Recent releases available on VOD and Blu-Ray that didn’t screen in Halifax cinemas.
Written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck | 108 min | ▲▲▲△△
Ben Mendelsohn is Gerry, a scruffy, hard-up gambler in Iowa who “owes money to everyone.” On one of his losing streaks he connects with Curtis (Ryan Reynolds), a sharp, charismatic fellow whose presence seems to improve Gerry’s luck at the tables. Together they make a run down the river to St Louis and Memphis, hitting all the riverboats, casinos, and dreary motels along the way, looking to muster up enough cash to step into a high stakes poker game in New Orleans.
Mendelsohn, a celebrity in his native Australia who’s carved out a meaty career as a character actor in Hollywood, makes the best of a rare starring role, while Reynolds is so smooth it’s hard to entirely trust Curtis at first, but as we go along we start to realize he’s got his own brand of trouble. Alfre Woodard, Sienna Miller, Analeigh Tipton, and Robin Weigert bring their A-Games in support.
There’s a grimy, retro quality to this yarn from the directors of Half Nelson and It’s Kind of a Funny Story, a glance into a peculiarly American heart of darkness, providing a couple fresh additions to the catalogue of beautiful losers we’ve met in features such as The Hustler, California Split, Hard Eight, and The Cooler.
Directed by Scott Mann | Written by Stephen Cyrus Sepher and Max Adams | 93 min | ▲▲△△△
Heist is a 2012 Dodge Charger of a movie—kind of muscular and entirely free of pretension. There are cars on the market with better performance and better looks, but it has the charm to know exactly what it is.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan is Vaughn, a New Orleans riverboat casino croupier who needs a pile of money by Friday for his adorable little girl’s life-saving surgery. He goes to his evil boss, Pope (a slumming Robert De Niro), for a loan. But Pope is a hard man, and kicks Vaughn to the curb. Vaughn teams with a heavy dude named Cox (Dave Bautista) to rip off his former employer, but as the heist goes south, the thieves commandeer a crosstown bus (driven by DB Sweeney, haven’t seen him in awhile) and head for Texas, they attract the attention of good cop Gina Carano.
What impresses about the film right away is Kate Bosworth’s agent—the actor somehow shares above-the-title credit with De Niro and Morgan, despite having a single scene cameo as Pope’s daughter who wants nothing to do with him. Maybe she had more of a role that wound up on the cutting room floor.
The plot machinations keep things moving at a good clip, and the fact that these are all performers better than this undeniably B-material lifts it considerably. Only Carano—so capable in Haywire and Fast Five—seems to be sleepwalking through her role.
There’s a final twist that makes next to no sense as it would have been impossible to plan for given other, unexpected happenings, but the hemi engine powering this movie roars satisfyingly. It gets you where you’re going.
Kilo Two Bravo (aka Kajaki: The True Story)
Directed by Paul Katis | Written by Tom Williams | 108 min | ▲▲△△△
Back in 2006 a group of British soldiers perched on a hill in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban went down into a valley near the Kajaki dam, strolling into a wadi filled with Soviet mines planted back in the day. One, then another, trod on the hidden bombs, and bad went to worse when their buddies came in to help the wounded.
Director Katis’ first feature tells the story of these men by not scrimping on the bloody horror of what happens to the human body when one steps on an explosive, and there’s a capable handling (in the middle section) of the kind of suspense that comes from being stranded in a mine field, where any step might blow off a leg. The film also clearly illustrates the inherent bravery and self-sacrifice of these men at arms.
But the enterprise is scuppered by the most frustratingly impenetrable accents I’ve ever heard in a film ostensibly in English. The soldiers—speaking in Scots, cockney, and other rural British drawls—make for dialogue where in some cases I caught one in five words. And I say this as someone who has lived in the UK: It’s hard to tell what these guys are on about half the time, aside from their relentless swearing and homophobic/homoerotic jibes.
Further, the budget that extended to shooting in film-friendly Jordan, standing in for other Middle Eastern locales as it so often does, doesn’t cover decent special effects. A couple painfully bad CGI helicopter sequences and explosions fail to convince.
And the final act where gravely wounded soldiers slowly expire in the dust tests sympathies. I was able to piece together the “tell mum and dad I luv em, tell em I died being a good soldier” sentiments, but by then the suspense is replaced by tedium, and the largely interchangeable, incomprehensible characters have ceased to hold the interest.