Out of the Furnace (2013)

Out of the FurnaceReleased: December 6, 2013. Directed by: Scott Cooper. Starring: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana. Runtime: 116 min.

“Out of the Furnace” starts around the same time frame as last year’s “Killing Them Softly,” which also came out around the same time. The time frame is 2008, before Barack Obama is elected – but during his campaign. They both involve mafia types, but this one focuses more on fight club aspects and debt politics within the mafia because of the economy crash. Though, it’s a bit more subtle – and were just a few vibes I picked up. The time frame isn’t as clear, either, because it starts out when Obama is campaigning, but seems to continue sometime during 2009 or 2010.

The plot follows Russell (Christian Bale) and his younger brother Rodney Baze Jr. (Casey Affleck) who live in the industry town of North Braddock, Pennsylvania. Rodney isn’t enjoying his life very much in this town, and while Russell is getting by, he crashes into the back of a woman’s car killing her and her son, and finds himself in prison. Once he gets out of prison (which I’d estimate is about eighteen months later?), Rodney has found himself deep in dangerous fight clubs. Once he’s released, he must choose between his own freedom or saving his brother.

This is a film about brotherhood, and what one might do for their sibling. I think the bond displayed between the two brothers is great. Rodney is willing to change and work for a living in the steel mill. Before he was in Iraq for four tours, and when he came back, he seemed shaken up from it. He just isn’t cut out for that sort-of life like his brother is, and he is a character that will appeal to many. He is performed well by Casey Affleck. Christian Bale is really good as Russell, as well, a character who is full of mercy on some things, but not on others – and has to make some difficult choices throughout. I thought he was a great character who represents protective older siblings everywhere.

The film, to me, is about brotherhood and how certain events in one’s life can change a person. It seems that Rodney is affected by both his mother’s death as an infant and his tours in Iraq – while Russell faced hardships like prison. I think “Furnace” in the title refers to those hardships, and you must overcome them. It’s also a film about justice and finding it, and that’s the second part of the film mostly.

It gets to it slowly but surely, so it makes me consider this a slow-boiling and intense drama. It seems to me a lot of films set in an industrial town are good, but have slow pacing. Anyway, John Petty (Willem Dafoe) is high up in the fighting rings in North Braddock, and the one to introduce Rodney to them. He also introduces him to Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) is a ruthless man high up in the fighting ring in his land, and he seems a bit more threatening with a lollipop in his mouth, something Rodney comments on jokingly. But DeGroat proves he should not be screwed with, as shown in the opening scene where he forcibly makes a woman deepthroat a hot dog (the food…). It expresses his cruelty, where he then proceeds to physically assault an onlooker who attempts to intervene, causing quite the scene at a local drive-in. DeGroat is a good antagonist, and this just reminds everyone of how great of a character actor Harrelson has the ability to consistently be.

This is better than one’s average crime thriller because it’s actually realistic and people receive consequences for their actions. It’s also more thought-provoking and has some compelling character depth, something I wasn’t expecting. The ending is good, and it leaves it up to the viewer to decide how they’d like it to end – morbidly or happily. I’m still deciding how I would have liked things conclude for the characters. It’s a good film and I may re-visit it in the future.

Score: 75/100

Advertisements

My Top 25 Films of 2012

2012 saw some great films, and some real stinkers. I have seen 68 of them. These are my top 25 favourite films of 2012, and also the ten worst.

Oh and, some of these films don’t have the highest scores, but they’re higher up on the list. This is because some films (like The Hobbit) have grown on me a lot since I’ve seen them. Click on the title in the caption to get to review (and the titles in the ‘worst of’ list). Anyway, here’s the list, starting with #25:

Pitch Perfect is a fairly original (at least in cinema) and entertaining Glee-inspired musical comedy that may be predictable, but it’s a toe-tapping experience that has a fine plot, great music, some strange characters (most notably Lilly, a character who looks like that creepy big-eyed girl from Frankenweenie), show-stealing performers (like Bridesmaids‘ Rebel Wilson who portrays Fat Amy) and a memorable ensemble cast.

#24 - This is 40

#24 – This is 40

This is 40 is not quite as good as Knocked Up, but it’s a satisfying sort-of sequel. This is sometimes over-dramatic because of the numerous conflicts, but it is driven by fresh, laugh-out-loud comedy that helps Apatow get the message, of overcoming family differences and a mid-life crisis, across very well. Laughs, conflict, and advertisements for iPhones, Apple products, TV’s Lost, and a good role for Megan Fox are all present.

#23 - Ted

#23 – Ted

Ted‘s screenplay may be crowded but we must understand that MacFarlane’s comfort zone is a mere 22-minute slot, while this is a whole 112-minute feature. The end product turns out to be better than anyone would think a buddy comedy between a talking teddy bear and an immature man could be, and Wahlberg and Ted’s chemistry help make this one of the best buddy comedies of the year. I’m excited to see what else first-time director MacFarlane has in store for the silver screen, and I say bring on the sequel.

The film starts out fairly slow, but once the games come around the bend, it instantly becomes intensely engaging and entertaining. The screenplay maintains the fascinating theme of propaganda [and how corrupt the government may become], but doesn’t capture the extreme violence that we fans handled in the novel itself, and there isn’t quite enough bonding time with select characters. The adaptation is nonetheless great, and since it was not followed to a tee, there is room for surprise. Anyone who is willing to accept this fresh experience will enjoy it, as it is a promising beginning to a new teen franchise.

Rise of the Guardians is a slightly flawed, but wildly inventive, animated adventure that may have some deeply thematic material and action sequences that could be midly scary for small children. The main flaw is the disorganized beginning – but it finds its pace soon enough. The concept is a sort of edgy animated feature, but is a great end product. This is one of the most original animated features of the year, mainly because of the alterations to the beloved Guardians, like making Santa Claus look like a Russian biker, are very fresh. This is a great message to teach the kids this holiday season – don’t only believe in Santa around his season, also believe in all the other heroes, at least when their time comes around the bend.

#20 - The Grey

#20 – The Grey

The dialogue of this film allows characters to be thoroughly developed and compelling concepts to arise. When the characters aren’t talking, it gets engaging and thoroughly thrilling. The anti-climactic ending says Carnahan has learned to resist throwing full-throttle action at us, and he instead resists the urge and keeps the astounding and exciting survival film as tame as could be. The mostly unknown actors make the spotlight shine directly on the star: Liam Neeson.

#19 - Lincoln

#19 – Lincoln

Spielberg seems like, at this point in his career, is interested in making ambitious biopics instead of blockbusters like Jaws. The intelligent monologue-filled feature intricately throws information at you, and at times it can be quite a bit to absorb, but it is usually engaging. The cast of Lincoln is impressive, most notably Daniel Day-Lewis, who delivers a kind-hearted, endlessly charming performance that adds layers to one of the greatest figures in American history. Day-Lewis captures Lincoln’s will to get things done, and his genuine and kind self.

Killing Them Softly is a clever mafia tale of violence and despair with a great leading performance from Brad Pitt; with his mysterious character delivering us plenty of violence to keep us happy. This tale is also a social commentary on the local criminal economy in 2008, before Obama stepped into office – the concepts are complex, but there are not difficult to comprehend. The not-so-subtle message may be annoying to some, but the story is very engaging. It is a thought-provoking film brought to life by Andrew Dominik’s stylish and artistic direction.

#17 - End of Watch

#17 – End of Watch

The abrupt ending keeps this from being flawless, but this is a stellar crime story with intelligent writing by writer/director David Ayer (who previously wrote Training Day) with some of the best chemistry I have seen all year. End of Watch does for the real lives of cops what Ladder 49 did for fire fighters, but it’s about twenty-six times better.

#16 - Chronicle

#16 – Chronicle

Chronicle is one of the most surprisingly amazing features of 2012. The rushed pace is its main flaw, but it is an awesome experience for the 84 minutes it stays around. It obtains must-see status because of its thoroughly thematic and disturbing content. It is the most must-see found-footage feature of 2012, perhaps of all-time.

Seven Psychopaths has a clever screenplay and is a fantastic second feature from writer/directer Martin McDonagh. It is equal parts brutal, brilliant and hysterical. It is extremely memorable and has great characters and a superb ensemble cast. It is one of the most original screenplays of the year, and it’s another comedy that proves 2012 is one of the best for that genre.

The story may have ideas crammed in the feature, it undeniably has a very emotional core. If the actors weren’t singing the vast majority of their dialogue, the film wouldn’t be quite as exciting or engaging. This combines a great period piece with a profound musical, and it makes this one of the best features of the year.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum create a superb chemistry, and this is one of the finest comedy ensembles of the year. The comedy is always funny, and this is the best action-comedy of the year. The real bite about this is that no one expected it to be very good, and yet, it is a hilarious and exciting ride.

Writer/director Christopher Nolan delivers us an impressive and atmospheric piece of cinema that has incredible thrills, great plot execution and great direction, character development that has room for improvement and a slow build-up that leads to an incredible climax. It is also a thoroughly impressive end to a great trilogy, it’s a slight step-down from the high standards set by The Dark Knight, but it is better than Batman Begins.

#11 - Skyfall

#11 – Skyfall

Skyfall is a compelling experience with great pacing, a great story and great humour. Javier Bardem is simply astounding. His presence is really worth the wait. He is one of the greatest criminal masterminds of recent memory, comparable to both Heath Ledger’s The Joker and Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter. He is the second best villain of the year, right behind Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie in Django Unchained.

#10 - Looper

#10 – Looper

Looper offers an entertaining and memorable action experience with a great story and characters, making it a film that should be cherished. Looper is slightly flawed because of a sometimes crowded screenplay and numerous antagonists, but it has a complex story that’s surprisingly easy to follow, with great characters like Jeff Daniels’ nice-guy-ruthless-when-he-wants-to-be crime boss.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a thoroughly satisfying start to a new Middle Earth trilogy. Its usually silly undertone may frustrate some, but to most, like myself, it makes for a great experience. The many expendable dwarfs may get a lot of the attention, but it is very much Bilbo Baggins’ show. That is until the show-stealing Gollum shows up for one of the best scenes of the feature. I cannot wait to see what the trilogy looks like when all of the films are released.

#8 - Life of Pi

#8 – Life of Pi

Life of Pi is interesting because it is not afraid to bring in concepts of faith and religion. It is also visually beautiful, sometimes funny, thought-provoking, magnificent, terrifying and saddening. There is also a  great story, great direction, wonderful cinematography, great conflicts and relationships present. The actors bring it all to the table, and a short list of performers carries the film very well. This is one of the best films of the year that will be a large Oscar contender. If you’re going to see this, see it in its full 3D glory.

#7 - Flight

#7 – Flight

The drama is solid and the overall film if profoundly enjoyable, compelling, emotional, sometimes funny and often gripping. The suspenseful scene at the beginning is the only action scene in the feature, and it soon turns into a character study, with fascinating concepts of addiction. Those who find the concept of addiction fascinating will enjoy this even more.

Many may think it is simply just another teen slasher, but what gets thrown at you is surprising, extremely fresh and endlessly entertaining. This is one of the most original horror films of all time, with signature bites of comedy from Joss Whedon.

Wreck-It Ralph is the finest animated feature of 2012 and is generally one hell of a nostalgic and enjoyable film. This is like the Toy Story for a new generation. Disney has delivered us a great film yet again, and mashed two generally loved things together: their acclaimed animation, and video games. I had high expectations for this film, and this really rocked my world.

#4 - Argo

#4 – Argo

One of the most captivating things about the nerve-racking Argo is the boiling suspense of the situation, and the viewer can just feel it build throughout. Argo plays out like an assassin giving you his first choke-hold, he’s inexperienced and you may feel the grip loosening from time to time, but then it strengthens again and doesn’t let go until the very end.

Silver Linings Playbook is hilarious, beautiful, meaningful, sad, emotional, and very dramatic at times. It is a truly magnificent blend. One thing that helps the film is the impeccable writing by David O. Russell, and Matthew Quick who originally wrote the novel. The viewer may not be able to relate to the exact situation of these characters, but they could fully understand their motivations – and most may have felt similar emotions that these characters express on a daily basis.

The profound analysis of teenage angst is accurate, brilliantly touching, and heartbreakingly poignant. The performances are great, the story is awesome, and the atmosphere it offers is perfect. This is a film that I’d like to watch over and over. That’s one heck of a definition for an enjoyable experience.  It’s a fine, under-seen classic of 2012 that can define a generation as well as John Hughes could.  If it comes to your town, get off the couch, grab a few friends – but if you don’t have any, it’s okay to be a wallflower – and go see this movie!

Django Unchained is a modern masterpiece, and is Tarantino’s finest film yet (even if I’m the only one to think so). It’s a great story about survival and it has great themes of racism and slavery, that Tarantino explores expertly. The performances, the writing, the soundtrack the direction and the themes are all immaculate. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the best villain of the year.

The ten worst of 2012:

10. The Watch

9. Chernobyl Diaries

8. Silent House

7. ATM

6. Red Dawn 

5. Dark Shadows

4. Mirror Mirror

3. Project X

2. The Lucky One

And the true test of patience…

Well, there you have it. Hopefully you agree with some of my picks, like them, dislike them, or even detest them. Feel free to leave comments!

Killing Them Softly (2012)

Killing Them Softly

Killing Them Softly

Release Date: November 30, 2012

Director: Andrew Dominik

Stars: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins

Runtime: 97 min

Tagline: In America, you’re on your own

Note: I love the idea of a good mob flick. I have a large list of ones I have to check out, including ‘Goodfellas’ (cue the gasp); and in all honesty, this is my second mafia related film (I think). The first being ‘Road to Perdition’. But I loved this. Enjoy the review. 

Ah. Hitmen meet the economy; they go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is an enforcer hired to restore order after three dumb guys, who think they’re smart, rob a mob-protected card game, causing the local criminal economy to collapse.

Johnny Amato (a.k.a., Squirrel; portrayed by Vincent Curatola) is the so-called mastermind behind the heist of a mob-protected card game. He enlists the assistance of Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), and the plan is seemingly golden. The host of this card game is Markie Trattman, a man who hosted another card game in the past, and he then robbed his own card game. Due to that, card games went away for a little while. Now they’re back. The local criminal bosses believe that if this one gets robbed, Markie will have to be behind it. That’s what makes these three dumb guys believe that this is a foolproof plan.

Because of all this, Jackie Cogan gets called in to restore a little order to this imperfect local economy.

The film opens with Frankie (Scoot McNairy) walking down a rundown street, and the film cuts between a politician speaking (Obama or George W., possibly) and him. The wording constantly gets off. This is both stylish and artistic, but it will get irritating to the impatient viewer. It becomes known that this film is set when George W. Bush was still leader of the free world, and America was in an economic crisis. The card game being robbed doesn’t particularly assist the local criminal economy in any way.

In that way, this is both a story of violence and despair, and a compelling and complex social commentary of 2008 America in the midst of one of the worst financial situations since the Great Depression. The concepts in Killing Them Softly are complex, but they aren’t hard to comprehend. The film suggests that America is not a place where one could easily raise their kids. It is not a community, it is a business. However, these concepts of economics and capitalism are not subtly explored. The political voice-over speeches are practically right in your face, as if they’re 3D. Though, this barely bothered me.

Jackie Cogan is an awesome character who is filled with philosophy and mystery. Though, he isn’t the only interesting character in this. There is also Frankie and Russell, who may be a little dim-witted, but they are nonetheless good characters. Russell is often really there just for comedic relief, and he is also a representation of the stupid people of America. Frankie may be sort of dumb, but he is much smarter than Russell. Both the characters are good enough to carry the film for their scenes. In fact, they practically carry the film for the first twenty minutes – with a little help from Curatola and Liotta. These actors remind us that a film can be good, even when Pitt isn’t onscreen. Also, Brad Pitt entering the screen to the sound of Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” is the perfect touch.

Brad Pitt, as usual, is a booming screen presence. Put him next to Richard Jenkins’ character, he’s cool and he has a mysterious bravado. Speaking of Richard Jenkins’ character, his name is never revealed. He is just the middle man of crime who pays Cogan. Though the question of who Jenkins works for is left unanswered. That is one of the pleasant ambiguities and mysteries of the film.

Though, put Pitt next to James Gandolfini’s character of Mickey (another hit man called in by Cogan to help out with killing the twerps), he’s nothing special. Only because he’s listening to Mickey talk his ear off. Mickey’s character hardly fascinated me.  He talks too much, and he doesn’t kill enough. Don’t get me wrong, Gandolfini’s a great screen presence. I just wasn’t digging the character. So don’t you tell Gandolfini to put out a contract on my head. I don’t want to die, man. I’m just telling it how it is.

Scoot McNairy has proved to audiences that he is a solid supporting presence (Exhibit A: this; and Exhibit B: Argo) and also a good leading man presence (as shown in 2010’s Monsters). I look forward to more performances by this promising actor.

The story, the cinematography and the editing are the real highlights of the film. There are a few other vividly cool editing sequences, that leave me feeling impressed. There’s one scene where Pitt is firing a gun in the rain in a slow-motion sequence, that is stunning. It’s vividly cool, and is worth the watch simply for that. Don’t stay for just that, though. This is one of the best films of the year!

There is a whole load of killing, but not as much as it seems to promise. In that way, the advertising is sort of deceiving. That’s okay, though, the other things that it never promises make up for it. There’s a fair share of soft, but brutal, killing to satisfy all, even though the kills are far between each other. The social commentary it offers is also profound. Sometimes it gets talky, but it is never uninteresting. The film has its fair share of intensity. The soundtrack is great and the atmosphere it offers is one of the most unique of the year. The writing is great, and the actors are great. They don’t disappoint one bit. There’s enough violence, and enough politics and economics to leave both crime movie lovers and scholars with a smile on their faces by the time the end credits roll. Just don’t expect non-stop carnage, and you’ll be good.

90/100

Box Office Predictions: November 30 – December 2

 

The Collection

The sequel to 2009’s The Collector. This sort of has a similar atmosphere to the Saw serial, without all the moral dilemmas, and just more torture porn. The Collector opened to $3.5 million, and grossed $7.7 million. That was well-appreciated by audience members, so I anticipate this to gross more than the first. People seem to really miss the Saw franchise, and this could really fill that void.

T.C. Box Office Prediction: $5 million

Killing Them Softly

This looks really good. The story seems awesome and the cast is stellar. Brad Pitt as a hitman? Cool.

K.T.S. Box Office Prediction: $9.8 million

TOP 10 BOX OFFICE PREDICTIONS

TITLE/PREDICTION/STUDIO/ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE

1. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2/ $32, 000, 000/ Summit Ent./ 47%
2. Skyfall/ $22, 500, 000/ MGM/ 92%
3. Lincoln/ $18, 000, 000/ Buena Vista/ 91%
4. Rise of the Guardians/ $16, 000, 000/ Paramount (DreamWorks)/ 76%
5. Life of Pi/ $15, 800, 000/ Fox/ 87%
6. Wreck-It Ralph/ $11, 000, 000/ Buena Vista/ 86%
7. Red Dawn/ $10, 200, 000/ FilmDistrict/ 11%
8. Killing Them Softly/ $9, 800, 000/ Weinstein Company/ 90%
9. Flight/ $6, 400, 000/ Paramount/ 77%
10. The Collection/ $5, 000, 000/ LD Entertainment/ 86%