Tag Archives: criminal

The Italian Job (1969 & 2003)

4 Aug

There are movies that really succeed at capturing a certain time period and a very specific attitude, and one of the finest examples of this may be the 1969 British crime classic, The Italian Job. It’s cool, funny, and captures the time and place very well while also succeeding as a really entertaining caper flick. After getting a pretty good game for the Playstation 1, the movie got revisited once again in 2003 with a remake by F. Gary Gray. It’s makes me happy to say that both films work very well together and a lot of fun can be had with the original and also the remake.

Of course, we’re going to start with the 1969 classic.

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After being released from a stretch in prison, Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) has a chance to turn his life around and fit in with normal society, but he’s just too good at what he does. With a plan already started by his recently deceased mentor and friend Roger (Rossano Brazzi), Croker starts getting a crew together to go to Turin, Italy to steal $4 million and escape to Geneva. None of this would be possible without a lot of funding, so Croker goes to Mr. Bridger (Noël Coward), who runs his criminal empire from prison, to finance it. With the money and the crew ready, the team heads to Turin to finish the job, but the mafia is on to them and will stop at nothing to keep the $4 million in Italy.

Since the time of its release, The Italian Job has grown into an iconic film filled with imagery that is immediately recognizable. Even before I saw this movie, I’d see a Mini Cooper drive down the street and my mind would go straight to The Italian Job. Maybe I just think about movies too much. Anyway, there’s plenty of great reasons why this film has achieved this status. One of the biggest reasons is the famous chase scene involving the three Mini Coopers making their escape out of Turin. This scene is reason enough to watch this movie, and it ranks as one of the greatest car chases ever filmed. It’s a blast to watch and it’s probably the best example of precision stunt driving in a movie. It almost seems like a scene that’s existed since movies first began, but it had it’s beginnings here in an action movie that never knew the legacy it would create.

While the action sequences are excellent, The Italian Job is also well known for its characters, writing, and soundtrack. The characters are a lot of fun, and Michael Caine and Noël Coward play the two leads with glee. Caine is perfect as the criminal everyone has to love. He’s cool, stylish, and has a temper that is good for a laugh. Some of the funniest scenes in the movie actually are played by Coward, whose Mr. Bridger practically runs the prison that he’s held in. The soundtrack by Quincy Jones is very cool and extremely catchy. I challenge anyone to listen to the theme song and have it not get stuck in your head.

To put it simply, the original version of The Italian Job is a super cool movie and has some of the most iconic and memorable scenes in film history. I honestly don’t think anyone working on this movie knew the legacy this movie would have, but it’s one of those movies that has to be seen to understand why it deserves such a status as a classic.

Let’s move on to 2003 to look at the remake. Normally, I’m not too thrilled about remakes, but the cast and F. Gary Gray in the director’s chair is enough to make someone interested.

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Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg) is the head of a gang of very talented thieves (Jason Statham, Mos Def, and Seth Green) who along with Charlie’s mentor, John Bridger (Donal Sutherland) and their inside man Steve (Edward Norton) pull off a major heist involving $34 million of gold and escaping Venice. The job goes off without a hitch, but the gang is quickly double crossed by Steve who steals all the gold and leaves the gang for dead in the Alps. What Steve doesn’t know is that the gang got out of the mountains alive and want their gold back. Charlie enlists the help of Bridger’s daughter, Stella (Charlize Theron), a safe cracker working on the other side of the law, to help them with their heist. This time, it isn’t about the money, it’s about payback.

This movie has a lot going for it and it’s honestly a pretty good movie. F. Gary Gray is a director that really has an idea of what he wants and handles action and suspense very well, which is necessary for a movie like this. In fact, there are elements of this movie that are handled better than in the original. The main improvement is the gang that Charlie’s the head of. In the original, we never really get a chance to know anyone that’s part of the heist other than Michael Caine’s character. In the remake, they’re all established as close friends, have distinct personalities, and all have something important to do during the heists. The actors have great chemistry and there is plenty of room for comedy and drama throughout the movie.

The action scenes are really cool and pay good homage to the original film. Believe it or not, the scene with the Mini Coopers is a little underwhelming compared to the first movie, but there are plenty of other scenes to make up for it. One cool scene happens in the beginning as Statham and Green are making a quick escape through Venetian canals on a speed boat. Any scene with Edward Norton is also very memorable. His villainous character just oozes with smug confidence that just makes you wanna slap that grin off his face.

While the 2003 version of The Italian Job is a really well made and fun movie, I still prefer the fast paced wackiness of the original. Still, this is a remake that works very well for many different reasons. The most important thing is that while it honors the legacy of the original, it stands alone as its own movie.

So there you have it. The legacy of The Italian Job is definitely a strong one, and only a movie that good could create something like it. Any fan of the action/crime genre should definitely give both of these movies a look. They’re really cool and a whole lot of fun.

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Find Me Guilty – Review

9 Jun

Between the years of 1986 and 1988, the largest mafia indictment and trial occurred with 20 defendants, who were all members of the Lucchese crime family, in the hot seat. One of these defendants was a low level gangster named Frankie DiNorscio, who was already facing 30 years and decided the best thing he could do is defend himself during this enormous trial. Needless to say, it was a circus and this brings us to Find Me Guilty, one of the great Sidney Lumet’s last films. I can honestly say that I’ve never heard anyone talk about this movie… like ever. I find this weird since it is a very entertaining court room film, but also features, far and away, Vin Diesel’s best performance.

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After almost being killed by his cousin and then arrested during a huge drug bust, Jackie DiNorscio (Vin Diesel) is looking down the barrel of 30 long years in prison. As if his luck hasn’t been bad enough recently, DiNorscio is then included in a massive indictment, led by district attorney Sean Kierney (Linus Roache), of over 20 members of the Lucchese crime family, including the boss, Nick Calabrese (Alex Rocco). Much to the chagrin of the lead defense attorney Ben Klandis (Peter Dinklage), Jackie decides it would be in his best interest to defend himself in the case. As days turn to months, Jackie stands up for himself throughout the trial and causes all sorts of havoc in the courtroom, but he also is forced to use this trial as a reflection on how he’s lived his life up until this point, affected the people he’s surrounded by, and what the family really thinks of him.

I love me a good courtroom drama, and it’s disappointing that there aren’t really a lot of them being made as of recent. I may be just missing them, but I can’t think of one that really stands out in recent years. While I love the drama of a trial, movies like My Cousin Vinny and even A Few Good Men have shown that there can still be plenty of humor in a story like this. This is something that makes Find Me Guilty really stand out for me. Not only was I intrigued by the human drama and criminal element, DiNorscio’s antics and people’s responses made for some really funny scenes. Make no mistake, though. The third of this movie hit me where it hurts. The combination of Jackie sticking up for himself in court and also coming to terms with his place in the crime family and his own family makes for some really deep scenes. I can’t say it reaches the intensity of Lumet’s classic 12 Angry Men, but it certainly is affective.

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The main reason I decided to give this movie a watch is the chance to see Vin Diesel in a dramatic role. Diesel is best known for his action roles in the Fast and the Furious series and XXX. He’s recently stepped into the super hero territory as Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy, but repeating the line “I am Groot” doesn’t really constitute as an acting showcase. Find Me Guilty has given me a new level of respect for Mr. Diesel. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Diesel actually completely embodies the role of Jackie DiNorscio to the point where I believe I’m no longer watching an actor, but footage from the actual trials. Of course I realize it’s a movie, but I really buy every line and action Diesel does, and saying I’m impressed is a bit of an understatement. We also have Peter Dinklage in a supporting role as a defense attorney that befriends DiNorscio. Dinklage also does a great job here, but that’s not really a surprise. This really is Vin Diesel’s show.

I want to get back to the point I made before about how part of this movie is about Jackie looking back at the things he’s done and said, and how the trial is the catalyst for all this soul searching he does. This is not the first time Lumet has done this with a court room scenario. Just look at 12 Angry Men. While it is a movie about a group of jurors deciding the fate of a young man, it’s also a movie about racism and bigotry and how they affect judicial proceedings. Find Me Guilty is also deeper than the intriguing scenes in the court room. It’s a movie about coming to terms with who you are and finding ways to better yourself before it’s too late. Movies with depth are certainly a plus, and Find Me Guilty succeeds very well at exploring its deeper thematic material.

I really can’t understand why no one ever seems to talk about this movie. It may not be Lumet’s crowning achievement, but it really is a damn good movie. Vin Diesel absolutely kills it as what may be one of the most sympathetic gangsters to grace the silver screen, and it makes me wish that he would take more jobs like this. It also helps that the dialogue is based off of actual courtroom testimony of the most absurd case the mafia has ever faced, while also exploring some deeper thematic elements. I liked Find Me Guilty quite a bit and can easily recommend it.

Monster – Review

13 Dec

Between 1989 and 1990, a Daytona Beach prostitute named Aileen Wuornos killed 7 men in cold blood. While Wuornos isn’t America’s first female serial killer, she is the first one that got this amount of attention thanks to the media and her reputation as psychotic. It goes without saying that there have been a few documentaries, books, and other works dedicated to Wuornos, but none have had the impact that Patty Jenkins’ 2003 film Monster had. Instead of focusing on the crimes themselves, Jenkins decided to focus on Aileen as a human and what drove her to do such horrible things. If that doesn’t sound interesting enough to grab your attention, Charlize Theron’s transformation into Wuornos surely is.

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Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron) is a prostitute working the streets in Florida who has just about completely given up on her life, that is until she meets a woman named Selby Wall (Christina Ricci). Selby is a lesbian and has strong feeling for the straight Wuornos, who at first turns her down, but soon finds out just how nice it is to be loved and the two start an unlikely relationship. Money soon becomes tight after Aileen decides to quit being a prostitute, so she hits the streets once again but instead of sleeping with anyone she begins to murder them and steal their money and their cars. Aileen feels this is all justifiable since she believes that all of these men are going to rape her, but her story begins falling apart and soon she won’t be able to keep this cold blooded secret from Selby or law enforcement.

I’m gonna start with the weakest part of this movie so I can dedicate the rest of this review to what is so overwhelmingly positive. The narrative flow of Monster is very weak and makes it kinda hard to follow at times. Aileen Wuornos killed people between 1989 and 1990, but there is no indication as to how much time has passed between scenes. It could be an entire year of 3 weeks for all I know. If you’re making a movie about a very specific amount of time, it’s important that the audience feels that this amount of time has passed. By the end of the movie, I didn’t really feel like I’ve been with the characters for over a year. This is actually a pretty major complaint since it actually affected how the movie flowed and made the overall narrative feel pretty choppy.

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But really, what is the main reason anyone is really interested in seeing Monster for? It’s obviously to see what is one of the best onscreen performances you will ever see. I don’t even know if Charlize Theron was actually in this movie. There was no evidence onscreen that she was ever there. Theron completely succeeds at transforming herself into Aileen Wuornos. Not only is the make up applied perfect, but also the fact that she gained a decent amount of weight and mimicked Wuornos’ facial expressions and ticks in a creepily authentic way. It’s an almost incomparable performance that, to me, should make Theron one of the most respected actors working in Hollywood. While I really can’t say enough about Theron’s performance, I also have to give a lot of credit to Christina Ricci for giving a performance on the exact opposite end of the spectrum. She’s a timid, almost pathetic, character that is played out wonderfully.

Something else this film succeeds in is putting an interesting twist on the cinematic views of a serial killer. Many films make their serial killer subjects, whether they be real or not, into something inhuman. What Patty Jenkins does with Monster is show Aileen Wuornos as a tragic human being. Make no mistake, though. Jenkins in no way condones or tries to defend what Wuornos did, but she does sprinkle a theme concerning circumstance and environment into the film. This kind of puts this movie into an interesting sort of category where it doesn’t focus on the horrors of the murders, but the horrors of this woman’s life and actions.

Narratively, Monster may not be the strongest movie out there, but this film is ultimately a character study. Charlize Theron gets so deep into her role as Aileen Wuornos, it’s truly unsettling, but it’s also a relief that Patty Jenkins showed a different kind of side to what we normally see in films about serial killers. Everyone will agree that what Wuornos did was despicable and wrong, but what was done to her was also despicable and wrong and, especially in a time when there are more and more mass killings, maybe this is a good topic to talk about.