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.

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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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Veronica Mars (2014)

Veronica MarsReleased: March 14, 2014. Directed by: Rob Thomas. Starring: Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Enrico Colantoni. Runtime: 107 min.

Veronica Mars is a film made for the fans, released ten years after the television show’s premiere year. The show, cancelled after three seasons, stars Kristen Bell as the titular Mars, who is resurrected after all this time by a successful Kickstarter campaign (over 91, 000 fans backed the project, their donations totalling over $5.7 million), so this film really isn’t a big risk for the studio. This films follows Mars (Kristen Bell, duh) who is no longer a private teenage private eye. She gets pulled back to her town of Neptune – just in time for her high school reunion – when an ex-boyfriend, Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), is embroiled in a murder mystery.

This film brings in some themes of being drawn back to your home town and addictive lifestyles. I think the writers (creator of the show Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero) handle these themes really well. Your home town always calls you back and can trap you even though Veronica is trying to start a new life in New York as a lawyer. (Better to be trapped in Neptune, rather than Uranus. Haha.) That brings about addictive lifestyles, as private eyeing seems pretty fun. There are a few sub-plots that seem unfocused at the time, but in the end add a new layer to the film, like exposing corruption in Neptune.

The great thing about this film is that audience members who are not fans of the show will probably enjoy this, too. It’s a vastly entertaining, clever and effective whodunnit murder mystery. The main suspect is of course found in Logan, but Gaby Hoffmann portrays a crazed stalker who is also a suspect. She is crazed, but she’s also eccentric and actually pretty funny. Hoffmann, a child star known for Field of Dreams and Uncle Buck, is now making a comeback, and I’ve seen her referred to as a new “queen of indie flicks.” I don’t remember where, but it has a ring to it, doesn’t it? She starred in last year’s Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus and 2012, as the titular character, but I turned it off ten minutes in when I realized I’d have to look at those eyebrows the whole movie. (Feels like a good time to quote Walter White from the pilot of TV’s Breaking Bad saying “F*ck you and your eyebrows!”Otherwise, she’s charming. She can’t be so bad if I dedicated a paragraph to her, right?

veronica-mars-movie-2Anyway, I love the main character of Veronica, who is enjoyable for everyone. She’s a resourceful, intelligent, sexy and funny woman who’s very appealing. We need more of that kind-of character in cinema. Kristen Bell is perfectly cast as her, as I’m sure you already know. I love that little tinkerBell. (Hey, that comment on her cuteness and height could be a good nickname for her. What a happy accident.) Bell can have great chemistry with mostly everyone (her relationship with her boyfriend Piz, portrayed by Chris Lowell, sometimes feels hollow – but that might be the intention) be it her friends in the film or the great relationship she shares with Enrico Colantoni, her on-screen father. I’m sure it’s easier to work again with someone you worked with for three seasons on a show. This is a truly believable dynamic, when Veronica goes away for awhile and then she’s back, and everything goes back to normal. She’s changed, but it’s fun to break out the private eye stuff and do it all again; and for the viewers of the show, they might have changed, but it’s always fun to go for a few hours to the good ole days. I think those meta similarities to the real-life situation express the film’s brilliance.

Veronica Mars is also filled to the brim with cameos, many which take place at the high school reunion. Tina Majorino (from Napoleon Dyamite, who is insanely attractive by the way, but the only thing I saw her in before this was N. Dynamite) has a minor role as her character from the show, Cindy ‘Mac’ Mackenzie, and Percy Daggs III also reprises his role as Wallace Fennel. It seems there are other cameos, but I won’t spoil them – especially because there’s no excitement on my part for the cameos, never having seen the original television show. Well, except when I saw Daran Norris, because I know him as Gordy on TV’s Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide.

This is why another reason why the “Marshmallows” will find more enjoyment in this, especially since I didn’t have knowledge that the fans of the show are called “Marshmallows” during the film. So, I didn’t get the privilege of understanding that joke, but it’s a nice little Easter egg for fans. I didn’t feel out of the loop a lot of the time, though, which is good. (I counted two occasions, at least that I remember.) You’re going to be able to feel like a Marshmallow if you’re a fan of this movie, at least for a condensed time in this effective feature-length episode. The beauty of this mash-up of mystery, drama and great comedy is that it is so entertaining, it makes me want to check out the TV show. I think this is a great time at the movies complemented by a dynamite cast and a great soundtrack.

Score80/100