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DRUG WAR cooks up something new

28 Dec


America is no stranger to films about crystal meth and the dark characters that are associated with the narcotic, however, in mainland China director Johnnie To breaks new ground by cooking up an interesting gangster film that has a snitch willing to say or do anything to save his life with an undercover cop determined to bring a group of gangsters to justice by any means necessary. Police captain Zhang  (Sun Honglei) takes information from Timmy Choi (Louis Koo) and runs with it by impersonating different gangsters while at the same time pumping Choi for more and more information, until it leads him to the major players behind the drug trade. Choi’s integrity and loyalty are being tested while Zhang  battles with his ego and obsession. Both actors give strong performances that lead audiences along to an amazing climax featuring ultra violence from every possible direction. I liked the film, but buying into the cops’ sting was difficult for me.


Chuck’s Grade: B

Adam’s Grade: N/A

The Last Stand ends at an impasse

14 Jun


What does Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, and Eduardo Noriega have in common? Absolutely nothing and it can be seen in Kim Ji-woon’s action film, The Last Stand. Schwarzenegger creaks his way through the film as a retired LA police officer working as sheriff in a one street town is an injustice to his legacy because it is obvious his action days are over. He simply stands there while everyone else moves around him frantically to give the appearance of motion. The film alternates scenes between Whitaker’s F.B.I. war room to the inside of Noriega’s super car to the deserted border town, but none of it comes together like it should. There are some ultra-violent moments that will satisfy the sickos, but really the film takes a predictable road that leads to an uncompromising impasse.


Chuck’s Grade: D

Adam’s Grade: N/A

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai honors its director

9 Jun


Writer/director Jim Jarmusch puts together his most mainstream film to date when he explores the idea of a man living by a code.  Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is a film about an African-American hit man named Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) contracted by the mafia to assassinate special targets that cannot be traced back to the mobsters. He lives by a code modeled after Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai, a strict lifestyle that promoted an honorable, but humble life dedicated to carrying out his chosen master’s orders. Jarmusch inserts passages from the book throughout the movie that helps frame the story and its ideas. Whitaker embodies this role and convinces audiences of this character’s unusual choices. He makes it difficult to see anyone else playing this part, which demonstrates the singular commitment of the code. Whitaker is a modern day samurai/actor that really serves his director with great honor.


Chuck’s Grade: B+

Adam’s Grade: N/A

Kill Me Again and again and again

23 May


I first saw Kill Me Again on VHS in the early nineties and thought it was an entertaining thriller with a modern film noir twist. Unfortunately, the movie was not called Live on Forever because it was found in the $1.99 DVD pile with other forgotten titles from 1980s featuring notable actors. Watching it again twenty-three years later gives me an opportunity to re-evaluate the film from a different perspective. I still think the story is good, but its execution is clunky at best. Val Kilmer’s acting is above par and his then wife Joanne Whalley-Kilmer is a serviceable femme fatale, but Michael Madsen’s limited range has become comical over the years to the point I cringe every time he takes a moment to wince his eyes and speak. Besides Madsen’s one note performance and Kilmer’s button down shirt tucked into his jeans the film still has some value. It’s worth at least $1.99.


Chuck’s Grade Twenty-Three Years Ago: B

Chuck’s Grade in 2013: C

Adam’s Grade Twenty-Three Years Ago: NBY (Not Born Yet)

Adam’s Grade in 2013: D

Interview with a Hitman is interrupted

13 May


I used to love the stone cold killer movies where a macho lead actor would shoot his way through the film, but many of these films would try to soften the lead character when it came to affairs of the heart. Interview with a Hitman is no different. Everything is going great, until he meets the girl, but like the film we must start at the beginning. Viktor is a young boy that gains employment as a Romanian hitman after the mob kills his father. Unlike other films, Viktor is perfectly fine with his father’s death because he lacks emotion and compassion of any kind, which makes him the most respected and feared killer eastern Europe. The adult version of Viktor (Luke Goss) is perfect for the part. His high cheek bones and cold eyes intimidate the camera. My problem lies with the execution of the interview and his relationship with Bethesda (Caroline Tillette). Both feel like an interruption.


Chuck’s Grade: B

Adam’s Grade: N/A

Inside Man knows the right combination

29 Apr


What happens when director Spike Lee and producer Brian Grazer collaborate on a film? Actually, an entertaining bank heist film with a talented cast of veteran actors with pockets of Spike Lee’s signature style and commentary. Dalton Russel (Clive Owen) plans the perfect bank heist, but detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) is much smarter than he expected. Lee successfully negotiates all of the moving parts of the film in a way that makes audiences want to figure out who the inside man is in the robbery.  Everyone is a suspect and that is the beauty of the film, but there are times that the film takes unnecessary detours for a moment and the exit interviews with hostages do not do enough to satisfy an audience’s curiosity. Spike Lee’s Inside Man knows the right combination to making something more than a simple action film.


Chuck’s Grade: B+

Adam’s Grade: B

Belly lives up to Hype’s vision

20 Mar


Belly is one of the worst titles of all time for a contemporary urban gangster film featuring some of the music industries most popular talent from the 1990s.  Established music-video director Hype Williams makes his feature film debut with a challenging script about a pair of life-long friends attempting to break into the heroin drug trade.  Rappers DMX (Tommy)  and NAS (Sincere) make a deal with a ruthless shotta named Ox ( Louie Rankin). Tommy and Sincere are complete opposites. Their ying and yang relationship concerning right from wrong comes to a head when the police break up their operations and force Tommy to go on the run and for Sincere to follow his heart. Williams does not make an irresponsible film that simply glorifies this violent lifestyle. He provides options for his characters who essentially are attempting to find their meaning and purpose in life. Although,  their choices are extreme, the message is loud and clear.


Chuck’s Grade: B-

Adam’s Grade: N/A

Gangster Squad shoots itself in the foot.

20 Jan


The Gangster Squad was called in to clean up the streets of Los Angeles during the late 1940s, but what was really needed was a detective that could find out why such a talented cast of actors could not do this film justice. Sean Penn stars at the ruthless LA crime lord Mickey Cohen, but his make-up and his demonstrative demeanor reminded me of a character in a dime novel. I will admit at times he was entertaining when he was trying to kill someone, but my tolerance for gratuitous violence these days is waning thin. The good guys aka the Gangster Squad is a one-dimensional unit of crime fighters that do not add anything special to Sgt. John O’Mara’s (Josh Brolin) assignment. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone were the biggest disappointments. Their relationship was not developed and seemed only there to conveniently show up when the script began to unravel. Gangster Squad shoots itself in the foot.


Chuck’s Grade: C

Adam’s Grade: N/A

Freelancers work familiar roles

6 Jan


Curtis Jackson aka 50 Cent is quickly becoming the undisputed star of straight to REDBOX/NETFLIX films these days. Freelancers is another gangster film made for a modest budget with some big name actors, such as Robert De Niro (Captain Sarcone) and Forest Whitaker (Detective Lurue) to give the film some respectability and credibility. These two Academy Award winners are a pair of dirty cops that run an intricate underground crime organization right beneath the noses of the NYPD. Jackson (Malo) is a new member of the force and is asked by De Niro to join his “special” unit because Malo’s father used to be Sarcone’s partner. There are many familiar gangster motifs found in the film that keep it moving forward, but at the same time the unoriginal scenarios produce a predictable script. Jackson’s acting is noticeably getting better with each film, but he is still far from being a capable anti-hero character that wears the street on his sleeve.


Chuck’s Grade: C+

Adam’s Grade: N/A

Reservoir Dogs understands less is more

22 Dec


Quentin Tarantino’s debut film, Reservoir Dogs is one of those rare films that redefines the way audiences understand cinema. His independent film featuring an all star cast of fresh and seasoned actors opened the door to a film style that would feature unapologetic dialogue, skillful non-linear storytelling, charismatic characters, and unforgettable on-screen violence.

The film opens with a group of men talking about Madonna’s song, “Like a Virgin,” and then abruptly transitions to Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) screaming for his life in the back seat of a getaway car speeding to the hideout.  Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) believes the job was a set up and everyone becomes a suspect, but the audience knows who the “rat” is for the majority of the film, which is a genius stroke by Tarantino. Everything from the set and music to Steven Wright’s voice is perfect.

The film is simple, but the execution separates it from other low-budget movies. Tarantino understands less is more.


Adam’s Grade: A

Chuck’s Grade A+