look ultra-stylized but the writer, Matt Cook, who is writing his first feature film screenplay, seems to be looking for a point throughout.

He never seems to be able to find strong pacing in the feature and it’s a bit confusing at times. The characters also aren’t interesting enough to engage us in the end. The cast is super impressive, however. Chiwetel Ejiofor heads the criminal team as Michael Atwood, a career criminal and family man.

Norman Reedus (Darryl from The Walking Dead) and Aaron Paul portray brothers Russell and Gabe Welch, respectively, and we don’t get much time to know Russell and Gabe is an annoying, rattled and paranoid druggie. The emotional range isn’t much different than how he portrayed Jesse on Breaking Bad.

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Norman Reedus in Triple 9Source

Clifton Collins Jr. and Anthony Mackie round out the corrupt cops as Franco Rodriguez and Marcus Belmont, respectively. Casey Affleck is a focal point of the film as Casey Allen, a new-to-the-streets cop and Belmont’s new partner.

Kate Winslet’s Irena is super uninteresting and just shows that she should never don a Russian accent ever, ever again. The accent is awfully inconsistent and she just phones everything in. Woody Harrelson is the lead sergeant Jeffrey Allen on the bank robbers case, sporting false teeth – but the drunkard adds a cool investigative aspect to the film. All of the characters, though, are restricted to very basic profiles.

It’s a well-acted saga of police corruption and blackmail, and the violence is well done.  But as far as technical aspects go, the film looks terrible. It’s super murky and downright hard to look at. Even in pure daylight – it’s far too dark.

When they’re inside, it looks like the budget couldn’t afford electricity of any kind. When you can’t see anything, it’s hard to tell what’s happening in the story. This contributing element makes it more average.

Score: 50/100

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Pain & Gain (2013)

Pain & Gain

Pain & Gain

Release Date: April 26, 2013

Director: Michael Bay

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie

Runtime: 130 min

Tagline: Their American Dream is Bigger Than Yours

Michael Bay doesn’t have a good reputation. He’s that one director that is best fit to movies that have gigantic budgets and simple plots. Some may call him a director of stupid blockbuster movies, but he’s hardly the worst director in the business. That’s McG. A guy whose movies are stupider than his name. Anyway, back to Bay. While he is best known for huge, popcorn movies (Transformers, Pearl Harbor) he surprises with Pain & Gain, a movie made for $26 million.

Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is the charismatic manager of Sun Gym, a fitness centre where muscled guys lift weights and fatties might as well be the plague. Lugo has a very specific philosophy (taught by motivational speaker, Johnny Wu, a tiny role for Ken Jeong). He’s a do-er, and if he believes he deserves it, the universe will serve it. He just so happens to believe he deserves everything local rich guy, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), possesses. He enlists the help of Sun Gym buddies Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and Paul Doyle (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) to do so. Together, these juice monkeys envelop themselves in a extortion ring and kidnapping scheme that goes terribly awry.

These guys are truly willing to go the extra mile to achieve the so-called American dream. The movie shows how far people might actually go to achieve what they desire, and these extreme lengths can be shocking. It’s also shocking to learn this film follows the true story upon which it is based (a three-part series entitled ‘Pain & Gain’ by Pete Collins) very closely. If you think you had a hard time believing Bernie (where Jack Black plays the titular Bernie who strikes up a relationship with a wealthy widow and when he kills her, he has to go to great lengths to creat the illusion she’s still alive) was based on a true story, you haven’t seen anything yet. This is so strange and bizarre that, during the movie, we’re reminded that “this is still a true story”.

A violent true story is written into a hilarious action comedy, so the audience could easily admire that, or be easily offended. The case is, Hollywood is once again exploiting something awful and making it into something entertaining that will make money. Though, this story about the Sun Gym Gang (that takes place between the latter end of 1994 through June 1995) really should be known. Still, the writing team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely pen a great black comedy, even if it is lengthy. Everyone should see this just to see where they stand on the film, much like the other 2013 movie set in Miami, Spring Breakers. This is truly one of the most bizarre and strangest movies of all-time, but it’s also one of the most memorable and entertaining of 2013 thus far.

Michael Bay’s movie has some great production design and writing, and it’s nice to see that he’s directing a passion project; and it also helps that the closest thing to Optimus Prime are fancy cars and riding lawn mowers. Some of the characters, though, are only a little more emotional than robots, mostly because the three main protagonists are money-hungry sociopaths. The characters’ actions are so moronic that it’s hard to care what might happen to them. We don’t really feel compassion for charismatic sociopaths, like they wouldn’t for us. The sociopath that shows the most human emotions is Paul Doyle (mostly for Jesus or Kershaw) and Doorbal. The dark comedy really produces laughs, and the offbeat humour is right on the money. Wahlberg and Mackie are great in their roles and everyone has great comedic timing, but the real star here is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Johnson has played badasses in the past (like Mathayus in The Scorpion King, Chris Vaugh in Walking Tall, Luke Hobbs in Fast Five), but this is one of his strongest performances as an egotistic moron who happens to think he’s a badass. He’s hilarious and very charming as the criminal who hits rock bottom, finds Jesus, and then becomes hooked on cocaine once again when they find wealth. He steals every scene, and right now, I can’t think of a time where Johnson delivers a more entertaining performance.

Ed Harris is great as the main investigator working for Tony Shalhoub’s Kershaw, even if he might not be extremely memorable. Rebel Wilson also shows some sultry emotions, mostly during her sex scene with Anthony Mackie, where she brings her own nun-chucks to spice things up. The versatile Shalhoub performs well, and he gets more than a few laughs as the victim. Everyone’s chemistry is ideal. It’s hilarious when his character is trying to manipulate the weak link, Paul Doyle. Their relationship is very funny, mostly because Doyle calls Kershaw, “Pepe”, and he nicknames himself “El Dad”.

This is sure to be one of the most outlandish and entertaining movies of 2013, and it’s an incredibly pleasant surprise. It is also hilariously twisted and its originality is deadly. The movie is stylish and colourful, but the movie is rather unbelievable and it is about ten minutes too long. Still, it’s bound to become a cult classic. The ensemble cast is great (Rob Corddry is also in the movie, among everyone else aforementioned). The majority of men will surely be entertained and laugh at this great black comedy of violence, inarguably moronic choices and chasing the American dream. If you’re a female, or a male who is really in touch with their feminine side, you might not enjoy it as much. Yes, that may sound sexist (forgive me), but it’s kind-of the truth with such a violent tale. One thing’s for sure, Popeye would approve of this movie.

83/100

Gangster Squad (2013)

Gangster SquadGangster Squad

Release Date: January 11, 2013

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone

Runtime: 113 min

Tagline: No names. No badges. No mercy.

This follows the true story of a crew of police officers who mean to take down a ruthless mob boss, Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), who runs 1949 Los Angeles.

This certain crew is comprised of: Its leader, Sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), Sergeant Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), knife-thrower Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), the best gunslinger in L.A., Max Kennard (Robert Patrick), his mentee, Navidad Ramirez (Michael Peña) and the brain, Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi). They’re all up against the big old Micky Cohen and collection of bought cops.

Mickey Cohen does not have a soul. He’s ruthless, and he would rip apart a man with two cars and then feed him to the dogs. He wears an ugly grimace and he has some ridiculous lines of dialogue that don’t make a lot of sense. That’s practically the job qualities someone must have to be a gangster.

He is well-acted by Sean Penn, and he is exactly as cartoonish and over-the-top as one would think a power-hungry gangster would be. That’s practically all the characterization done for him.

The other characters are only slightly characterized, but they are well-acted by the attractive and talented cast. Jerry is established as a man who will whatever he must, as long as he protects the people he loves. This is expressed for his caring for Grace Faraday (Emma Stone), a woman who wanted to be a star but ended up with Mickey Cohen. Jerry’s initial fuel to join the squad is the death of a young boy trying to make a dollar on the street when Cohen ordered his men to shoot an enemy of him. The only other really characterized characters are John O’Mara and Conway Keeler, and they are both established as family men. These are the only characters whose home lives get shown, the others might as well just kill people all the time.

There’s a fair deal of violence and exhilarating action but it isn’t non-stop. It takes a break to let us know what’s going on and build the storyline. This makes the film both dramatic, filled with crime and very fun. While the storyline does not challenge its audience on an intellectual level on any sort, it is present. It’s simply a group of cops who work both sides of the law against a ruthless mob boss. Their killings is necessary, however. Cohen’s empire is very strong, and they must collapse the metaphorical wall. Whilst it doesn’t make the audience think, it is an extremely entertaining and usually enthralling experience, nonetheless.

It is sort-of unrealistic at times, to a point where I had to remind myself this is a gangster film and not an episode of The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show where Wile E. Coyote tries to catch that pesky Roadrunner. This time Wile (multiplied by six) being the protagonist(s) and Roadrunner (Cohen) being the antagonist. It’s a fight of power between the two, in the great, stylized city of Los Angeles. However, only had to remind myself of this once or twice. Speaking of the style, this film very much expresses the glamour present in late 1940s L.A., where everyone danced, showed skin and had extravagent dresses for the ladies (and cross-dressers, I guess) and suave suits for the men. It is also highlighted by the people’s slang, and the usually funny humour that incorporates itself into the screenplay. When the jokes did show up, though, I had to question if it was intentional or unintentional. The attempt at juggling both a serious crime drama and a fun sort-of spoof is rarely a good end product.

This isn’t as great as everyone thought it would be, but it is fairly satisfying. However, as far as true stories go, it isn’t anything special to bite on. One must work with what they get, right?

In a nutshell: Gangster Squad is a violent, extremely entertaining gangster film that promises action and beauty, and it delivers. While this doesn’t challenge intellectually, it’s fun but is sometimes as unrealistic as a Looney Tunes cartoon. It isn’t amazing or extremely memorable, but it’s decent enough and I can forgive and forget Ruben Fleischer for his former sin of 30 Minutes or Less. Oh, and Emma, next time show more skin (please) because your legs and back just aren’t enough.

63/100