Leon: The Professional

Leon: The Professional is a 1994 French action film starring Jean Reno, Natalie Portman, and Gary Oldman. It is directed by Luc Besson, also known for The Fifth Element, Transporter 1 & 2, and many other fun, stylistic thriller films.

Leon is a simplistic assassin living in an apartment across the hall from Matilda and her terrible family. Her Dad’s a drug dealer, her sister’s a jerk, and her mom’s a ditz. The only member of Matilda’s family she doesn’t hate is her brother, who has no lines in the entire film, which I found odd, not that it matters.

Matilda’s family is murdered by the Beethoven-loving psychopathic DEA agent Norman Stansfield. Matilda was spared after going to buy some groceries. Stansfield is a legendary villain, and he is actually considered an acclaimed role for Oldman. You can see why. His antics were intended to bring an amount of comic relief, and many of the character’s lines from the film are now popular internet memes.

                                         Ladies and gentleman, Gary Oldman, (over)acting extraordinaire
Leon begrudgingly takes Matilda in and teaches her how to become an assassin (a “cleaner”). Matilda, in return, teaches him how to read and takes care of his plant. They, as expected in these types of films, form a father-daughter bond.
That’s really all I can say about the plot. It’s pretty great, actually. Jean Reno is very good as always, Natalie Portman actually acts in this film (cough Star Wars cough), Gary Oldman is amazing.
For an action flick, some scenes were genuinely heartwarming. I also found some scenes to be… strange. Borderline sexual even. I don’t know what was up with the soundtrack, which included songs such as Bjork’s “Venus As A Boy” over an assassin training/plant watering montage. My one problem with this movie is the awkward sexualization. Not to sound ignorant, but maybe it’s a French thing?
Leon was partially the inspiration behind the supremely entertaining 2014 Action/B movie love letter John Wick (Which I might do a review on today), and it’s easy to see why. The final 15 minutes of the movie contains some of the most ridiculously B.A, moments I’ve ever seen.
Despite some occasionally strange and awkward moments, Leon: The Professional is quite deserving of it’s cult classic status, and is a must-watch for any fan of action, or fans of the remarkable Gary Oldman.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (Mild Spoilers)

Avengers: Age of Ultron is not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination. It is not Oscar material; it is, in fact, a flawed movie. But it’s amazing. The story begins with a raid on the last remaining HYDRA stronghold. It has been criticized for being very cluttered and a little bit confusing. I would agree with this; Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanoff are an item, despite The Avengers leaving them off as friends/colleagues, with no indication of romance as far as I could tell.

One of the things most Marvel Studios projects have is charm and a sense of humor. From the outset, especially having dived into the dark world of Daredevil less than a month earlier, I was very glad to see Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, and Jeremy Renner spouting some very charming, funny dialogue. The action sequence was very entertaining and comic-like.

Aside from the Banner/Romanoff thing, I feel another pitfall was the twins, Wanda and Pietro Maximoff. Not their characters, but the fact that they were written quite thin, I feel. There’s not much for them to do except ruin The Avengers’ day. There was a lot of wasted potential there that I feel could have easily been tapped into if the film simply had a longer runtime. In fact, I feel all of the issues I had with the film would most likely have been solved if Joss Wheedon had stuck with his original 3 and 1/2 hour runtime. That sounds long, (OK, that is really long) but would anyone seriously have minded? I certainly wouldn’t have. A lot of great movies are 3-hours long, I feel Wheedon could’ve easily cut out 20 minutes, and then left the rest, three hours 10 minutes is manageable, right? That extra forty minutes would’ve left a lot of breathing room, because I feel a part of the problem as a whole is that the movie never stops, ever.

Tony Stark and Banner discover Ultron, and decide to check him out. Literally the second they leave the room, Ultron wakes up and immediately decides in order to maintain order, humanity must be culled in true Skynet fashion. He escapes, and the rest of the movie is a chase from South Africa to Eastern Europe, with a small amount of character development brought out through nightmares and such.

Speaking of South Africa, another pitfall is the promising reveal and disappointing and confusing disappearance of the king of mocap himself, Oscar-winner Andy Serkis. The character of Ulysess Klaw seems extremely interesting, and I am psyched that he is most likely going to be heavily featured in the upcoming film Black Panther. You don’t get to see much of him in Age of Ultron, though. He shows up, a very intriguing, intimidating conversation with the Maximoff twins, and then just kind of goes away. That’s it. One of the most overlooked and talented actors in modern Hollywood, and he’s there for five minutes, not even.

So yeah, plot and pacing is not this movie’s strong suit, at least not in the theatrical cut. What it does have in spades, is straight up B.A. action, very well done CGI, charming characters (Granted, most of the characters were previously fleshed out over the course of the preceding ten films), easter eggs, and funny jokes.

The Hulkbuster vs. Hulk fight was great. I’d like to mention that one thing I’d really like to commend the film for is it’s acknowledgement of destruction and innocent bystanders. A big issue a lot of people had with Man of Steel was it’s attitude of “what civilians? They don’t matter!” In Ultron, it’s very apparent that the Hulk willingly causes probably billions in property damages and probably quite a few civilian casualties, an event that will probably come into play in Civil War that has a tremendous effect on Bruce Banner’s psyche.

The coolest part of the movie for me was probably The Vision. I will attempt not to spoil much about him for you, but I hope to see a lot more of him. I’ll leave it at that.

Despite a rushed and somewhat incoherent plot, the exciting visuals, promising and charming characters both new and old, and dialogue by the always sarcastic Joss Wheedon, I am happy to say this might be the most entertaining Marvel movie thus far. It’s not as “good” as The Winter Soldier, sure, but I feel it is a sight to behold nonetheless. Speaking of which, the Russo Brothers moving to replace Joss Wheedon as the “general managers” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a great move. The pair behind not only The Winter Soldier, but also Community and Arrested Development, have the potential to make Infinity War Parts 1 & II legendary films and possibly solidify the MCU’s place in pop culture


Plot: C
Characters: B
Script (Dialogue): A
Action: A
Acting: A
Fan Service: A
Final Grade: B+

Snowpiercer Review (Spoilers)

Snowpiercer is a 2013 South Korean action-thriller film starring Chris Evans and directed by Bong Joon-ho. It is based off of the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige. After the majority of the inhabitants on Earth are killed and the planet is thrusted into a new ice age, the remaining survivors are forced to make a new life for themselves on the titular train, Snowpiercer.

At the beginning of the film, it is quite apparent that Joon-ho is pulling the class war card, which has been used often in the last few years. The survivors are split up and put into two distinct of the train: the tail (lower class) and the front cars (upper class). I went into this movie expecting Elysium: The Redux. Thankfully, that isn’t what I got. What I got was something far more entertaining and somewhat self-aware. It does get quite preachy at points, but makes up for it in pretty much every other way.

At the start of the movie, Curtis (Evans) organizes a revolt, spurred to action by his wise friend and mentor Gilliam, played by the always wonderful John Hurt. There are some cliché indicators of the poverty and hopelessness the tail passengers must deal with. The shamelessly overt dialogue and imagery of the first few moments of the film did not inspire me with much confidence, although Evans, Hurt, and Jamie Bell (Curis’ pal Edgar) give wonderful performances, filling a movie with ridiculous premise (more on that later) with a sense of seriousness and dread.

Thankfully, we aren’t stuck wallowing in the tail section for very long. Curtis begins the revolt when the “food blocks” are delivered. The war has begun, the revolution has a commander in Curtis and a very distinct, straightforward objective: take over the train. Throughout the film, there are several encounters with the uppity and cordial Mr. Mason, a strange woman played by Tilda Swinton. Think Elizabeth Banks’ Hunger Games character, but a complete and utter creepy psychopath. Mason is the right-hand of the mysterious Wilford, the man who created the train.

The fight sequences are pretty brutal, both sides suffer casualties. Not everyone will make it out alive. Speaking of which, I’m beginning to wonder if the film was at least partially inspired by Braveheart. There are several similarities; the charming leader, the bloodshed, the revolution against high-class oppressors, and a couple of other little things. The choreography is very well-done, invoking thoughts of The Raid and Oldboy. Every fight feels realistic. They are very, very good, and the main reason I would recommend this film.

Very early into the revolt, Curtis and friends free a man named Namgoong, the security engineer for the train, and his teenage daughter, who is psychic. Both are heavily addicted to a drug called Kronole. Namgoong agrees to bypass the security system in exchange for Kronole.

Curtis’ revolution continues moving forward strongly until Curtis is captured by Mason and forced to watch not only the massacre of several of the tail population, but the public execution of Gilliam as well. Curtis breaks free and brutally kills Mason, even more determined than before to continue on. After another brutal attack, Curtis, Namgoong, and Yona are the only ones left.

Long story short, they reach the front and Curtis confronts Wilford, who explains that the revolution was a sham to control the trains population; the plan was engineered by Wilford and… Gilliam. This is where the film goes off the rails (pun very much intended) for me. Apparently, due to the revolution being too successful, Wilford had Gilliam executed. What? You planned a bloody revolution to kill off and therefore control the population. It was quite successful in that regard. It was getting out of control, so you decide to execute your secret cohort who was close with the resistance leader, thereby making him a martyr? How does this help you at all? If Gilliam hadn’t got popped, the resistance would have easily been quelled.

Ok, so from the beginning of the movie, it’s established that the tail kids are taken up to the front, never to be seen or heard from again. As it turns out, the kids are used as “replacement parts” for the engine. This made me laugh out loud. I get it, perpetual motion engines, despite the name, cannot run indefinitely, but children? Really? Someone watched Soylent Green a bit too many times.

So they rescue a child named Timmy, and Curtis loses his hand. Namgoong is overwhelmed by a mob and decides to blow the popsicle stand, quite literally, using Kronkole, an explosive substance. The two men sacrifice themselves to protect the children. They live, and see a polar bear, meaning Earth is no longer a lifeless wasteland. Sounds uplifting, until you realize the only surviving members of the human race are a 17-year-old drug addict and an eight-year-old boy. They are doomed, and so is humanity.

Snowpiercer is a film that thankfully doesn’t get unbearably preachy, and instead lets you enjoy the ride. I’m kind of nitpicky, so I definitely did not enjoy this movie as much as others. Despite ludicrous plot holes and what I consider to be a thin plot, the film is anchored by strong performances from pretty much everyone involved and some brutally awesome action sequences. These make Snowpiercer a very entertaining film, despite what I felt to be numerous flaws.

Manhunter Review

Manhunter is a criminally underrated psychological thriller starring William Petersen, Dennis Farina, Tom Noonan, and Brian Cox. It was directed by none other than Michael Mann, who is known for critically acclaimed films like Heat, The Insider, Ali, and Collateral.

Manhunter is based off the novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. Red Dragon is the first in a series of novels featuring Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter. Yes, the same Hannibal later played by actor Anthony Hopkins in the much more widely known, critically acclaimed 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs, based off the book of the same name, which is a sequel to Red Dragon.

Despite being a great film, in my opinion, Manhunter, now considered a cult classic, was neither financially successful or well received by critics. Apparently, it was considered too “stylish.” I don’t even know what they were trying to convey, as I don’t see how this film is either “stylish” or “stylized,” which is what I thought they meant at first. I don’t know, maybe it has something to do with the 80’s that I don’t know about. The only “style” I see in the movie is the heavy synthesizer use, and, given how the synth was all the rage back then, I don’t see anything to complain about.

Petersen, who later became known as Gil Grissom on CSI, was criticized for his performance as Will Graham. I personally thought it was a very good, nuanced portrayal of a quiet man who is slightly disturbed by, though acceptive of, his remarkable empathetic abilities. He was much more believable in the role than Ed Norton was less than 20 years later.

This film is sufficiently entertaining and quite creepy. It wastes no time; it cuts through the B.S. The dialogue is slick, quick, and efficient. Brian Cox gives a great performance despite having a relatively small amount of screen time, Farina is believable as Crawford, Noonan gives a good performance, though I must admit, Ralph Fiennes is one of the only aspects of 2001’s Red Dragon I genuinely prefer over Manhunter.

Though it is not Michael Mann’s all-time greatest work, Manhunter deserves a heck of a lot more credit then it gets. Despite the film being considered a hidden gem, with a 97% approval on Rotten Tomatoes, not a lot of people seem to know about it, which is a real shame. Most likely, it’s been stuck in the shadow of Lambs, which is also a great film, don’t get me wrong. Even so, I think I may enjoy Manhunter more than Silence of the Lambs. (GASP!) It’s on Netflix, I recommend you go watch it when you have the time.

Daredevil Review (Most of the videos featured contain spoilers!)

So I’m a pretty big Marvel nerd, in case you didn’t know. That doesn’t mean I’m blinded (pun intended) or biased by anything in this review. I pretty much hated the first Thor and was very “bleh” when it comes to the first Captain America movie.  I don’t mean to say they’re flawless films, because most of those movies are admittedly flawed. I just enjoy most Marvel Studios projects in spite of them, immensely so. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about Daredevil.

Daredevil is, and I believe I can say this with certainty, not only Marvel Studios’ greatest achievement, but Netflix’s best work so far, as well. I can’t think of any TV show or movie that has made me empathize with literally all the characters in some way. If Matt, Foggy, Karen, or even Fisk is sad, I feel their pain; I understand them. If there has been a movie or show that has done that to me before, it certainly wasn’t superhero-related, I must admit. Hero or villain, I felt I understood them and their actions, however flawed they’re logic may be, even if something like this happens.

Yeah… Kingpin is terrifying.
This empathy is in no small part due to the performances, especially that of Vincent D’Onofrio. Remember the L&O: C.I. days, where he played a possibly borderline autistic, yet brilliant detective? Well, those days are over. In Daredevil, he plays a possibly borderline autistic, rich, absurdly violent, straight up creepy psychopathic crime boss who makes some extremely stupid decisions when he’s angry, in case you didn’t notice that. Yet, unlike the usual villain, who you just don’t like, Wilson Fisk is an extremely empathetic man with goals who wants to do the right thing and save his city; of course he wants to do that in the most wrong way humanly possible, but still. He has emotions, he even genuinely loves a woman. He also had… like, pretty much the worst Dad ever. For real, though.
On the flipside, Charlie Cox, who I have never heard of before now, plays a blind lawyer who is also basically a ninja, and does so extremely well. It’ll make sense, trust me. By day, Matt Murdock is a brilliant defense attorney working in his own firm with his best friend, Foggy Nelson. But by night, he mercilessly beats criminals and scumbags as the vigilante who will eventually come to be known as Daredevil, but is known throughout most of the series as “the Man in Black.” Unlike Fisk, all this violence, which they both deem as “an unfortunate necessity,” doesn’t sit well with the staunchly Catholic Murdock. Most times, the whole “is what I’m doing right?” church-penance thing feels hokey and uncomfortable. It’s completely believable here; some of the most important and pivotal scenes take place in a church. In fact, the second scene in the series is Murdock giving his first confession in a very long time. The entire dialogue is great and gives us insight into Murdock as a character.
Speaking of violence, everyone who says “Marvel’s for kids” can be sent packing. If you let kids watch this, as I’m sure many parents who are familiar with Marvel Studios’ other works did, you are making an awful parenting mistake. That’s not to say it’s egregious and disturbing for the sake of it. It never goes too far. It goes as far as it should; as far as it needs to to get it right. And they do. Marvel Studios struck a deal with Netflix in 2013 to produce a series of shows focusing on lesser-known, darker, “street-level” characters. Netflix, a private, non-network entity, was free to give the Daredevil team complete creative control. They completely disregarded Marvel Studios standing as “the kiddified one,” creating something so dark and so gritty it makes Chris Nolan’s Batman, who I love, look like Adam West. You may be wondering how something like this can be set in the same universe as “The Avengers.” I was constantly forgetting I was watching a show set in a world with superheroes. That’s because it isn’t a superhero show. Creator Stephen S. Deknight explained that he took inspiration from Dog Day Afternoon, Taxi Driver, and The French Connection. It is not a superhero show, it’s a 13-hour neo-noir film set in a world with superheroes. It’s not campy, there are no indestructible boomerang shields or magic hammers with names no one can pronounce. And it is amazing.
 The fight sequences are better than virtually anything else. Neither Oliver Queen nor Jason Bourne have got jack against Daredevil, and I love both the Bourne Trilogy and Arrow. If you need proof…
2008’s Iron Man did something unprecedented when it established the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Daredevil did something equally unprecedented when it decided to break free of that universe. It’s not bogged down by references to characters or coming events, nor does it attempt to tease what’s to come. Instead of Daredevil being about the universe, the universe is a unaffected backdrop. The events and characters of Daredevil are laughably insignificant compared to The Avengers. Ironically, I felt there was a lot more at stake, a lot more to loose, in Daredevil than in Iron Man or the Avengers, and this is coming from a guy who loves those movies. Daredevil is the best thing Marvel’s done so far. It accomplishes this by… not being anything like Marvel. So, you can hate Marvel. You can hate superheroes. It doesn’t matter what your excuse is, you need to watch Daredevil.