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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The Choice (2016)

 

Released: February 5, 2016. Directed by: Ross Katz. Starring: Benjamin Walker, Teresa Palmer, Alexandra Daddario. Runtime: 1hr, 51 min.

Life will give you many choices. It will give you the choice to see this film. Don’t.

The Choice opens with Benjamin Walker’s Travis talking about how life is full of choices – and he “has to make a big one,” while he’s on his speed boat on the lake in his North Carolina coastal town. He then goes to the hospital with a bouquet of flowers, wondering how Gabby (Teresa Palmer) is doing. Then, it says seven years later.

To me, this is a spoiler in itself. I thought this took me out of the movie experience – because when there was enough time for seven years to pass, I was expecting in the back of the mind for Gabby to go into the hospital.

I don’t mind when a film starts with a scene from the middle of the narrative. It works effectively for complex films like Memento.  But it most certainly doesn’t work for a film that is as simplistic and predictable as a sappy Nicholas Sparks feature.

I’m not sure if the screenwriter, Bryan Sipe, decided to open the film this way because it’s the way the novel opens – or if the editor just plopped it there – but it’s definitely my main complaint of the film.

The story itself is about Travis, a veterinarian, who doesn’t like anything that doesn’t come easy. He’s the type of guy who only has one chair looking onto the water, even though he’s been on and off with Monica (Alexandra Daddario) since high school.

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Teresa Palmer and Tom Wilkinson in The Choice. (Source)

He then meets Gabby, a new neighbour who immediately bothers him. It’s a recurring line in the film – which is about how crappy the dialogue gets. Even though Gabby is seeing Ryan (Tom Welling), they start a relationship, which is challenged by life’s biggest tests.

The film has some funny moments and great cinematography (kudos, Alar Kivilo), but the screenplay is only sporadically entertaining. It is at least more charming than bland. At least it isn’t as totally bonkers as the ending from Safe Haven or as unrealistic as the opening of The Lucky One where Zac Efron found a pretty girl just from a picture almost immediately.

Ross Katz isn’t able to direct strong performances from a usually good Teresa Palmer, and Benjamin Walker is nothing memorable. Alexandra Daddario, Maggie Grace and Tom Wilkinson have good supporting performances. Tom Welling (Smallville) is there for a time, but Superman doesn’t seem to put the utmost effort into his performance.

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Teresa Palmer and Benjamin Walker in The Choice. (Source)

I did find myself enjoying the film for the first hour. But I never found myself caring deeply for the characters. They were developed weakly with nothing more than a few qualities.

And the main “choice” of the film wasn’t introduced until around the 85-minute mark. It’s a whole new development that’s brought on by something that is truly ridiculous.

There’s a good emotional moment in the film’s last third, but the third act feels like it is much longer than it actually is. With these characters, I would have been fine with a 90-minute movie. It felt like it could have ended at a certain point – and I felt like I was nearly scot free with a short film.

But then the story line held me for what felt like an hour longer (probably about 30 minutes in real time). By that point, I was exhausted – no matter how lovely the film looked.

2 outta 5

 

 

Warm Bodies (2013)

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Release Date: February 1, 2013

Director: Jonathan Levine

Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich

Runtime: 97 min

Tagline: Cold body. Warm heart.

Finally, this gives both Zombieland and Twilight fans a chance to come together and watch a movie in peace!

Warm Bodies is told from the fresh point of view of a zombie, the highly unusual R (Nicholas Hoult), who goes around an airport, occasionally having almost conversations with his best zombie bud, M (Rob Corddry). Their zombie group runs into a human group ran by Perry (Dave Franco), boyfriend of the main girl, Julie (Teresa Palmer). After Perry gets killed, R is immediately attracted to Julie, and he brings her to his home in an abandoned airplane. They soon form a bond, R wants to become human again, Julie begins to change his heart for the better, and their relationship might just rattle the whole lifeless world as they know it.

One of the only similarities between this and Twilight is they are both Young Adult novels. The girl is also attracted to a supernatural sort-of being, even though zombies are the norm in the post-apocalyptic world they are living in. One thing that is hard to comprehend of this human-supernatural being relationships: Are these girls that desperate that they have to resort to the basically dead? As soon as one guy sparkles in the sunlight or puts on a little make-up, do they seriously immediately develop tendencies of a strange branch of necrophilia?

Anyway, the film is also romantic, and the similarities to Twilight basically stop there. This is a testament of human connection. Julie begins to teach R how to actually live, and because of this, he opens up to her and learns how not to be dead. He learns how to talk, and he learns how to feel and dream, something that is extremely unorthodox for a zombie. One thing that helps him be more human is this: In this specific world, when a zombie eats a victim’s brain (R keeps Perry’s as a snack food), they absorb their feelings and their memories; the little slide show of memories in their head is as close as they get to dreaming.

Speaking of those memory flashbacks, they give a chance to show visuals in the film. They aren’t very good, they come off as hypnotic and fairly headache-inducing. They’re a cool attempt, sure, but they’re hard to admire when one has to squint at the screen. One other thing that is irritating about the feature is that zombies only grunt, and cannot form words… So any huge fan of zombie flicks may be wanting to scream: “OH! THE HORROR! THIS ISN’T RIGHT! THE DEAD DON’T TALK!” The film may be altogether unrealistic, but it doesn’t stop it from being fun.

Other than Twilight, this film has similarities to over zombie flicks, like Zombieland. They are both quite funny, and this could be seen as the next best zombie date movie. One thing that is similar to TV’s The Walking Dead is the hiding the human scent trick, where zombie blood is smeared on humans. Also, this has many similarities to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, something that is evident in the characters’ names themselves. There is a balcony scene that mirrors that of the play, and that is the biggest similarity. The love is forbidden, even when R hopes it to be true. The two things getting in their way: Julie’s father, a military leader of the world named Grigio (John Malkovich); and Boneys, a skeleton being that all zombies eventually become. These are the two main conflicts, and, fortunately enough, they don’t make the film crowded or really distract from the story at hand. The Boneys actually add some real intensity to the feature, and they get one good scare, but they’re so CGI’d to a point of no scary return. If one of these guys came up to me in alley, I’d just look for a computer to unplug.

This isn’t a perfect feature because it doesn’t take full advantage of its fresh premise. It piles on a few predictable moments, but it still does an admirable job. If Jonathan Levine wasn’t behind this with directing and adapting the novel by Isaac Marion, it might not be the surprise hit turns out to be. I cannot compare the book to the film, but the laughs Jonathan Levine manages to generate are great. If you can find humour in R’s unique commentary of gaining human attributes and becoming a real boy, you’ll enjoy this a lot. If this zombie staring awkwardly at others is your type of comedy, you’ll be smiling like crazy. However, while Hoult generates a many yuks, and Palmer proves sexy enough to get this guy’s heart beating again, and Analeigh Tipton (Crazy, Stupid, Love.) generates a few laughs, Corddry gets the biggest laughs with hilarious one-liners.

In a nutshell: Warm Bodies proves to be 2013’s zombie date movie. It gives a fresh spin on the genre with it being narrated by the zombie (who comments things like, “Boy we move slow, this is going to take a while*”).Without a lot of solid competition, it also proves to be the one of the best films of the year. With a fine use of an ultra cool premise, this is a solid flick that could have been a little better. Maybe more Malkovich would make this astounding instead of just really good…

*They run when they attack, so I must ask… Why can’t they just fast-walk everywhere?

80/100