Thrillers & Action Adventure
Long before Michael Keaton was duking it out in his underwear or portraying a Pulitzer-winning reporter, he was Batman. He played the superhero in Tim Burton’s 1989 film the same name, which, though flawed, tells Batman’s origin story and his first encounter with the flamboyant Joker (Jack Nicholson). The film remains noteworthy for introducing audiences to a more violent and grittier version of Gotham than had been shown in past adaptations of the comic book, one that heavily favors stylish set design and Prince over substance. Nevertheless, Keaton’s performance remains admirable, and Nicholson’s lively romp through Gotham’s art museum still functions as a feat of understated brilliance. He’s no Heath Ledger, sure, but you can’t say he wasn’t maniacal.
The Best Offer
Starring Geoffrey Rush, The Best Offer tells the story of an eccentric older man who’s made a name for himself as an avid art collector. Respected the world over, Virgil Oldman’s (Rush) knack for art nets him an opportunity to help a young heiress auction off her parent’s rather large collection of antiques and artwork. Over time, Oldman develops an attraction to the heiress despite the fact she rarely meets him in person and often belittles him when she does. The heart wants what the heart wants, so Oldman continues his pursuit. A rather odd love story chock full of artistic mystery, The Best Offer is peak Geoffrey Rush.
Return of the Dragon
Whether your refer to it as The Way of the Dragon or its U.S. title, Bruce Lee’s iconic film is mainstay in the realm of kung-fu flicks. The action-comedy traces Tang Lung’s path from Hong Kong to Rome as the martial arts master works to make quick work of a gang of knife-wielding mobsters at the beckoning of a feeble restaurateur. The plot certainly isn’t the best, but the articulate fight sequences are stupendous and the film remains the only one in which Lee dons double nunchuks. And who would have guessed Chuck Norris would be that hairy without his shirt?
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
Honestly, who thought a film based on a popular Disney attraction was going to be any good? That said, it surprised moviegoers and the populace as a whole with a score of iconic swashbuckling and classic pirate cliches that ultimately paved the way for far too many sequels. The premise for the original blockbuster centers on one Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), a blacksmith who sets out alongside pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) in order to rescue Keira Knightley from the crew of undead pirates that calll the Black Pearl home. Most of the performances are so-so, yet, Depp’s is so original and iconic that he makes Geoffrey Rush’s nutty portrayal as Captain Barbarossa seem tame. The constant slurring and borderline drunken behavior certainly add to the effect.
Jake Gyllenhaal has done exemplary work in the past — take Donnie Darko and Brokeback Mountain, for instance— but nothing quite compares to his eerie performance as TV stringer Louis “Lou” Bloom in Nightcrawler. The modern thriller, a resounding success of first-time director Dan Gilroy, follows an amateur journalist and former thief as he trolls the mean streets of Los Angeles looking for heinous accidents and crimes to capture on film. Gilroy’s script and vision is both dark and thought-provoking, however, it’s Gyllenhaal’s twisted charisma and his sordid actions as he navigates the lucrative business that truly bring the film to the forefront of recent, neo-noir films.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Paul Newman and Robert Redford lead a gang of outlaws in this Wild West classic. It has everything you could want from an action movie: gun fights, knife fights, fist fights, and of course, mustaches. The film is loosely based on actual events, following the two seasoned train robbers after a heist goes wrong and they flee to Bolivia in order to avoid the posse pursuing them. It’s widely regarded as one of the first buddy films, leaving a legacy for many movies to follow in suit.
When it comes to comic book adaptations, few are quite as faithful to their source material as Sin City. Directed by Alex Rodriguez, the film is based on Frank Miller’s noir crime series set in the
Las Vegas facsimile, Basin City, a.k.a Sin City. It tells three separate plot lines that follow grizzled anti-heros John Hartigan (Bruce Willis), Marv (Mickey Rourke), and Dwight McCarthy (Clive Owen) and their individual stories of love and revenge, all of which overlap and affect each other subtly. The film remains remarkably faithful to the comic series, recreating entire panels, using Miller’s original dialogue and character designs, and even maintaining the comic series’ stark monochromatic color scheme which nabbed the film the Technical Grand Prize at its 2005 Cannes Film Festival screening.
Inopportunely released two weeks after September 11, Training Day is a brutal (almost cartoonishly so) examination of police corruption, through the lens of rookie cop Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke), a young narcotics officer who is scheduled to undergo an evaluation by senior cop Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington). Intent on teaching Jake how to survive the streets of L.A., Alonzo puts him through a series of tests, beginning with smoking PCP-laced marijuana and escalating from there. Alonzo’s view of the law is that the world is comprised of wolves and sheep, and the only thing that stop the wolves is a bigger wolf. Washington’s performance displays all his usual charm, but twisted to villainous ends, and it is fitting that he won his long overdue Best Actor award for this role. Training Day often veers into absurdity, but the relentless pacing and energetic performances from the two leads make it a very enjoyable thriller.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1
Kill Bill is, quite simply, Tarantino’s gritty two-part tale of revenge. After being shot and left for dead by her employer (David Carradine) and other members of her squad, a deadly assassin known merely as “The Bride” (Uma Thurman) sets out to kill her ex-colleagues. The film is undeniably violent, brimming with homages to old-school martial arts films, spaghetti westerns, and Japanese anime, yet done with a style and non-linear story that’s incredibly captivating and utterly unique.
It’s funny how often critics pan films upon release, only to retract their statements down the line after a second look. The Warriors, Walter Hill’s violent film based on Sol Yurick’s 1965 novel of the same name, is one such example. It’s a violent, futuristic tale concerned with a Coney Island street gang who makes the trek home after being wrongly accused of killing a rival gang leader. The dialogue might come off as stiff and a bit banel — perhaps because it is — but Hill’s stylistic and bleak vision of the mean streets of New York isn’t as filthy as the grimy setting initially lets on. The labyrinth of set pieces and slow-motion shots are exceptional, as is the choreography, all of which beautifully lend themselves to film with an unexpected sense of humanity. Can you dig it?
Spike Lee should have never remade the South Korean Oldboy, especially with Josh Brolin as the lead role. The 2003 iteration of the neo-noir film is still a standout, based on a manga and anchored in bloody, operatic anguish. In the film, Choi Min-sik plays a business man who’s drugged, imprisoned, and tortured for 15 years before seeking revenge on his captors. It’s a statement, violent and maddening, with unforgettable scenes and thought-provoking climax. There’s a reason Quentin Tarantino praised the film at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.