Tag Archives: ray liotta

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.

streetkings1_large

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.

street_kings2

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.

Advertisements

GoodFellas – Review

11 Oct

Here we go, ladies and gentlemen. This review is a doozy since I will be looking at one of the most acclaimed, praised, and altogether adored American films of all time. This, of course, is Martin Scorsese’s 1990 gangster epic GoodFellas. I don’t really know if I have any new opinions to add to table that haven’t already been said, so this review might just be a reiteration of many other critics and fans. What can I do, though? This film truly is a classic and I really had to review it eventually. Many people say that this is the best mob movie ever made, but I have to go with The Godfather: Part II. Even so, GoodFellas is an incredible movie and the landmark film of Scorsese’s illustrious career.

goodfellas

For as long as Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) could remember, he wanted to be a gangster. He gets his wish at a fairly young age when local mobster Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino) takes an interest in him and starts him off with a couple of jobs. As the years progress, Hill becomes a more respected member of the family along with his two best friend Jimmy Conway (Robert Di Niro) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci). The three have become accomplished professional criminals and enjoy living the luxurious life of a gangster. As time goes on, however, the three friends soon find out that this idea of mob life was just fantasy, especially when their friends begin dying at a much more rapid rate, drugs begin taking their money, and their family lives begin to crumble around them.

I felt like I said the word “epic” too much in my previous review for The Martian, and this is another one of those times where that word is going to be thrown all over the place. GoodFellas is an epic crime story that, to me, almost seems impossible to pull off. I think it would’ve been if it were in any other hands other than Martin Scorsese. The biggest feat that Scorsese accomplished with this movie was cramming thirty years into two and a half hours. All of the important times of these people’s lives are shown, but I never felt like I missed out on anything else because of the intelligent uses of montage to skim over more unimportant parts, but still give the audience the full story.

Goodfellas-Tribeca-Film-Festival-screening

Of course none of this epic storytelling would have worked if there wasn’t an excellent cast backing everything up. At the forefront, GoodFellas has Ray Liotta, Robert Di Niro, and Joe Pecsi. Ray Liotta gives the best performance of his career as Henry Hill. It’s interesting watching Liotta here because it shows a range that I haven’t really seen in his acting anywhere else. Di Niro works great as always, but Pesci really steals the show as the sadistic Tommy DeVito. Pesci took home the Academy award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as well. Other than the three leading roles, I have to also give a lot of credit to Lorraine Bracco, who plays Henry Hill’s wife. The arc her character goes through is great, and she remains consistently on point with her character as the years stretch on in the film.

GoodFellas, believe it or not, is actually based off of a true crime book called Wiseguy written by Nicolas Pileggi in 1986. Scorsese got into contact with Pileggi, and both of them excitedly began working on the screenplay. What I’m getting at is the brilliance with which they handle the writing. Scenes were written with action and dialogue, but they knew that they had to let the actors act as naturally as the possibly could. The actors that were assembled were so talented and the writing was so real, that a lot of improvisation and natural reacting took place, which makes everything really seem to jump from the screen. This isn’t a glamorized version of mob life, and that’s exactly what the intention was. The writing combined with the acting makes it seem real, gritty, and altogether miserable in the end.

GoodFellas may not be my favorite mob movie ever, but it’s certainly up there with my favorites. Looking back on this movie, there really is nothing to complain about. Everything is so spot on from the cinematography, to the writing, and the acting. Still, the most impressive thing is how much material is squeezed into this movie, all while keeping the pacing fast and exciting. GoodFellas isn’t just the high point in Martin Scorsese’s career, it also marks a high point for American film as a whole.

The Iceman – Review

15 Aug

Between the 1960s and the early 1980s, Richard Kuklinski murdered over 100 people as a hitman working for various mob families. Since his arrest in 1986, there has been a biography written about him and also an HBO documentary that features and interview with the Iceman, himself, from 1992. With all of this information already out there, and the fact that it was a huge media sensation, it seems only right to have a movie made after the guy. We got this movie in 2013 with Ariel Vroman’s The Iceman. While this movie does have a lot going for it, like the title performance, there’s a lot to this movie that just falls short which makes it not achieve a place a small gangster classic.

The-Iceman-Poster

Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) is a violent and unpredictable man, but he finds joy when he marries his girlfriend, Deborah (Winona Ryder). After losing his job dubbing bootleg porn for the mafia, he is hired by mob boss Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta) to act as an enforcer and hit man. This job forces Kuklinski to channel the rage and violence that he has hidden away from his family in order to get the job done, and it turns out that he’s very good at what he does. As the years go by and the amount of bodies becomes ridiculous, Richard finds himself in a position where he could either lose the way to provide for his family or team up with another mafia hit man, Robert Pronge (Chris Evans). Whatever his choice may be, the consequences could be big enough to tear his entire world apart.

I have to be honest here. I never heard of Richard Kuklinski before this movie, but his story really is an interesting one. With a career that spanned over two decades that was filled with violence and malice, you’d think it would be enough to make a great gangster film. Well, yeah it is, but the screenplay to The Iceman keeps it from ever really achieving that greatness. Since there is so much to work with, you’d think that this would be a pretty long movie, but it’s actually under two hours. How is that possible? There is way too much to cover for it to be that short. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of scenes that had the potential to be awesome and memorable, but is glazed over in a matter of seconds. The best part of this movie is a montage when it should have been stretched out to build character and create suspense. Oh well…

the-iceman

Despite the screenplay being less than spectacular, there’s still something that makes The Iceman well worth seeing. That is Michael Shannon’s fantastic performance. I’ve yet to see Michael Shannon give a less than perfect performance, be it as General Zod in Man of Steel, Nelson Van Alden in Boardwalk Empire, or even his small role as Petie in Cecil B. Demented. While some of the stuff he’s in may be awful (I’m looking at you Pearl Harbor and Jonah Hex), Shannon is never the weak link. In the role of Richard Kuklinski, he is both demonic and loving, good and evil. He is a family man and also a cold blooded killer. This is the kind of stuff that makes his character, and many other characters in cinema, so interesting and he pulls it off with such menace, it’s hard not to be terrified of him.

It’s also easy to get lost in the production design. I recently reviewed Parkland, and I talked about how well the designers pulled off making everything look and sound like 1963. I have the same thing to say about The Iceman, except that it showcases design from the 1960s through the 1980s. It really puts you into the scene, but unfortunately there is plenty to take you out of the scenes. I’ve heard complaints that a lot of the dialogue is stereotypical gangster lines, but that wasn’t the issue with me. Going back to what I said before, the pacing of this movie is too sporadic and things just seem to happen too quickly. The choppiness of the film’s plot is enough to take you out of what’s happening onscreen and start thinking about what could have been done to make the movie better.

What makes me so disappointed is that The Iceman had a lot of potential to be a great gangster film, but it only is a pretty good gangster film. Michael Shannon’s performance as Kuklinski is enough to make this movie worth watch, but there’s too much that’s lacking. While I didn’t expect it to have the size or scope of a movie by Martin Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppola, it would have been nice to see a little bit more work done with the screenplay. The bottom line is that The Iceman is a good movie, but is sorely lacking.

Killing them Softly – Review

15 Apr

I have preconceptions of what a “gangster” movie is going to be like, even though maybe I’m making a mistake with that. This isn’t a negative thing, because most narratives in film have a pretty traditional narrative arc with archetypal characters. What’s the best thing about Killing the Softly is that it takes all these expectations that you have about these crime/gangster films and completely throws it out the window. This is a completely unique film that is both ridiculously entertaining and a new inspiration to my work that I do.

Killing_Them_Softly_poster

 

Johnny “Squirrel” Amato (Vincent Curatola) has an idea that involved two small time crooks, Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), and a card game run by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta). The plan is for these crooks to rob Trattman’s game, with all the blame being placed on Trattman due to his history with these games. The heist itself goes off without a hitch, but the shockwave the results is anything but favorable. Enter Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), a hit man who specializes cleaning up particularly messy situations. Now no one involved in this heist is safe, and Cogan is not about to show any mercy. It might get in the way of his paycheck.

From the get go, this doesn’t feel like an average gangster film. All of the tough talking dialogue is there, but it was so unique that it almost reminded me of early Tarantino. The conversations about sex, violence, drugs, and life are so convincing and at the same time, seem so foreign. These dialogue scenes aren’t quick little moments either. Be prepared for some very long and drawn out scenes of two people talking in a bar or in a car. What saves this is that the dialogue and the delivery are so great and different that I couldn’t help but be sucked in.

killing-them-softly-image-3

 

 

When I first started seeing previews for this movie, I thought that it was a pretty strange cast. First of all, I never heard of Scoot McNairy before this movie, but I hope to see him a lot more. His boyish naïvety masked by a false sense of confidence was so much fun to watch. Ray Liotta takes the whole idea of what a gangster should be, tough and raw, and turns him into a whiny little brat who is full of bad decisions. Some of my favorite scenes, however, involve Brad Pitt talking to James Gandolfini, who like Liotta’s character, is anything but traditional. This strange combination of characters and actors makes for very original interactions and situations.

I’m going to combine the violence and the themes into one paragraph because they go hand in hand. Killing them Softly is not a subtle movie in any way. It leaves nothing to the imagination and the message is clearly stated. This may put some people off, but I was able to easily decipher the real world metaphors and comparisons. By playing sounds of governmental speeches and gripes about the economy over scenes of violence and crime is simple but brilliant. Now we come to the violence. There isn’t a lot of it. 90% of this movie is talking, talking, talking. When there is a burst of violence, it is very unapologetic and in your face. It’s almost like Andrew Dominik, the writer/director, was saying “LOOK LOOK!” There is one flashy scene, which I really enjoy, but the ones that just show brutality at its most human are sublime.

killing-them-softly-1a

 

Different. This is the best way to describe Killing them Softly. As a mainstream release, it didn’t do to well in the box office. I feel like a major contributing factor to this may be the fact that it is a borderline art house film complete with unconventional camera angles that are made to jar the viewer, uncomfortable violence, and lengthy dialogue. This isn’t a movie that serves only to entertain. It’s a political allegory, a journey into the philosophy of crime, and an artistic piece of brilliant film making.  Know what you’re getting into before watching this, but it is a wild ride that I don’t just recommend, but require.