Short Takes: Out of the Furnace, Kill Your Darlings and Drug War

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Out of the Furnace- This unremittingly bleak drama centers on deeply flawed brothers in Pittsburgh.  Russell (Christian Bale) is a heavy drinker who kills a woman and her kid drunk driving and lands in jail while his brother (Casey Affleck) serves several tours in Iraq.  Once he is out of jail, his brother goes missing after a series of increasingly brutal organized fistfights to pay off debt.

Director Scott Cooper makes no effort to give the audience a payoff.  The (plentiful) violence is treated as deeply troubling and is never without consequences.  Although a lot of the story is absurd and simplistic, there is an honest humanity that makes it surprisingly effective. Grade: C

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Kill Your Darlings- An uneven but thrilling attempt to capture Beat writers in the act of inventing themselves.  The story centers on Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) leaving a turbulent home life for an even more turbulent time at Columbia.  He is drawn to Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), and the two form the chaotic, and ultimately tragic, core of the movie.  Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster) also show up in drug-fueled flashes.

Kill Your Darlings treats the period with much affection, but director John Krokidas also injects crucial visual flare as well as modern music.  There is too much repetitive literary quoting underlining the theme over and over, but Krokidas brings an exhilaratingly reckless, chaotic vision to material that would otherwise seem stuffy and pretentious.  Grade: C+

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Drug War- One of the most intense and entertaining movies of the year.  Drug War is an action movie examination of China’s obscene drug policy.  Rather than overcrowd their prisons with drug offenders (like in America), people who possess more than a certain amount are just executed.

Johnnie To’s movie is about a meth dealer caught in between the police and those higher-up in the trade than him.  He offers to help the cops take down the others in exchange for prison time instead of a death sentence.  To creates organic, often breathtaking action sequences throughout, shaming most Hollywood releases on a fraction of the budget.  Grade: B+

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REVIEW: Star Trek Into Darkness

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Star Trek Into Darkness
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Written by: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman & Damon Lindelof (screenplay), Gene Roddenberry (TV series)
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana and Benedict Cumberbatch

The second installment of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot checks all the necessary boxes to make it an effective summer blockbuster, which is its biggest problem.  It feels like a laundry list of co-mingling plot points and action set pieces, more calculated business venture than artistic Enterprise.  Abrams is a good enough ringleader that all the pieces fall together nicely and the high tech toys he gets to play with are a good action showcase, but the movie will fizzle away when a new good enough sci-fi blockbuster opens in a couple weeks to take its place.

Into Darkness, despite its heftier title, is not a plunge into darker territory, as second franchise installments often are.  Sure, one of the series’ most famous villains, Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), surfaces, but it feels just as light on its feet as Abrams’ 2009 reboot.  The best thing about it is still the chemistry between Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto), whose humorous ideological clashes provide the movie with much of that lightness.  There are exceptional action sequences, including an astonishing sequence of space diving to an enemy ship, but they aren’t nearly as entertaining as watching Spock attempt a romantic relationship with Uhura (Zoe Saldana).

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