Friday, August 16, 2019

Fabulous Faves - Blade Runner (1982)


Fabulous Faves - Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner is a film that remains spellbinding better than thirty years after hitting the scene.  It remains a thorough yet quizzical offering that paints a complex picture, exploring some epic questions with pain-staking attention to detail.  Yet it leaves the viewer to ponder many of these questions, and that is what makes it so majestic.  It has so many strengths, to include visionary director Ridley Scott's most creative work, one of Harrison Ford's best performances, and mind-boggling special effects.  Yet I find this beloved film's most potent draw to be dear departed Rutger Hauer's stunning portrayal of one of the cinema's most compelling villains.  Hauer's Roy Batty is as tragic as he is fearsome, and the actor owned the role.  He brought subtlety and introspection to the table, and he also brought brute force and a fiendish zeal.  He was explosive and yet utterly relaxed; it is a completely natural showing that displays remarkable theatrics.  When Hauer recently passed and I paused to look back on his body of work, I couldn't stop thinking about his poignant demise in Blade Runner.  That sequence is truly sublime, and it is merely one of the many vibrant flourishes that make this 1982 production so profound.  All these years after being released, it continues to provide viewers with a fully realized escape into a stark and strangely hypnotic vision of a future that did not come to pass.  It boasts incredible drama, excitement, and stimulation that lasts until the final frame--and beyond.  Blade Runner remains a stunning achievement that surely ranks among the finest motion pictures ever made.

Final Grade: A+


Blade Runner is overflowing with riches, but if I were to single out any one element of this landmark science fiction production as being the most spectacular, I would point to Rutger Hauer's work as Roy Batty.  Roy is the primary antagonist, and he's also the heart and soul of the picture.  You don't often see that.

Short Attention Span Review - The Seven-Ups (1973)


Short Attention Span Review - The Seven-Ups (1973)

As a Jaws fanatic, it should come as no surprise that I'm a big fan of Roy Scheider, and the dude just positively killed it in the 70s.  Jaws is my favorite movie, Sorcerer is a scorcher, All That Jazz is sensational, and in addition to lead roles in those winners, Scheider co-starred in notable pictures like Marathon Man and The French Connection.  While The Seven-Ups isn't on par with those films, it is a capable thriller with a nifty plot and enough white-knuckle thrills to warrant a viewing.  Scheider is rock solid in the lead role, and this cops and robbers yarn moves at a brisk pace.  The biggest takeaway here, though, is a marvelous car chase.  I don't think I've ever seen this movie discussed when great car chases in cinema are debated, and it belongs in that conversation.  While it is a bit basic in many ways and doesn't approach greatness, The Seven-Ups is a solid venture that delivers a potent mix of thrills and intrigue.  Bonus points awarded for Richard Lynch's work as one of the primary villains and the ominous score from Don Ellis, whose efforts here would likely be more at home in a chiller.  I thought that dark score worked well here, ramping up the tension and underscoring the carnage.  In summary, while The Seven-Ups doesn't stack up to Roy's biggest features produced in the same decade, it is perfectly serviceable--it's a gritty thriller with a fine lead, enough suspense to keep the viewer invested, and one extra gnarly car chase.  Buckle up.

Final Grade: B+


I gave this one a B+ and not just a B because of that riveting car chase.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Everything Changed

Four weeks ago, I was on my way to work, you know, typical Monday stuff, and everything changed in a wicked instant. Everything. My life was totally upended in a fraction of a second amid the squeal of burning rubber and the thunderous bellow of impact. Now, this is no tragedy, good people, far from it, in fact. Did I catch a bad break? I guess so. I could have died. Heck, I probably should have died, and my future is suddenly wildly uncertain. And yes, I'm a hard-working father of five who basically lives paycheck to paycheck. This is America in 2019, after all, and where finances are concerned, I'm poor from poor. Go ahead and put those tissues away, though, because I swear to you that this is a happy story. You see, finances are insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and dollars and cents aside, I'm stinking rich. I may well be poor from poor, but I'm also loved from loved, and despite that which could have or should have happened, I'm still here. After spending right at a month in the hospital, I'm at home with my wonderful wife and my precious children. Okay, my recovery is far from over, the pain is intense, and no one really knows just what I'll be capable of when this journey is complete, but life is good. Like I said, everything changed a month ago, but I'm alive, and my family, my friends, and my community are rallying behind me. People I don't even know are rallying behind me.
That Monday morning that now somehow feels like it was both eons ago and yet mere moments ago at the same time didn't seem like anything special. I got up at 5:00 a.m., like always (read: WAY TOO EARLY), and I had just about completed my thirty-minute trek to work when an oncoming vehicle swerved into my lane. Why? Good question. There really isn't a good answer to that question, not on that road, but from where I sit, it really doesn't matter. It happened. I was doing about 55 in my trusty 2005 Suzuki Reno (best $1200 I ever spent), and I'm guessing the other guy was doing about the same. He wasn't driving a Reno, though. He sat behind the wheel of a Tahoe, and for those of you keeping score, the final from that little showdown reads like this: Tahoe 1, Reno 0. 
I can remember the impact, which was kinda like taking a stiff jab from King Kong, and then there's a little gap. After that black hole in my recollection, I came to and felt nothing but gratitude. I was alive! This seemed like a miracle to me, because while I couldn't recall anything but the very onset of the crash, I knew that I had survived a head-on collision with a much larger vehicle. The notion that my wife and kids might have awoken to a knock at the door and some horrendous news loomed large in my mind, and I was so thankful that I hadn't perished on impact. That's the first thing that I recall, an overwhelming sense of gratitude. 
The second thing to ping on my radar was pain, and good and plenty of it. I'm talking pain on a scale that I couldn't have imagined prior to the accident. This monumental suffering prompted a gruesome survey. I glanced about the vehicle first, actually thinking that it would be prudent to locate my phone and call my wife to tell her that my day had taken a bit of a swerve. The phone was nowhere to be found, and I remember thinking that the interior of the car looked like a Dali painting. Broken glass was everywhere. The Reno appeared to have taken a direct hit from a bazooka. My cd player was sideways. And there was blood all over the place. Blood was dripping from my face, And as I continued to process my surroundings, I looked over at my left arm. It appeared to be broken into three or four pieces, and it was bleeding freely. Okay, let's be clear, it was a gusher. 
Time for some truth, good people. When I saw my arm, two things happened. First, the mystery of the colossal pain was solved. Just looking at my arm crystallized everything--that destroyed limb was the beacon broadcasting all that agony at full volume. Secondly, a dreadful certainty sank in. I figured I was a goner, my friends. I was surely going to bleed out. I wasn't going to see my lovely wife or my amazing children again. This realization hit me like a ton of bricks. I don't recall any sort of fear where my life was concerned, no despair or remorse festered on a personal level-- at that moment, my own hopes and dreams didn't hold any value. All I could think about was my family. This would crush them. We are a family of seven, and we are a tight-knit bunch. Things were going to be so hard for my wife. My children were going to have to grapple with a glaring absence, and I could hardly bear to think about just how much this would devastate them. 
But I wasn't dead yet, and I figured God had already dealt me one miracle, so I quickly concluded that there could be no harm in hoping (and working) for another. The pain was severe enough that I could have lost myself in hysterics, and it may have been significant enough that I could have just closed my eyes and passed out. I had an idea that it would have been that simple. But I was thinking of my family, and yes, I was praying and thinking about miracles too. I decided to focus on my breathing. This is something my sensei (I have enjoyed the privilege of learning Tae Kwon Do from the incomparable Randy Misketch and his spectacular family for five years now) has promoted at length, and while a few of my peers have occasionally snickered at these exercises, I've always been a believer. So I inhaled strength and courage, and I exhaled fear and doubt. And I found my center, and I took control of the situation. 
An EMT with a radio in hand showed up at what remained of my door. This seemed odd, because I didn't feel like a lot of time had elapsed, and I hadn't heard any sirens wailing or caught sight of any flashing lights. I calmly directed him to some work clothes in the back of my misshapen Reno and used them to create a makeshift compress, which I pressed against my arm in a desperate bid to slow the bleeding. Maybe I had some success on this front; I don't know, it felt like a losing battle, particularly where my bicep was concerned. I still had the impression that I had broken my arm badly in a few places, and I figured I had also severed an artery. As it turns out, I was right about the artery. While I waged this battle, the EMT used his radio to make it clear that we were dealing with heavy bleeding and the need for a tourniquet and additional treatment was dire. I tried to get out of the car and found that my legs and my right arm seemed to be functional even though the Suzuki was basically wrapped around me. The door hadn't fared as well, though, and neither my mangled arm or the twisted vehicle would allow me to find another exit. I was trapped.
Then there were sirens, and I heard an angry old woman shouting about reckless driving. She sounded like she was ready to fight, and I was glad that she was on my side and not vice-versa. A tourniquet was applied to my arm while I was still trapped in what remained of my Reno, which was further dismantled in short order as emergency personnel hustled to remove the door and then the roof. This happened very quickly, and my view was limited; I had been covered with a sheet to shield me from all the broken glass. In spite of this, I would pick little specks out of my hair for weeks. Before I knew it, I was being loaded on a stretcher by several strong hands. 
Another tourniquet was quickly applied in the ambulance as we raced down the highway. No one told me to stay awake like they do in the movies, but it seemed like the right thing to do. So, I kept on inhaling strength and courage and exhaling fear and doubt when I wasn't too busy praying. The pain had grown stronger, but my resolve seemed to be increasing as well. I remained calm, I stayed alert, and I obeyed every command promptly and answered every question posed with great clarity--and maybe a bit more detail than was necessary. I talked to avoid thinking about the pain or wondering how badly my favorite left arm had been damaged. My EMTs were skilled and dedicated, and this gave me hope, but the pain continued to roar as I continued to bleed--and the ride to the hospital seemed to take forever.
Finally, we hit the ground running (or, in my case, being wheeled into the hospital on a stretcher by people who were running) at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. I got passed around a bit, still lucid, praying, breathing in strength and courage and exhaling fear and doubt, answering questions as needed and chatting amicably (I can't remember any of them, but I did try a few jokes) when there were no questions, though such shortages proved rare. Then I found myself being prepared for surgery. No one had been able to get through to my wife, so I was alone, but I felt optimistic--I had done all I could do, and I had made it this far. Then I overheard one of my surgeons addressing an aide with a desperate plea: "Is there anyone we can reach? It's critical that his loved ones get a chance to see him before surgery." That didn't sound so good. Another prayer went up. Another gulp of strength and courage got sucked in. Honestly, I still felt optimistic, and I was still hurting something fierce. I figured we might as well roll the dice and see if this second miracle would take. I hoped to wake up with two arms and my wife at my side, and I couldn't stand much more pain. I went under the knife with gratitude. There's that word again. For a guy whose life was in doubt, I was finding gratitude at every turn. I think it was my faith, and maybe the fact that I grew up on a dirt road.
Some say the struggle is real. I say that it runs through my veins. I went under.
The second miracle landed. Surgeons saved my arm and my life. I came through feeling blessed, so very blessed. They gave me a breakdown of the damage, and I didn't even care, my spirits continued to soar. The tally included one ravaged left arm, a badly broken nose, a fractured orbital bone, and a broken kneecap--and an awful lot of lacerations and scrapes, most of which were relatively minor. Straight up, I felt like celebrating. Yes, the road to recovery would be long and difficult. Yes, the pain was ferocious. Yes, there was still so damn much to fret over, to include the dangers of infection and the possibility that my arm might still be lost, and the knowledge that I may not be able to use it even if I kept it throughout all that lay ahead. But I was alive. My wife and kids didn't have to endure that knock at the door and all that came with it. I felt so incredibly thankful. 
Speaking of my wife, who works nights and has her phone set to avoid alerts until 8 a.m., she finally got that phone call while I was undergoing my first surgery. I would undergo five more surgeries during my three weeks at NHRMC. Since there was very little she could be told during that first call aside from the fact that I was in surgery, she drove to the hospital scared out of her mind. She has been by my side ever since, and in the last week, her duties have increased dramatically due to my being discharged from the hospital. In addition to managing my meds and working diligently to keep me as clean and as comfortable as possible, she mans my IV. She does pin care for me twice a day (I left the hospital with a stabilizing rod in my arm), and that is no easy feat. Thankfully for me, she is a strong and amazing woman, and she feels like God has used this experience to call upon her. She is beginning the journey toward being a nurse. So I'm in good hands, good people. My wife is a treasure, and I could never deserve her, but that's old news. I can't imagine trying to weather this storm without her.
The early stages were really hairy. Every trip to the bathroom felt like a round with Drago. Sleep lurked safely beyond my grasp, and a guy who lives paycheck to paycheck with a family of seven to fend for found himself on the shelf, wondering if he would be able to resume his job whenever this unexpected journey comes to an end. The prognosis was grim. The damage my left arm had been subjected to and the required treatment were both more in line with what physicians would see and recommend for a victim of a shark attack. No, my bones had not been broken or dislocated, but I had lost all that skin and tissue, to include all of my ligaments in my elbow, and the joint itself was completely exposed, drastically increasing my risk of infection. Still, I couldn't help but recall that hellacious impact, and the devastation it had wrought upon my beloved little Reno. I felt lucky. I could look at my wife and children and think about that knock at the door we avoided, and my heart would swell with gratitude. I did my best to share my appreciation with all the terrific doctors, nurses, and aides who tended to me in my time of need, offering them all the praise and thanks I could give voice to. It really seemed to touch many of them, and I was proud to do my best to lift up these hard-working people who have devoted themselves to helping others. And I kept at it with the jokes. A few of them hit the mark.
During my stay in the hospital, I would learn that I had been far luckier than I realized. While my ability* to emerge mostly intact from a vehicle that looked like it had been stepped on by Godzilla remained largely unexplained, there was a reason help had arrived at the scene with such haste. It would also explain why I saw an EMT before I heard any sirens or beheld any flashing lights. My accident had happened within a hundred yards or of the rescue squad and fire department in Riegelwood. They actually heard the wreck, and they came running. Without that particular break (and that is a monumental break, wouldn't you agree?), there is little doubt that I wouldn't have made it out of the car. I got another good break in that our hometown hospital is nothing short of phenomenal, with ortho ranking among their specialties. The surgeon who performed my pivotal first operation did a superb job, getting me off to a great start. 
So now, this fortunate and grateful dude is back home. My arm has that pesky stabilizing rod in it, and I'm wearing a giant immobilizing brace on my knee. I'm still on an IV as we work to avoid infection, and my wife does pin care on the stabilizing rod twice a day. I have one wound vac** change per week at home with a nurse's assistance, and I do the same thing once per week at the doctor's office. I am working toward a skin graft, but at present, I don't have enough skin at the wound site (my elbow) to support a graft. How long until we get there? Like many things, that is still up in the air. Could be four weeks, could be four months. Could be longer. Once we do the graft, provided the graft takes, we'll allow that time enough to heal, and then we'll do another surgery, and the doctors will repair my elbow. Yes, the joint is intact, but it won't function minus all those ligaments that I lost. Infection is still my biggest threat, and while we've come so far, a single bad break could send us back to square one. 
Once that repair takes place, I can throw myself into physical therapy, which will surely represent a battle, though I assure you all that I'm up to the challenge. Provided there are no setbacks along the way, what should I expect from my arm? Again, my future is uncertain. One thing is clear: a full recovery is not in the cards. Beyond that, some physicians have stated that I'll get pretty damn close to a full recovery while others have cautioned that I might not be able to do much at all with my arm. My job as an NDT technician requires me to perform vigorous inspections on welds in hard to reach places. It's a dangerous gig, with much of the work taking place at considerable heights. We do a lot of work in confined spaces. There's a lot of climbing involved, and there's a lot of crawling. There are volatile chemicals, radiation, and a host of other risk factors to contend with, great and small. It's physically demanding. It requires brains. It requires caution, diligence, and the ability to conquer your fears, as well as the ability to interpret and organize data, to engineer solutions and record our findings. It's quirky, truth be told, and for some reason, I dig it. And I won't be able to do it unless my left arm is at 75% or better in terms of function. My kids love softball and baseball, and I cherish pitching and catching with them. We enjoy those excellent Se Jong Tae Kwon Do classes together as a family. My life as I know it is hanging in the balance, good people.
But that's okay. I'm lucky to be here, and I'm optimistic. I think I'm going to get 75% or more out of this arm--and if I don't, I'll be okay. I still have so many reasons for gratitude that it would be pointless to try and list them all. However, some praise is most assuredly warranted here. I would start with my God, who has surrounded me with love and support. I would then point to the family I treasure and the friends who have my back like a jacket. Our church family at Pine Valley Baptist Church truly rocks, and the same could be said for both our martial arts family and our softball family. I need to dish out some props to my company and all of my exceptional co-workers. And I would not proceed here without alluding to my community at large and even all of those strangers who have thrown their weight behind me. We have a fundraiser that is going strong, we've been showered with donations, meals, and gifts. People have watched our children and helped us transport them to practice or church. Friends have moved furniture for us and tended to our lawn. We have been awed and humbled by the assistance we have received. Last but surely not least, I would single out my wife. She's my best friend, and she's the best person I have ever known.
Kristen has helped me every step of the way, and we're taking things one day at a time, rising to every challenge, embracing every success, and accepting any setbacks with grace. God is with us, and so are you, and we're going to win this one. 
You can support our fundraiser on Facebook here. Every donation helps, and even a simple share is greatly appreciated. Your prayers and thoughts are welcome; I am a man of faith, and even if I wasn't, it would be hard to discredit the power of prayer in light of my experience. My journey is far from over. My future remains uncertain, but I am blessed, and I continue to find gratitude at every turn. Honestly, I'm compelled to do another round of thank yous. I thank God again for allowing me to make it this far, and I thank him for giving me hope that the recovery I'm working toward will be our next miracle. I want to thank my wife for being nothing short of amazing. I could spend all day thanking her for being my wife, and it would not be enough. I want to thank my children for being the wind beneath my wings and the joy that dances within my merry soul. I want to thank my family and friends for supporting us and lifting us up in amazing ways. I want to thank our church family once more for being there whenever and wherever we need them, and showering us with love. I want to thank our Tae Kwon Do family and our softball family for helping us as much as they possibly can, and going above and beyond any and all reasonable expectations in their support. I would also thank the community at large once more, to include all those lovely folks I don't personally know from near and far who have joined themselves to our cause--these giving souls should be noted again for the aid and encouragement they have directed our way. I thank the skilled people at New Hanover for getting me this fair, and I stand ready for whatever tomorrow may bring with the knowledge that I am blessed and loved far more than I could have imagined before Monday, July 15.
That's when I nearly died, but more importantly, that's when everything changed for me, because that's when I learned the true meaning of gratitude. Thank you all so very much, and God bless.
*Those who know me well understand that I take my fitness seriously. I lead an active life, and my job is strenuous. Being in shape is very important to me. Several physicians have advised me that my conditioning likely played a key role in my initial survival. Leading up to the crash, I was a bit fanatical about ramping up my workouts, often to my wonderful wife's chagrin. A few people had taken note of this, and I had responded that I didn't know what fight I was training for, but I fully intended to be ready. Well, I guess that's just another good break, as it turns out, and there's no longer any mystery about my opponent.
**A wound vac is a machine that pumps fluid out of an open wound. With my elbow, it was useful in the early stages as a means to avoid infection. At present, it is more beneficial because it stimulates skin growth, so it's helping me as I work toward that skin graft.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Dog Eat Dog (2016)


Short Attention Span Review - Dog Eat Dog (2016)

Dark as all get out, quirky at every turn, and punctuated by startling displays of violence, Dog Eat Dog is a comedy at heart.  And it's a sick comedy, and several key plot points are nothing short of revolting, but damn if it isn't funny.  Aside from dishing out disturbing chuckles, it also takes time to explore the nature of good and evil at the intersection of convenience if not need, and it asks whether or not a hardened con is more or less inclined (or even capable) of changing after spending time behind bars.  None of the answers this quixotic offering from Paul Schrader provides are all that hopeful, and many of the biggest questions aren't really answered at all.  This is a journey with an ultimate destination that is difficult to define, and there are several junctures where the line between reality and fantasy are blurred.  In truth, I think Schrader was more interested in showcasing his talent and provoking the audience than in arriving at anything resembling a conclusion, and this may be both the picture's greatest flaw and its biggest selling point.  Cage is on in a relatively tame performance, while Dafoe is at his best in a dizzying turn as a run of the mill fearsome lovable lunatic with bloody hands and a warm smile.  I can't tell you what it all means, but I can tell you that I laughed way more than I should have, and I was never bored by this wonky caper flick from a tinseltown legend who shows no signs of mellowing with age.

Final Grade: B

It can't be easy to out-crazy Nicolas Cage on set, but this guy got the job done.  In truth, the script decided this battle in his favor before filming ever started.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)


Short Attention Span Review - Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

Dripping with nuance and a sinister vibe, equally mysterious and wild, Bad Times at the El Royale is a picture that hits a lot of familiar beats in fresh and unexpected ways.  The first act is a nifty slow burn that draws you in, the second act is a dazzling descent into secret identities and desperate situations, and the third act is a sizzling eruption of violence served Grand Guignol.  Crafted with nuance and wit, built upon a lethal script and masterful direction from Drew Goddard, this is a striking venture that never fails to enthrall and entertain.  Goddard, who also gave us the splendid and wickedly inventive Cabin in the Woods, shows a real knack for taking cliches and standard tropes and twisting them into diabolical new shapes.  However, while Cabin in the Woods was a devious kick in the pants, I found Bad Times at the El Royale to be a masterpiece that takes noir to groovy new heights while striking some truly ominous chords along the way.  The performances are exceptional, with Jeff Bridges and Cynthia Erivo leading the way while everyone delivers.  Jon Hamm really sets the stage in the opening reel, while Chris Hemsworth arrives closer to the finale, delivering what may have been his most challenging and richest work.  Psychotic and seductive in equal measures, he is the lynchpin for this rollicking odyssey born of paranoia and intrigue, and he is the catalyst for all the groundwork that Goddard lays along the way to a powerful climax.  This review may ring of hyperbole, but I can honestly say that I had high hopes for this one, and it far surpassed my expectations.  I hoped for a gnarly oddity, and I got that and so much more--Bad Times at the El Royale is one of the best films I've seen in a while, and it is a credit to the efforts of everyone involved that it proves to be so mesmerizing.

Final Grade: A+


Ladies and gentlemen, Jeff Bridges: American Treasure.  If you don't love this dude, there's something wrong with you.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - White of the Eye (1987)


Short Attention Span Review - White of the Eye (1987)

This little-known thriller from the late 80s is often described as an American stab at the beloved Giallo sub-genre that put so many Italian directors on the map.  I can see some similarities, so I understand that sentiment, but I find it to be something different, a curious opus that pays homage to many things but ultimately stands on its own.  The direction from Donald Cammell represents a stellar vision that is stark, inviting, subversive, and wildly grim.  This picture has a thing for vivid colors and gruesome subject matter, and it is rooted in the queasy realms of power and domination masquerading as purpose, painting an intimate portrait of a madman.  In fact, the lines between the killer we fear and the leading man we are drawn to are blurred, and even those with the closest ties to the murders contained within this pulsing chiller can't decide whether they love or hate the twisted soul who finds purpose in dismemberment.  The score by Nick Mason is a big winner, and the performances are on point.  David Keith is perfect, and Cathy Moriarty matches him stride for stride, while Art Evans and Alan Rosenberg take smaller roles and turn them into major assets.  Few thrillers operate with this much charisma while probing such depths, and the end result is a bit of a mystery.  While the events portrayed are far from ambiguous, the viewer's reaction may be defined by a sense of puzzlement.  When all is revealed, it is difficult to determine just how we should feel about everyone involved, and that is why I cherish White of the Eye.  It is provocative, it is exciting, and it asks a lot of tough questions that it answers by dishing out a lot of tough answers.  Evil can be quite seductive.  Evil may even be rather charming at times.  And those who go toe to toe with evil may taint themselves in the process.  Most don't view this type of fare for such meditation on the darker aspects of humanity, but those who do may find this true one of a kind to be immensely satisfying in its thirst for perversion and identity.

Final Grade: A


Like the best Italian thrillers, this American production is a quirky thriller that oozes style and vibrancy.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Dragged Across Concrete (2018)


Short Attention Span Review - Dragged Across Concrete (2018)

Some might bill Dragged Across Concrete as a dark thriller, but I'm not so sure.  Yes, it is punctuated by shocking acts of violence, and yes it centers on some cops and robbers interplay of a sort that we often see portrayed on the big screen.  However, its more about the characters and their circumstances than their actions.  Dragged Across Concrete struck me as a hard-boiled drama, a stark departure from a garden variety police procedural or a guns blazing shoot 'em up.  More to the point, everything is painted in murky shades of gray, and the picture is bereft of any classical good guys.  The standard rules don't apply either, and this gives the picture a few jolts that most movies in the same vein are lacking.  This is a movie about desperate people making desperate choices and hoping to survive in the wake of these fateful decisions.  The pace is methodical; a stakeout is explored with incredible attention to detail, and though shots are fired and bodies are shredded, Dragged Across Concrete is always more concerned with what its characters are doing between these outbursts of carnage and death.  This is Craig S. Zahler's third film, and it's clearly his most deliberate effort to date.  It is both a throwback and a subversion of the genre, and it will excite many viewers for the very same reasons that it will bore others.  Zahler also pushes a lot of buttons, with a lot of social issues coming into play, though he doesn't seek to preach or provide answers as much as he allows his characters to offer up pointed questions while grappling with life as they know it.  Stars Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn fully embrace the material, and they invest such gravity into their performances that both disappear into parts that don't cater to their usual strengths.  Gibson simmers where he usually boils over, while Vaughn is more subdued and inquisitive than showy or declarative.  Tory Kittles upstages everyone as the unofficial third lead, an equally complex ex-con with a fluid knack for survival that serves him better than brutality or strategy serve his counterparts.  From the onset, we like all of these players in spite of their flaws, which are many, just as we recognize that this is not a happy ending kind of show.  While the gritty drama steadily nears a gruesome conclusion, we are continually surprised by the all too familiar yet oh so foreign plot.  It's not quite a masterpiece, but Dragged Across Concrete is really fresh, really intricate, and thereby really damn good.

Final Grade: A-


Vaughn and Gibson make an excellent pair in this gritty drama masquerading as a thriller, a grim saga where nothing comes easy and no one is safe.