Tag Archives: denzel washington

Unstoppable – Review

20 Oct

 

I can’t really say I’m the biggest fan of the late film maker Tony Scott. His filmography is a bit of a mixed bag for me. I can’t get into movies like Top Gun or Déjà Vu no matter how hard I try, but on the other hand Domino is a highly underrated action film and True Romance might even be one of my favorites. Like I said, it’s a mixed bag. Scott released his last film in 2010 titled Unstoppable, and it kind of serves as an exclamation point for the run on sentence that is Scott’s body of work. It has that signature frenetic style that everyone will recognize, but it also has a really interesting plot based on true events and some good characters to keep that story going. I was kind of surprised by it.

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Will Colson (Chris Pine) is a new train conductor  assigned to veteran engineer Frank Barnes’ (Denzel Washington) train scheduled to make stops in a number of small Pennsylvania towns. All in all, it sounds like a pretty mundane day for the two railroad workers. What they don’t know is that further up north, a completely inept hostler has lost control of a half mile long train that has cars containing a highly toxic substance called phenol. Now this train is barreling through towns without any control and is a risk of derailing at any moment and releasing this substance that could poison an entire town. Yardmaster Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson) rounds up her usual employees to stop the train, but corporate interference is making the task almost impossible. With time running out, Colson and Barnes decide to catch up to the train and slow it down themselves. With Hooper giving directions back at the train yard, the two railroaders push their train to the limit to stop a massive potential disaster.

Going into this movie, I wasn’t really expecting too much. Every time I asked someone about Unstoppable or it was brought up in conversation, no one ever seemed to excited about it. I’m really glad that these unremarkable responses didn’t deter me from actually watching it and formulating my own opinion. This is a well paced, well directed, and well acted film that, along with Domino, is a highly underrated Tony Scott movie. The plot takes its time in many places and that’s a smart choice because a movie like this could easily be rushed and contain non stop action. The first half hour or so sets up the characters and the setting while also giving the audience enough information to be able to follow the story. I really don’t know much about trains or how they work, so without this set up, I would have been completely lost during some of the more technical discussions. So, just because the action doesn’t start right away doesn’t mean it’s boring. Scott’s visual style and direction always keeps things interesting until the real meat and bones of the story begin.

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When the action does get started, it rarely ever lets up. This is an incredibly fast paced movie that, like I said, doesn’t feel rushed. This is where Tony Scott’s direction really shines. For one thing, most of the crazy stuff that happens was all shot with very little CGI. Instead, Scott opted to go with stuntmen, real trains, and lots of disposable things for the trains to crash into. This is a great looking movie for reasons like that, and also Scott’s kinetic and highly saturated visuals. The way the action is laid out also gives the tension and thrills time to build up. When the train is first lost and out of control, it isn’t moving too fast. By the time the climax of the movie happens, however, it’s traveling nearly 80 miles per hour with all of those other train cars, some of which contain a highly toxic and combustible chemical. This is one of those movies where you’ll find yourself slowly inching to the edge of your seat and letting out those wonderful sighs of relief.

Amidst all the mayhem with the trains, there’s also a story of corporate interference and disrespect for all of the people working in the field and not operating out of a boardroom on the fiftieth floor. This isn’t a subject that’s often shied away from, because a lot of working people can relate to it, but Unstoppable handles it in a way that resonated with me well. A lot of it has to do with the surprisingly three dimensional characters. Washington’s character is the veteran who’s getting screwed over by the company, Pine’s character is just getting into the company that’s obviously flawed, and Dawson’s character is the person who has made somewhat of a name for herself, but still isn’t respected by the higher ups. It really all of the bits and pieces of a company from the completely inept employees to the veterans just trying to finish their time on the job.

Unstoppable isn’t going to go down as an action classic in the years to come, but not every movie has to have that kind of status. This is a very well put together action thriller with fully realized character and plenty of mayhem and destruction to keep your eyes glued to the screen. I wouldn’t call this movie great, but it’s certainly really good and epitomizes most of what made Tony Scott’s vision so unique. This one’s worth checking out.

Final Grade: B+

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Glory – Review

11 Aug

Movies about the American Civil War only seem to crop up every so often. The more popular option to explore is World War II or even more current warfare, which is honestly all well and good when done right. My point is that I don’t think there are nearly enough movies that properly explore the time when America was completely at odds with each other. This is partially why a movie like Glory really stands out. It also stands above many others because it tells a story that’s rarely told, and that’s the story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, which was made up of the Union’s first only African-American soldiers. This film is not only a testament to what free thinking and ideals can do for an army, but also an incredible dramatization of a plan that helped turn the tide of the Civil War.

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During the early years of the Civil War, there was no certain way of telling wether the Union of the Confederacy would come out on top. There were many dedicated soldiers fighting for both sides, like Captain Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick), a Union soldier who longs for peace but will not stray from a battle. After being injured in the Battle of Antietam, Shaw is promoted to the rank of Colonel, and put in charge of the 54th Regiment Volunteer Infantry, which was to be made up solely of African Americans. Many African Americans jump at this chance to fight and stand up for their rights, which inspires Shaw to be the best leader he can possibly be. During this time, Shaw meets John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman), Silas Trip (Denzel Washington), and Jupiter Sharts (Jihmi Kennedy), who all become his finest soldiers and stand with him as they face opposition from both the Union and the Confederacy.

Like I said before, I feel like the American Civil War hasn’t been covered as much as it maybe should be in film. There’s so much material to explore, and Glory is a testament to that. This isn’t just a movie about the Civil War nor does it stop at just telling the story of this particular regiment. This is a movie about beliefs and ideals and how far people are willing to go to protect what they believe in. That’s what really gives this movie support. It’s a theme that’s been explored many different times in many different movies, but this era and situation adds an extra layer of gravity to the situation since it was such a historical event. That being said, Glory can be a very emotional movie. What’s really interesting about the feelings I got watching this movie is that it made me feel very proud of the characters and the camaraderie that forms between them, but by the end of the movie things turn very bittersweet and I was left feeling a combination of happiness and devastation.

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This movie is filled with excellent actors, and their performances is a big reason to watch this film. I never really thought of Matthew Broderick as a great actor, and while his performance in this movie is really good, there are a few awkward moments where I didn’t quite believe his portrayal. The real highlights in Glory are Morgan Freeman, Jihmi Kennedy, and Denzel Washington, who won an Academy Award for his performance. Each character symbolizes an area of slavery or of being a freeman during the time of the Civil War, and each actor brings these characters and what they represent to life. While the writing is great, it’s these performances that make the movie so powerful and feel so true. When actors can make the viewer really begin to care about what happens to them, that’s when you know you are witnessing great performances.

Along with Denzel Washington winning Best Supporting Actor, Glory was also awarded Best Cinematography and Best Sound. Watching this movie, you can see exactly why. One of the most important aspects of creating a historical movie is to be able to put the viewer in that time period without any doubt of what is being seen. The battle scenes in this movie, from the opening at the Battle of Antietam to the finale at Fort Wagner, this is an epic film in every sense of the word. The finale is especially an achievement, going from a battle in the daylight to a night time raid that is lit by the flares and explosions from the Confederate fort. None of these visuals would mean as much it wasn’t for the pounding sound design that felt like a cannon was being shot right into my living room.

Glory is an epic story of a group of people that helped turn the tide of the American Civil War. It’s a story about beliefs, brotherhood, and freedom that are told by an accomplished film maker (Edward Zwick) and actors that have a deep understanding of their characters. Over the years, this movie has be lauded as one of the best war films ever made, and possibly the best concerning the Civil War. I whole heartedly support this opinion, and not only because of the battle scenes. Glory hits all the right points in terms of narrative and themes and it’s a movie that should be seen and appreciated.

Déjà Vu – Review

27 Dec

The film world is a much quieter place without Tony Scott. It was really upsetting to me this past year when I heard of his suicide. He was an action film maker who did more than make derivative movies. He invented a kinetic style that made the world the action was taking place in hyperrealistic.  With camera work that jolted the viewer all over the place to the highly saturated cinematography, you knew you were watching a Tony Scott movie without even needing to look at the credits. With films like True Romance and Man on FireDéjà Vu is certainly not his best, and I doubt if this is the movie that comes to people’s minds when they talk about Scott’s filmography.

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After a ferry explodes in New Orleans on Mardi Gras, ATF Agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) is brought in to investigate. He proves himself as a worthy investigator and is recruited by FBI Agent Paul Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer) to join a special task force involved with this investigation. “Special” is an understatement, since this crew has technology that is able to bend time and space and look back into the past on a very specific delay. This ability leads them to look into the life of Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton) who was found dead near the area of the ferry explosion. What Carlin and the agents find by looking at Claire’s past is a terrorist (Jim Caviezel), whose targeted her to unwillingly assist him, unless Carlin can somehow travel to the past and save Claire, thereby saving everyone on the ferry.

What separates this from a lot of other more derivative action films is the gimmick of time travel. If this was about Agent Carlin and the investigation about the ferry and the terrorist who committed the crime, this would be a completely forgettable and unremarkable movie. The time travel aspect, and the technology behind it only serve to make the film a little bit more interesting than it could have been. Unfortunately, the movie is almost overblown with dialogue trying to explain the technology, but it isn’t very interesting. When the actually action involving the machine is put to use, it isn’t all that exciting, save for a few moments. Being a film that’s over two hours, the element of seeing through and traveling through time is a missed opportunity.

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There isn’t even a whole lot of action in this movie to keep me occupied. Like I said, there is a lot of talking in this movie, and a good portion of it is technical mumbo jumbo.  There is a pretty cool car chase in the movie that includes the bending of time, which is an example of how the gimmick of the movie can be put to good use. The other scenes of action are brief, but exciting. Still, there isn’t enough excitement to keep me fully entertained or on the edge of my seat, which is odd for a Tony Scott movie. Let me just touch on the element of time one more time, no pun intended. It really bothered me how it’s used here when it could’ve been so much better. Time travel is really cool and fun, despite each movie being totally illogical in its own way, but Déjà Vu takes the cake for being the simplest and most uninteresting.

The visuals still have that cool Tony Scott style that I’ve come to really enjoy about his movies. Everything is wonderfully over saturated and the camera work is so frenetic at times that it feels almost like a video game. That still doesn’t make the movie as good as it could be. Style over substance, in my opinion, can be passable as long as the movie knows that it isn’t shooting to be anything other than a stylistic roller coaster. This movie is not one of those. We are supposed to be completely involved with the weak characters and believe the dull plot device of time travel, all while enjoying the cool style. It just doesn’t work like that.

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Déjà Vu is one of Tony Scott’s weakest entries to his filmography. While it seems like there is certain potential for this to be a legit sci-fi action thriller, it really doesn’t live up to the standards that it creates. Instead, this movie is going to be forgettable and never make it onto anyone’s future list of action classics. I can’t even say it’s a fun way to spend two hours, since the plot is so thick with dialogue that only twists for brain for no reason. Too much talking and not enough action makes Déjà Vu a bland attempt at a genre blending action film.