Safe (2012) Review

Director: Boaz Yakin

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 94 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

2012’s Safe is a film that feels like a love letter to action movie fans from action movie fans. In this superb picture, a former cage fighter with a shadowy past named Luke Wright (Jason Statham) decides to protect a young girl with a photographic memory named Mei (Catherine Chan) who’s on the run from the Chinese and Russian mobs in New York City. You see, Mei is being used to memorize and protect a numerical code that everybody in the city wants to know. If you’re an action fan, buckle up, because this one’s right up your alley.

This mercifully-romance-free flick has a great emotional hook to it that successfully invests the audience in the action about to unfold. One really wants to see Luke and Mei survive and help each other. The plot itself is a little complicated at times (so many different factions are fighting over Mei), but it doesn’t detract from the experience. Jason Statham gets to show just a little more range than he usually does, although it’d be a mistake to expect Oscar-caliber performances from this actioner.

The action scenes littered throughout the runtime are simply incredible. Whether it be cars chasing each other, people pummeling each other with fists, or combatants shooting it out with firearms, this movie satisfies thoroughly. New York City hasn’t seen this much big-body-count carnage since Death Wish 3 (1985). There may be a few instances when computer-generated bullet impacts are employed, yet this can be easily forgiven.

Safe feels like throwback to the macho, pumped-up, played-straight action films of yesteryear. Fans of those sort of features need to get a hold of a copy of this one. People who don’t like shoot-’em-up action-thrillers will find little to entertain themselves with, though. Here’s a fun fact: the musical score for this movie was composed by Mark Mothersbaugh, the frontman of the New Wave band Devo.

My rating is 9 outta 10.

The Night of the Hunter (1955) Review

Director: Charles Laughton

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 92 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Charles Laughton only directed one film in his career (well, IMDb does have him listed as an uncredited co-director for The Man on the Eiffel Tower [1949]), and that picture is the masterpiece The Night of the Hunter. Set during the Great Depression, serial-killing preacher Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) stalks two children – John (Billy Chapin) and Pearl Harper (Sally Jane Bruce) – who’re hiding a small fortune that their late father – Ben Harper (Peter Graves) – stole for them. Often considered a film-noir, I feel that this horror-thriller classic is better classified as some sort of dark fairy tale.

Influenced by German Expressionism, this movie’s shadowy cinematography is some of the very best of all time. Robert Mitchum’s fanatical, murderous holy man is one of the greatest villains to ever grace the silver screen. There are several intentionally uncomfortable moments involving his character that’ll have you squirming in your chair. He’s a vicious, greedy wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing that the audience will love to hate.

The third act of The Night of the Hunter is decidedly less intense than the first two-thirds. It’s certainly not bad…far from it. It just lacks some of the menace that the opening and middle sequences had. There are also some touches towards the end that feel like they were mandated by the Production Code of the time. However, not even a saccharine ending can sink this ship.

The Night of the Hunter is a must-watch for people wanting to learn more about the art of cinema. It’s artistically distinguished, but can also be easily enjoyed by any type of viewer. This highly relevant story is full of suspense and drama, with a gripping, superb visual style. It has an easy-to-manage runtime of 92 minutes and one of the best baddies in the medium, so why not watch it today?

My rating is 9 outta 10.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) Review

Director: Robert Mulligan

Genre(s): Crime, Drama

Runtime: 129 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee seems like one of those books that just about everybody has to read in school, and the 1962 film of the same title is a great companion piece to it. Set in the Great Depression-era South, lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) must defend in court a black man, Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell (Collin Wilcox Paxton), while his children, Scout (Mary Badham) and Jem (Phillip Alford), try to learn more about a shut-in neighbor, Boo Radley (Robert Duvall). Yes, this is a terrific tale of childhood innocence and ignorance that has become a classic in the decades following its release.

The two heavy hitters of the movie are Gregory Peck’s central performance and Elmer Bernstein’s top-notch musical score. Peck’s serious-minded, conscientious character, Atticus, radiates integrity, self-control, and quiet dignity, so much so that the American Film Institute named him the number one hero of American cinema as part of their AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains retrospective in 2003. The rest of the performances are terrific as well. On the musical front, Bernstein knocks ’em dead with one of the best scores of his prolific career (which is certainly saying something).

To Kill a Mockingbird is a moving motion picture, but I can’t say that it is without faults. It definitely feels like it was based on a novel, like there are (minor) parts of the story being left out to condense the story into about two hours. Speaking of the plot, the two major story threads (the court case and the kids investigating Boo Radley) don’t really come together until the end of the film.

What To Kill a Mockingbird lacks in physical action (although there is a sequence where the children sneak up on Boo’s house and it’s handled like a war movie scene involving soldiers stealthily crossing a battlefield strewn with mines and barbed wire) it makes up for with heart. The characters in the flick certainly have their ups and downs, but, in the end, it’s a feel-good feature. It’s easy to recommend this one.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Black Legion (1937) Review

Directors: Archie Mayo and Michael Curtiz

Genre(s): Crime, Drama

Runtime: 83 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Black Legion has one of the most intriguing plots for a film of its time period. After factory-worker Frank Taylor (Humphrey Bogart) is passed over for a promotion that’s awarded to an Eastern European immigrant, Joe Dombrowski (Henry Brandon), the former decides to join an underground terrorist organization that resembles the Ku Klux Klan. This very good movie has a ripped-from-the-headlines quality to it, as there actually did exist a xenophobic Black Legion in the American Midwest in the 1930s.

It’s a fascinating (and relevant) story, told well with minimal fat (it is only 83 minutes long, after all). It carefully sets out everything you need to know and escalates tension and action from there. Perhaps the highlight of the picture is the scene where Bogart’s character takes his oath to join the Black Legion. Now there’s a creepy sequence for you! The main character clearly makes some very poor decisions over the course of the runtime, and it’s hard not to agonize over his choices.

Black Legion isn’t a subtle movie, which may turn off some viewers. The bad guys are very clearly evil and the forces of righteousness get a speech or two to explain the sins of lawless and prejudiced behavior. The courtroom finale doesn’t really feel like the most explosive way to conclude the story, and it goes on for a while (considering the runtime). Oh, well, it’s still a swell, little flick.

This motion picture features a nice message and efficient storytelling. It has a few interesting touches, like a behind-the-scenes look at a live news broadcast over the radio. Fans of Humphrey Bogart and anti-fascist cinema will want to rent a copy. Also, check out that whoopee cap that Bogie wears in the factory scenes! My, how fashion has changed!

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Taken 3 (2014) Review

Director: Olivier Megaton

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 108 minutes (standard version), 114 minutes (unrated version)

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (standard version), Not Rated (unrated version)

IMDb Page

It’s hard to go wrong with thrillers starring Liam Neeson, but Taken 3 comes fairly close. This entry is very much the weakest of the action film trilogy, but it’s still better than many flicks I’ve had to put up with. In a The Fugitive (1993)-esque fashion, former government agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is framed for the murder of a family member and has to find the true killer while dodging the law. You could say the Taken franchise is starting to run out of steam.

Taken 3 is, of course, an action movie, so how does the physical chaos stand up? Well, it’s a mixed bag for sure in this department. Some of the action scenes are edited in a way that makes them almost incomprehensible. Good luck trying to follow the car chase. There’s also the, uh, iconic fence-climbing scene, where Neeson scrambling over a chain-link fence is shown from approximately two thousand different angles in a few seconds (do a YouTube search for “Taken 3” and “Taken 3 fence” will pop up as one of the first suggestions). Fortunately, the action does get more coherent (in terms of editing and cinematography) as the picture progresses.

While the plot does borrow from the aforementioned masterpiece The Fugitive, I think that this one is competent enough in terms of story. Sure, nobody really gets taken (despite the title), but I like a picture about an innocent man being hunted for crimes he didn’t commit. Yeah, the action sequences are all over the place, but the storytelling is satisfactorily engaging.

I’ll be honest: Liam Neeson is just about the only thing that makes Taken 3 worth watching. Without him, it would feel like a forgettable direct-to-video movie or something. Despite a handful of ridiculous moments and some hard-to-follow action, I’ll give this flick a passing grade. I’ve seen much worse, and seeing Neeson beat up people is too hard to pass up. Still, if you’re on the pickier side when it comes to your actioners, you’d probably be better off watching the original Taken (2008) again.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Braven (2018) Review

Director: Lin Oeding

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 94 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

People don’t always watch movies for surprises and twists. Sometimes they just watch films for some predictable catharsis. Braven is one of those pictures that fits that bill. In the Canadian wilderness, some guy named Joe Braven (Jason Momoa) has to protect his family from a gang of drug runners who stashed their illegal narcotics in his vacation cabin. It’s fairly predictable, but, for those who don’t mind, it’s painless viewing.

Braven is a lean and competent actioner. Its emotional hooks, like the main character’s father, Linden (Stephen Lang), suffering from dementia and whatnot, are solid enough to get the audience invested in the carnage. The flick takes itself relatively seriously, with no postmodern winks at the viewer, which is a welcome change from many of today’s blockbusters. Jason Momoa is a better-than-serviceable action star, looking like a less vicious version of Steven Seagal.

The action and violence here are pretty much what you’d expect from a comparatively low-budget feature of this genre. There’s nothing too sustained or spectacular, but some of the kills are fairly tasty. Thanks to its limited locations, one could make the argument that this should’ve been titled “Die Hard in a Canadian Cabin” or something.

Speaking of the title, why is it called Braven? I know that that’s the main character’s last name, but were the filmmakers optimistically expecting this to be the beginning of a franchise? Well, I wouldn’t mind that, to be honest. Sure, this movie didn’t reinvent the wheel and is a little ridiculous at times, but action fans most likely won’t be bored. Hell, they’ll probably like it. Let’s see where Momoa’s career goes from here.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Irishman (2019) Review

Director: Martin Scorsese

Genre(s): Biography, Crime, Drama

Runtime: 209 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The Irishman has a lineup that you can’t argue with. It stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci (and Ray Romano) and is directed by Martin Scorsese. Did I mention that it’s three-and-a-half hours long? In this gangster film, which desperately tries to the mob-movie-to-end-all-mob-movies, World War II veteran Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) works his way into the local mob, controlled by Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), becoming a hitman and befriending corrupt union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). Is it worth investing those three-and-a-half hours into?

One of the most noteworthy of the behind-the-scenes tricks featured in The Irishman was the computer-generated de-aging done to make the actors look different ages at different points in their lives. I think this was successfully pulled off, and was probably necessary given the huge timeline this feature has to cover. Yes, this is one of the most epic-scale gangster pictures ever released, with the characters experiencing several major historical events that I won’t give away here. Despite this, some of the most entertaining moments in this flick are the comparatively smaller scenes that give the audience a slice of criminal life.

The Irishman is stuffed to the brim with content…perhaps too much. While most of the movie focuses on the three big leads, countless supporting characters come and go. Many (but not all) of the killings lack a certain gravity for this reason. It’s just another job to do. Maybe the story would’ve been served better in a mini-series format? Maybe not, I’m just throwing ideas out there.

It may have highly casual pacing, but I think The Irishman is worth checking out. It’s definitely a drama, but there are some funny scenes sprinkled in. The performances can’t be criticized, and the massive scope of the motion picture is impressive. It does border on the episodic, but many biopics do, so I suppose I can’t complain too much. The bottom line is that fans of the stars and the director will almost certainly end up satisfied. I can’t say I was as enthused with it as the critics were, but it still a gets a thumbs-up from me.

My rating is 7 outta 10.