This week we evaluate the anti-American dream with Arkansas and Capone, two drug-laced films plagued with uneven scripts and a strained sense of detail. The come up doesn’t have to be easy, but could we at least get a winning formula to do these tales justice? We follow up with my weekend classic pick: Blow (the underrated biopic that rocked my childhood). Can you say, Johnny Depp with a powdered filled nose? YES PLEASE.
It had it all…A great cast, a solid story, and an ambitious narrative. Unfortunately, Arkansas ends up being a neo-noir copycat that barley makes it above water.
Arkansas, tell the story of two drug dealers tipped off to make state line deals, coming face-to-face with violence and mayhem at the hand of a very angry kingpin. First time writer/director Clark Duke (The Office, Hot Tube Time Machine) clearly has a talent in penning engrossing details; it just feels like he can’t get out of his own way in fleshing out the more unique ideas in his head. The movie never really takes off, and comes off as silly and seriously underdeveloped.
Along with Duke, Liam Hemsworth, Vince Vaughn, John Malkovich, and an awkwardy cast Vivaika A. Fox—try there hardest to add vibrancies and depth to the shallow and standard characters. Arkansas is essentially a wannabe Coen Brothers film: heavy character arc with a meaty final act that brings all the characters and storylines together…but that’s not what makes it onto the screen.
In fact, we keep getting so close to an eventual revelation or possible breakthrough and Duke’s overly-layered script gets in the way and shifts tones like a runaway train car. It’s particularly jarring and non-effective. You can never really get into the characters and what is happening to them, because so much of the tension is based on false hype that any nuance is lost.
A huge bonus though is the manic, mind-altering soundtrack by The Flaming Lips. Somehow the film’s lazy scenes become watchable with the elevation the pitch perfect music, an award-winning set of tracks deserving of a better showcase. And to be frank, the acting is bad. Hell, I would go as far to say there’s one noteworthy performance, that of Vaughn. Everyone goes for it, and that’s fun to watch at least. It’s just upsetting to see such a flagrant waste of resources go to shit due to a badly executed film. I really wanted to like this movie; it has everything modern cinema audiences love and look for in a dark thriller. That much Clark Duke got correct; he just needs a better set of eyes or a babysitter before doing things on his own again.
I GIVE IT: 2 OUT 5
This was supposed to be a big box office hit until COVID 19 hit harder. The untold story of Al Capone, with Tom Hardy in the title role on the big screen…that’s ticket sales gold. But, as luck would have it, this is a terrible fucking movie with a weirdly contagious appeal that makes me question everything I know about movies.
Capone tells the untold story of one of Chicago’s biggest bads, as he starts to reach the end of his life and long gossiped-about secrets begin to reveal their truths. Every human with a base knowledge of US history knows the impact that Al Capone had on the city of Chicago, and the legendary gangster status that permeates across the world with infamy. That couldn’t be further from this film’s truth, as it belligerently throws incoherent information at us like we’re idiots, and treats its subject like a show horse with a broken leg.
Let’s just start off with Tom Hardy, who delivers an embarrassing interpretation of an evolved legend. His execution is sloppy and his attempt at Italian Chicagoan is laughable. It feels like he knew he was in a pile of garbage by the way he hides behind the high school production-level make up that wears him more than he wears the character.
Then we have Josh Trank (writer/director), whose credits include the particularly terrible Fantastic Four, giving us a blunder of script and sluggish narrative that feels like a three-day bowl movement (you know you get what I mean, don’t lie). Clearly no one on his team voiced concern, or Trank just doesn’t care.
Nothing and I mean nothing really works in this film, yet strangely I felt totally and completely engrossed and entertained. There’s something about the way everyone on screen is overacting, and everyone behind the camera not caring that sparks magic. It’s like drinking a shit ton of coffee, still only to be very tired with a super elevated heart rate; nothing’s been achieved, yet you’re still a slave to it.
There’s a scene where Hardy has a close-up and is breathing heavily, on the brink of saying his next line—and the ugliness of it all is brilliant. Despite all the efforts to craft a more high-end, art haus portrayal of the original Scarface, we are gifted with a soon-to-be cult classic of unwanted notoriety. We all get films in our lifetime that are so bad, they’re good—and we somehow love them in the same way we do Oscar or even middle-ground films. I just don’t think the team behind Capone knew this, and that it would eventually be the next classic that will sit next to The Room and Gigli on the “oh fuck this movie is terrible, you gotta see it” shelf.
I GIVE IT: 1 OUT 5
Weekend Classic Pick: Blow
After such an intense batch of bad, new films this week, I figured I would gift us with my pick for the Weekend: Blow, the underrated drug lord gem of the century.
Blow is the real-life telling of cocaine kingpin George Jung, and his somehow equally glorious rise and fall. The scripts shines in every way as a spectacular Johnny Depp anchors us on a journey filled with sex, drugs and plenty of heart. Depp cruises across the screen with ease as he elevates the already impressive script with his signature movie-star-meets-bad-boy touch.
Everything is perfectly filmed, and looks amazing…it’s just one of those movies where it all hits together and you beg for more. Cinematographer, Ellen Kuras gives us text book brilliance with her sun-soaked and acid-washed landscapes, which breathes new light into what was a status quo cineaverse for this genre.
The film’s secret weapon however, is one miss Penelope Cruz. Like a ball of fire, Cruz roars in as Jung’s eccentric wife Mirtha, who basically coins the term “ride or die”. It’s an all-American story about a boy finding his way to success and fortune.
The details in between the now infamous performances are what make this movie anything but just another gangster movie. There’s a signature charm to George that keeps us rooting for him despite his fuck ups and moral failings. We want him to be happy, successful and all of the things. It’s glorious, and submerged in a huge wave of love and perseverance—somehow less concerned with the typical trappings of the genre, and more in tune with its subject. A finesse that puts Blow in a class of its own.