Gangs of New York (2002)

May 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

Day-Lewis and DiCaprio squaring off in 'Gangs of New York'

Written by Steve Zaillian, Jay Cocks and Kenneth Lonergan

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis

Gangs of New York will not be a classic film, except perhaps for Daniel Day Lewis’ mesmerizing performance as Bill the Butcher, with his iconic, unique British-New York fusion accent and his imposing presence. The film sports an exceptionally pedigreed cast, but is otherwise only so-so.

If you take out Bill the Butcher it’s a rather tepid historical epic of no particular importance, with rather bland characters fighting over a tiny patch of land on the edge of an infant-New York city. Leonardo DiCaprio does an alright job as Amsterdam, the upstart young Irish protagonist of the film, an orphan with a score to settle with Bill the Butcher from his early child hood. He smolders, cries and fights effectively, but there’s still a sense of him trying to shed his boyish image from his earlier career. He’s accompanied by a cast of familiar faced young character actors (Stephen Graham, Henry Thomas, Larry Gilliard, Jr., etc.) given one dimensional characters as his friends and compatriots in the streets of the rough 5-points district of a still forming New York city.

We get minor but effective appearances from stalwart older character actors like Liam Neeson, Brendan Glesson and John C. Reilly as elder statesmen of the area, but the film belongs to DiCarprio and Day-Lewis. Cameron Diaz is alright as a tough, street wise pickpocket who is the object of every man’s affections, but ultimately her character is superfluous to the overall story. She exists to give the male characters something else to think about besides murdering each other.

Gangs is an ambitious film with a lot of effort put into it by a who’s who of actors, producers and of course the legendary director Martin Scorsese, but it doesn’t stand up to similar epic fair in the grand scheme of cinema.

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Knight and Day (2010)

May 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in 'Knight and Day'

Written by Patrick O’Neill

Directed by James Mangold

Starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz

Hollywood has finally done it. They’ve taken a MacGuffin and made it an entire film, not just a plot point. For all intents and purposes, Knight and Day is a cute, lively action adventure film with a very playful tongue-in-cheek lead performance by Tom Cruise, in a continuing mission to salvage his image and career.

Since his public persona has outgrown his abilities to disappear into a character as an actor, Cruise has resorted to playing up his comedic side in self-referential material. Here he plays Roy Miller, a super secret agent who has perfect combat skills, is a crack shot and sports a killer smile. He’s forced himself into the life of the tomboyish gear head June Havens, played by Cameron Diaz in a very cute performance that never goes deeper than being confused or smitten by the psycho with the charming attitude.

June is on her way to her sister’s wedding. Before she knows it, she finds herself being drugged and whisked away to locales across the globe, in between crazy gun fights and car chases in which she isn’t sure who is good and who is bad, while Roy inexplicably refuses to let her get away from an insane espionage situation that is mostly company in-fighting between him and  his fellow agents. Is he good? Is he bad? Is he just insane? The movie doesn’t make it clear until the final act, but along the way Cruise, Diaz and director James Mangold do their darndest to make the film fun and exhilarating with long, complicated chase scenes through scenic locales as they dump mountains of bullets from their massive, fancy guns. The excuse for the proceedings is a new kind of battery that has infinite life and can power a small city. It’s really unimportant, just an excuse for the action. It’s a perfect MacGuffin.

Sadly, we have seen this formula before far too many times before to make a single scene exciting. Some of the green screen is atrociously sloppy and since virtually nothing is at stake, its hard to care about anyone or anything. It’s just a really pretty, really slick, vapid action movie with no discernible characteristics.

As evidence, the film couldn’t even come up with a title. At first it was Wichita (the first location in the film) and then they settled on the non-sensical Knight and Day. That sums up the movie. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, it’s just a generically over the top Tom Cruise vehicle with no discernible characteristics. Perhaps it’s his way of giving us a comedic version of his Ethan Hunt character, but basically there’s nothing here.

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