Stacey Sher

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A Walk Among the Tombstones Review


Good

Although the plot isn't particularly original, a darkly internalised tone makes this low-key thriller oddly compelling. It may be the usual serial killer nastiness, but it also pays attention to earthier themes like morality and the futility of revenge. Meanwhile, Liam Neeson is able to combine his more recent action-hero persona with his serious acting chops this time. And writer-director Scott Frank infuses the film with moody grit, quietly subverting each cliche of the genre.

The action picks up eight years after Matt (Neeson) stopped drinking and quit the police force, following a shootout that went horribly wrong. It's now 1999, and New York is in the grip of Y2K paranoia. Matt is working as an unlicensed private detective who uses word-of-mouth to find clients. So Matt is intrigued when one of his 12-step friends (Boyd Holbrook) introduces his brother Kenny (Dan Stevens), a wealthy drug trafficker whose wife was kidnapped and then murdered even though he paid the ransom. As Matt digs into the case, he realises that the two killers (David Harbour and Adam David Thompson) have a left a string of similar victims in their wake, and that the murders are connected. Meanwhile, Matt takes in homeless teen TJ (Brian "Astro" Bradley), an observant kid who helps him work piece together the clues. And together they try to figure out where the killers will strike next.

This story unfolds with a remarkably gloomy tone, combining horrific violence with introspective drama. This mixture can feel rather jarring, especially as it wallows in the nastier side of human existence. Every character is tortured in more ways than one, with lost loves, physical afflictions and internal demons. Even the smaller side roles are packed with detail, including Olafur Darri Olafsson's creepy cemetery worker and Sebastian Roche's frazzled Russian mobster. All of this adds texture to the film, a welcome distraction from the grisly central plot, which is never played as a mystery, but rather as an inevitability.

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Runner Runner Review


Terrible

Clearly something went horribly wrong as this thriller was being made, because despite a solid cast, gorgeous locations and an intriguing premise, the film is an incoherent mess. Sure, it looks achingly cool, but there isn't a single moment when the characters' motivations make any sense. And there's never a hint of suspense or danger.

It doesn't help that the set-up revolves around two of the least cinematic things on earth: finances and computers. Timberlake plays Princeton grad student Richie, who runs a gambling website to pay his tuition but loses his savings when another site cheats him. So he heads to Costa Rica to confront the online casino boss Ivan (Affleck). Impressed with his initiative, Ivan offers him a job, and soon Richie has more cash than he can possibly spend. But for some reason, all he wants is Ivan's colleague-girlfriend Rebecca (Arterton). Then a nosey FBI agent (Mackie) forces Richie to help him take Ivan down.

Director Fuhrman showed considerable promise with another renegade loner in The Lincoln Lawyer, but this film simply refuses to fill in enough of the gaps. Nothing that happens here is remotely convincing, as the characters are continually thrust into half-developed scenarios. Perhaps there's a more coherent longer version out there, because this one feels like it was edited with a machete. Even as a cautionary tale about the dangers of greed, this story has nothing relevant to say.

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Django Unchained Review


Excellent

Tarantino takes an unusually comical approach to a provocative topic, and the result is as controversial as expected. And also startlingly hilarious. At its core, this is another revenge-themed thriller, but Tarantino's snappy, constantly surprising aproach spirals out to explore racial issues over the past 150 years with humour, drama and, of course, grisly violence.

Set two years before the American Civil War in 1858 Texas, the story centres on bounty hunter Schultz (Waltz), who offers the slave Django (Foxx) what seems like a fantasy job: to work with him to capture white criminals dead or alive. Usually dead. Sure enough, everyone is shocked to see a black man not only riding a horse but carrying a gun. When Django helps find three notorious outlaw brothers, he earns his freedom, and Schultz then offers to help free Django's enslaved wife (Washington). This involves staging an elaborate sting on her owner, the bloodthirsty Mississippi plantation owner Calvin (DiCaprio), who runs a ring of slaves who fight each other to the death. But Calvin's butler Stephen (Jackson) suspects that something is up.

Waltz and Foxx have terrific chemistry in the central roles, with Waltz's lively intelligence bouncing off Foxx's physical and emotional intensity. This gives the film an underlying drive that keeps us engaged through the blood-soaked violence as well as the more slapstick-style sequences (a KKK raid led by Johnson and Hill feels like a lost sequence from Blazing Saddles). But Tarantino's screenplay is beautifully constructed to even out the tone with exciting action, harrowing nastiness and some darkly involving drama. All while quietly exploring the twisted history of racial relations in America.

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