film

Rapid Fire Reviews #16 A Double Feature of Heist Movies!

Hello! Its been a heck of a Summer movie season, and while I have seen a lot of movies in that time, I haven’t written about all of them just yet. The next Rapid Fire Reviews article will include some odds and ends, mostly films that I’ve accrued through secondhand shops and at least one major film that I’ve seen in theaters recently. This piece, however, will focus on two heist movies set apart by about twenty years. Both have excellent star studded casts with key players in each film’s crew that unravel the mystery behind their bosses intentions once their heists go awry. While “Ronin” and “No Sudden Move” have a lot in common, each has their own specific texture. Ronin has a more kinetic and frantic energy to its scenes, especially with its exquisitely executed car chases. Whereas “No Sudden Move” embraces more of the Noir-ish elements of its crimes, this film allows itself to marinade in slower scenes that embrace a white-knuckle sense of suspense. Both films were highly entertaining, and I strongly encourage you to give both a shot!

Ronin (1998)

Written for the screen by David Mamet, based on a story by J.D. Zeik, and directed by John Frankenheimer, “Ronin” is a phenomenal action-heist film that knows when to lean into quiet character beats and when to hit the adrenaline with high octane shootouts and car chases. I had heard this one held some of the best car chases put to film, but I had no idea how good the cast was until finally giving this one a watch. In the beginning, Sam (Robert De Niro), Vincent (Jean Reno), and Larry (Skipp Sudduth) meet Deirdre (Natascha McElhone) at a Bistro in Montmartre, Paris. Deirdre then takes the two Americans and the Frenchman to a warehouse where an Englishman, Spence (Sean Bean), and German, Gregor (Stellan Skarsgård), are waiting. The story really hits the ground running in this one, and from there Deirdre explains the plan for the heist. They must intercept a heavily armored convoy in Nice, France and retrieve a large metallic briefcase. Obviously, things don’t go as planned. I won’t reveal the twists and betrayals in case you, like me, haven’t seen this one until late in the game. The performances are all great, the script is attentive and intelligent with its reveals and evolutions, and the cinematography is gorgeous! I really can’t over-emphasize just how damn good the car chases are shot and executed. The stunt drivers in the film deserve all the credit in the world with their high speed urban whiplash, squealing around tight corners and through narrow roads. Its cinema perfection to me. What’s in the box that they’re all after isn’t really that important. Its important enough to motivate Irish terrorists, Russian Mafia, and a couple ex-military, some spies, and wandering Ronin to put themselves all in immediate danger to obtain, or keep others from obtaining the box- and that makes for some thoroughly entertaining cinema. Highly Recommended!

No Sudden Move (2021)

Written by Ed Solomon and directed by Steven Soderbergh, “No Sudden Move” is a suspenseful heist film set in 1954 Detroit that follows a specially selected crew of individuals to perform some corporate espionage. The information about the actual plot of the danger at hand is doled out slowly, which gives the atmosphere of the film a perilous sense of mystery. Now, I’m not sure if this was the initial return of Brendan Fraser to acting in a big star-studded film, but it was really nice to see him back and killing it with his role as Doug Jones, the recruiter for the heist. As a morally grey middle-man bruiser, Fraser was a welcome addition to the cast and story. Much like in “Ronin” with the Deirdre character, Jones meets the crew and explains the heist and what to expect. Here it’s a bit more complicated than “Ronin”, Curt Goynes (Don Cheadle), Ronald Russo (Benicio Del Toro), and Charley (Kieran Culkin) are sent to the house of an accountant Matt Wertz (David Harbour) to force him into a bank safe at his work to steal an important document. The plan, as it is initially set up anyway, is for Goynes and Russo to babysit the Wertz family while Charley escorts Matt to his office. To Matt’s surprise, the safe is gone and the document with it. So… this is when the film really escalates the tension, but I’ll avoid any reveals of the betrayals, twists, and evolutions of the characters as with “Ronin”. Those mentioned already are the core of the cast for the film, however, there are also a few smaller roles with some big names attached. These smaller characters are played by the likes of Jon Hamm, Ray Liotta, Bill Duke, and Matt Damon. Also, I have to the take time to mention the score. Its jazzy as hell and the atmosphere really blends with the overly serious sense of inherent danger of the situation. The one thing I did not care for in the film however, was the choice of lens. The framing, blocking, and direction was all very good- but the lens blurred the edges of the frame and gave the film a dreamy aesthetic where it otherwise felt grounded and soaked in realism. That choice clashed with everything else in the film’s repertoire. Its a small nitpick in an otherwise incredibly well made film, but that being said, I highly recommend this one!

*I have been writing a few articles over at Films Fatale this summer as well! Check out these links below for more of my recent writing on movies:

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2021/8/13/the-suicide-squad?rq=Cameron%20Geiser

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2021/8/9/the-green-knight?rq=Cameron%20Geiser

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2021/7/13/f9-the-fast-saga-or-why-you-should-watch-smarter-movies?rq=Cameron%20Geiser

film

Review: The Martian, Saving Private Ryan.. again… in space

*Warning, certain plot points pivotal to the movie explained here contain SPOILERS*

Ridley Scott’s new film ‘The Martian’ is a rousing realism bound sci-fi flick for our time. Its easily the best film Scott has made in the last decade and is thoroughly riveting. This does not mean, however, that it is not without flaws. The film rests the weight of its purpose on Matt Damon’s tried and true shoulders, and because of this, it soars. Damon embodies Mark Watney with a tremendous amount of humanity and heart, and it shows throughout the film’s runtime. And while the cast that lives and breathes on the outer edges of Watney’s story serves their purpose, some better than others, a few performances feel shoehorned in.

In case you didn’t know, Mark Watney’s tale is that of an interstellar castaway. In the midst of an unexpected superstorm on the red planet of Mars, Watney’s team moves to evacuate their base lest their ship topples and strands them there. During this trudge through the storm to the ship Watney is knocked away from the team by a piece of equipment and his captain, Jessica Chastain, makes a hard choice in leaving him behind, as they assume his death. Watney’s team ascend from the red planet and make way for home before he awakens the next day with fresh wounds and a short air supply. From there it is Watney’s perogative to stay alive at whatever the cost, even though he himself knows the almost innumerable odds he faces, ” If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab beaches, I’ll just kind of implode. If none of those things happen. I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah. I’m fucked.” This begins the movie with a tangible and tense sense of urgency.

The film does many things quite well, but every so often there is a hiccup that hinders the overall experience. The cinematography, for example, is top notch and really utilizes the landscape to the audience’s advantage. The pacing of the film is also great-most of the time. At times the weight of the two hour and twenty minute runtime can be felt as montages trod on, or when there is time for Watney and others to reflect. Basically, every time the tension is gone, so too does the focus of the film, if only for a scene or two. Which is probably why Watney is thrust into many situations that he must out-think to survive. There are some impeccable sequences in which Watney must react quickly, and intelligently, or he will cease to exist. In fact, the problems Watney frequently encounters are the core thrust of the film in my perspective. They define the film because it is the calm and collected strategy that Watney, and eventually NASA, approaches these problems with that should be hailed with praise. Maybe not for writing’s sake in terms of originality, but in the grand scheme of it all, that despite all odds, we continue. We continue to be, and to be human is to explore, to step out of the cave and do something with ourselves. Fear is crippling, and we shouldn’t let that stop us from advancing, and that is something this movie showcases tenfold. It is something I admire greatly about the film.

There’s also one key scene that reminded me that I was watching a movie rather than being involved in the experience of the movie. When the crew is discussing how to save their man left behind Kate Mara’s character rattles off a line or two that when thought about momentarily was complete movie science lingo garbage. Most of the film does not commit this sin, but that one was particularly brutal. Speaking of the crew, the rest of the cast is quite good. An excellent bunch of actors to be honest. The aforementioned Jessica Chastain gets a few moments, moments where she is referenced particularly by Watney about her mostly disco music selection, which is heartwarming at a time when Watney reflects on his lonliness. With the exception of Jeff Daniel’s CEO of NASA most everyone else is there for exposition, ‘My God!’ scientist scenes, or particularly one note performances. Donald Glover in particular felt especially shoved in, as if his character was from a different movie altogether, not that his performace was lacking, rather that he might not have been given the proper logistics as to what the tone of the film would be.

The moments that do lack however are small and fleeting as most of the movie is with Damon on the lonely red planet, and that’s where the film sizzles. Near the third act news of Watney’s isolation and rescue plan are released to the public and the effect of global teamwork and rallying around the cause of bringing our guy back home is enough to cheer for! Its inspiring and it makes you feel warm in all the right places when you see everyone come together, just to save one man on another planet, 140 million miles away.

Final Score: 8/10