Kalifornia (February 28th, 2016)
Director: Dominic Sena
Starring: David Duchovny, Brad Pitt, Michelle Forbes, and Juliette Lewis
This would be a good movie to introduce people to serial killer fiction. It’s like “my first serial killer”. There’s a naivety in the writing about serial killers and it has this misplaced sense of weight to the thoughts it has about serial killers, like it’s some groundbreaking movie that just gets it man. Duchovny plays the main character, a wannabe writer of a super liberal persuasion who just thinks serial killers have had bad lives and can be understood. So, easy fucking pickings for anyone with even a smidge less of a conscience than the regular human. So when he goes on a cross country trip with his artist girlfriend (Forbes) to visit serial killer sites for a book, he needs companions to help chip in for the trip. And of course they pick up a mad dog serial killer in Brad Pitt. Pitt manages to conceal it from Duchovny and Forbes for more than half the movie, managing to hide a murder under their noses. Even hides it from his sadly innocent and naive girlfriend Lewis. It all comes out though and descends into a bloody finale where Duchovny has to overcome his progressive beliefs about the inherent decency of people to merk the fuck out of hillbilly Pitt. All this is fine and all, working at a decent enough clip to make it fun to watch in a silly way. This is some late night TNT action, with a little more panache to it to rise above some of it. It’s shot well in a very 90s dirty way. The acting is fine, but Pitt steals the show as the smartly stupid killer at play. Nasty and vicious, he’s immersed in the role and it pays off. Duchovny is his sleepy self and it works for the douche role he has. Lewis is a bit grating, which is usual since this wasn’t directed by Scorsese or Stone. Honestly, the thing that weighs this down a lot for me is the supremely naive ideas it has and how it passes off serial killer knowledge like some pot smoking college kid who thinks he’s smart shit. It wants to reach for something greater and I appreciate it, but it so misses the mark that I can’t help but laugh at it. You wanna watch Pitt show how good he is or watch some decent serial killer fare? This is a fine enough time killer.
Broken Arrow (March 1st, 2016)
Director: John Woo
Starring: Christian Slater, John Travolta, Samantha Mathis, and Bob Gunton
John Woo is a fantastic filmmaker who helped change cinema with his balletic and chaotic action style. But coming to america, he did not have the same success he did in China. At least in his first two outing and his last three. That middle movie is a B movie classic (Face/Off). But the other movies all ranged from charmingly stupid to just unwatchable. This one is charmingly stupid, but a step down in enjoyability from Hard Target. Cause this has a classic kind of spy story, that could be done straight faced. And it kinda tries to do that, but it delves into silliness. The acting is either wooden or too over the top. Slater is not very good, trying to be an action hero but is very bland. Mathis cannot read her lines in any sort of believable way, very stilted and kind of annoying. Travolta though goes big and broad. Not as big as he would in Face/Off, but it’s still a weird performance with some odd facial ticks and a bizarre accent that appears at the most random of times. So it doesn’t feel like it’s always on the same page, with different performance styles. The action isn’t as good as Woo can do, not as big or explodey. The story, for as simple and well worn as it is, feels choppy and incomplete in ways. It feels like there’s some scenes missing. It never goes completely into one direction. Too silly or too serious, and that’s what sinks it for me. I enjoyed the movie alright enough, but wished that it had more focus.
Killer Elite (March 4th, 2016)
Director: Gary McKendry
Starring: Jason Statham, Clive Owen, Robert DeNiro, an Yvonne Strahovski
It may be odd to say, but I gotta say it. Statham might be my favorite action star of all time. Sure, he doesn’t have the same outright classic that Arnold or Stallone have, but the man is immensely consistent. I have yet to see one of his movies that I haven’t liked. And even if the ones I haven’t seen aren’t great, that’s a good sight less bad than the other guys have. And it really boils down to the fact that he’s never lazy. He always comes to play and he brings the heat each time out. And he always has a movie that subverts the action movie trappings, taking the skeleton that could become a dumb movie and makes something a little more interesting and character driven. And the most important thing is that he is the most impressive in the physical aspects of action movies. He can fight with scary precision and make shooting a gun look second nature. Now, that’s all a little preamble to the most recent movie of his I saw. This is not a typical action movie. If anything, it is like an old school movie. There isn’t wall to wall action, utilizing it at the right intervals and making it hit. And the action isn’t too over the top. The action here is low key and fantastically done. What makes the movie work for me though is the absolutely moral murkiness at the center of it. Statham is playing an ex hitman who is lured back into the game to finish the job his now imprisoned mentor (DeNiro) couldn’t finish. The job is to kill the men who killed a sheiks sons. And the killers are ex SAS soldiers, so it adds a real weirdness and danger to the work. These aren’t simple targets and the work they did wasn’t exactly wrong. It was war and the personal nature of the job adds a circuitous nature of violence to the proceedings. Adding to the murkiness of the story is Clive Owen, who is an ex SAS soldier in a shadow group of ex SAS soldiers that aim to protect ex SAS members. So when these guys start getting taken out, he is sent to stop it. But he gets too personally invested in it. So despite the fact that he isn’t actually in the wrong, his escalating investment in killing Stahtham and his crew makes him become the villain. But not enough to be a big bad. No one here is the big bad. It’s just a collection of bad dudes doing bad work and how they bounce off each other. Which makes it really interesting to me. I like the murkiness. The cast is all great, and doing good work to make you like everyone, therefore making it difficult to root for someone. One thing I don’t particularly care for is how they add a girlfriend for Statham to make us like him. The relationship between Statham and DeNiro isn’t exactly fleshed out, but they work well enough together that you don’t mind. Clive is great as the obsessed badass. There is a seriousness and weight to the story, but enough moments of black comedy to make it not a completely dire experience. This is another damn good Statham movie that isn’t the DTV actioneer it was marketed as. A weightier and more cynical take from the man, this is another winner.