Review: LOLA VERSUS Puts the Fun in Dysfunctional Love

Lola Versus
Fox Searchlight

Remember when you were 10, and you thought by 22 you’d be married, with a big house (that has a white picket fence) and two perfect children? Maybe a dog and a cat to complete the family? But when you hit 30, you may start to realize that all those dreams won’t necessarily come true. Welcome to the suck, sucker.

"Lola Versus" is the story of a girl who didn’t get everything she wanted, at the time she wanted it — and how she deals with that. Greta Gerwig is Lola, who’s fixing to marry the man of her dreams, Luke (played by future RoboCop and current Detective Stephen Holder on AMC’s “The Killing,” Joel Kinnaman). Things are going well for Lola. She’s about to finish school, the wedding planning is coming along nicely … and then kerplunk, Luke calls off the engagement just three weeks before the wedding.

Also Check Out: 5 Questions With “Lola Versus” Star and Writer Zoe Lister-Jones

Like anyone who’s just had their childhood dreams shattered, Lola reluctantly embarks on a journey of self-discovery through a series of unfortunate events. It’s Lola versus the world.

Lola Versus
Fox Searchlight

Instead of filling the movie with romantic cliches that almost never work in the real world (Carrie Bradshaw would never take Mr. Big back after what he put her through, amirite?), we get an honest and hilariously awkward story about being an adult while at the same time learning to be an adult. It’s coming-of-age story about a woman who’s too old to be coming of age. And in a strange and charming way, it all works.

"Lola Versus" stars the new queen of independent cinema, Greta Gerwig. The ’90s had Parker Posey; we have Gerwig, who’s appeared in "LOL," "Nights and Weekends" and "Greenberg" (for which she earned an Indie Spirit Award nomination). In her films, we get to watch her characters go through all the relationship woes and life oopsies that all of us can relate to in one way or another and think, "Thank God I am not alone."

Lola has a lot of love to give, but she just doesn’t know where to put it. Gerwig knows how to play this damsel in distress, making awkward look endearing. But when it’s time for Lola to pull out those identifiable moments of loneliness, Gerwig bangs you over the head like a bag of hammers. (As a bonus, Bill Pullman plays Lola’s free-living father and, as always, rules.)

Also Check Out: Interview with “Lola Versus” Star Greta Gerwig

"Lola Versus" marks the second writing collaboration between real-life couple Zoe Lister-Jones (who almost steals the movie as Lola’s potty-mouthed best friend, Alice) and Daryl Wein (who directed the film). There’s no doubt this film is a thank you card to the hell that these two once put each other through. Hopeless romantics will recognize many of the things we’ve experienced during an unwanted breakup: the power-eating, the sex with strangers and friends, and yes, the not showering or underwear-changing for days.

These are real people in real situations using real dialogue. “Lola Versus” is what happens when you shake life up a little bit and let it fall out of your hands.

From the GATW Archives: Sundance 2011 Review: WIN WIN

Editor’s note: This review was originally written on February 3rd, 2011 at the Sundance Film Festival

Rating: 4.5/5

Writers: Thomas McCarthy (screenplay and story), Joe Tiboni (story)
Director: Thomas McCarthy
CastPaul GiamattiAmy RyanJeffrey TamborAmy RyanMelanie LynskeyBobby Cannavale

Tom McCarthy can do no wrong. He first captured our hearts with his writing/directing debut, THE STATION AGENT. Then he showed the world Richard Jenkins has the full potential to be a leading man in THE VISITOR (for which Jenkins garnered a well-deserved Oscar nod). And now, in 2011, McCarthy is back with his third feature, a high school wrestling movie with a lot of heart, WIN WIN.

WIN WIN is a story of unlikely people entering each other’s lives. Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is a lawyer by day, high school wresting coach by night. His practice isn’t very successful (he can’t even afford to fix the plumbing), and he’s not at all in shape (being outran in the opening scene gives us this heads up). He decides to take one of his clients into his care after discovering he can get paid weekly for it, and meets his runaway grandson, child wrestling prodigy Kyle Timmons (newcomer Alex Shaffer). Kyle soon starts wrestling on Flaherty’s team and everything around him begins to look promising again, from the wrestling team to family life. Little known fact: WIN WIN was spawned off McCarthy’s real life friendship with a former high school wrestling teammate.

Tom McCarthy knows the dynamics of friendship and family. WIN WIN is a charming story about making the right choices. As Flaherty is teaching Kyle to do the right thing, we learn he’s wrestling troubles of his own. McCarthy gives balances to real life problems with real life solutions. Sometimes good people make bad decisions and almost always they learn and grow from it.

It’s no shock that Giamatti turns out another fine performance in WIN WIN. Again and again, he puts his all in to everything he does, showing the world how powerful one can be with a set of lines. This man can silence a room with his signature droopy facial expressions. He’s an actor’s actor. The Babe Ruth of thespians.

WIN WIN’s character interactions are what, excuse me, win us over. As Jackie Flaherty (the forever wonderful Amy Ryan) is talking to Kyle about new starts in life, she references her Jon Bon Jovi initialed ankle tattoo - a.k.a. a physical reminder of her rebellious stage. This is one of many small, dynamite interactions in WIN WIN that speak so loudly about how effective real communication can be.  When you’re young and feel like the world is against you, it’s nice to know a peer once sat in your spot in life.

Giamatti is aided by Jeffrey Tambor and Bobby Cannavale. These two very funny actors play Flaherty’s assistant coaches and come so close to completely pulling the mat from under Giamatti’s feet. This is the best (and one of the most unexpected) comedic duos I’ve seen on screen in a very long time. It’s almost as if McCarthy let these two run amok, only telling them to read their lines and spin it how ever the hell they want. If that’s the case, it worked.

WIN WIN makes Tom McCarthy three-for-three. Grabbing the affection from the audience is what he wants, and my dear reader, he can’t lose.

From the GATW Archives: Theatrical Review: SCREAM 4 (SCRE4M)

Rating: 2.5/5

WriterKevin Williamson
DirectorWes Craven
CastNeve CampbellCourteney CoxDavid ArquetteAnna PaquinKristen BellAlison BrieHayden PanettiereEmma RobertsRory Culkin, Anthony AndersonAdam Brody
Studio: Dimension Films

Like most people in their late twenties reading this review, the SCREAM franchise was a staple of my teen angst years. The first film was filled with terrifying goodness, which opened the floodgates of copycat scripts and features (most notably URBAN LEGEND and I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER) for years to come. What was so enthralling about the SCREAM films was watching director Wes Craven try new things, poke fun at his past mistakes, and create admirable cinematic horror.

Eleven years later, we’re given a much anticipated follow-up, SCREAM 4 (known mostly as SCRE4M) which, I’m very sad to report, is lazy, hollow, and a disappointing attempt at rebooting the popular franchise.

The SCREAM series is entirely built on trying to kill Sidney Prescott; within it, a desire to end Sidney Prescott’s life is normal, but now it’s been eleven years since that last happened. Sid (Neve Campbell) has come out of hiding and is on a book tour, signing autographs and reading snippets from her self-help book. She returns to her hometown of Woodsboro, where the chaos and murders first took place on said tour, and it just so happens that she has returned on the 15th anniversary of when the murders first took place.

Almost everyone makes it clear they do not want to be around Sid, because, well, it’s like “being on Top Chef with Jeffrey Dahmer.” So many surrounding her who she loved and trusted have fallen victim to Ghostface’s love of both horror trivia and the knife. Unfortunately for Sid, who has seemingly lived without fear for eleven years, her return has resurrected Ghostface, who once again will try his (or her) hand at putting her six feet under. There’s a lot more things I could and want to discuss with the synopsis, but being a huge SCREAM fan, I will stop there, as surprises and cameos are only fun when you’re not expecting them.

Screenwriter and creator Kevin Williamson (who wrote the first two SCREAMs) has returned (with unspecified touchups by SCREAM 3 writer, Ehren Kruger), director Wes Craven has returned, and the survivors from the original three (Sid, Dewey Riley, and Gale Weathers) have all returned - so where does this film go wrong? The first thing SCRE4M gives us is violence. SCRE4M is extremely violent. Some of the kills are great and will be remembered quite clearly within this franchise. The problem here is that so many victims get knifed so fast, and the thing that made the previous SCREAMs so much fun - the “whodunit” - is quickly, pardon me, killed off.

In SCRE4M, seven STAB features have been made, horror reboots are the butt of almost all the jokes, and everything is still meta. Since time has passed, Ghostface is now using new social technology and networking, such as iPhone apps and Facebook, to confuse and get his victims. We’re told via the poster “New Decade. New Rules.” Our new killer appears much angrier, and as the president and vice-president of Woodsboro High’s Cinema Club go over the new rules, the first and most applied is this: the kills are way more extreme. Some could argue the violence distracts from everything else in the film, but in order to follow this rule, the violence is a necessity.

Everybody is still a suspect and everybody is still a victim, but narrowing down our Ghostface has become easier than ever. Maybe it was me going crazy over trying to guess who the killer (or killers) was this time around, but I didn’t have much problem once the more questionable victims were taking out of the equation early in the film. One last nitpick to add about original players returning - SCREAM 1, 2, and 3 composer Marco Beltrami is back. Now, I’m no Allison Loring, but I can tell when captivating music that once literally put me on the edge of my seat has been gutted. SCRE4M’s music is just…bad and goofy.

Like the previous SCREAMS, all of our victims are put through the wringer. Everyone knows the original rules to succesfully surviving a horror film, but nobody pays any mind to them when in suspicious situations. This, I like - it separates reality from fiction and asks the question, “what would you really do when put in said situation?

The SCREAM series is notorious for being silly, all while still being scary - Craven and his team of writers knew how to mesh and separate the scares with the silly. SCRE4M just slices the scares in half, dumping out comedy as its guts. Maybe this is the intention from Craven and Williamson, I’m not to say, but I don’t like it. Not one bit. SCREAM 1, 2, and 3 were a fun journey - SCRE4M has lost that edge.

From the GATW Archives: Theatrical Review: SUPER 8

Rating: SUPER 8/10

Writer/Director: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Joel CourtneyElle FanningAmanda MichalkaRyan LeeKyle Chandler
Studio: Paramount

J.J. Abrams has a lot on his mind. Starting out his career as an actor in REGARDING HENRY (which he also happened to write as only his second feature), Abrams then broke into producing and has turned everything he’s backed into gold, starting with television series like AliasLost, and Fringe. But it wasn’t until MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III that he started directing features and showed the world that the third film in a series can be its best, and that Tom Cruise can run really, really fast. Then Abrams went on to prove that you don’t have to be a Trekkie to appreciate Star Trek with his super-successful STAR TREK feature reboot. This leads us to now, and to his superb love letter to the late ’70s/’80s-era films of Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment - SUPER 8.

Set in the summer of 1979 in small town Ohio, our story begins with a tragedy. Joe Lamb’s (Joel Courtney) mother has been killed in a work-related accident at the local steel factory, Lillian Steel. We’re not made aware of what exactly has happened, but Joe’s father and the town’s deputy (Kyle Chandler), knows Lillian employee and town drunk Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard) had something to do with it. To keep his mind busy, Joe is helping a group of friends make a zombie film (shot on Super 8 of course) for a local film festival. One night while shooting at a train station, the kids witness a horrific and mysterious train crash and days later, something from the wrecked cargo starts to go bump in the night.

What I like about Abrams is that he can take a cast of almost unknowns and still create some of the best marketing buzz around. This worked for CLOVERFIELD (he produced), and it works for SUPER 8. In order for SUPER 8 to be a success upon its release, its audience has to believe in the friendships within the central group of kids - it needs to feel natural. This is what makes SUPER 8 so rewarding - the chemistry between the pack of kids (I like to refer to them as the Super Squad) is unflinchingly honest when it comes to portraying the friendships you may have had when you were young and the world was full of things that didn’t make sense - earthly or otherwise.

The real charm of SUPER 8 is in watching the kids make their zombie movie - the film within the film if you will. “Director” Charles (Riley Griffiths) takes charge, while Cary (the hilarious Ryan Lee) goofs around like any kid should, while Joe is busy putting makeup on the girl of his dreams, Alice Dainard (the always-wonderful Elle Fanning).

Even though SUPER 8 is an an Amblin film production, it’s still an ode to the company and the feelings its films possess. SUPER 8 is packed with movie geek nostalgia at its best. Abrams pays homage to those films of yesterday with the Spielberg-influenced set design to Michael Giacchino’s very John Williams-esque score, all while putting his own stamp on it with lens flares and a monster.

SUPER 8 is an unconventional monster movie that could still walk on its feet without any paranormal activity involved. What’s special about Amblin sci-fi films is that their focus is geared toward story, rather than violence, gore, and cheap jump scares. There are scares, but our attention remains with the kids and their adventure - think THE GOONIES meets THE MONSTER SQUAD, mixed with the feelings films like E.T. and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS gave you as a kid.

With most summer popcorn flicks you can just shut off your brain and enjoy. Not with an Abrams’ flick - there’s so much going on intellectually that you can’t help but keep those electrons racing while still enjoying what you’re currently seeing. J.J. Abrams proves, once again, that his filmmaking talents are far superior than most of his generation.

From the GATW Archives: Sundance 2010 Review: HOLY ROLLERS

Rating: 3/5

Writer: Antonio Macia
Director: Kevin Asch
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Bartha, Q-Tip

If there’s two things that just don’t mix, it’s drugs and religion. These two entities come crashing together in HOLY ROLLERS, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Bartha. Eisenberg plays Sam Gold, a young adult from Brooklyn living in a very strict Orthodox Jewish community. All Sam wants is to make his father happy and marry the girl of his dreams; but in order to do that, he feels he needs to be rich. As Fresh Prince once said, “Life got flipped turned upside down” after his pal Yosef (Justin Bartha) persuades him to deal Ecstacy - you know, the stuff that makes sandpaper feel like cotton.

I always enjoy watching Eisenberg on the big screen. He brings a certain charm to all of his performances that makes whatever he’s in very enjoyable. You wanna feel sorry for him, but you know there’s a man somewhere inside there. In ROLLERS, he does continue his shtick of being the awkward guy, but towards the end of the film, he gains some courage and starts taking a little control of situations. It’s nice seeing a quiet man take charge after being so easily manipulated; and as the film progresses and he gets deeper into the drug world, his appearance becomes less of an Orthodox Jew and more like a street thug.

But as much as I love Eisenberg, Justin Bartha pulled the mat out from under his feet in every scene. Justin’s previous performance was pretty quiet (the missing guy in THE HANGOVER), but in ROLLERS, he plays the most loud-mouthed racist, coked out, quack Jew I’ve ever seen. And no matter what, he’s never seen without his white Nikes, not even in church. Bartha definitely passes as a confident - and at times ballsy - Ecstasy dealer.

One thing about this film that will not leave my brain is its score (composed by Mj Mynarski). There’s a scene where Sam and Yosef are racing on the Brooklyn Bridge towards the camera in slow motion while instrumental music plays over. It’s a beautiful scene, and made me think, “This is the happiest moment in Sam Gold’s life.”

The one and only problem I had with HOLY ROLLERS was the pacing. I found myself getting slightly bored and at times, looking at my watch. When a movie deals with drugs (especially the kind that brings out one’s awesomeness), I should be alert for the film’s entire running time. I’m sure it’s not easy to mesh Orthodox Judaism and Ecstasy (some people may even get offended), but Asch did a pretty good job.

From the GATW Archives: Theatrical Review: RAMONA AND BEEZUS

Rating: 3/5

DirectorElizabeth Allen
CastJoey KingSelena GomezBridget Moynahan
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Ramona Quimby (Joey King) has two traits that define her more than anything else: she spends half of her time daydreaming and the rest annoying her elementary teacher with her made-up words. She doesn’t want to learn real words used in everyday speech, she wants use the words that she’s invented. And, besides the daydreaming and wordsmithing, the only other major thing going on in young Ramona’s life is that she was just informed that her family might be moving because her father, Robert (John Corbett -Sex and the City), was just laid off from his job. I remember moving when I was in the second grade and I hated it. And what Ramona does in response is what any child would do to gain more attention from their busy parents - she causes trouble.

I have to confess, I’ve never read any of the Ramona and Beezus books. With my being a twenty-seven year old male, it might have been a bit of a struggle to keep me interested in the hijinks of a precocious kiddo. But, going into RAMONA AND BEEZUS as a journalist, I kept an open mind.

Yes, this is a children’s film, but that doesn’t destroy its potential from being a great kids’ flick, or even just really cute. One of the best things about this movie is Ramona’s dream sequences. Remember when you were a child and you jumped off your roof for fun and the fall seemed endless? Director Elizabeth Allen achieves that feeling in these sequences. The best example of these sequences involves an amusing portion when a large hole is dislodged from the Quimbys’ house. Ramona and her pal spend hours dressing up and jumping off that three foot drop, but then Allen’s visions come into play and Ramona’s blanket transforms into a parachute and sees her floating for a large amount of time, even though us older folks know it took her about a second and a half to touch ground.

The initial message Allen and her team of writers (Laurie Craig and Nick Pustay) bring to this film is the importance of family bonding. It’s a difficult time for the Quimbys, as they are frustrated with both their current situation and one another. But, in the end, love brings them together, no matter what the outcome of their problems. I can vouch that RAMONA AND BEEZUS is a great film to bring the kiddos in your life to see. It’s both funny and imaginative, and it reaffirms why love is so important, even to the peskiest of little ones.

From the GATW Archives: Theatrical Review: ANIMAL KINGDOM

James Wallace saw and wrote a review of ANIMAL KINGDOM at Sundance 2010. You can read that HERE.

Rating: 4.5/5

Writer/Director: David Michôd
Cast: Guy Pearce, Jacki Weaver, Ben Mendelsohn, James Frecheville, Joel Edgerton

I’m a fan of Twitter, so naturally, after seeing a movie, I micro-review my thoughts about what I just saw for my followers to read. It gives them a sort of heads up on what to expect from a film. When I walked out of the screening for ANIMAL KINGDOM, I instantly tweeted, “This is the first film that ripped every emotion out of my body.” Some wondered if that was a negative statement or a positive.  Let me clear that up for you in six words: ANIMAL KINGDOM is just plain badass.

ANIMAL KINGDOM is a film that will stick with you for days, maybe even weeks. There are moments in this film so honest and brutal, you can’t help but realize that things like this really happen in this fucked up world. Writer/director David Michôd really brings out the awe factor in a movie I have classified as “a really kick-ass Aussie version of POINT BREAK.” If you’ve seen NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD, then you know Australian filmmakers have been known to really raise the bar as far as intensity goes. Michôd does just that. He knows how to sneak up on your emotions. Just when you think things are going to calm - a shit storm flares and your heart begins pounding against your chest again and again. You never know what’s going to happen next and you just want to yell at the screen. This man is very clever.

ANIMAL KINGDOM opens with Joshua “J” Cody (an oddly astounding young James Frecheville) sitting next to his mum, whose eyes are closed. Paramedics walk in and ask him what’s wrong. Heroin overdose. She’s dead and he shows no signs of sadness. It’s clear that his mum was an abuser of  the narcotic. J was born into this. He calls his grandma (Jacki Weaver) and asks if he can live with her. He promptly moves into her house, where her sons (his uncles) come and go as they please. Those uncles are Barry Brown (Joel Edgerton), Darren Cody (Luke Ford), Craig Cody (Sullivan Stapleton), and the last uncle, the man who pushes this whole story into total anarchy, Andrew “Pope” Cody (a very creepy and awesome Ben Mendelsohn).

I compare this film to POINT BREAK, but a really badass Aussie version of it, because in the opening credits we’re shown stills of men in masks robbing various stores. On its most basic level, ANIMAL KINGDOM unfolds as a cops versus robbers story, but this firecracker leaves a trail of innocence lost and an unpleasant view of a broken family. When J arrives at his new home, the uncles are at the kitchen table, sorting out money. By now, the true identity of the men in the masks should be very apparent. The only brother missing is Pope, who is hiding because everyone thinks the cops are hot on his trail. When Pope finally appears, all the good vibrations of easy money goes to bad, to worse, to holy shit this can’t possibly get any worse.

Frecheville's J is the lead in the film, yet he only has a few lines. It's his reactions to the situations he's put in and his saddness that really captures us. J makes it obvious he is a 100% purebred pushover. He's very tall and a bit lanky, but he won't defend himself if his life depended on it. As good as Frecheville is, it's Ben Mendelsohn that completely steals the show. This man portrayed the most subtle creep I’ve seen on film in years. All that creepiness lies in Pope’s eyes. When he’s unhappy, he doesn’t have to say a word, yet you know something bad is about to happen. This man does awful things and has zero remorse for all of them. I hope you’re paying attention, Academy voters.

ANIMAL KINGDOM is a must see film. You have been warned, however, it’s not an easy movie to swallow. In the end, there’s a very valuable lesson ANIMAL KINGDOM teaches and it’s this: it’s a crazy fucking world.

From the GATW Archives: Theatrical Review: GOING THE DISTANCE


Rating: 3.5/5

WriterGeoff LaTulippe
DirectorNanette Burstein
CastDrew BarrymoreJustin Long, Charlie DayJason SudeikisChristina ApplegateRon LivingstonJim Gaffigan
Studio: Warner Bros.

Love is hard enough as it is.  You have to do the whole getting along thing, make it work, and stay happy. You also have to, often at times, give your significant other breathing room.  There is another type of relationship that a lot of people explore knowing the tough road that lay before them: that’s the “long distance relationship.”  Statewide or cross-country, you’ll be seeing your lover every couple of weeks… if that.  This is the main topic of Nanete Burstein’s GOING THE DISTANCE.  Going in, this easy looks like a snooze rom-com, but she has so much more in store for us adults.

Simple plot: Garrett (Justin Long) just got dumped because he didn’t remember to buy his girlfriend an anniversary gift.  Good luck resides with him as he goes to the local bar with his roommate and buddy  (the very, very funny Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis) to drown his sadness with a little bit of booze.  While there, he meets Erin (Drew Barrymore), who’s currently ranking the top score in an arcade game on which he’s been desperately trying to maintain his reign as king.  This sparks bar conversation, and eventually the talk is moved to Garrett’s bedroom, which comes with a Tom Cruise TOP GUN poster and soundtrack on repeat, courtesy of his supportive roommate.  The next day the the pair chat and she tells him she’s moving in six weeks, so they can’t get serious.  Well, things don’t always work out as we plan them and they end up getting serious.  She moves and they’re now in a possibly doomed long distance relationship.  This is where “is this even worth it?” is put to the test.

To help my readers better understand what type of comedy this is, think this: GOING THE DISTANCE is going to do for adults what AMERICAN PIE did for sex driven teenagers.  This movie is very raw on how adults speak and act when it comes to sex.  Sex isn’t often perfect, sometimes you get caught on your sisters dining room table while her husband eats a sandwhich and watches.  These are facts in life.  Director  Burstein ain’t no stranger to the awkward romance category either, as she directed the 2008 documentary, AMERICAN TEEN.  She knows what her audience needs to see in  romance: love is funny, love is awesome and, at times, love is very painful.

The casting is what sells the movie for most.  Everyone in this is no stranger to comedy: Drew Barrymore (NEVER BEEN KISSED), Justin Long (ACCEPTED), Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Phildelphia), Jason Sudeikis (SNL and 30 Rock), Christina Applegate (THE SWEETEST THING), and Jim Gaffigan (very funny comedian).  Pairing Day and Sudeikis as Long’s Garrett’s best friends was a bright decision.  These two gents keep the banter strong while talking about what every male in their late 20s talk about: sex, sex, money, sex, sex, video games, sex, sex.  Barrymore and Applegate bring on the girl power, and there are a few lines that come out of Barrymore’s mouth that would give the Pope a heart attack.  These girls hold nothing back when talking about sex and things they want under the sheets.

GOING THE DISTANCE isn’t your average rom-com; it’s very, very dirty and unapologetically crude.  If you’ve ever had an awkward sexual moment in your life (admit it, you have), this is the movie for you.  If you’ve ever wanted to give long distance love a shot, this is for you.  If you’ve ever believed there can’t be love without the comedy, this is the movie for you.

From the GATW Archives: Theatrical Review: KILL THE IRISHMAN

Rating: 3/5

WritersJonathan Hensleigh (screenplay), Jeremy Walters(screenplay), Rick Porrello(book, To Kill the Irishman)
DirectorJonathan Hensleigh
CastRay StevensonChristopher WalkenVincent D’OnofrioVal KilmerLinda Cardellini

It’s going to take a lot more than firecrackers to kill Danny Greene. You see, the firecrackers he’s referring to are the car bomb rigs that just exploded in his car - as he was driving it. Luckily for this tall drink of water, the radio started shorting out moments before, alerting Mr. Greene to stop, drop, and roll out of his car before physics placed his body all over the street. Greene isn’t a wanted man all over, in fact he has respect from most people in his area.

In the beginning, Greene confidently worked his way up to the top of the worker’s union at a dock in Cleveland. Shortly after, through shady dealings and scare tactics, Greene became one of the top mob bosses the city had to offer. But as you probably already know, nothing stays good in a gangster’s paradise and a bad deal gone horribly wrong sets this true story of violence and betrayal in full-throttle.

Ray Stevenson stars as Danny Greene, the titular Irishman whose rise to fame gave the true meaning of “more money, more problems.” The film was directed by Jonathon Hensleigh, who co-wrote the screenplay based off the book To Kill The Irishman: The War that Crippled the Mafia. Funny story: the two have both worked on a PUNISHER film (Hensleigh co-wrote and directed THE PUNISHER starring Thomas Jane; Stevenson starred in THE PUNISHER: WAR ZONE), so neither are strangers to violent cinema. Stevenson looks identical to the real Danny Greene (all the way up to his missing patches of hair), and if that man was as confident and ruthless as Stevenson plays him, well then, Stevenson has done a great job here. The real Greene was not only street smart, he was also book smart (he was known compulsively read novels) and Stevenson crafted his character to look like more than just a meathead ready to kick your ass.

KILL THE IRISHMAN is populated by a lot of mobsters, but the most notable are Christopher Walken and Vincent D’Onofrio; Val Kilmer shows up as the plump detective Mandiski hot on Greene’s dirty trail. Walken’s full potential is pretty much wasted, as he’s not in the film for very long, but it’s D’Onofrio who almost steals the show by channeling his psychotic characters from previous films as Greenes’ literal partner-in-crime, John Nardi.

The problem with KILL THE IRISHMAN is the attempts to actually kill the Irishman. Less than two minutes in to IRISHMAN, someone tries to kill our titular character (definitely the coolest-looking attempt in the film, too), but after that, the majority of the film is Greene’s rise to the top. It feels like only a small portion of the film is the gangster’s version of cat-and-mouse shoot-em-up. In these scenes, however, a lot of cars blow up,  a lot of people die, and a lot of blood is shed.

What I loved and appreciate about IRISHMAN is how Hensleigh knots the real story with the fictional feature. After a mobster is guaranteed to not show up in any sequel this film could have, the film cuts to the actual news footage of that assassination; after there is an unsuccessful attempt on Greene’s life, we’re shown the actual interview with Greene shortly after what happened. If nothing else, KILL THE IRISHMAN should be appreciated as an important look at the way Greene affected the mob and crimes back in the late 70s.