Sunday, September 18, 2005

Lord of War

Review by Michael Jaffe

While Andrew Niccol’s visual styling has always since Gattaca been one of the most polished looks in Hollywood, dollar for dollar, and LoW is no different. The film is a bizarre mix of offbeat humor, intense violence and preaching about how guns are bad, while at the same time managing to keep a distinct and engaging visual style. The story is good, supposedly based on a couple of real life gun runners actual stories, about Yuri Orlov and his rise from New York as a Ukrainian immigrant through him struggling through the 80s mostly supplying Africa until the fall of the U.S.S.R.. When the soviets fall, all their extra weapons flood the market with Yuri getting an upper hand and taking all the guns. Yuri then struggles with the success of being the #1 arms dealer in the world fighting with everyone from African lords-of-war to rival arms dealers to his trophy wife to his drug addled younger brother. Nicholas Cage turns in one of his best performances in a while, as this film may appear to be a big budget action flick, but at its heart and its bottom line is a smaller film. Cage, once known as a real actor, now has this reputation as a big budget action guy with The Rock, Windtalkers and Gone in 60 Seconds, began his redeption to a real actor with the great Adaptation and Ridley Scott’s underappreciated Matchstick Men but in LoW he is given the opportunity to play a humanized Satan in an action film, using his charisma to fully display all the flaws of Yuri. The rest of the cast, Jared Leto, Ethan Hawke, Bridget Moynahan and Ian Holm is just background all giving way to Cage who takes the primary role with vigor. The supporting cast, while very talented play basic characters with no depth so it could be said that those characters could be played by anyone. The film also has a tendency to run rather unevenly. At times, the film is a dramedy with some explosions and very well written dialogue other times it looks like a European art film, with slow pan shots of people with blank expressions and no talking at all. While they would appear to balance each other out, they simply annoy as during the slow parts, you wish something would just blow up. While the performances, especially Cage stand out and the film looks incredible of celluloid, the unevenness and the lack of depth for the supporting characters leaves you wishing for something more. This film goes under the listing of “If only…” as the whole film is a big what if. 7/10

Infernal Affairs

Review by Michael Jaffe

I know this review isn’t of a recent release, but I haven’t been to the theatre in a while with school starting, so I decided to write a review of one of my favorite films from this century. In 2002, I rented Infernal Affairs because it had been getting a big buzz because of all the money it was making in Hong Kong. The movie is without a doubt, the slickest film I have ever seen, and unlike many American films that try to be slick, and are; this film uses the style and the helicopter shots to enhance the story as a whole. In the film Eye see You, Sly Stallone does not make such a good film with the camera slides and glides. The plot is straightforward, but it is executed to the point where if you blink you miss something and get confused. A mole for the police in the mob, Chan Yan, brilliantly underplayed by Tony Leung Chiu Wai, has been undercover for over a decade. His counterpart Lau Ming, acted by Andy Lau with his usual glee, is a mole for the Mob in the police force. The movie starts with a basic intro of how they each got in their positions with a series of flashes to who is who. We see Sam, played viciously by comedian Eric Tsang, welcoming the new recruits, Lau is among them. We also see SP Wong, played by Hong Kong film legend Anthony Wong, interviewing a young Chan. The plot then goes to when the men are grown and deep undercover. When one of Sam’s drug deals goes wrong, both sides discover they each have moles. Chan and Lau are assigned by their undercover employers to fish out the mole. This intense game of cat and mouse goes until the exciting surprise rooftop face-off to conclude the film. Andrew Lau’s direction, no relation to Andy Lau, covers the basic plot, but keeps the pace moving quickly, but you still never feel rushed, the action just flows from scene to scene. The suspense is at most times taught; even when the film tends to wander off just to add frames to the roll, you are still wondering what will happen. It is not a John Woo shooter for those who think of the blaze of guns in all Hong Kong films, nor is it one of Wong Kar-Wai’s slow romance films, but it blends a bit of both worlds while at the same time creating its own, new genre of Hong Kong thriller. The constant tension is what keeps this well scripted, incredibly acted and sharply directed film in place as one of the best films ever to come out of Hong Kong. 9/10

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