Tag Archives: tony scott

Unstoppable – Review

20 Oct

 

I can’t really say I’m the biggest fan of the late film maker Tony Scott. His filmography is a bit of a mixed bag for me. I can’t get into movies like Top Gun or Déjà Vu no matter how hard I try, but on the other hand Domino is a highly underrated action film and True Romance might even be one of my favorites. Like I said, it’s a mixed bag. Scott released his last film in 2010 titled Unstoppable, and it kind of serves as an exclamation point for the run on sentence that is Scott’s body of work. It has that signature frenetic style that everyone will recognize, but it also has a really interesting plot based on true events and some good characters to keep that story going. I was kind of surprised by it.

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Will Colson (Chris Pine) is a new train conductor  assigned to veteran engineer Frank Barnes’ (Denzel Washington) train scheduled to make stops in a number of small Pennsylvania towns. All in all, it sounds like a pretty mundane day for the two railroad workers. What they don’t know is that further up north, a completely inept hostler has lost control of a half mile long train that has cars containing a highly toxic substance called phenol. Now this train is barreling through towns without any control and is a risk of derailing at any moment and releasing this substance that could poison an entire town. Yardmaster Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson) rounds up her usual employees to stop the train, but corporate interference is making the task almost impossible. With time running out, Colson and Barnes decide to catch up to the train and slow it down themselves. With Hooper giving directions back at the train yard, the two railroaders push their train to the limit to stop a massive potential disaster.

Going into this movie, I wasn’t really expecting too much. Every time I asked someone about Unstoppable or it was brought up in conversation, no one ever seemed to excited about it. I’m really glad that these unremarkable responses didn’t deter me from actually watching it and formulating my own opinion. This is a well paced, well directed, and well acted film that, along with Domino, is a highly underrated Tony Scott movie. The plot takes its time in many places and that’s a smart choice because a movie like this could easily be rushed and contain non stop action. The first half hour or so sets up the characters and the setting while also giving the audience enough information to be able to follow the story. I really don’t know much about trains or how they work, so without this set up, I would have been completely lost during some of the more technical discussions. So, just because the action doesn’t start right away doesn’t mean it’s boring. Scott’s visual style and direction always keeps things interesting until the real meat and bones of the story begin.

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When the action does get started, it rarely ever lets up. This is an incredibly fast paced movie that, like I said, doesn’t feel rushed. This is where Tony Scott’s direction really shines. For one thing, most of the crazy stuff that happens was all shot with very little CGI. Instead, Scott opted to go with stuntmen, real trains, and lots of disposable things for the trains to crash into. This is a great looking movie for reasons like that, and also Scott’s kinetic and highly saturated visuals. The way the action is laid out also gives the tension and thrills time to build up. When the train is first lost and out of control, it isn’t moving too fast. By the time the climax of the movie happens, however, it’s traveling nearly 80 miles per hour with all of those other train cars, some of which contain a highly toxic and combustible chemical. This is one of those movies where you’ll find yourself slowly inching to the edge of your seat and letting out those wonderful sighs of relief.

Amidst all the mayhem with the trains, there’s also a story of corporate interference and disrespect for all of the people working in the field and not operating out of a boardroom on the fiftieth floor. This isn’t a subject that’s often shied away from, because a lot of working people can relate to it, but Unstoppable handles it in a way that resonated with me well. A lot of it has to do with the surprisingly three dimensional characters. Washington’s character is the veteran who’s getting screwed over by the company, Pine’s character is just getting into the company that’s obviously flawed, and Dawson’s character is the person who has made somewhat of a name for herself, but still isn’t respected by the higher ups. It really all of the bits and pieces of a company from the completely inept employees to the veterans just trying to finish their time on the job.

Unstoppable isn’t going to go down as an action classic in the years to come, but not every movie has to have that kind of status. This is a very well put together action thriller with fully realized character and plenty of mayhem and destruction to keep your eyes glued to the screen. I wouldn’t call this movie great, but it’s certainly really good and epitomizes most of what made Tony Scott’s vision so unique. This one’s worth checking out.

Final Grade: B+

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Stoker – Review

15 Apr

I feel confidently in saying that when we were all children, we’ve heard a fairy tale in one shape or form. I’m also pretty confident in saying that we’ve probably heard many. For me, it was strange to learn that the fairy tales that I loved growing up were pretty much watered down versions of the original story. This leads me to my review of Stoker. To me, this film is a fairy tale that isn’t watered down, but presented exactly how it should be. Add in a little bit of flair that would please Alfred Hitchcock and that’s exactly what Stoker turns out to be: a twisted fairy tale of repressed psychological issues and a family that can only be described as deeply disturbed.

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India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is a teenage girl who was born with senses that are far beyond normal and a personality that leaves her distanced from everyone else except her father. When her father dies on her 18th birthday, India’s mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) is left alone and is completely unstable. Her loneliness is soon appeased with the arrival of India’s mysterious Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) who has apparently been travelling around Europe and most of the world since India was born. As Evelyn becomes more and more infatuated with Charlie, India begins to look at him with an increasing amount of disdain and suspicion, especially when people around the house and neighborhood begin to go missing. As the mystery thickens, even India, herself, can not help but become increasingly drawn to Charlie which may lead to India releasing what’s been bottling up inside her for eighteen years.

The collaboration that made Stoker possible is as strange as the plot is. The screenplay was written by Wentworth Miller, who was made famous by being the lead role in the television show Prison Break. In the director’s chair is the Korean film maker Park Chan-wook, known for directing films like Oldboy and Thirst. Composing the music is one of my favorite film composers Clint Mansell, known for his exceptional score to Requiem for a Dream. Finally, producing this film is Ridley Scott and Tony Scott, which is the last movie he ever produced before his death. When I was watching the credits for this film, I really couldn’t believe how strange of a combination this all was, but it was an excellent combination nonetheless.

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While everyone involved makes Stoker what it is, there’s no denying that some of the people involved had more to do with how good the movie turned out than others did. What I’m trying to say is that although Miller’s screenplay is essential to the film, it’s really Park Chan-wook’s impressive visuals that make the film more than an ode to Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. What is visually present is, at times, more interesting than the story itself. Park has created a modern day Victorian/Gothic style that is really interesting and works with Miller’s screenplay. As cool and disturbing as the story is, Miller’s dialogue just isn’t very good which means that the times where there were no dialogue had to be extra intriguing, and they were.

Along with Park Chan-wook, major credit is given to the cast for portraying their characters in the eeriest of ways. Mia Wasikowska is quiet and broods throughout the entire movie which really gives us a hint of what she’s really capable of. Nicole Kidman shows us an unbalanced widow in a not very obvious way which makes her character interesting. My personal favorite is Matthew Goode who keeps that shit eating grin on his face the entire movie and makes the audience really love just how smug and secretive he really is. Another star of Stoker is actually someone related to the post-production phase. This person is Nicolas De Troth, the editor of the movie. The editing is so precise and seems so meticulous that it really makes this film one of a kind when it comes to the post-production. The sound design is also spectacular, really keeping with the idea that India’s senses are heightened. Even the smallest sound is heard perfectly, which made me feel like I could really hear what she was hearing. From the sound to the visual cues and cuts, Stoker was just a marvel to watch even though the Academy would go nowhere near something as disturbing as this movie is.

Stoker is definitely one of the best movies to come out in 2013, and it’s really a shame that it wasn’t recognized at all by the Academy. But, we all know that the Academy Awards are all very P.C. and Stoker is pretty much the opposite of P.C. That’s what I love it though. That and just how well made it is. I had no doubt in my mind that it was going to be a darkly beautiful film, but actually seeing it made me realize just how much detail was put into constructing this modern day Hitchcockian fairy tale. That description should be enough to make anyone curious enough to check this movie out.

Déjà Vu – Review

27 Dec

The film world is a much quieter place without Tony Scott. It was really upsetting to me this past year when I heard of his suicide. He was an action film maker who did more than make derivative movies. He invented a kinetic style that made the world the action was taking place in hyperrealistic.  With camera work that jolted the viewer all over the place to the highly saturated cinematography, you knew you were watching a Tony Scott movie without even needing to look at the credits. With films like True Romance and Man on FireDéjà Vu is certainly not his best, and I doubt if this is the movie that comes to people’s minds when they talk about Scott’s filmography.

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After a ferry explodes in New Orleans on Mardi Gras, ATF Agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) is brought in to investigate. He proves himself as a worthy investigator and is recruited by FBI Agent Paul Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer) to join a special task force involved with this investigation. “Special” is an understatement, since this crew has technology that is able to bend time and space and look back into the past on a very specific delay. This ability leads them to look into the life of Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton) who was found dead near the area of the ferry explosion. What Carlin and the agents find by looking at Claire’s past is a terrorist (Jim Caviezel), whose targeted her to unwillingly assist him, unless Carlin can somehow travel to the past and save Claire, thereby saving everyone on the ferry.

What separates this from a lot of other more derivative action films is the gimmick of time travel. If this was about Agent Carlin and the investigation about the ferry and the terrorist who committed the crime, this would be a completely forgettable and unremarkable movie. The time travel aspect, and the technology behind it only serve to make the film a little bit more interesting than it could have been. Unfortunately, the movie is almost overblown with dialogue trying to explain the technology, but it isn’t very interesting. When the actually action involving the machine is put to use, it isn’t all that exciting, save for a few moments. Being a film that’s over two hours, the element of seeing through and traveling through time is a missed opportunity.

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There isn’t even a whole lot of action in this movie to keep me occupied. Like I said, there is a lot of talking in this movie, and a good portion of it is technical mumbo jumbo.  There is a pretty cool car chase in the movie that includes the bending of time, which is an example of how the gimmick of the movie can be put to good use. The other scenes of action are brief, but exciting. Still, there isn’t enough excitement to keep me fully entertained or on the edge of my seat, which is odd for a Tony Scott movie. Let me just touch on the element of time one more time, no pun intended. It really bothered me how it’s used here when it could’ve been so much better. Time travel is really cool and fun, despite each movie being totally illogical in its own way, but Déjà Vu takes the cake for being the simplest and most uninteresting.

The visuals still have that cool Tony Scott style that I’ve come to really enjoy about his movies. Everything is wonderfully over saturated and the camera work is so frenetic at times that it feels almost like a video game. That still doesn’t make the movie as good as it could be. Style over substance, in my opinion, can be passable as long as the movie knows that it isn’t shooting to be anything other than a stylistic roller coaster. This movie is not one of those. We are supposed to be completely involved with the weak characters and believe the dull plot device of time travel, all while enjoying the cool style. It just doesn’t work like that.

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Déjà Vu is one of Tony Scott’s weakest entries to his filmography. While it seems like there is certain potential for this to be a legit sci-fi action thriller, it really doesn’t live up to the standards that it creates. Instead, this movie is going to be forgettable and never make it onto anyone’s future list of action classics. I can’t even say it’s a fun way to spend two hours, since the plot is so thick with dialogue that only twists for brain for no reason. Too much talking and not enough action makes Déjà Vu a bland attempt at a genre blending action film.