A low-level criminal has to fight his way through prison before misery befalls his kidnapped wife.
Directed by S. Craig Zahler
Starring Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, and Don Johnson
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
S. Craig Zahler continues his efforts to bring exploitation films back from the 70’s with Brawl in Cell Block 99, a sickeningly violent prison flick and follow-up to the equally queasy Bone Tomahawk. I’m not terribly familiar with exploitation cinema, but like pornography, one just knows it when they see it. They feature extreme human behavior, prefer cool and reject beauty or elegance, have stylized dialogue, and fashion antagonists from pure evil. Tarantino does a more refined version of this, having been raised on exploitation films. The Tipper Gore-esque knock on early Tarantino was that he’s overly violent, an inaccurate accusation in at least his first three films. Tarantino pans away from ears getting chopped off, but no one could say the same of Zahler. He stares violence in the face, taking in every compound fracture and bone crunch. The result is a nigh-unrecommendable film, his second in a row. The sick feeling in one’s stomach after the credits isn’t necessarily something I want other people to experience.
Michael Mann is a director who cares about process. His debut, Thief, spent minutes watching James Caan crack open a safe from start to finish. With Manhunter, Mann founded a genre by dissecting crime scenes and murderous psychology. If one needs to know how to lay siege to a 18th century colonial fort, The Last of the Mohicans contains a handy manual. Mann’s attention to detail is as meticulous as the characters he puts onscreen, and that’s certainly true in Heat, his modern masterpiece (as opposed to Mohicans, his period masterpiece. The man’s multi-masterpieced). The director cares about competency, and he creates characters who share in that admiration even when the fruits of their practiced labors are diametrically opposed. Heat is at the pinnacle of this kind of film, wherein talented character are believably sculpted, spun up, and let loose to do their thing.
Only apple pie and John Denver come close to being as quintessentially American as guns, and “Free Fire” gives us plenty of two out of three. The night before watching “FF” I watched the first “John Wick” (because I’m often late to some parties); a highly stylized action movie with plenty of action and gun violence. I enjoyed it very much. But the violence in “Wick” was so coordinated and scripted, as it should be, that it left no illusions that it was comic book fantasy. Two shots to the gut, one to the head. Bam. That’s the assassin’s signature in movies and books.
After 14 long years and sequels to “Toy Story (fine),” “Finding Nemo (sure),” “Monsters Inc. (ehh…)”, and a double-dose of “Cars (WHAT?!),” Pixar finally gives us the one movie that actually went out of its way to set up a sequel in “Incredibles 2.” The original, “The Incredibles,” holds up today as one of Pixar’s less-weighty and joyful movies in their catalog. Did the sequel do the same? Indeed it did, and maybe a little too closely.
Having directed the groundbreaking action flick John Wick together in 2014, stuntmen-turned-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch parted ways three years later. With each releasing their own films in 2017, Stahelski and Leitch invited a friendly contest between them. Stahelski’s John Wick sequel was more of the same, stylish but drained of the emotional throughline that made the original’s high body count somewhat meaningful instead of outright exhausting. With Atomic Blonde, Leitch appears to be uninterested in repeating himself outside of capturing more visceral, bone-crunching action. His film trades the criminal underworld for Cold War espionage, casts a far-better actor in the lead, and retains a passable amount of resonance, all combining to demonstrate that he’s the more talented director of the two.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.