Denis Leary, Mike Lombardi, Steven Pasquale, Andrea Roth, Daniel Sunjata, John Scurti, Callie Thorne, Jack McGee, Michael J.Fox
Denis Leary vehicles are like ordering a burger. A few burgers are graciously heaving, flavoursome and go down rather well, but a lot of the time, you’re disillusioned – served up merely a slender shell with unappetizing undercooked ingredients inside.
It was rather surprisingly then to discover ”Rescue Me” was a Big Mac-sized bite of entertainment. Well-written, funny, dramatic, tense, emotional, heck – it’s one of the most brilliant shows to hit the tube in the past couple of decades. Somewhere between (another of his recent frightful films) ”Double Whammy” and shopping this series to the network, Denis Leary discovered his creative bone. The light bulb resulted in a real winner.
Set in a New York firehouse, Post-911, ”Rescue Me” is an ensemble effort about the different chaps that hold the hoses – near and away from fires, if you get my drift – and their day-to-day troubles at work and at home. Leary plays Tommy Gavin, a reckless and rather downcast lifer that’s recently separated from his wife (Andrea Roth), and is combating his love of alcohol.
Amid seeing ‘dead people’ – he sees the ghosts of those he couldn’t save, as well as his cousin, who perished in 9/11 – he goes after his wife’s new smarmy boyfriend, begins an affair with his late cousin’s oversexed widow, and seemingly slowly disintegrates.
Fixing more on the guys in the firehouse than the fires they actually fight, ”Rescue Me” is captivating entertainment. The performances are superb (Leary has finally found a character that fits!), the characters are wonderful, and the dialogue is just magnificent – some of it will have you laughing under your breath for the rest of the week.
Don’t miss this wildly entertaining series, now in a complete Blu-ray set, with 93 episodes sprawled out over 16 discs, thanks to Mill Creek.
Blu-ray : Much like “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” and other series of the time, the series starts to look better and sound better as it goes on, with the latter seasons of “Rescue Me” delivering significantly better sight and sound than those first couple of seasons. Special features include Interviews, Behind the Scenes, Commentaries, Gag Reels, Deleted Scenes, and Featurettes – all mandatory viewing for fans of this groundbreaking series.
King of Thieves
Drew Turney checks out the new crime caper starring Michael Caine
The first thing that strikes you about a film where Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent, Ray Winstone, Michael Gambon and Tom Courtenay play criminals staging one of the biggest robberies in UK history is why it didn’t get a lot more attention. Unlike ”The Bank Job”, a similar Jason Statham vehicle back in 2008, ”King of Thieves” is out on VOD with very little splash or fanfare. One wonders if Netflix might have done it more justice, especially as it’s the next film from ”The Theory of Everything” director James Marsh.
Caine, Broadbent, Winstone and Courtenay are Brian, Terry, Danny, Kenny and Billy. As the film opens we see Brian and his beloved wife Lynne (Francesca Annis), reminiscing about their life together and making vague reference to her going to hospital the next day for something neither one of them really want to acknowledge.
Days later, at Lynne’s funeral, Brian’s crew from years back are all assembled to help their friend say goodbye, but it doesn’t stop the chatter about a potential job at London’s Hatton Garden jewellery district where a vault houses a jaw-dropping cache of jewels, cash and more. Another young contemporary Brian’s used before, Basil (Charlie Cox) has a line on the job because he works in the building and has a key that might ultimately give them access to the room once they get past some other protections.
But the movie isn’t actually about the heist itself. After some cursory scenes of the guys poring over maps, rehearsing the crackerjack timing etc, the first half deals with the job hitting a hitch over the three day weekend the crew has to execute it. Tempers fray, Brian and cohort Carl (Paul Whitehouse) ultimately walk out and mistrust and bitterness is set in motion that sets the stage for the fallout of the second half.
Where many movies about successful bank robberies deal with a tight knit crew and a sense of honour among thieves, Brian and his seventy-something friends are like a group of bitchy teenage girls – assuring the man in front of them they’re on the level and loyal, then conniving snidely about their duplicity as soon as they’re out of earshot. These men, despite knowing each other for decades, seem only too willing to double cross each other in the face of the haul that turns out to be worth potentially several hundred million – there’s even a barely veiled threat of murder at one point.
But they also have no idea the filth are onto them, several very professional and dedicated detectives looking over video footage, identifying them as suspects, shadowing them to try and hear tidbits of evidence and all the while building their case and closing in.
It’s the third film based on the true life case where four elderly but experienced robbers broke into a Hatton Garden safe deposit vault in 2015, and it’d be interesting to see the other two versions because this one is extremely hit and miss. Maybe that explains the release, the distributor realising they had a dud and dumping it.
First of all it should be acknowledged that none of the problems are with the dialogue or performances. All the elder statesmen of English film and theatre on show here can do this kind of thing standing on their heads, and they still give it all they have. The profane dialogue crackles with energy and occasionally cracks you up as they bicker like men who’ve a) really known each other all their lives and b) really are professional robbers. It’s a particular pleasure seeing Jim Broadbent play a genuine bad guy and exude a sense of violent threat, a type of role we’ve never seen him in before.
The problems seem to be entirely with the structure and editing. Ideas and arcs are presented badly, not resolved properly and a mess while executed. Just one example is that after things go so bad between all these guys, you’d think they’d be slitting each other’s throats the next time they meet, but in the final scene, there they are good-naturedly arguing like all’s suddenly forgotten.
Another is the intimation that all the loot they’ve stolen belongs to dangerous people who’ll be only to happy to commit very dark acts to the men responsible. It seems to set up the mistrust that festers between the guys, their reactions actually fear about what might be coming, but it’s mentioned once and never enters into the plot again.
At times it’s not clear enough what’s going on and how everyone feels about it, so while individual scenes are masterclasses of performance and delivery, the whole thing is a mess that needed a few more passes in the script – maybe just a clearer idea of what kind of movie it wanted to be.
The overarching theme of ”Invisible Hands” is one in which nobody is immune from some blame
You expect this documentary about child labour to be fairly dry and statistical, maybe delivered with shots of bemused kids staring out of grimy sweatshops or mines as white-skinned people point cameras at them.
But the opening scene seems to be a statement about the tone. An Indian man who runs an activist foundation to find and extract children from abusive labour swoops on a factory, rounding a clutch of children up who seem to be as young as six, the police helping him herd them outside and start to identify them.
A few scenes later, his camera crew are in a car waiting for him to return to them when a mob descends, running after him, tripping him and kicking the shit out of him before he can struggle to his feet and reach the car. There are a lot of vested interests who want child labour to continue and a dimension of violence inherent in the system that’s a lot dirtier and more tactile in the film than just kids denied a childhood.
But “Invisible Hands” is about more than countries with dodgy labour infrastructure far from the eyes of Western consumers (exemplified by the African farmer who employs virtual child slave labour and is so unaware of the reasons against it he barely bats an eyelid about doing it when interviewed). For one thing it makes you complicit, because you’ll look at every iPhone, piece of fruit or item of jewellery you buy from now on and wonder who suffered so you could get it so cheap.
Second, it’s separated roughly into chapters that investigate certain countries. After India you expect the film to move to China, Bangladesh or The Congo, but you certainly don’t expect the next title card to read ‘The United States’, where the filmmakers then talk to several teenagers (almost all of them minorities, tellingly) who talk about the depravation, abuse, abysmal conditions and overwork they face working on farms across America.
Subsequent sections do move onto other parts of the world like the coltan mines of the DRC, and it proves just how little you know about the topic when China – of all places – gets a much better report card than you imagine, the burgeoning economy and increased scrutiny by intergoverment organisations and NGOs making a real difference. Ironically the group the section about China focuses on are college-age students told they’ll get valuable work experience over their summer break before they’re press ganged into repetitive and soul-crushing manufacturing work they have to stay at to get passing scores.
But the overarching theme of ”Invisible Hands” is one in which nobody is immune from some blame. As long as we demand ultra-cheap consumer goods, the multinational conglomerates who provide them will cut any corners they can, and the structure of the big business world lets them effectively shield themselves from any involvement.
The layers of supply chain obfuscation between your box of chocolates and a five year old kid down in a hole full of filthy water somewhere in Africa let them (and us) turn a completely blind eye until someone throws an ugly scene on their doorstep – leaving some expensive PR to try to explain it away with boilerplate and bullshit about internal investigations, like some Nestlé flack does at one point.
If you have any kind of social conscience you’ll know the politics/finance behind the topic already, but like Wikileaks or Ed Snowden did, it puts concrete and vivid examples in front of you that you can’t ignore, and you’ll be surprised how affected and angry it makes you that this goes on.
Ant-Man and the Wasp
“Ant-Man and the Wasp” picks up two years post “Captain America: Civil War”, and the titular hero Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), is under house arrest following his reckless actions during his time in Germany. With his 10-year old daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Forston) and friend/former cellmate Luis (Michael Peña) his only entertainment, Lang is itching to get out of the house and back to his duties as Ant-Man.
An opportunity presents itself in the form of Hope Van Dyne, aka Wasp (Evangeline Lily) and her father Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to escape the confides of his home and embark upon a mission with them to address some secrets from the past.
Hollywood’s current favourite ‘bad guy’ Walton Goggins is introduced as the film’s central crim, Sonny Burch, and he and his crew form one third of the obstacles in Lang, Van Dyne and Pym’s way. On the other end we’ve got Ava Foster, aka Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who is chasing the lab owned by Van Dyne and Pym, and generally becoming a pain-in-the-bum for the team – who are inches away from completing their ultimate goal.
If any of this sounds confusing – blame me for that. The premise is super easy to follow, I’m just being oh-so-vague because spoilers. In a nutshell – you’ve got three groups, all after the same thing, for different reasons. Capiche?
As with most Marvel movies these days, where you’ll be most impressed is with what Hollywood can do. CGI looks real, and if director Peyton Reed turned around and said “oh we actually bred gigantic ants and trained them for this movie”, I’d believe him. Ant-Man and The Wasp continually shrinking and growing is the new normal, as with the inanimate objects they take with them. Matchbox cars become part of the traffic, while the central lab within the key plotline is shrunk to the size of a lego building when necessary – and it all looks totally normal.
Strangely enough, “Ant-Man” impresses with a car chase sequence that would easily rival any of the “Fast and the Furious” films – particularly the latter ones in which car chases take a back seat, so to speak. Speeding through the streets of San Francisco and tackling Lombard Street and Fisherman’s Wharf, the scene is a great plug for the seaside city – destruction aside of course. From ants to seagulls, a giant Ant-Man to an ever-changing lab, every object and character in “Ant-Man and the Wasp” feels necessary. Additionally, the humour isn’t overdone or forced, and Rudd is always a testament for natural comedy.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp” lacks a lot of depth that other current films within the Marvel universe do, but it doesn’t seem to matter as it’s a fun and fairly light-hearted film that will appeal to every family member. Enjoy it for what it is, and in the meantime give a ponder to what you’d do if you could shrink to the size of an ant.
Blu-ray : There’s some good stuff on here – a heap of featurettes, deleted scenes and bloopers, an intro from Peyton Reed, and some other bits and pieces. We needed a good couple of hours to get through it all.
Dragnet : Collector’s Edition
A look at Shout Factory’s new Dragnet Collector’s Edition Blu-ray which includes a new interview with co-star Alexandra Paul and commentary by Russell Dyball
Dan Aykroyd the star and Tom Hanks the second billing comic sidekick? It was the end of the salad days of 1980s comedy, when the original SNL alumnus were the crown princes of the genre.
The star billing was the result of both rising and falling recognition. Aykroyd was on the downhill slide from his ”Ghostbusters” days to where he is now – occasional appearances in oddball dark comedies.
And Hanks was decidedly understated. At the time it just looked like he’d lost the manic energy that he’d bought to the screwball genre in films like ”Bachelor Party”, but it was actually the earliest days of his morphing into the major dramatic Hollywood star he is today.
Script-wise, the film was a big loss. Nothing felt right, the humour was all misfired, the occasional seriousness out of place. It was just a stupid buddy/cop comedy with touches of the iconic TV series (like Aykroyd’s dry, Joe Friday voiceover) tacked over the top.
Blu-ray : The Shout Factory release features a very pleasing 1080p transfer and DTS-HD soundtrack and comes complete with some newly-crafted extras including an interview with co-star Alexandra Paul and an audio commentary by Pop Culture historian Russell Dyball. Vintage features on here include the original trailer and promos, photos and a BTS featurette with the original stars.
Crazy Rich Asians
The kind of film you can enjoy multiple viewings of
While it feels like it’s been a long time since a romantic comedy came to theatres from a major studio, it has been even longer (25 years in fact) since an all-Westernised Asian cast was featured in Hollywood (1993’s “The Joy Luck Club”). Considering we’ve had more than 30 Adam Sandler films in that time, this film certainly highlights the under-representation of Asian roles on screen.
So yes, there’s a lot of pressure on this film to perform, one novelist Kevin Kwan and director John M. Chu added to their shoulders when they turned down a massive pay day from Netflix in order to ensure an Asian American film would hit the cinemas once at least once this decade.
But if they were feeling the pressure, they don’t show it. “Crazy Rich Asians” goes straight to the top of the romantic comedy rich list.
It’s funny, it’s poignant, it looks great, and it makes a film about the one per cent of Asia surprisingly relateable.
The story follows New Yorker Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) as she accompanies her long-time boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding), to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. Excited about visiting Asia for the first time but nervous about meeting Nick’s family, Rachel is unprepared to learn that Nick has neglected to mention a few key details about his life. Not only is he the scion of one of the country’s wealthiest families, but also one of its most sought-after bachelors. Being on Nick’s arm puts a target on Rachel’s back, with jealous socialites and, worse, Nick’s own disapproving mother (Michelle Yeoh) taking aim.
This is the kind of film you can enjoy multiple viewings of, and may even become this decade’s “Devil Wears Prada” as an endearing (not so guilty) pleasure. The casting is spot on, with an incredibly likeable turn from Constance Wu and Henry Golding as the central couple and essentially the straight roles of the film – a hard thing to pull off with so many colourful characters around them. Michelle Yeoh brings complexity to what could be easily be a two-dimensional disapproving mother-in-law stereotype, Gemma Chan as Astrid is the embodiment of class, and a shout-out to Awkwafina, Ken Jeong, Ronny Chieng and Nick Santos for pulling off the biggest laughs.
The production is also superb, with a classic and colourful styling that nails the essence of the book, and demonstrates Warner Bros’ investment in getting this right.
How this film performs will determine whether we have to wait another 25 years to see an all-Westernised Asian cast on screen again. Given this is an adaption of the first book in a trilogy, let’s hope it’s not so long.
Blu-ray : Commentary, gag reel and a featurette.
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