Tag Archives: james caan

Blood Ties – Review

28 Jun

A little while ago I reviewed a movie called Contraband, directed by Baltasar Kormákur, which was based off of an Icelandic movie called Reykjavik-Rotterdam, also starring Kormákur. I wasn’t a huge fan of Contraband, and now we have a very similar situation. In 2013, Blood Ties was released which was directed by Guillaume Canet. This movie is actually a remake of a French film called Deux frères: flic & truand, also starring Canet. Much like my reaction with Contraband, I thought this was a pretty subpar film, even though there were a few great scenes and memorable performances. It just wasn’t enough to completely save the movie.

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The year is 1974 and small time criminal Chris (Clive Owen) is released from his 12 year prison sentence with the hopes of starting his life anew. Part of this means reconnecting with his estranged brother, Frank (Billy Crudup) a New York policeman who disapproves of Chris’ choices and lifestyle. While trying to hold onto a job, Chris once again falls into a life of crime, but also catches the eye of Natalie (Mila Kunis). The two quickly begin a serious relationship, but Chris’ criminal doings often put a strain on it. Meanwhile, Frank begins to reconnect with his ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Zoe Saldana) after her husband Anthony Scarfo (Matthias Schoenaerts) is arrested by Frank. As the two very different brothers try to keep their lives on track, they are frequently getting into small battles with each other, with much more extreme violence always seeming to lurk around the corner.

I want to get the good stuff out of the way first. The whole reason I was drawn to this movie in the first place is the outstanding cast. Besides the name I’ve already mentioned, the movie also stars Marion Cotillard as Chris’ ex-wife and James Caan as Chris and Frank’s father. Each and every one of these actors give great performances. Owen gives a very subtle but believable performance as Chris, which only reminded me why I think he’s one of the better actors working right now. I also have to give a lot of credit to Saldana for really owning her role, and I’m confident in saying she gives the best performance in the entire movie. Crudup also has a strong performance and plays all of the complications and troubles of Frank very well. There is absolutely no faults to be given to the cast, and they’re probably the only real reason to watch Blood Ties, to see these A-list actors in a role you’ve probably never heard they were in.

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The biggest problem I had with Blood Ties is that I felt I was watching it for the thousandth time when this was the first time I ever saw it. This is a story that has been told countless times in a variety of different ways, and for the most part, much better. This movie is a remake, but it feels like it could be a remake of many other different movies. The whole crime genre has a lot of cliches attached to it, and Blood Ties seems to be an amalgamation of all of them. It’s actually pretty astounding how familiar this movie is. From the two brothers with different ideals, to the aging father who actually does know best, all the way to love triangle with criminal elements. It’s all been seen before.

The characters themselves also sort of lend to the problem of familiarity. While they were interesting at points, I could tell exactly where their paths were going to lead. Crudup’s character is the most fine tuned person in the whole movie, and while some of his arc is predictable, he plays the role with confidence and makes the movie all the better for it. The same can be said for Saldana’s character, who shares a very similar and close arc with Crudup. The biggest disappointment is Owen’s character who is, for the most part, completely one dimensional. He’s the criminal with the heart of gold, and it’s such a tired cliche, I really couldn’t get into his character despite his performance being strong.

I really wanted to like Blood Ties a lot more than I did. I mean, just look at the cast. It’s absolutely fantastic, and all the actors do a fine job. The problem is that the whole story it’s trying to tell is played out and has become far too predictable. If you’re going to tell a story like this, there has to be something in there that disrupts the formula and adds something new. This film felt like a clip show of cliches that other movies perfected. I can’t even say this movie’s worth watching for the cast because it feels like more of a chore than entertainment.

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A Bridge Too Far – Review

18 Nov

It’s easy to make a war film that celebrates victory, but I can’t say the same about making a film that tells the story of an overwhelming defeat. Film history is sort of lacking in movie that tell the story of missions or operations that have gone terribly wrong. Arguably, one of the most notorious failures was Operation Market Garden, which happened after D-Day as World War II was coming to a close. Director Richard Attenborough and screenwriter William Goldman took Cornelius Ryan’s in depth book examining the loss and turned it into the grand World War II epic, A Bridge Too Far.

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On September 17, 1944, Operation Market Garden was put into effect by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. The plan was to drop 35,000 men behind enemy lines and secure a series of bridges so that ground forces could cross them on the way to liberate Arnhem. After only a few days of preparation, the mission began and things soon begin to go very wrong. This film follows different people through different locations and problems, among them being Staff Sgt. Eddie Dohun (James Caan), Maj. Gen. Roy Urquhart (Sean Connery), and Lt. Col. John Frost (Anthony Hopkins). As the mission drags on a lot longer than it should have, supplies begin to run low and more soldiers fall victim to the desperate Nazi soldiers.

This films may be one of the most “star studded” movies I’ve ever seen. I almost can’t believe how many people they got to sign on this project. I’ve already mentioned James Caan, Sean Connery, and Anthony Hopkins but the list doesn’t end there. A Bridge Too Far also features Gene Hackman, Robert Redford, Elliot Gould, Ryan O’Neal, Michael Caine, Maximilian Schell, and Laurence Olivier. With a cast like this, you would expect a lot of really emotional and hard hitting performances, but in this case you would be wrong. Sure, the acting is great, but A Bridge Too Far is far from being an emotional powerhouse. In fact, save for a few scenes, this is a pretty cold and objective look at Market Garden.

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With this huge amount of actors, it’s pretty obvious that there’s also a huge cast of characters. There’s British soldiers, American soldiers, and Polish soldiers to keep track of along with a couple of scenes of important Nazi soldiers. There came a point in the movie where someone was asking about how others were doing, and I didn’t know who they were talking about. I still have a hard time remembering who was who. I don’t think that’s really my fault either because so much is crammed into this movie. Even at 3 hours long, I felt like it could have gone on for even longer since some of the characters never really got their story arc fully realized. That’s part of the reason why I say this is a very cold war movie rather than an emotionally intense one.

Now while this is a pretty detached move doesn’t mean it doesn’t get pretty wild. There are scenes in this movie that are some of the coolest I’ve seen in a war movie because they feel huge and are executed with perfection. One scene in particular shows the thousands of men being dropped out of gliders, with some of them being show from a first person perspective. There’s also no music playing during this part which makes it extra effective. Some other great scenes include the air force bombing Nazi forces entrenched in a forested area and the nail biting assault on Nijmegen Bridge. There is unfortunately a lot of down time between some of the other better scenes, which often makes everything feel uneven at times.

A Bridge Too Far certainly can’t be called the best World War II film ever made due to some of its glaring issues with character and pacing. There’s so much stuffed into this movie, there really was no way to give every event or character a chance to develop fully without making this some sort of miniseries. Still, there are plenty of scenes that stand out as something truly special. The scale of this movie is large enough to fit the shoes of such a military blunder as Market Garden. If anything, this movie should still be viewed to get an interesting look at history and also for its extraordinary cast.

Dogville (2003) & Manderlay (2005) – review

17 Oct

I can’t stay away from the works of Lars von Trier, the self-proclaimed “greatest film maker in the world” and the “Mad Genius of Denmark.” I could continue with all of the nicknames this eccentric guy has garnered over the years, but I’d like to instead look at two of his films that are supposed to be the first two in a trilogy. The trilogy is called USA: The Land of Opportunity and the two films are Dogville and Manderlay. Now, I knew nothing about these movies, other than they were made by Trier, but what I got out of them were two piece of experimental film that I haven’t quite seen the likes of before.

First, let’s tackle Dogville.

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Somewhere neatly tucked away in the Rocky Mountains, near an abandoned silver mine, is the small town of Dogville. Tom Edison, Jr. (Paul Bettany) is the moralist and philosopher of the town who does his best to teach the people of Dogville the proper way to live. Late one night, Tom hears gunshots and finds Grace (Nicole Kidman), a mysterious woman who has just so happened to stumble onto the hidden little village. It turns out that Grace is on the run from the mob for some unknown reason, and a logical place for her to hide is this is hidden town. It takes a while for the townspeople to agree to let her stay in Dogville, and the only condition that she can is that she does labor for all of the people living there. This works well for a while, but soon the residents of Dogville begin to take advantage of Grace to the point of abuse. What they don’t realize is the dangerous secret the Grace is holding behind her unassuming demeanor.

Let me set the scene for you. I put in my DVD of Dogville, grabbed some food, and set myself up for what I thought was going to be a pretty run of the mill movie watching experience. Let me just reiterate that I had no idea what this movie was going to be like. When I saw what the movie actually was, I thought that I wasn’t going to make it through the entire three hour run time. Basically, the entire thing takes place on a stage with very little set design or props. It’s as minimalist as you could possibly get. As the film progressed, I realized that this is really the only way to tell this story, since Dogville isn’t about the the town itself, but more so the residents. Because of the minimal set, we can see into their houses for some of the most private moments and really learn what their characters are all about. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this is one of the most brilliant films that Lars von Trier has ever made.

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Dogville isn’t just about visual flair, though. There’s also a really tricky story filled with memorable acting to back it up. Nicole Kidman and Paul Bettany really steal the show as their characters. Supporting actors like Lauren Bacall, Stellan Skarsgård, and James Caan also do great, and let me just say that John Hurt should narrate everything. Sorry Morgan Freeman. As far as the story goes, it’s subtle and effective. It plays out like an interesting character study of the evils that can broil in small towns like this, and the whole thing kind of plays out like some strange experiment in human psychology and morality.

The only thing I really have to add is that Dogville is a fantastic movie watching experience and may be my favorite of all of Lars von Trier’s works.

The sequel, Manderlay, continues Grace’s story not long after the events of Dogville. Even though it’s made in a similar style, my reactions to the film were far from that of its predecessor.

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Now on the road with her father (Willem DaFoe), Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) and the rest of the travelers happen upon an Alabama plantation called Manderlay. What shocks Grace is that this plantation is filled with slaves, even though at this point slavery has been abolished for 70 years. As soon as Grace arrives at the plantation, Mam (Lauren Bacall), the head of the plantation dies and Grace, angered by the idea that there are still slaves, writes a new contract for the people there. The white people living on the plantation become responsible for the hard labor, while the black slaves are allowed to live a more free life. Grace begins to see improvement, but there are many secrets of Manderlay that she doesn’t know.

While Dogville was a subtle film with a strange story that somehow made perfect sense, Manderlay practically bashes you over the head with it’s preachy morality tale. Even though the set remains similar to the first film with its minimalist style, that is just about the only similarity. Bryce Dallas Howard is nowhere near as affective as Nicole Kidman, in fact she just comes off as ignorant and annoying for pretty much the whole movie. The most interesting characters are the former slaves of Manderlay, with some of the most important of those characters played by Danny Glover and Isaach de Bankolé, but sadly their talents are underutilized and Howard’s played up too strong.

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To me, it sort of seemed that Trier didn’t care about Manderlay as much as he did Dogville. While some people may find this idea very upsetting, some of the main themes of these movies are very anti-American. That’s fine with me as long as I don’t feel like I’m getting preached to by someone who thinks they are far superior than us commoners. That’s what watching Manderlay felt like. It’s true that it is still a visually beautiful movie, but that’s all I can really say about it.

While Manderlay is a pretty rotten movie in my opinion, Dogville is a genuinely fantastic piece of experimental drama. The style of these movies take a little bit to get used to, but once you do Dogville is definitely worth your time, if not just to experience a different style of film making. Manderlay, however, can be left well enough alone.

Middle Men – Review

20 Jul

When I first heard about Middle Men, I thought to myself, “Hmm, I never thought they would make a movie about this.” It never even crossed my mind that this story needed to be told, but George Gallo, the writer/director, thought otherwise. What we got is a occasionally funny, entertaining, albeit messy movie.

Internet pornography exists, even to the dread of parents and Republicans, but who would’ve guessed it was started in a dingy apartment by two loser best friends, Wayne Beering (Giovanni Ribisi) and Buck Dolby (Gabriel Macht). Newfound success comes quickly along with a troubled partnership with the Russian mob. To fix this issue, Jack Harris (Luke Wilson) is brought in and uses his expert negotiation skill to make everyone more money by becoming middle men instead of actual pornographers. With a rise this tall and steep, the fall is going to ultimately end in betrayal, murder, and sex…lots of sex, but that’s just business.

Middle Men didn’t sweep through the awards circuit nor is it destined to be some sort of classic. What we have is a purely entertaining movie with an interesting story. I can’t really tell you how much of it is real, however, but I still had fun watching it and seeing how the ensemble cast was going to turn out.

The casting of this movie is about as strong as any movie with this kind of budget is going to get. Luke Wilson brings the right amount of good and evil to his role, but we never really feel like he is a bad person. He is the Tony Montana of this rise and fall story, only nowhere near as crazy. Giovanni Ribisi is the scene stealer. Most of the laughs that are generated by this movie come from him, with his coked up persona and constant aggravation. James Caan and Rade Serbedzija also play their characters successfully and comically.

Don’t let the marketing campaign of this movie fool you. It is not 100% comedy. There’s a lot of comedy in it, but this movie can get dramatic, although that’s not what is memorable. The drama comes and goes, but never hits hard enough to make the viewer think about the morality of the characters. Everything keeps moving and just begins to blend with the rest of the the story.

The real problem with Middle Men is that there is much story in a movie that isn’t even two hours long. Movies that can be classified as “crime chronicles” are normally way over the two hour point, allowing their stories and characters to be appropriately fleshed out. Here, we are given information through flashbacks and cuts in time when it would have been easier and a lot less messy to just keep the movie more linear. The beginning of this movie has more flashbacks in the first fifteen minutes than I might have ever seen in an entire movie. Never use a flashback as a crutch. It makes the narrative messy.

Still though, everything was presented interestingly enough to make sure that I never got bored, and I didn’t. To put it more concretely, I never check to see how much time was left. I was totally engaged by the story and all of its players. The cause and effects of Middle Men are both hilarious and serious. The narrative has its choppy moments and the writing isn’t a masterpiece, but this movie is a lot of fun. It isn’t the best ever, but I’d say Middle Men is worth a viewing.