Brick (2005)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: January 1, 2005
Director: Rian Johnson

A teenage loner, Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), seeks the whereabouts of his girlfriend, Emily (Emilie De Ravin). When it turns out that she was a victim of apparent foul play, Brendan finds himself in the seedy underbelly of a high school crime syndicate run by the notorious and mysterious Pin (Lukas Haas). Brendan must sort through his own morals and reserves of courage if he is to get any answers for Emily’s disappearance.

Brick is one of those films that was always sort of on my radar but never a film I purposely sought out. To understand why, you must understand that as a rule – I hardly ever watch gritty, ultra-realistic crime films. I see enough of that stuff on the news, so I don’t feel much particular need to seek it out in films I enjoy watching. I use films as an escapist sort of entertainment. The image on the movie jacket did little to inspire any ideas I had about the film being anything other than a movie where a girl is murdered.

With that said, I recently watched this at a friend’s house in Vermont. He and his wife suggested a few of us all watch it for a “movie night” of sorts, and I’m glad he did. First off – this is not ultra-realistic at all. This is a blend of Noir and a sort of high-school/teen drama film. You wouldn’t think such a combination would be satisfying or poignant, but you’d be just as wrong as I was. The ultra-stylistic dialogue and the snappy cinematography  and the quirky characters had me intently watching the screen for the duration of the film.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt turns in a great performance as Brendan. Lukas Haas is very hilarious and on point as The Pin while Noah Fleiss’ portrayal of a henchman named Tugger had me laughing at several points. This is a dark comedy, for sure – as it still deals with drug trafficking and death – but it’s all set against the backdrop of High School, something most of us can relate to. The noir world that the characters inhabit is very believable within its own context and pretty much everything about the film is enjoyable. If you haven’t seen this film yet, give it a shot. It’s really worth taking the time to watch. (Especially if you like films such as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang)

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Brick

 

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Sin City (2005)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: April 1, 2005
Director: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino

Basin City, AKA “Sin” City, is a vile place of corruption, sex, and murder. Marv (Mickey Rourke), Dwight (Clive Owen) and Hartigan (Bruce Willis) are just three hard-boiled characters with intersecting paths who are rays of light standing against the dark. Part comic book, part noir and all thrill – this adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel is very faithful to the source material.

Since the sequel to this film just came out, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, I felt like I needed to bone up on this film franchise once more before seeing the new one.

The narrative layout of the film is interesting. Vignettes showing each “main” character and their interactions with the film’s secondary characters including villains and allies, makes the world of Sin City seem large and real. Most of the shots in the film are lifted right from Frank Miller’s pages of artwork and the casting was all done very wonderfully, particularly with Mickey Rourke as Marv. (Seriously, look at the guy). You also get to see Brittany Murphy in one of her last good roles before she died….and the same with Michael Clarke Duncan as Manute.

The special effects are all very stylized, very slick, but a couple of times they look wonky. Most of that was due to the artwork not translating well to film, because of how stylized Frank Miller’s artwork is. The black and white look of the film kept everything very visually appealing. The dialogue was great noir fare, if you’re into noir – but if you’re not into noir at all it may seem hokey and even terrible in spots.

If Robert Rodriguez and/or Quentin Tarantino were to direct a comic book film, Sin City was the perfect choice for them and you can tell that they had fun directing it, which means if you’re like me – you’ll have fun watching it.

If you’re looking for strong women characters, then this typical noir setting probably isn’t for you. The women of Old Town run their prostitution rings with cold efficiency, keeping the mob and corrupt police officers on the level, but that’s about it. Most of the other women in the film gasp and toss their hands against their foreheads while the men do the real work.

The one drawback to the film is that the three main characters – Marv, Dwight and Hartigan – are all fairly similar, making the story arcs seem pretty repetitive. Clive Owen was underwhelming as Dwight. Mickey Rourke nailed Marv (as I said before) and Bruce Willis was great as Hartigan. Rosario Dawson was kinetic as Gail, and Jessica Alba was decent as Nancy Callahan. Also, Elijah Wood was surprisingly creepy in his role as Kevin and Benicio Del Toro as Jackie Boy. They weren’t in the film for very long but they definitely added very interesting bits to the story.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Sin City

Drive (2011)

Drive (2011)

A stunt driver and wheelman-for-hire (Ryan Gosling) finds himself drawn to his neighbor, the damaged and vulnerable Irene (Carey Mulligan). Though he is a loner by nature, he ends up in the middle of way more contact than he bargained for when Irene’s ex-con husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), returns from behind bars and “Driver” needs to step in to ensure that Irene and her boy are safe from thugs trying to extort money from the newly-freed con. After agreeing to help Standard with a heist, it goes belly-up and Driver finds his own life in danger as he tries to make his way to the source of all the trouble.

First of all, this movie is based on the novel Drive by James Sallis. The film’s plot and the movie’s plot have virtually the same identical plots but many of the book’s characters have been combined to form singular characters in the movie for the sake of film, which for me, works.

Ryan Gosling is hit or miss with me. I have no doubt about his acting chops, but he often seems relegated to the same non-speaking roles aside from a few exceptions. I was looking forward to his role in this film after seeing him in Lars and the Real Girl, which is the complete opposite of his role in this film. The normal charm and boyish innocence were gone in this movie, which was refreshing, and I think he held up great next to the presence of Ron Perlman. It was nice to see Bryan Cranston in something, since he’s so great in Breaking Bad.

The soundtrack was great and the opening scene was intense and made my heart rate go up, which is a nice achievement. The whole film had sort of a 1980’s feel about it, from the movie’s logo writing to the music and dress. It was neat.

The silence of the Driver character played by Gosling worked in the context of this movie but I’d really like him to go for roles with more dialogue so I can get more of a feel for his acting ability, aside from his great use of facial expression. Still, this movie (like the book) was all about the noir feel….and Driver not having much dialogue and being so mysterious obviously works for this.

Aside from a few minor nitpicks, this movie delivered on all levels. Good action reminiscent of driving scenes straight out of The French Connection….good acting….good story.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

The Cleaners: Absent Bodies (2010)

The Cleaners: Absent Bodies (2010)

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Creative Team: Mark Wheaton, Joshua Hale Fialokov, Rahsan Ekedal, Jon Graef

Robert Bellarmine, an ex-surgeon with a shady past, lives in the LA Basin and leads a skilled team of trauma-scene cleaners who are independently contracted. However, this is no ordinary crack team of cleaners…they have a knack for the supernatural side of things, and when signs start pointing to a supernatural force that may be responsible for a recent string of deaths and disappearances, Robert and his team must intervene and stop it if they can.

The Cleaners: Absent Bodies collects issues #1-4 of the Dark Horse Comics series of the same name, The Cleaners. Mark Wheaton and Joshua Hale Fialkov did the writing, while art and colors were done by Rahsan Ekedal and Jon Graef respectively.

Initially, this seemed like a really cool premise. People who have to go clean up crime scenes, who then encounter supernatural elements in their work. Indeed, during the time I read this noir-type trade paperback collection, I did enjoy the story…but unfortunately the artwork didn’t shine enough for me to enjoy the book to its full potential.

The artwork wasn’t awful or anything, but many of the characters, both men and women, were hard to tell apart. The panels with blood and the large splash panels were great but everything was sort of confusing for the smaller panels.

I felt like the script could stand on its own two feet and I think this would actually make a pretty cool television series or movie, as it has a sort of CSI-meets-Fringe type of feel to it. I liked that aspect.

I might check out later installments, but this first volume hasn’t really enticed me enough to do it right away.

JOE Rating: ★★

Check Out This Sample Page From The Cleaners: Absent Bodies!
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Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005)

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005)

Original Theatrical Release: October 21, 2005
Director: Shane Black

Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) is a bumbling thief who ends up masquerading as an actor for an audition to escape police. Getting the part, he is to be trained by a police officer known as Gay Perry (Val Kilmer). Harry soon finds himself at the center of a murder mystery that puts not only his own life in danger but also that of his childhood sweetheart, Harmony Faith Lane (Michelle Monaghan).

This film, before Iron Man, was supposed to have been Robert Downey Jr.’s comeback role but for whatever reason, it didn’t do too well at the box office and only enjoyed a cult following after it was released on DVD.

With a lot of noir elements and a lot of charm, this movie is great during the first half but then gets super-bogged down toward the end and almost feels like two different movies, which is probably why it didn’t do too well initially.

Robert Downey Jr. is in fine form here, and you can see why he made such a comeback (eventually). Val Kilmer also turns in his best performance, in my opinion, since The Salton Sea.

Other than slight pacing problems at the end, this dark comedy is sure to engage you at least for a while, especially if you’re into Raymond Chandler.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

 

The Warriors (1979)

The Warriors (1979)

Original Theatrical Release: February 9, 1979
Director: Walter Hill

Cyrus (Roger Hill), the charismatic head of the gang known as the Gramercy Riffs, calls a summit for all the gangs to send nine unarmed representatives to. He feels that they shouldn’t be fighting amongst themselves but should team up and take on the police, who would be vastly outnumbered. However, during the summit, Cyrus is shot by Luther (David Patrick Kelly), the chaotic and cowardly leader of the Rogues, who blames it on the Warriors instead. Now with a hundred other gangs out for their blood, the Warriors must bop their way home to Coney Island until they can clear their name.

This movie is based on the novel by Sol Yurick. I have never read the book so I can’t state any differences between the film and the writing. (It’s definitely on my to-read list, though)

What I DO know is that I loved the movie. The gritty atmosphere was very predominant. From the opening scene, you know what sort of world you’re about to inhabit. Graffiti-covered subways, tough-looking gang members strolling down the streets, and the dark but high-energy music heightening the anticipation of seeing what Cyrus is all about as you take the subway with the delegates from The Warriors to the opening scene after the montage/credits at the summit.

The gangs are all really cool and distinctive, from the iconic Warriors and Baseball Furies (Baseball Furies…..picture Marilyn Manson wearing a New York Yankees outfit and swinging a bat at you) to the denim-wearing Rogues, to the dirty, 1950’s gang-looking Orphans.

There is definitely some noir/pulp flash going on in the film as well, and I can really dig that. Also, the fight scenes are really great with lots of slo-mo shots that I thought seemed unusual for the time, but which lent itself to the pacing  of the fights. The main characters died, got dirty and got hurt and you really start to root for them to get home.

This is just one of those movies that sticks with you after you see it (especially Luther’s call to the Warriors to come out of hiding). Once you do, you will see constant references to it by other shows, music artists, video games and even other films. Give it a watch.

JOE Rating:

Movie Trailer For The Warriors