Tag Archives: vengeance

Killer’s Kiss – Review

29 Nov

Without a shadow of a doubt, Stanley Kubrick is my favorite film maker of all time. In fact, the very first thing I wrote about on this blog was a rundown of all of the movies I’ve seen of his at the time. Now, finally getting around to watching one of his movies I’ve never seen before is really, really exciting. This film is Killer’s Kiss from 1955. After a disappointing start with his first feature, Fear and Desire, Kubrick was determined to really make a name for himself and show what kind of artistic flourishes he had to offer to the film world. For being a very short and totally independently produced film, Killer’s Kiss affectively foreshadowed masterworks that were to come.

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Davey Gordon (Jamie Smith) is a down on his luck welterweight boxer who’s goal is to finally achieve some sort of recognition or success, but his prime has long since passed. He also has eyes for his neighbor, a taxi dancer named Gloria Price (Irene Kane), who is employed by the sexually frustrated and alcoholic gangster, Vincent Rapallo (Frank Silvera). After rescuing her from one of his drunken fits, the two quickly fall in love and decide to leave town together. What Davey and Irene don’t plan on is Vincent soon catching on to their plan, and how he’ll go so far as murder in order to guarantee his favorite dancer will stay in town and make all of his fantasies come true.

Kubrick’s early works sort of form a mixed bag of films. While it’s mainly established that The Killing is a film noir classic, many people aren’t very fond of Fear and Desire. Right in between those two is Killer’s Kiss, a film that I don’t hear discussed or reviewed as much as the other two. In my opinion, Killer’s Kiss is visually ahead of its time and beautiful and a seedy sort of way, but the story and the characters are poorly developed. I’d like to take a step away from the plot development and the characters and marvel at this movie for its visuals, but that wouldn’t be a very accurate review, would it? Still even with its faults, it’s Kubrick’s first real punch to the film industry.

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From the picture above, it’s pretty obvious that Kubrick takes the cinematic styles of film noir and utilizes them to their fullest. Even though the characters are pretty uninteresting and underdeveloped, they still are archetypical of the noir genre and fit in perfectly with the seedy New York underbelly that is fully explored throughout the film. Not only does Kubrick use style that was already seen in films of this kind, but also adds some stuff of his own that wasn’t quite the common place. There’s more tracking shots than there normally were in 1955, a boxing scenes shows some real brutal violence, and there’s an excellent long take of Davey running along a rooftop. Not to mention some of the compositions, like when Davey’s face is stretched out as the camera looks at him through a fish tank.

Killer’s Kiss, as lost in the background it may be, was truly a passion project for the 26 year old Stanley Kubrick. The only way he got funding for this film was by borrowing $40,000 from his uncle and shooting without any permits. That may not seem like a problem, but it certainly is when you’re filming on Broadway during the busiest time of the evening. In order to get some shots, Kubrick had to be filming from the inside of a car so he wouldn’t be noticed and if he had to make a quick getaway. He also had to negotiate with a group of homeless people at one point so he could use their alley for a scene.

Killer’s Kiss may not be the best written film noir or entry into Stanley Kubrick’s filmography, but it does mark the real beginning of his film career. Visually, this movie is excellent foreshadowed what was to come. The archetypes and genre tropes are all present, but Kubrick really injects the film with his surreal style that left me with many memorable scenes. Fans of Kubrick, film history, and the film noir genre should definitely make this one a priority.

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Faster – Review

24 Nov

I’ve heard quite a few positive things about the 2010 film Faster since the time of its release. While it didn’t do too hot with the critics, a lot of people who’ve seen it have recommended it to me. Honestly, I was just kind of excited to watch a movie where I wouldn’t have to think too hard. I mean, an action film starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson couldn’t be anything too thoughtful. What I got instead was a satisfying action film that was equally intelligent with fully developed characters and some heavy thematic depth.

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After serving a ten year prison sentence, Driver (Dwayne Johnson) is finally released with his mind solely focused on getting revenge on the gang that killed his brother. Armed with a pistol, a list of names, and unflinching fury, Driver begins making his way down the list of names, brutally killing anyone on it. This catches the attention of a few people. On one side, there’s Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a highly skilled but neurotic hit man hired to stop Driver at any cost. On the other side is Cop (Billy Bob Thornton), a detective trying to piece his life back together after struggling with a heroine addiction. As these three parties come closer to colliding, more is figured out about what truly happened to Driver’s brother, revealing a bigger conspiracy than was originally thought.

There’s a lot more going on in this movie than just brainless action, and that’s what really sets Faster up a step above many other films in this genre. Not only is there a revenge story at the core of the movie, but there’s also nice thematic depth, a purpose for everything you see on screen, and a message at the end that perfectly wraps up everything that came before it in a nice package. In one scene when we see Killer beginning to track Driver, he can be seen on the phone with his therapist while on the job. I found that to be a very creative way to add some levels to his character and made me realize that I wasn’t just watching a throwaway movie that I’d forget tomorrow. Mostly all of the characters in the movie have their own idiosyncrasies that make them feel real and help them give meaning to the message that sometimes it is too late to turn your life around.

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With a name like Faster, I also thought this movie was going to be one of those non stop jolts of action that’s kinetic and over the top. The fact is that that’s nowhere near what this movie is actually like. There are plenty of action scenes, but they don’t particularly last very long. Most of them are over within a few seconds since they mostly have to do with Driver getting his revenge on another person on the list. He really only fights one of them, and the rest he pretty much just executes. There’s also a small car chase that is fun, but that kind of stuff isn’t really what this movie is about. What I’m trying to say is that nothing is excessive in this movie. I never felt like I was watching a scene of violence just for the sake of violence. This just goes back to when I said that everything that happens in Faster has a purpose.

While the movie may be a step above average, I can’t really say the same thing for the performances. Billy Bob Thornton, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje stand out in terms of their performances, but everyone else is just so so. Dwayne Johnson kind of just stands there and kills people for most of the movie. There are one or two scenes where he lets his acting rip a little bit, but I think his character is a little underwritten and not very interesting. Carla Gugino and Jennifer Carpenter also show up in the film, but they also don’t give any kind of interesting performance. The only people to really watch for in this movie are Thornton, Jackson-Cohen, Akinnuoye-Agbaje.

Faster may not be the best action movie you or I will ever see, but it was really nice seeing some creativity and thought put into not only the story, but also what the movie was truly about. Not only did this film entertain me, but it actually forced me to think and want to dig deeper at what lied beneath the revenge story on the surface. I was really surprised by how good this movie actually was, and I can’t believe the review turned out this way, but I definitely recommend this one.

Daimajin Trilogy – Review

26 Jun

In 1954, Toho released a movie called Gojira that would completely reinvent an entire genre. Since then, Godzilla has become King of the Monsters and also a household name. In 1965, to keep up with what Toho was putting out, Daiei Films put another monster on the market, Gamera, which has become a respected kaiju, but is nothing compared to Godzilla. So while Daiei was known for its monster Gamera, it was also known as the production company that put Akira Kurosawa on the map with his 1950 samurai film Rashomon. Now, what if you take Daiei’s monster movies and COMBINE them with samurai movies. What would be the result. Well, that almost unthinkable result would be the Daimajin trilogy.

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The first film, Daimajin, tells the story of a Japanese village that is taken over by an evil chamberlain, Samanosuke (Yutaro Gomi), who forces the villagers into slave labor. After years of turmoil, the mountain god Daimjin is called upon to bring Samanosuke to justice and restore order in the land. In Return of Daimajin (or Daimjin Ikaru), Daimajin must once again be restored to life to stop a war between a violent warlord and the surrounding villages, before any more loss of life is had. In Daimajin Strikes Again (or Daimajin Gyakushu) Daimajin is brought to life by three young boys who witness their family being forced into labor camps to construct rifles for a warring faction, a problem that Daimajin can surely fix in one afternoon.

For any fan of Japanese film, there’s quite literally nothing to dislike here. It seems like a weird combination of genres, but it works out for the best. There’s so much cool stuff in all three of these movies, it’s hard to just pinpoint a few instances. The scene where a group of soldiers try to dismantle the statue before it comes to life ends with such a bang when the statue begins to bleed and a wild storm comes blowing through. That’s just the first time I laughed with excitement at the events that were to unfold. There’s also a lot of excellent religious symbolism that can be recognized no matter what faith you are, kind of like the bleeding statue. It adds a cool layer of the supernatural amongst everything else.

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All three movies have pretty much the same basic structure. There are a group of good and religious villagers just trying to live their lives and respect their mountain god (Daimajin). Of course, that would make for a boring movie, so there is always an evil samurai or lord that shows up that either wants to kill or capture the villagers. While it can get a little repetitive, there is no outstanding reason to have to watch all of these movies in a row in order. There’s no continuing plot and everything is always set up like it is in the first film. This allows you to watch whatever film you want in whatever order you want, and appreciate them as stand alone movies.

So after all of the drama of the story plays out and we really grow to hate the villain, the films switch gears and it all suddenly turns into a giant monster movie. That’s like…the best thing that could happen to any movie. Daimajin is a great giant monster, even though he’s technically a mountain god in the form of a statue. He’s a kaiju that thinks and recognizes good and evil. The actor’s eyes are seen, which never really happens in a monster movie. This gives Daimajin a healthy dose of personality and makes him stand out amongst all of the other hard hitters like Godzilla, Gamera, and Mothra.

Daimajin and its two sequels are all very solid and impressive examples of Japanese film in the mid 1960s. Between Toho and Daiei, there was just a huge flow of monster after monster, and I don’t think Daimajin gets the credit that he deserves. He’s a damn cool monster, and these movies also work great as period dramas. Anyone who is a fan of these kinds of kaiju movies, or even movies like Seven SamuraiRashomon, and the Lone Wolf and Cub film series should definitely check this trilogy out. It’s almost too much fun.

Dead Man’s Shoes – Review

16 Sep

Revenge tales are a dime a dozen in the movie business. If were to count how many films were released per year whose main focus was on a character getting revenge, the results would probably be staggering. Luckily for me and everyone else, I don’t have that kind of patience. The point of what I’m trying to say is that if someone wants to make a revenge film, they better make it original in one way or another, because if not, they don’t give anyone a real reason to see it. Enter Shane Meadow’s little revenge flick from 2004, Dead Man’s Shoes. This is a movie that has me torn in every sense of the word. On one end, this is a great story with enough originality to please any film buff, but also some weak writing and plotting that makes the entire movie feel close to wasted.

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Richard (Paddy Considine) is a veteran returning back to his small English town to find it still in the hands of a small time group of drug dealers and thugs. These men don’t pose a serious threat to the community, but that wasn’t the worry of Richard’s in the first place. Richard has come for a much more personal form of revenge after he learns of the torture that this gang put his mentally challenged younger brother, Anthony (Toby Kebbell), through. As Richard’s vengeance becomes much more physically and psychologically violent, the drug dealers become more desperate and we are left to wonder if Richard is pushing things way too far.

To start with what’s really good about this movie, the story, at it’s very core, is actually really good because it caused me to actually really analyze the situation. This isn’t a story of really good guys that we can root for pitted against really bad guys that we love to hate. While Richard is seen as the protagonist, for most of the movie, I felt kind of uncomfortable with how he was acting and the violence that he was doing in order to achieve his mission of revenge. On the flip side, while the gang is definitely a despicable group of punks, they aren’t what I’d call evil. This leaves the story left in a morally gray area where there isn’t good vs evil, it’s actually just one person against other people.

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Where Dead Man’s Shoes fails in a way that hurts my very soul is the way the plot is laid out. I’m such a stickler for plots and narrative structure since the whole reason I love to watch movies is to get lost in a story. A movie can have nothing special going for it visually, but if it has a great story that’s plotted well, I really could care less. Dead Man’s Shoes has a great story that is plotted miserably. I felt like the movie went from A to C and brushed right by B only revealing the littlest but. A movie of this intensity that involves physical and psychological vengeance needs to have suspense, and this movie had very little. Don’t get me wrong, there was a scene or two with great suspense, so it was there, but there wasn’t enough in the movie as a whole.

So yes, the movie is almost spoiled by lack of suspense and a messy narrative structure, but not all of the writing is bad. Being co-written by both Shane Meadow (the director) and Paddy Considine (the star), the movie does have excellent dialogue and scenes. This might also add to the fact that I wanted more movie. The dialogue performed by the actors was so natural and real that it brought a level of realism to the film. That combined with Meadow’s often documentary-like directing in many of the scenes. You can see that the movie was made cheaply, but that doesn’t change the fact that it looks great and has great performances, especially by Paddy Considine who gives one of the most menacing performances I’ve seen in awhile.

Dead Man’s Shoes pulls me in a few different directions. On one end, I’m disappointed at the lack of suspense and the way the story just kinda rushes by, not giving me any time to get really nervous. On the other end, the story is original, the acting is excellent, and the ending kind of blew me backwards. It’s also true that as I’ve had time to think about it, I really want to see it again, and knowing what it’s all about I might like it a little bit more. I do like this movie, but not quite as much as I should have.

 

“Lone Wolf and Cub” Series – Review

1 Mar

Samurai movie are a real unique genre because they present a way of life that seems so distant and antiquated, it’s sometimes hard to believe that people once lived like this. Their sense of honor to the point that they would commit the act of seppuku for something pretty minor by today’s standards seems odd, but it’s unbelievably fascinating. The fun doesn’t stop there for the Lone Wolf and Cub series, a six movie saga that spanned from 1972 – 1974 and was based off a manga of the same name. These movies are entertaining, violent, often funny, and takes full advantage of showing off geysers of blood that clearly inspired film makers today, like Quentin Tarantino.

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Throughout these six films, the main plot goes as follows. Ogami Ittō (Tomisaburo Wakayama) is a shogun executioner during the Edo period of Japanese history. After the Yagyū clan conspire against him to claim his role as executioner, he changes his life and becomes an ronin assassin for hire with his young son, Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa). Amidst his adventures, Ittō and his son have to deal with vengeful Yagyū clan warriors, shinobi ninjas, sadistic fighters donning strange weaponry, and murderous women. While the violence never ends, Ittō has one real goal: to restore honor to his family name and kill the leader of the patriarch of the Yagyū clan, Retsudo (Yunosuke Ito).

This is a pretty slim summary of everything that happens in this series. There’s so many awesome and memorable things that happen in these movies that I wish I thought of. The coolest thing out of all the movies is the baby cart that Ogami Ittō pushes around. At first, the cart seems to just be a crudely constructed cart made of wood, solely used to carry Daigoro around. Well, that couldn’t be farther from what it actually is. This is a super weapon that I would love to have on my side in any battle. The cart is built using an arsenal including a spear, hidden daggers activated by buttons, shields, and a strange chain gun like device that has the ability to take down many people in a span of a few seconds. Things like this that happen or is seen in these movies are so cool and make them as memorable as Kurosawa’s more classical samurai films, such as Seven Samurai and Yojimbo.

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This would be a good opportunity to discuss the strange history of the Lone Wolf and Cub movies. The history of the movies themselves is nothing too crazy. Unfortunately, the manga wasn’t finished until 1976, and the last of these movies was made in 1974. That being said, don’t expect a very satisfying conclusion. But what I really want to mention are the Shogun Assassin movies. I knew about those movies before I knew anything about the Lone Wolf and Cub series, and it was surprising to figure out that they are pretty much the same movies. Shogun Assassin and its four sequels are made by editing down footage from the six Lone Wolf and Cub films and splicing them together. I was interested in seeing the Shogun Assassin movies, but when I heard what they actually were, I decided to move straight to the source material and I regret nothing.

The character of Ogami Ittō should be way more popular than he actually is. He’s skilled to the point of almost being superhuman, and the body count of these movies shows that. In the final film, White Heaven in Hell, Ittō holds the record of most body counts by one character at 150 kills onscreen. One of the most memorable scenes is from the first film, Sword of Vengeance, when Ittō cuts the head off of a Yagyū samurai in a duel, complete with a geyser of blood and a dramatic sunset in the background. These movies aren’t just fun and exciting, they’re very well made and look awesome.

The Lone Wolf and Cub series is a great collection of films that I guarantee will entertain you. The characters are memorable, the story is epic, and the history of the time period is really interesting. The films themselves aren’t that long, even though there are six of them, which is good because they don’t mess around. If you love classic samurai films or the history of Japan, but most importantly, if you love having fun, check out this film series.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance – Review

18 Jan

Finally, we have come to the third and final film in Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance trilogy. Taking a cue from the name of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance comes Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. In order for me to start talking about this movie, I want to look back at the other two. I said that Oldboy is a modern masterpiece that will go down as one of the greatest films ever made, and after seeing Lady VengeanceSympathy for Mr. Vengeance is so much better. I appreciate how I wasn’t confused for most of the movie and that the story was cool. It’s a really good movie. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is a muddled, pretentious soap opera that went on for too long and made me wish I was watching one of the predecessors.

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Lee Geum-ja (Lee Young Ae) is faced with a prison sentence of thirteen years after she confesses to the abduction and murder of a five year old boy. After she serves her time and uses her polite demeanor to her advantage, making a lot of friends in prison, she starts her quest to get revenge on Mr. Baek (Choi Min-sik), the man who kidnapped and threatened her infant daughter if she didn’t take the blame for the abduction and murder of the boy. First, Geum-ja has to reunite with her daughter Jenny (Kwon Yea-young), but soon turns back to her original mission, and she makes sure she isn’t the only one who is getting revenge.

This movie really is a soap opera, and can also be seen as further proof that a great director can get a little bit too full of himself. The biggest problem here is the motivation of the story. In Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy, the motivation of vengeance and redemption were strong and pushed the characters towards a climax. In Lady Vengeance, I never really felt like the plot was going anywhere fast. All of the flashbacks, subplots, and characters were more of a distraction than they were interesting. In fact, the subplot involving Geum-ja’s daughter isn’t interesting at all, and Kwon Yea-young was just annoying.

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I may sound like a broken record here, but Sympathy for Lady Vengeance looks fantastic. Park Chan-wook pulls out all of the stops here in terms of style, and creates some of the nicest shots and transitions in the entire trilogy. It can be haunting and it can be beautiful. The costume design for Geum-ja is also really nice and adds a lot to her character and speaks for the transformation she made from innocent young girl, to a violent woman bent on revenge. Style is what this movie really has going for it. The soundtrack is also an excellent companion to the visuals, but style isn’t everything in a movie.

I want to like the story. I really do, but I just can’t. This would have been a good start to the trilogy because compared to the other two, the story in this one is underwhelming as hell. It isn’t even the fault of the way the story is composed. It just doesn’t have the gusto and the energy that the other two movies have. I found myself constantly checking to see how much time was left in the movie, and there were some parts where my mind would drift to some other thing because the story and the energy of this movie just wasn’t enough to keep my mind occupied.

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Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is the weakest entry in the Vengeance trilogy, and is just an all around weak movie. There is a lot of potential with the style and the characters, which are played just fine, but there isn’t enough in this movie that really makes it all that suspenseful or exciting. One may argue that this is more of a drama than a thriller, but the drama is a little too hokey at parts and felt kind of like a soap opera. Just because there are a few cool or intense scenes in this movie doesn’t help pull Sympathy for Lady Vengeance from the muck.

Oldboy – Review

17 Jan

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, the first film in Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance trilogy, left me wanting more. It was definitely a good movie, but I can’t say that it was a great movie. In 2003, however, audiences were treated to and shocked by Oldboy. Every film student in the world has heard of this movie and I can almost guarantee that any film fanatic has seen this at least once. The first time I saw this movie, I really enjoyed it, but felt like I was missing a lot of the hype. After this second viewing, I understand completely. Oldboy is more than just a thriller. It’s also a mystery, dark comedy, and action film with strong roots in Shakespearean and Grecian tragedies.

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Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is an average Seoul businessman with a wife and daughter, who has believed to have lived a normal life. One night, Oh Dae-su is kidnapped and placed in a room for fifteen years. While in the room, Oh Dae-su changes and becomes psychologically twisted and thirsty for revenge. When he is let out after fifteen years, Oh Dae-su starts his quest for revenge and meets Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung), a chef who is willing to help him out, despite her not even knowing anything about him. As the kidnapper is revealed as millionaire Woo-jin Lee (Yoo Ji-tae), the mystery becomes even more intriguing. Instead of who locked Oh Dae-su in a room, he has to figure out why, and the answers may push him to the edge of his sanity.

If you were to take all of the good things from Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, like the excellent blocking, cinematography, and story, and then take away how awful the plotting of that movie is, you still wouldn’t have Oldboy. In order to describe how great Oldboy is you would have to add in a mixture of excellent suspense combined with spot on pacing, and only then would you see how excellent Oldboy is. This is one of those essential pieces of film that everyone should see if they are interested in film. It’s more than just a bloody thriller. It’s a look into the darkest parts of human psychology where revenge and murder are just part of a person’s life.

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This has a very similar artistic style to Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. In terms of set design, this is a dirty looking movie, but once again Park Chan-wook has shown how he has a talent for creating beauty amongst the grime. His lensing in this movie is fantastic, but his interesting use of the camera doesn’t stop there. One scene in particular that stands out is a huge fight scene shot from the side of a corridor that was filmed in one continuous take. It isn’t rare for editors to hide cuts into takes as long as these, but this shot was 100% done in one take. Every shot is composed wonderfully, which once again shows that Park has one of the best eyes in the international film industry.

As great as Oldboy looks, it wouldn’t have worked without Choi Min-sik’s excellent performance. Oh Dae-su is a very complicated character with a lot of ups and downs, and Choi plays it with spot on perfection. There are scenes where he is smiling, but we sense all of the inner pain that is boiling beneath the surface, and other times where his acting shows all of the anger and hate. The climax of the movie, which really shows comparisons between Shakespearean and Grecian tragedies, really highlights Choi’s abilities and is one of the best onscreen performances I have ever seen.

Oldboy is one of the best films ever made, and deserves to be on the same lists as classic films. In its own right, it is a contemporary classic that will go down in film history. It’s a poetic story of violence, love, and revenge that shows a side of humanity that people don’t normally like to see. Choi Min-sik gives an excellent performance, and Park Chan-wook shows his talent as a film maker and story teller. If you haven’t seen this Oldboy, it is your responsibility to see it as quickly as possible.