Archive | November, 2013

The Iceman

24 Nov

the iceman

 

Director: Ariel Vromen

Writers: Morgan Land (screenplay), Ariel Vromen (screenplay)

Stars: Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, James Franco

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 106 minutes

This is based on the true story of a contract killer living and murdering in New Jersey in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The hitman, Richard Kuklinski, achieved notoriety because of the number of murders that he was associated with (approx. 100), the iceman nickname that the press gave him and because of the very ordinary and healthy family life that he maintained. Kuklinski, of Polish origin, appeared to be a regular Joe, but was far from it. His psychopathic tendencies were funnelled into contract killing for local mobsters and that allowed him to support and to nurture a family. This film focuses on the central contradiction of his life.

Michael Shannon plays Kuklinski and his towering frame dominates the film. He is a large man and a brooding and menacing presence. Here he is reminiscent of James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, but with added threat. Shannon is well respected by other actors, but is far from a household name. Acting like this, he probably should be; this is a big performance from a very talented actor. His large head, cold eyes, slow and purposeful walk fit the character, but Shannon is more than his physical attributes and imbues Kuklinski with magnetism, depth and a strange poignancy.

There is not a great deal of plot and when the story gets more complicated it less easy to follow and oddly less interesting. The second half mainly involves a lot of tough guys mumbling about double crossing each other. The most intriguing scenes later on provide an insight to the Kuklinski childhood dominated by an abusive father. The young Richard is prone to torturing animals in a clearly desensitized reaction to the physical abuse routinely met out by dad. A conclusion is that the contract killing work of the adult Richard is a way to stay level and to keep demons at bay. He thus manages to live a normal life with wife and kids.

This is a good and mostly gripping film. The 1970’s production and design are on the mark and there are a couple of very good supporting turns by the likes of Ray Liotta. Shannon is excellent throughout and pulls the audience in as his two wholly separate and compartmentalized lives unravel and collide. There are some smart observations about psychosis too in between the assortment of murders. It is not perfect by any means, but is very nicely done. A small, tight and rewarding movie. 

World War Z

9 Nov

world war z

 

Director: Marc Forster

Writers: Matthew Michael Carnahan (screenplay), Drew Goddard (screenplay)

Stars: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz

Motion Picture Rating: PG-16

Runtime: 116 minutes

Big budget action movies getting into production difficulties? I admit I keep an eye out for reports of on-set fights, funding gaps and artistic differences. I waited to get a good look at Waterworld, The Brothers Grimm, Wolfman and Gangster Squad knowing their productions were disastrous. And it’s the same with World War Z. Brad Pitt’s belief drove the project forward, but at what cost? The film was edited multiple times and endings were swapped in and out as Paramount tried to manage pre-release bad buzz.

Unlike the majority of other troubled productions, this film did well at the box office. It is actually one of Pitt’s most successful films. Interest in his more adult take on the zombie genre was helped by his substantial personal promotional campaign, but there are elements to admire here. This is not a bad film.

Pitt is the retired UN conflict manager Gerry Lane living a quiet suburban life outside of Philadelphia with his wife and children. That life, and planet Earth’s survival, is threatened by a plague of fast moving zombies. The Lane family escape the first onslaught in downtown Philly, but then have to battle to meet up with Gerry’s UN crew. Thereafter Gerry is brought out of retirement and sent out by the UN to try and track the source of the zombie virus. He heads to South Korea and to Israel, but strangely ends up in Wales.

The first 20 minutes of panic and pandemonium are brilliantly shot and open the film with a bang. The CGI takes it close to a video game, but the mayhem is suspenseful and scary. Later scenes of rampaging zombie hoards, especially in Israel, are equally as effective. It is hyperactive and fast with these signature shots as good as anything I’ve seen (in the LOTR series for example). That the big stuff is handled well is not in doubt, but the glue keeping the set pieces together is unfortunately not as sticky as it should be.

The final third of the film takes place in a lab in Wales. Gerry has an idea for a cure and pulls in some stranded scientists. The action slows to the pace of a traditional zombie shuffle and the fairly patchy story comes to some form of conclusion. It’s clear that the studio had problems with the ending and the one decided upon is not perfect. All of the early energy and suspense dissipates. The result is close to two different films being sandwiched together and it doesn’t really work. There are some good set pieces and it’s enjoyable, but the film ends with a whimper.

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