Tag Archives: morality

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.

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Faster – Review

24 Nov

I’ve heard quite a few positive things about the 2010 film Faster since the time of its release. While it didn’t do too hot with the critics, a lot of people who’ve seen it have recommended it to me. Honestly, I was just kind of excited to watch a movie where I wouldn’t have to think too hard. I mean, an action film starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson couldn’t be anything too thoughtful. What I got instead was a satisfying action film that was equally intelligent with fully developed characters and some heavy thematic depth.

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After serving a ten year prison sentence, Driver (Dwayne Johnson) is finally released with his mind solely focused on getting revenge on the gang that killed his brother. Armed with a pistol, a list of names, and unflinching fury, Driver begins making his way down the list of names, brutally killing anyone on it. This catches the attention of a few people. On one side, there’s Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a highly skilled but neurotic hit man hired to stop Driver at any cost. On the other side is Cop (Billy Bob Thornton), a detective trying to piece his life back together after struggling with a heroine addiction. As these three parties come closer to colliding, more is figured out about what truly happened to Driver’s brother, revealing a bigger conspiracy than was originally thought.

There’s a lot more going on in this movie than just brainless action, and that’s what really sets Faster up a step above many other films in this genre. Not only is there a revenge story at the core of the movie, but there’s also nice thematic depth, a purpose for everything you see on screen, and a message at the end that perfectly wraps up everything that came before it in a nice package. In one scene when we see Killer beginning to track Driver, he can be seen on the phone with his therapist while on the job. I found that to be a very creative way to add some levels to his character and made me realize that I wasn’t just watching a throwaway movie that I’d forget tomorrow. Mostly all of the characters in the movie have their own idiosyncrasies that make them feel real and help them give meaning to the message that sometimes it is too late to turn your life around.

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With a name like Faster, I also thought this movie was going to be one of those non stop jolts of action that’s kinetic and over the top. The fact is that that’s nowhere near what this movie is actually like. There are plenty of action scenes, but they don’t particularly last very long. Most of them are over within a few seconds since they mostly have to do with Driver getting his revenge on another person on the list. He really only fights one of them, and the rest he pretty much just executes. There’s also a small car chase that is fun, but that kind of stuff isn’t really what this movie is about. What I’m trying to say is that nothing is excessive in this movie. I never felt like I was watching a scene of violence just for the sake of violence. This just goes back to when I said that everything that happens in Faster has a purpose.

While the movie may be a step above average, I can’t really say the same thing for the performances. Billy Bob Thornton, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje stand out in terms of their performances, but everyone else is just so so. Dwayne Johnson kind of just stands there and kills people for most of the movie. There are one or two scenes where he lets his acting rip a little bit, but I think his character is a little underwritten and not very interesting. Carla Gugino and Jennifer Carpenter also show up in the film, but they also don’t give any kind of interesting performance. The only people to really watch for in this movie are Thornton, Jackson-Cohen, Akinnuoye-Agbaje.

Faster may not be the best action movie you or I will ever see, but it was really nice seeing some creativity and thought put into not only the story, but also what the movie was truly about. Not only did this film entertain me, but it actually forced me to think and want to dig deeper at what lied beneath the revenge story on the surface. I was really surprised by how good this movie actually was, and I can’t believe the review turned out this way, but I definitely recommend this one.

The Seventh Seal – Review

30 Mar

To any film lover, the name Ingmar Bergman is one to really perk up the ears. If I hear anyone having conversation about him, I automatically want to jump in, but that would be weird. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen too often. Anyway, he;s known mostly for a large amount of dramatic works and one really fantastic horror film, Hour of the Wolf. One of his most famous and respected works is a film from 1957, The Seventh Seal. In this movie, Bergman tackles some really heavy subject matter and wraps it all up in some of the most beautiful black and white cinematography you’ll ever see. The honor of being a “classic” was invented for movies like this.

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Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) is a knight returning home after the Crusades with his squire, Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand). Block is having problems with his faith after fighting tirelessly and then returning home to find the country ravaged by the Black Plague, while Jöns is comfortable with being a nihilistic agnostic. While on a beach, Death (Bengt Ekerot) comes for Block, but to stall Death’s intentions Block challenges death to a game of chess. While the game continues, Block and Jöns keep traveling home when they run into a family of performers. The performers and the two Crusaders move through the countryside contemplating life, death, and religion as the horror that surrounds them begins to engulf everything they believe in.

Sometimes looking at movies like this can be a weird experience. A lot of the times, they aren’t really entertaining movies, but more so movies to just be appreciated for their artistic value. The crazy thing about The Seventh Seal is that through all of it’s artistic qualities and moral preaching, it’s a damn entertaining movie. The whole idea of playing chess with Death is cool enough, but using the Crusades and the Black Plague as a time to set it in makes it all the more cool. But that’s not to say that I didn’t appreciate this film as a piece of art. In fact, when this movie was released it pretty much defined modern arthouse cinema.

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One of the main draws of this movie is how beautiful everything looks. The atmosphere is completely haunting and the black and white cinematography really is a must to make this story work. Bergman got a lot of inspiration for this movie by looking at paintings of Death and other works from this time period, so a lot of this movie does actually look like a moving, black and white painting. To top off the beautiful aesthetics is a score that will chill you right to the bone. Discordant melodies that seem to be seeping through the cracks of hell flood the dying landscape like the plague, itself. It’s memorable and something I’d love to put on my iPod if I could find the music anywhere.

Another problem that normally bogs these art house movies to the ground can be there length. If an artsy fartsy movie goes on too long, then the entire impact of what could’ve been great gets obliterated. Luckily, The Seventh Seal wastes no time with unnecessary scenes, and cuts right to the chase with Death starting his chess match with Block. From there, the story keeps progressing at a steady pace, leaving me no time to get bored with it at all. I was honestly expecting to be just a little bored, but I was too busy enjoying myself the whole way through.

I’m quite surprised with The Seventh Seal. I knew that it was going to be beautiful and aesthetically excellent, but I wasn’t expecting to have as much fun as I did with it. The setting is cool and eerie, the music is chilling, and the religious and moral questioning is interesting to listen to and think about. Many people say that this is one of Ingmar Bergman’s masterpieces, as it has been praised, parodied, and honored since it was first seen in 1957. I’d have to agree with them. This film pleases in every regard and can certainly be regarded as an international classic.