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Child 44 Review


OK

A meaty, fascinating story is splintered into three plot strands that battle for the viewer's attention, so while the film is never boring, it's also oddly uninvolving. Fortunately, it has an excellent cast and is shot with skill and a relentless intensity to feel like a big, epic-style dramatic thriller with heavy political overtones.

After a scene-setting prologue, the story starts in 1953 Moscow, where Leo (Tom Hardy) is a war hero now working in the military police, purging the city of its spies. Or at least its suspected spies. In the Soviet socialist utopia, crime officially doesn't exist, but Leo finds it difficult to tell his best pal Alexei (Fares Fares) that his 8-year-old son was killed in a train accident when he was so clearly tortured and murdered. Ordered by his boss (Vincent Cassel) to let it go, and menaced by his rival colleague Vasili (Joel Kinnaman), Leo continues investigating, resulting in a reprimand that sees Leo and his wife Raisa (Noomi Rapace) relocated to the the grim industrial city of Volsk. But when another young boy's body appears here, Leo gets his new boss (Gary Oldman) to see the connection.

There are at least three main plots in this film, and the filmmakers oddly never allow one to become the central strand. There's the mystery involving this brutal, unhinged serial killer (Paddy Considine) stalking boys along the railway. There's the thriller about Leo being brutally taunted by Vasili, who has a thing for Raisa and is trying to crush them for good. But the only emotionally engaging strand is Leo and Raisa's complex marriage relationship, which takes a couple of unexpected turns. Along the way, there are several action sequences shot with shaky cameras and edited so they're impossible to follow. And there's a sense that the film also wants to be a grandiose Russian epic with its expansive cinematography and big orchestral score.

Continue reading: Child 44 Review

Tom Hardy Debuts Yet Another Fine Accent In Ridley Scott Thriller 'Child 44' [Trailer]


Tom Hardy Ridley Scott Noomi Rapace Gary Oldman Joel Kinnaman Charles Dance Greg Shapiro Richard Price

Tom Hardy has a go at yet another accent in the Ridley Scott produced 'Child 44', an adaptation of Tom Rob Smith's award-winning 2008 novel about a series of brutal murders during the time of the Soviet Union.

Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy in 'Child 44'
Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy go head to head in 'Child 44'

Hardy plays a former Russian military officer named Leo Demidov in the thriller, who's offered the highest protection in the wake of his war heroism. But things take a dark turn when it becomes apparent that a set of ongoing child killings are being covered up by the authorities, and Demidov wants to do the right thing and find the perpetrator - to much anger from his Stalin obsessed superiors. 

Continue reading: Tom Hardy Debuts Yet Another Fine Accent In Ridley Scott Thriller 'Child 44' [Trailer]

James Gandolfini To Return To HBO In New Drama Pilot


James Gandolfini Steven Zaillian Richard Price

Hbo fans will be excited to hear that one of networks biggest and most memorable stars, James Gandolfini, is to return in a pilot for a new drama, reports U.S.A Today.

Gandolfini is of course most famous for his portrayal of Tony Soprano in, arguably, HBO’s most successful show of all time, The Sopranos. He is now set to reignite his love affair with the paid-for TV channel by starring in the pilot for a new adaptation of Criminal Justice, a BBC series created by Peter Moffat that – like another of HBO’s big hitters, The Wire - follows a single case across an entire season. Screenwriter, Steven Zaillian - responsible for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - and novelist Richard Price are writers and executive producers on the new project, and Zaillian will direct the pilot episode, which will be filmed this fall in New York City in a co-production with BBC Worldwide.

Inevitably, talk of Gandolfini’s return has sparked debate as to whether fans are in line for ‘the new Sopranos,’ but can Criminal Justice be as good as the gangster show? Well, it’s hard to tell, considering the pilot hasn’t even been filmed yet, but it’ll have to be some show to take on David Chase’s New Jersey behemoth, which is often cited as the best TV drama of all time. No pressure, then.


Picture - Producer Philip Gefter , Patrick... New York City, USA, Thursday 23rd September 2010

Richard Price - Producer Philip Gefter , Patrick McDonald, Simon Doonan and Director Richard Price Thursday 23rd September 2010 at Tribeca Grand Hotel New York City, USA

Picture - Producer Philip Gefter, Kim Hastreiter,... New York City, USA, Thursday 23rd September 2010

Kim Hastreiter and Richard Price - Producer Philip Gefter, Kim Hastreiter, David Hershcovitch and Director Richard Price Thursday 23rd September 2010 at Tribeca Grand Hotel New York City, USA

The Wire: Season Five Review


Extraordinary
Millions of hearts broke when season four of The Wire reached its bleak conclusion. The cause of this mass cardiac disintegration was twofold: first, most of the teenage boys in the season's primary storyline seemed doomed to nasty and short lives. And second, the single greatest work of dramatic television in the history of the medium had come to an end. That couldn't be easy for anyone's emotions.

Fifteen months later, The Wire returned for its brilliant swan song. David Simon, Ed Burns, and crew famously dedicated each season of The Wire to an institutional failure (the drug war, the middle class, political reform, the schools) that has contributed to the extended death of Baltimore, and by extension all of America's inner cities. For the show's final go-round, the show takes on the decline of local media. Simon spent years -- several of them tumultuous -- at the Baltimore Sun before he started creating amazing TV shows. Naturally, Simon brings much of his personal disaffection and melancholy to his portrayal of that disintegrating daily.

Continue reading: The Wire: Season Five Review

The Wire: Season Four Review


Essential
By the end of season three of The Wire -- aka HBO's best excuse for staying on the air -- one could sense that the show had, in some sense of the word, come to an end. It was certainly clear for a time that HBO executives thought so, having come close to canceling the multifaceted, frighteningly addictive urban drama yet again, as it never pulled anywhere near the kind of ratings that their warhorses like The Sopranos and Sex and the City had. Although plenty of strings were left dangling at the conclusion of episode 37, "Mission Accomplished," a chapter had been definitively closed, with Avon Barksdale back in jail, and his brainy partner Stringer Belle gunned down. Since the two of them had been the impressive foils to the strung-out cops in the Baltimore Major Crimes Unit, their departure seemed to leave a vacuum. With nobody of real consequence running the West Baltimore drug trade (the Barksdales' chief rival and replacement, Marlo Stanfield, seems at first nothing more than some punk kid), what would be left that was worth watching?

More than enough, it turns out.

Continue reading: The Wire: Season Four Review

The Wire: Season Three Review


Essential

Sadly, the most passionate and persuasive argument in recent years against the current disposition of the government's stance in the so-called "War on Drugs" came not from a think tank armed with stats and big ideas or a celebrity eager for a cause, but from a TV show. The third season of The Wire, which aired on HBO in late 2004, continued its sprawling and justifiably lauded Dickensian crawl through its web of stories centering on the inner Baltimore drug trade -- following, with an unusual focus to detail and character, both the gangs fighting for territory and the cops of a major case unit assigned to busting up their organizations. But where the show became more than just an abnormally well-made, balanced, and realistic law and order drama (and there's no need here to heap more praise on the show than already has been done), and became something entirely different, was in the fourth episode, "Amsterdam."

Police major "Bunny" Colvin (previously a supporting player on the show), desperate to see some improvement in his crime-ridden West Baltimore district and tired of watching his cops waste all their time busting street corner dealers to no larger effect, institutes a new policy: If all drug dealers move to three designated zones in the district and sell there, they will not be arrested. In effect, he legalizes the drug trade in a large part of an American city. The cops don't get it, the drug-dealing kids don't either, as it throws into question the entire reality of their limited universe where the kids sell drugs, occasionally they get hassled or arrested, but everything goes on without change; as one of the dealers says, "Why you got to go and fuck with the program?"

The point being made here by the two creative forces behind The Wire -- investigative reporter David Simon and veteran detective Ed Burns, both of whom know this territory better than almost anyone -- is quite simple: the drug trade has atomized vast and forgotten swaths of American cities, like West Baltimore, and decades of simplistic, head-knocking, "tough on crime" enforcement has made zero difference. So, take a page out of Amsterdam's book, where a blind eye is turned to the drug traffic in certain designated areas, and see if you can at least make some poor neighborhoods normal again by ridding them of turf-battling drug gangs.

Colvin -- a strange kind of revolutionary -- gives a speech using the "brown paper bag" analogy Simon introduced in his book The Corner: Men drinking on the street will carry their liquor in a brown paper bag -- the cops know it's liquor but don't arrest them for public drinking because the men are at least making an attempt at hiding the bottle. It's the same with pushing drug dealing to what Colvin calls the "free zones"; it's a civil truce. Call it legalization, call it a truce, call it dealing with reality, Simon's point is that drugs will be dealt, and the more you can keep the trade itself from ruining the social fabric of already distressed neighborhoods, the better. And if you can weave this message into a thrilling hour-long crime drama, all the better.

As for what the remainder of this season dealt with, it would be futile to go into much discussion of that, since The Wire's storylines rival Tolstoy's in their complexity. Suffice it to say that one must watch the show as one reads a book, starting at the beginning of season three -- even with that "previously, on The Wire" intro which HBO prefaces its shows with -- is next to useless. For those who have already been watching, of primary importance is that the show's quality remains undimmed. Simon's writing staff has been beefed up by the addition of top-shelf novelists like Richard Price (Clockers) and George Pelecanos (The Night Gardener), who bring some welcome flourishes of both character-driven realism and pulp crime drama to the proceedings. A few of the show's more central characters get their arcs reversed, with the classically rogueish cop McNulty (a wonderfully snarky Dominic West) coming to a crisis of self-destruction, and striving criminal mastermind Stringer Bell (the iconic and contemplative Idris Elba) finding himself stuck between worlds, too street for the business world and too thoughtful for the street. And although several long-running characters continue to pop up -- like free-range gunslingers Omar (Michael K. Williams) and Brother Mouzone (Michael Potts), and Bubbles (Andre Royo), the junkie who serves as the closest thing The Wire has to a chorus -- story is always sublimated to the overarching themes, with the focus never straying far from Simon's central conceit of the American city in crisis, and what to do about it.

The Wire has cast a sardonic eye on the efficacy of current drug law enforcement since the beginning. In the very first episode, a detective who just used the term "War on Drugs" gets a quick schooling from another detective on why the term just doesn't apply, with the world-wearied quip, "Wars end." By presenting an idea for how one might, if not win a war that has done so much damage to American cities and the economically disadvantaged, then at least call an honorable truce, the show became not just the best show currently on television, but also possibly the most important.

Anyone else see Charlie Brown's shirt?

Freedomland Review


Good
Unless you've burned through Richard Price's 1998 novel Freedomland, it's tough to pinpoint which direction this taut adaptation is headed. What starts as a routine police investigation erupts into a race riot before collapsing into a chilling portrait of a deranged killer.

Price accepted the challenge of converting his own novel into a shootable screenplay, which is good news. He retains the suspense and social commentary that strengthened his book. Sony then turned the script over to Joe Roth, which should terrify anyone who sat through the director's dippy America's Sweethearts or foul Christmas with the Kranks. Fear not, for Roth lets slip a gritty side as he allows Price to guide us through some darkened passages, literally and figuratively.

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Clockers Review


Grim
After the first 2 minutes of Clockers, during which a parade of bloody crime scene photos are splashed on the screen, you'll be ready to put down your popcorn. After the first 15 minutes, you'll be bored enough to go buy some more.

You can't imagine how sick and tired I was of hearing the hype surrounding Clockers, Spike Lee's latest film about (surprise!) African-Americans in Brooklyn who get into trouble with drugs, murder, and betrayal. Every other critic on the planet will probably say they love Clockers so as not to appear uncool. I'll give it to you straight.

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Ransom Review


Excellent
Ransom is a smarter than your average thriller about a hostage situation. It contains intelligent characters who constantly try to outwit each other. The film doesn't take a lot of risks, but it packs surprise after surprise, and the strong central character and his performance keeps the movie above water... even if it could have been better.

The ever-popular Mel Gibson stars as a wealthy airline owner named Tom Mullen, who lives with his wife, Kate (Rene Russo), and son, Sean (Brawly Nolte), in Central Park. Kate and Tom take Sean to a science fair where several money hungry thieves kidnap him. The villains are not terrorists, not psychopaths, not serial killers, but rather three-dimensional, ordinary people. The movie gives the bad guys a lot of color and screen time; and we eventually care about their fate as well as the fate of the Mullen family.

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Shaft (2000) Review


Grim
Who's the bad mutha -- shut yo mouth!

That's right. Just talkin' 'bout Shaft. The remake. Er, the sequel that is -- in what might very well be the first and only time a sequel has been given the same title as the original. And believe me, that's just where the stupidity of Shaft begins.

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Kiss of Death (1995) Review


Excellent
Ever get the feeling that no matter what you do, you're screwed? That basically sums up the life of Jimmy Kilmartin (David Caruso), an ex-con trying to go straight in the new feature, Kiss of Death.

Jimmy, his wife Bev (Helen Hunt), and their daughter live an inner-city dream, trying to make ends meet. When Jimmy's cousin Ronnie (Zebrahead's Michael Rapaport) shows up, begging for a driver for his chop shop caravan, all hell breaks loose. Jimmy is busted, and his descent back into the pit of crime, prison, betrayal, and the government begins. Soon, Jimmy and his family are hounded by cop Calvin (Samuel L. Jackson), asthmatic psycho kingpin Little Junior (Nicholas Cage), and a host of other unsavory players. We are invited to watch and see how Jimmy extricates himself from the mess.

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