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The Iceman (2012)

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Lined with a star-studded ensemble who illuminate this dark, grim, and violent crime-thriller. Ariel Vromen’s Scorsese-esque “The Iceman” is a taut, riveting biopic showcasing the two lives of hitman Richard Kuklinski as they begin to converge on one another. Although Vromen may not be able to create as well-written and intricate of a mafioso world to accompany the superlatively constructed and performed characters. “The Iceman” offers enough cold-bloodedness, criminality, and heart to stay a notch above in a crowded genre which earns it staying power that should burn for the foreseeable future. While things might get a little clustered at times and eventually descend into utter chaos. “The Iceman” remains quite the emotional, gritty wallop and is rooted by Vromen’s uncompromising vision and sublime performances. Which makes it one of the more memorable crime-sagas in recent memory.

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During the 1960s, Richard Kuklinski (Shannon) is working as a porn technician. When his boss informs him that they will be closing the lab, Kuklinski is persuaded to change careers and become a contract killer. For a number of years, Richard gains a reputation as a cold-blooded professional, even though he raises and provides for his family, who remain kept in the dark as to what his actual profession is. When a hit goes wrong, Kuklinski is forced to lay-low, much to his distaste. Soon, he partners up with a fellow assassin as his two worlds begin to merge.

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There’s no question that “The Iceman” is lifted to greater heights by the casts ability to invest and perform astoundingly. That being said, the extremely intriguing true story at its core and fascinating premise of a family man turned  killer-for-hire are just too compelling to completely dismiss, even though neither is fully realized.

Based upon the novel entitled “The Iceman: The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer” by Anthony Bruno. This adaptation might pick and chose what events and characteristics to utilize. It even goes as far as to dilute some of the violence and more disturbing actions carried out by Kuklinski himself, not to mention the complete absence of his earlier life and experiences. Which, one could argue, works against the overall effectiveness of the film. Nonetheless, Vromen definitely makes the story his own and provides his viewers with the gist of Kuklinski’s devilish endeavours and family life. Well, at least enough to satisfy those seeking out the truth and those wanting to experience the family man turned mafia assassin premise. Regardless, Vromen’s interpretation works decently alongside the immaculate performances, despite being more of a summary. I’d recommend reading the novel and watching some documentaries about the man himself  if the subject truly interests you. If not, this adaption will surely suffice.

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As for Vromen behind the camera, aside from a few shaky instances, he handles the illustriousness of his high-profile cast and the immensity of the story fairly well. He even occasionally shows signs of brilliance and innovation. Undeniably, he does a phenomenal job not only capturing his performers, but assisting and magnifying their blaze and radiance. Starring the likes of Michael Shannon, Ray Liotta, Wynona Ryder, Chris Evans, James Franco, and David Schwimmer. Keeping this much talent in check and reserving enough screen time for each to be effective is truly a skill-set most directors wish they held and one Vromen should continue to deploy assertively. It’s what sends this film over the top in my honest opinion.

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Between “The Place Beyond the Pines,” “Killing Them Softly,” and “The Iceman,” it’s nice to know Ray Liotta’s still got it. And like his performances in these other two films, he is incredibly intimidating and ruthless throughout the film. David Schwimmer is terrific in a limited role and James Franco, also briefly used, holds the distinction of being in the most memorable scene of the film, in my opinion anyway. Chris Evans takes a break from playing America’s hero to tackle a much smaller role. Nonetheless, gives an even more integral, respectable performance and continues to be tragically under-appreciated. Yet, all in all, Michael Shannon and Wynona Ryder steal the show. Forming a bond that is believable and authentic, their chemistry is what drives the film. Ryder hasn’t been this good in a long while. Shannon is as malicious, stoic, and visceral as ever and once again proves why he is one of the best in the business.

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Remarkably performed, enthralling, and decidedly violent. “The Iceman” is a delicious crime-thriller that’s sure to win the acclaim of any cinephile, although it should’ve been handled with a bit more care.

The Iceman: 8.5 out of 10.

Top 10 Movie Antiheroes

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With the passing of each week, the more I enjoy concocting these top 10s, and this week’s entry is no different. As you may have guessed from the title or header image, this top 10 will feature, in my opinion, the best antiheroes in cinema history. As always, if you feel I’ve overlooked a contestant or listed one that shouldn’t have been considered, leave all comments and questions below. I’m always looking to improve the segment and love interacting with fellow film lovers.

Every now and then there comes along a protagonist who might go off the deep end. You know, beat someone half-to-death, take pleasure in humanities destruction, or have the occasional soul erased from the face of the earth. Now, however they chose to go about there business is irrelevant. We, as cinephiles love these colourful characters for their more shady characteristics and the nonchalant way they handle things that would send normal people into spiralling depression.

Let’s do it!

Honourable Mentions: 

Severus Snape (Harry Potter series, Alan Rickman), Oh-dae Su (Oldboy, Min-sik Choi), Marv (Sin City, Mickey Rourke), Lisbeth Salander (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Rooney Mara), Patrick Bateman (American Psycho, Christian Bale), Daniel Plainview (There Will Be Blood, Daniel Day Lews), Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee, I Saw the Devil).

10: Jules Winnfield (Pulp Fiction, Samuel L. Jackson)

Jules is someone who really radiates anti-heroism. Almost like a gun-slinger with a bible in one hand and a gun in the other.

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9: Charles Bronson (Bronson, Tom Hardy)

Talk about taking pleasure in abhorrent behaviour. All Bronson wanted was to fight for the sake of fighting and to become Britain’s most violent prisoner.

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8: The Driver (Drive, Ryan Gosling)

Torn between his only skill-set and doing right by his friends. The Driver may lull you in with his heartwarming nature, but make no mistake, he is ruthless and unforgiving.

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7: Tyler Durden (Fight Club, Brad Pitt)

Driven by a desire to disrupt the world and destroy his opinion of oppression. Tyler may be trying to help out his bud, but he accomplishes it in true antihero fashion.

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6: Alex (A Clockwork Orange, Malcolm McDowell)

Alex simply wants to see others suffer, whether it be through violence, mental degradation, or dominance.

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5: Leon (Leon: The Professional, Jean Reno)

An assassin with a heart of gold.

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4: Tony Montana (Scarface, Al Pacino)

Willing to do whatever is necessary to become his own interpretation of king. Tony Montana is as cold-blooded as they come.

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3: Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver, Robert De Niro)

One can’t help but feel for Travis, attempting to free the unfortunate girl sucked into prostitution. However, his sociopathic mentality, obsessions with firearms, and desire to murder is too repulsive to overlook.

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2: Henry Hill (Goodfellas, Ray Liotta)

From the beginning, we are led to believe that Hill and his fellow thugs are normal, everyday hard-working guys. However, the truth is much more sinister and ferocious.

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1: Michael Corleone (The Godfather, Al Pacino)

Although we’ve been given a veritable gaze into the Corleone family and begin to care for them. There is no denying that this mafia family will do whatever it takes to remain atop, especially Michael.

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Okay all, that’ll do it for this week’s edition of the top 10, hope you all enjoyed it. Have a great weekend!

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)

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Deceptively intricate and performed infallibly. Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines is morally sound and inevitably cyclic. Encompassing a complex set of circumstances marred by incalculable chaos. The Place Beyond the Pines is irrefutable evidence that history is inescapable. Now, whether or not we chose to look upon this unavoidable repetition as beneficial, dooming, or simply as fate itself, is entirely subjected to the nature and nurture  of our upbringing to the very present moment we have watched this film. Cianfrance has laid out multiple paths that we are allowed to tread along. The decision however, lies within our beliefs, karmic standpoint, and stance on true freedom. Featuring an all star cast that includes, Ryan Gosling, Ben Mendelsohn, Bruce Greenwood, Bradley Cooper, Rose Bryne, Ray Liotta, Dane DeHaan, and Eva Mendes. Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines is a highly philosophical, towering achievement in understanding the makings of a generation fuelled by loss, regret, and deprivation.

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Luke (Gosling) is a talented and mischievous motorcycle stuntman who travels with a carnival, currently stopped in Schenectady, New York. Luke is trying to reconnect with his past lover named Romina (Mendes). Romina secretly gave birth to Luke’s son and neglected to tell him as he was travelling with the carnival for the past year. In order to provide for his new baby and Romina, Luke quits the carnival and commits a series of bank robberies with his friend Robin (Mendelsohn). As Luke continues to raise the stakes, the more heat he is under. After a robbery, Luke is confronted with a chase to escape the clutches of a persistent police officer named Avery Cross (Cooper). Avery is confronted with his own tribulations as he soon realizes his police force is ripe with corruption and his marriage to Jennifer (Byrne) is faltering. Fifteen years down the road, Luke and Avery’s paths continue to cross.

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It is excessively challenging to navigate a film with several, individual story lines. When stitching together a film as complex as Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines, you run the risk of overbearing the audience. The multiple motivations, principles, and circumstantial elements the viewer needs to consider while deciphering impressions could very well prove too disproportionate. However, with The Place Beyond the Pines, this is not the case. Cianfrance’s ability to extract only what is essential from his cast and divide the disarray into manageable portions is a harrowing achievement. For a film that is packed with calamity and discord, there is never a feeling of disorganization. You’ll never have the urge to scramble. You’ll create a complete, unhampered opinion of the characters.

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A rather unexpected fault I originally found with this film is the indifference I felt towards Bradley Cooper’s character. Then, after some time had passed, I came to the conclusion that it was and is the way I am supposed to feel towards him. It was alarming at first because of the compassion and sympathy I was able to emit for Ryan Gosling’s character. When looked at comparatively, Gosling and Cooper play relatively the same role, the only difference is they’re at opposite ends of the moral chain. Both have made grave errors in their time, do whatever is necessary to keep themselves alive, and relentlessly provide for their families. Now, some will undoubtedly share similar opinions to my own and some will relate to Cooper more earnestly then Gosling. The point is that their isn’t an issue with who’ve you found favour in.

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In a similar fashion, the viewer will be polarized by Gosling’s son and Cooper’s. I generally felt a deep hatred for Cooper’s son for not respecting the opportunities and benefits he has in front of him. Conversely, Gosling’s son was very loyal and charged with an ambitious, thirsty energy. So I full heartedly despised Cooper’s son for his idiotic behaviour and not relishing what he has available to him. I’m supposed to be summarizing the casts performances, gotten a bit sidetracked. I suppose I am reviewing subconsciously and that this personal dissection is probably the best way to influence your opinion regarding this film.

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In comparison to Gosling, Cooper did not measure up. For his segment, Cooper had arguably been set up for disappointment. Following up a masterful performance is never easy. However, having one of your top actors be slightly over performed by another is a great problem to have. Ben Mendelsohn has slowly creeped his way to becoming one of my favourite actors currently active. His performances in The Dark Knight Rises, Killing Them Softly, and now The Place Beyond the Pines are staggering. It seems with each outing he becomes more confident and orbited. Another actor who has had a terrific rise is Dane DeHaan. After contributing to the misunderstood Lawless and surprising Chronicle, DeHaan certainly left his mark in The Place Beyond the Pines. Rose Byrne continues to prove why she is one of the hottest actresses in cinema today. A heartbreaking performance alongside a disgruntled Cooper is no easy feat. In their limited time, Bruce Greenwood and Ray Liotta wielded their experience in spectacular fashion. It’s remarkable how Liotta can just stare at you and its almost enough to make you wet yourself in fear. In a film littered with outstanding performances, Eva Mendes is passable. Now, it isn’t as recognizable because the viewer is focused in on everything thats going on. But, this was a supreme opportunity for her to prove herself alongside these acting heavyweights and she didn’t fully grasp the chance.

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Besides an impeccable effort in controlling the vast and multifaceted stories in The Place Beyond the Pines. Cianfrance infuses an enthralling atmosphere to a suggestive and emotionally dark film. With an invested and talented cast, an unprecedented script, and a director brave enough to undertake it. The Place Beyond the Pines is a rare blend of bravery, sacrifice, and judgement.

The Place Beyond the Pines: 9 out of 10.

Killing Them Softly (2012)

Just a quick review, I am off to see Jurassic Park in IMAX 3D soon so I don’t have a lot of time. Enjoy!

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All this time has passed since its release and I am still not dead set on how I feel about Killing Them Softly. It is definitely one of the more questionable releases of 2012 as it never did fully live up to expectations. Boasting a strong cast, clever, politically driven material, and a respected director. Killing Them Softly was hotly anticipated but through this, was arguably set up for failure. However, it isn’t the complete disaster most have made it out to be.  The glaring inconsistency with Killing The Softly is it cannot balance as it sits on the fence. There isn’t any issue with a film digging depth under its superficial exterior. But the accuracy and ferociousness of its violence, abuse, both mentally and physically overshadows its economic message to the point of abandonment. Killing Them Softly is a taste of blunt force, dark comedy, and political satire, but doesn’t lean on their cohesiveness. Instead, it lets each trait trail into independent dependency.

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The criminal economy crashes when three masked man steal the cash from unsanctioned card games in the local area. The men work for Trattman (Liotta), who also runs the games. When time passes, Trattman reveals that he was the one who robbed his own event. When the games are raided again by Frankie (McNairy) and Russell (Mendelsohn), the assumption is that Trattman has repeated his actions. Jackie (Pitt) is called in by the mafia and is informed by Driver (Jenkins), who works for the organization of the situation. Knowing he needs to regain the confidence of the local crime organizations and find the culprits of the second robbery, Jackie sets out to restore balance.

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I can’t deny that Killing Them Softly’s intriguing premise, bleak hilarity, and unrelenting brutality isn’t enough to save it from tumbling into a mediocrity inferno, because it is. The dark, sometimes raunchy laughs and detail in the onslaught are the most consistent aspects of the entire film. While the political influence is present throughout, its relevance and effect are limited. Top performers are Ben Mendelsohn, Scoot McNairy, and obviously Brad Pitt. McNairy and Mendelsohn are a hilarious duo who, despite the similarities, are quite the contrast. Pitt once again makes everything appear effortless. Andrew Dominik does an interesting job behind the camera. At times it feels as if he is completely lost, but redeems himself with slowed, atmospheric shots and unique angles. Killing Them Softly might not be the crime drama everyone envisioned. But its economic stance, fierceness, and satirical comedy put it a notch above most thrillers.

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Killing Them Softly: 7.5 out of 10.