REVIEW: “WIND RIVER” (2017) Weinstein Company

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Writer/Director Taylor Sheridan is a wonderful screenwriter in his own right, however, he’s a terrible writer of film titles. Think Sicario, Hell or High Water or this latest title. “Wind River”. All had me questioning whether or not to see them before-hand based on title alone. Luckily for all of us, like the previous two, this film is much better than it’s title, and also gives the title sense as to where it came from.

Fortunately, this latest film “WIND RIVER” – his debut as a director – is a solid modern day western-type that starts us off with a slow burn leading into the plot of a Native American woman being found frozen dead and barefoot by local Fish & Wildlife hunter/employee Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner). The young woman turns out to be the daughter of a friend Martin (Gil Birmingham) and the similar circumstances surrounding the death of his own daughter means that when Elisabeth Olsen’s FBI agent Jane Banner comes from the closest bureau office, which happens to be Las Vegas, and turns up clearly completely out of her element, being both underdressed and overwhelmed, you do get a feeling things could go terribly wrong. Along with the completely understaffed Reservation Police Chief Ben (Graham Greene), she asks him to please tag along and help bring the killers to justice.

The trail leads them through the reservation – with its social problems of drugs, criminality and social exclusion pointedly presented – and up into the wild. Here, Cory is the expert and Jane’s role is confined to hanging onto the back of his snowmobile for dear life as they plow their way through the snow. The investigation doesn’t allow her much scope to use her skills as one clue leads succinctly to the next. There are surprisingly few twists and turns, instead like Cory, the film doggedly follows the tracks. In apparent recognition of this, the film abandons mystery and reveals all with an expository flashback putting you the audience, completely in the emotional-fed moment right with them before sneakily edited into a tense stand off.

Renner confirms himself as a very respectable action lead, (despite the mis-step of Jason Bourne effort). He is a quiet professional here, a rugged sober man who is not afraid to show his sensitive side, as when he commiserates with the father of the murdered girl by baring his own grief. Olsen has less to do, but she manages with the thankless task of following Renner around and agreeing to follow his advice. The underwriting isn’t confined to her character. The motivations and actions of the villains also appear to be random and the sudden escalation of violence doesn’t make much sense except for providing us with a slickly realised set-piece.

All in all this is a satisfying and entertaining work from Sheridan. The portrayal of a forgotten American community – albeit from the point of view of a white-man saviour type deal we sometimes just see to much of – at least gives some visibility to an isolated part of the country. Though “Wind River” is far better than its title suggests and a promising directorial debut.

Kudos to director and all others involved in this remarkable outdoor production. The entire production was filmed in the middle of a brutal winter in Utah although the setting is supposedly Wyoming on the Wind River Reservation i.e., why the title finally makes sense. An added reality perk, real Native American’s play the actual Native American characters which for me, gives it a more realistic approach to the story at hand. A story that while starts slow, winds itself up into a vast emotional tug-of-war that left me thinking about the film long after it ended.

Grade: B-
@pegsatthemovies

Review Screening: Tuesday, August 1, 2017 ~ Courtesy LAFTV Film Meetup
“Wind River” will be in theatres nationwide on Friday, August 4, 2017

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Review x 2 ~ “NIGHTCRAWLER” & “THE EQUALIZER”

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Jake Gyllenhaal plays “Lou Bloom”, a man clearly desperate not only in his quest for work as a crime ‘journalist’ in this quite creepy, psychological mayhem of a film, but also as someone so desperate to become a star of his own making in this crime contingent world, that he resorts to just about anything and everything to do so as he’s basically just an unemployed thief and an all around just plain weird dude.

Set on the streets of Los Angeles itself, which can be fun as I recognized almost every location and remember even driving by a few of them as they were filming, we get a really crazy, scary glimpse into the world that happens pretty much every day here, and scarily enough, we don’t even notice it anymore. But what probably got me the most of all of it, I honestly believe that some of what happens with Gyllenhaal’s character Lou actually really does go on. Just take a real look at the news sometimes, or what the paparazzi do here just to get a shot of someone and you too will step back a second and think twice about this movie.

This movie is all about taking the best neighborhoods in Los Angeles and make them seem unsafe. Film a car chase (albeit a really good one at that) that gets your blood pumping and your heart rate up, and make the storytelling interesting, absorbing, creepy, disturbing, and even nervously funny. That’s what I think Director Dan Gilroy pulls off here as for 95% percent of movie and I will admit I was pretty freaked out through most if it, I laughed, I cringed, and I sat numb and transfixed. Only small undeveloped parts of this movie,  like how they just accepted him in the inner circle of new commentators, a disregard for the L.A.P.D ever pulling over a excessively speeding motorist over and over again, how at one point in the middle the character did annoy me to the point of well..complete annoyance.. and an ending that might not have lived up to the movie as a whole, could keep me from calling this truly flawless. nightcrawler 1But those are minor points and some of them just my own feelings as that I know I wouldn’t let this person anywhere near the actual news casting people. ha!  Would I endorse this film as completely realistic? Probably not. I do watch the news, though definitely not everyday and it doesn’t seem fathomable that dead bodies with grisly images would actually be shown all the time like this on television, but again, we have seen it.  But no matter what, you can’t deny how fascinating or how original these proceedings are. Nightcrawler is one bitch of a ride. And sadly, I almost feel guilty for recommending it. But I will. 🙂

As the movie plays out you realize you really don’t know anything about Lou Bloom except for the fact that he becomes obsessed with filming crime scenes in order to pocket some cold hard cash. He uses a police monitor, finds out where crimes are committed, and captures the hideous crimes on video camera. He gets paid monster dollars for these trysts but eventually gets in over his head when finally at one scene, he gets there before the police. nightcrawler 2There’s an investigation on him, he almost gets charged for murder, but what Bloom might be seriously lacking in social skills, he is smarter than everyone. He starts to blackmail his newswoman, his co-workers, all the while he just slaps on his sunglasses, gives a steely face outward demeanor, and pretty much gives the middle finger to anyone who might get in his way. There is a weird Travis Bickle a la Taxi Driver feel to this character that Gyllenhaal really exudes well.

nightcrawler 3Now the rest of the cast of Nightcrawler is almost just as creepy and definitely as noteworthy. Their roles are equal parts nasty, mean-spirited, unethical, and cold. Bill Paxton as “Joe Loder” is as always, reliable playing a supporting role as a fellow rival to Bloom. He’s jealous, angry, and ultimately pays the price for being his crime scene, videotaping rival. Rene Russo “Nina Romina” (who happens to be married to the director in real life) looks great and is fantastic at playing the coy and somewhat frigid as she manages the news station where Bloom sells his videos. She wants ratings, wants respect, and doesn’t give a shit about what’s right and what’s wrong. Then we have Riz Ahmed as “Rick” Bloom’s sidekick/assistant and he’s startlingly effective. He may be poor and unwanted, but he still has a sense of decency and with a few un-choice words, while he goes down in a wave of flames.

All in all, this movie will stick with you for a while after as I saw it a week ago, and it most definitely has done so. Oh, and I haven’t watched the news since.  ha! 😀

Grade:  B-

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SECOND REVIEW – “THE EQUALIZER”

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NOTE: As this movie has been out for awhile, but I was gone and not able to see it till just this week..I did a double header of this and “Nightcrawler” (oh my bum hurt after so long in the seat..trust me!! :D) But it was well worth it.  Both movies had enough edge to them to keep me motivated to watch.

Firstly, I did not know nor would I have guessed that this movie was inspired by the classic TV series, The Equalizer as I don’t remember at all watching it as a kid, I was more a Dynasty child!!..ha!  The film here stars Denzel Washington as “Robert McCall”, a mild-mannered some what of a “mystery man” who spends his days working at a hardware megastore and his nights as an insomniac drinking tea and reading the classics at a local diner When a young girl from the diner “Teri” (Chloe Grace Moretz) finds herself in over her head with the Russian mob, Robert can’t ignore it. Instead, he steps outside of his quiet, controlled world to help her. But what starts out as an attempt to help the troubled teen soon turns into a battle against a crazy vicious pimp and his crime syndicate. equalizer 2

Despite his normal job and his simple life, it soon becomes very clear that McCall isn’t just an ordinary guy taking on an extraordinary situation ~ nor is he just another determined cop. He has a very specific skill set as well as the training that enables him to walk unarmed into a room full of bad guys and kill every last one of them (in shockingly brutal ways) in 30 seconds or less, using a variety of makeshift weapons. And he manages to do it all in the coolest, smoothest way possible. But the character also has his share of quirks ~ from his strange obsession with his stopwatch to an almost superhuman ability to case a room with his almost MacGyver-like tactics. And though his occasionally over-the-top behavior can border on laughable, it also makes him different, like the kind of character that you’d expect to find in the latest flood of superhero type movies. But this isn’t your basic PG-13 movie. It’s dark and gritty and sometimes shockingly, graphically violent, though, at the same time, it’s also undeniably entertaining with a great villain in Marton Csokas as “Teddy”. You know I love my villains when they are played well..and he does a great job here.
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Still, The Equalizer isn’t a fast-moving film. It builds slowly, a little to slowly at times, but taking its time to introduce the characters and to make sure that everyone in the audience knows what a good guy McCall is. It’s also much longer than it needs to be. But Washington carries it all in a way that seems effortless because there’s just something about him that makes even the film’s slow moments seem bearable.

Time and time again, Washington has proven himself to be tough but lovable & reliable if not also adaptable. And in The Equalizer, he gives his role both classic charm and ferocity, making it an extreme but enjoyable enough of a thriller.

Grade: C+

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(see grading scale)