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Street Kings & Street Kings 2: Motor City – Review

28 Jul

Crime movies are some of my favorite kinds of stories. Wether it’s told from the side of the criminals, the police, or both, these movies tend to excite me and grip me until the very end so long as the story is good enough. For this review, I’m going to be looking at Street Kings and its sequel Street Kings 2: Motor City. I can’t really say my feelings at this point on the sequel, but I was very excited to see the original Street Kings. I heard a lot of great stuff about it, and now that I’ve finally seen it, I’m honestly a little underwhelmed.

As always, we’ll be starting with the original 2008 film by David Ayer.

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Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) is a star in the LAPD, but his unorthodox techniques and his heavy drinking is starting to get the better of him even with the support of his police unit, run by the affable Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker). What only adds more to Ludlow’s stress and drinking is the fact that his old partner (Terry Crews) is informing on him to an internal affairs captain, James Biggs (Hugh Laurie). When Ludlow is at the scene of his ex-partner’s murder, Biggs really sets his sights hard on Ludlow who is now determined more than ever to find the real killers. With the help of homicide detective Paul Diskant (Chris Evans), Ludlow starts a small war with the criminal element of L.A. in hopes to force the murderers into the open, but the corruption plaguing the police force goes deeper than Ludlow ever anticipated.

It’s clear that Street Kings has all of the makings of a really cool cop thriller. There’s a strong cast, David Ayer in the director’s chair, and the original story was written by James Ellroy, who is known for penning the modern classic L.A. Confidential. Well, Street Kings doesn’t quite live up the hype that I’ve been exposed to. So many people have told me that this is a must see movie, and honestly, it’s just alright. It certainly isn’t a bad movie, but you have to admit, it’s pretty derivative. Reeves’ character is a cop who most certainly doesn’t play by the rules, and then has to clear his name and weed out the corruption in the police force. It’s so many different clichés rolled up to form an even bigger cliché in the form of a two hour movie. Everything that happens in the movie has been seen before time and time again.

I don’t want to make it sound like Street Kings is a total waste of time, because that’s not the case. In fact, it’s a pretty competent movie for the most part. The cast really does their best with the material that’s given to them with Whitaker and Evans really stealing the show. David Ayer also has a really gritty eye, which is why he’s really good with this genre. The streets of L.A. really takes a life of their own and the presence of violence and death always feels like it’s lingering amongst the fog or right around the corner on a dark urban night. There’s plenty of style and Ayers captures it perfectly. I’m really only disappointed in the writing. I don’t know what Ellroy’s original screenplay was like before other writers hopped on to add their own take on things, but if it’s as clichéd as the final product, I’m pretty disappointed.

If you’re looking for an easy way to kill a couple hours, then Street Kings is a fine choice. You really don’t have to think to hard because the story and characters are all so familiar. As a movie to watch and review, I have to say it’s a bit of a disappointment. I’m not upset that I watched it, but I really have no need or desire to watch it again.

Street Kings is one of those movies that needs no sequel, but it ended up getting one that a lot of people probably never noticed. They took the themes and changed the city, the characters, and the story and released it straight to DVD. This is 2001 film, Street Kings 2: Motor City.

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Now taking place in Detroit instead of L.A., the story revolves around an aging narcotics  detective Marty Kingston (Ray Liotta), who doesn’t have the cleanest record on the force but is known for a couple huge busts. After his  partner (Scott Norman) is gunned down after leaving a night club, Kingston teams up with a young homicide detective, Dan Sullivan (Shawn Hatosy). At first Sullivan is wary of his new partner, but after more officers are killed in the same way, the two put aside their differences and begin acting together to find the culprit. Once again, however, the corruption in the police department runs deep and both men find their lives uprooted as the investigation comes closer to a conclusion.

This being a direct to DVD release, you have to take everything I say about Street Kings 2 with a grain of salt. Some of these straight to video releases can be good, but there’s normally a reason, wether it’s budget or otherwise, it didn’t get a theatrical run. For what it is, this movie isn’t too awful, but it is pretty bad. One thing good that came from it is that the story, at it’s core, is pretty much the same exact one as the original, which is automatic points off. It does, however, make some changes that I really liked and added a new sense of suspense and tension that wasn’t in the original. It’s also always cool to see Ray Liotta, and he did good in this film, but it’s a sad reminder that his career didn’t exactly go in the right direction.

Everything else about this movie is a bit of a joke. While some elements of the story might have been good, the writing in general is far from acceptable. There are some horrendous lines of dialogue that are shamelessly over expository. There are some lines delivered that are downright laughable. Ray Liotta is really the only actor in this movie who isn’t cringeworthy. Shawn Hatosy and Clifton Powell are probably the worst offenders in the acting department for this particular film. I already said that the story is pretty much exactly the same as the first movie which makes this one a copy cat of a movie that was already copying other movies. That made this an occasional chore to sit through.

Street Kings 2: Motor City is a coherent movie, but that’s really all I can say about it. The acting is awful, the story is clichéd, and there’s nothing of real substance to be found. A few scenes worked well, but most of them fell flat on their faces. Stick with the first one and leave this sequel well enough alone.

It seems that not too much can be said for Street Kings or it’s sequel. The first on is a mediocre cop movie that may be worth seeing once, and the sequel is just a goofy attempt at a drama. Only people who are really into this genre should check out the original. Other than that, there’s nothing else to really discuss.

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The Iceman – Review

15 Aug

Between the 1960s and the early 1980s, Richard Kuklinski murdered over 100 people as a hitman working for various mob families. Since his arrest in 1986, there has been a biography written about him and also an HBO documentary that features and interview with the Iceman, himself, from 1992. With all of this information already out there, and the fact that it was a huge media sensation, it seems only right to have a movie made after the guy. We got this movie in 2013 with Ariel Vroman’s The Iceman. While this movie does have a lot going for it, like the title performance, there’s a lot to this movie that just falls short which makes it not achieve a place a small gangster classic.

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Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) is a violent and unpredictable man, but he finds joy when he marries his girlfriend, Deborah (Winona Ryder). After losing his job dubbing bootleg porn for the mafia, he is hired by mob boss Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta) to act as an enforcer and hit man. This job forces Kuklinski to channel the rage and violence that he has hidden away from his family in order to get the job done, and it turns out that he’s very good at what he does. As the years go by and the amount of bodies becomes ridiculous, Richard finds himself in a position where he could either lose the way to provide for his family or team up with another mafia hit man, Robert Pronge (Chris Evans). Whatever his choice may be, the consequences could be big enough to tear his entire world apart.

I have to be honest here. I never heard of Richard Kuklinski before this movie, but his story really is an interesting one. With a career that spanned over two decades that was filled with violence and malice, you’d think it would be enough to make a great gangster film. Well, yeah it is, but the screenplay to The Iceman keeps it from ever really achieving that greatness. Since there is so much to work with, you’d think that this would be a pretty long movie, but it’s actually under two hours. How is that possible? There is way too much to cover for it to be that short. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of scenes that had the potential to be awesome and memorable, but is glazed over in a matter of seconds. The best part of this movie is a montage when it should have been stretched out to build character and create suspense. Oh well…

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Despite the screenplay being less than spectacular, there’s still something that makes The Iceman well worth seeing. That is Michael Shannon’s fantastic performance. I’ve yet to see Michael Shannon give a less than perfect performance, be it as General Zod in Man of Steel, Nelson Van Alden in Boardwalk Empire, or even his small role as Petie in Cecil B. Demented. While some of the stuff he’s in may be awful (I’m looking at you Pearl Harbor and Jonah Hex), Shannon is never the weak link. In the role of Richard Kuklinski, he is both demonic and loving, good and evil. He is a family man and also a cold blooded killer. This is the kind of stuff that makes his character, and many other characters in cinema, so interesting and he pulls it off with such menace, it’s hard not to be terrified of him.

It’s also easy to get lost in the production design. I recently reviewed Parkland, and I talked about how well the designers pulled off making everything look and sound like 1963. I have the same thing to say about The Iceman, except that it showcases design from the 1960s through the 1980s. It really puts you into the scene, but unfortunately there is plenty to take you out of the scenes. I’ve heard complaints that a lot of the dialogue is stereotypical gangster lines, but that wasn’t the issue with me. Going back to what I said before, the pacing of this movie is too sporadic and things just seem to happen too quickly. The choppiness of the film’s plot is enough to take you out of what’s happening onscreen and start thinking about what could have been done to make the movie better.

What makes me so disappointed is that The Iceman had a lot of potential to be a great gangster film, but it only is a pretty good gangster film. Michael Shannon’s performance as Kuklinski is enough to make this movie worth watch, but there’s too much that’s lacking. While I didn’t expect it to have the size or scope of a movie by Martin Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppola, it would have been nice to see a little bit more work done with the screenplay. The bottom line is that The Iceman is a good movie, but is sorely lacking.

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Review

3 May

Sure, this is only going to be the biggest movie event of the year. No pressure. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become one of the biggest money makers in the last decade, and you can see why. Because it’s so fantastic, you can’t help but love it. Anyway, it’s time to talk about the movie that I’ve been most excited about for the past year, Avengers: Age of Ultron. After almost completely destroying New York City in the first film, there was a lot that had to happen in this movie to make it really stand out, and of course a lot of people have been saying it’s underwhelming. To those people I ask, what movie were you watching?

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After everything that’s happened since the last film, the Avengers are reassembled to finally reclaim Loki’s scepter from a HYDRA outpost. After calling the mission successful, the team is faced with an entirely new problem. Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) artificial intelligence program that has been in the works becomes fully aware and takes on the form of the arch villain Ultron (James Spader).  After seeing the fallacies of the human race, Ultron begins his plan to enact a mass extinction so the species can hopefully evolve into something better, but that doesn’t sit well with the Avengers, and it’s up to them with the help of a few others to end the Age of Ultron.

I sometimes feel the need to say this, and this is definitely one of those times. That was a very difficult summary to write, and I know for a fact that I didn’t do it justice. Let’s face it, so much happened in this movie. Like a ridiculous amount compared to other movies, but what do you expect? We’ve all come to love these characters and really care about what happens to them, and now they’re all in the same movie once again. This time, however, Joss Whedon takes the characters and gives them more to do and more of a backstory for us all to appreciate. Another big plus that really stands out is that Hawkeye gets way more to do in this movie, and in fact has become one of my favorite characters.

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As with the other film, the writing in this movie is spot on, but it’s also where my only complaint really arises. James Spader does an excellent job as Ultron. They really couldn’t have found a more appropriate voice. The thing is, is that he was too funny. I would have loved to see a much darker villain, but it was almost as if they were substituting him for Loki. Loki was funny and it was appropriate. I can’t really say the same for Ultron. Still, the humor everywhere else was great. All of the characters interacted with each other very well, and you could tell that they’ve been working together for a while. Even secondary characters from other movies were written in and written in well. These additions of other characters makes Age of Ultron feel like the biggest Marvel movie yet.

While this movie is very funny, it also works great with the dramatic aspects. Sure, there’s more than enough action, chases, explosions, and destruction, but what may be even more interesting than that is what happens to the characters. We see more of their private lives and what makes them tick and where they all came from. Even Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch get great backstories which makes the audience actually care about them. If they succeed at their mission, we feel great, but if someone gets injured or dies, we’re going to feel that pain as well. This is what really makes these Marvel movies stand out amongst summer blockbusters. The characters, no matter how fantastic they are, are so three dimensional and solid that we really do care and want to see them succeed.

To put it simply, Age of Ultron may not be as great as the first film, but still it’s an amazing movie. It felt so great seeing all of these characters come together again to duke it out against Ultron. What I want people to take away from this review is that these Marvel movies are about the characters. The action and special effects in this movie are amazing, but what really hits home are the Avengers themselves. I not only loved watching this movie, but I loved the feeling of excitement that came after when I began thinking about what was next. What a great way to start the summer movie season.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Review

7 Apr

Captain America has been my favorite Avenger since, well, ever. His portrayal has been spot on in Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers, but I never really felt that they were using Cap in the ways that they could have been using him. The action scenes in The First Avenger felt chopped up and he didn’t have a whole lot to do in The Avengers, but that is no longer the case with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This takes the universe that these Marvel movies have created and shakes it up in a way that hasn’t been seen yet, and makes me wonder what’s going to happen next for these heroes. It also happens to be my favorite stand alone Marvel movie yet.

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Now living in modern times, Captain America, aka Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is having a hard time adjusting to the culture, but may be having a harder time dealing with the ideologies and working of S.H.I.E.L.D. After a mission concerning hostages, Rogers begins to get suspicious of both Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johansson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Matters are made worse when a mysterious and deadly attack is made on S.H.E.I.L.D by the mysterious Winter Soldier, who is only the start of a much bigger plan concerning the collapse of the entire organization. Captain America, along with Black Widow and his newfound friend Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), begins to fight their own war in Washington D.C, but their actions and the actions of their enemies may just destroy everything that they have been working for.

Out of every outing that a single Marvel hero has had, this is definitely the best one with the original Iron Man following close behind. This was everything that a Captain America movie should be and it was great to finally get to see him really kick ass. Words can’t describe how satisfying the noise is when he whacks or throws his shield at someone. Not only did the Captain have more to do, but so did Black Widow and Nick Fury. The addition of Falcon was also great, providing some awesome aerial action scenes. This was almost like a mini Avengers movie, and it definitely had the scale of one with things falling out of the sky, car chases throughout Washington, and reveals that will shake the core of the Marvel universe.

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The action in The Winter Soldier is really turned up from the first Captain America movie. I understand that the first one was an origin story and it was important to explain how Steve Rogers became Captain America, but like I said before, he’s my favorite Avenger and I’ve been really waiting to see just what he can do. I was disappointed at first with this movie because the first action sequence used that god awful shaky action cam. I didn’t want to stop watching but it was making me sick to my stomach, and I was worried that that was how the rest of the action sequences were going to be filmed. Luckily, I didn’t have a problem with any of the other ones. This movie is full of awesome action with some of the best special effects in a superhero movie that I’ve seen yet. At a point the action almost becomes non-stop, and I absolutely loved it.

This is really a movie that needs to be made at this point in time. The whole time, I felt like the story could be almost like a 1970s spy film, because of the themes of the government watching your every move. That being said, we are back in a time where that is a cause for concern, and I loved how this movie touched on that. There are times where Cap is saying that it isn’t freedom if we have a government looming over us and threatening us with violence as a way to keep the peace. We haven’t really moved forward in that department when it comes to freedom, and this was an interesting way to go about exploring that idea, through a superhero movie.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier not only shows how a Captain America movie should be made, but how an action packed Hollywood blockbuster should be made. There’s plenty of witty banter, action set pieces, and things blowing up but that doesn’t compromise the intelligence of the movie. That’s one of the best thing about these Marvel films: they’re never stupid. This is an excellent edition to the growing list of films in this superhero universe, and it made me even more excited for The Avenger: Age of Ultron.

The Avengers – Review

4 May

One of the first thoughts I had after leaving The Avengers last night was, “How can I review this film and still give it justice?” I’ve been training for this movie since I was a kid by watching the television shows, playing the games, and reading the books of the various characters in this film. I have so much to say, and worried that I’m just going to start rambling about how awesome it is. I’ll give it my best shot, so forgive me if I sound like a giddy school girl.

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Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is back with a vengeance in The Avengers, with plans to take over the world using the energy of the mysterious and ominous Tesseract.  Now, the director of S.H.I.EL.D, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) assembles his team of extraordinary individuals. These are: the millionaire playboy Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.); the demigod Thor (Chris Hemsworth); the super soldier Steven Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans); gamma radiated scientist Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo); sharp shooter Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner); and super agent Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson). Together they are The Avengers, and Loki is in for one hell of a battle for Earth.

The outstanding thing about this movie is that every superhero gets their share of screen time. One isn’t more important than the other, and every single one plays a vital role in accomplishing the mission. Even Hawkeye and Black Widow, who didn’t get their own individual tie-ins get a lot of screen time and are just as significant as characters like Thor and Captain America. I can even say that each hero got their own moment of just jaw-dropping awesomeness that my friends and I are still talking about.

I was a little worried that this movie was going to feel like it went on for too long with a run time of almost two and a half hours, especially since I was at the midnight movie and I had a small inkling of concern that I was going to fall asleep. I had absolutely no cause for concern. First of all, the movie felt like an hour and a half tops. The fact that I was in that theatre for two and a half hours is mind blowing. I just did not want the movie to end. Also, when the film first started, I immediately was wide awake and ready to go.

The special effects here are absolutely phenomenal. New York City is almost annihilated at the end, and it looks great. The fight scenes were also brilliantly choreographed and edited so that we got to see how each member was contributing to the battle. There was one long take in particular that travels all throughout the Manhattan battlefield to show all of the Avengers taking on numerous villains. It was so satisfying.

The performance were top notch. Tom Hiddleston is fantastically menacing as Loki, making him a villain we love to hate. Downey Jr. is appropriately sarcastic, and Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth pull off the tough talking but heroic persona of a superhero. The scene stealer in The Avengers, however, is Mark Ruffalo, who I didn’t put enough faith into. His Bruce Banner is very mild and soft spoken, but when he Hulks out, the audience is treated to the best Hulk scenes to grace the big screen.

I know I’m going to get a lot of heat from this next statement, but I believe that The Avengers surpasses The Dark Knight. Go ahead and disagree. That’s absolutely fine, but I can honestly say I was never more entertained by the action and surprisingly deep characters of The Avengers, and it was awesome to see all these heroes onscreen at the same time. It is the best super hero movie ever made, by far, and the scene during the end credits make me very impatient for the next one. I 110% recommend The Avengers, and I can’t wait to go back to the theaters and see it again.