Tag Archives: Vin Diesel

Saving Private Ryan (1998) 3.79/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Bad – 55.3
Genre: War
Duration: 169 mins
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore

After successfully landing in Normandy on D-Day, a platoon of US Marines are sent on a unique mission of mercy to locate and bring to safety a soldier whose brothers have all been killed in action. Naturally, the orders put the men’s perspective on duty and morality at odds with one another as the needs of the few are seen to outweigh the needs of the many. Outside of the opening sequence which is undeniably terrific, Saving Private Ryan is a largely ham-fisted affair when placed side-by-side with the great WWII movies. Steven Spielberg shows little patience or subtlety and rather than giving us a real picture of humanity and war in the manner of Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line (released the same year), he instead falls back on a cartoon depiction of good guys versus bad guys. The greater success of this film comparative to Malick’s film, would seem to be therefore attributable entirely to the first 15 mins  – a battle sequence so spectacular and visceral that it seems to act as a cloak for the rest of the film – as if the audience will be so desperate for the remainder of the film to be worthy of its opening that they will willfully ignore the most blatant of shortcomings. The simple truth is that the remainder of the film is driven by childish and cliched moral quandaries the likes of which were addressed just as superficially and ad nauseum throughout years of Star Trek: The Next Generation and its spin-offs. But it wouldn’t be nearly as frustrating if Spielberg wasn’t (as usual) trying to ram the sickly sweet sentimentality (so primitively intertwined with cardboard notions of patriotism) down the audience’s throats. This is something he has done for far too long now and with too few exceptional interludes to excuse it. This is not to say Spielberg is a poor director. He’s a truly brilliant director who just lives up to his talent far too seldom due to an over-reliance on visual effects and/or reluctance to move out of his comfort zone.

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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) 2.5/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 73.4
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy
Duration: 121 mins
Director: James Gunn
Stars: Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Benicio Del Toro

Yet another comic book blockbuster from the Marvel stable of sci-fi fantasy. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel are the eponymous heroes whose self-interests bring them together against a common foe who, like every other super villain these days, will settle for nothing else but the destruction of the galaxy. What saves this film from the black hole pull of a mind-numbingly familiar genre is the fresh sense of fun James Gunn brings to the script and its direction. The characters are drawn and played out with a care-free irreverence that drives the movie as a whole. There are no erroneously earnest pauses in tone to allow for some heavy handed emotional button pushing – well, none that aren’t cleverly rescued in time. Guardians of the Galaxy is a joke and everyone’s happy to play it that way. It all lays the groundwork for some genuinely side splitting humour, most of which, involves Cooper’s talking and brilliantly mental space rodent.

Though Pratt is a wonderfully unassuming lead with lots of self-deprecating charisma and Bradley is in rich vocal form, most of the credit must still go to Gunn. Making a funny movie doesn’t just require you to write funny but to direct funny and armed with his anthology of vintage pop tracks and a very wry sense of editing, he rocket propels the humour in his script. Okay, so a few of the jokes are taken a step too far but most are delivered with polish. And when we’re not laughing, the simply astounding visual effects ensure that we have something impressive to look at too and, while it never escapes the CGI look, the movie remains an immaculate piece of visual artistry. On this canvas, Gunn (particularly early on) crafts some dazzling action sequences and the ceaselessly fantastic gadgetry and conveyor belt of amazing aliens adds handsomely to their enjoyment.

Where the movie inevitably falls flat however, is in the wearingly repetitive plot that seems no different to that which the likes of Thor, The Avengers, or any number of the endless comic book adaptations (that we’ve been utterly plagued with these last five years) have offered up. Plots that seem to serve no other purpose than to provide a platform for endless battles and flashy explosions. For all the good this movie does with its character construction and comedic dialogue and for all the ingenuity of Gunn’s action, the brain eventually just switches off during these protracted sequences because the premise is too flimsy to support them. It’s part of Hollywood’s magic formula so it won’t soon change but anyone who doesn’t have the hormonal constitution of a 14 year old boy, is liable to find this movie’s visual narrative veering towards 3rd act tedium. Thankfully, Guardians of the Galaxy wraps up at just under two hours and while still perhaps 15-20  minutes too long, it’s a damn sight shorter than most other modern comic adaptations. Alongside its richer character and dialogue base, that saving grace, gives Gunn’s movie a significant edge on  the generic horde of superhero vehicles.

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Riddick (2013)

 

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Rating: The Good – 73.8
Genre: Science Fiction, Action
Duration: 119 mins
Director: David Twohy
Stars: Vin Diesel, Karl Urban, Katee Sackhoff

Waking up tattered and broken on a desolate alien planet, the surly goggle-donning Riddick decides to hole up and recuperate. However, when hordes of slumbering monsters begin to awake from a long sleep, he decides the time has come to leave and so he lures a bunch of gnarly bounty-hunters to come get him with the intention of nabbing their ship.

When it comes to the science fiction genre, the alien planet and space fiction sub genres are massively under-represented and it’s a real shame given their ability to dominate the imagination of their audience. What these films offer better than perhaps any other genre is a context that can invigorate old stories and narratives by infusing them with exotic concepts and ideas. Pitch Black, the elegantly economical forerunner to Riddick, was a testament to this ability as it energised both the “all against the desert” and “monster horror” scenarios by making the desert an alien setting with two baking hot suns and the monsters ferocious nocturnal creatures who hunt ravenously on the rare occasions night comes along. Of course, Pitch Black was much more too in that it used the transition from one scenario to another as a pulsating genre shift and contrasted the intentions of the group with those of a magnetic central character. But the main trick to Pitch Black was that it used the context as an incidental backdrop to the story. This allowed character to dominate and the story to feel more substantial. The first sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick, forgot this and got drawn towards the shiny allure of special effects and expansive plot so that the science fiction universe became bigger than character, even that of Riddick’s. Needless to say, the contained magic of Pitch Black was lost.

With Riddick, writer-director David Twohy has attempted to return to the basics and for the most part, he’s got it right. Again the central story here is that of a manhunt, the pillars of which are a scintillating group of gritty characters. The “working together or die alone” theme is played on yet again but to sufficiently different effect than in Pitch Black as to warrant another trip around the block. Best of all, everything is again coloured (but not eclipsed) by Riddick’s personality and Vin Diesel is every bit as good as he was thirteen years ago. It’s not easy to be both charming, sinister, and bad ass but Diesel always seemed to have a handle on it while in Riddick mode through a combination of his good timing, drawl delivery, and burly physique. Of course, Twohy’s writing and framing and that familiar minimalist costume design helps but it remains impressive that Diesel has managed to retain that same edge.

As he did in Pitch Black, Twohy shows enough trust in his long time collaborator’s presence to surround him with all sorts of uniquely memorable characters. These can be separated into two groups. A ragtag posse of pillaging hunters who are first to respond to Riddick’s bait and the altogether more slick unit which follow. Thanks to some sparky dialogue and some truly outstanding casting, every last one of these guys (and we are talking nine or ten different characters here) are terrific fun. Jordi Mollà as the slimy leader of the first group is a veritable throwback to the best sci-fi villains of the 80’s being as repellent as he is compelling. BSG’s Katee Sackhoff is probably better than ever as the ball breaking sniper from the competing team but it’s the guy who plays her boss, Matt Nable, who really drives the early bounty hunter sequences. The former rugby league player is perfectly grizzled as the hi tech bounty hunter and provides an intuitive foil for the primal nemesis of Riddick – once the shiny headed/shiny eyed antihero intrudes on their party.

The technical qualities of the film are just as impressive. Twohy does much to give the planet a personality of its own through a combination of rich lighting and impressive CGI. The nasty inhabitants of the planet, everything from roaming packs of strange wolves to giant amphibious scorpions, are well designed, ably brought to life, and quite scary. Beating within all this is a powerful sense of momentum thanks to Twohy’s ability to establish, maintain, and escalate pace. The stirring signature score of the original fleets in and out but the less defined replacement is both muscular and pleasing. The action is again restrained compared to big budget actioners which of course magnifies its overall all effect and leaves more time for character and Twohy’s ever tasty dialogue.

As impressive as all this is, it’s a series of little things that partially let the show down. A needless vulgarity on Riddick’s part at one or two points only diminishes his mystique and takes the sheen off the screenplay. An early flashback sequence linking the events of the second instalment with this one during which Karl Urban reprises his role also feels out of tone with the rest of the film. Most unsettling however is the transition between manhunt and monster fighting which occurs much later than in Pitch Black and is somewhat rushed. In the end, it feels like a token step for the story to take as if to fully replicate the template of the first film. That said, the plus column significantly outweighs the negative as thanks to its character respecting slickly written script, its interesting cast, and the bold technical qualities of the film, Riddick is thrilling and loaded with personality.

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Pitch Black (2000) 3.74/5 (5)

 

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Rating: The Good – 76.8
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror
Duration: 109 mins
Director: David Twohy
Stars: Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser

Science fiction movies set outside Earth are not always great (just try counting those you can remember off hand), but this clever low budget production succeeds by covering the fundamentals: a solid premise, interesting characters, and achieving a distinct look of its own. A transport shuttle crash-lands on a deserted planet that has three suns just in time for a rare spell of darkness that wakes a horde of flying nocturnal man-eating creatures. The only thing the motley group of survivors have going for them is a dangerous killer who was being transported with them as a prisoner. Vin Diesel defies all his critics by breathing a charismatic venom into this Riddick character, a man who plays by his own code and feels little for those who fall behind. The rest of the cast are terrific and they each offer something different to the plot’s dynamic but this is Vin Diesel’s film.

David Twohy’s vision is truly unique and instantly memorable and Jim and Ken Wheat’s story accomplishes a rarity in sci fi by building a new believable and quietly captivating interplanetary universe. However, the key to this film is that is uses its science fiction setting merely as a context to tell an interesting story. Too many modern sci-fi’s treat the universe as the most important feature of the film when good story telling demands that it be incidental to the story. Pitch Black makes no such mistake and so the universe becomes something we become tied into naturally and with ease. In fact, even Riddick is introduced as peripheral to the plot and so like the alien planet, the audience are left to notice him themselves. This makes him all the more enigmatic and by providing more of a contextual function in the opening act, the character’s personality is allowed to dominate the movie but in a totally unobtrusive manner. It works a treat and adds yet another unique element to this film.

Like the set-up, the plot progresses unpredictably and keeps the audience on their toes throughout the first act while a delicious balance is simultaneously struck between frenetic action and character construction. This is best illustrated in the utterly scintillating opening scene wherein after receiving a narrated introduction to the main players via a spine-tingling monologue from Riddick, we are treated to an awesomely directed and breathless crash sequence. This sets the pace for the rest of the movie and Twohy, Diesel, and company don’t let it slip for one minute.

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Boiler Room (2000) 3.57/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 72.5
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Duration: 102 mins
Director: Ben Younger
Stars: Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Nia Long

Boiler Room is a surprisingly good tale of a young man seduced into the slick world of illegal stock-brokering only for it to inevitably blow up in his face. There’s lots to admire about this film. It has all the energy of a film aimed at a 20′s-something audience but with a more mature dramatic tension and subject matter. The idea of finding one’s way in a generation where ambition has been distorted by MTV attention spans takes a prominent place in this story with the authentically constructed world of fast and loose stock brokering providing a reflective background in much the same way as it did in Wall Street. In fact, Boiler Room could quite justifiably be regarded as a spiritual sequel to Wall Street, at least far more so than the disappointing 2010 Money Never Sleeps. Its cast is replete with a who’s who of turn of the century up-and-comers led by the excellent Giovani Ribisi proving he does indeed have the chops to carry a film. Vin Diesel and Nicky Katt are equally good as the high-flying brokers who take him under their wing and Ron Rifkin is his usual brilliant self in the role of Ribisi’s disapproving father. Writer/director Ben Younger deserves most of the plaudits though for not only crafting an edgy and riveting script but for also pulling off a rare blending of film-making styles in shooting it. There are a number of secondary dramatic plots playing out across the entire film but thanks to the hip hop infused energy of his direction, they all pull in the same direction. The result is a sharp and relevant drama that brushes up against some interesting themes while entertaining throughout.

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