Tag Archives: gangster movies

TIFF18: Widows

The world didn’t need any further proof of Viola Davis’ talent or range, but director Steve McQueen is serious about his star, and he painted her the perfect sky in which to shine.

Ronnie (Davis) is devastated by the death of her husband in a robbery gone wrong. But she barely gets him buried before the guys he robbed come calling, and she’s the one on the hook for the 2 million dollars that’s missing. So she rounds up all the widows whose husbands died on that job (Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez) and takes over the family business, such as it is.

But this is not your typical heist movie. Like Scorcese’s The Departed, it’s about more than just the criminal element. While Scorcese looked at dirty cops, McQueen takes on crooked politicians, and he ably blurs the line between felon and city councilman. Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall) is the departing alderman of District 18, but after a recent heart attack, he’s vacating the spot that his family has held for generations, and his son Jack (Colin Farrell) is planning on stepping into his shoes at the next election. But strangely (to him), he’s not running unopposed. Turns out, he’s not the only willing to be corrupted for cash and kickbacks. The two worlds collide rather impressively when it’s Mulligan’s house the widows break into.

There are a thousand little details that make Widows into a truly great movie, but here are just two:

The opening scene. Liam Neeson and his gang of merry men are pulling a heist, but shit goes down. It’s frantic and violent and spectacular. But it’s intercut with almost its polar opposite: scenes of domesticity. Each man in the gang is shown at home, with his wife, widows-2018-viola-davis-liam-neesonhis kids, his little dog Olivia. Sure they’re criminals but they’re also doting dads, bill payers, lawn mowers, trash taker-outers. So you’ve got this brilliant back and forth of the two, somewhat disparate, halves of their lives. The hard and soft, the why and the how of tough jobs with lots of risk. We don’t spend much time with them, but we already know they are much than just their crimes, and when they meet their end, it’s not without sadness, a loss that is earned. And it’s also a highly effective way of introducing both theme and character. Brilliant, nimble work.

The second scene that really struck me was of Jack Mulligan (Farrell) in the back of a car. We already know his dad (Duvall) is an unapologetic racist. He rants gross inaccuracies about immigrants (even as he seems to employ them as servants in his home) and says the n-word while basically looking us in the eye. He’s not shy about it. He’s old school racist. His son is a little more savvy, but perhaps no less racist. Sure he trots out black woman business owners at his rallies, “success stories” he calls them, dismissively taking credit for their achievements. But as soon as he’s back inside the tinted-window safety of his car, he’s laying down some pretty shitty things to his poor assistant. Interestingly, the car, and thus the man inside, remain impenetrable during the scene. McQueen frames it with the car filling just a small portion of the bottom right-hand side of the screen as it drives the alderman-to-be away from the unsavouriness of his district, to the furthest border where his own palatial home is built and gated. Why would McQueen show Duvall so plainly while uttering his slurs but have Farrell hidden away? What makes Jack different? And what does it mean that the only person we make any contact with the entire time is an occasional glimpse of Jack’s black chauffeur, who Just. Keeps. Driving.

This movie is so well-made it gives me the tingles. I know I started this review singing Viola Davis her praises, but I want to end it that way too. Girl deserves her applause. She is so powerful. She can show vulnerability without making it about a lack of strength. She is commanding and flexible and she brings to this role her own kind of super power – called Strong Black Woman.

 

 

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The Vegas Chronicles: Casino

The Assholes are in sunny Las Vegas this week, probably bleeding money across several casino floors right this very moment, unless you’re reading in the dead of night, in which case we’re slapping strippers’ asses. We’re also taking the opportunity to talk about some of our favourite movies set in Las Vegas, so of course we’d end up talking about Casino.

The Bellagio welcomed the cast and crew of Ocean’s 11 with open arms. Caesars Palace was just as accommodating with The Hangover. The Riviera, however, gave no such love to casino1Marty Scorsese. Those ungrateful buggers forced the crew to film only between the witching hours of 1 and 4 am, so as not to disturb the gamblers. They allowed not disruption to the business side of things but weren’t self-conscious about advertising with a large banner declaring “Robert DeNiro, Sharon Stone & Joe Pesci Filming the New Movie ‘Casino’ Inside!” I would call it shameless, except this is Vegas we’re talking about. I’m pretty sure you leave your shame at home.

The movie is said to be based on a true story, but it’s set inside a fictional casino called Tangiers. The nut’s not hard to crack, though. This is the history of the Stardust casino. It’s a story fairly well-documented, but Scorsese also drops some hints in the soundtrack. The exterior of the casino was filmed in front of the Landmark hotel, which was scheduled for implosion shortly thereafter, which further added to the mystique. Scorsese went out of his way to film exclusively in the Las Vegas valley, and even managed to shoot driving down historic Freemont Street, which is no longer open to automobile traffic.

The film was informed by tonnes of insiders, but also featured real Vegas characters in the cast. Vegas comedian Don Rickles played the Tangiers casino manager in a largely non-comedic role. The guy who played a jewelry store owner who just got robbed is a real Vegas jeweler. Oscar Goodman, the attorney, is a real-life lawyer who defended many Vegas mobsters. Goodman of course went on to be elected mayor of Las Vegas in 1999. And careful viewers will note that the blackjack dealer is the very same blackjack dealer from article-2611806-1D4E026400000578-395_634x794Rain Man, and can also be seen dealing cards to Chevy Chase in Vegas Vacation.

Matt’s a decent blackjack player, and Sean’s pretty good at keeping Matt’s head out of a vise, but when I’ve got money to blow, I’m not at a craps table, I’m at Hermes. Check in with us on Twitter (@assholemovies) so you can see what we’re up to, and if I’ve yet to find a 45-pound gold and white beaded gown a la Sharon Stone.

And that’s that.

 

 

Black Mass

Jay here. I’ve been MIA for a while and most likely will be for a bit more. Back surgery and its sidekick  morphine have indisposed me for writing movie reviews.

Anyway, Black Mass has been kicking around for a while now, generally disappointing folks despite its all-star cast and generous dash of promise. It basically tells the incredible story of Johnny-Depp-in-Black-MassJames ‘Whitey’ Bulger (Johnny Depp), and how he ran Boston from the underground for years, in part because of a brilliant “alliance” with the FBI. An old childhood friend (Joel Edgerton) has conveniently made a name for himself at the FBI and he convinces his boss (Kevin Bacon) that Bulger will be a useful informant. The information flows both ways though, with Bulger constantly evading investigation, and Bulger divulging details already known to the FBI by other means.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Bulger’s brother, Billy, a successful state politician. Suspicious? Well nobody at the FBI seems to think so, until there’s a new kid in town, Corey Stoll, who starts asking some incredulous questions, like how on earth has a notorious psychopath and criminal with ties to the IRA never ever been investigated? Why indeed.

So things fall apart for Bulger, although never as spectacularly as they do for everyone around 48091645.cachedhim (including Jesse Plemons, and can we just call him what he is: low-rent Matt Damon), and Rory Cochrane (bloated for this role, it’ll kill your Empire Records fantasies right quick), and Peter Sarsgaard (who once did an SNL skit where he was attending a pirate convention, and all the attendees really relished overpronouncing his name – PetARRRRGGGHHHH SAAAARRRRRRsgAAAAARRRRRRD, and now I am forever doomed to do it myself).

Maybe the biggest problem with this movie is that it crammed too many names under too small 62951a marquee. There just isn’t enough to keep everyone busy, and at the end of the day, this feels like a pretty standard mob movie, with Scorsese wannabe undertones. It fails to distinguish itself. The relief, though, is that Johnny Depp remembers how not to be a cartoon. It’s not any great relief though, since this is Depp’s fourth, FOURTH, time portraying a real-life gangster. Even my dogs have learned the trick by the fourth repetition.

You will not find a bad movie here, just a very tired one, but I guess it allowed a lot of Hollywood types to tick off MOB MOVIE on their SAG Bingo card, and if that’s not a good reason to make a movie, then I don’t know what is.

TIFF 2015: One Last Push

The last weekend of TIFF held a lot of first-rate movies for us.

kateThe Dressmaker: Kate Winslet is ravishing and saucy is this film about a little girl who’s sent away from small-town Australia when she kills another child, and returns years later a sophisticated, fashionable woman able to transform the townspeople with her Singer and some satin, but not erase their memories. Her past is a shadow never escaped. It reminded me in some ways of Hot Fuzz – the facade of a close-knit town spoiled by the spectre of evil. The title may sound prim and proper, but the movie’s just a little bit naughtier, and helluva lot quirkier. Even Sean enjoyed it liammore than he thought he would; the movie’s sheer audacity earning quite a few laughs. It’s dark, and with theme shifts from elder care to bedding a younger lover, this movie doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Not that that stopped me from thoroughly enjoying it. Winslet and Judy Davis as her demented mother give really strong, badass performances.

 
 

The Danish Girl: Both timely and timeless, this one’s a stunner in many ways. Eddie Redmayne’s performance is a show-stopper. Alicia Vikander proves she’s not just a flash in the pan. And my god it’s gorgeous to watch. So lush. A real artist’s palette. As you know, this movie is about one of world’s first sexual reassignment surgeries; painter Einar Wegener always knew he was different, but when he dons panty hose to sit 40th Toronto International Film Festivaland pose for his wife (also a painter), Miss Lili Elbe emerges and can’t be denied. This movie is restrained and delicate – and maybe a little too tepid, considering its thematic content. But it definitely worked for me on a more personal level. What is it like when the man you love tells you he’s really a woman? And what happens when you still love this woman, but she wants to leave her past behind? It’s anguishing watching them try to redefine their lives, and their selves. Redmayne will of course get another Best Actor nod (but will he win and join Spencer Tracy and Tom Hanks in back-to-back Oscars?) but I won’t be surprised if Vikander is recognized too. The Danish Girl ends up being as much her story as Lili’s. It’s not bold, it’s not daring, and it’s not a masterpiece. But it is a triumph.

 
 

Anomalisa: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson make a surprisingly exceptional pairing. Together they direct tjjlhe most invigorating piece of film I’ve seen in a long time. The script is amazing. It’s funny and smart from start to finish. The stop-motion animation is also first-rate and very distinguished. There’s nothing like it out there. How can something so banal be so funny? It’s the perfect examination of human connection, and this will stand up there with Kaufman’s best. Weird? Of course it’s weird, that best kind of brain-tickling, truthful weird. But the genius is in the pairing – for every nuance offered by Kaufman, Johnson answers with a brilliant piece of animation: the earbuds, the car air fresheCharlie-Kaufman-anomlisaner, the lobby flower arrangement, the miniature hotel room hair dryer. I always adore stop-motion animation because this physical recreation of an entire world always seems to show so much care and precision from the animators. Anomalisa is a marvel to look at and think over, and if you love Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich, then this one’s unmissable.

 
 

Legend: The legend worth noting here is Tom Hardy himself – twice. He plays real-life gangster twins, Reggie and Ronnie Kray. And he manages to make these men who look so much alike feel like complete individuals. And the camera tricks that make Tom Hardy able to punch himself in the face are super cool. YTom Hardyou can’t take your eyes off him, no matter who he’s playing. The movie, though, wasn’t my favourite. It’s exceedingly gory and gleefully bloodthirsty in some parts, and then suddenly you’ve got supercheesy 1960s pop Going To the Chapel blaring like this is some throwback romcom. There’s an annoying narration, I think to cover up some of the holes in the story, but at any rate, it doesn’t work. This movie feels as schizophrenic as poor Ronnie is claimed to be, and while it’s still worth checking out for Hardy alone, it’s best to lower your expectations a bit.

 
 

Lolo: I love Julie Delpy. I love how she writes such witty, talky women. It’s like hanging out with your girlfriends: snappy, snarky, sharp. This movie is about a 45 year old Parisienne, Violette (Delpy) and how she falls in love with “country bumpkin” (Dany Boon). This might have been a smart and sexy meloloditation on middle-aged coupledom but instead it falls apart when Violette’s millennial son Lolo is introduced. You’ll want to punch this kid in the face, especially as he lounges around in his hipster underpants one too many times. He’s jealous of mommy’s new lover, and resorts to all kinds of low-brow, stale antics to drive them apart. Delpy is better than this. If she had made a movie with just the new lover and her best friend, my god, that would have been a power house. She didn’t need this juvenile intervention, and it’s not her strength as a writer nor as a director. I still enjoyed her bawdy sense of humour and breezy manner, but it wasn’t quite the film I’d hoped it would be.

TIFF: The Agony and the Ecstacy

Matt wrote last week about the choices he made for his viewing pleasure (and hopefully your reading one) at the Toronto International Film Festival, slated to open with a bang (or rather, a star-studded screening of Demolition) on September 10.

I  held mine back because the truth is, the TIFF selection process was not a fun one for me. TIFF  has weird rules where it takes your money and then weeks later gives you a “randomly” selected window of just 60 minutes for making your choices – I’m seeing maybe 20 movies out of over 430, by my count, so that’s an awful lot of frantic sifting, choosing, replacing, and scheduling to do in just 60 minutes. It goes without saying that I was “randomly” selected to choose more than 24 hours later than Matt, which meant that a lot of my first, second, and third choices were “off-sale”. Off-sale doesn’t mean sold out, it means that they’re holding some tickets back for when they go on sale to the general public. And nothing against the general public, but I paid my oodles of money, I’m travelling in from out of town, and I don’t think it’s very nice or very fair to force me (since I’ve prepaid for tickets) to see movies that aren’t selling as well, when someone who pays a nominal $25 on the day of will have better luck than me.

I’ll stop my belly-aching now. We’re still pretty lucky to be going at all and I know that. So, without further whining about first world problems, my TIFF picks:

Demolition: I’m actually going to see this one with both Matt and Sean, so it’s a rarity, and I’m not only looking forward to seeing what director Jean-Marc Vallée can squeeze out of Jake Gyllenhaal, I also can’t wait to discuss it with my favourite movie-going friends.

The Lobster: This one is quirky as hell and right up my alley, and I never thought I’d be saying that about a Colin Farrell movie. Newly heartbroken, he checks into a hotel where he’s under the gun to find a mate within a super tight time period – or risk being turned into an animal and put out to pasture? It sounds more like a child’s drawing than a movie, but there you have it.

Eye in the Sky: We ‘re doing the red-carpet treatment of this one on Friday night, and Dame Helen Mirren is confirmed to attend. She’s looking less glamorous in the still from this movie, playing a Colonel who’s spent a long time tracking down a radicalized citizen who must be stopped. But when drone operator Aaron Paul reports that a small child has wandered into the kill zone, the team has to decide whether the casualty of this little girl is acceptable collateral damage. Yowza!

The Martian: You may know that I have been frothing about this movie for months now. I luuuurved the book and passed it along to all of my literate friends but then waved a flag of skepticism when I heard that a) it’s directed by Ridley Scott b) it’s a reteaming of Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain, lately seen together in Interstellar. But I hope hope HOPE that they “science the hell” out of this thing and blow my fucking socks off.

The Danish Girl: Eddie Redmayne is almost certainly in the running for a second Oscar for his portrayal of Lili Elbe, the 1920s Danish artist who was one of the first known recipients of sexual reassignment surgery. The trailer alone looks so lush that I’m drooping to see it – which is fortunate, because TIFF stuck me with TWO pairs of tickets to this. Woops! Anyone know someone who’s looking for a pair?

Freeheld: We’re seeing this one on flashy premiere night as well and will see both Julianne Moore and Ellen Page walk the red carpet. They star as a real-life couple from New Jersey who just want Moore’s pension to go to Page when Moore passes away. It was a huge case for LGBT rights and I’m betting that both of these ladies really bring it.

The Dressmaker: Funny story. I read this book recently, in anticipation of this movie. And I really, really liked it. Only: it’s about a young dressmaker who survives the sinking of the Titanic thanks to her wealthy employer. Knowing that Kate Winslet was set to star, I was shocked that she’d choose to go back to Titanic in this way. I mean, if anyone can put it off, it’s Winslet, but still. The more I read, the more I thought maybe she’s not playing the dressmaker, maybe she’s playing the plucky journalist. I still couldn’t believe the press wasn’t making a bigger deal out of this, but it wasn’t until I finished the book that I realized that I’d read the wrong Dressmaker. Same title, different author. Oopsie daisy again. But I’m confident this one’s good too, and it’s Kate Winslet, so we’re almost guaranteed to see boob.

Into the Forest: Here’s a movie that looks so familiar to me in the trailer that I believe I have read the book. I do not know for sure that it’s based on a book and I’m not looking it up. This way even I’ll be surprised (or, REALLY surprised!). Evan Rachel Wood and Ellen Page star as sisters who live in a remote cabin in the woods. The world is on the verge of the apocalypse and their location keeps them safe, but also leaves them vulnerable…

Anomalisa: This is the Charlie Kaufman-directed stop-motion animated ode to a motivational speaker and his bleak existence. I have no idea what to expect from it and that’s why I’m so crazy excited. It could go a lot of ways but no matter what, I do believe I’ll be seeing something special.

About Ray: Have you ever attended a red carpet event in the middle of the afternoon? Me neither! TIFF is so jam-packed with gliterry premieres that it starts packing them in at odd times just to get through them all. I’m tickled we got tickets to this (hard won, believe me) and I’m anxious to see if it’s as good as it looks, and if this and The Danish Girl will cancel each other out (though this one is also about a gender transition, it’s set in modern day, with Elle Fanning as the young woman who wants to be a young man, Naomi Watts as her mother, and Susan Sarandon as her mother.

Miss You Already: This might be a little too chick-flicky to be regular festival fare, but it’s Toni Collette so say what you want, but my ass will be in that seat at the ungodly hour of 8:45 in the goddamned morning. Toni and Drew Barrymore play lifelong friends whose friendship hits a bit of a roadbump when one discovers she’s pregnant just as the other gets a cancer diagnosis. Note to Sean: bring tissues, or an extra-absorbent shirt.

Maggie’s Plan: Starring the delightful Greta Gerwig, Maggie’s plan to have a baby on her own is derailed when she falls in love with a married man (Ethan Hawke) and destroys his relationship with his brilliant wife (Julianne Moore). I like Gerwig a whole lot but to be honest, I’m really wondering how this dynamic is going to work – and I’m super intrigued to find out how Bill Hader fits into the mix. Julianne Moore is going to be one busy lady at this festival!

The Family Fang: Directed by and starring Jason Bateman, he plays a brother to Nicole Kidman, both returning to the family home in search of their super-famous parents who seem to have disappeared. Jason Bateman is a little hit or miss for me but I committed on the off chance that the man playing his father – legendary Christopher MotherFucking Walken – might be in attendance. He’s not slated as far as I can tell, but I’d kick myself right in the sitter if he was and I wasn’t.

Legend: Tom Hardy plays real-life English gangsters. Yes, plural: the Kray twins. This dual role is getting a lot of buzz and since I seem to be mesmerized by Hardy in nearly everything he does, I’m super excited to check this one out.

 

Biggest TIFF regret: Missing Room. We’ll be back and forth between Ottawa and Toronto, but this particular movie only plays twice during the whole festival, and neither screening is on a day I’m there. I loved this book and am anxious to see the movie treatment. Good or bad, I want to pass judgement. I want to feast my little eyes. I am heartbroken to miss this one.

Two questions:

  1. We still have some tickets to alocate. Any suggestions?
  2. If you were in The Lobster hotel and failed to find a mate – what animal would you be turned into. Me? An otter. Definitely an otter.

We’ll be posting updates as we go, and be sure to check out our Twitter @assholemovies for photos of the red carpet premieres!

 

The Drop

‘Cousin Marv’s’ is a Brooklyn bar run and formerly owned by Marv (James Gandolfini) and his cousin Bob (Tom Hardy). The Chechen mob has taken it over for their own devices, often using thedropit as a drop – the designated spot where the city’s dirty money will be stored over the course of an evening.

One night the bar is robbed, and now we’re in trouble. Well, they’re in trouble and we’re vicariously in trouble. In a way, this is just another mob movie. Not nice people doing not nice things to other not so nice people. No heroes, no sympathy. But this one kind of rose above for me because Gandolfini and Hardy are both so damned good in it. It’s slow, moody, dark. And to be honest, they probably had me at ‘Tom Hardy with a puppy.”

Animal Kingdom

When Josh’s Mom dies beside him of a heroin overdose while they watch some crap TV, he nonchalantly calls for an ambulance, and then for his estranged grandmother, since he’s a minor and has nowhere else to go. His mother has struggled to keep him away from her family, consisting of 3 dangerous, criminal uncles, but his grandmother has no such qualms, affectionately letting them use her home as their base of operations.

Very quickly Josh is sucked into this world, and it’s brutal. He’s just a kid, he doesn’t want to be2010_animal_kingdom_0093 there, he doesn’t have any criminal aspirations, but this is a rough world with few options. For better or worse, this is his pack, and as its weakest member, he knows it’s kill or be killed.

A well-intentioned cop tells him “Everything sits in the order somewhere. Things survive because they’re strong, and everything reaches an understanding. But not everything survives because it’s strong. Some creatures are weak, but they survive because they’re being protected by the strong for one reason or another. You may think that, because of the circles you move in or whatever, that you’re one of the strong creatures, but you’re not, you’re one of the weak ones.”

I think this was meant to scare him into testifying against his family, but it definitely makes him think. Humans have evolved to live in family units for protection and survival, but Josh’s family is full of beasts. They come from a place where your worth isn’t measured in blood or bond, but in how useful you are, or how much of a threat you are. Family means nothing – anyone can be sacrificed if it means advancing your own survival.

Ben Mendelsohn is chilling as the oldest and most feared uncle. He will make your skin crawl. You animal-kingdom-movie-review_240510041859have to admire this movie for airing its dirty laundry so unflinchingly, but that’s what makes it hard to enjoy in the traditional sense. You root for the kid of course, and despair that there’s no one to take his side, and become despondent at his lack of options. Director David Michod takes the slow-burn approach, creating a taut sense of tension that’s hard to shake. Jacki Weaver is SO good in this, so good. She’s the matriarch of this family, presenting different faces to cops and to criminals, and never ever breaking.

This movie is noir but not violent. It’s all about the creep. The fantastic score is all menace. It distinguishes itself among other crime family dysfunction in the genre by being realistic and quite matter-of-fact, and it’s the lack of explosiveness that shocks you in the end. A great film that makes for great commentary, but not something I’ve easily shaken off.