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Watching More Movies: A Look At The British Film ‘Kill List’

Watching More Movies: A Look At The British Film ‘Kill List’

Watching More Movies: A Look At The British Film ‘Kill List’

In the most recent couple of years, I’ve read a bit about British writer/director, Ben Wheatley. He made his feature debut in 2009 with a movie called “Down Terrace.” He followed it up with “Kill List,” “Sightseers,” a segment in the horror anthology “ABCs of Death” and trailers for his upcoming film, “A Field in England” are making the surreal rounds right now. I didn’t know anything about Wheatley outside of his name being associated so closely with his films, but I wanted to see what all the chatter was about and picked the one that sounded most appealing to me in his sophomore film, “Kill List.”

To describe the film is largely an exercise in futility. I mentioned I wasn’t much for surrealism back when looking at “Holy Motors,” and while this film purports to have a plot and has a much stronger grounding that “Motors,” is largely even more incomprehensible. Jay and Shel are a married couple with a young son, Sam. They scream at each other, much to Sam’s ignorance. Jay hasn’t worked in eight months and Shel won’t let him forget it. A dinner party at their house brings Jay’s old friend, Gal, and his girlfriend, Fiona, into the mix. Jay and Gal discuss a hitman job, which Shel is all for Jay taking for their family.

Kill List

Billed in its Amazon Video description as a family drama/hitman thriller/psychological horror should give you an idea of exactly what to expect through the film. These elements aren’t particularly blended together so much as they make up each act of the movie. You can imagine how jarring moving from Jay and Shel screaming at each other, to Jay and Gal shooting at priests and banging hammers into pedophile’s heads to some “Paranormal 3”-type cult stuff is. The film strives to keep you narratively on your toes, instead slapping you in the face to spin you in a different direction. The film is bizarre, but not so much in a Cronenbergian-like sense, but more of a dreamlike one.

Make no mistake about Wheatley. This is a very assured film. He undoubtedly made the film he intended to make. However, in my mind, it seems a lot more akin to an Ed Wood film than the work of a genius. It’s not a bad movie, so much as the one from which I got the least enjoyment from viewing since I started this project. Were it not for some particular curiosity and completest sake (not to mention, being able to write about it), I would have turned it off. I don’t believe this is a filmmaker coming into his own like Nicolas Winding Refn with “Pusher.”  Wheatley’s style is fully formed. And that’s to be commended. There’s talent there. Unfortunately, I just happened to not like what he’s using it for, nor do I share his taste. I now know who Wheatley is and I now know he’s just not for me.

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Watching More Movies: A Look At Michael Fassbender in Steve McQueen’s ‘Hunger’

Watching More Movies: A Look At Michael Fassbender in Steve McQueen’s ‘Hunger’

Watching More Movies: A Look At Michael Fassbender in Steve McQueen’s ‘Hunger’

I don’t hear well. I own a hearing aid, but stopped wearing it in 9th grade. It’s poor due to no reason other than being dealt a bad hearing hand, but I don’t do myself any favors, either. This causes problems when watching films from time to time, especially when not at home where subtitles are always employed. There were a few times when watching films in college I had no idea what took place. I’d have to look up information for something I’d just watched. It’s a similar situation when seeing a film where things aren’t always explained. I don’t need everything in a movie spelled out for me, but subtitles are nice.

“Hunger” is one such film where I can see what’s taking place in front of my eyes, but don’t truly comprehend the reasoning. Like my hearing, that’s partly my fault. I’m an American with little idea about British politics and its history. In researching afterward, I discovered Irish paramilitary soldiers embroiled with the British government in search to become an individualized nation, were imprisoned for their ideology and actions. Originally deemed Prisoners of War, the government revoked that tag and the prisoners protested by refusing to wear prison uniforms, neglected bathing and eventually turned to hunger strikes to have their voices heard. You can imagine which protest “Hunger” covers.

fassbender hunger

Fassbender’s wang needed to be working for future McQueen collaboration in ‘Shame.’

Largely a biopic of Irish Republican Army leader Bobby Sands, “Hunger” doesn’t introduce him until a third of the way through. Prior to, we see a prison guard soaking his knuckles in the sink. His daily routine consists of ganging up with his co-workers to drag scraggly-haired and naked prisoners out of their feces-covered cells and beating them to a pulp for in order to dole out unwanted haircuts. Sands is the epitome of putting ones money where his mouth is, as he spits in the faces of the guards, kicks and screams in protest and eventually organizes a last-ditch-effort hunger strike to get demands met, volunteering to be the first one to go with a perhaps lifelong fast.

Director Steve McQueen shows an extraordinary amount of patience for a first-timer, making “Hunger” a brutal exercise for both the viewer and the characters therein. The brutality isn’t a critique, but though the film is only 90 minutes, it’s probably as slow as an hour and half can go. The first Michael Fassbender-less third is very sparse in terms of dialogue, while the last act almost reaches silent film levels. Aside from the body-shrinking transformation Fassbender goes through toward the end, it’s the middle part, which almost completely talky, allows him to express himself in full, as he explains his upcoming act of extremism to a priest in an uninterrupted 17-minute still shot. McQueen and Fassbender deserve the utmost credit for their work here. It’s completely masterful in both respects even if it carries a “Leaving Las Vegas” level of non-rewatchability. I’m just disappointed I didn’t really know what was going on until afterward.

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Watching More Movies: Rupert Wyatt’s Brian Cox-Led ‘The Escapist’

Watching More Movies: Rupert Wyatt’s Brian Cox-Led ‘The Escapist’

Watching More Movies: Rupert Wyatt’s Brian Cox-Led ‘The Escapist’

For most, director Rupert Wyatt appeared to burst onto the scene out of nowhere to direct “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” in 2011. That’s certainly the way it appeared to me. However, that raises the question of why an unknown would be given the keys to a potential (and almost certain based on the quality and how well it ended up performing) franchise-starter. The answer is, he didn’t materialize from thin air. He directed a feature in 2008 called “The Escapist” and I set out to attempt to see what the executives at 20th Century Fox saw before they put him on “Planet of the Apes.”

“The Escapist” is set in a dingy British prison. The inmates are lorded over by Rizza, a criminal so large in oversight the guards give him carte blanche. The story doesn’t center him, though. It follows Frank Perry, a prison-lifer. For what, we’re never fully informed. Frank has been writing letters to his daughter for fourteen years in hopes to forming some communication with her. Instead, they come straight back, labeled “Return to Sender.” One time, he finally receives response, but the news is the opposite of positive, as the letter details his daughter in now a drug addict and in poor condition. Frank enlists the help of some other inmates in order to break out so he can reconcile with his daughter and hopefully help her put her life back together.

brian cox escapist

Muddying the waters of Frank’s plan is his addition of a new cellmate, Lacey. He’ll either need to be bought off or brought into the escape plan in order for Frank and his team to burrow out of the prison as planned. Luckily, Lacey’s not obnoxious, asking for the world in return for his knowledge. Unluckily, Lacey’s caught the eye of Tony, Rizza’s brother, who wants to keep Lacey for himself. Tony’s intrusion into the lives of the parties involved makes for a convoluted plot that now has to satisfy all of them.

The film’s structure tells the story in two different timelines. One of which takes place in the prison and the planning of the escape, he other takes place during the escape. The element of suspense as to whether they’ll get a shot at escaping at all is dispersed instantly. Therefore, the surprise takes place in how those timelines come to meet. I feel predisposed to enjoying prison break movies, as “The Shawshank Redemption” is my favorite film, but I’ve also enjoyed “Escape from Alcatraz” and the French film, “Le Trou,” tackling similar plots. “The Escapist” doesn’t provide that feeling, largely due to its structure. I found it somewhat middling, especially when it comes to its characters, even with a surprise thrown in toward the end. I don’t necessarily see anything that would indicate Wyatt would knock “Apes” out of the park, but credit for Fox for noticing it and for Wyatt for carrying it out, as this film didn’t do it for me.

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Watching More Movies: John Woo’s Actioner ‘A Better Tomorrow’

Watching More Movies: John Woo’s Actioner ‘A Better Tomorrow’

Watching More Movies: John Woo’s Actioner ‘A Better Tomorrow’

A former writer for this site once suggested doing a series where we wrote about a film we had a negative reaction to versus the vast majority of the population. I didn’t think the internet needed more bashing things entirely to provoke anger and hatred. Certainly every movie inspires something different in different people, but I couldn’t condone ripping on a film when I knew part of the intent was pure trollery. Alas, I find myself in a different opinion on a beloved film and just felt underwhelmed. For fans, please know this isn’t an attempt to ire, but it certainly isn’t an attempt to appease, as I discuss John Woo’s 1986 film, “A Better Tomorrow.”

Ho and Mark are members of an organization that makes and deals counterfeit U.S. dollar bills. They’re friends and partners. Ho has a younger brother named Kit who would prefer to ply his trade on the legal side of the law, as a policeman. Ho has encouraged Kit’s direction, shrouding his criminal employment in secrecy. However, his profession is known to their father, who urges Ho to turn straight, like his younger brother. When Ho is tasked with doing a deal in Taiwan alongside his underling, Shing, he’s quickly double-crossed and thrown in prison.

Money ain’t a thing, although its still “over bitches.”

After three years toiling away in prison, Ho and Kit’s father has been killed by an assassin as a result of Ho’s criminal dealings and Kit has become the policeman he always dreamed of being.  Ho attempts to reconcile with Kit to no avail. Kit would prefer Ho leave the country entirely, even though Ho has refused joining back with his criminal past. Mark begs Ho to help him take revenge on Shing who now runs their former organization and who is the target of an investigation by Kit. Ho is torn between family, friendship and restoring his own honor.

This film is ranked #2 on the list of Best Chinese Films by the Asian Film Awards. It broke Hong Kong box office records and it spawned two sequels. Woo went on to direct acclaimed films like “The Killer” and “Hard Boiled” before putting his stamp on American action films and Chow Yun-Fat would eventually become a movie star in the United States. Those big movies didn’t come directly on the heels of “A Better Tomorrow,” but this was certainly a significant stepping stone toward them.

Sadly, I don’t feel the film’s quality is all that significant. Woo’s excessive use of gun battles is definitely a point of emphasis here, but it’s a style he’d perfect later on. Here, they feel completely gratuitous. The story obviously resembles something akin to “Infernal Affairs” (which came twenty years later), but has far less an impact. I think Woo would eventually prove to be a style-over-substance director and this is Exhibit A for that claim. I’m all for style, but if that’s all I’m getting I’d prefer them in the packages of the aforementioned “The Killer” or “Hard Boiled.”

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Watching More Movies: Harrison Ford’s ‘Air Force One’ Comparable to ‘Under Siege 2′

Watching More Movies: Harrison Ford’s ‘Air Force One’ Comparable to ‘Under Siege 2′

Watching More Movies: Harrison Ford’s ‘Air Force One’ Comparable to ‘Under Siege 2′

Recently, a friend asked if I owned any guilty pleasures on DVD/Blu-ray. I answered with a “no,” in that I don’t feel guilty for enjoying any movie. Whatever I own, I like for a reason. Another friend stopped me and said he knew of one. The movie he named was “Under Siege 2.”It’s true, I own it. It’s also true that it’s not equivalent in quality to “The Shawshank Redemption,” but I like it. There are myriad reasons boiling down to nostalgia (it was the first R-rated film I saw in theaters) and badass action. A movie I borrowed from this friend was “Air Force One,” and I wondered if he’d consider his owning it to be a guilty pleasure and if not, why?

The two-film “Under Siege” franchise starred Steven Seagal as retired Navy SEAL Casey Ryback. Both films take place in condensed-space modes of transportation (a Naval battleship in the first one, a train in part two), that are hijacked by terrorists, leaving it up to Ryback to save the day. But what differentiates those plotlines from “Air Force One”? Very little. An airplane (a condensed-spaced mode of transportation) is hijacked by terrorists, leaving it up to one man to save the day. The only difference is the plane is “Air Force One” and the man is the President of the United States. The generic equivalent,
“Passenger 57,” preceded it by five years.

The gun to Harrison Ford’s face came after eating a Denver omelette.

“Air Force One” stars Harrison Ford as President James Marshall. After helping Russia capture a noted Kazakhstani war criminal (long before Borat), Marshall delivers an impromptu speech about the United States taking a new iron-fisted stance on any and all future terrorists. Boarding his plane back to the U.S., Marshall’s to meet with some Russian journalists doing a piece on his new hardline approach. As it turns out, those journalists are Kazakhstani supporters of the old regime and take the plane’s occupants hostage in order to free their former leader. Marshall, a former military vet, refuses to abandon his family and cabinet, choosing to stay on the plane and help combat the terrorist opposition he just denounced.

The comparisons to “Under Siege” are obvious. So, why would this be considered a “better” film? It stars Harrison Ford. Ford’s a better actor than Steven Seagal. No argument there. It stars Gary Oldman as the villain. True. He’s good. He’s a bigger names than Eric Bogosian, the villain in “Under Siege 2: Dark Territory,” but I’d argue his character is far better drawn than Oldman’s. It seems because it’s “the President” (and you should all know this is fictional) that “Air Force One” is more prestigious, but when it comes down to it, it’s a 90s action film in the same “Under Siege” mold. I guess I’m not going to tell you Seagal’s film(s) is/are better, but I will say they’re equivalents at worst. My preference? Here’s a clue: Casey Ryback, on a train, with a knife. Any day.

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Watching More Movies: A Look At Korean Film ‘The Good, The Bad, The Weird’

Watching More Movies: A Look At Korean Film ‘The Good, The Bad, The Weird’

Watching More Movies: The Good, The Bad, The Weird

My friend is a huge Western fan. He purposely saw “The Lone Ranger,” knowing it was going to be garbage, then defending it as “not that bad,” and justifying his ticket purchase as wanting to support the Western genre. I get the latter part, but I assure you, had “The Lone Ranger” been a hit, the Western genre wouldn’t have been the winner. He should be happy with the one or two that are made each year that are typically pretty good. It’s because of this he blindly bought Kim Jee-woon’s “The Good, The Bad, The Weird” on Blu-ray. Purely because it echoes Sergio Leone’s classic in title. For me, I borrowed it because Kim directed “I Saw the Devil,” something I consider to be a classic in its own right.

As the title would suggest, “GBW” follows three characters: “The Weird,” a petty thief who wears what appears to be a WWI pilot’s hat, named Yoon Tae-goo; “The Bad,” a double-earringed, long-haired, all-black wearing gangster named Park Chang-yi, who’s had run-ins with Tae-goo in the past and harbors a little resentment over their past altercations; and “The Good,” Park Do-won, largely out for himself, is a bounty hunter eager to claim the monetary value placed on Chang-yi’s head.

good bad weird

The story kicks into gear when Chang-yi is tasked by his boss to hijack a train carrying a Japanese official and steal a treasure map leading to riches. Unknowingly, Tae-goo is on the same train for himself and gets his hand of the map first. Do-won shows up on-site looking for Chang-yi and gets involved in the treasure hunt, making the whole ordeal a three-person affair. Guns ablaze from all three parties, but Tae-goo escapes to his home with his elderly grandmother. There, in belief of confidentiality, Tae-goo shares the secret with his friend, a clueless but perhaps mischievous, Man-gil, and a fourth claimant, a group of bandits, gets wind of the map, making the hunt a true survival of the fittest. Or rather, to the survivor go the spoils.

I recall the trailer mixing in a bunch of quirky camerawork and editing and that’s largely what I expected and hoped for in order for the film to provide me with enough to where I figured I’d enjoy it the most. Kim provides with a few standout sequences, the first of which takes place during the train hijacking/derailing. There’s plenty of gunplay and camera movement providing a fast-paced exhilaration that perhaps couldn’t sustain itself, because it certainly doesn’t. A part of that is due to the script. It’s kind of like “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” in which a wealth of characters are in hot pursuit of one goal. Though the characters had some depth to them, the film didn’t provide the narrative drive needed to sustain its runtime. This is the third Kim film I’ve seen and while this is heralded as a classic by others, I was hoping for more.

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Exclusive: Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Hateful Eight’ Script Live-Read Breakdown

Exclusive: Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Hateful Eight’ Script Live-Read Breakdown

Director Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” Script Sees Light Via Live-Read: A Breakdown

Like a kid marking the calendar on December 26th awaiting next Christmas, the moment you anticipate the release of Quentin Tarantino’s next film is the moment you leave the theater after his most recent one. Since 2004’s “Kill Bill Vol. 2,” the man’s been on a streak of debuting a new film every two to three years. So, when he revealed some tidbits on “The Tonight Show” back in November about his new script being “a Western,” it served as a nice base-layer of appetite-whetting you knew was coming down the pike relatively soon.

Unfortunately, the dreams of desire were dashed in January when the Western he’d written, called “The Hateful Eight” leaked online. He had given it to some close actor friends and was justifiably furious at the betrayal before he bestowed his latest project upon the world in fully-fledged form. He vowed to never make it into a movie and mused that he would perhaps just publish it and let that be that and move on to the next thing.

To say the least, I found the news distressing. As if the Grinch had not only stolen Christmas before it happened, but potentially put the kibosh on the holiday for another several years. Even though the ability to peek at your present existed in the form of the available online document, I resisted. It would only make God (Tarantino) cry. I was resigned to be happy to read the script when he published it and I could lend my support through purchasing what he had legally put out there on his own volition.

Then, a few weeks ago, it was announced Q.T. was going to do a one-time-only live reading of “The Hateful Eight” in downtown Los Angeles. Christmas, albeit in a different form, was back on the calendar.

Let me break this down like a 1997-era Kurt Russell and Jonathan Mostow.

The live-read was held on Saturday, April 19th, at 8:00 p.m. in the theater of the Ace Hotel. Thousands of people attended. I sat in Row L of the Orchestra section, smack dab in the middle of line of seats, making any luckily-unnecessary quick evacuation impossible. I noticed Harvey Weinstein a few rows ahead of me. Some fiendish woman waved her arms wildly at Elvis “The Graying Predator” Mitchell as he took the stage to introduce the event. He waves back.

The god Q.T. replaced Mitchell at the podium to rapturous standing applause, which maintained throughout the announcement of the entire cast. Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins, Amber Tamblyn, James Parks, James Remar, Zoe Bell and a couple of other actors I didn’t know/can’t recall (but briefly considered copying from another website only to want to maintain the integrity of my experience) leapt up on stage, received their pre-accolades and took their seats (some on stage, some down in the first row of the orchestra when they weren’t used for the scene at-hand).

hateful eight bruce dern

Tarantino briefly set the stage, so to speak, by stating in his typical authorial style, the script was divided into (five) chapters. He read the stage directions throughout.

The story begins in a post-Civil War winter, as a stagecoach manned by O.B. (Parks) makes its way across a landscape headed for the nearby Red Rock for shelter to escape a certain blizzard. O.B. spots a black man standing over three bodies, holding a lantern. This is Major Warren (Jackson), a bounty hunter with three corpses post-hunting. He’s looking to hitch a ride to Red Rock, as well, but O.B. explains it’s up to the passenger who paid for the ride. The passenger is John Ruth (Russell), who’s also a bounty hunter with some cargo of his own. However, his future payday is alive and handcuffed to his arm in the form of Daisy Domergue (Tamblyn). After racial unpleasantries are exchanged and Warren hands over a letter from Abraham Lincoln certifying his position, Ruth allows him and his literal dead weight aboard.

The stagecoach also encounters Chris Minnix (Goggins), a man asserting himself as the new sheriff of Red Rock but without any papers of proof. Eventually he coaxes his way aboard and the group of five (plus the three dead bodies (these eight individuals do not make up the titular octet)) takes refuge inside Minnie’s Haberdashery.

I’ve only read one Tarantino script (“Django Unchained”), but knew he had a penchant for prose-like flourishes in his descriptions. Minnie’s Haberdashery brought them all out. His description of the shop serving as a shelter was that it functioned as almost anything other than a haberdashery. Mainly a place for coffee, which serves as a key element throughout the script. Tarantino even brought out a large blue coffee pot from behind the podium at every mention. Thinking back to his playing Jimmy in “Pulp Fiction,” taking pride in the coffee he buys, you can tell Tarantino is a man who revels in his caffeine.

The rest of the story takes place in and around the Haberdashery and serves as a boiling pot (pun might as well be intended) of trust, deceit, mistrust and race relations. Once our traveling group makes its way inside, they encounter other nomads seeking a roof over their heads in the form of cowboy Joe Gage (Madsen), a fobbish Englishman (Roth), General Smithers (Dern) and a Frenchman with an American name, Bob (one of the names I couldn’t grasp). Tension is always on the verge of spilling over into kinetic violence. General Smithers, a former Confederate officer has a brutal verbal exchange with Major Warren that had the crowd of a couple thousand leaning forward on the edge of their seats. It’s a position that was only relinquished when an intermission was called.

It was awesome (as in, the stuff of awe) to see Tarantino direct. He would occasionally have the actors repeat a line or whisper into their ear and even admonished them all once for straying too far from the words on the page. He was the master of his domain the way you would imagine him to be. Roth played his English gentleman with a glee I imagined emanating from Christoph Waltz. Tarantino has said that Waltz interprets his dialogue with a poetry that only one actor has done before, and that other actor is Jackson. Jackson was the only performer I assumed would be in the theater when the program was announced, even though the only thing I knew about it was that it was a Western. It’s sometimes difficult to appreciate how truly great the man is, as he does so many things (including a brief back-and-forth spat with this very site), but when revisiting his work, it’s impossible to deny. He’s the character and portrayal I’ll carry with me long after the event has passed.

Luckily for anyone not in attendance, I have a feeling you’ll be able to witness what I was able to in due time. Tarantino announced at the beginning of the reading that he’s continuing to rewrite the script and is now on this third draft. The Chapter Five we’d see would be completely rewritten. Those are the words of a man I think has probably been reinvigorated by this process and encouraged to go forth and craft a film of the script as he had initially planned. Christmastime will come again. God (Q.T.) bless everyone.

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Watching More Movies: David Mamet’s Con Film ‘House of Games’

Watching More Movies: David Mamet’s Con Film ‘House of Games’

Watching More Movies – David Mamet’s Con Film ‘House of Games’

I have no desire to be a con artist, but I enjoy the concept of it. Especially when the cons are depicted in films and I have no chance of being swindled, myself. I’ve loves a number of con man films, like “The Sting,” “Ocean’s 11” is kind of a con man movie and so is the first twenty minutes of “Hard Eight.” Some I felt were less successful, like “The Grifters” or “Confidence.” The key to the con artist film appears to playing for the long con. The twist that takes the length of the film to reveal. However, I think what interests me the most is the short con. The quick get-this-person-to-give-you-some-money grift. “House of Games” plays both ways.

In “House of Games,” David Mamet makes his directorial debut from his own script. The story follows Margaret Ford, a psychologist, who comes to the aid of one her patients, a compulsive gambler. This patient owes $25,000 to an underground gambling ring called “The House of Games.” Margaret ventures into the building and asks for the debtor, a man named Mike. He checks his book and sees Margaret’s patient only owes $800, not $25,000, and he’ll consider writing off the debt if she does him a quick favor and pretend to be his girlfriend and sit in on this card game he’s taking part in. He instructs her to watch for a fellow player’s tell of playing with his wedding ring, as Mike pretends to go to the bathroom. She does and it’s revealed as a ploy to con her out of her money, which she discovers before it happens.

house of games

Instead of being repelled at the thought of nearly losing out on her hard-earned dollars, Margaret is seduced by the art of the con. She begs Mike to let her be a part of that world and accompany him on grifts. Mike introducers her to a couple of smaller scams used to con people out of their cash, like a magician revealing his secrets, but never actually goes through with taking the money. It’s more of a crash course for the bigger con for which he wants Margaret to be a key contributor.

Mamet’s directing has never risen close to the acclaim of his written words and while I don’t believe that’s an unfair assertion, I’d say his visual flair might outshine any particular dialogue in this film. He uses blacks beautifully, at times isolating the characters by themselves surrounded by shadows though they appear to be in a practical setting. This isn’t to say none of the smart writing for which Mamet is known for makes an appearance here, as the story of the journey down the scheming wormhole is an alluring one. There just aren’t any iconic, “Get them to sign on the line which is dotted” moments. The film plays the short and the long cons to great amusement and it earns the title a place among the “good” con man films.

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