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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An extended one-take tracking shot of local daredevil Luke Glanton
(Ryan Gosling) heading towards and performing one of his motorcycle
stunts opens the film. The camera then frames Glanton and two other
bikers spinning around in a metal globe dangerously - perhaps
recklessly and unpredictably - a prophetic symbol of things to come.
Derek Cianfrance's "The Place Beyond the Pines" then throws the audience in for an unpredictable journey between the lives of four characters. This is not a movie which will fulfill your guesses if you think you've seen them all. A wide range of strong character and plot development pulls the film together when it looked like the film could burst apart at the seams. Great cinematography by Sean Bobbitt and an ambitious music score by Mike Patton (with a shade of Morricone, I think?) compliment the film's uneasiness and unpredictability perfectly.
In three acts encompassing a time period of 15 years, the audience follows the lives of Glanton, police officer Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), and their respective sons Jason (Dane DeHaan) and A.J. (Emory Cohen). Gosling continues his strong streak of portraying violent, moody and solemnly stoic lead heroes as the loner Luke, who reawakens his paternal instinct after he discovers he has a kid with an old flame, Romina (a very good Eva Mendes). His decision to rob banks to support them quickly collides with the life of Officer Cross, who is having his own problems with police corruption (you gotta love Ray Liotta as the sneaky corrupt cop). Cooper surprises with a solid, no-nonsense performance displaying a wide range of emotions, evolving from naive to guilt-ridden - proving he could do much more than comedy or romance. It is a good enough performance for the second act of the film to live on. The third act, and this is where the film falters a bit - takes place 15 years after Gosling's and Cooper's segments, and focuses on their character's sons in high school who happen to meet by chance. Both young actors seem natural in their roles, especially DeHaan, fresh off of "Chronicle", and again portraying the lonely, painful soul very well.
A lot of "blue collar dramas" (as some call it) seem to focus on the tough life aspects and "struggling to make it out of here" kind of story lines. Some are great, some are good, but make them once, and you've probably make most of them. This film, although you can call it a "blue collar epic", doesn't really focus on the "tough life" aspect as it does with it's characters. Rather, it focuses on the more philosophical and poetic aspects of storytelling - the circle of of fate and destiny, karma, retribution; all the while balancing it out with other dramatic aspects such as police corruption, crime as a ways of finance and teenage father-son angst, among others. It's a massive juggling act, and Cianfrance and his writers are superb in fleshing these characters within a running time of 140 minutes, and not one character feels like they have worn out their welcome. Cianfrance's ambitious direction perhaps makes the film feel as whole as possible, with the three acts flowing steadily and the switch from the current act to the next feels operatic instead of sudden and rushed. I am reminded of certain mob classics like "GoodFellas" and "The Godfather" when it comes to this flow, and even though this film by no means is as brilliant as both, it certainly is refreshing and delightful to see a new generation filmmaker be this ambitious and taking risks with his audience.
Is this film great? It could be. Just because the plot is something we've seen before, it certainly does not mean the filmmaker cannot do something different with it. Cianfrance and his talented cast and crew certainly have made something different with familiar plot material. It is strongly plotted and acted, and it feels like an opera unfolding itself toward the audience. The film is worth watching, perhaps more than once. I truly haven't seen an American director this hugely ambitious since Darren Aronofsky. One thing is for sure: Cianfrance will be a name to look out for.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Funny, I was the only one in the theater hall watching this. There were
two people who entered late, but they left after about 10 minutes
through. They were probably offended by what they saw, and I cannot
blame them for that: Even the film's opening scene involves gratuitous
shots of the female flesh for a lingering amount of time, dragging on
until the scene transforms from glamorously into disgustingly
If the film does indeed make you offended and shocked, then Harmony Korine's "Spring Breakers" has succeeded. Right after the opening scene we are introduced to four college girls desperate to have the ultimate Spring Break. One of them is devoutly religious and even thinks about the break as a lifelong goal and nirvana to attain. Two of them are downright sociopathic, and (in a beautifully shot scene) rob a diner to get the money needed for their trip. Beneath those gorgeous faces and bodies lie twisted, dark depths, but Korine shoots straight for the bottom, nearing depravity.
After a series of lurid mishaps, the girls find themselves in the presence of rapper and criminal 'Alien', who takes over the scene once he enters it. This Alien, he's something. Making a name all by himself, living "The American Dream" his way ("Scarface" is referenced to), trying to get his music career of the ground, getting at odds with his enemy, and enchanting most of the girls to his charm.
I assure you, I found most of "Spring Breakers" to be disgusting, perverted, and gratuitous in its portrayal of women and the criminal lifestyle. The lurid cinematography, hyper editing, and music by both Cliff Martinez and Skrillex seem to make the experience feel like a psychotic party-goer's acid trip. Hell, the use of a Britney Spears song has a John Woo-like contrast to it.
However, I'm not condemning the movie for it. This was what Korine intended, and he succeeded thoroughly. The film is a scathing attack on the American youth culture today. Korine's cohesive yet high-energy direction depicts an exaggerated "American dream" for the new generation, where their ultimate goal amounts to nothing more than endless nights of fun, partying, getting rich and getting made. More like the American nightmare. I can sense most older audience members hating this movie to shreds.
The four girls and Alien showcase these through there Malick-like monologues interspersed between the mayhem. Call it pretentious, but I find it much better than leaving them as two-dimensional youths. In those aspects, James Franco and Selena Gomez are very good in their performances, and Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson completely shed their teeny-bop images to portray some of the most depraved youths I've seen in the movies in a while. Rachel Korine is alright but I sense it is just a chance for her husband the director to showcase his wife in a bout of nepotism. Still, her presence doesn't detract from the film.
The film's ending, which seemed to good to be true, also brings up a similar discussion to the classic "Taxi Driver" - is it all real? Did everything happen in the movie, or is it one giant acid trip for one (or all) of the characters? Where does reality stop and (nightmarish) fantasy begin? I leave you to answer that.
This film will probably be one of the most controversial and provocative films of the year. It's high and glamorized sexual and criminal content, coupled with hyper-kinetic camera-work, music, editing, and directing - will definitely turn some heads in the audience. But this film does indeed have something to say - about the American youth, about the American dream. And for some strange reason, the film may stay with you for a while. I know it has with me.
P.S. Parents, no matter how big of a fan your child/teen is of Gomez, Hudgens, Benson and even Franco, DO NOT under any circumstances let them see this movie unless you feel that they are ready and prepared to handle this kind of content. You have been warned.
I find it ironic that Gerard Butler, a Scotsman, as disgraced Secret
Agent Mike Banning, embodies the spirit of John McClane much more than
Bruce Willis did in that last dreadful outing. If anything, Butler has
done nothing more than to cement his reputation as a bankable and
likable action hero for the new generation in this old-school action
movie. He has a commanding presence on-screen, quips wisecracks, bleeds
when it's crucial, and dispatches the bad guys in a methodical cross
between Jason Bourne and John Rambo. Not even the fine supporting cast
(Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Melissa
Leo, Dylan McDermott) can take away Butler's limelight.
Indeed, Antoine Fuqua's "Olympus Has Fallen" is not only terrific entertainment but a terrific throwback to the pivotal 90's action movie, the Die Hard clone - and this film ("Die Hard" in the White House) is another reminder of why the trusted formula works, even if it has been dormant for nearly two decades (the last good big one being Peter Hyams' "Sudden Death").
From the moment the film's main action start, the film doesn't stop running. The bad guys, hoo boy do they mean business. Rarely, if at all, have I seen this much brutal collateral damage in an American action film. Americans citizens get mowed down by bullets from ground and air forces. The all-American (Scottish) hero represents freedom and justice, and the bad guys represent every American's worst nightmare. I haven't seen this much political incorrectness since "The Delta Force". Having said that, Rick Yune surprisingly makes for an effective and nasty villain, who is relentlessly cold, smug and procedural in his mission, following the formula perfectly. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
It's fast, it's loud, it's preposterous, and yet I enjoyed every minute of it. The film is chock-full of sensational and well-shot action sequences/special effects, but its biggest strength is its cohesion. From start to finish the plot moves smoothly, and you can tell who the good guys and the bad guys are. The characters are established, their motives clear, and that's that. The action sequences do not simply skip to each other, they flow perfectly like a stream, thanks to crisp editing. Simplicity is key here, and convoluted plots do not fit in the formula (hear that, "Die Hard 5"?)
Fuqua is no stranger to action, having helmed the solid "Shooter" six years ago. Here he ratchets up the action up to a 10 (CGI is present but used reasonably), and he remarkably doesn't hold back on the tension. It's no "Training Day", but it more or less hearkens back to an Antoine Fuqua who made "The Replacement Killers". Just thrilling fun.
Of course the plot isn't original. It's a genre picture, and what I pay to see in a genre picture is its skillful craft and cohesive plot. This film has both, and resurrects the Die Hard clone from the grave. Here I thought I was getting bored of action movies. The genre is dying, you say? Here's a solid kicker.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
He looks out the window in the night sky after a long day's work,
thinking of what has become of himself. Across his apartment balcony,
in the window of the building opposite his, stares a woman, solemn,
pained. Their eyes meet, and, slowly, they wave at each other. Not a
word was spoken.
Subtle scenes like these evoke memories of the raw power of film - it is emotion, not words or sometimes action - that drive a motion picture. Thing is, Vic is a thug working for a ruthless mobster; and Beatrice is a traumatized victim of a car accident. The subtlety will not last long, but it does make healthy re-appearances.
Niels Arden Oplev's "Dead Man Down" is the English-language debut (third this year overall following two Korean efforts) of the Swedish filmmaker famous for the original "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" film. He even brought along his star Noomi Rapace for the ride. It is a joy to see a modern filmmaker who cares for and loves his characters as much as the audience expects themselves to, that we are invested in them strongly and want to see them succeed. He crafts the film with love, as the cinematography gracefully dances around the characters, as if it was a complex ballet intrigue and hidden motives. Do we really want to right that wrong? Will it be worth it in the end? For us and for our loved ones?
The movie is, first and foremost, a revenge thriller. But surprisingly, it is also a compelling love story. From the moment the film opens we are thrust into the urban jungle of New York City (accentuated with a moody and atmospheric score by Jacob Groth, composer of the original "Millennium" trilogy), but with a poignant yet meaningful statement by Vic's friend Darcy (Cooper). Writer J.H. Wyman uses strands of earlier revenge films, twisty film-noirs and the classic melodramatic romance of earlier Hollywood films and incorporated them into his screenplay. Oplev transforms the screenplay, with such passionate energy and inventiveness, that the whole film somehow resembles a classic romantic European fable - sort of like this big tough warrior who falls in love with a wounded soul in a far-away and dangerous land, and both become kindred spirits. It is engrossing and captivating to watch the characters actually become real human beings, instead of being caricatures. This is a film where the characters' decisions affects what happens next.
The film would not succeed had it not been for the two leads, Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace, followed by a strong and diverse supporting cast. Farrell is strong as Vic, big, tough but withdrawn and solemn, slowly hiding away his anguish and rage towards his real enemy. Rapace, an actress whom I'm starting to grow fond of, is quite wonderful as Beatrice, who is traumatized but is still capable of captivating the lonely Vic. She walks and talks with unease, but there are times where she switches gears and becomes intensely aggressive in her true goal, where it will reveal is eating her up slowly but surely. The strong chemistry between the duo make the movie much, much better than it was intended.
The rest of the cast consists of Terrence Howard as a deliciously ruthless and intimidating as the villain Alphonse (watch the scene where he confronts Vic in a dark apartment room, with backlighting in Paul Cameron's cinematography brilliantly capturing the essence of noir), Dominic Cooper giving Darcy a human and realistic portrayal of a stock crime film character, and brief but warmly welcome appearances of F. Murray Abraham and Isabelle Huppert.
This is a movie which has something for both guys and gals. Guys will go for the gritty story and the obligatory "Colin Farrell kicks ass" scenes, especially the violent climax. Women would go just to see Farrell the romantic, and the compelling chemistry between the two leads are enough to make them swoon over. But the film is so well made, the characters and story strongly developed and very compelling enough to hold my attention for two hours, that really, you couldn't ask for a more well rounded revenge thriller of late. This is a movie which actually is a real movie, instead of feeling like a movie or being a commercial/stunt/SFX reel. Kudos to especially Oplev, Farrell and Rapace for making a strong, real film about lovable characters.
No doubt the marketing for the film is way off (as an action thriller, as usual) and reveals quite too much. Doesn't matter. "Dead Man Down" is the finest and most meaningful revenge film in years.
Weeks ago we saw the release of two movies: the Arnold Schwarzenegger
actionier "The Last Stand" and the Steven Soderbergh-directed "Side
Effects", which were hugely entertaining by their own rights. The
former was the English-language debut of South Korean filmmaker Kim
Ji-Woon, and the latter was a faithful homage to Alfred Hitchcock and
his techniques for suspense.
Now comes Park Chan-Wook's "Stoker", the second South Korean director this year to make his English-language debut, and a delicious tribute to Hitchcock. Using Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt" as a blueprint, Park and writer Wentworth Miller (yes, that very one) weaves their way through many suspense pastiches, and yet, it is a stunningly effective watch.
Miller's characters are, from the moment we first see them, are not what they seem. Tensions are boiling under the surface. India (Mia Wasikowska) looks completely pale, stares into space chillingly, and is so withdrawn towards certain people after her father dies, that you wish she has a pet.. oh wait, no. Her mother (Nicole Kidman) wonders about her predicament as to why her daughter, close to her father but not her, is so distant away from her that she seeks affection for herself to ease her grief, subtly, desperately. Then into the mix comes India's long lost uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode) who charms his way into both women's hearts, and his smile and chilling eyes have quite some stories to tell.
The audience today is used to thriller pastiches. They think they know what's going to happen, and they play a guessing game with each other. Park and Miller knows that they think they know, and they turn the tables on the audience, forcing them to think and guess for themselves what exactly will the outcome be. We think we know the characters, but something else is missing. Just when you think you know the shortcut, a detour appears from nowhere. Like a spider weaving a web around its prey, Park and Miller go for the kill.
Wasikowska is good in a departure from her previous roles, as a silent, distant, mysteriously creepy, and yet sombre girl who drifts around looking aimlessly for people to trust, and looking cold while distrusting others. Nicole Kidman is also good as the grieving, desperate mother who looks like she is simmering to a boil. The show belongs to Matthew Goode. His charisma and deliciously creepy performance nails the role. As his "Uncle" Charlie character seduces his way around both mom and daughter, twists and dark plots began to unravel between the trio.
Miller's screenplay is good but not great. It is written well enough, has affection for his characters, and plays a good guessing game with the audience. The film's best aspect is the brilliant direction by Park Chan-Wook, famous for his "Vengeance" trilogy. Park complements the twists and deceit with strikingly beautiful, haunting camera-work and visuals. He even brought his usual cinematographer, Chung Chung-Hoon on this film, and it works wonders. Every frame is beautifully and lovingly crafted, from blood splatter onto white flowes, to flickering lights in the basement, to the meticulous editing by Nicolas De Toth that brings the film to an aesthetic, more sensual level. Complementing these is the music. Oh the music. Clint Mansell, always an interesting composer, again works his way with Miller's material and Park's style and blends the two together with his ominous, brooding and atmospheric score. Credit should also go to the great Philip Glass for composing that beautiful piano solo. Vintage Park Chan-Wook, turning moments of horror and violence into images of stark beauty. On a technical level, the film is brilliant, and gives the film much credit then it initially has.
This is a film that makes you guess what's gonna happen. However, it gives you more than the satisfaction by actually making you think harder. It isn't mind-blowing, but it is supreme, intelligent entertainment, to make your brain do some work. All due praise to Park Chan-Wook for a stunning Hollywood debut and a promise for better things to come.
Stuntmen-turned-filmmakers can only go so far. Just ask Mic Rodgers,
who made the dreadful "Universal Soldier: The Return". The late David
R. Ellis at least had the gripping "Cellular" and the wild "Snakes on a
Plane" to his name, but they certainly relied on gimmick more than
actual plot itself.
Now comes Ric Roman Waugh's "Snitch", mismarketed as a Dwayne Johnson action thriller towards the masses. It is not. It's actually a compelling crime drama about a father who risks it all to save his son. There's hardly any action sequences in the movie save for the final 10 minutes of the movie, of which I'm sure the trailers made full use of to bring in the unsuspecting audience.
After the disappointing "A Good Day to Die Hard", here was a refreshing film to watch. It had a proper plot, it had proper characters, and it had a proper flow. It was clear Waugh and co-writer Justin Haythe clearly show care and concern for their characters, and instead of turning the hero into a wise-cracking superhuman, they turn him into an everyday guy the average Joe can relate to and root for.
Which brings to the question whether Dwayne Johnson, an action hero for the new generation, can pull it off as a normal, vulnerable and believable human being. He does. Granted, it's not great acting, but he is more than competent enough, and that is just about what this movie needs. It's startling to see, the previews before the movie showing two of Johnson's upcoming films "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" and "Fast and Furious 6" showing him as a bad-assed tough guy, where here he subtly shows worry, desperation, and thus gets beaten up by punks within 20 minutes of the movie. A gun is pointed at him and he flinches. He's only human like the rest of us. Scenes where Johnson's character John Matthews is talking to his son is prison is startlingly absorbing and effective, as both father and son exchange their regrets and worries painfully. The film is bolstered by a fine supporting cast that includes Barry Pepper, Susan Sarandon, and Melina Kanakaredes, but a substantial amount of screen time is given to Jon Bernthal's character who seems to parallel John's son, and he does a more than commendable effort in his performance and character arc.
This isn't a perfect film. The main father-protecting-son story has been told before in different movies. The shaky cinematography can be rather distracting at times. But for all it's minor flaws, it's amazingly well rounded, and thus it becomes a real movie. There's not too much, too little character, plot, and drama. The plot is realistic and believable enough, and it will definitely get you thinking about the laws imposed on drug possession. It's just about right, like a well-rounded machine. Waugh certainly knew what he was doing here. The gritty cinematography and the beautifully moody music by Antonio Pinto hits the right notes and makes the film much more grounded in reality.
The film is rated PG-13. I think this is a good thing, seeing that teens who walk into this movie can actually learn and think about something for once. I didn't even realize that this was a PG-13 movie from start to finish.
This is also Ric Roman Waugh's third film, following "In the Shadows" (2001), and "Felon" (2008), another prison drama. Here is a director with potential to create more well-rounded films and make a name for himself as a solid director who directs entertaining yet thoughtful films. As for Dwayne Johnson, things are looking up for him, and it's great to see him do something completely different from his forte for a change.
I am heartbroken.
It's a sad day to say this, but it has to be said: "A Good Day to Die Hard" is a dud. The fifth instalment in the beloved "Die Hard" saga ends up as the worst of the series so far; it falters thanks to a weak characterization, even weaker screen writing, lack of worthy villains, absurd action sequences and incoherent direction. You can bet this movie will be mentioned in the same sentence with "Rocky V", "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace", "Speed 2: Cruise Control", "Die Another Day" and "Batman & Robin". Not even the R-rating and the return of the famous "Yippie ki yay" line in full can save this one.
As much as I love action movies, I like mine with a side of plot and character, of which this film fails at. John McClane, one of my favorite film characters of all time, is given a horrendous treatment no beloved character should ever be given: relegated to a sidekick. This is HIS movie, not his son's! From the start he is inexplicably thrust into Russia with no back story of how the previous films over the years have shaped his character now - a key trait that was visible in the previous four films. He is reduced to a wise-cracking action supercop, and even his wisecracks are weak. However, Bruce Willis, bless him, is still McClane without a doubt, as he dishes out the bad guys with weathered-out cynicism in his eyes. He still has it in him, and in no way it is his fault that this movie turned out to be near-crap.
Rather, writer Skip Woods and director John Moore are to blame. Woods clearly missed the whole point of McClane's essence and likability - he is a vulnerable human - an everyday Joe who only stops the bad guys when "there's no one else that can do it". He is a reluctant hero in the first four films, he can get seriously wounded, as he is up against worthy adversaries that are cool, calculative and almost one step ahead of him. Here, McClane, in the opening car chase, and immediately causes mass vehicular damage just to stop thugs from attacking his son, shows no signs of vulnerability (after TWO major car crashes), and has no qualms about killing the bad guys wherever they pop up here. His son Jack (Jai Courtney), filling in for McClane's sidekick, has certain charisma and shows a few glimpses of character development in McClane but it is cut short by the merciless and absurd action sequences.
A good action movie has to have a good villain. "Die Hard 5" has none. It has three primary villains, all of them forgettable. Nothing with the likes of even Thomas Gabriel or Colonel Stuart (the Gruber Brothers must be smirking right now in hell). They're not intelligent, not menacing, not memorable. They're just dumb, die, and that's it. What was their evil plot? What dastardly deeds do they have? Weapons dealing. Oh the humanity!
The film runs at 97 minutes - the shortest in the series. Why the film was released at this length I don't want to know. Nobody complained about the 2 hour running time for each of the previous four movies. Imagine what a better movie this could've been with those cut scenes added back in.
John Moore directs with the subtlety of a car crash. He smash cuts every scene, puts heavy use of slow motion in the excruciatingly absurd climax, and relies heavily on CGI for most of the action sequences. But like all Die Hard movies, there has to be at least one sensational action sequence, and that is at the film's beginning. The only thing I really enjoyed (in a guilty pleasure sort of way) about the whole movie was a massive, destructive stunt-filled car chase throughout the streets of Moscow. It was an intense and exciting scene. Pity the rest of the movie can't hold up to this sensational chase scene alone, especially the end which essentially turns McClane into The Terminator. If you think the F-35 scene in "Die Hard 4" was absurd, hoo boy, wait until you get a load of this one.
At the very least, there's some competent cinematography from Jonathan Sela and a good, riveting music score from Marco Beltrami, who really knows his stuff when it comes to action, as well as incorporating Michael Kamen's themes into this one. If anything, the music is better than the movie.
There is a 6th (and according to Bruce, final) movie in the works. Here's a no brainer - bring back John McTiernan or Renny Harlin (hell, even Len Wiseman for all I care), and hire a good screenwriter who really delivers the old school action goods. I strongly believe Bruce and McClane can deliver the goods still and ride off into the sunset, instead of falling off his horse here. They just need a better story, better direction, and a more than worthy villain with a respected British actor in the role. The franchise doesn't deserve to die with this. It's too good for that.
Shame on you, John Moore and Skip Woods.
Steven Soderbergh's "Side Effects" begins with the camera zooming in
from the streets to an apartment window, and ends in the reverse manner
(no, I'm not spoiling anything). In a subtle way, Soderbergh's final
shot represents his "full circle". Will he really retire from
filmmaking for good? If so, then we will miss him. He is a truly
exceptional filmmaker - and "Side Effects" would be a worthy film to go
Indeed, "Side Effects" is a pure thriller, as it was marketed. While prescription medicine is the central plot device, the film also deals with psychology, law, insecurity, social stigma, corporate greed and obsession. Not explicitly for all of them, mind you, but subtly enough to get the point through, and not dawdling on it a second further. The taut, gripping, Hitchcockian screenplay by Scott Z. Burns gleefully twists and turns its way into unexpected plot developments, allowing Soderbergh to roam the apartments and streets with his camera, creating an intense yet unusually hypnotic atmosphere that is irresistibly gorgeous to watch.
Jude Law, looking more haggard here, is suitably desperate and obsessive as the "good?" doctor who seeks the truth pervasively after a horrific act committed by his patient, Emily (Rooney Mara). Clues lead him to Emily's previous doctor, Dr. Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), which reveal that things are not what they seem. Zeta-Jones is juicily and devilishly icy-cold in her portrayal of Siebert, reminding me of those wicked female villains of the 90's thrillers. Staying in the background while having an influence throughout the second half of the movie is Rooney Mara, once again giving a strong performance as the conflicted Emily. Extremely vulnerable, soft-spoken, and unpredictable, she continues to steadily rise as one of the best young actresses working today. Channing Tatum too, as her husband Martin, an ex-convict fresh out of prison for insider trading, portrays his character outside of the stereotype, and turns him into a somewhat sympathetic and unfortunate character.
Soderbergh's complete control of atmosphere would not be complete without his usual great cinematography, crisp editing and unnerving music score by Thomas Newman, who conjures up some interesting musical themes at the proper times to rattle the characters even further. This is extremely skillful filmmaking, and although the plot has been seen and done before, it is exhilarating to see how a master filmmaker commands his given material so strongly and fleshing it out with his signature style.
This is a very good film. It's one of those movies that, when you start watching, you want to keep watching to see what happens next. Hitchcock himself would have smiled at this one. As for Soderbergh, he still has that Liberace biopic due for a TV release later this year, so he's not done with it yet. But well, I sure hope he returns someday if he decides to do so.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One thing about Fisher Stevens' "Stand Up Guys" is that how lonely, not
only the primary characters are, but also how the locations are. Take
for example, a simple scene where Val (Pacino) and Doc (Walken) walk
down the barren street in the middle of the night, as if both represent
a bygone era.
Not long after Val is released from prison, one of his two only friends, Doc, greets him at the prison gates. Doc actually is hired by an old employer to kill Val out of revenge, but Doc cannot bring himself to, even long after Val discover the plot. Surprisingly Val is content with it, but Doc isn't; this tension tests and strengthens their friendship further as the deadline becomes closer.
What ensues is a fun romp through the city, along with the last of the trio, Hirsch (Alan Arkin), involving brothels, car chases, bars, beating up punks and breaking into stores, "just like the good ol' days", Hirsch says. "But it's better now, since we can appreciate it," retorts Val. It might all seem silly and out of place, but it fits the characters, and it supports the notion that they want to go out with style, instead of dying broken and alone in some old folks' home. Just like the good ol' days, one last time.
Al Pacino is a magnificent actor, amongst the greatest ever. He isn't called a legend without reason. In this film, performing at his best in a long time, he embodies Val's solitude and longing for companionship perfectly. Here, in one scene after crudely remarking a young woman in a bar, since it's his first night out of prison, his body language and tone changes in his apology, his eyes become more focused. His gravel voice speaks in a somber tone, of the years that have passed, of missed opportunities, of lost friends and loved ones. "I just, wanna dance", he says, longing for the passion of a woman's beauty. The seemingly perverted old man has disappeared completely into this haunted soul of a human being.
Complementing Pacino's performance is Christopher Walken as Doc, also gifted, also great here. Doc paints for a living, and he is subtly in joy to be hanging out with his best pal before the deadline ends - and he is personally conflicted, not just with killing Val, but with his own personal demons. In a diner, Val and Doc discuss their predicament, Val sees right through him, Doc coolly tries to deny it, although there's no denying his facial and vocal expressions which say otherwise. A later scene in the movie briefly showcases Walken's underrated talent in playing vulnerable, broken characters.
Alan Arkin rounds up the Wild Bunch, his presence smoothens the tension between Val and Doc in a light-hearted, humorous way. He is more than eager to leave the nursing home once Val and Doc arrive, and he shows he 's still got it after eluding the police in wild car chase. Hirsch looks at life in a "whatever happens" manner, and Arkin hilariously does very good with his underscored performance of an adrenaline junkie who longs for a rush.
This is a good film, but it's not a great film. Fisher Stevens directs the film with ease, allowing the actors to have a blast and come out guns blazing while they dance around Noah Haidle's sorta-typical screenplay. I doubt that the film would be better if they were to cast younger and more dashing actors in the role - it just wouldn't work. Steven's handling of the progression between the serious and the silly (A "They Live" reference? Really?) doesn't quite gel together, and the ending, it would seem, is too gung-ho for a movie which builds up dramatic tension. Nevertheless, I would suspect that that's how Val and Doc would love to end it all - with a bang. Bon Jovi's solemn song "Not Running Anymore" perfectly sums up the movie's atmosphere.
Good, solid dramedy with a crime setting. This movie is not for everyone though. For a few generations, Pacino and Walken are iconic for being tough, gangster-like criminals who doesn't take crap from anyone. See this if you want to see them reveal their true depths as actors and show bits of how good they can really be.
Action film icon Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to the big screen, in
top billing, after a political run which lasted a decade. He isn't a
good actor, but like fine wine he is improving, and "The Last Stand" is
a good indicator that he still has some juice left in him.
Aside from the juvenile and humorless/lifeless supporting cast, and formulaic script which really brings down the film a lot, the film's strength lies in two main things. First, is Arnold's undeniable screen presence, on which he carries the movie on his shoulders and doesn't look back. When he's on screen, good or not, we keep watching, though his acting has visibly improved compared to his past entries. For a big man, he certainly has a commanding aura on screen, and it's still the same with this case. In this film he doesn't pretend that he is aging and vulnerable, but what the hell. He can still shoot 'em up and fight pretty well for a near 66-year old.
The other major thing is the direction from South Korean helmer Kim Ji- Woon. This is Kim's Hollywood debut, having directed the creepy horror drama "A Tale of Two Sisters", the fun 'Kimchi' Western "The Good, the Bad, the Weird", and the brutal crime thriller "I Saw The Devil" back in his home country. Kim knows he is working with formula here and he ups the ante with comic graphic violence and fast paced direction, not unlike GBW. While his attempt at English-speaking humor falls flat, he can do better next time around.
Kim has even brought his collaborators, the cinematographer from "A Bittersweet Life", and Mowg, the composer of "I Saw the Devil", to help him out. Mowg's music score stands out unusually as a quality piece of action movie music, with proper emotional and action cues at the right places.
I've giving this film a lot of credit here. Had it not been for Arnold's or Kim's involvement, this would've been an average action thriller. However the stunts are not bad, well choreographed and not a tinge of CGI in sight, and the action comically violent at parts. It's good to see Arnold back on the big screen in action, but both he and Kim need to do better than this cookie-cutter work.
For Arnold though, he already looks to progress onward with bigger and better films, and with his acting improving with age, and impressive future work lined up (a crime thriller by David Ayer), it's a good sign he's going the Clint Eastwood route.
This was a fun movie and I'm giving it credit for not pretending to be what it's not.
Welcome back, Arnold.
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