Opens on my birthday, sometime during the cold war. Mute Amelie (Sally Hawkins) lives in the apartment above a reclusive artist (Richard Jenkins) who forges them fake IDs and van decals when it’s time to break her fishman boyfriend out of the government facility where she works alongside Octavia Spencer, but wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. First, blatantly evil U.S. government agent Michael Shannon wants to kill and dissect the fishman, and sympathetic Russian spy Michael Stuhlbarg defies his superiors to save the fishman, all the while nobody noticing that Mute Amelie is having an affair with the fishman, and forgetting that she’s not deaf and can hear all their plans which they are constantly saying out loud.

I was warned by the anti-Guillermo critic contingent, but thought it’d be worth checking out Sally’s dance moves on the big screen, and jeez, does this movie ever have the best production design. Since Doug Jones plays the fishman, can this count as a Hellboy prequel?

“America’s not a country. It’s just a business.”

First movie I watched post-election. I only picked it because I liked Dominik’s Nick Cave movie this year and was looking for something that wouldn’t require much emotional energy on my part, so a Brad Pitt hit-man flick seemed to fit the bill. Turned out to be the ideal pick for my mood, full of perfectly cynical characters, using Obama’s hope-filled election speeches as ironic counterpoint.

Affleck ally Scoot McNairy and Aussie Ben Mendelsohn (Slow West) are hired by Sopranos regular Vincent Curatola to rob a card game run by Ray Liotta, assuming that Liotta will be blamed since he has admitted to robbing the game himself in the past. During the ensuing period of gangster and gambler mistrust, Richard Jenkins hires outsiders Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini to come down to New Orleans and kill whoever robbed the game (and kill Liotta too, just in case).

It’s usually not a visually dynamic movie, just excellent actors having serious conversations, but whenever Dominik gets a chance, he throws in an amazing setpiece – entracingly chopping editing in the opening titles segment, a freaked-out heroin scene, and Liotta getting shot in extreme slow-motion. Reminds of the Nick Cave movie, which mostly looks like a realist behind-the-scenes interview doc, but every once in a while the camera escapes through a knothole and into outer space. Based on a novel by The Friends of Eddie Coyle writer, and shot by Greig Fraser (Spider, Bright Star, the next Star Wars movie).

Opens with violence and chatty criminals and I’m suspicious because Tarantino-influenced movies are never good. But hey, there’s Sid Haig, and the dialogue is really quite good, so I sat back and enjoyed.

Blackhat baddies:

Sid is killed straight away, then his fellow cannibal-graveyard-defiler David Arquette (also of cannibal western Ravenous) is taken from the nearby town along with the doctor (Lili Simmons, star of TV’s Banshee, which is somehow not X-Men-related) and young Deputy Nick. So a four-man team heads out to track and rescue them from evil. It’s a variation on a John Ford-type story, with a few modern twists (woman doctor, cave-dwelling troglodytes distinct from the more reasonable natives).

D. Ehrlich:

It adds up to approximately nothing, and never seems to make the most of its accomplishments (the business of dealing with the bad guys is more than a little shrugged off), but 4 men — the right 4 men — shuffling through the frontier in search of god knows what… works for me.

3 of the right 4 men:

The four men: Sheriff Kurt Russell (this makes a nice Hateful Eight companion), the doctor’s injured but determined husband Patrick Wilson, pro Indian-killer Matthew “Racer X” Fox, and the primary reason to keep watching, Assistant Deputy Richard Jenkins as Stumpy. They don’t seem especially optimistic about their chances, and this is justified when they reach the caves – Fox is killed but takes down a handful of cannibals with him, and the others are imprisoned, where they witness this movie’s big gory reason to exist: Deputy Nick being split clear in half by the titular tomahawk. Fortunately they’ve left Wilson behind, and he mounts a last-minute rescue.

M. D’Angelo:

Zahler does reasonably well by the genre visually, given his budget, but flavorful Old West dialogue (“You been squirtin’ lemon juice in my eye since I came in here” — this in response to Kurt Russell’s priceless delivery of the line “You’re pretty angry for a guy named Buddy”) and amusing riffs on stock characters are the main attraction here.