Category Archives: Heist

Weekend Outlook – June 10, 2016

With X-Men: Apocalypse, Alice Through The Looking Glass, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows tumbling their way down the top 10,  there’s more than enough room for a couple more sequels to make waves amid another weekend stuffed with multiple new wide releases. This weekend we will see a highly anticipated follow up to one of the best horror films of the last 10 years. Second, we have a not-so-highly anticipated sequel to a mediocre mystery drama about a troupe of magicians illusionists. Finally, we see a video-game adaption from a visionary director that has been doing amazingly well in China and Russia.

The Conjuring 2

Conjuring2

So far, 2016 has become a graveyard for high-profile sequels as Alice Through the Looking Glass, Zoolander 2, Allegiant, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, and The Huntsman: Winter’s War have all under-performed. However, both cinematic continuations hitting theaters Friday look like they will bring in respectable grosses. The Conjuring 2 will almost certainly take the #1 spot this weekend after the dazzling run of its predecessor in 2013. I won’t be watching it, because I don’t like having nightmares.

The Conjuring, based on the spooky real-life dealings of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, grossed $41.9 million in its opening weekend nearly three years ago. Its sequel, also directed by James Wan with Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson returning, is opening on approximately 3,200 screens this weekend, and will bring the series back to No. 1 at the weekend box office. For starters, strong critical reviews for a modern horror film are almost an anomaly, but The Conjuring 2 has them, as 64 percent of critics surveyed by Metacritic have given the film a positive review.

Warcraft

warcraft-movie

While it is expected to disappoint in North America, Warcraft, however, could put up a worthy fight for the No. 2 slot. Traditionally, video game adaptations are awful, but if anyone call pull off the impossible, it is Duncan Jones the director of two of the most original and thrilling sci-fi movies of the last 20 years in Moon and Source Code. The film hits almost 3,400 North American screens this weekend with a robust international gross already under its belt. Based on the wildly popular Blizzard Entertainment video game series with millions of active subscriber accounts.

Warcraft brought in the biggest Thursday gross ever (around $45 million) in China following a huge estimated $46 million opening on Wednesday, upping its total in the country to more than $90 million and counting. Given its low critical reviews (32 percent on Metacritic) and lack of star power among the cast, the picture is seemingly selling itself on brand alone. However, with more than 1.7 million likes on its official Facebook page, Warcraft also seems to be making a decent impact with its target demographic via their go-to medium: the internet.

Now You See Me 2

Nowyouseeme2

Now You See Me 2 has big shoes to fill. Its 2013 predecessor was arguably the most unexpected runaway hit of the year, grossing $351.7 million worldwide during its run. This film has a great following and has infused some new talent into it’s cast. As I watch, I’m going to be waiting for Harry Daniel Radcliffe to pull out his wand.

The only problem for Now You See Me 2, however, is that its legs are probably nowhere near as sturdy as its forerunner’s. Critics haven’t been as kind this time around (it currently sits at 48 percent on Metacritic), though audience anticipation is strong, I think we will see a fairly warm welcome from fans, but that passion will quickly die down and Now You See Me 2 will join the graveyard of 2016 sequels.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

reservoir_dogs_3

At this point, the story of Quentin Tarantino has become fodder of the dreams of independent and amatuer filmmakers. Just over 20 years ago, Tarantino was working at a video store and all he had were his dreams. Now he is considered to be one of the most creative and visionary storytellers of our generation. His name has been listed along those of Scorsese, Kubrick, and Hitchcock. This is the film that started all of that. Before Pulp Fiction rocketed him to fame, Reservoir Dogs shocked and surprised audiences and critics alike. Empire magazine called it the greatest independent film of all time. It cost 1.2 million to make and doubled that in box office reciepts even though it was shown in less than 100 theaters. Tarantino has cited Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing as one of the major influences for Reservoir Dogs. Sadly, I have not seen this earlier gem. But I see many similarities between Kubrick and Tarantino. Tarantino, the fast-talking former video store clerk remains a major player. In fact, of his seven features, five are listed in the IMDb Top 250:

  • Reservoir Dogs
  • Jackie Brown
  • Kill Bill
  • Inglourious Basterds
  • Django Unchained

So, what can I say about Reservoir Dogs that hasn’t already been said? Not much, but I can say it again. It’s a straightforward heist film that follows the genre’s basic format. A group of talented professionals band together for one big score. The attempt goes awry and the members turn on each other in the aftermath. There’s also a traitor, often an undercover cop, who places the others in jeopardy, willingly or not. In his debut film, Tarantino takes this model and infuses it with his now signature style and breathes life and chaos into the predictable formula.

reservoir-dogs

First of all, Tarantino injects on the genre is his over-the-top dialogue, which has become more renowned because of Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, and his more recent projects. Reservoir Dogs opens with a lengthy conversation about the meaning of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”, led by Tarantino himself as Mr. Brown. This type of pop-culture discussion from his characters would become a signature part of Tarantino’s movies going forward. Heist films aren’t generally known for their dialogue, so this was quite a dramatic change and widely expanded the audience for this movie. Characters mention Lee Marvin, Marlon Brando, the Thing from the Fantastic Four, The Lost Boys, and other enjoyable references. These guys may be involved in a daring crime, but they’re still people with other interests.

Secondly, Tarantino removes the normal focus of a heist film. The only scene we get of the heist is Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) fleeing from police after being ambushed. He recounts his escape to Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) after they gather at a vacant warehouse, which is the primary setting for the movie. By doing this, he deepens the film. The film really begins in the aftermath of the botched heist, and it’s jarring to leap right into the unknown situation. Mr. White is driving a getaway car while his cohort Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) writhes in the back seat and bleeds profusely from a gut shot. Most heist films introduce us to the characters and focus on their preparations for the big robbery. Tarantino does flash back to the time prior to the heist, but he’s not interested in their specific plans. Instead, he’s concerned with briefly setting up these professional thieves and their backgrounds.

reservoir_dogs 4

Third, heist movies typically focus on criminals, there usually is a lead character (or a group of characters) that we identify with and want to succeed. A good example is Frank Ocean, who we follow from the start of Oceans 11, and while we meet others, we are tied to Frank and root for him and his team, even though he is a crook. In Reservoir Dogs, it’s not clear who we should root for because Tarantino scrambles the narrative. If the story was told chronologically, we’d likely connect with Tim Roth’s undercover cop, known by the alias Mr. Orange. In this structure, however, we don’t learn his identity and back story until more than an hour into the movie. By that point, we’ve grown to like Harvey Keitel’s Mr. White, especially because of his loyalty to his comrade. Steve Buscemi’s Mr. Pink is also interesting, though he’s a bit too manic and doesn’t tip. After we see the lengthy interlude of Orange’s preparations to infiltrate the gang, we feel sorry for the guy, but he’s not really our hero. Tarantino is taking a real chance by stopping the forward plot so late in the game. Watching Orange rehearse his made-up story is a classic segment, but it only works if we’re invested in the story. Tarantino trusts that we’re interested enough in this world to stick with him until the final shootout.

reservoir_dogs 2

A fourth departure is the graphic violence, which keeps us on edge throughout the movie. Unlike gangster films, heist movies usually spend more time on the characters and plans of the heist and don’t include brutal killings. Tarantino actually moves some of the grisliest moments off-screen, but the overall nastiness remains. The prime example is Mr. Blond (Michael Madsen), who’s recently spent time in prison and has returned with a crazy streak. In the movie’s signature scene, he tortures a helpless cop, cuts off his ear, and prepares to burn him with gasoline. There’s no motive for this action beyond inflicting pain in the most vicious way possible. Strutting to the sweet sounds of “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Stealers Wheel, he delivers a frightening, yet cool depiction of a psychopath. This is not your everyday working-class thief.

The ending of the film is classic. It encapsulates the nihilism that we have seen throughout. We see loyalty and trust as well as betrayal and death. So, should everyone watch this film? Certainly not. If coarse language and violence is offensive to you, if you’ve seen other Tarantino films and been disgusted, then this won’t be for you. However, if you are a fan of gangster and heist movies or if you enjoy Tarantino’s style, you will like this first of his efforts. Tarantino injects his own unconventional style into the genre and delivers a powerful, energetic, and original film.

Do you agree with me? Am I way off on this one? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter or Facebook.