Tag Archives: entertaining

Unleashed – Review

16 Jun

I’ve talked about Luc Besson quite a bit in these reviews, and that’s because he’s a powerhouse when it comes to the action genre. Not only can he direct a great action film, but he has written some modern action classics. People may have seen more of his movies than they even thought. Today, I’m going to be looking at the 2005 film, Unleashed, which was written by Besson and directed by Louis Leterrier, who is known for his work on The Transporter (also written by Besson) and more recently on the Now You See Me films. Unleashed marks a high point in Jet Li’s career as well as this is widely regarded as his best English language film. Could it be possible that it actually is? Well I say it just might be.

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Deep in the pits of the underground crime world of the United Kingdom, there lies a small cage in a warehouse that is inhabited by Danny (Jet Li), who as a young boy witnessed his mother being murdered only to be picked up and “raised” by a small time gangster named Bart (Bob Hoskins). Throughout his life, Danny is trained to be a human attack dog, implementing brutal martial arts to beat on whoever Bart commands. After an attack on Bart’s life, Danny escapes and finds his way to Sam (Morgan Freeman), a blind piano player, and his musician step daughter Victoria (Kerry Condon). The trio soon becomes a close knit family, with Danny learning more and more how to be a part of society, but Bart is still alive and well and wants his attack dog back. This forces Danny to stand up for both himself and his new family and rid himself from Bart and his goons once and for all.

First and foremost, this is an action film, and a very good one at that. Jet Li is known for his highly choreographed, flawless martial art performances, which makes Unleashed stand out. The whole point of Danny’s character is that he’s raised as some street fighting attack dog, which means that he fights like some sort of rabid animal. This makes for some vicious action sequences that made me cringe more than a few times thanks to some nasty sound effects. People don’t just get hit, they get completely obliterated in a barrage of fists that would make even the most skilled of fighters think about what they are doing with their lives. A lot of this has to do with the incredible fight choreography by Yuen Wo Ping, who worked as choreographer on The Matrix and Kill Bill.

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So while Unleashed exceeds expectations in terms of its action, there’s also a lot of heart. After a gleefully violent first act, there’s a break of about 25 minutes to a half hour where the action completely comes to a stop. Normally, I’d say that this would be where you can go get a snack because it completely disrupts the pacing. The crazy thing is that it doesn’t disrupt anything. In fact it adds a hefty layer of character and succeeds in turning otherwise throw away characters into people that you absolutely need to see win over the bad guys. Anything else would be completely unacceptable since you grow to love these characters so much. I wasn’t expecting this from this film, but it sure was a pleasant surprise.

It’s also worthwhile to talk about the performances in Unleashed, because like everything else, they offer a lot more than you might expect. First of all, Jet Li completely goes in a different direction with his performances of Danny. Unlike his normal heroic performances, Li plays an incredibly damaged individual who has a lot to learn about himself and life, and he plays it very convincingly. Morgan Freeman and Kerry Condon are good as the people who welcome Danny into their lives, but the real performance powerhouse is brought forth by Bob Hoskins. Hoskins was a fantastic actor, and I never really hear his name come up in relation to this movie. He seems to be having the time of his life playing the villainous Bart, who is one of the easiest villains to hate that I’ve seen in a while. He absolutely knocks it out of the park in this movie.

Unleashed is an action movie that stands above the average films in this genre. It has bone crunching action, but it also has a lot of heart and some excellent performances for some really great characters. When a movie like this really makes you care about the people and what may happen to them, you know you’ve found your way to something special. Isn’t that what movies are all about? Losing yourself in a story with great characters and real emotion. It also helps the Jet Li kicks major ass. This is one hell of a good movie.

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.

Judge Dredd (1995) & Dredd (2012) – Review

1 May

With a summer full of comic book movies, I’m gonna be writing plenty of reviews of our favorite masked heroes. Let’s look at a more out of the way comic series for just a bit, though. In 1977, the British comic book 2000 AD was first published, which provided readers with new stories every week. The most famous recurring character of this series is none other than Judge Dredd himself. Like many comic book characters, movies were eventually made. In 1995 there was Judge Dredd starring Sylvester Stallone, and in 2012 there was Dredd starring Karl Urban. To compare the two, let me just say think Batman and Robin compared to The Dark Knight.

Let’s look at the 1995 version first. Or maybe let’s just try and forget?

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By the latter part of the 21st century, the Earth has been turned into a desert wasteland. Whoever is left alive are forced to reside in giant Mega-Cities where crime runs rampant, as opposed to the alternative, which is getting torn apart in the areas outside the walls. In these cities, the law is upheld by “judges” who act as judge, jury, and executioner. The most feared of these judges is Judge Dredd (Sylvester Stallone), who is recognized for outstanding service and a brutal, no nonsense attitude. When one of his biggest criticizers is murdered, Dredd is framed and is forced to go on the run in order to clear his name and restore justice to the corrupted Mega-City One.

Now, I’m all about silly movies especially when the likes of Sylvester Stallone are involved, but holy hell… What is this? After researching, I’ve found that he production of this movie was nightmarish since director Danny Cannon and his screenwriters had a huge disagreement with Stallone over what this movie was supposed to be. Was it a serious action/sci fi or was it an action/comedy? Stallone preferred the latter which made for some serious rewrites. The outcome is bizarre. The film has a great look to it and the special effects are all really good, but everything else is pretty awful. Rob Schneider’s comedic relief is anything but funny and the plot is so confusing and muddled that I didn’t really care what happened in the end.

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The best way I can sum up Judge Dredd is by saying I was baffled. How could a movie based off such a cool, rough character be this silly? Did they really think the jokes were that funny? Did they know that the plot made barely any sense? I honestly don’t now. The movie starts off cool enough, but once the real story kicked in, I found myself losing interest fast. Stallone looks ridiculous in the he’s always standing ramrod straight and Rob Schneider was just plain awful. I could really only enjoy Armand Assante’s performance as the villainous Rico. He was way over the top and loving it. This film is hated by fans of the comic series, and honestly, even though I haven’t read any of the stories, can see why.

But all was not lost. In 2012, director Pete Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland teamed up to hopefully bring some redemption to the character. The result was Dredd.

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A new plague has struck Mega-City One, and it is the newest, most popular designer drug called Slo-Mo. It’s main draw is that upon inhaling, the brain is tricked into perceiving the world around it as moving at 1% its normal speed. Enter Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and his new trainee, Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a psychic who although she performed poorly at the academy may have special uses with her power. The two arrive at Peach Trees, a 200 story slum, to investigate a triple homicide. What the judges don’t know is that they are working against drug kingpin Ma-Ma’s (Lena Headey) best interests in the production of Slo-Mo. To counteract her situation, Ma-Ma has the entire complex locked down and orders all of the criminals inside to hunt down and kill the judges. What follows is a two man war to the top of the complex to find and judge Ma-Ma, but also just to make it out of there alive.

I said earlier that these two movies can be compared like Batman and Robin to The Dark Knight. While Dredd certainly isn’t as incredible as The Dark Knight, the comparison can still be seen. This is a much darker take on the lore created in the comic books and it succeeds so much more. Karl Urban surprisingly plays a much better, real, and strangely likable Dredd, but that’s just the beginning. Instead of trying to complicate things unnecessarily, Alex Garland kept the story simple and straightforward, resulting in a movie that felt like I was watching a live action graphic novel of the story. Another contributing factor to this is the cinematography of Anthony Dod Mantle, who has done work on Slumdog Millionaire28 Days Later, and Antichrist to name a few.

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Dredd is simply a much better movie than the 1995 original. It’s stylistically beautiful, is loaded with nearly non-stop action, and has a sense of humor that is appropriate to the content. I also can’t help but mention that it reminded me of The Raid more than once, but that’s great considering The Raid is one of the best action films of the decade. While this doesn’t reach the heights of comic book adaptations like The Dark Knight or The Avengers, it’s still a damn entertaining movie and one that I would love to see again and again.

So there you have it. If you haven’t seen these films already, I highly recommend skipping over Judge Dredd and moving right on to Dredd. He may not be the most well known comic book character, Judge Dredd has lasted over 35 years and counting, so much respect should definitely be given.