MOST WANTED – movie review

Saban Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Daniel Roby
Screenwriter: Daniel Roby
Cast: Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Josh Hartnett, Stephen McHattie, Jim Gaffigan, J.C. MacKenzie, Rose-Marie Perreault
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/4/20
Opens: July 24, 2020

When I was in third grade in 1945 I learned that the policeman is my friend. In fact the teacher said that we should call policemen “officers,” and “police” and never use the word “cop” because that was a slang term that the authorities would not like. It means we do not respect them. Things have changed since 1945 when the worst thing a policeman would do was to get a doughnut in the local coffee house and not pay for it.

In June, as though the coronavirus was not enough of a burden for us, the country faced an uproar of protests against the senseless killing of a suspect who was murdered by four cops for the horrendous offence of paying for cigarettes with a counterfeit twenty dollar bill. The idea that there is a thin line between a cop and a criminal, that a policeman can either way, may be extreme, but on top of that we have racist officers not just in the south but in a midwestern blue state, Minnesota. For those who still doubt that the law can be a rogue, just check out movies like “Training Day” (2001), “Bad Lieutenant” (1992), and “Internal Affairs” (1990). A new, sad tale of corruption among the people who are supposed to protect act comes out of Saban Films, and it’s “Most Wanted” written and directed by Daniel Roby, following up “Hold Your Breath” about the struggle of a family to survive while Paris fills with a deadly gas. “Most Wanted” is more down-to-earth with some enlightening shots of Bangkok, surprisingly filmed on location though one would expect the Thai government would object to having a scandal rubbed into its face.

“Most Wanted” is inspired by a true story that takes place mostly in 1989, when Daniel Léger (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), a low-life heroin addict with no criminal record, is set up by rogue cops in Vancouver, though the police are not so much interested in entrapping the usually penniless guy than in having him negotiate the purchase of ten kilos of heroin—for which they could get far more money in Canada than they would have to pay in Bangkok. Légar was caught, found guilty, and escaped the death penalty for heroin smuggling by pleading guilty (after his conviction!), then sentenced to one hundred years in a jail that would make you wish you had not pled guilty and accepted the death penalty. (For stark contrast compare the jails in Norway where prisoners get their own private rooms with cooking equipment.) He would have been incarcerated still were it not for Victor Malarek (Josh Hartnett), a journalist who acted as a one-man Innocence Project, searching for a way to get a page one scoop for his newspaper, desperate for money since he had just had a baby.

Convincing the editor to finance a trip and warned that if he did not come back with a scoop he would never find a job again in the newspaper business, he is motivated even more when his gut tells him that the man may still be guilty, but that as an ameliorating factor the police had paid for his trip from Vancouver to Bangkok: hotels, meals, the works. The film meanders with several time changes, catching up with Légar as he gets a job on a fishing boat from Picker (Jim Gaffigan) who seems like a nice guy but who is involved with the conspiracy to get the heroin. Similarly guilty are a trio or quartet of shady police who, together with Picker pay so much attention to a loser like Légar that he gets sucked into the sordid plan.

Best performer is Montréal-born Antoine Olivier Pilon as Daniel Léger, with twenty-three film credits in his résumé, quite an accomplishment for a twenty-three-year old. Josh Hartnett exudes the electricity running through his body when he is on a mission, buffeted by several roadblocks. However, the movie is so spliced up that you might have to watch for a half hour before you realize the zig-zaginess of the editing. For that reason, “Most Wanted” cannot be enthusiastically recommended.

125 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – D
Overall – C+

COLD PURSUIT – movie review

Summit Entertainment
Reviewed for & by: Harvey Karten
Director: Hans Petter Moland
Screenwriter: Frank Baldwin, Kim Fupz Aakeson, loosely based on Moland’s 2014 movie “In Order of Disappearance”
Cast: Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, David O’Hara, Tom Bateman, Tom Jackson, Emma Rossum, Domenick Lombardozzi
Screened at: Dolby 88, NYC, 1/29/19
Cold Pursuit - Poster GalleryOpens: February 8, 2019



If you’ve given up sugar because you think it’s white poison, what can you use as a calorie-free substitute? Try a movie with a theme of revenge. It’s sweet, so they say, and the public must love the theme or why else would there be umpteen pictures about it? Yet happily, “Cold Pursuit” is not just one of those umpteen pictures about revenge. This is no horror tale written and acted for the benefit of teens and sadistic high-school kids who want nothing more than for heads to roll. Of course heads do roll in “Cold Pursuit,” or how could you otherwise call it a revenge picture? But using Frank Baldwin and Kim Fupz Aakeson’s screenplay, director Han Petter Moland is able to weave in quite a bit of wry humor, self-deprecating manifestoes, and down-home looks at what two of the good guys (they’re police) talk about when they don’t talk about crime.

Hans Petter Moland is known for “In Order of Disappearance,” taking place in the snowy peaks of the director’s Norway, involving igniting a war between a vegan gangster and a Serbian mafia boss. The mere mention of “vegan gangster” in his 2014 black comedy clues you in on a director who would not be content with running a cast through the motions of a genre gangster movie, and in fact “Cold Pursuit” highlights a regional drug lord who is a loving father to a 10-year-old boy who micromanages the kid’s diet. (Never mind that somehow the boy downs a bowl of Fruit Loops.) “Cold Pursuit,” following the themes of Moland’s previous movie, pits a regional drug lord in Denver and surroundings who becomes involved in a turf war with an indigenous gang and who, by killing the innocent son of a man whose job is to keep the roads clear in a Kehoe Colorado ski town, in tracked down by the lad’s father out for blood as well.

Dramatic action begins when the son of snowplow driver Nels Coxman (Liam Neesen) and his wife Grace (Laura Dern) is kidnapped on the orders of Viking (Tom Bateman), injected with heroin, and dumped in the snow to lead authorities to believe he overdosed. Knowing that his boy was never a druggie, Nelson “Nels” Coxman (Liam Neesen) is determined to find the killer or killers, setting out in Kehoe, Colorado, to bring justice in a place where you could not expect much from the two town cops Gip (John Doman) and his partner (Emma Rossum). Gip in an early scene dissuades his partner, aggressive about upholding the strict word of law, to ignore a group of kids smoking weed. “I know it’s legal to buy and smoke, but only in your own house,” she demurs.

As Nels proceeds to pick up the gang members one by one, including the owner of a bridal gown establishment who, upon seeing Nels suspects the man’s motives and reaches for his gun, the various groups chit chat, building a character study to what could have been a juvenile horror tale. Officer Gip encourages his partner to get back together with her boyfriend leading her flirtatiously to converse with the ex on the phone promising a good time if he would give me information on the perps. Viking for his part must negotiate custody for their ten-year-old son Ryan with his estranged wife, who appears to be the only person not worried about the consequences of dealing with a serial killer.

The whole ensemble rises to the occasion with particular credit to White Bull (Tom Jackson), who is as determined to get rid of the white gang in a turf war as is Nels.

This is a first-rate thriller designed to bring in the crowd that would never bother with simple revenge movies and features terrific scenery captured by Philip Øgard in the town of Kananaskis Alberta, and Fernie, Victoria and Vancouver in British Columbia standing in for the Colorado ski resort. The outstanding performance from Liam Neeson should surprise no-one, yet who would have suspected that a 66-year-old actor could play through a great role as the angel of vengeance, taking down some gangsters with his bare fists?

118 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical –B
Overall – A-

DRAWING HOME – movie review


    M.Y.R.A. Entertainment
    Director:  Markus Rupprecht
    Screenwriter:  Markus Rupprecht, Donna Logan
    Cast:  Julie Lynn Mortensen, Juan Riedinger, Kate Mulgrew, Kristin Griffith, Rutger Hauser, Torrance Coombs, Christian Campbell, Jenny Kost
    Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/2/17
    Opens: December 1 in LA.  Dec. 22 in NY.
    Drawing Home poster
    Some folks are beach bums while others prefer the mountains: though sometimes the twain shall meet.  In Markus Rupprecht’s biopic, covering a segment of the life of Catharine Robb Whyte, we meet a small circle of city dwellers and get another, more Spartan look, at rural people.  The city appears to offer the easier way of life, especially if you’ve got a servant as Catharine does, but in less dense populations, you can love nature such as you can never really find among urbanites shopping for Canadian smoked salmon at Zabars on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

    Catharine Robb Whyte (Julie Lynn Mortensen) was enjoying a good life in Concord, Massachusetts, as we see her about to enter the Boston School of Fine Arts.  She chose the art school by following her talent, with tuition paid for by her mother Edith Morse Robb (Kate Mulgrew) and her more understanding dad Russell (Peter Strauss).  Her whole life looked glorious, as she was expected to marry John D. Rockefeller III (Jeff Gladstone), no less, but often things happen when you go to college and meet other young people with whom you have more in common.  ‘twas there she encounters fellow art student Peter Whyte (Juan Riedinger), who invites her to his woodsy cabin in Banff, Alberta, Canada—surely one of the world’s most scenic places.

    Should she toss aside a Rockefeller and hitch up with a woodsman who happens to have a talent for painting?  Would she be happy in digs without indoor plumbing?  Of course, no question: Rocky didn’t have a chance.  But wouldn’t you know that her mom, who has a servant of her own, Jean (Kristin Griffith)–who understands young Catharine even better than her dad—and  encourages her to follow her heart.  With her heart leading the way on the march, she meets famous painter Carl Rungius (Rutger Hauer) who is hosted by Peter, also Peter’s brother Cliff (Christian Campbell) and best friend Kit (Torrance Coombs).  When they decide to open a ski area (without a lift), that’s your signal: tragedy ahead!  And the rest is history.

    The history book fills in that the Whytes founded a museum in the Rockies for which Canadians are probably more familiar than we are in the States.  The Museum of the Canadian Rockies lies in the aforementioned Banff, which exhibits materials related to the Rocky Mountain cultural heritage—that means largely Indian lore, or that of Native Canadians if you prefer.  While this film does not move the time line forward, the museum opened in 1968 and includes two historic log cabin homes and four log cabins.  Somehow the Peter and Catharine Whyte Foundation was able to open the museum when she was in her sixties, but how they raised the money is anybody’s guess.

    But director Markus Rupprecht and his co-writer Donna Logan were not about to give us a static biopic of the sort that’s shown in high school auditoriums on a snowy day, so out with museum lore and in with a picture of Catharine, who wanted more than the affluence of her parents and the even increased wealth that would fall into her lap with JDRockefellerIII.  She was a free spirit as shown here by the German director in his freshman, full-length feature, but her spirited journey sometimes bogs down with its predictable arc—broken engagement, marriage, mother-in-law problems, tragedy, redemption. The picture is acted by a sprightly Julie Lynn Mortensen, a Danish-Canadian who grew up in Alberta and is known around those parts for shorts and TV episodes like “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.”  For his part, Juan Riedinger is Banff born and bred, and is also known as well largely  for TV episodes.

    No doubt many viewers will remember mostly Patrick McLaughlin’s exquisite photography that could easily be used in a tourist brochure for Banff, Lake Louise, and surrounding areas and has great appeal for anyone who can bear to leave a tour of Quebec and head west.

    Unrated.  112 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

    Story – B-
    Acting – B
    Technical – B+
    Overall – B