“ANT-MAN” (2015) Review

 

“ANT-MAN” (2015) Review

When Marvel Studios first announced that its new movie about the comic book hero, Ant-Man would be the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) second stage, I found myself scratching my head. Why would a solo effort like “ANT-MAN served as the end of Stage Two? Why not the epic “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON”, which had been released two-and-a-half weeks earlier?

Needless to say, I had no idea what was going through the mind of MCU show runner, Kevin Fiege. So, I sat back and watched how he and the filmmakers for “ANT-MAN” would handle this. And I must say . . . I found myself more than pleasantly surprised. This surprise, along with the actual movie also taught me another lesson about making assumptions. One day, this lesson will remain with me and I will stop making assumptions for good. Hopefully.

As for “ANT-MAN”, the movie created a small controversy when the Marvel and Disney Studio bosses decided to fire British filmmaker Edgar Wright and replace him with Peyton Reed as director. They also dismissed the screenplay that Wright co-wrote with collaborator Joe Cornish and allowed the film’s star Paul Rudd and Adam McKay to re-write the script. A good number of critics and moviegoers believe this move may have harmed “ANT-MAN”. Others are contemplating on how the movie would have turned out if Wright had remained the film’s director. After seeing “ANT-MAN” and recalling that 2007’s “HOT FUZZ” was the only Wright film I have ever truly liked, I realized in the end that I could not care less about how Wright and Cornish would have done the film. Yes, I enjoyed “ANT-MAN” that much.

The movie begins in 1989 when the recently widowed Dr. Hank Pym resigns from S.H.I.E.L.D., after discovering their attempt to replicate his Ant-Man shrinking technology. Believing the technology is dangerous, Dr. Pym refuses to release the technology to S.H.I.E.L.D. or anyone else. The story jumps twenty-six years later. Pym’s estranged daughter, Hope van Dyne, and former protégé, Darren Cross, have forced him out of his own company. Cross is close to perfecting a shrinking suit of his own, the Yellowjacket, which horrifies Pym. Fortunately, Hope realizes the danger that Cross’ new invention poses and decides to help her father destroy it.

At the same time, convicted burglar Scott Lang is finally released from moves in with his old cellmate, Luis and the latter’s two friends – Dave and Kurt. After making a surprise visit to his daughter Cassie’s birthday party, Scott is dismissed by his ex-wife Maggie and her police-detective fiancé, Paxton, for not providing child support. Unable to hold a job because of his criminal record, Scott agrees to a burglary job that Lang agrees to a burglary job that Luis has discovered – one that involves breaking into an expensive Victorian manor. Only the house belongs to Hank Pym and the only thing Scott was able to find inside Dr. Pym’s safe is the Ant-Man suit. Scott tries on the suit and accidentally shrinks himself. Terrified by his experience, he tries to return it to the Pym manor and is arrested by the police. However, Dr. Pym pays the jailed Scott a visit and helps the latter break out of jail, using the suit. Then he recruits Scott to help him and Hope pull a heist on Darren Cross’ new Yellowjacket suit before his former protégé can sell the technology to dangerous people.

Following the over-the-top action fest of “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON”, “ANT-MAN” proved to be something of a respite for me. Not only did the movie proved to be a respite, but also quite enjoyable. But before I go into why I enjoyed the film, I have to point out its shortcomings. The worst thing I can say about “ANT-MAN” is its pacing. There are a few moments in the film in which director Peyton Reed nearly rushed the film. This was especially apparent in the montages that conveyed Scott Lang’s training as Ant-Man at the hands of Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne. And I cannot help but wonder why Hope had snitched on Scott to the police . . . a day after he had broke into Dr. Pym’s home and taken the Ant-Man suit. Unless she was unaware of the actual date that Scott had planned to make the original heist. The movie also suffered from two abrupt endings. One ending featured Luis’ revelation that Sam Wilson aka the Falcon was searching for Scott. The other abrupt ending was scene in the movie’s second post-credit scene in which Sam revealed his discovery of the missing Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Soldier to Steve Rogers aka Captain America.

“ANT-MAN” had its usual set of flaws, but I cannot deny that I found it very entertaining. More importantly, I found it to be one of the more unconventional entries in the MCU. On one level, the movie is an origin tale about the comic book figure, Ant-Man. On another level, the movie began with the Ant-Man character already established. This is due to the fact that the movie’s main character, Scott Lang, is the second person to become Ant Man. The superhero’s first origin happened back in the 1970s or 1980s, when Hank Pym assumed the role and his wife, Janet van Dyne became the Wasp. There has never been a Marvel film before in which a second person assumed the role of a particular superhero or superheroine. If one really looked at the movie from a certain perspective, the role of Ant-Man revolved around three people – Scott Lang, Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne. “ANT-MAN” told how Scott became the superhero. In the case of Hank and Hope; the movie told how the “hero” affected the lives of both father and daughter. Hank’s role as Ant-Man had eventually led to the death of Janet van Dyne, which affected their relationship. And Scott becoming the new Ant-Man eventually not only led to their emotional reconciliation, but also helped him reconciled with his ex-wife and her fiancé, which allowed him to spend more time with his daughter. Even the villain, Darren Cross, seemed to have some kind of emotional tie to Hank. The latter had not only considered the former as a protégé, but also a son. Yet, Cross’ growing obsession with the Pym Particle and Hank’s refusal to tell him about it, led to resentment on Cross’ part and coldness on Hank’s. I have never come across a Marvel film with that scenario. Come to think of it, I have never come across a Marvel film in which family ties had such a strong impact . . . with the exception of 2003’s “THE HULK” and 2010’s “IRON MAN 2”.

As I had earlier pointed out, “ANT-MAN” is not the usual “superhero/heroine” origin tale, due to the lead character being the second person to assume the role of Ant-Man. The movie is also unusual, due to the fact that it is basically a heist film. Remember that following the death of his wife back in 1987, Hank had concluded that the Pym Particles, which powered the Ant-Man and Wasp suits, was too dangerous to be used . . . by anyone. This is why he had resigned from S.H.I.E.L.D. in the first place . . . to ensure that the government agency would not develop something similar. Unfortunately for Hank, Cross finally managed to create his own shrinking technology (called Yellowjacket). And this forced Hank to recruit Scott to become the new Ant-Man and steal Darren’s technology. Scott’s past as a professional thief and Master’s Degree in Engineering proved to be two of the main reasons why Hank recruited him in the first place. One last aspect of “ANT-MAN” that made it so unusual for me was the offbeat humor that surrounded the characters of Scott, Luis, Dave and Kurt; along with the film’s bizarre action sequence in the last twenty minutes.

The technical aspects for “ANT-MAN” seemed pretty solid. But there are two aspects of the film that I found very impressive. One aspect focused on the movie’s visual effects created the team led by Allison Gainza. Not only was I impressed by their work in scenes featuring Scott’s interactions with many insects, but also how they shrink and inflate both the Ant-Man and Yellow Jacket characters at will. This was especially apparent in scenes featuring Scott’s encounter with the Falcon at the Avengers facility and his fight against Cross in the film’s final action sequence. Ironically, the visual effects were enhanced by the editing from Dan Lebental and Colby Parker Jr. that made that fight scene so memorable for me. I had never seen such a bizarre action sequence in a Marvel film, since 2013’s “THOR: THE DARK WORLD”.

When “ANT-MAN” was first in the development stage, the producers had two actors up for the role of Scott Lang aka Ant-Man – Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Paul Rudd. However, Gordon-Levitt dismissed the matter as a rumor and Rudd became the frontrunner. To be perfectly honest, I would have been satisfied with either actor in the role. But I have to give kudos to Rudd to making Scott Lang a plausible professional thief, but also providing the film’s emotional backbone. More importantly, Rudd did a superb job of combining both his sardonic style of humor with the emotional desperation that drove his character’s actions. I used to believe that the character of Tauriel from “THE HOBBIT” films was actress Evangeline Lilly’s best role. Then I saw her portrayal of Hope van Dyne and completely changed my mind. She was exceptional as Hank Pym’s embittered daughter, who finds herself willing to work with her father and prevent Darren Cross’ plans to sell the Yellowjacket technology. I had read somewhere that Edgar Wright had plans to make Hope a femme fatale character. And while that may have been interesting, I found this new version of Hope equally interesting. Lilly did an exceptional job of expressing Hope’s resentment and anger toward her father, while keeping her feelings barely under control. Rounding off this trio is Michael Douglas, who was excellent as the very complicated Dr. Hank Pym. What I enjoyed about Douglas’ performance is that not only did he manage to effectively portray the role of mentor, but also revealed certain negative traits in Pym’s personality that made him so difficult for both Hope and Cross to deal with.

What can I say about Michael Peña’s portrayal of Scott’s closest friend, Luis? Some have complained that his character is basically a comic stereotype of the Latino-American male. I would agree . . . superficially. However, between the screenplay and Peña’s energetic performance, Luis turned out to be quite an exceptional character who not seemed to be very verbose; but also a lover of fine wine, abstract art and video games. He also proved to be very proficient with his fists. And thanks to Peña’s performance, he nearly stole the show. Come to think of it, Corey Stoll was equally effective as the film’s main villain, Darren Cross aka Yellowjacket. Of all of the wealthy industrialist/scientists (good or bad) that permeate the Marvel Universe, Cross was one of the most interesting and scariest I have seen. And I have to give kudos to Stoll for making Cross both scary and a bit vulnerable at the same time.

The movie also featured first-rate performances from T.I. “Tip” Harris and David Dastmalchian as Scott and Luis’ fellow crew members, Dave and Kurt, who somehow managed to form quite the little screen team by the end of the film. Their discussion of the 1997 movie, “TITANIC” had me rolling on the floor with laughter. “ANT-MAN also featured fine performances from Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, a very funny Wood Harris, and a very charming Abby Ryder Fortson, who portrayed Scott’s daughter Cassie. Rounding out this cast was Martin Donovan, who portrayed a former S.H.I.E.L.D. top official/HYDRA mole Mitchell Carson. Although his appearance in the movie was not as long as the others, Donovan did a great job in setting up the malevolent Carson as a future threat in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. By the way, Donovan had worked with Paul Rudd in the 2000 movie, “THE GREAT GATSBY”; and with Michael Douglas in the 2006 political thriller, “THE SENTINEL”. To ensure the movie’s tie-in with the MCU, “ANT-MAN” featured cameos from Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), John Slattery (older Howard Stark) in the prologue; and Chris Evans (Steve Rogers) and Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes). But for me, the real thrill came in the form of Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson aka the Falcon. His surprise appearance, along with that crazy fight scene between his character and the lead proved to be one of the movie’s highlights for me.

“ANT-MAN” is not the type of Marvel film that would strike anyone as mind blowing or epic. And there are those fans who are still castigating it for not being written and directed by Edgar Wright. I personally do not care. I enjoyed the movie very much. Thanks to Peyton Reed’s direction, a great cast led by Paul Rudd and a very unusual screenplay written by Rudd and Adam McKay that featured a strong, offbeat humor; I enjoyed the movie very much. In fact, I would go far as to say that “ANT-MAN” was one of the most unusual Marvel productions I have seen. Probably the most unusual. And that makes it unique for me.

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“ENTOURAGE” (2015) Review

 

“ENTOURAGE” (2015) Review

When I first learned that a movie continuation of the HBO 2004-2011 series, “ENTOURAGE”, was scheduled to hit the theaters for the summer of 2015, I responded to the news with a shrug. Quite honestly, I was not interested. I would have skipped the movie if my relatives had insisted upon seeing it. So, I was stuck . . . and I saw the movie in the theaters.

Picking up some time after its final season, “ENTOURAGE” focused upon movie star Vincent “Vince” Chase’s attempt to direct his movie career to a new path, following the failure of his nine-day marriage. His former agent-turned-studio chief, Ari Gold, offers Vince the lead in a new movie called “Hyde”. The latter agrees to star in the film, only if he is allowed to direct. Also, Vince ensures that his older brother, actor Johnny “Drama” Chase, is cast in a major supporting role. While “Hyde” is in the middle of post-production, Vince asks for an additional $10 million to finish it, despite being over budget. Ari watches a rough cut of the film and realizes that the studio might have a major hit on its hands. He flies to Texas to meet the movie’s co-financiers; Larsen McCredle and his son Travis; in order to get the additional $10 million. A reluctant Larsen sends son Travis back to Los Angeles with Ari to see a cut of the film at Vince’s private screening. Although Vince never gets around to showing the cut at his screening party, Travis does see the film . . . and declares it a disaster. He believes the only way to save the film is to re-shoot it without Vince as lead actor or director.

Meanwhile, Vince’s personal manager and best friend, Eric “E” Murphy, seemed to be having girl trouble. While helping ex-girlfriend prepare for the birth of their child, his womanizing around the Hollywood/Beverly Hills community is attracting negative attention from current and past girlfriends. Vince’s other best friend, Salvatore “Turtle” Assante, seemed to be in a conundrum over whether or not to seriously date mixed martial artist/actress Ronda Rousey. And while “Drama” is worried over whether or not his part in “Hyde” will make the final cut, he veers into an adulterous affair with a married woman, who has a dangerous and vindictive husband.

“ENTOURAGE” did not fare well at the box office. It garnered negative reviews and was not even able to earn twice its budget. One of the main complaints of the film was those movie audiences who never saw the HBO television series would not be able to understand the plot or its characters. My experience with the television series is very limited. Although I enjoyed them, I only saw a handful of episodes from either Season Seven or Eight. But despite my limited memories of the series, I did not want to see this film. But you know what? I am glad I saw it. Because I rather enjoyed it.

Let me be frank. “ENTOURAGE” proved to be a rather fun little souffle among the major blockbusters, this summer. I have no problems with this. I do not demand that every film be some heavily special-effects driven action/fantasy film or a contender for an Academy Award nomination. And my sister, who had never seen a single episode of the series before she saw the film, actually managed to understand the film . . . and enjoy it as well. This was due to producer-director-writer Doug Ellin’s decision to recap the five major characters’ past in a sequence that featured a news story about Vince and his co-horts on one of those entertainment news shows that I had stopped watching over a decade-and-a-half ago. Equally entertaining was the movie’s physical setting. Southern California never looked as good as it did in this film. Thanks to Steven Fierberg’s sharp and colorful photography, Los Angeles looked more gorgeous than it usually does on a clear and sunny day.

As he had done for the television series, Ellin did a pretty good job of weaving the main story regarding Vince’s film with the movie’s other subplots. Mind you, I enjoyed those subplots involving Eric’s womanizing, Turtle’s budding relationship with Ronda Rousey and Johnny’s disastrous affair. But I really enjoyed the movie’s main narrative regarding Vince’s movie, “HYDE”. First of all, I found the entire plot something of a nail biting affair, as Ari moved heaven and earth to save Vince’s film. And second of all, Ari and Vince’s struggles with the crude and pushy young Travis McCredle reminded me of how time and again, many Hollywood productions have been compromised by their financial backers’ lack of artistry.

The four actors portraying the old friends from Queens – namely Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon and Jerry Ferrara proved that even after four years, their screen chemistry remained strong as ever. I especially enjoyed Dillon’s performance as the insecure Johnny “Drama”. “ENTOURAGE” featured its usual share of celebrity cameos . . . well, perhaps more than I cared. Among my favorite appearances were Jessica Alba, Andrew Dice Clay, David Faustino, Armie Hammer, Chad Lowe, Bob Saget, and Richard Schiff. Ronda Rousey really surprised me by showing she could give a competent performance, even if she was portraying herself. I also enjoyed Emmanuelle Chriqui’s performance as Eric’s warm, yet no-nonsense ex-girlfriend, Sloan McQuewick. But one my two favorite performances came from – not surprisingly – Jeremy Piven, who was sharp and funny as ever as Hollywood slickster Ari Gold. The other performance that really impressed me came from Haley Joel Osment, who was fantastic and spot on as the crude and arrogant young Travis McCredle.

Was there anything about “ENTOURAGE” that I disliked? Honestly? Well . . . yes. I disliked the movie’s mid-end credit scene. It was nice that Ari’s former assistant Lloyd got married. But otherwise, the sequence seemed out of place. I realize that it has become traditional for the Disney Studios to add a mid-credit scene for their big films. But I saw no reason for Doug Ellin to add one for “ENTOURAGE”. It was just . . . meh. And Lloyd’s wedding could have been part of the main narrative. One would think that I regard this film as some kind of comedic masterpiece. Trust me, I do not. I never had any high expectations for“ENTOURAGE” and found myself surprised by how much I found it entertaining. That is all.

It seemed a shame that “ENTOURAGE” laid an egg at the box office. Then again, the early-to-mid summer struck me as the wrong time to release a piece of fluff like this film. I would have released it during August or September. Otherwise, I found the movie colorful and entertaining. And it was nice to see that the five leads still managed to generate a good deal of chemistry.

Ranking of Movies Seen During Summer 2015

Usually I would list my ten favorite summer movies of any particular year. However, I only watched ten new releases during the summer of 2015. Due to the limited number, I decided to rank the films that I saw:

 

 

RANKING OF MOVIES SEEN DURING SUMMER 2015

1. “Jurassic World” – In the fourth movie for the JURASSIC PARK franchise, a new dinosaur created for the Jurassic World theme park goes amok and creates havoc. Directed by Colin Trevorrow, the movie starred Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard.

 

 

2. “Ant-Man” – Convicted thief Scott Lang is recruited to become Ant-Man for a heist in this new entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Directed by Peyton Reed, Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lily and Michael Douglas starred.

 

 

3. “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” – Guy Ritchie directed this adaptation of the 1964-1968 television series about agents for the C.I.A. and KGB working together to fight neo-Nazis in the early 1960s. Armie Hammer, Henry Cavill and Alicia Vikander starred.

 

 

4. “Tomorrowland” – Brad Bird directed this imaginative tale about a a former boy-genius inventor and a scientifically inclined adolescent girl’s search for a special realm where ingenuity is encouraged. George Clooney, Britt Robertson and Hugh Laurie starred.

 

 

5. “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are forced to prevent an artificial intelligence created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner from destroying mankind. Joss Whedon wrote and directed this second AVENGERS film.

 

 

6. “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” – Tom Cruise starred in this fifth entry in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” film franchise about Ethan Hunt’s efforts to find and destroy a rogue intelligence organization engaged in terrorist activities.

 

 

7. “Mr. Holmes” – Ian McKellen starred in this adaptation of Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel about the aging Sherlock Holmes’ efforts to recall his last case. Directed by Bill Condon, Laura Linney and Milo Parker co-starred.

 

 

8. “Fantastic Four” – Josh Trank directed this reboot of the Marvel comics series about four young people whose physical form is altered after they teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe. Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell starred.

 

 

9. “Entourage” – Doug Ellin wrote and directed this fluffy continuation of the 2004-2011 HBO series about a movie star and his group of friends dealing with a new project. Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara and Jeremy Piven starred.

 

 

10. “Terminator: Genisys” – Alan Taylor directed this fifth movie in the TERMINATOR franchise, an unexpected turn of events creates a fractured timeline when Resistance fighter Kyle Reese goes back to 1984 in order to prevent the death of leader John Connor’s mother. Arnold Schwartzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney and Jason Clarke starred.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1970s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1920s: 


FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1970s

1 - American Gangster

1. American Gangster (2007) – Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe starred in this biopic about former Harlem drug kingpin, Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts, the Newark police detective who finally caught him. Ridley Scott directed this energetic tale.



2 - Munich

2. Munich (2005) – Steven Spielberg directed this tense drama about Israel’s retaliation against the men who committed the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Eric Bana, Daniel Craig and Ciarán Hinds starred.



3 - Rush

3. Rush (2013) – Ron Howard directed this account of the sports rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 Formula One auto racing season. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl starred.



4 - Casino

4. Casino (1995) – Martin Scorsese directed this crime drama about rise and downfall of a gambler and enforcer sent West to run a Mob-owned Las Vegas casino. Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone starred.



5 - Super 8

5. Super 8 (2011) – J.J. Abrams directed this science-fiction thriller about a group of young teens who stumble across a dangerous presence in their town, after witnessing a train accident, while shooting their own 8mm film. Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning and Kyle Chandler starred.



6 - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

6. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) – Gary Oldman starred as George Smiley in this recent adaptation of John le Carré’s 1974 novel about the hunt for a Soviet mole in MI-6. Tomas Alfredson directed.



7 - Apollo 13

7. Apollo 13(1995) – Ron Howard directed this dramatic account about the failed Apollo 13 mission in April 1970. Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon starred.



8 - Nixon

8. Nixon (1995) – Oliver Stone directed this biopic about President Richard M. Nixon. The movie starred Anthony Hopkins and Joan Allen.



9 - Starsky and Hutch

9. Starsky and Hutch (2004) – Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson starred in this comedic movie adaptation of the 70s television series about two street cops hunting down a drug kingpin. Directed by Todd Phillips, the movie also starred Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman and Snoop Dogg.



10 - Frost-Nixon

10. Frost/Nixon (2008) – Ron Howard directed this adaptation of the stage play about David Frost’s interviews with former President Richard Nixon in 1977. Frank Langella and Michael Sheen starred.

“TAKERS” (2010) Review

 

“TAKERS” (2010) Review

Over a year ago, a crime thriller about a group of bank robbers operating in Los Angeles was released to the theaters with little fanfare and a great deal of scorn. Although “TAKERS” earned over twice its budget, it barely made a dent with filmgoers. Out of curiosity, I decided to see what the lack of fuss was all about. 

In a nutshell, “TAKERS” began with a successful bank robbery committed by a team of seasoned criminals – including Gordon Cozier, John Rahway, A.J., and brothers Jake and Jesse Attica. Following the success of their heist, the five lead a life of luxury while planning their next job. Unfortunately, a former member of their team named “Ghost” is released fromprison. He convinces the group to strike an armored car carrying $20 million. While the bank robbers carefully plot their strategy, a pair of L.A.P.D. police detectives named Jack Welles and Eddie Hatcher investigate their last job. Welles and Hatcher, aware of Ghost’s release, finally become aware of the five robbers, and set about apprehending them.

“TAKERS” is basically a run-of-the-mill crime drama filled with complex characters and fast-paced action sequences. The movie also unfolded a peak into the private lives of both the robbers and cops – culminating into a series of familial and romantic frustrations, betrayal, and loyalty. The screenplay written by Peter Allen, Gabriel Casseus, John Luessenhop and Avery Duff pretty much touched upon every topic one could find in a story about bank robbers – aside from the hostage situation featured in movies such as 1975’s “DOG DAY AFTERNOON” and 2006’s “INSIDE MAN”. If I must be honest, the story structure and characterizations in “TAKERS” strongly reminded me of Michael Mann’s 1995 opus, “HEAT”, but with less complexity. To a certain degree.

In a way, I could see why most reviewers and moviegoers failed to warm up to “TAKERS” – aside from the controversial presence of Chris Brown in the cast. It is not exactly an crime epic in compare to some of the other movies I have mentioned. Although Michael Barrett’s photography struck me as colorful and glossy, there was nothing unique about it. Some of the dialogue in the film seemed wooden and unmemorable. And I could tell that some of the inexperienced actors like Tip “T.I.” Harris had a little trouble handling it. One of the action sequences featured a shoot-out between the five bank robbers and Russian mobsters at Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel. Both Barrett and director John Luessenhop tried to be ambitious by shooting most of the sequence in slow motion, while maintaining the sound effects – dialogue included – at a regular pace. Paul Haslinger’s mournful score somewhat helped the sequence, but the screenwriters’ insipid dialogue nearly undermined it.

I realize that many might find this hard to believe, but “TAKERS” possessed virtues that managed to outweigh its flaws. One, it possessed a first-rate cast lead by the likes Idris Elba and Matt Dillon. Both actors were superb in their roles as British-born immigrant and current leader of the robbers Gordon Cozier and veteran L.A.P.D. detective Jack Welles. The movie also featured first-rate performances from Michael Ealy, Hayden Christensen, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Jay Hernandez, Zoë Saldaña and yes, even Chris Brown. Paul Walker, Glynn Turman and Tip Harris gave solid support as well. I realize that I had been a little critical of Harris’ handling of some of the dialogue, but I must admit that his portrayal of the manipulative and vindictive “Ghost” really impressed me.

Aside from the Roosevelt Hotel shoot-out, “TAKERS” was filled with some outstanding action sequences, thanks to Luessenhop’s direction, Barrett’s photography and the editing of both Armen Minasian and Colby Parker, Jr. Some of the best sequences featured Hayden Christensen’s (A.J.) encounter with a double-crossing explosive dealer and his crew; the entire heist of an armored truck in downtown Los Angeles; and a chase sequence that featured Chris Brown, Jay Hernandez and Matt Dillon.

However, the one virtue that really made “TAKERS” work for me was the screenplay written by Luessenhop and three other writers. I realize that I might attract a good deal of flap of pointing this out, but the screenplay for “TAKERS”possessed one virtue that the highly regarded “HEAT” lacked – the minor plot lines featuring the some of the characters’ personal lives had strong connections to the movie’s main narrative. This prevented the movie’s pacing from dragging at an unnecessarily long pace.

Although “TAKERS” actually made a profit at the box, it was only able to do so, due to the movie’s low budget. Because otherwise, one might as well call it failure. Well, failure or not, I ended up enjoying “TAKERS” . . . much to my great surprise. It may not be one of the best crime dramas ever made, but I cannot deny that I found it entertaining, suspenseful and exciting.

“AMERICAN GANGSTER” (2007) Review

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“AMERICAN GANGSTER” (2007) Review

For the first time in nearly two months, I saw a movie that managed to more than spark my interest. I am talking about the new crime drama directed by Ridley Scott called, ”AMERICAN GANGSTER”. The movie, which stars Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, told the story about drug lord Frank Lucas (Washington) and the New Jersey cop who brought him down, Ritchie Roberts (Crowe).

Set between 1968 and 1976, ”AMERICAN GANGSTER” began with the death of Harlem mobster and Lucas’ own boss, Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson (Clarence Williams III). Following Johnson’s death, Lucas found himself embroiled in a rivalry for control of Harlem. Realizing that he lacked the cash to assume control, he began a scheme that cut out middlemen in the drug trade and buying heroin directly from his source in Southeast Asia. He also organized the smuggling of heroin from Vietnam to the U.S. by using the coffins of dead American servicemen (“Cadaver Connection”).

The story also focused upon the man who had eventually captured Lucas, namely a New Jersey cop for Essex County named Ritchie Roberts. Roberts turned out to be a rare case amongst the law enforcers in the Tri-State area – namely an honest cop. When he and his partner, Javier Rivera (John Ortiz of ”MIAMI VICE”) stumbled across a cache of untraceable drug money, Roberts had insisted that it be reported. This one act not only drove his fellow cops (apparently honest cops were not trusted) to ostracize both Roberts and Rivera, and drove the latter to overdose on drugs that happened to be part of Lucas’ new product called ’Blue Angel’.

The movie not only focused upon Lucas and Roberts’ professional lives, which would eventually lead to the former’s arrest in 1975; it also focused on their private lives. Whereas drug lord Lucas is a loyal family man and faithful husband, honest cop Roberts turned out to be a notorious philanderer who had allowed an old friend and local mobster to be his son’s godfather.

Director Ridley Scott did a superb job of steering the audience into the world of the drug trade, East Coast organized crime and law enforcement from the late 1960s to the mid 1970s. With Steve Zillian’s script, he also managed to give the audience a clear view of capitalism and its corrupting influence on mobsters, the police and local neighborhoods. This was especially conveyed in two scenes. One featured a conversation between Lucas and competitor Nicky Barnes (Cuba Gooding Jr. in a cameo role), the former gave the latter a lesson on brand names and other forms of capitalism. It seemed that Barnes had been selling his product using Lucas’ brand name of Blue Angel. Believe or not, drug dealers apparently did stamp brand names on their products. Why not? Alcohol and tobacco companies do. The other featured a segment on how corrupt cops like NYPD Detective Trupo (Josh Brolin) extort both money and drugs and cut into the mobs’ profits by selling the latter on the street.

Also Scott and Zillian gave the audience a look at the devastating impact that street drugs had on society – including soldiers in Vietnam, local citizens of Harlem and cops like Roberts’ partner, Rivera. Scott managed to re-create this setting without allowing the movie’s setting to slide into a cliche. I got so caught up in the movie that by the time it ended, two hours and forty mintues had passed without me realizing it.

In 1995, both Washington and Crowe did a movie together – a science-fiction thriller called, ”VIRTUOSITY”. Needless to say that by the time the movie’s first half hour had end, I realized it was a stinker. And yes, it did deservedly bomb at the box office. Fortunately for Scott, he was lucky to work with the two dynamic actors’ second collaboration. And both Washington (as Lucas) and Crowe (as Roberts) were lucky to co-star in a movie that turned out to be twenty times better than “VIRTUOSITY”. Washington effortlessly re-created both the charm and the menace of the drug lord. And Crowe infused his usual intensity into the solidly honest Roberts. “AMERICAN GANGSTER” was also blessed by a solid cast led by the likes of Cuba Gooding Jr. as the very splashy drug kingpin Nicky Barnes, the intense John Ortiz as Roberts’ drug addicted partner, Javier Rivera, Ruby Dee as the staunchly emotional Mama Lucas and Josh Brolin in his deliciously corrupt portrayal of NYPD Detective Trupo.

It would be nice to see “AMERICAN GANGSTER” receive numerous Academy Award nominations during the movie award seasons. However, its chances of winning Best Picture seems dim, following the success of another crime drama that won Best Picture, namely Martin Scorcese’s “THE DEPARTED”. If you have not seen “AMERICAN GANGSTER” yet, I recommend that you do so. If you have, why not go see it again? I know I plan to do just that.