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Posts Tagged ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’

Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises are amongst my favourite movies of the year, but between them they cost the best part of the unimaginable sum of half a billion dollars. What can be done with a lower budget? All of the ten films listed below were made for less than $25million and are all the better for the invention and creativity that comes with limitations of a small budget. In a B movie tradition I have discarded indie drama’s in favour of genre movies: action, gangsters, sci-fi and horror.  The other notable thing, is that despite their B credentials they all received a UK cinema release.

Haywire
Budget: $23,000,000 (estimated)
Legend has it that Steven Soderbergh was sat at home late one night channel surfing when he came across a Mixed Martial Arts contest (a cage fight). He was so enthralled with one of the contestants Gina Carano that he diced to write a movie for her. Having never acted before it was a big risk, but we are talking about the director who cast porn star Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience. Taking a different approach for haywire, he filled the supporting roles with talented actors (Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton and Ewan McGregor), but it is the action that really sets the film apart. Forgoing the post Bourne trend of ultra close-ups and staccato editing in favour of long takes and mid length shots with lots of depth of field. It all helps show off Carano’s fighting talents. A love it or hate it film, it has received mixed reviews, personally I love it.

Killer Joe
Budget: $10,000,000 (estimated)
Back in 2006 William Friedkin made a criminally overlooked gem called Bug, it was based on a play by Tracy Letts who also wrote the screenplay. The pair re-teamed to adapt a play Letts wrote twenty years ago. Set around a criminally stupid dysfunctional Texas family it is a violent and repugnant tale. Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon are all brilliant but are in the shadow of the real star Matthew McConaughey. Often funny but the humour is truly jet black, this is a seriously fucked up film that many people will hate, again, I love it.

The Raid
Budget: $1,100,000 (estimated)
Welshman Gareth Evans is the unlikely director of this film that highlights Indonesian martial art, pencak silat. Set in a Jakarta tower block controlled by a crime lord a swat team have to fight for their lives as the story of why they are there gradually unfolds. A brutal and violent film that isn’t actually that originally but still manages to feel fresh and new. It isn’t as good, inventive or as memorable as Die Hard but it cost less than £1million, in other words less than the coffee budget from Lord of the Rings.

Wild Bill
Budget: no idea but its British so it won’t be much!
Dexter Fletcher has always been a decent and likeable actor, although never a great one, therefore it many come as a surprise, but his debut feature as a director is brilliant. Given his association with British gangster movies it is natural that Wild Bill would be set in London’s underworld. What’s great about the movie is that it avoids the usual storylines associated with this type of movie in recent years and concentrates on more personal story of an ex con who returns home from prison to find his two young sons abandoned my their mother. Being a farther is the last thing on his mind but something compels him to do the right thing. Fletcher also avoids the pitfall of casting himself instead opting for a whose who of British TV and genre movies.

Killing Them Softly
$18,000,000 (estimated)
This gritty tale of low level mobsters and hit men could have been a disaster. Not a great deal happens, it is filled with scenes of men talking around the issues of the movie. The social and political commentary have earned the movie its greatest praise and largest criticism. Directed by Andrew Dominik and starring Brad Pitt, the pair worked together on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and are both on top form again. And like all great genre movies, it clocks in at less than 100 minutes.

Lockout
$20,000,000 (estimated)
Based on an “original idea” by Luc Besson, I’m not sure there is an original idea in the whole movie and don’t think Luc Besson has actually had an original idea in a long time, but that really doesn’t matter, the movie is great. Its silly and its fun and that’s all it ever intended or indeed needed to be. The plot involves a shady but honest spy type character who is forced to rescue the president’s daughter who is held hostage on a prison in space. So basically its Die Hard meets Escape from New York, in space. The CGI is terrible and the plot is thin but none of this matters, the action is good and the dialogue is often funny. The real appeal is a surprisingly good Maggie Grace and the always brilliant Guy Pearce.

Chronicle
$12,000,000 (estimated)
The surprise low budget hit from the early part of the year. A Sci-fi movie reminiscent of Push (2009) and the TV show Misfits. I’m not a fan of the found footage genre but they get away with on the whole here. It loses its way in the final act but overall it is still an enjoyable movie. The unknown cast are good and the fact they are unknown often works in the movies favour.

Storage 24
Budget: again no idea but its British so will be well within the $25million limit.
I have suggested in the past that Noel Clarke is the most important person in the British film industry at the moment. Actor, writer, director and producer, awarded the Orange Rising Star Award at the 2009 BAFTA’s, he is the writer and star of Storage 24. Ultimately it is an alien invasion movie but without the grandeur of Hollywood movies and scaling it back to a small intimate and personal story. It plays out like a haunted house movie with a great blend of horror, comedy and action. Remembering the golden rule the creature is kept hidden for a long time and when we see it, its pretty good for a low budget movie. Criminally overlooked and underrated.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (aka Get the Gringo)
$20,000,000 (estimated)
Sadly under seen thanks to Mel Gibson’s personal problems and the lack of a cinema release in America. First time director Adrian Gruenberg worked for Gibson as assistant director on Apocalypto, the pair give us an old fashioned story of a getaway driver who finds himself in trouble south of the border. There is a scene towards the end of the movie where Gibson impersonates Clint Eastwood but long before that the film starts to resemble A Fistful of Dollars (1964)/Yojimbo (1961) and is all the better for it. Full of both the action and the dry whit you would expect from Mel Gibson of old. Ultimately it is the story of a flawed character looking for redemption, just like Gibson himself.

The Grey
$25,000,000 (estimated)
A horrible and inaccurate portrayal of grey wolves but a haunting and entertaining movie. Liam Neeson has always walked the line between serious actor and action star, originally leaning more towards actor but more recently falling on the action side of the line. When a plane carrying oil drillers crashes in the freezing wastes of Alaska the survivors are hunted by killer wolves. A metaphor for the destruction of the environment and the power of nature or just a survival thriller. Whatever you get from the movie it is well made and largely enjoyable.

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The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was one of my favourite films of 2007 so when I heard that director and star Andrew Dominik and Brad Pitt were re-teaming I was in. The original crime novel Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins was first published in 1974, the film has been updated to the modern day and is set against a backdrop of the financial crisis and the transition from Bush to Obama. 

A low level mobster (Vincent Curatola) hires Frankie and Russell, a pair of small time crooks (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) to hold up a mob run card game. As planned initial suspicion falls on Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) who is know to have previously staged a hold up. In an effort to restore order, mob enforcer/hit man Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is sent in to clear things up.

On first viewing the dialogue may sound like Tarantino without his vigour or humour (there is comedy but it is very dark). The music, especially during the slow-motion killings could be seen as a rip-off of Scorsese’s Goodfellas. The television reports of the 2008 election and financial crisis seem heavy-handed. But there is far more to it. With all the glamour and romanticism stripped from the genre we are left with a downbeat tale that is a perfect metaphor for the time. At the centre of the story is Brad Pitt’s Jackie Cogan, a hitman who despite being good at what he does has a problem. He is hates it when his victims beg for mercy and is especially squeamish about killing people he has previously met. This is where fellow hitman Mickey (James Gandolfini) comes in, his problems provides both prospective and comic relief. Richard Jenkins plays a mob equivalent of middle management, a sort of buffer between Pitt and unseen bosses. They talk about their inability to make a decision and how in finding a solution what is seen to be done is more important than what is actually done,. Cogan’s goal isn’t revenge, it is getting the poker games back in operation, it is returning to the status quo. This is when I suddenly realise the whole movie is a metaphor and as such couldn’t help watching it differently. The other stark thing about this movie is the lack of woman. The most notable female character is a prostitute who appears in one scene, but this is a man’s world, a world of low rent, low life crooks.

With a runtime of just 97 minutes the movie is short by modern standards, but is perfect for the genre movie it is on the surface. If reports that the first cut was double the length are true it shows the maturity of Andrew Dominik as a filmmaker. With his previous movie clocking in at 160 minutes, it would have been easy to do the same again, that would have been a mistake.

An effective and affecting crime movie, the social and political commentary have earned the movie its greatest praise and largest criticism. An interesting movie on one level and an enjoyable one on another, it isn’t for everyone and those who don‘t like it will really hate it. Give it a chance, I can’t guarantee you will like it but its worth the risk and even if you don’t like it Brad Pitt’s great performance is fantastic.

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