Vince Vaughn in the prison thriller by S. Craig Zahler

‘Brawl in Cellblock 99’ – Vince Vaughn picks a fight on Amazon Prime

Brawl in Cellblock 99 (2017) is my pick for the smartest piece of cinematic pulp fiction in 2017. It didn’t draw audiences to theaters, perhaps due to the extremes of the violent action. But if it lacks the elaborate choreography and martial grace of John Wick (by design), it more than makes up for it […]

Fernando Di Leo’s ‘Milieu Trilogy’ on FilmStruck and Fandor

Fernando di Leo was, in the estimation of genre-hound Quentin Tarantino, “the master” of the Italian crime movie, or the “poliziotteschi.” A violent action genre that picked up the escalating violence of American films like Dirty Harry and The French Connection, films where blood spattered and cops got their hands dirty, it was never as […]

Ice-T and Drea Matteo in the film by Abel Ferrara

‘R Xmas – an Abel Ferrara holiday movie on Amazon Prime

Inspired by a supposedly true story by Cassandra De Jesus, this low-key drama is prime Abel Ferrara territory: a New York tale rumbling with irony and ambiguity. Doting Manhattan parents Drea Matteo and Lillo Brancato Jr. (both veterans of The Sopranos) keep their upper-class lifestyle together—private school for the kids, BMW for the parents, classy […]

Austin Stoker, Laurie Zimmer, and Darwin Joston in the John Carpenter film

John Carpenter’s ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ on Showtime Anytime

The first real solo flight by young filmmaker John Carpenter, Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) is the film where he announced his influences, found his strengths, and began to develop his style. It’s is a siege picture, a cross between a Howard Hawks western and a horror film that meets in a desolate Los Angeles […]

Jake Gyllenhaal is Louis Bloom in Dan Gilroy's 'Nightcrawler'

‘Nightcrawler’ on Amazon Prime

Nightcrawler earned an Oscar nomination for director Dan Gilroy’s screenplay, a wicked satire of the tabloid news television that chases sensationalistic stories for ratings (the cliché “if it bleeds, it leads” is the guiding philosophy). It should also have earned a nomination for Jake Gyllenhaal, whose Louis Bloom is a twisted Horatio Alger with the […]

Johnny Hallyday stars in Patrice Leconte's French crime drama with Jean Rochefort

‘Man on the Train’ – Elegiac French crime drama on Amazon Prime

Man on the Train (France, 2004), Patrice Leconte’s elegiac crime drama is a well-tuned character piece starring screen legend Jean Rochefort and French pop icon Johnny Hallyday as strangers with nothing in common whose chance meeting sparks a powerful friendship. Rochefort is the droopy, self-effacing dreamer Monsieur Manesquier, a retired teacher who would like nothing […]

Brian Dennehy and James Woods as cop and killer in 'Best Seller,' written by Larry Cohen and directed by John Flynn

‘Best Seller’ – James Woods kills on SVOD and Blu-ray/DVD

Best Seller (1987) is a modest but smartly-scripted thriller that holds up remarkably well, thanks to near-perfect casting and a savvy script by Larry Cohen, who was better known at the time as a cagey director of high-concept, low-budget exploitation films. James Woods brings charm to the role of Cleve, a pathologically vindictive hitman who […]

Charlize Theron goes ‘Atomic Blonde’ on VOD and Blu-ray/DVD

Lean, mean, swift, and sure, Atomic Blonde (2017) is the kind of action movie we need in the contemporary morass of CGIed to mush spectacle. That’s not to say it eschews digital effects but director David Leitch, a co-creator and uncredited co-director of John Wick and a veteran stuntman and stunt choreographer, uses digital manipulation […]