Friday, October 20, 2017

'Wheelman' Review: Frank Grillo Takes Us On an Emotional and Thrilling Ride

Four Star Rating: ***
Starring: Frank Grillo, Caitlin Carmichael, Garret Dillahunt, Wendy Moniz, Shea Whigham
Director: Jeremy Rush
Screenplay: Jeremy Rush
Music by: Brooke Blair & Will Blair
Cinematographer: Juanmi Azpiroz
Editor: Padraic McKinley
Production Company: The Solution Entertainment Group, Warparty Films
Distributed by: Netflix
Genre: Action, Thriller
Rated: TV-MA - Coarse Language, Mature Themes, Violence, May not be suitable for children 17 and under
Release Date: October 20, 2017
Run Time: 82 minutes

If in one year we can have three movies heavily influenced by the comedy classic, Groundhog Day, and avoid labelling them derivative because they use the concept in different genres, then there should be no problem that Wheelman has a striking similarity to the 2014 Tom Hardy starring dramatic thriller, Locke.

For the less independent movie savvy, Locke was a critical darling and a gem among indy movie lovers that tells the story of a man who is trying to keep his personal and professional life from unravelling after receiving a phone call while he was driving. The entire story is told while Hardy's character is driving his car and the narrative is pushed forward with his various phone calls. For Wheelman, director and screenwriter Jeremy Rush takes an almost identical storytelling approach but sets it in a heist gone bad thriller.

The movie starts in the dark for several seconds (for some it may feel like age), then the lights turn on to reveal that the location is a garage shot from the perspective inside a car. A mechanic then drives the car outside where he gets out of the car while the shot perspective remains in the vehicle while he has an exchange with a man cloaked in the shadows. The man is less than impressed it is a black car with a red trunk because it is now less than inconspicuous. The exchange informs us the man taking over the car has a less than lawful job description that require anonymity, but also shows someone who is exuding confident. There is no need for expository dialogue. It is clear he is getaway driver before the bank robbery goes down. The efficient scene signals that Rush is a director that won't bog down the narrative with unnecessary details and instead keeps things speeding along.

The driver is played by Frank Grillo (Purge & Captain America series) but just like Drive, we never learn his name as he is only referred to as the Wheelman (hence the film's title). The introduction shows both a bare bone storytelling mixed with a slick, assured shooting style, There are no fancy big set pieces because it is almost all shown from inside the car. Cinematographer Juanmi Azpiroz also provides unique shots aroud the moving vehicle that heightens tension but also lets the viewer soak up the atmospheric nighttime streets. The opening credit sequences feels like a 1970s exploitation action throwback with the yellow block letters, shots bathing the viewer in the night lights, and a pounding yet almost soothing film score by Brooke Blair and Will Blair. These technical aspects projects a noirish feel to the story of a troubled getaway driver. The setting creates a place that feels reckless and dangerous where one could be betrayed at any moment or get shot at by a driver enraged over being cut off.

The story is standard formula with Grillo playing a lead who has a dark past that includes some prison time and now owes some dangerous people a sizable debt. He is the typical cool and no-nonsense type that isn't there to do small talk with his accomplices and wants to keep it strictly business. Unfortunately for him, one of the major movie rules is if you try to pull off a heist in the opening act then it needs to go sour. Grillo's character then finds himself trying to sort out if he has been set up while also trying to keep himself alive from the angry crooks that he betrayed. Of course, there has to be family drama as he is just a good guy deep down who is trying to keep things civil with his ex-wife (Wendy Moniz) and maintain some custody of his 13 year old daughter (Cailtin Carmichael). The reality is all the narrative turns and character development has been seen in countless movies before, but Rush recognizes this, keeps everything firing off at a steady and slick pace.

The majority of the movie is Grillo trying discover the truth and manage his life through phone calls, and while none of the dialogue is very distinct or engaging (most of it resorts to shouting matches and cursing -- though it is an understandable stressful night), Grillo's performance elevates the interactions. Most of the movie is Grillo putting on a solo performance, except for two occasions where he shares the car, but he brings huge emotions and drama to his nameless character. His performance reveals a man worn out from a tough few years who is trying to hold himself together so he can be a proper dad for his daughter that he truly loves while also conveying he is a man that won't be pushed around. He balances vulnerability with toughness, and makes us question how much is an act and what is his true character. Grillo takes us on a journey and proves he is worthy of more lead roles in the future.

Jeremy Rush also proves he is a director to watch as he adds some unique perspective shots to add a few thrills to the action sequences. The car chase scenes are kept tight and often either shown from inside the car or with much of the shots taken up with an outside view of the speeding car, and it draws us into the chase and often leaves us disoriented much like the wheelman The quick and varied shots add a new layer of tension and action. There are also a few scenes where Grillo leaves the car including when he enters into a bar to grab the guy who betrayed him. Most of his roughing up of this man is left to our imagination or done through the view of the windshield. It give a feel that we are stuck in that car and adds to a sense of isolation, but also gives some style to scenes that otherwise would feel token and generic.

Wheelman is the kind of movie that is a perfect fit for Netflix and the type of movie that I want them to distribute more often. It is an easy to follow, tightly-paced thriller that takes a few ambitious creative directions that most big studios would shy away from it. The picture is too small scale to meet the tastes of big event movie goers and lacks a big name draw, so it never had a chance to reach the multiplexes. This is a crowd pleasing and accessible thriller that is missed on the big screen, and can help Netflix stand out.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Breakdown of 'Happy Death Day', 'The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)', 'The Foreigner', 'The Babysitter', and 'Kingdom of Us'

It is October so that means we need a horror movie in the cinemas, and The Breakdown serves up a review of the horror comedy that is a Groundhog Day style slasher, Happy Death Day. The horror comedy continues with a teenage coming age story mixed with slasher, The Babysitter. We also look at Noah Bambauch's latest in the family dramedy, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected). Then we move into the action territory with Jackie Chan's latest, The Foreigner and a documentary about a family dealing with their father's suicide, Kingdom of Us. As always if you enjoy the show then please spread the word.

Remember you can now subscribe either to The Movie Breakdown feed (a subscription link is at the top right hand of this site) or on iTunes.

The Breakdown Outline:

01:11 The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) review
26:08 Happy Death Day review
42:38 The Babysitter review 
1:05:06 The Foreigner review
1:22:49 Kingdom of Us review
1:39:10 Trailer Reviews: Star Wars: The Last Jedi, The New Mutants, Justice League, Blockers, Thoroughbreds
2:03:55 Box Office Analysis
2:12:02 Review Rundown

Star Rating Rundown:

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) **** (CS & SM)
Happy Death Day *** (CS)
The Babysitter ** (CS & SM)
The Foreigner ** (CS)
Kingdom of Us ***½ (CS & SM)

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Battle of the Blockbusters: Analyzing the New(ish) 'Justice League' and 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Trailers

The two biggest movies still to be released in 2017 dropped huge trailers this week in Justice League and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Both have been seen probably billions of times by now and been extensively analyzed by every major movie news web site, but they haven't been written about on this very minor blog. Both are major movie events with a salivating fan base, so both trailers were seen as big events on their own. As for the trailers, one did a great job on fuelling my excitement while leaving tons of questions (let it be clear, this is what a trailer is supposed to do) and the other wiped out the building excitement I started feeling over the summer. Find out which is which!

Justice League (November 17):

The fantastic Wonder Woman was a huge creative course correction for the DC cinematic universe.  Optimism for Justice League was high with hope DC now found the formula and that increased to huge levels when Joss Whedon was hired on to do reshoots. Many were very excited to see what he would add to the movie even if the circumstances behind it were quite sad (Zack Snyder needed to take time off to deal with the death of his son).

After seeing the latest trailer and what I assume the first to contain footage that would have Whedon's work in it, it is pretty clear this is still very much a Zack Snyder comic book movie. We have the return of annoying Snyderisms like the obsession with a metallic colour palate, endless mind-numbing explosions, and action sequences that deny any real world physics. The trailer has done nothing to take away my fears that in order to properly introduce the new characters like Aquaman, Flash and Cyborg to the point where you care about them while also telling the monster/alien/demon invasion story, properly explore the world grieving over Superman, and giving attention to the established character's arcs that this movie will clock in at about 8 hours. Or you know have individual movies for each character before doing a team-up movie, but I sense they may not have enough time for that.

I really dug the opening with the promise that Lois Lane may be a crucial character finally. The movie is actually going to really allow the death of Superman to sink in and be something that affects each character and have a huge impact on the world. It will make the previous events feel like they matter even if everyone including the original poster knows that Superman is coming back before the end credits. Amy Adams conveyed more emotion in this trailer than she was allowed in the previous two movies, so it gives me hope the drama will be more than just filler this time.

Wonder Woman though is back to being a side character in the this trailer, but the previous trailer make me think that is more just to usher in new footage, and I hope we get more than just Gal Gadot's millions dollar smile every few scenes.

There is also a sense of humour here. I like some of the one liners by Batman as he needs to adjust to his rather eccentric new recruits. Ezra Miller has a fun charisma and energy as the Flash, but it feels a little second string after already getting a lot of this routine from Spider-Man in the Marvel movies. Hopefully, there is something to make Barry Allen/Flash stand out other than he runs really fast and reminds us of a cheaper Peter Parker.

After the last trailer looked more polished, I'm back to being a bit hesitant on the CGI again. Maybe just the issue is that it is all just too much, too loud, and too bombastic. Sometimes this stuff does look way better on the big screen then squeezed on to my laptop. The other problem is it doesn't even look like they are planet earth, and most of it just seems like a nightmare Batman is having after downing too many late night lobster thermidors.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi:

Lucasfilm's has been really great with how they have handled the Star Wars trailers since reviving the franchise (as a series of new movies, because the franchise has been alive in books, cartoons, merchandise, and party napkins since 1977) by delivering a sparse amount of trailers for each movie compared to every other big heavyweight franchise that believes you need 140 trailers before release. This is only the second trailer released and has tons of new footage, but leaves even more questions rather than providing any answers to the many questions posed in the original trailer.

It looks like Rey is going to get a long training storyline with Luke Skywalker playing the role of Yoda this time. Unlike last time, the trainee freaks out the trainer. Luke mentions he only saw this much raw power once before and should have been afraid of it then, and it seems obvious to assume he is referencing Kylo Ren (but it could be misdirection). It looks like a major focus of this movie will be the connection and relation between Rey and Ren. It hints they are possibly the two people who are the most powerful ever with the Force. You get a sense it will be playing some deep cosmic connection between the two. It will also be interesting to see if Luke's comment about ending the Jedi that is shown in the original trailer comes before the training or after what I assume is Rey freaking him out with her powers. And does Luke abandon Rey, which causes her to flee to the arms of Ren and Snoke?

It definitely looks like Snoke channels Return of the Jedi's Emperor by trying to lure the hero to the dark side. The movie has enough well-crafted new characters who can take the lead role with Finn and Poe Dameron that there is a slight chance we could see Rey accept the hand of Ren and be swayed to the dark side by the end of this movie. I don't think that is the direction, but her being forced to choose sides looks to be a major storyline. I am really interested to see if the interaction with Ren and Rey plays out the way it is hinted in the trailer or if it is a splicing of separate scenes.

Many months ago, it was mentioned that General Leia Organa was originally scheduled to be the focus of the third movie, like how Han Solo was the focus of The Force Awakens and Luke Skywalker is the focus in this one. Sadly, that isn't going to happen with the passing of Carrie Fisher, and now the big question has been how they will write out Leia with the movie already shot before her passing. This trailer is definitely playing into that speculation with it looking like Ren blows up his mom's ship and kills her just like he murdered his father. He is not the best son. But this could also be a slick Jedi mind trick and it is just an editing of random scenes that look like they fit as one (yep, they seem to be doing that a lot in this trailer).

We also see Finn in action, which is nice because it means he isn't in a coma for the whole movie. Captain Phasma looks to be getting a much bigger role this time and will be rumbling with Finn, as that rivalry had seeds planted in the previous. I really hope Phasma gets a character and personality here, and we learn more about who she is in this world.

Not much Poe other than being stuck in crazy battles, and it looks like the Resistance takes some pretty massive hits and casualties here. With Luke having a bleak outlook, Leia potentially facing her demise, Rey being wooed to the dark sides, and lots of shots of good guys' ships exploding, you get the sense this will be going The Empire Strikes Back route with the heroes being left in a dismal situation by the end.

We also get peaks at some new creatures including some wolf-like things and a fuzzy little chubby guinea pig creature who looks to be Chewbacca's new co-pilot (apparently, it is called a porg). I'm cool with the very targeted at making stuffies for kids new character, because that has always been a Star Wars staple and the last targeted to sell toys to kids creation, BB-8 was adorable and worked. I'll let this fuzzball prove his worth. I should also note that I never had any hatred towards the Ewoks and they make me smile too, so this may be the wrong place for that type of hate.

This had the opposite effect of the Justice League trailer, I am somehow even more stoked and thrilled and geeked and excited for this movie. This was already by far my most anticipated movie of the year and I've so far loved the return to this world by giving the two recent movie both 4 stars (The Force Awakens landed number one on my Top 10 of 2015). Rian Johnson is one of my favourite filmmakers and has created fantastic movies, and I am excited to see what he can do with a huge budget and a universe adored by billions.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Internet is Back

Internet has been down since Friday over here at Spicer Manor. It has been rather stressful trying to get work done that is almost entirely done online while also trying to be prepared for this week's The Breakdown where most movies are watched on Netflix and the show is recorded over Skype. Luckily, I was able to gallivant over to my parent's house for an all-night movie binge and then record The Breakdown on Sunday morning. But I had to eventually go back home to the world that the internet forgot.

It was dark days where my laptop couldn't take me to Google or allow me quick research over at  Wikipedia. I was burning through my data plan on my iPhone in order to research and contact my clients. But the light of a fully working internet in my own home has returned and it is. . . glorious.

Monday, October 09, 2017

The Breakdown of 'Blade Runner 2049', 'My Little Pony: The Movie', 'The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson', 'XXX: Return of Xander Cage' and 'Berlin Syndrome'

The Breakdown is loaded up with five movie reviews this week. The big one is the hotly anticipated sequel to the sci-fi cult classic, Blade Runner 2049. It is also the continuation of Vintember with Vin Diesel's latest, XXX: Return of Xander Cage. Plus the Netflix Original documentary, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, the latest animated feature My Little Pony: The Movie, and the Australian thriller, Berlin Syndrome. As always if you love the show then please spread the word to other movie fans.

Remember you can now subscribe either to The Movie Breakdown feed (a subscription link is at the top right hand of this site) or on iTunes. While you are there, please give us a five star review if you enjoy the show.

The Breakdown Outline:

02:00 Blade Runner 2049 review
21:19 The Death and Life of Marsha P. Jouhnson review
34:45 xXx: Return of Xander Cage review
50:45 Berlin Syndrome review
1:06:06 My Little Pony: The Movie review
1:19:20 Box Ofice Analysis
1:31:16 Trailer Review: Pacific Rim Uprising,Roman J Isreal Esq.,Wonder Wheel, Replicas,Only the Brave 
1:45:35 Review Rundown

Rating Rundown:

Blade Runner 2049 ****
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson  ***½ (CS) & **½ (SM)
xXx: Return of Xander Cage ** (CS) & *½ (SM)
Berlin Syndrome ***½ (CS & SM)
My Little Pony: The Movie ** (CS)

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Breakdown is Thundercats are GO!

I did a little globetrotting, but I found myself a place to record The Breakdown while the internet remains a fantasy on the homefront. This means sadly that there won't likely be much writing or the Blade Runner 2049 review as I'll be burning the midnigh oil to prepare for the podcast, then it is back to the land that technology (or more specifically, Rogers) forgot.

Breakdown Warning

It may be a non issue in a few hours, but at the moment, technical issues are raging strong. So, this means the Blade Runner 2049 review continues to be delayed but also the Breakdown recording may need to be postponed, which means the show may not get posted Monday morning. I hope to avoid it but apologize now.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Pesky Technical Difficulties

Remember when The Breakdown was delayed due to some technical issues? Well, the Blade Runner 2049 review is set for the same delay because again technology hates me. Hope the issue is resolved quickly, but until then trust me that the movie is a shining example of what a sequel should deliver. Hope to write more when I do not have to type from my iPhone.