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Point Break (1991 & 2015) – Review

17 Nov

I’ve talked about cult classics on here many times, because those are some of my favorite kinds of movies. I don’t know how I could’ve been writing these for so long and leave out one of the kings of the cult classics: Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 film Point Break. It’s an over the top thrill ride that still has people talking and laughing about. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that it would eventually be remade in 2015 to overwhelmingly negative critical responses. Today I’m gonna take a look at both movies and see where they both went right and where they might have went wrong.

Let’s start it off with the original 1991 classic.

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FBI rookie Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) might have been at the top of his class at the academy, but he soon learns that he’s going to have to prove his skills when he’s assigned to the robbery squad in Los Angeles. Partnered with burnt out veteran Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey), the two begin their investigation on a group of professional bank robbers known only as the “Ex-Presidents” thanks to their interesting choice of disguises. They soon deduce that the Ex-Presidents are more than likely a group of surfers, so Utah goes undercover to infiltrate the surfing community and find their guys. After being trained by surfer Tyler (Lori Petty), Utah meets one of the most respected people on the beach who goes by Bodhi (Patrick Swayze). As Utah’s respect becomes more apparent for Bodhi’s philosophies, he starts to stray further from his connection to the FBI, but a shocking discovery about Bodhi’s involvements in the robberies changes everything.

Point Break is one of the purest definitions of the term “action movie.” It has everything from skydiving and surfing to fist fights and car chases. Not only that, but it has a whole lot of attitude to back it all up. While there’s a lot of adrenaline coursing through this movie, it isn’t anything perfect. First of all, Keanu Reeves’ acting can only be described as sub-par. Some of his lines are absolutely cringe worthy, which is something he can’t be completely blamed for. It’s also pretty uneven in terms of its action and excitement. The build up of the story can often feel disjointed and slightly distracted, but there’s a point that is highlighted by an exceptional foot chase that really brings the action up to 11. From then on, the action and the excitement doesn’t let up, and as silly as a lot of it is, Kathryn Bigelow films it with such style that Point Break has earned a spot as a cult classic.

Bigelow’s style is what really sets Point Break above the rest. First of all, the look of the Ex-Presidents is fantastic and original and I really can’t get enough of it. Other than the beautiful way the action is filmed along with the stunts that really get the adrenaline pumping, this movie has the nostalgic joy of the true MTV generation. The extreme sports along with the music and fast paced editing succeeds at putting the viewer in a certain mindset. While there are some major storytelling flaws and the writing often gets far too cheesy, this is a cult classic for a reason and required viewing for any action junkie.

Final Grade: B-

In 2015 came the remake that no one could have conceived of nor had any desire to have it be made. While this may be true about the remake of Point Break, it doesn’t change the fact that it made a good amount of money. Why does this happen?

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After seeing his friend die during one of their extreme sports performances, Johnny Utah (Luke Bracey) decides to give it all up and join the FBI. After years of training, he’s temporarily made into an agent to investigate a string of heists that include motorcycles, parachuting, and skydiving. Utah is sent to France to meet up with his new partner, Angelo Pappas (Ray Winstone), and the two soon stumble upon a polyathlete named Bodhi (Édgar Ramirez) and his crew. As Utah earns the group’s trust and follows them around the world to engage in their extreme challenges that they believe will bring them close to nirvana, Utah starts to find their way of life refreshing. After things unexpectedly turn violent, Utah must re-asses the situation and start to once again think like an agent of the FBI.

While the characters and overall idea of this version of Point Break has similarities to the original, this does feel like a very different movie, and I can really respect that. This is a remake that’s trying to take chances and be different from the original. With the globe traveling, there’s more awesome stunts and death defying action to satisfy anyone. That’s where the positives for this movie end, so it was fun while it lasted. Somehow, Luke Bracey is even blander than Reeves was and I was dying just to see Reeves, Swayze, and Busey for their respective roles. I like Ray Winstone as an actor but he was completely underutilized here. As For Édgar Ramirez’s Bodhi: He was a jerk and I couldn’t stand him. All of Bodhi’s crew are such pompous asses with very little going for them to make them likable and make Utah’s job harder.

You know what else really bothers me about this and any movie guilty of this? I hate when movies try to preach to me and make me believe some certain agenda even if I happen to agree with it. This film is loaded with the sappiest “save the Earth” dialogue and faux mysticism. All of this talk happens in between the really cool action sequences which made the movie somehow even more boring than it would have been. When they aren’t talking this drivel, the screenplay tries to build the characters up with backstories and the like, but none of these scenes work well either. The only reason I can think of to see this movie are the parts when the characters are sky diving or snow boarding or whatever it is they do. This is one of the sillier movies I’ve seen fail so hard by taking itself so seriously.

Final Grade: D+

So there you have it. What I hope people take away from this is that it’s perfectly cool to go into the original Point Break and expect just to have fun. It’s not great, but it’s better than the sorry excuse for a remake. Stick with the original and you’ll be fine.

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Nil by Mouth – Review

3 Mar

Everyone knows about Gary Oldman’s acting career. He’s been in so many movies as great as The Dark Knight Trilogy and as awful as the 2009 “horror” film The Unborn. He’s one of those actors that seems to turn up everywhere, but he always brings an air of seriousness to all of his roles. I’ve just recently learned about his work in directing after reading about his 1997 directorial debut Nil by Mouth. I didn’t really know what it was about, but being a fan of Oldman’s, I felt it was worth checking out. That being said, this is a surprisingly gritty, disturbing, and genuinely upsetting film.

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Set in the working class environment of South London, this film examines the life of a small, but poor family. Billy (Charles Creed-Miles) is a heroine addict that struggles with both his finances and his addiction, mostly using one to help the other. Billy’s sister is Val (Kathy Burke), a relatively unhappy woman who is married to Ray (Ray Winstone). Ray is a thief, an addict, and violent, many times taking out his rage on the pregnant Val. After a vicious night between the two, the family really seems that it is finally ready to break down and leave everyone on their own.

When it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997, Nil by Mouth was received with much critical acclaim and Kathy Burke winning for Best Actress. This is really no surprise to me since this movie tackles subject matter in an unflinchingly realistic way. As I was watching it, my mind kept going to Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher, although the main protagonist in that movie is a kid and it was released two years later in 1999. It still deals with the same ideas as poverty and the breakdown of a family. There were many times in this movie that it got so intense and real that it stunned me.

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Like I said before, Kathy Burke won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for this movie, but that isn’t where the excellent performances end. Everyone in this movie seems to be working their hardest to completely sell their roles to you. Burke has a lot of different levels she plays at and Ray Winstone matches her perfectly by showing an aggravating and complex character. He has become one of the most hated characters for me because Winstone makes him so real. Charles Creed-Miles also works well as the pathetic drug addicted thief who I really couldn’t help feeling sorry for.

To really make Nil by Mouth work, Oldman had to create a certain kind of uncomfortable atmosphere that isn’t really easy to do. Many of the scenes are shot in dark side streets of London, the kind of streets that you wouldn’t want to find yourself alone at night. When we’re not in some alley, we’re in cluttered, tiny apartments that seems to have a few too many people in it. That being said, certain scenes have to appear comfortable and livable since this is just the way of life for these people. It’s an odd combination where I would be disgusted one moment and then almost feel at home the next.

Nil by Mouth can definitely be classified as a film that isn’t easy to watch, nor is it particularly entertaining. It is, however, a film that seems to be a very deep and personal project of Gary Oldman’s, and that comes through in how realistic and honest everything is in the movie. This may be one of the realest movies I’ve seen and it certainly isn’t afraid to throw a rotten piece of life into your face. While it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it’s an intense experience nonetheless.

Hugo – Review

6 Jun

Martin Scorsese has become one of the key names of American film making, and throughout his career which has spanned over 40 years, he has created some of the most well loved films in modern film history. Of course, most of these films’ content are not too appropriate for people under a certain age or with weak hearts, so it came as a surprise that he would be directing Hugo, a film based off of Brian Selznick’s kid’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Well it turns out that my surprise was completely unfounded as the film went on to receive 11 Academy Award nominations and win 5. I’ve finally gotten around to seeing this movie and it has not only reminded me why I love movies so much in the first place, it touched me to the core with a story that went a lot deeper than I ever expected.

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Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is a young boy who lives in the walls and clock tower of the Gare Montparnasse railway station in Paris. Before this, he was a clockmaker with his father (Jude Law), but tragedy takes his father away and forces him to work with his uncle (Ray Winstone) at the train station. His uncle soon disappears leaving him alone to collect different tools and gears to finish fixing an automaton that his father found soon before he was killed. Hugo is caught stealing pieces from a bitter toy maker named Georges (Ben Kingsley) who threatens to turn him over to the station inspector Gustave (Sacha Baron Cohen), who prides himself in rounding up stray kids and sending them to the orphanage. Hugo enlists the help of Georges’ god daughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), and the two kids not only discover the secrets of the mysterious automaton, but also uncover the past of Georges, a past he tried to bury and forget.

It’s hard to give the plot synopsis of Hugo because I’m just so excited about it, but I don’t want to ruin anything for people who haven’t seen it yet. What I can say is that this was not what I expected from this movie. I knew that I was going to really like it and give it a good review, but I wasn’t expecting on completely falling in love with it. This movie could never have worked the way it did if it had any other name attached to it besides Martin Scorsese, and if you really think about it, this makes perfect sense. Martin Scorsese has made it his life’s work to not only make great movies, but also to restore and save movies that have been lost or damaged. This is a man who loves cinema, and Hugo is a movie about his personal love and admiration for the cinematic art and magic.

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Out of the 11 Academy Awards this film was nominated for, it took away 5. While I feel like it could’ve won any of the awards it was nominated for, the ones it did win were for it’s sound, art direction, and cinematography. The visual and auditory aesthetics of this movie are out of this world. The first scene alone which starts in the Parisian sky then travels through the train station took an entire year to design, animate, and render all of the thousands of frames just in that opening seconds of the film. Particles of dust wander throughout the frames and light shines through the windows of the train station making it all seem like a wonderful dream you never want to wake up from. This is a beautiful movie to look at and listen to.

Why this movie is so special to me, however, is because it is an ode to films that helped lay the foundation for films that would lay the foundation for movies we see today. There are clips of Harold Lloyd hanging high above the crowded city streets in Safety Last!, haunting images of the silent horror masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and constant references to a science fiction film that seemed way ahead of its time in 1902, A Trip to the Moon. Even Sacha Baron Cohen’s character is a tribute to the slapstick comedy of Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton. There is so much a film buff can find in this movie and wonder at.

Hugo very well may be Martin Scorsese’s most personal film to date, but also a film that many years from now will be regarded as a classic. There’s so much to love about this movie, from the references to old movies to the relationships formed between all of the characters. You don’t have to be a complete cinephile (like me) to enjoy and appreciate this movie, although if you are you may get a little something extra out of it. To summarize exactly how I feel about this movie, Hugo is a film about the magic of cinema and the feelings you experience when you are completely lost in one. It is a reminder that movies aren’t just cheap entertainment, but to some very lucky people, a way to immerse yourself in a world unknown and experience imagination that you may never find in normal life. Hugo is that magic.

Sexy Beast – Review

17 Oct

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more curious name for a movie title. It doesn’t really have too much to do with the story, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t make you want to know what it’s about. Well, to put it simply, Sexy Beast is a British crime film that does border on comedy at times. There is one part of the movie, however, that is remembered the most about this movie. It isn’t the heist and it isn’t the main character. It’s Sir Ben Kingsley in one of the most terrifying performances of film history.

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Gal (Ray Winstone) is retired, and loving it. He has a beautiful house, a beautiful wife, and great friends who just add to his relaxation and comfort. That is, until one night at dinner they mention they will be getting a visit from an old friend. Enter Don Logan (Ben Kingsley), their old partner in crime who is now a part of a heist being prepared by the mysterious Teddy Bass (Ian McShane), and Don wants Gal on the job. As much as Gal persists, saying that he is retired, this only fuels Don’s determination, who has no filter or limits to what he will do to get him to do the job.

As much as I’d like to start off with talking about Kingsley’s performance, I’ll wait till a little later to mention it. First, lets talk about the writing. The dialogue in this film is note perfect and quick as a whip, which is pretty essential in British crime films. It the talking isn’t as fast as it is tough, than the writing isn’t really respected. Not only is the writing tough and quick, but there’s a lot of comedy that is questionable to laugh at. Don comes in, and we can’t help but laugh at his sociopathy at first. As the film goes on, though, the tone gets much more serious and the laughing slows down.

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Still not time for Ben Kingsley, yet. Bouncing off what I said about the writing, Sexy Beast is pretty unconventional in plot. We say it’s a crime movie about a heist, but the heist has really very little to do with the movie. The movie is more about Gal trying to keep Don off his case and doing something crazy in the process. But we still can’t forget about the heist, because that plays an important part, too. In comparison to the story with Gal and Don, they whole robbery seems kind of glazed over. If anything, I wish that was a more important part of the story, or on the flip side, I wish that was show even less. It kind of lingers in a gray area where it’s not shown enough, but is shown too much for me to not care about. In this respect, Sexy Beast feels very uneven.

But fine, now we have to mention Sir Ben Kingsley. Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and now Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast. This is a list of some of my favorite performances in film, and it’s nice to have Kingsley on that list. His performance as Don is terrifying and hilarious at the same time. His line delivery is smooth in the choppiest way possible and we can’t help but to hate everything about him. Even by his introduction to thumping electronic music and his awkwardly quick gait, we know that we are in for a wild ride. Kingsley himself said playing Don was like getting all of his anger out, and at the end of the day he was very serene.

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So, if you’re into British crime films and don’t mind a touch of surrealism, than Sexy Beast is a cool movie. I just wish that the second half didn’t feel so uneven and rushed. Running barely even an hour and a half, it would have been better to flesh out some stuff and touch up the entire second half. Still, this is some fun entertainment that may not reach the levels of Snatch or Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, but it’s still a pretty cool film.

13 – Review

17 May

There are times when a foreign film maker shoots a film in their own language and injecting their culture into the plot, only to remake it for another country. Being an American, I notice quite a few foreign films and television shows get “Americanized” by either a production company or the original film maker. A notable example for me is Michael Haneke’s American version of Funny Games, which is a personal favorite of mine. In the instance of 13, Géla Babluani remade his 2005 Georgian-French film 13 Tzameti. How well the transfer goes is pretty up in the air, and in this case, it’s really iffy.

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Vince Ferro’s (Sam Riley) family is in some financial trouble. While all of the family works really hard to make ends meet, things just don’t seem to be looking any better in the near future. After overhearing a conversation about a quick way to make a lot of money, Vince jumps at the chance and winds up at a mysterious mansion in the middle of the forest. There are plenty of other people there, most of them wealthy. Among these people are Patrick Jefferson (Mickey Rourke), a convict who is forced into this game; Jimmy (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson), Jefferson’s escort to the game; Jasper Bagges (Jason Statham) and his psychotic brother Ronald (Ray Winstone), who is competing. The game is simple, yet deadly. A group match of Russian Roulette. The last person left standing is the winner.

When I first heard of this movie, I began thinking of Deer Hunter, which is a movie about Vietnam and its psychological effects, but a main portion of the story involves games of Russian Roulette. 13 is very different, because the game is done in a more stylized and unrealistic manner. Deer Hunter, on the other hand, makes it as real as possible. The idea behind this movie is certainly intriguing, as one can observe with the praise the original 13 Tzameti received on the festival circuit. Now, just because I like the concept doesn’t mean that 13 is a good movie. In fact, it’s a pretty objectively bad movie with sloppy storytelling that really brings the entire film down.

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The biggest problem for me is its complete lack of any real character development, even though there are times where the film really does seem to be trying. The whole point of the film is for the viewer to root for Sam Riley’s character. Too bad I didn’t really get enough information on him to really care. On top of that, there are so many side characters thrown your way that you’d like to learn more about but never do. The whole section concerning Rourke’s character is completely pointless and the movie would have been better off if it wasn’t even in there. Then maybe more time could’ve been spent on Statham’s character and Riley’s character.

13 was just way too short to be effective. A film involving an underground crime ring that hold Russian Roulette tournaments is such a great vehicle for a ridiculous amount of suspense. Too bad the whole plot flies by before you even have a chance to get acclimated. On top of all that, the last 25ish minutes of the movie could have been used for more character development. Instead, we get a subplot that has such little relevance to what’s going on that I’m completely surprised it’s in the movie at all. The person who looked over this screenplay and approved it without revising it in a major way should be fired. Seriously, some of the worst character development, narrative structure, and plot points I have ever seen.

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I do have to give the movie some credit though. All of the performances were at the least solid. Sam Riley was acceptable, even though he was pretty uninteresting. Statham gives a nice performance alongside Winstone, both sharing good on screen chemistry. Michael Shannon has a small, but excellent part that, if I were to be casted, would want to play. Finally, Rourke and 50 Cent were ok, but seriously, they did NOT need to be in this movie. The suspense was also good when the actual roulette game was being played, and the very end was pretty awesome. If anything, I was mildly entertained, and it was a pretty easy movie to watch and shut down for an hour and a half.

Even though there is some good to be said about this movie, it is still not very good at all. In fact, it’s pretty bad. The unfortunate thing is that there was so much potential, and Babluani already proved himself with the original version of the story. If you need some background noise while you fold laundry, 13 may do the trick, especially since you hardly need to pay attention. Anything more than that, don’t waster your time.

The Proposition – Review

22 Aug

Normally when I think of westerns, I think of the old west towns of America where cowboys and Indians are forever locked in a feud over land and food. Not once have I seen a western film take place in the outback of Australia, where British settlers are at war with Aboriginals. The Proposition offers a brutal glimpse of early life on the outback which can be compared to the lawless American wilderness.

 

Charlie (Guy Pearce) and Mikey Burns (Richard Wilson) have had a good run as outlaws until one day the law catches up to them. Now in custody, Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) offers Charlie a proposition: either he finds and kills his older brother, Arthur (Danny Huston), who is considered a monster, or Mikey will hang until dead on Christmas day. While Charlie is hunting for his maniacal older brother, Captain Stanley faces the growing challenge of protecting his wife, Martha (Emily Watson) from the violence that he faces everyday.

First of all, this was the best looking western I have ever seen. While Dead Man looks beautiful with its black and white scheme, The Proposition has breathtaking scenes of the outback at sunset, featuring stunning silhouette shots and a sky that ranges from orange to a purple tint. It is absolutely stunning. On the flip side, the morning scenes are barren and filled with flies, which almost become a character themselves. It’s a perfect combination of beauty and disgust.

 

Other than how beautiful this movie looks, the relentless brutality is jarring, but never excessive or overbearing. There are scenes of incredible violence that is going to stay with the viewer long after it is over. I mean it when I say that this isn’t a movie for the feint of heart or the weak of stomach.

The real scene stealer is the soundtrack. Singer/songwriter and author of this fine movie, Nick Cave, did the music along with Warren Ellis. What they created is a haunting and almost spiritual score that accentuates the horror of the lawless outback and the challenge of survival. The movie starts with a beautiful song sung by a little girl with actual images of death and destruction from the time period. From there, the music gets darker and sadder along with the story.

 

Finally, the screenplay itself. While it is full of hate and anger, there are moments where all violence and death are forgotten with quiet moments between brothers or husband and wife. These moments are perfect capos to the intensity. With strange editing techniques, the viewer can be sent from a scene of violence to silence in a jarring millisecond. This is storytelling at its best.

If you haven’t already guessed, I loved The Proposition. The brutality, the silence, and the way beauty and ugly became one. This is a western that packs a strong punch to the jugular that will likely bruise and swell with appreciation. This isn’t just a great western, it just might be my favorite western.