Prisoners

September 26, 2013 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve (“Incendies”)
Written by: Aaron Guzikowski (“Contraband”)

While it’s script might transform from intriguing police procedural into something that could be described as controlled chaos, director Denis Villeneuve 153-minute long drama is effectively tense. Anchored by a raw and powerful performance from Hugh Jackman and a solid contribution from Jake Gyllenhaal, this film about two young girls who are kidnapped confronts some extremely hard-hitting themes and scenarios that would make any parent shudder. Things get messy as the film spirals to a conclusion, but there’s no way you’re going to move unless you know how it all ends (even though you technically don’t).

Dead Man Down

March 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Terrence Howard
Directed by: Niels Arden Oplev (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”)
Written by: J.H. Wyman (“The Mexican”)

Revenge is a dish served cold and in most cases pretty immediate. If you’re watching a master at the genre like filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, there’s no beating around the bush when it comes to it. Death comes quickly when The Bride slices her way through ninja assassins in “Kill Bill” or the Bear Jew plays homerun derby with a Nazi’s head in “Inglourious Basterds.” But when revenge is carried out in a more meticulous manner, it only works if the narrative doesn’t follow suit and come to a screeching halt. “Dead Man Down” does just that. It’s a crackling fire that dies out fast.

Danish director Niels Adren Oplev has experimented with this slow-burn revenge concept before in the original “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Without giving too much of the plot away, his attempt at doing the same in his first American film is far less intriguing, especially when the revenge story is cobbled together in scenes riddled with messy dialogue and unbelievable plot devices used by screenwriter J.H. Wyman (“The Mexican,” TV’s “Fringe”).

In “Dead Man Down,” Colin Farrell stars as Victor, a low-grade criminal who has somehow infiltrated a gang led by a man (Terrence Howard) responsible for the death of his wife and daughter. As interesting – albeit familiar – a film as that might’ve been alone, Wyman decides to pile on more useless storylines by introducing us to Beatrice (Noomi Rapace, the original lead actress of “Dragon Tattoo” before Rooney Mara made it her own), a former beautician who wants her own revenge on the man who left her face scarred after a drunk driving crash. There’s not much inspiration behind Beatrice’s anger. She just wants the guy dead and exhibits this obsession in a weirdly psychotic way during a driving scene with Farrell that would make Cameron Diaz’s crazy car rant in “Vanilla Sky” feel like a gentle argument.

Whatever her character is supposed to be experiencing emotionally, Wyman doesn’t capture her tortured soul in the slightest way. Neither does he with Farrell’s Victor whose vengeful nature just seems like too much trouble when all is said and done. A bullet straight to the head would probably make more sense in this scenario. The nonexistent chemistry between Farrell and Rapace is also a problem. It’s vague in its delivery, but even when it becomes obvious, there’s not much time to do anything with the relationship. Nor is it logical for Victor to feel anything but disdain for Beatrice to begin with.

When the bullets do start flying in the last 15 minutes, “Dead Man Down” is already a lost cause. It retreats into a cliché shoot em’ up flick that has Hollywood written all over it. It’s unfortunate Oplev’s foray into the American film industry had to start with such a whimper, especially since he’s already proven with “Dragon Tattoo” that he has a very fascinating take on the darker side of drama.

Fighting

April 30, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Channing Tatum, Terrence Howard, Zulay Henao
Directed by: Dito Montiel (“A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints”)
Written by: Robert Munic (TV’s “The Cleaner”) and Dito Montiel (“A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints”)

With the sport of Mixed Martial Arts rising in popularity after every pay-per-view event each moth, it’s evident that film studios want to try to bank on the industry while its fan base is bloodthirsty for extra ground-and-pound moments.

While “Fighting,” is less about sanctioned matches than last year’s mainstream dud “Never Back Down,” it still follows the same blueprint. In that movie, Oscar-nominee Djimon Hounsou (“Blood Diamond”) played a mentor who takes a young, hungry, and easy-on-the-eyes fighter under his wing so he can win the respect of his classmates.

In “Fighting,” Hounsou is replaced with another Oscar nominee, Terrence Howard (“Hustle & Flow”), who plays Harvey Boarden, an overly cordial fight agent on the lookout for “hidden talent.” Here, Channing Tatum (“Stop-Loss”) plays the pretty-faced fighter, Shawn MacArthur, who has nothing to lose when he’s caught up in the world of underground brawls. When Harvey offers him five grand for his first fight, Shawn is all in without much question. What should be in question, however, is what Harvey actually sees in Shawn. That tidbit of information is for screenwriters to explain in the DVD commentary since they don’t do it in the movie.

What’s more bothersome about the script is that Shawn doesn’t really seem passionate about fighting. While the tagline of the movie is “Some Dreams are Worth Fighting for,” it’s unclear what that dream is. Most fighting movies pick something like respect, love, family, or survival. “Fighting” screenwriters choose money, which is a mediocre reason to get your protagonist bloody and bruised.

Nevertheless, Shawn fights; Shawn wins; Shawn falls for a nice waitress girl (Zulay Henao) who apparently likes bad boys. It all leads up to a final fight with a former high school wrestling teammate who has a personal feud against him. It’s a plot point that isn’t examined for more than a few scenes and therefore doesn’t make much sense on paper.

But who’s worried about the storyline when there are enough high-energy fight scenes to fill an entire fight card? Actually, let’s retract that statement and simply do a quick play-by-play of Shawn’s first fight in the movie. 1) Shawn is repeatedly knocked to the floor by a stronger fighter. 2) Shawn wins the fight when his opponent hits his head on a porcelain water fountain. 3) Shawn is praised by his entourage for his victory and later becomes “the biggest draw in town.”

Not much works for “Fighting” although its B-movie impression at the beginning is fairly promising. But with a script that goes cold quickly and some pitiful plot twists and dialogue, there isn’t much reason to cheer and no one to root for in this minor addition and major letdown to the genre.