Tag Archives: urban

The City of Violence – Review

21 Apr

Sometimes it’s great to sit down and watch a movie that really challenges me. A movie that has complex art design and intricate storytelling that weaves in many thematic and moral questions while telling a story that’s wholly original and moving. Then there’s times where I want to sit down, switch my brain off, and just take a ride. That’s exactly what I wanted with The City of Violence and that’s exactly what I got. This movie isn’t difficult or all that original, but it is a whole lot of fun, but it could definitely have used a little bit more work in the story and character department.

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When ex-gangster Wang-jae (Ahn Gil-kang) is murdered, three of his closest friends are reunited in their hometown for the funeral. Tae-su (Jung Doo-hong) is a cop from Seoul known for his controversial no nonsense attitude, Pil-ho (Lee Beom-soo) is the gangster that took over Wang-jae’s place, and Seok-hwan (played by director Ryoo Seung-wan) is the youngest of the three working as a debt collector. Tae-su and Seok-hwan are both hell bent on getting revenge for the murder of their friend and soon find themselves working together, turning the city upside down and blood red to find who are responsible. When it becomes evident that Pil-ho had something to do with the murder, the two investigators engage in a head on collision with one of their closest childhood friends.

So, really there isn’t too much to The City of Violence. It’s a pretty standard revenge movie, but definitely has some elements that make it memorable along with some problems as well. For one thing, it is extremely generic, and while that isn’t a huge detraction, it is worth mentioning. Another problem is that the movie didn’t have any sense of time or character development. Time seemed to move without cluing me in to how much time has passed or where I was. The characters are also incredibly bland. Like, blaaaaand. Not only that, but they also don’t develop at all. They are exactly how they were at the beginning of the movie, save for a few minor changes. For a story about revenge, I didn’t feel a strong sense of motivation coming from the characters. Things seemed to just be happening.

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What I can say about this movie is that the action is fantastic. There are points where it felt like I was watching a video game, as many of the best martial arts movies make me feel. Seeing two guys throw down with an entire crowd of bad guys is just entertaining to watch. One scene that takes place in an alley with a whole bunch of different gangs is particularly memorable, especially since one of the gangs is based off of the Baseball Furies from The Warriors. There is so much destruction, both physically and environmentally, in every fight that it made each extended sequence feel exciting.

Another problem I have with this movie actually happened after I was done the movie. Yes, the movie has a good bad guy and exciting fight sequences, but there’s a lot of the movie that I don’t really remember too vividly because it isn’t anything special. As I’ve been thinking more and more about this movie, the less and less I really enjoy it. Part of the fun of watching a movie is the way that it makes you feel and think afterwards. Points go to a movie that makes me excited to talk about it and share it, but I don’t feel that way with The City of Violence. It’s more of a movie that you watch but then don’t really have anything to say about it in the days to come, which hurts a movie just as much as poor writing or acting.

The City of Violence isn’t a bad movie, in fact it’s a pretty good one. While I was watching it, I was really involved with what I was watching because it moved so fast and had great action sequences and characters that I recognized. What made it less enjoyable is the lack of development the story and the characters go through. Like I said before, things seem to just be happening. There’s plenty of style to enjoy, but sometimes that even becomes a bit too much. For martial arts fans, it’s definitely one to check out at least once, but I don’t think it’s going to be one that sticks with you forever.

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Mean Streets – Review

24 Mar

I’m about to bust a myth for you right now. Martin Scorsese actually hasn’t been around since the beginning of time, weaving stories that are being passed down from generation to generation. I remember hearing in school that his 1973 film Mean Streets was his debut, but Scorsese actually had two other movies already made: Who’s That Knocking at My Door? from 1967 and Boxcar Bertha from 1972. Many people do say, however, that Mean Streets was Martin Scorsese’s first important film and the movie that put him, Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel on the map.

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Charlie (Harvey Keitel) is a small time New York gangster moving up the ranks of the local Italian Mafia in Little Italy. He’s a tough, but fair kind of person with a soul that’s aflame with personal guilt that his Catholic beliefs can’t extinguish. Instead, Charlie looks to the streets for some kind of penance and finds it in his childhood friend Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro), who is throwing his life away with his devil may care attitude and outrageous gambling debts. Meanwhile, Charlie is also trying to maintain a relationship with Johnny Boy’s cousin, Teresa (Amy Robinson), and working to run his own restaurant. Charlie soon begins to realize that what he truly wants may be an impossible dream as an aggravated loan shark, Michael (Richard Romanus), gets increasingly violent towards Johnny Boy, and eventually threatening his life.

So not only is Mean Streets Scorsese’s first important film, it’s also one that feels extremely close and personal to the film maker, as it should considering it’s a semi-autobiographical story of Scorsese growing up in Little Italy. Still, this kind of closeness with his films can be seen in a lot of his other work with Hugo coming to mind as an excellent example. While this isn’t as violent or graphic as his later work, it’s one that seems to be paving the way for films like Casino and Goodfellas amongst others. This is still a much smaller movie that takes a lot of inspiration from the New Wave movements going on in Europe and Japan but combining them with the kind of gangster story that Scorsese tells so well.

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One of the most fun parts of watching this movie is seeing a really young Harvey Keitel and a really young Robert De Niro, who of course went on to be a regular in Martin Scorsese’s movies. Before there was Taxi DriverRaging Bull, or Cape Fear there was Mean Streets. Keitel actually worked with Scorsese before on Who’s That Knocking at My Door?, but this was his star making performance, and the same can be said about De Niro. Their performances in this movie are just as great as you would expect and then some. Some of the scenes with the two actors sharing some personal dialogue were actually improvised, which makes their performances all the more impressive. Even if you don’t like crime or gangster movies, the acting alone is enough to see the movie.

So while this movie is fantastic, it may not really be for everyone. The movie’s plot is kind of weird because for a while it doesn’t seem to really be going anywhere. Like many movies inspired by and included in the New Wave movement in other countries, movies focused on characters moving from place to place, going about their business, and interactions with other people. That’s the fuel for the story rather than situations pushing the movie forward. That’s how Mean Streets is. It’s all about interactions with other people and being immersed in the urban environment. It’s a different way to tell a story, but it’s the only way that this story could be told.

Mean Streets pretty much set the tone for the urban crime films that Scorsese made throughout the 80’s and 90’s that are now considered classics. It also marks the start of his career as a respected film maker, but also the starts of Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro. It’s clear in some moments that Scorsese was still experimenting with some things that don’t always translate too well, but as a whole this is a small personal masterpiece of his. It isn’t his best film, but it stands up very well to his best films and that in and of itself makes it worth multiple viewings.

Fresh – Review

6 Feb

I remember sitting in my friend’s basement one night and we came across this movie playing on t.v. called Fresh. We had no idea what it was, but it seemed interesting enough. Little did we know that this movie was going to get seared into our minds and stick with us to this very day. There are plenty of movies that explore urban life, but none of them I think have come close to this debut film by Boaz Yakin. It’s gritty, emotional, and just really packs a punch that anyone who has seen this will agree exists.

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Fresh (Sean Nelson) is a 12 year old kid living the best way that he can on the streets. When he’s not in school, he can be seen running drugs for low level kingpins Corky (Ron Brice) and Esteban (Giancarlo Esposito). He can also be found in the park with his estranged father Sam (Samuel L. Jackson) who teaches his the strict rules of playing and mastering chess. Fresh is a smart kid, way too smart for the situation that he’s in, so when he witness a tragic shooting at the local basketball courts, Fresh begins concocting an elaborate game of “street chess” complete with his own human pawns, sacrifices, and ultimate victories. If he’s lucky, this will get him and his drug addicted sister (N’Bushe Wright) off the streets and safely hidden away.

This movie smacks you in the face harder than you could ever expect, but it also has a really intriguing story behind it. It’s not hard to find an urban movie about adults trying to survive, but finding one where it’s all seen through the eyes of a kid is much more impactful. Not only is he a kid, though, he’s a kid who’s way smarter than everybody else. It’s awesome seeing this kid stay one step ahead of the adults who are slowly but surely leading him to the grave. Then when you think of the movie as a real life game of chess, things get even more fun because you can sort of see the moves that he would be doing if it were on a board and he was in the park playing with his dad.

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Another really cool thing about Fresh is how immersed into the environment you can become. Every location is chosen to perfection to illustrate all the different aspects of life in the city, wether it’s in an upscale neighborhood, deserted landscapes, or the projects. As Fresh moves about the city, I felt like I was exploring different areas along with him to the point where the city almost becomes a character in the movie. When the environment in a movie can make you feel such emotion, it’s a clear sign that you’re watching a well made film, and Fresh is a perfect example.

One thing I will say about this movie is that it may not appeal to everyone. This isn’t a movie for the faint of heart, in fact the first time I saw Fresh I felt pretty uncomfortable myself. What this movie has to offer is, what I think, a very realistic look at some really terrible things. Yes, this movie is violent, but it isn’t violence for the sake of violence. It’s handled in a very matter of fact yet startling way, and that’s what really makes the film so powerful and memorable. When movies exaggerate, it’s easy to remember that you’re just watching a movie. When a movie takes steps to be as realistic as possible, it’s much easier to get completely sucked into what you’re watching.

Fresh is one of the most memorable movies I’ve seen, and I’m surprised it isn’t recognized as a modern day classic. When it was first released, it was met with critical acclaim across the board, but now it seems to have sunk back into obscurity. This is a fantastic movie with images and scenes that will not be forgotten, at least for a very long time. If you feel like you can handle some realistic depictions of terrible things, I’d check out Fresh as soon as possible.

King of New York – Review

24 Oct

Abel Ferrara is one of those anything goes kind of directors. He has a knack to show gritty urban scenes and not hold back the violence or any other sin or vice that goes along with that lifestyle. He’s also really proficient at turning the black and whites of morality and turning them into one big gray area. A prime example would be his film from 1990, King of New York, a kind of Robin Hood tale if Robin Hood lived in New York City in the early nineties and was a figurehead in the criminal underworld.

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Frank White (Christopher Walken) is a very powerful and very wealthy player in the criminal underworld of New York City who has just gotten released from Sing Sing prison. Upon his return, he meets with an old associate, Jimmy Jump (Laurence Fishburne), and his gang to get back to business. This time, Frank believes he is reformed and begins robbing and killing criminals because he doesn’t like how they do their business, with the prime goal of helping to fund the construction of a hospital. Some police officers (played by Victor Argo, David Caruso, and Wesley Snipes) don’t like Frank’s tactics and wage an illegal war against him since traditional legal methods have proven unsuccessful in bringing Frank down.

King of New York is an entertaining movie, but definitely not perfect by any means. In fact, it’s pretty far from perfect. What makes this movie memorable is its strong headed style to show all of the drugs, violence, and sex that happen within the course of the story in graphic detail. A lot of film makers would opt to censor this, or at least tone it down, but Ferrara and his writer, Nicholas St. John, are perfectly comfortable showing the brutality of these criminals.

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The main problem with this movie is that it doesn’t really know what it wants to be. There are scenes where I felt like I really needed to take the content seriously, but the way it plays out seems like it exists mainly for pulp entertainment. The lighting, the set design, and even the characters all seem very over the top, but the themes of drug use and gang violence are all played as very serious things. This makes the movie very uneven. The film also moves at such a break neck pace that I can’t really fully understand and feel for the complex characters that make this film what it is. Everyone is very complex, and I really want to appreciate their characters, but I didn’t feel like I had the time.

Back to the positives, however, I dare someone to watch this film and not completely love Walken’s performance. He has this way of really enveloping himself in his character to the point where you as the viewer are convinced that you are no longer watching Christopher Walken. Just look at The Deer Hunter. While i did complain about the contrast between the realism and the complete disregard for realism both in the same movie, I will say the over the top scenes are really entertaining. The gun battles and big car chase are really fun to watch, and the strange, almost Argento-ish, kind of lighting in some scenes is real eye candy.

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King of New York is completely uneven and an absolute mess when it comes to character development and a strong plot. What makes this movie interesting are the thematic content, brutality, and the performances by Walken and Fishburne. I can’t see this movie being taken very seriously, but I would be so bold to put it in a cult classic category after doing some research on it. I’d definitely watch King of New York again, and I’d even go so far as to say it is an inspiration for some of the projects that I am working on.

Midnight Cowboy – Review

1 Feb

The history and stigma surrounding Midnight Cowboy should be enough to attract viewers to see it. When it was released in 1969, it was prompt rated X for it’s strong emphasis on sexual content and other themes that play throughout the movie. More importantly, it is the only X rated film to win an Academy Award, and for Best Picture no less. I recently reviewed another film from director John Schlesinger, Marathon Man. I only found Marathon Man slightly enjoyable, and hoped for more from Midnight Cowboy.

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Joe Buck (Jon Voight) is a naive Texan who travels to New York City with dreams of becoming a wealthy hustler. In other words, a well to do male prostitute. When he gets there, he soon realizes that NYC is a totally different world from the one he’s used to, and he quickly loses all of his money. Now down on his luck, he meets “Ratso” Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a small time thief with a couple of cents to his name trying to survive the harsh conditions of the city while fighting polio. Together, these two form an unlikely bond and do their best to make some money to get to Florida, but as the winter draws closer, Rizzo’s condition worsens.

I was surprised with how much was actually in this movie. There’s so much subtext and thematic material to latch on to, and once you do, you’re more than ready to give it back. This is an intensely emotional film that may possibly leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. This isn’t something you want to watch when you’re in a great mood, because once it’s over, that good mood will have left about an hour and a half ago.

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The film does a great job at pacing itself. We start with Joe Buck in Texas, a place filled with bright sunshine and happy music. Once he gets to New York, we’re in a whole other world with him, but it’s still looking bright and hopeful. Then things start going wrong and winter begins approaching. At this point everything seems to get dirty, gray, and ugly along with the entire story. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad story, in fact, it’s remarkable. Much like Aronofsky’s Requiem for a DreamMidnight Cowboy uses a strange sense of realism to really immerse the viewer into the entire situation. There are stylistic elements that work very nicely too. Schlesinger relied heavily on the juxtaposition of flash backs to tell Joe’s story, but also juxtaposition everyday items to mean something else. There’s an interesting sex scene that plays out with an unusual use of a television and its various programs.

As for the performances, they belong on anyone’s Top 10 best. It’s impossible to choose between Voight and Hoffman. Both show tremendous talent with method acting (which Hoffman is known for) in this film, and seem to be fully into the minds of their respective characters. Hoffman even put pebbles in his shoe to help with the limp, and despite being almost hit by a car, he continues a scene still fully in character, resulting in one of the most famous lines in film history (I’M WALKIN’ HERE!)

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Midnight Cowboy explores so many different elements in its story. Human sexuality, both hetero- and homosexual. Loneliness and friendship play a key role in the story, and can arguably be the most important. It also exposes a strange period of time. The era of peace, love, and happiness was coming to an end, all the while America was in a bad state with the Vietnam War. Midnight Cowboy doesn’t overtly come out and say it, but it definitely shows a historic subtext that offers little hope for the future.

I could write an entire paper just on this movie. I can’t think of the last time I saw a movie that made me think so much about so many ideas. Midnight Cowboy may look a bit aged in both style and presentation, but the performances and themes are timeless. This film deserves its spot as one of the  best, important, and most controversial films ever made. Check it out and you may even accidentally learn something.