Tag Archives: revenge

Death Wish Series – Review: Part 1

24 Mar

One of the most iconic action stars of the past century is the one and only Charles Bronson. He has a charisma about him that is undeniable, so it’s no surprise that he’s a name still remembered to this day. The film that got him raised to such a status is a well known thriller called Death Wish. While controversial for its time, and even this time in a way, it has garnered a lot of fans and a possible remake from Eli Roth. Like with other films of this time and genre, one movie wasn’t enough, which resulted in a total of five Death Wish movies. What can be said about them? Well… they’re certainly something else.

Let’s start with the original from 1974.

Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) is a liberal minded architect living with his wife (Hope Lange) and daughter (Kathleen Tolan) in New York City during a time when crime is sky rocketing. One afternoon, a group of thugs break into Paul’s apartment and assaults his daughter and murders his wife. Overcome with grief, Paul doesn’t know what to do and his beliefs are all starting to go down the drain. After a business trip, Paul comes home with the answer and a brand new revolver. He takes it upon himself to start working as a late night vigilante, walking the bad streets of New York and shooting anyone that threatens him or another person. This causes the media, citizens, and police to start paying attention to his actions, and things in New York begin to slightly change. With the people starting to fight for themselves, NYPD Lt. Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) begins his nearly impossible task of tracking down the vigilante and putting an end to his spree.

Death Wish was made in 1974 and based off of a novel of the same name that was published in 1972. This was a time when crime was really getting bad in major cities, and people just didn’t know what to do about it. This brought about a new age of action films, with the most resonant being the Dirty Harry series. This film doesn’t quite hit as hard as some other films because the idea of vigilantism isn’t explored nearly enough. The novel takes the idea and shows the dark side that it can create, while the film shows Kersey as a straight up hero who can do no wrong. This makes the film feel incredibly dated and kind of a shallow experience, especially if you’re approaching this wanting to see an action classic that can stand the tests of time. It can also come off as very preachy in terms of its right wing political ideology. I don’t care if a movie leans a certain way, but make it subtle and don’t talk down to an audience.

There are things in Death Wish that do stand out. For one thing, Bronson’s performance is good even though the character sort of feels a little bit underdeveloped. Instead of being this boisterous vigilante, he plays the role very quietly, which actually reflects the whole tone of the movie. As the series goes on, it gets more and more off the walls, but this film is much more down to earth. In fact, it’s hard to call this movie a full blown action movie when it often times feels like a drama. The plot moves along slowly, which in retrospect actually works better than I originally thought. There are also no grand action set pieces. The “action” happens very quickly with Kersey pulling out his revolver and shooting a criminal, and once that’s done he just leaves the scene. It felt gritty and real and wasn’t at all what I originally expected this movie to be.

Death Wish is an interesting time capsule of a movie, but it’s one that hasn’t really aged well. It’s political ideology is rammed down the audience’s throat to the point of being obnoxious and it features a well known main character that didn’t always feel too complete. It does feature some cool scenes that feel gritty and realistic and the whole approach of not making a grand scene of the violence is a good choice. I just wish that the idea of vigilantism and its dark side was explored more instead of the whole concept just being praised. It’s an interesting movie for any film history buff and fans of Charles Bronson, but it’s really lacking in many ways.

Final Grade: B-

Eight years later, in 1982, a sequel crept its way into theaters and dragged things down even further.

After his vigilante spree in New York City, Paul Kersey has found a peaceful home in Los Angeles. His daughter (Robin Sherwood) is in a mental hospital and improving significantly, and he’s also found new love with radio reporter Geri Nichols (Jill Ireland). All of this comes crashing down when his daughter is kidnapped and murdered by a gang of criminals, which forces Kersey to once again pick up his revolver and hit the mean streets. As Kersey starts his revenge quest on the group of thugs, Detective Ochoa gets wind of what’s happening and travels to L.A. to put an end to Kersey’s spree, but it can never be that easy.

Death Wish II is straight up garbage. There’s no use beating around the bush with this one. It doesn’t even try to be anything different than the original. Kersey is living a happy live, then someone he loves is killed which brings him to his vigilantism. That’s the same exact plot as the original Death Wish. At least that one raises some questions and presents the material in a subtle way. This one, however, is just violence for the sake of it without any interesting material to back it up. That would be acceptable if this film had any sense of style, but it doesn’t even have that. It’s just a gray, ugly looking movie filled with cannon fodder for Bronson to take his anger out on. It’s absolutely mindless and devoid of any sort of flash to pull the viewer in.

Death Wish II succeeds at only the most base level. I will say that compared to the first one, there’s a bit more mindless entertainment. There’s no real set up to the movie. Things happen right away which leads Bronson to start his vengeful murder spree. If you want to see an action star just blow criminals away, this is the right movie to look at. There’s a lot more action and the violent scenes do feel bigger and more exciting, which is definitely a plus. The only problem, like I said before, is that there’s no style and the motivation feels completely stunted by Charles Bronson’s lack of dramatic presence.

There’s really not much to say about Death Wish II. It feels like a rehashing of the first film, but more loud and more violent. This would be a welcome addition if the story felt different and something new was added. There’s really nothing new here at all. The only time there was a plot development that could lead somewhere interesting, the film makers decided to cut that off prematurely in favor of more mindless proceedings. This film is really a waste of time and only die hard Charles Bronson fans should give this movie any sort of respect.

Final Grade: D-

But the series wasn’t done with the stinker that is Death Wish II. Not by a long shot. In 1985, Death Wish 3 was released, and this is where things really started to go off the rails.

Paul Kersey has been living the life of a vigilante for too long and has finally decided to put away the revolvers and lead a normal life. This personal promise to himself is shattered upon his return to New York City where he finds his long time friend bleeding to death after being attacked by a group of thugs in his apartment. Kersey is than approached by Inspector Shriker (Ed Lauter), who makes an off the records demand of Kersey to return to his old ways and clear the neighborhood of the goons responsible for all the mayhem. Kersey finds allies in the tenants of the apartment building, especially with WWII veteran Bennett Cross (Martin Balsam) and the mild mannered Rodriguez (Joseph Gonzalez). With the support of his neighbors and other victims of the community, Kersey wages war with the criminals and their leader, Fraker (Gavin O’Herlihy).

Death Wish 3 is one of the most unintentionally hilarious movies you or I may ever see. To be fair to it, it’s a slight step up from the second film but for some of the wrong reasons. I do like that the plot deviates from someone hurting his family, but it just goes right to someone hurting his friend. Where the movie really differs in that Kersey becomes something of a guardian angel to the neighborhood, and by the end they all join him in his war against Fraker and his goons. The third act of the movie, by the way, is an extended shoot out in the streets that seems to never end. It’s so much fun to watch but it’s some of the most absurd, mind numbing violence. By the end of it, there’s no emotion or excitement to be felt, other than the moment of joy when the first end credit begins to scroll up the screen.

The rest of the movie is also devoid of any kind of emotional or dramatic impact, which would be fine if the rest of the movie was as entertaining and off the walls as the third act. It isn’t unfortunately, and this is where things really get bogged down. It does have more memorable characters than the previous film, but they don’t really have to much to say or do until things really start happening. There’s a few scenes of Kersey gunning down people throughout the movie, but it’s just all part of the formula by now. Even with a storyline that’s changed, it’s not enough.

If you want a good laugh, Death Wish 3 might be worth checking out, if only for the outrageous finale. It still keeps up the same trend that the other ones did, so the whole routine is feeling kind of stale at this point. It is a step up from the second movie, but that’s hardly saying much.

Final Grade: D+

So that’s the first three films in the Death Wish series. I still have two more movies to go, so keep an eye out for the next part of this review.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai – Review

9 Mar

Jim Jarmusch is quite possibly one of the most critically acclaimed film makers working in the industry today. Even with all of this critical feedback, his films rarely see the light of day in terms of the mainstream market, but Jarmusch never compromises his vision for something more accessible, and I respect that. While most of his films are very interesting an defy genre conventions, one that really stands out to me is Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, which was released in 1999. It’s a story that combines a mafia crime story with an urban drama that has elements of an Eastern samurai tale. It’s a very unique movie that has a lot of elements working together, but sometimes at the expense of other aspects that could have been explored more.

Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) is a mysterious hit man that lives by the code of the samurai, which was written in the Hagakure. Part of the code is to honor his boss, a mobster named Louie (John Tormey) who saved his life some years before this story takes place. Part of his honoring Louie is to perform contract hits without question. One of the hits is Handsome Frank (Richard Portnow), a made man who is in a relationship with mafia don Vargo’s (Henry Silva) daughter (Tricia Vessey). After successfully performing the hit with the daughter being unexpectedly present for it, Vargo puts a hit on Ghost Dog, much to the chagrin of Louie, who is forced to go along with it to some degree. Now, Ghost Dog is going to have to come out of seclusion, and in the traditional ways of the samurai, get his revenge on the mafia family that wants him dead.

So while this does have a pretty classic revenge story going on, the core of this movie is Ghost Dog. It’s more of a character study than anything else. There’s bursts of violence that happen, but it’s the downtime that sticks with me more. There’s a great scene in a park where Ghost Dog is talking to this little girl he just met about different kinds of books. This scene added a lot of humanity to Ghost Dog, a man who is essentially a murderer for hire. This kind of humanity makes him a very conflicted and complicated character whereas he can be gentle to most anyone he meets, but also kill you without batting an eye. This study of Ghost Dog makes for slow paced storytelling, but it works for this movie. What doesn’t really work is when the slow pace slows down to a halt. There’s a lot of scenes where Ghost Dog is just driving and listening to music, which is brilliantly composed by RZA. As great as the music is, these scenes go on way to long, and unless you’re 100% invested in everything in this movie, you’ll probably find yourself drifting from time to time.

What really makes Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai unique is the seamless genre blending. Like I said before, this film works as an urban drama and a crime thriller with sprinklings of Eastern philosophies and styles. I really love when movies defy all genre conventions, which is a major strength of Jim Jarmusch. The combination of RZA’s hip hop score with the imagery of Ghost Dog practicing with his katana on a rooftop in the middle of the city is just super cool, and when he’s comparing the philosophy of the samurai with the violent revenge he’s getting on the mafia also makes for a really cool blend. Now, the problem with having all this stuffed into one movie that isn’t even 2 hours means that some stuff is lost or pushed aside. Not a lot of Ghost Dog’s past is explored and a lot of side characters are just pushed away for long periods of time when a little bit of development would have went a long way. I know this story is more about Ghost Dog, but having certain characters stand out more would have made his actions have more consequence. It’s a small price to pay for fitting in all of the cool stuff that is prominent.

Ghost Dog is a really good example of the kind of writing that Jarmusch does and why it’s really a style all his own. There’s a lot of really cool bits in this movie that shouldn’t be under appreciated. There’s a Haitian character that doesn’t speak or understand a word of English, but he’s also Ghost Dog’s best friend even though they don’t understand each other. There’s also a gangster on Ghost Dog’s hit list that has a passion for Public Enemy, especially Flavor Flav. This whole movie is filled with these strange moments that make it feel surreal, but also down to earth since everyday life can be surreal. Jarmusch is as much a writer as he is a director, and it really shows in this movie.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is definitely a cool and well made movie, and it’s one that should be remembered for being something so unique. It’s a blending of so many different genres and themes and styles while also being an in depth character study. I just wish it was a little bit longer. There’s a lot of different characters and elements to the story that could have been explored a little bit more. Still, what does remain is a very cool story about a one of a kind character. It’s definitely worth a watch or three.

Final Grade: B

The Rover – Review

28 Dec

Back in 2014, a movie called The Rover was released and I was determined to see it. The trailers for this movie were all incredible and promised a really tense and artistic ride through a post-apocalyptic world. As with a lot of movies I am determined to see, I never actually went to the theaters to see it and disappointed myself greatly. It wasn’t until just recently that I finally saw it, and after two years of build up I can tell you that I had really high expectations for this movie. What I got was pretty much everything I thought it would be and everything the trailers promised, but there were a few surprises along the way. The Rover is a very subtle and nonconventional film about a future that hopefully will never exist, but doesn’t seem all that far away.

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It’s been a decade since the collapse of Western civilization and people are doing whatever it takes to stay alive. One of these people is a mysterious loner named Eric, whose only possession he has left is his car. One day three thieves, led by Henry (Scoot McNairy), crash their truck and steal Eric’s car when he is in a bar. Eric watches them drive away and his initial search turns out to be completely hopeless. He soon runs into Rey (Robert Pattinson), Henry’s brother who was left for dead by the other thieves. Rey lets on that he knows where Henry and his cohorts are heading, which forces Eric to keep Rey around in order to find them and his car. As the search continues, Eric and Rey encounter many different people that inhabit the wasteland with their own secrets and dangers.

There are two things that become very clear to me after watching the first five minutes of The Rover. From the very first shot, I had a grasp on what the rhythm and the pacing of this movie was going to be, and it filled me with that all too familiar film geek glee. Writer/director David Michôd is someone who understands pacing, suspense, and maybe more importantly stillness. The film opens right away with Guy Pierce’s character sitting in his car for close to half a minute without moving. After that, there’s very little dialogue for the first 20 minutes of the movie. At least, there’s way less than what is expected in a movie. The rest of the movie moves at that pace and it’s exactly how a movie with a story and setting like this should go. Another thing that becomes clear is how pristine and beautiful the cinematography is. Michôd and director of photography Natasha Brair work so well together to create a look that is equal amounts gorgeous and dreadful. There are so many unique scenes in this film, especially one involving a car crash in the beginning of the film, that becomes seared into your brain.

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So while The Rover is noticeably a beautifully shot movie there’s still something about it that remains very un-cinematic, and I mean that in a very positive way. I wouldn’t call this an action movie and there isn’t all that much violence in it, but when there is it’s startling and sometimes unexpected. People die in ways that aren’t cinematic or grand in any way. This film shows exactly what life would look like in a post apocalyptic Australian wasteland. There’s tragedy and humor, but by the end of the movie you see that all of that can be inconsequential depending on who the subject is. The cynicism of this movie is so strong I could almost feel it radiating from the screen. What else could be expected from this kind of future, though? The Rover isn’t a movie to make you feel good or have an uplifting time at the movies. It exists to show the lengths a person will go to protect themselves and their humanity in a time where these ideas are becoming extinct.

The characters of Eric and Rey are the only two characters that get any sort of attention or development, which means the whole movie and dramatic tension is riding on their shoulders and how well they play these parts. Guy Pierce has proven himself to be a very unique actor that is easily recognizable. It was no surprise that he took the weight of this post-apocalyptic world and turned it into a character that’s been so beaten down he will do anything to protect himself from any more suffering. This means he’ll kill or hurt anyone who is in his way, and Pierce helps make this character into an anti-hero of the everyman trying to live in the world of this movie. The real surprise was Robert Pattinson, who I’ve always tried to defend as an actor but never got any real proof of what I was defending. Cosmopolis was a giant disappointment, but The Rover shows that he can really do great work.

The Rover is a one of a kind movie that has stuck with me since the days that I watched it. The pacing and cinematography worked wonders at putting me in the world the movie took place in and the performances kept me focused on what would happen next. This is a great example of a post apocalyptic nightmare that also succeeds at being a unique and artistic vision. It is unconventional compared to a lot of other films in this genre, but that’s what makes The Rover such a memorable movie.

Final Grade: B+

Foxy Brown – Review

1 Dec

The 1970s was a really interesting time for film. This was the era of auteur film makers like Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg making major names for themselves and redefining how movies should be made. This was also a great time for B-movies that would be played as double features in drive ins or grindhouse theaters. The exploitation genre was thriving and this spawned another genre called blaxploitation, which is said to have started in 1971 with Shaft. In 1974, on a double feature bill with Truck Turner, came Foxy Brown starring the one and only Pam Grier. This movie has become known as one of the most influential blaxploitation films ever made, and despite the controversies surrounding it, has become a true cult classic.

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Foxy Brown (Pam Grier) has her hands full taking care of herself while also looking after her small time drug dealer brother, Link (Antonio Fargas), while also helping her government agent boyfriend, Michael (Terry Carter) recuperate after time spent in a hospital. Acting on his own misguided motivations, Link tips off gangster Steve Elias (Peter Brown) that Michael is alive and well despite what they originally thought. Soon enough, Michael is murdered in front of Foxy which ignites a fire that sends her on a mission of revenge. Disguising herself as a call girl, Foxy infiltrates the gang that uses a modeling agency as a front, and it doesn’t take long for Foxy to start working her way up the food chain to Steve and his partner, Miss Kathryn (Kathryn Loder).

There was a lot of very important names that went along with the blaxploitation genre like Richard Roundtree and Isaac Hayes, but one can not forget Pam Grier who made a living playing some of the most kickass female heros to grace the silver screen. This is the strongest element of Foxy Brown and the main reason why I could watch it over and over again. The way Grier delivers her smooth one liners while also not hesitating to shoot any villain that gets in her way makes Foxy Brown a really cool character. Another stand out performance is Antonio Fargas as Foxy’s overconfident younger brother that pretty much gets the plot of the film going. My favorite part of the movie has Foxy storming into her brother’s apartment and trashing after she holds him at gunpoint and lectures him on the mistakes he’s made. That’s going to be the scene I think of whenever anyone mentions this movie.

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Foxy Brown is an interesting movie to look at historically because it received a lot of praise and also a lot of controversy. Like many of Pam Grier’s roles, Foxy Brown was a very strong female character that spoke directly to African American women in 1974. She took good care of other people while also being more than capable of taking care of herself in all sorts of situations. On the flip side, the movie was criticized for the violence and drug use depicted in the lives of the black characters in this movie. There was also some critics who spoke out against the sexualization of Foxy Brown, even though many still were impressed by her ferocity and intelligence in dangerous situations. This opens up a lot of discussion and many people will have many different opinions. This kind of controversy helped turn Foxy Brown into the blaxploitation cult classic that it is.

Other than the controversy, another reason Foxy Brown has earned the title of “cult classic” is the fact that it’s just so damn entertaining. Having been originally released as a double feature, the run time is short which means the story moves at a very brisk and determined pace. Once the action gets started, it rarely slows down and Grier has a lot of great lines to say and asses to kick. While it is action packed, there’s a lot of surprisingly funny scenes as well. One great scene has Foxy and a call girl putting the heat on a judge which ends in a laugh out loud piece of slapstick. The grand finale is also one for the books with Foxy hijacking a plane from none other than Sid Haig, who starred in many Jack Hill films and became even more notorious as Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects.

Foxy Brown may not be the most high quality film you’ll ever see and a great deal of its priorities and intentions can be seen as misguided and out of order, but you can’t deny that it’s one entertaining little movie. Pam Grier knocks it out of the park as the title character and the supporting cast really back her up. There’s something great seeing Foxy take down the gangsters that killed her boyfriend, even though the plot flies by at break neck speeds. Any fan of cult movie or the blaxploitation genre should consider this movie a must see, and anyone who’s just curious about the era might find some enjoyment as well.

Final Grade: B+

The Protector (2005) & The Protector 2 (2013)

28 Nov

Tony Jaa is one of the best martial artists working today. His work in Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior put him on the international radar, but it wasn’t until The Protector that he really got to show the world how advanced he was in his martial arts. Today, I’ll be looking at the original Protector from 2005 and The Protector 2 that came years later in 2013. Both of these films have their strengths and weaknesses, but it’s not worth arguing over Jaa’s level of skill. In my opinion, he’s at the head of the game, but can his movies always live up to that level of skill?

Let’s dive right in to the 2005 original.

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As a child, Kham learned about the honor and importance of looking after and protecting the King of Thailand’s war elephant. Now, as an adult, Kham (Tony Jaa) has a young elephant of his own to look after along with the one he and his father have been protecting for years. When a group of gangsters and poachers steal Kham’s two elephants and attack his father, Kham goes on a mission to Sydney, Australia to avenge his father and return to Thailand with his elephants. What he finds in Sydney is a lot more resistance than he thought. With the aid of a bumbling police officer, Sgt. Mark (Petchtai Wongkamlao), Kham fights his way through the criminal underworld and finds a line of betrayal that all leads back to the sinister Madame Rose (Xing Jin).

There’s a lot that can be said about The Protector or Tom-Yum-Goong, as it was originally called in Thailand. Let’s look at the story first. At it’s core it tells an honorable tale of the culture of Thailand and the atrocious things that humans can do to others and to other creatures that inhabit this planet with us. The themes run deep and the aspects of betrayal that Madame Rose executes are all really cool too. What isn’t great is how the story is told. There are quite a few characters and scenes that only serve to deviate the plot from its main course and add some complexity to it that isn’t really needed. The idea of Kham facing off against a criminal organization is cool enough. One character in particular hides Kham for a scene and comes back to sort of act as a deus ex machina. Some of the scenes also feel like they are out of order at times and some of the editing is just downright confusing. If you find yourself scratching your head trying to follow the plot, don’t worry. I was doing the same thing myself.

If you watch the scene right above this, you’ll see why the convoluted plot of this movie isn’t enough to completely bring it down. The action and stunt work in this movie is absolutely out of this world. Like Jaa’s previous film, Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior, a lot of the draw this movie had was to see Jaa perform gravity defying stunts and action without any use of CGI or wires. Add Prachya Pinkaew’s style that is sure to include every bit of action in a scene, and you have a match made in martial arts heave. This movie can get down right brutal and Tony Jaa is at the center of it all, having choreographed the stunts and action set pieces himself. The main reason people want to watch a martial arts film is for the martial arts and this one delivers in spades. It’s just often not for the faint of heart.

In the end, The Protector is disappointing in the area of story and narrative structure, but more than makes up for it with the bone crunching action and fight sequences. These scenes are unlike anything you’ve ever seen before and is some of the best martial arts you can find. It’s worth it to plow through the editing however you can to enjoy the movie’s themes and action.

Final Grade: B

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but after spending some years in a Buddhist monastery, Tony Jaa returned to acting to film the 2013 film The Protector 2. Unfortunately, it may not have been the come back that was anticipated.

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After the events of the first film, Kham has returned to Thailand and continues to raise and protect his elephant. He thinks nothing of it when a mysterious buyer comes to purchase the elephant, and he respectfully declines his offer. Soon after that, Kham returns home from the market to find his elephant once again missing and begins a one man war against the criminal underworld in Thailand. Along the way, he is reunited with Sgt. Mark, now working for Interpol. As Kham searches for his elephant and takes down one henchman after another and Mark begins investigating a possible political assassination, it becomes clear that the kidnapping of Kham’s elephant and the assassination are somehow linked by a criminal mastermind known as L.C. (RZA).

What made the original Protector really stand out was how organic and real the action was while also being filmed surprisingly beautifully at certain moments. All of that, for the most part, is replaced by a much more synthetic kind of film making. There’s lots of green screen and CGI whereas the first film didn’t rely on that at all. This made The Protector 2 feel like a real disappointment. Prachya Pinkaew returns to the director’s chair so there’s a lot of well filmed action sequences, but in his attempt to make it even bigger than the first movie, he also makes it look less exciting. One scene in particular which is a fight scene on a rooftop featuring motorcycles should have been awesome. Instead it looked like one CGI stunt after another. There’s a lot of moments in this movie that feel like that and I know both Pinkaew and Jaa are much better than that. The action sequences could have been enhanced without making the whole thing often look absurd.

This isn’t to say that Tony Jaa slacks off at all and doesn’t deliver some really impressive fight sequences, and some of the CGI does work to the movie’s favor. It’s just not at all what I wanted from the movie. I will also say that the story is told a lot better than the first film. There’s no sloppy edits that make you wonder what the film makers were thinking, and there’s really only a few scenes that could have been cut out instead of a whole slew of them. There’s also a good supporting cast backing up Jaa. RZA is obviously having the time of his life playing the villainous L.C. and Marrese Crump and Rhatha Phongam bring a lot of energy to their roles as well. Petchtai Wongkamlao is also a welcome return as Sgt. Mark.

All in all, The Protector 2 isn’t necessarily a bad movie but it shies away from what made the original film so memorable. Gone are the completely organic, wireless fights. The are instead replaced by CGI heavy set pieces that could have seriously been tweaked or toned down. While it doesn’t live up to the talents on display, it’s worthy of a simple distraction that can kill some time.

Final Grade: C

So there’s my review of the Protector movies. The first one is a fantastic example of how to  make a beautifully shot martial arts film. It would have been perfect had the story been cleaned up. While the second film is completely acceptable, you’d be best off sticking with the first to really see what Tony Jaa is capable of.

We Own the Night – Review

27 Oct

One of my favorite types of movies are crime movies or gangster movies. Anything like that, really, is worth checking out. There’s just something fascinating about the lifestyle, and it gets even more fascinating when the story is set in a time and a place that really adds character to the situations the characters find themselves in. James Gray’s film We Own the Night takes place in the late 1980s, which was a time in New York City when crime was at an all time high. This caused the rise of the NYPD’s Street Crime Unit, whose tagline was the title of this film. All this history and material should make this film an instant classic, but it unfortunately fell under the radar for some reasons that became very obvious as I was watching.

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Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix) is a manager of a popular club that is unfortunately a host to a nefarious criminal named Nezhinski (Alex Veadov). Despite this, Bobby is living the life he loves at the club with his girlfriend, Amada (Eva Mendes). What the club owners and employees don’t know, is that Bobby’s father, Burt (Robert Duvall), is the chief of police and his brother, Joseph (Mark Wahlberg), is a highly respected officer of the Street Crimes Unit. These separate lives intersect when Burt and Joseph ask Bobby if he is willing to inform on Nezhinski’s activities to them, but after Bobby declines and there’s a raid on his club, Nezhinski starts taking matters into his own hands and attacking police. As Bobby tries to resume life by any means, the gangsters operating out of his club start getting closer and closer to learning who Bobby and his family is which forces the police to start working faster and making rasher decisions.

There’s so much that material to work with to make this an epic crime film of this time, yet it falls very short of that epic scope it should have had. The first glaring issue is the uneven tone and pacing of the story. During the first half of the movie, Bobby feels very disconnected from everyone and everything, including his family and his club. Part of the reason why is because we’re just thrown right into his life without getting any history of the characters or why they behave like they do. Some set up would have really gone a long way. Once we get around halfway through the movie, things really start focusing up and the story really feels like it gets kicked off. There’s just so much jammed into the first half without any back story given, while the second half is the payoff from all of that which is done in a much more concise and focused way. It feels like this could have been a 3 hour movie instead of a 2 hour one.

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We Own the Night has an excellent cast, which is another reason that drew me to this movie. Joaquin Phoenix is one of the most powerful actors working today and he gets some really excellent scenes to show just how talented he is. Eva Mendes also gives one of her better performances, and Robert Duvall gives a very subtle yet sincere performance as Bobby and Joseph’s father. Now we come to Mark Wahlberg. I’d love to say he did great in this film since he is a fine actor, but he doesn’t get to do a damn thing. For a huge portion of the movie, he isn’t even in it, but when he is, he’s either berating his brother or sitting around in his office. When he finally does get to go out into the field, he still doesn’t do anything. I haven’t seen a character wasted like this in a really long time, and no other such egregious instances comes to mind in recent memory.

What really saves this movie from falling into the deepest pits of mediocrity are some scenes that show what James Gray is really capable of. One scene towards the beginning of the movie shows one of the most realistic depictions of street violence I’ve seen in a movie. It’s shocking and gut wrenching in its realism. Speaking of gut wrenching, there’s a car chase later on that is so un-cinematic and all the more intense for it. There’s minimal music in this scene and most of the action takes place inside one car with the the other action and sound just what can be seen and heard through the windows and the torrential rain. There’s a handful of other great scenes as well that really bolster this movie up higher.

I wanted to like We Own the Night a lot more than I did. It has all the makings of being a great movie, but the plot and tone can be so uneven and a potentially important and interesting character is completely wasted. While some of the pieces don’t fit very well, there are still some really memorable scenes and very good performances by the actors whose characters actually get to do some stuff. I was looking for a movie that was going to hopefully sit with the greats in the crime subgenre, but what I got was a movie that was a little frustrating and failed at reaching its true potential.

Final Grade: B-

The Accountant – Review

23 Oct

I’m pretty excited to finally get to writing this review because this is a movie that I have been super excited for since I first saw the trailer. I’m always ready to see new and original movies, and The Accountant falls into that category perfectly. It’s worth noting, however, that the marketing for this movie paints it out to be an action thriller that features Ben Affleck kicking all sorts of ass. While this does happen, this is more of a complex character study with a huge mystery at its core. That’s something I didn’t think I wanted, but I’m really pleased that this movie offers something a lot more complicated and thought provoking than something more straight forward.

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Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) may seem like an average small town accountant on the surface, be he is much more than that. Suffering from a severe form of autism has made Wolff very aware of patterns and numbers, which makes him the perfect candidate to un-cook books of high level criminals and businessmen. After being hired by a large corporation called Living Robotics and finding major discrepancies in their books, both Wolff and an association of the company, Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), are being sought after by mysterious hitmen led by a man known only as The Assassin (Jon Bernthal). As Wolff begins to hunt down the parties responsible, the director of financial crimes at the Treasury Department, Raymond King (J.K. Simmons), and a new hire, Medina (Cynthia Abbai-Robinson), start their own hunt to find the mysterious accountant and bring him to justice.

In the beginning of this movie, we see a young Christian Wolff putting together a puzzle that’s been flipped over so he can’t see the picture. To me, that’s a perfect allegory for The Accountant. The story is deliberately told in a way that it’s impossible to see the entire picture without all of the pieces coming together. This can make the plot kind of frustrating at times because we’re left in the dark about so much as the story jumps between flashbacks and action happening in the present. It’s definitely a movie that I’m going to have to watch again to really get the full picture. I was really surprised with the level of complexity the story has and the unorthodox way that director Gavin O’Connor and writer Bill Dubuque told it. That’s the best way I think I can describe this movie: surprisingly unorthodox.

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With all the mystery surrounding the Wolff and certain side characters, there really isn’t a whole lot of time for action, despite what the marketing campaign wanted people to believe. Most of the movie focuses on laying clues as to who the accountant is and how he got to be who he is. That being said, when this movie turns up the action, it really turns it up. The action never goes over the top nor does it ever seem like none of it could only happen in the movies. It’s all very grounded and happens very quickly which means if you blink, you may miss something. It was a really smart way to handle the violence and more exciting scenes. Never does it overshadow the bigger point of the movie and never do you find yourself getting lost in what could have been mind numbing action.

I can’t talk about The Accountant and not dive into the character of Christian Wolff, who might be my favorite character of the entire year. There’s so much to this guy when it comes to his history, motivations, and skills. From the very first trailer, I had to know who this guy was and see him in action, and Ben Affleck does a great job at bringing this character to life. I never thought Affleck had much charisma in his acting, which makes him a perfect choice to play a subdued character like this. Every small tick or deadpan line of dialogue is done really well and makes Wolff into a much more believable and realized character. If you don’t get grabbed by this character, there is something seriously wrong with you and you should probably just stop watching movies.

Despite some odd pacing choices and a plot that is occasionally frustrating, The Accountant is a very satisfying and surprisingly unique story. Ben Affleck gives one of the best performances of his career and really succeeded at bringing this troubled character to life. The cast is great, the writing is unorthodox, and O’Connor’s direction just brings it all together perfectly. Just be warned that you can’t leave your brain at the door for this one.

Final Grade: A-