Tag Archives: los angeles

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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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.

Rampart – Review

17 Dec

Throughout my movie watching career, there have been collaborations between certain actors and film makers that work so well it should be illegal. For the sake of this review, the collaboration is between writer/director Oren Moverman and his go to actor Woody Harrelson. In 2010, Harrelson was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in Moverman’s heart wrenching drama, The Messenger. The two were then reunited 2012, along with co-writer James Ellroy (best known for L.A. Confidential), with Rampart. The performances and overall story in this film are really something to behold, but the overcrowding of subplots and an over the top artsy fartsy style almost ruined the movie for me.

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The year is 1999 and Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson) is a police officer in the Rampart Division of the LAPD. Unfortunately for the people of Los Angeles, Brown is a racist, homophobic, and generally intolerant bigot who will resort to violence whenever he wants to to get the information he wants. After he is caught almost beating a suspect to death on tape, Officer Dave Brown’s life soon starts spiraling out of control. His ex-wives who are also sisters (Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon) want nothing more to do with him while Assistant District Attorney Joan Confrey (Sigourney Weaver) starts pushing him towards an early retirement. As if that wasn’t enough, Brown becomes embroiled in an affair with an attorney working against him named Linda (Robin Wright) but also gets into more trouble after getting bad advice from his mentor, Hartshorn (Ned Beatty), which ends in a brutal murder.

I think the main reason to see Rampart is to see all of the amazing talent at work. Harrelson gives what may be the best performance of the year. It probably even beats his work on True Detective, especially since there is so much more corruption and hostility flowing through his character’s veins. A lot of the other actors I feel get under utilized though. For example, Steve Buscemi is only in one scene and I wanted to see him a lot more. Ice Cube also only shows up towards the end even though his character had a lot of great potential. After Harrelson, I think the next performance you really have to pay attention to is Ben Foster’s. Foster is one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors and his small role in Rampart and his leading role in The Messenger proves he’s capable of a lot more than he is given.

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James Ellroy is a master at writing in the crime genre. He has written plenty of murder mysteries and dramas while also penning screenplays and having involvement in documentaries. That being said, both Ellroy and Moverman went a little overboard in Rampart. The story of a corrupt cop finally facing his demons and getting what he has coming to him is great, and they show his breakdown wonderfully. The problem is that there is way too much crammed into this movie. It’s like they tried to take everything from a long novel and stuff it into a movie that’s less than two hours. Characters are underused, plot lines are unresolved, and some of the development feels either forced or nonexistent. Luckily, the crux of the story is there and really good. This is more of a character study of Dave Brown and Ellroy and Moverman hit the nail on the head when it came to that area of the screenplay.

Another major complain that I have with Rampart is that Moverman and cinematographer Bobby Bukowski went a little overboard with the art design. There’s a motif throughout the film that Dave Brown slowly begins disappearing. The start of the movie has him at the forefront of the action going on onscreen and while the movie goes on, he becomes framed behind objects and obscured. That’s an example of great artistic design. On the flip side, there’s a scene where the camera keeps cutting and spinning during a meeting and it’s not only unnecessary, but looks stupid. I get what they were trying to do, but it just didn’t work and only succeeded at annoying me. If Moverman and Bukowsky just toned it down a little bit, the film would have been all the better for it.

I almost loved Rampart and at the same time I almost hated it. I really don’t know how else to explain how I feel about this movie. On one hand it tells a really complex story about a man who refuses to change who he is and has to suffer for it, and on the other hand it’s an overstuffed movie that seemed to be going nowhere at parts. I feel equal on these two sentiments, so Rampart really just left me baffled. I wanna say give it a watch, but I can’t see anyone really coming out of it without a lot of questions that need answering.

L.A. Confidential – Review

15 Jan

Many people will argue that the golden age of Hollywood was between the late 1930s all the way up to the end of the 1950s. Genres were created and perfected in ways that have not been seen since then. Few films have tried and truly succeeded in recreating this image of these perfect years, but one film equally praises and criticizes. That film is L.A. Confidential, a detective story where good guys are just as corrupt as bad guys and everything is kept off the record, on the q.t., and very hush hush.

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1953. Los Angeles. To outsiders, it seems like a paradise just waiting to be explored. To its residents, it is a den of lust, corruption, and violence. After a bloody massacre at the Nite Owl café, three police officers’ lives and problems become tangled as each tries to solve the case for their own particular gains. They are: by the book Edmund Exley (Guy Pearce), celebrity hound Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), and the violent Bud White (Russell Crowe). Alliances are formed and torn apart as betrayal and greed worm their ways through the characters and, especially, when a few characters fall for a beautiful call girl, Lynn (Kim Basinger), who just might be the biggest connection to the case that these detectives have.

L.A. Confidential is more about the characters and the themes than it is about solving the actual mystery. I don’t want to say that the actual crime is pushed to the back burner, because it is visited time and again, especially towards the end, but this isn’t what the viewer is really paying attention to. First and foremost they are learning the characters and their motives, and then learning how their motives affect one another. Then the themes come to mind: corruption, greed, and a strange sense of dark nostalgia. These themes blend with the characters and shape their personalities to make a complex and adult character driven story.

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In order for these characters to be so memorable, the performances had to match their complexities. Thankfully, there is a very talented cast to support this movie. Kevin Spacey stands out as Vincennes. He’s a likable Hollywood dirt ball who just so happens to be a policeman and he plays the part very well with quick one liners that can quickly change to brooding seriousness.  Guy Pearce plays Exley, one of the most complicated characters of the film, perfectly straightforward. Russell Crowe is the weakest of the three, sometimes falling into to the pitfall of cliché, which isn’t necessarily his fault. Finally, Kim Basinger, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, is just fine but nothing really special. It doesn’t really have “Academy Award” written on the performance.

These characters would be nothing without the intelligent, borderline genius, screenplay. While the story itself kind of takes a place off to the side it still can’t be denied that it’s fantastic. It is pulp crime at its finest with a deep mystery filled with lies and violence. The dialogue is very personal and every line feels necessary. The other Academy Award that was honored to this movie was for Best Adapted Screenplay, which I feel is very well deserved.

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L.A. Confidential is a fantastic ride into the depths of crime of 1950s Los Angeles. The writing, complex story, and characters are all fantastic and supported by the magnificent performances. I loved this movie from beginning to end, not once getting bored throughout the entire two hours and fifteen minutes it was on. IF you live crime fiction and noir films then this is the film to boost your spirits.

Battle: Los Angeles – Review

12 Jul

It seems like audiences will never get tired of alien invasion movies, and I’m ok with that because I personally love the genre. When done right, invasion movies are exciting and may even have a message that mirrors societal problems. Then there are some that are loud and brainless, kind of like Battle: Los Angeles.

SSgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) is finished with being a Marine. He has to get through day after day of reliving his past mistakes that got people killed. Unfortunately, for him and everyone else, he is pulled back into active duty after aliens arrive on earth and begins exterminating any human that the come across in order to colonize our planet. Nantz and his new squad are part of the bigger machine that is charged with repelling their attack by any means necessary.

Does anything else happen in this movie? No. Not really. There is a nice beginning that introduces all of the different marines that we will be with the entire movie, and lets us in on their different personalities. They are a pretty diverse bunch of people, which does help me care about them, but I knew that there were a lot of them because a lot of people have to die, so i immediately understood their purpose.

Even with all of the characters, besides Nantz, I still found it hard to keep everyone together. When they are in battle, they pretty much just lost their characters and became random people, because I had absolutely no idea who was doing what, or even what was going on sometimes. Battle: LA is filmed in a kind of faux-documentary style, so expect a lot of shaky cam and motion sickness, lots of motion sickness. I don’t know what it is with film makers today, especially in Hollywood, who think that this style of film making works to the advantage of an action film. Even Christopher Nolan was guilty of this in Batman Begins. If there is an action scene, I’d like to see and understand it.

I’m pretty sure that this movie was partially made as a recruiting video for the United States Marines. I got tired of hearing how much ass the Marines kick and how they never retreat. It would have been fine a couple of times, but every other line? No, thank you. Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down are actual war movies, and even they don’t talk about themselves as much as the characters in Battle: LA.

Then again, all of the writing in this movie is pretty terrible. Battle: LA is packed to the brim with every war movie cliché you can possibly think of. The characters are all stock war characters, there’s the obligatory and serious “tell my wife I love her” scenes, and a protagonist with a mysterious past. Some originality would have been nice, but who needs to be original when there are so many explosions and cool looking stuff (Michael Bay?).

I can’t say that the movie didn’t entertain me for a little bit. I saw it when it first came out in theaters and had a pretty good time, but watching it again at home, I liked it a lot less. When the aliens first came and the action first picked up, I was liking it. Then it kept going and going and going. When the end finally came, I was more than ready to turn it off. It was only two hours long. That’s average for a movie, but it felt way too long. Two hours of nonstop yelling and shooting may sound cool, but not really.

Battle: LA had potential to be cool, but is wasted with some of the most unoriginal, and vomit inducing (shaky cam) content that has come out in the past couple years. Look at District 9 and Independence Day. Those are fantastic alien invasion films, and I wished a couple of times that I was watching them instead of Battle: LA. It may look cool, be loud, and have lots of action, but I was still pretty bored. This isn’t a good movie, so save yourself some time.