Thrillers and Action Adventure
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.
The Usual Suspects
Noir films often play with perceptions, both the characters’ and the audience’s. This is taken to extremes in The Usual Suspects, a 1995 noir that opens with a massacre on a ship. Eager to find out what happened, customs agent Dave Kujan interrogates one of the two survivors, a frail con man named Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey), who narrates the whole ordeal in a series of extended flashbacks. Kint and four other criminals, after meeting in a police lineup, decide to team up for a for a heist. When they inadvertently steal from an enigmatic crime boss named Keyser Söze, they are forced into taking on a job for him. Naturally, it’s all downhill from there. Christopher McQuarrie’s screenplay is one of the most acclaimed of all time, both for the sharp dialogue and the film’s brilliant structure. An outstanding cast, including Gabriel Byrne, Benicio del Toro, and Spacey, brings the dialogue to life, and their crackling rapport is a treat.
The Italian Job
After completing a high-stakes gold heist, Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg) and the rest of his crew of bandits are betrayed by one of their own, aka Steve Frazelli (Edward Norton). Frazelli murders team leader John Bridger (Donald Sutherland) and makes off with the gold, leaving the rest of the team left for dead. Croker quickly assembles a new band of thieves and con artists and travels to Los Angeles to get revenge on his former friend — and get their gold back. The film is based on the British film of the same name, except this all-star cast includes Seth Green, Jason Statham, Yasiin Bey, and Charlize Theron.
Lethal Weapon is the buddy cop movie to end all buddy cop movies. This crime-action film stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as reluctant partners working to solve a homicide. The investigation leads them to a drug ring — it was the ‘80s, after all — led by retired general McAllister (Mitchell Ryan) and his ex-Special Forces henchman, Joshua (Gary Busey). After three sequels, the series might seem overplayed, but the original Lethal Weapon remains a classic.
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.