The Drop


Release: Friday, September 12, 2014 (limited)


Fairly unsurprisingly, The Drop is a compelling modern entry into the gangster/crime genre.

Tom Hardy. James Gandolfini. There’s something foregone-conclusion-y about pairing those names together and sticking them in a mobster flick. It’s likely to be damn good. Of course you’d be forgiven for not being taken with the relatively bland title. But for dismissing lonely old Bob Saginowski (Hardy) who carries around a pit bull pup for most of the movie? Totally inexcusable.

That’s a side of Bane you won’t see too often. Even less from Charles Bronson. And doubtful there were many times in Tommy Conlon’s life where he felt so sensitive.

As striking a visual as Hardy nursing an abused and abandoned puppy can be there’s something more poignant in the reincarnation of Tony Soprano as “Cousin Marv.” The duo are indeed cousins who run a dive bar in Brooklyn, with the latter having proudly owned the operations for decades now and the former merely tending bar. If only life were actually that simple, though. Targeted as a ‘drop’ location by a dangerous Chechen criminal syndicate, this particularly dingy cave suddenly magnetizes all sorts of dirty money flowing in from various unsavory individuals.

When two dim-witted thugs hold the bar up one evening, Saginowski and his cousin find themselves in hot water with Chovka (Michael Aronov), a mob leader not even Tony Soprano would want to cross on a good day. The pair are left scrounging for the missing $5,000 before they too find themselves disappearing in a windowless conversion van parked in the shadows of some nondescript alleyway.

Hardy — if you can believe it — puts on a stellar performance as a sheltered, fumbling everyman whose social ineptitude symbolizes that part of the iceberg we can see peeking above the surface. Sooner or later we’ll get to know how deep it goes into the water. Before we do, there are several layers to Cousin Marv we need to peel away before coming into the frightening realization of how truly shady this whole operation is. This place is rotten from the inside out, and the last thing we are ultimately concerned with are the drops themselves.

The Drop blends sharp social commentary with an indomitable devotion to creating atmospheric tension. An unnerving turn from Matthias Shoenaerts as Eric Deeds, a renegade criminal with a keen interest in the dog Bob discovered in a neighbor, the broken but beautiful Nadia (Noomi Rapace)’s trash can one night on his way home from the bar, adds to that greatly. Seemingly channelling his inner Joker in his unrepentant disregard for logic or reason, Shoenaerts casts a shadow that puts the dreaded Chechen gang in perspective. Clearly there are degrees of evil here that we ought to be aware of. Therein lies the genius in having the omniscient perspective: we eventually learn no one is clean but as the story develops our willingness to take the lesser of two evils is directly proportional to how much we’re shocked by the developments.

Rapace isn’t the focus of attention here but her fragile state’s still worthy of mention as she offers up a vulnerability not found in the male characters. And her performance proves yet again how kaleidoscopic the Swedish actress’ image truly is. For Bob Saginowski Nadia represents a chance to outgrow his circumstances and become something more, all while still wrestling with a dark past of her own.

Perhaps owed to the effectiveness of the transfer of book to film at the hands of writer Dennis Lehane (responsible for both versions), you will likely not come across a more atmospheric and capably-acted crime drama this fall.

Or, maybe you will.

But it won’t have James Gandolfini in it, who in this case doesn’t even need to raise his voice to remind us of the ease with which he could command the screen. Additional credit must be given to the strong direction of Michaël R. Roskam, who’s only had one previous film released (and to similar critical success, as a matter of fact), for never allowing the sobering reality of Gandolfini’s absence hang too heavy over the proceedings. Marv is chameleonic, blending seamlessly with the decay of his surrounds. As the big man once again does with his favorite material.


4-0Recommendation: Reiterating, the appeal is pretty clear here. The box office draw comes twofold in a dreamlike pairing of Hardy and Gandolfini in a thoroughly well-written and well-crafted reflection of a much harder life in America. Despite there being a substantial amount of commentary on the subject already, The Drop offers a clear-eyed view of some very, very, very gray areas indeed. Aside from a few limited moments of bloodshed, the lack of substantial gore might be one immediate way you can distinguish this effective thriller. It relies on studying and assessing character motives and relationships, and if that’s your sort of thing, you should be buying yourself a ticket right now rather than reading this blog. (But seriously, thank you for reading this blog.)

Rated: R

Running Time: 106 mins.

Quoted: “Are you doing something desperate? Something we can’t clean up this time?”

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Enough Said


Release: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 (limited) 


I miss big Jim. While I wasn’t the most dedicated viewer of The Sopranos (I have yet to see a single episode), it just seemed appropriate that I go catch his last big-screen performance in Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said, which pairs him with Seinfeld star Julia Louis-Dreyfus in a romantic comedy that is both timely and by the same token, almost unbearably bittersweet.

That Gandolfini’s last role would be a tender one like this only makes his departure feel all the more surreal. He plays quite the lovable slob in this down-to-earth, feel-goodsomething comedy; an outing that’s written as if real life were unfolding on screen — much credit needs to be awarded Holofcener in that regard. She’s a dual threat as she penned this poignant and deeply personal screenplay, as well as direct it; both appear to be capacities in which she finds great comfort and confidence.

At the heart of Enough Said is a relationship that develops in quite an unusual way. Imagine if by some random chance you were able to get some perspective on a person you’re currently dating, from an ex of theirs. This isn’t the usual gossipy kind of get-to-know-you kind of methods of socializing we’re dealing with, either. Your trump card is that this person you’re talking to on the side has no idea you’re currently their ex’s new flame. Your identity will remain this way unless you accidentally are outed (spoiler alert) or say something to reveal you know too much. What would you do? If you had the chance to find out directly from a second source that your special someone likes to pick their nose and eat it when you’re not around, would you really want to know? Or would you rather wait and find these kinds of things out as you continue to invest more time in this person?

Indeed, this is the conundrum Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) finds herself in while getting to know the sweet, kind but ultimately unmotivated Albert.

Working as a masseuse, Eva gets a new client after meeting them at a party one night. She and a poet named Marianne (Catherine Keener) become close, and when the conversations turn to relationships and so forth, the film becomes delightfully complex. Eva learns she’s divorced and that her ex is a slob, a person she could not be intimate with, and whose habits drove her crazy. The things she’s learning seem familiar to Eva but she can’t place a finger on it. One day, as Eva drops by to provide another massage she catches Marianne on the phone with someone, a man named Albert. . . her ex-husband. The same man Eva’s been seeing for a few weeks.

Enough Said is brilliantly crafted, and perspective is everything. It probably will be argued what the MOST critical moment is in this film — is it the one in which Eva learns about the true identity of one her clients, or is it when everything becomes revealed to everyone involved? Is Elaine. . . I mean, Eva,  damnable for her actions? What will come of her decision to keep both relationships a secret? Simply put, there’s enough moral ambiguity in her plight for me to write a book bigger than any of the Lord of The Rings entries, specifically dedicated to all the ways in which her character is inconsiderate and weird, and just generally socially awkward. In fact, I’m nearly convinced if [it] weren’t anchored by an equally towering performance from the late Gandolfini, this movie might’ve been terrible. However, his Albert counterbalances perfectly. The couple have a lovely on-screen relationship that makes the movie far more watchable than it might otherwise have been.

Enough Said

4-0Recommendation: Enough Said serves as a heartwarming romantic comedy, but not in the most traditional sense. As strong as the material is here, though, it’s difficult not to go into this movie with far more invested in seeing James Gandolfini on a large screen for a final time. He’s both a great actor in this film and the source of many a tear forming in my eyes. He may be gone, but at least his essence is permanently captured in celluloid-form.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 93 mins.

Quoted: “It’s gonna sound corny, but. . .you broke my heart. And I’m too old for that shit.”

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Not Fade Away

Friday, December 21, 2012 (limited)


Forgive me for being a snob, but any movie that is complete with a definitive 60s soundtrack, setting, and thematic overtone; and is also named after a Buddy Holly classic, well that just has to be good. . . .right?


David Chase’s step into features, since his successful television drama The Sopranos concluded, proves that the transition is neither an easy one, nor a natural one. At least, not for some. I was not initially aware it was directed AND written by The Sopranos‘ creator going into the film, but that makes a lot more sense now why this picture was such a strange experience.

First of all, I want to try not to slam the movie too harshly. There were some excellent moments scattered throughout, and to agree with at least one other critic out there, its sense of time and how Chase captured people’s attitudes and the general culture of that era was flawless. Our frontmen actors revolve around the young John Magaro, who plays an eager, up-and-coming vocalist, Douglas; Jack Huston as bandmate Eugene; James Gandolfini as Douglas’ dad, Pat; and Bella Heathcote as Grace. All of them seemed to fit right into the times they were portraying. And, inexplicably, or maybe just out of ignorance toward the make-up department, the people cast into the film were convincingly ’60s-looking.’ I don’t know how else to describe the phenomenon, other than simply products of great casting. In short, its impossible to deny the film’s authenticity, at face value.

The feature tries to catalog the trials and tribulations of growing up in this era, using a young band’s aspirations to become ‘the next big thing’ as a marker for that progression. Douglas’s parents who are struggling to make ends meet don’t approve of the lifestyle their son has taken up. He is expected to either enroll in college or join the army. When neither thought entertains Douglas, he starts giving more and more of himself to his role in his own band, and the music scene in general.

That’s how most of the movie spends its time: submerged in these young adults’ passion for music, but even then we don’t really get a strong grasp on the inner workings of how bands get along. We get tastes, glimpses of potential deal signings, recording sessions, some fall-out amongst the members here and there, but overall the story comes across in scattered pieces, and we’re left to decipher what we can from it. Given the movie’s revolutionary source material, it’s a bit of a mix of frustration and disappointment that the movie struggles to be more original, more radical than it ends up being.

We’re not even talking bad acting here, either. The script and acting in tandem are nothing spectacular, mind you, but are not the source of the movie’s problems. A substantially weak plot is not really delivered upon and the cast seemed to know it. Most of Gandolfini’s lines are delivered with a record-low sounding sulky salt in his voice, as if he knew deep down what he was laying down wouldn’t even be enough. It all sounds a bit disastrous, but other than not really knowing which direction you’re going in next, and never coming to a point in which you’re confident things are going to work out alright (as things usually do in films — good ones and bad ones alike) there’s nothing truly ‘bad’ about Not Fade Away.

If its only crime is becoming a little muddled up in its own story telling (the ending scene is pretty bizarre as well), maybe we can just blame it on LSD.


2-5Recommendation: Strange as it was, I would say go see this film. It’s a bit like Across The Universe — less successful and not as inspiring but just as romantic and idealistic. And the soundtrack, yes, is pretty good. That’s worth something.

Rated: R

Running Time: 112 mins.

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