FlixChatter Review – ARKANSAS (2020)

Directed by: Clark Duke
Written by:
Clark Duke and Andrew Boonkrong 
Cast:
Liam Hemsworth, Clark Duke, Michael Kenneth Williams,
Vivica A. Fox, John Malkovich, Vince Vaughn

Crime thriller is one of my favorite genres and I’ve seen countless films and TV shows based on the Italian mobs and drug cartels in South America. But there aren’t many films about the crime lords in the Southern States of America. Arkansas is a new film that tells the story of low-level crime syndicate in the deep south. It has the same spirit as some of Quentin Tarantino’s and The Coen Brothers’ crime films.

Just like Tarantino’s films, Arkansas breaks its story into chapters. In chapter 1, we meet two low level drug dealers named Kyle (Liam Hemsworth) and Swin (Clark Duke). They’ve been assigned by their boss named Frog (Vince Vaughn) to move drugs into a new location. On their way to their destination, they ran into a park ranger named Bright (John Malkovich) who ordered them to follow him to his home. Bright tells them that he’s actually their new boss, this is the order from their big boss Frog. Under Bright’s orders, the Kyle and Swin must do the drug dealings in the southern state areas such as Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia. While out to do their business one day, Swin met a pretty young nurse named Johanna (Eden Brolin). Kyle warns Swin to not get involved with anyone who might disrupt their rise to power in the syndicate but Swin fell for Johanna and the two became an item. After a drug deal with one of their contacts went wrong, Kyle and Swin must figure out ways to stay alive and keep Frog happy. In the next chapter, we get to see how Frog rose to become one of the biggest crime lords in the south. As anyone who’ve seen Tarantino’s films, you’ll eventually see how things will tie together and culminate in a violent ending.

Based on John Brandon‘s best-selling book of the same name, the screenplay was written by Andrew Boonkrong and Clark Duke, the latter also directed the picture. I’ve never read the novel but this is a well written screenplay and I really enjoyed the dialog from each of the characters, but I wish they didn’t try to copy too much from Tarantino’s films. There’s so much good material to be told in a new way but Boonkrong and Duke decided to structure the story that’s been done too many times before. Maybe another round of rewrite by an experienced writer could’ve made the script even better. Some of the characters needs to flesh out a bit more.

This is Duke’s debut film and I was surprised that the producers actually let him direct it. He didn’t do a bad job of directing this film, he just copied style from other more experienced and talented directors. Maybe Duke’s skills will grow as a director with more experience, but I think this one should’ve been directed by someone else. I believe that with a script this good, a more polished and experienced director could’ve elevated it to an excellent picture. This is a material meant for talented directors like David Fincher, Chan-wook Park or Bong Joon Ho.

Clark Duke with Liam Hemsworth

Performances by the actors were pretty good, I’m still not sold on Liam Hemsworth as a leading man material and unfortunately, he didn’t convince me in this film. It’s probably not fault since his character needs to be flesh out a bit more. For a lead character, we don’t really know much about him. Also, his southern accent wasn’t convincing at all. Duke wrote himself a better role and he’s more of the comic relief character and kind of sympathetic one too. Even though he has smaller screen time, Malkovich was a hoot as the small time crime boss. The most well thought out character in the film is Vaughn’s Frog, heck he’s actually the main character of the story. Vaughn gave one of his best performances here, but his southern accent needed a little work. Unfortunately, the two female characters in the film didn’t really have much to do. Johanna is an interesting character and I wanted to know more about her, but she ended up just being the love interest. Same with Vivica A. Fox’s Her, she has history with Frog and the script should’ve expanded on their relationship.

Despite by quibbles, I still think it’s a good crime thriller. If you’re a fan of QT’s or The Coen Brothers’ thrillers, then you’ll enjoy this one. I just think it could’ve been an excellent film with a more polished script and talented director behind the cameras.

3/5 stars

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So have you seen ARKANSAS? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

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It’s been ten years since Mel Gibson‘s last directed a film; the violent adventure Apocalypto was a mild success for the controversial actor and director. Many thought that film would be a comeback for Gibson, but then his personal life took another controversial hit and he’s been out of the limelight for a few years. He’s now back with another violent film that’s based on a real life WW2 American Army named Desmond Doss, who became the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

Doss (Andrew Garfield) who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, learned the true impact of violence at a young age. During a scuffle with his older brother, Doss almost killed his sibling and after that he sworn not to hurt or kill another human beings. His alcoholic father Tom (Hugo Weaving), who happens to be a war veteran himself, tends to physically abuse his mom Bertha (Rachel Griffiths), also made him despise violence. During a visit to a local clinic, Doss’ eye catches Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), a nurse who takes a shine to his humble-but-determined ways, with the pair eventually getting engaged to be married.

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However, before they’re eloped, Doss enlists in the army, uncomfortable with the idea of staying behind while others fight for their country. When he arrives for basic training, Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist, proclaims his interest in being a combat medic, refusing to take part in gun training. Frustrating superiors Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Glover (Sam Worthington), Doss’ faith is put to the test through hazing and menial labor, making an enemy out of Smitty (Luke Bracey). When the unit is finally shipped over to Japan to take Okinawa, the ferocious battle of Hacksaw Ridge presents Doss with a supreme challenge of survival and duty.

Gibson, who I believe is an excellent director, didn’t really do anything new when it comes to storytelling. We get the usual romance montage between Doss and Dorothy, Doss being resented by his peers when he refused to pick up a weapon. But when the battle starts, here’s where Gibson shine as a director. Since he had appeared in several action films, Gibson knows how to staged some of the most intense and bloodiest war battle sequences ever put on film.

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Even though his Southern accent were inconsistent, Garfield’s performance is very good here. He’s a man of faith and really stick to his principles. I was quite surprised by the effective performances by Vaughn, Worthington, Bracey and Palmer. Weaving’s drunken father character is a bit more clichéd, but it’s nice seeing ‘Agent Smith’ playing something other than a bad guy.

It may not be in the same class as other great WW2 pictures like The Thin Red Line or Saving Private Ryan, but I was glad Gibson decided to tell this story. I’ve never heard of Desmond Doss before and after seeing this film, I have nothing but respect for late war veteran.

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Have you seen Hacksaw Ridge? Well, what did you think?

A Well Executed Blast From The Past: The Prime Gig (2000)

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Greetings all and sundry!

Having just completed a move from Suburban Maryland to more tax friendly, though a bit jumbled and busy, Falls Church, Virginia. I’ve allowed myself a few evenings of vegging out and catching up on the notable offerings from IFC (Independent Film Channel). In lieu of multiple series winding down to their last few episodes of their respective seasons.

Now, I enjoy cliffhangers as well as the next guy. Though given the opportunity to indulge in a little, highly polished glistening nugget featuring the Grand Master of Character Actors, Ed Harris. Then up and coming actor, Vince Vaughn. Creating two angles in a film full of angles, lies, distortions, half truths. And the allure of boundless wealth through telephone sales and the intrigue of The Long Con creating the third. With the aid of fetching, knowing Julia Ormond.

To that end. Allow me a few moments of your time to slowly peel back the layers of one of the more intricately executed explorations into the world of trust, varying degrees of intimidation. And even more subtle alterations of perception with.

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The Prime Gig (2000)

Which begins in the rather decrepit expanded low rent apartment and Man Cave of Pendleton “Penny” Wise. An up and comer in the realm of grand dreams and intermittent talent regarding conning, cajoling and occasionally brow beating money from hapless names on printed lists. To sell questionable goods and services while slowly advancing up the always present Sales Board.

In a nutshell. All the props, bells and whistles reliant upon and present in a mid rage “Boiler Room’ operation.

And make no mistake about it. Mr. Wise, as presented and envisioned by Vince Vaughn is a go getter. Though sometimes indulging in slowly receding inner turmoil about such oddities as morals. And feeling bad at the end of the day after fleecing future college tuition and “Vegas” or “Vacation Money” totaling in the tens of thousands. Much better at it than his two low scale colleagues. Older, wiser, Gene (Wallace Shawn) and charismatic Joel (Rory Cochrane).

And at this moment in time, “Penny” unwittingly presents himself as an intriguing and vulnerable target for a much wiser and covertly admired and adored Master Telemarketer, and Guru, Kelly Grant. Magnificently played with equal amounts of bravura and “Aw, shucks!” congeniality by Master Craftsman, Ed Harris.

PrimeGig_Harris_OrmondIt seems that Kelly is slowly bouncing back from being taken to the cleaners by the Feds and the SEC. Meticulously doling out and gathering funds for another “clean and legitimate” operation. Involving the sales of parcels of land on and surrounding a gold mine in the whip sawn outback of Bisbee, Arizona.

Kelly’s approach is a thing of subtle beauty. Performed by Caitlin Carlson (Julia Ormond. Radiating just the right amount of business smarts and sexuality. Who catches Penny’s attention and reels him comfortably in. Before introductions are made with Mr. Grant.

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Who has all his shiny brochures, spread sheets, graphs and pie charts ready for perusal after a sumptuous dinner. Laying his soul and his plan bare. While being glowingly, honestly forthright in his plans to make other people rich.

Though a veteran of the trenches and an outright cynic, Penny obliquely asks for some time to digest it all. Penny is given a day. And the availability of Caitlin as a Point of Contact. The day arrives and Penny agrees. Only to be one of a dozen different prospects and hungry Young Turks. With nationalities divergent as the rainbow. And names ranging from Archie (George Wendt), Cheryl (Jeannetta Arnette), Sujat (Shishir Kurup), Zeke (Romany Malko) and Batgirl (Amber Benson).

All are assembled pursuing the scent of large money. And the chance to get out from under college tuition and loan debt. Or the chance to make “crazy bank”. And spend it frivolously. Each has an agenda. And a scheme. Though, in order to harness and utilize maximum potential. They’ve got to believe!

Which entails a chartered plane flight and road trip west. To see first hand the expansive excavation, digging and tunneling surrounding several hundred acres of isolated Arizona Outback. And, yes. It is a busy little and noisy microcosm regaled in hard hats, reflective vests and large earth moving equipment. Wizened, if not refreshed. Penny and company return for marathon telephone sessions under the watchful eye of Kelly Grant up his elevated Sky Box Seat. Listening and ready to cut in with advice. As Penny, Zeke and Batgirl do battle. As those who lack sterner stuff eke out the day. And week. With the victors pitched banded rolls of fresh bills as incentive for the coming day.

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A crude motivational tool, to be sure. Though it does light a fire under the bottoms of those ignored. To become bolder and progressively more brutal during their telephonic tete a tetes. Through it all, Penny is quite content and comfortable with his techniques, Especially when part of his reward is the lush Caitlin.

And it is the intrigue of their romance that adds well deserved meat to this tale of blatant and perhaps, covert duplicity. Since Caitlin is Kelly Grant’s woman. Even if there is some slack in her leash to allow outside diversions. As Penny makes more and more money, Much of which is put in a checking account. Gathering the wherewithal to possibly steal Caitlin away. Though, that will be on her terms. Not Penny’s.

Life is good. Life goes on. The coffers of Mr. Grant’s are full of other people’s money. Some of which is used to pay for the machinery and workers in Bisbee, Other monies are used to pay for lawyers, scientists and masses of their office staff.

Penny awakes and heads off the”office” for a another day of verbal battle and Blitzkrieg. Opening the door to find…..

I’ll leave it right there for spoiler’s sake.

Now. What Makes This Film Good?

A well constructed and often deliberately vague screenplay, story and script. That allows glimpses and some memorable longing gazes into what you don’t see behind a far flung, major con. Centered around the day to day machinations of the long lived and reliable Ponzi scheme. Demanding major investments from the naïve and monied middle class. Who are well off, or better. Just to keep what’s happening in Arizona solvent and perhaps, productive day after day.

Though, it is on the front lines where the depths of greed and avarice are dangled like bait. And Penny and his rogues gallery are allowed to shine. Most notably in the competitions between Penny and Zeke. Who sometimes seethes with racial angst and animus, That results in many closed deals.

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Julia Ormond, in a very early role is a natural seductress. With class, poise, etiquette, a lovely Surrey accent. As well as being very easy on the eyes, Who may or may not know all of Kelly Grant’s grand scheme. But is not about to divulge any more than necessary. While Wallace Shawn, George Wendt and Rory Cochrane offer moral support to Penny. With hints of trepidation later on.

Cinematography by John A. Alonzo is often Sun hazed during outside daylight hours. And razor sharp and sparkled with far off lights at night. And wondrously, intimately tight in the Boiler Room’s Bullpens. Allowing time and space for the actors’ bodies and faces to swell with humor, anger or rage while achieving their goals.

Yet, offering a flat plain of space for discussions between Penny and Kelly Wise. An empty arena or battleground between two predators. Except Mr. Harris’ Kelly Grant has been doing this sort of things for decades. Dresses, acts and becomes the Master of Obfuscation, Misdirection and Distraction. Knows all the ins and outs and how to tap dance and patch over their flaws. While holding all the cards. The dialogue between the Sensei and gifted amateur is well worth the price of discovery and admission.

What Makes This Film Great?

PrimeGig_Stills

Ed Harris in charge of a scam of his own making. Staying in the background. While wisely revealing enough to keep those around him interested and at his beck and call. Keeping the lion’s share of the nuts and bolts hidden under veils of distraction. And jovially warning Penny and others that “You can’t trust a con man!”.

Pulling those around him close in their desire for more. Money. Recognition. Defining, expensive wardrobes and wheels, Because in L.A. You are what you drive. Creating a multi act play in personal greed and self destruction. Well aided by an original soundtrack by David Robbins. Art Direction by Michael Atwell. And Set Decoration by Alice Baker. Who have a knack for making spacious office space and expansive Bull Pens appear much smaller and compact and low ceilinged than at first glance. Creating possibly the best definition of the phrase “Boiler Room” in film!


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