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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Leon

Ali (2001)

Float like a butterfly and sting like a, uhm, something. I forget.

Meet Cassius Clay, Jr. (Will Smith), a twenty-something boxer who is fresh, young and chock full of fight. He’s also got a bit of a mouth on him that doesn’t make him the most popular boxer among his fellow confidantes, but definitely makes him popular in the eyes of the media that wants to hear/see everything he says/does. But like it is with most celebrities in the public limelight, there usually comes controversy and Clay’s was filled with plenty of it. First came his name change; then, his alliance with Malcolm X (Mario Van Peebles); his numerous marriages and affairs; his defiance against joining the U.S. Army due to “religious reasons”; his relationship with known sports-commentator Howard Cosell (Jon Voight); and plenty more where that came from. All of this eventually leads up to the infamous fight he had with a boxer by the name of George Foreman, in which most people dubbed, “the Rumble in the Jungle”.

Some of you die hards out there may already take notice to the fact that I’ve reviewed this one before, but honestly, that was so far back when, I can hardly remember what I gave it. All I do remember is that I watched it, wrote a terrible review on it and hardly remembered anything after seeing it. That’s what happened to me with most movies back in those early, immature days of my life, but nowadays, when I see something, I give it my full, undivided attention.

So yeah, I decided to give this a re-watch because I knew there was something about I needed to see once again and decide what about it drew me back to it. And after having seen it, for a second time mind you, I can’t really come up with an answer. That’s not because I didn’t pay attention again this time; in fact, it was quite the opposite. I fueled up on so much coffee, I was about to jump right out of the window before seeing this. Meaning, that I was so ready to see this and be able to give it the response it’s worth and not something I put out those many years ago.

"West Philadelphia, born and raised, beyatch!"

“West Philadelphia, born and raised, beyatch!”

But nope. Somehow, nothing seemed to change. Sure, I remembered the movie a lot better now than I did before, but there’s just something odd about this movie and I think that all comes down to Michael Mann himself being the director. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with Michael Mann as a director; in fact, I think he’s one of the better ones out there nowadays and I can’t wait to see what he’s got cooking next with this new film starring Chris Hemsworth. However, the problem with him is that when he’s feeling extra “artsy”, it gets in the way of his story – or, in this movie’s case, the lack thereof.

Which, for a biopic about one of sport’s most influential icons ever, means something. Not only do you get in the way of actually connecting to a character that some can deem “misunderstood”, but you don’t really allow there to be anything remotely interesting driving this character, or their story along for us to say. Throw on a two-and-a-half-hour run-time and you’re asking way too much of an audience, especially when you’re not giving them anything to really hold onto.

And that’s not to say everything Mann does here is bad – the look, sound and overall feel of this movie is, predictably, wonderful. You can tell that Mann didn’t take this as some sort of “paycheck gig” and throw in the towel (excuse the pun); he actually puts a spin on the look of this movie when re-creating the environment the United States in the 60’s. Even the boxing sequences themselves are pretty neat, but not in the way you’d expect them to be; rather than having the boxing bouts be full of hooks, jabs, punches, punches and hugs every single second, Mann focuses on what most boxing matches can be: Boring. Now, I’m not saying that boxing in and of itself is boring, but there can be the occasional lull in the action and Mann focuses on that quite well, almost to the point of where it’s too realistic.

Still though, I’ll take realism over any goofy, over-the-top boxing match (which is pretty much what the Rocky films ended up being).

But, like I said before, those bold moves don’t really work unless you can find a way to make the story work as well and that’s just what the problem is here. Mann literally places us right slap dab in the middle of Ali’s life without much rhyme, reason, or even a background on who this person is, why he is the way he is, and exactly who/what made him this way. A part of me feels like Mann was just assuming that all of us know this, or simply don’t care, which isn’t true; getting to know somebody famous and iconic from where they came from is probably the most compelling aspect behind getting a full picture of a person really is and why they’re so worth studying in the first place.

Here though, we just get Ali, who talks a lot, bangs a lot, fights a lot, and changes his mind about whatever it is that he believes in with the drop of a hat. Which, yet again, is another interesting spin Mann takes on this story, but it hardly ever goes anywhere. Instead, we just see Ali act this way and hardly ever get anymore development on it. And that’s pretty much how the rest of this movie plays out: Stuff happens, you never really get a reasoning behind it and it’s off to the next sequence of stuff happening. But while for most movies, from some directors out there (namely Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, etc.), this would work because of how exciting and compelling this stuff is, Mann goes at such a slow-pace, it’s downright dreadful to sit through at times.

For instance, did we really need a seven-minute concert performance by Sam Cooke to start the movie off? Better yet, did we need to see a whole, nearly ten-minute sequence in which Ali jogs through the streets of Africa? Sure, all of it looks and sounds pretty, but when it doesn’t really add much to the final product, what’s the point? By then, you’re just taking up space and precious time, so don’t bother with it!

The make-up department was just having a field day with this one I'm sure.

The make-up department was just having a field day with this one I’m sure.

Another problem that most seem to have with this movie that I can somewhat attest to is how Will Smith is doing more of a full-fledged impersonation of Ali, rather than an actual performance in and of itself. And while I don’t necessarily think Will Smith does a bad job in the role (he tries so very hard, it’s almost uncomfortable to watch at times because you never know if he’s going to sprain an acting-muscle), I can’t say that I think this performance is “Oscar-worthy” or even the best he’s given, ever. Regardless of what some may say, Will Smith is a very good actor when he wants to be and when he’s given the right material, and here, he just doesn’t have it. He’s supposed to sound, look, and act like Ali and he does a fine job at that, but really getting to the core of somebody the media usually portrays as a “misunderstood, yet incredibly influential icon”, is just not something he’s able to do.

Once again, most of that blame is put onto those who gave him this thin-material to work with, as well as Mann for not really pushing Smith harder than he’d ever been pushed before.

The same can sort of be said for the supporting cast as well, which has plenty of recognizable names and faces, yet, aren’t given much to do except just act like other famous people. Jon Voight, for no other reason than that he’s Jon Voight, was nominated for an Oscar here as Howard Cosell which, like in the case of Smith’s Ali, is nothing more than an impersonation aided by very well-done hair and make-up; Giancarlo Esposito shows up as Ali’s daddy and gets a few scenes to work, but seems like a lot of his stuff was cut-out; Mario Van Peebles has some impressive scenes as Malcolm X, but, yet again, is just doing an impersonation; and Mykelti Williamson, despite being quite hilarious as Don King, feels more like a caricature than an actual boxing promoter (much like the real Don King, I guess, but that’s not the point). The only one who really steps away unscathed is Jamie Foxx who, before this movie, was mostly known for his comedy, but at least shows that he had some dramatic-chops in his system as one of Ali’s trainers.

Makes total sense now why Mann would later cast Foxx in the much-better Collateral, but that’s another review, for another day, folks.

Consensus: While it’s clear that mostly everybody involved tries, Ali comes off more like an uninvolved highlight-reel of the famous boxer’s most famous and controversial moments, that would probably be more compelling to actually read in a biography, than everything here.

4.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

"You best watch what you say about Jaden! That kid's an intellectual!:

“You best watch what you say about Jaden! That kid’s an intellectual!:

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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Léon: The Professional (1994)

Who said hitmen don’t have souls?

Leon (Jean Reno) is a professional hitman that does his job, does it right, gets it over with, and by the end of the day, has a nice glass of milk and goes to sleep. One day, however, a friendly little neighbor of his named Mathilda (Natalie Portman), finds her family gunned-down by a mad DEA agent (Gary Oldman) in their apartment and is left with nowhere to go. Leon, against his original rules and regulations he’s had set in stone for many years, decides to take her in under his wing and train her to be something of a contract-killer in her own right. However, there’s a problem about this 12-year old girl, she isn’t exactly anything that he has ever encountered in life. Ever.

It’s a shame that writer/director Luc Besson hasn’t had a decent flick in about a good decade or so, because at one time, this guy was considered the go-to son-of-a-bitch when it came to action-packed thrillers that delivered on the guns and bullets, as well as the fun that made it all so damn entertaining. I’m not much of a fan with Besson since some of his last couple of projects have been a bit terrible (and trust me, The Family isn’t all that special either), but dammit does this film make me hate him even more!

Come on, Luc! Just come back to us and do what you did for this world in the first place!

I remember the first time my discretly deadly, French neighbor taught me how to load a pistol.

I remember the first time my discretely deadly, French neighbor taught me how to load a pistol. Those were the days.

That last sentence may have you confused as to whether or not I liked this film, because trust me, I didn’t just like it, I LOVED it. And why this movie pisses me off and makes me hate Besson even more for throwing out garbage left and right at the screens nowadays, is because this is the movie that reminds me why this guy kicks so much ass and is great at doing, what it is that he does. This movie has some of the most tense and suspenseful action scenes that I have ever witnessed on-screen in a long-ass time and it’s all because Besson knows how to pace himself and his material. Every once and awhile, Besson will come out guns ‘a blazing and bullets flying everywhere, and it’s just as violent as it is fun; however, he also allows for there to be some downtime devoted to character-development and emotion, while also still maintaining the fun-aspect of it all to where it’s not just about Besson filling in the blanks to the next action scene, he’s actually setting up more tension. It continues on that way throughout the whole 2 hours you’re stuck with it, and it never lets up.

But as much as this film may be a slam-bang, action-thriller at times, it’s also a very endearing and heartfelt story about the bond between the oddest of all odd couples out there: Leon and Mathilda. Aside from the amazing performances that help the characters out, there is a real piece of heart and humanity that lies within them and makes this film tick each and every second it gets the chance to. Yeah, sometimes Mathilda does get a little weird with what she says to Leon, but what’s so great about their dynamic with one another is that one is more immature and mature than the other, and it’s not the in the way you’d expect it to be or be shown.

For example, Leon is a bit of a dummy when it comes to reading and expressing his emotions, whereas Mathilda is not and helps him through that. But also, Mathilda has problems with killing people and coming to grips with growing-up, whereas Leon does and helps her through all of that in his subtle, shy way. It’s a strange dynamic that these two have, but, they both make the movie so much more special and never once feels forced. It all feels like a part of the story that’s meant to be told so that when these character’s lives are actually in danger, we care a hell of a lot more than we ever do with action flicks and that’s what separates this movie from plenty others of the same kind.

Sometimes, I think the film does go a bit over-board with the playful tone it tends to give the scenes where it’s just them two because as happy and goofy as they both may be together, it still feels a bit out-of-place. Especially when they have that overbearing score that continues to play an accordion as if somebody just walked into a pizza shop in Hell’s Kitchen. I get it, Besson, they’re all happy and having a jolly time, now knuckle down and get this thing back to being a little serious so it doesn’t seem a bit too strange to see a tough hitman, rolling around and chasing a 12-year old girl. Yeah, made it sound a lot creepier than it should be but trust me, it’s not as bad once you watch the movie. Trust me.

And the reason why it isn’t as creepy is not just because of Besson’s approach, but because of the spectacular performances from the two stars involved: Jean Reno and Natalie Portman. Reno is the type of actor that you see show-up in a lot of shit nowadays (Alex Cross, for one) and definitely does what he can with the role he’s given, but just never seems to shine anymore than the screenplay allows him to. It’s almost as if all of the charm and brightness he once had, has just been lost on mediocre script, after mediocre script. However, it’s always nice to spot him back in the golden days of his acting-career and his role as Leon being the most iconic, and most significant one. Reno is very soft-spoken and a tad naive about himself, but never comes off as a fool because the guy knows when to kill, do it right, but also turn on his “nice-guy mode” when he gets back home. It’s a performance that shows a hitman for being more than just a heartless killer; he can actually have a personality and be a nice guy for a change, and that is an idea that Reno runs oh so perfectly with. God, I wish this guy was in more stuff. I really do.

Don't worry, he'll get the case solved. Just don't expect there to be any evidence.

Don’t worry, he’ll get the case solved. Just don’t expect there to be any evidence.

We all know Portman as being that big, A-list celebrity that seems to be the next big thing in terms of Hollywood’s leading ladies, but believe it or not, playing a young, but smart 12-year old girl from the streets was one of her first roles ever, and it ranks as one of her best, if not one of the best child performances of all-time. What makes Mathilda so damn awesome as a character is because she’s your typical kid, who always tries to act like she knows everything and is smart on any topic you throw at her, but doesn’t feel like a contrivance Besson can just throw at us. It actually feels like she’s a Ms. Smarty Pants right as soon as we meet her. And besides, even if she does know a lot more than you would ever expect her to, she doesn’t know everything and that shines on throughout this whole movie whenever he and Leon converse about the meaning of life and just what the hell is there to make sense of it all. Portman is so damn charming, funny, and entertaining to watch as Mathilda that even though she has the weirdest occupation that a 12-year-old could ever have, she still seems like a real kid and one that I would love to just be around, even though I’m 20 and it’d be a little weird. I’d definitely like to hang-out with Portman now, but, however, I think that time has passed. Damn me for not being born earlier!

As great as these two are, the real scene-stealer of the whole movie is definitely Gary Oldman as the crooked cop, Lt. Stansfield. As everybody knows, Oldman was the guy that Hollywood always called on when they needed somebody to play an outrageous, over-the-top, cook-ball of a villain and that is no different here. And seeing what he does with Stansfield, you’ll see why he was called on so much. Oldman is just wild and totally off-his-rocker throughout the whole movie and just plays this bad guy like the type of evil S.O.B. you’d expect him to be. Even though it’s nothing we haven’t seen before from a villainous role, Oldman is so good at it that you can never take your eyes off of him. Oldman has a lot of fun with this role, which is obvious, but the most fun is watching him as he chews scenery unlike any other and his scenes are sometimes the most tense because you never know when that switch of his is going to automatically flip.

Consensus: Leon: The Professional still features all of the amazingly violent action-scenes that we have come to know and love of Luc Besson, but also features more substance than just a bunch of violence, and actually has a heartfelt story that’s executed so perfectly by everybody involved, especially Reno and Portman who have almost never been better. I would put Oldman in there too, but trust me, the guy’s been crazier, if you can find that hard enough to believe.

9 / 10 = Full Price!!

How could blow up a little precious face like that to pieces?

How could blow up a little precious face like that to pieces?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

La Femme Nikita (1990)

Skills needed to join the CIA? Must have a previous life devoted mainly to crime and drugs.

When her junkie friends are killed by a bunch of cops after a botched pharmacy heist, small, French gal Nikita (Anne Parillaud) decides to take a chomp of out of a cop, and then shoots him moments later. This obviously lands her in the slammer and is going to keep her there for quite some time, possibly even life. Well, that doesn’t happen as Nikita soon dies out of nowhere. Or, so that’s what the rest of the world thinks. The reality of the situation here actually is that Nikita has been thrown into a secret government agency program where she will be trained, nurtured, and taught how to be a working-force of wits, smarts, physicality, and personality. Over time, Nikita does begin to listen and learn, and somehow finds herself changed for the better. However, when she’s out in the real world where she has to make a new name, life, and living for herself, Nikita can’t quite grip what’s really going on. Add on the barbaric missions she has to complete, and you’ve got a very messed-up secret in your life; one that needs to be let out, or else you’ll one day just explode. Poor girl.

Remember the days when Luc Besson actually used to make fun, tense, quality thrillers? Yeah, me neither. Been quite some time, actually; however, there was a time when the dude was considered one of the best working-names in the biz and it showed in the 90’s with this, Leon: The Professional, and his craziest flick of all, The Fifth Element. Sure, there was plenty more, but those three were considered “The Crowned Jewels” of what Besson could do if he had just the right amount of money, so he could service his audience with just the right amount of gun-play, blood, and violence. And for that, I’m forever grateful. However, I still can’t get past the fact of how overrated I feel like this one is.

Yup, I already know a lot of people are going to gunning for the Comment Section after I just dropped that bomb, but people, please do bear with me here. I have my reasons, and understandable ones, too. Or at least I hope they are, I don’t know, you make the call and let me know.

"I'll teach you to blast your loud music, hobo across the street!"

“I’ll teach you to blast your loud music, hobo across the street!”

Anywho, what I liked about this flick from the beginning was it’s mood. First of all, Besson opens up this flick with a dimly-lit scene of a bunch of French punks robbing and gun-dueling a bunch of cops. Automatically, this starts off a hectic battle where bullets are exchanged, curse words are thrown out, and people begin to drop like flies. It’s fun, exciting, and a little bit scary. It had me expecting the best from Besson, in terms of his action-thriller mode, but then suddenly, something changed with this movie; something I was not expecting in the least bit, but surprisingly liked and thought it was a nice touch. After Nikita gets locked-up and publicly “killed”, she then is sent to ease her time and pain away on a project where she has to become one bad-ass bitch, that has to fight, kill, and smart her way through each and every mission they throw at her. Or at least get ready for the missions they will throw at her, because don’t forget: She is in-training and she has to gear-up for what’s in store for her once she walks out and gets ready to live the rest of her life, or what’s left of it anyway.

Doesn’t sound different at all, right? In fact, you could probably just call it a “rip-off” of Oldboy, despite Oldboy being released almost 17 years after this one, but that’s irrelevant, right? A rip-off is a rip-off, no matter how obvious or subtle, right?

Well, what’s so different about this movie’s approach to the way it handles its middle-half, is that Besson lays low on the action, blood, and dirty stuff, and just gives us a heartwarming, honest, and sometimes funny tale of a trashy girl who was always coked-up on her mind, and is now getting a chance to make a difference in this world, even if it just to kill other people, for reasons unknown. And this probably goes on for a whole hour or so, and it works. It actually really works, I’d say. Besson knows how to write interesting characters, give us reasons to care about them, and make it even easier to wonder when they’re all going to meet up again, and that’s where I feel like this movie was really in it’s zone. There were some tense, action-y moments here and there, in between all of the lovey-dovey stuff, but still worked and kept me watching.

And then, as saddened as I may be to say it, something bad happens to this movie. Not only does Besson lose a little grip on the pacing of his story, but he also loses all sense of what makes a story plausible, or hell, easy to understand. Without spoiling too much and giving it all away, after Nikita succeeds on a couple of jobs, she’s granted the opportunity to work her own mission, with her own crew, and by her own ways. So, in that case, rather than being a chick who does little missions, no matter how risky or easy, she now has become a total pro at it; so professional that she’s given her own assignment and chance to call of the shots. That’s fine and all, but it didn’t make much sense to me, especially considering how up-tight and legitimate this secret agency seemed to be.

But okay, whatever. That’s a little nit-picky I guess, at least the action was solid, right? Well, sort of yes and sort of no. “Yes”, because Besson can make any action sequence, whether it be involving a gun, a car, or just the normal, straight-up fist-a-cuffs, worth watching and thrilling; however, I have to say “no” as well, mainly due to the fact that it comes out nowhere, starts up, ends, comes out of nowhere again, starts up, ends, and then continues the same cycle for awhile, until the movie ends on a total whimper that made me wonder if the movie was over, or if my Crackle account was fucking up or something. Seriously, I sat there for a good 2 minutes wondering just when the rest of this movie was going to pop-up and be shown to me, but little did I know that 2 minutes was exactly how long the credits were. So basically, I just sat there staring at a blank-screen when all was said and done, and it left me feeling blue,

It's like college all over again. Except with more dudes lying on the floor ready for Round 2.

It’s like college all over again. Except less dudes lying on the floor ready for Round 2.

I get that a lot of people probably like the ending because it comes and it goes, in a not-so dramatic way that we’re not used to seeing with these loud, big-budget, insane action-thrillers, but this was almost too anti-climactic and sudden for it’s own good. It leaves so many questions just dangling in the air, which is usually a good thing for any movie, especially one where so much still hangs in the balance, but it sort of just pissed me off here. Liked the idea of ending the story on a more emotional note than I would have ever expected from the opening-sequence, but seriously, it just happened, and that was it. May not piss others off and if that’s the case, then so be it. I’m always glad to not follow the pack, even if it going to make me a tad bit unpopular amongst some.

Thankfully though, the saving grace to all of my anger was the leading performance from Anne Parillaud as the aptly-titled, Nikita. Parillaud wasn’t doing much for me in the beginning because she just seemed too punky and brash for her own good, but once she starts to wake up, smell the coffee, and realize that there are better things in life out there worth living and fighting for, then I began to see a softer side to her character, one that didn’t just come naturally. Through time, we see bits and pieces of who she really is, the sweet, soft, and innocent gal that wants love and happiness, come out and shine in ways that just made me smile along with her. The scene where she kicks some dude in the face, only to do a little shake-and-bake to a symphonic song? Yeah, that’s the crowning-achievement of her performance in this movie and it continued to get better and better as her story started to develop more, and as we learned more about who she really was, and the reasons why. I felt like they could have explored more of who she was from the past, rather than just the present and nothing but, but it’s a little nit-pick of mine, and I think I’ve had enough of them already, so I’ll let it slide.

But also, don’t get me wrong, Nikita is a pretty kick-ass character. I mean that in that literal and figurative sense as well. She does some nice booty-kicking to people who deserve it, and doesn’t shy-away from the real danger, when the going gets going. For that, I give more credit to Besson for actually writing us a female character in an action-movie and actually allowing her to be more bad-ass than most of the dudes. Well, with the exception of “The Cleaner”, played by Jean Reno, who is basically Leon, before Leon. He’s got the look, the talk, the style, and the mastery-skills of silencers, exactly like Leon, but he’s not. Still though, the guy’s just as bad-ass Nikita, if not more and shows us why he deserved his own, way better movie. Hey, what can I say? I’m a big Natalie Portman fan!

Consensus: Though it’s not the slam-bang, action-thriller some may expect coming from the mind of Luc Besson, La Femme Nikita is still a nice mix of drama, heart, and violence, but by the end, doesn’t work so well juggling all three elements, nor does it know how it end itself on a note that makes everybody happy.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"What did you say about platonic friendships between 12-year-olds and 40-year-olds being still considered creepy?!?!?"

“What did you say about platonic friendships between 12-year-olds and 40-year-olds being still considered creepy?!?!?”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net