King Of New York: Live By The Sword Die By The Sword

King Of New York is a neo-noir crime thriller film directed by Abel Ferrara. The plot sees infamous mob figure Frank White (Christopher Walken), released from prison and then set about taking his city back only to become targeted by a band of corrupt police officers.

For those of you who like gangster films, this is a work of art. It is very much in line with something like Cronenberg’s Eastern Promise as this is more of a thinky gangster film rather than just a senseless shoot em up, though there are plenty of those sort of scenes.

The inner dialogue that begs the question are men like White inevitable? Are they representative of the city, a by product in some sort of way? These questions prove fascinating as we break down Frank as a person and see how it is that he is the King of New York’s underworld.

The violence in the film feels bold and punchy, it strikes you as real and visceral and leaves a mark. In this regard Lawrence Fishburne’s Jimmy steals the show. Jimmy is unhinged throughout the film, but his night time fight with corrupt police might be his best and most unhinged moment. I think this is a career best performance for Fishburne and it makes me want to explore more of his back catalogue.

Overall, a very grisly and effecting crime tail and leaves you shocked and horrified but also with a few pertinent questions in mind.

Pros.

Walken

Fishburne

The violence

The psychology

The noir like feel of the film

Cons.

None

5/5

Reviewed by Luke   

Eastern Promise: Viggo In The Russian Mob

Eastern Promise is a gangster film directed by David Cronenberg. The plot tells the story of an abandoned baby from a 14-year-old drug addict. Anna (Naomi Watts), delves into the Russian underworld to try and trace the roots of this now dead junkie, so that her baby can have a chance at a future.

I loved the world of the Russian mob that this film dives into, it is so deep and layered, there is so much to it and all is explored in great detail. Furthermore, this film teaches us the audience a great deal that we might not know in this regard, such as the importance of tattoos within the mob.

Watts is fine, serviceable but not much more, however the real star here is Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen). Mortensen gives a very strong performance that feels nuanced and well delivered, he is so much more than the thug character type he has so much more personality than that. The twist with his character, that I won’t spoil here, is quite obvious but it still works well.

The ending of the film does set it up for a sequel, which I think could be great if it continues to dive further into this world; however according to Cronenberg himself it is dead.

Overall, a bit more thinky than most Gangster films, the plot and the themes are just as important as the violence.

Pros.

A deep world

An intriguing story

Viggo Mortensen

The twist works

Cons.

Naomi Watts is very eh

4/5

Reviewed by Luke   

Run All Night: Neeson Will Kill Anyone

Run All Night is an action crime film directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. We are introduced to aging mob enforcer Jimmy (Liam Neeson), a man who’s past has long since caught up with him. He is shunned by his family and his only friend in the world is the boss of the crime family he used to work for Shawn McGuire (Ed Harris). That all changes when Jimmy ends up killing Shawn’s son to protect his son, the two men then have to face off and only one can walk away alive.

The post Taken action film of one Liam Neeson have become something of a guilty pleasure of mine in that vein I greatly enjoyed this film. I knew exactly what was going to happen before I had even seen it of course, but that is the same with all these kinds of films, I wasn’t watching it for the story of the plot I was watching it to see old man Neeson gun down a room full of people without even pausing to reload.

The acting was okay, nothing more than that, everyone acted exactly how they normally would in these sort of roles, Liam Neeson’s character and performance could have been from any number of movies. The one thing I will say on the characterization front is that the father son stuff in the film, shifts greatly by the end of the film and it does not feel earned. I understand that Neeson’s character final action is to save his son’s life, but does that make up for all the horrible things he has done throughout his life, including murdering his own family?

Overall, a schlocky action film that is as predicatable as they come, if like with me that is what you’re looking for then you will enjoy it.

Pros.

Solid action

Liam Neeson is fun

Its good schlock

Cons.

It is very predictable

It is dumb as hell

3.5/5

Reviewed by Luke    

The Tax Collector: One To Clutch Your Pearls At

The Tax Collector is an action thriller film directed by David Ayer. The plot follows local crime duo David (Bobby Soto), and Creeper (Shia LaBeouf), who collect money from all the little gangs and pass it on to those higher up. One day a rival from the past arrives and threatens the duos way of life, rather than surrender they go to war.

This film is painfully unpleasant, to the point where I actually almost turned it off several times; watching it depressed me too much. I am no stranger to gore, being a big horror fan, but I don’t need to see a man getting nails hammered into his legs whilst also having his face stomped on, call me old fashioned, but it seems a tad excessive. I understand what Ayer was trying to do, making it as realistic as possible, but he didn’t stop to think just how off-putting that might be. The film is unrelentingly grim.

The acting is strong and is probably the high point of the film, Soto is good and carries the film well even if he is upstaged at times by the other performers. LaBeouf is like a man possessed here, he fully sinks into the role in a way that is almost scary, he is terrific. Sadly his role is only quite small. There is also a nice cameo from Jimmy Smits at the end of film that sets up a potential sequel.

Overall, a strong action film that has a lot of good tension and keen stakes, the issue is the violence is a little too graphic and feels done for nothing more than shock value disguised as accuracy.

Pros.

Soto

LaBeouf

Smits’ cameo

The tension and the final showdown

Cons.

The violence is off-putting

3.5/5

The Kitchen: McCarthy Mob Boss

The Kitchen is a crime film directed by Andrea Berloff. The plot sees three women single handily take over the Irish Mob, however problems soon arise, and things start to get messy.

This film achieved what I thought to be impossible, it showed me a good Melissa McCarthy performance. McCarthy is often cringey or outright embarrassing to watch on the big screen, but here she stood out, she was commanding, it seems playing it straight suits her.

My main issue with the film is how in your face with its message it is, from the very second the film opens you’re bombarded with agenda. Now I am not saying a film with a very clear message is bad, I am saying the way you deliver that message is everything. For me I appreciate a more subtle nuanced approached, whereas this film chose to whack you over the head with it.

My other issue is Tiffany Haddish. The central three performances are central to the narrative of the film and its believability, I bought McCarthy as someone who would do anything for family, and I bought Elizabeth Moss as a stone-cold killer, Haddish however was thoroughly unconvincing. This is by no means a comedy film, but she plays her role like it is; personally I think she was woefully, and I do mean woefully miscast.

Overall, if you can get past being slapped in the face with politics, this is a surprisingly strong crime drama, Moss, McCarthy and Gleeson are also terrific, sadly Tiffany Haddish is miscast.

Pros.

A good Melissa McCarthy performance

Tense and gritty

A great crime film

Cons.

It is far too preachy

Haddish is miscast

3.5/5

Reviewed by Luke  

The Raid 2: This Time It’s Personal

The Raid 2 is an Indonesian action martial arts film directed by Gareth Evans. The plot takes place not long after the events of the first film, Rama (Iko Uwais), has to go undercover within the Jakarta underworld to try and protect his family. His brother is also killed at the start of the film, so Rama is on a side mission of vengeance; seeking out evil rising mobster Bejo (Alex Abbad).

The Raid 2 had a hard job to do, it had to live up to the scale and intensity of the first film, while also raising the stakes and taking everything to the next level. I have to say the film does both of those things. It shows us the wider underworld that was only slightly hinted at during the first film and we get to see some interesting new characters and players. Also, the fight scenes are on a whole new level as well, the prison fight sequence is brutal and relentless.

However, while it is doing all of these things it sacrifices the personal threat and tension from the first film. For those of you who haven’t seen it the first Raid film is all set within a tower block and there are a lot of fight sequences that take place within very tight areas, this makes the film feel very claustrophobic which adds to its overall greatness. The second film really leaves this element behind.

This film introduces some new character who I found to be cool. I don’t remember their names, but I refer to them as Baseball guy and Hammer Woman, they were both very gimmicky in their fight style, but I did really like the final showdown between them and Rama at the end, I thought it was on a par with the first film’s fight sequences.

Finally, I loved the ambiguous ending this film has, it ends with Rama stood in front of a wave of Japanese gangster foot soldiers with him saying he is done. Does he die will he survive we don’t know and with no plans to do a third film any time soon we might never know, but it is a neat way to end things.

Overall, a very solid follow up that does a number of impressive things that raise the stakes and surpass the first film. My only issue is that by doing that it loses some of the things that made the first film great. Both are definitely worth checking out.

Pros.

Larger scale.

Rama’s ending.

The new characters.

The fight sequence between Rama and Baseball Guy and Hammer Woman.

Cons.

It loses some of the tense claustrophobia of the first film.

4/5

Reviewed by Luke

Narcos Mexico Season 1: A New Era Of Narcos

Narcos Mexico Season 1 is a crime drama series and spin-off to the Netflix series Narcos. The new series as the name would suggest shifts the focus of the program from the cocaine fields of Columbia to the weed fields of Mexico, though some familiar faces do make a return. The series chronicles the rise of the Guadalajara Cartel and Felix Gallardo’s (Diego Luna), kidnapping of American DEA Agent Kiki Camarena (Michael Pena).

To briefly describe this series, it is more of the same, if you liked Narcos and enjoyed seeing the DEA slowly busting drug dealers over a period of years than you will enjoy this. As usually there are some cheer worthy monuments (in this season it is the burning of the weed fields), some sad moments (Kiki’s death), and a hell of a lot of frustration as the corrupt system gets in the way of these agents doing their job.

As someone who loved all of that in previous seasons, I fully enjoyed Narcos Mexico Season 1, I found it to be both captivating and thrilling and it proves the creative team behind the show still has it.

Michael Pena plays against type here, he has done some dramatic work before (End Of Watch, Fury), but he is mainly known for his more comedic work. He played Kiki as a man on a mission, much like characters of past seasons his whole life revolved around bringing the drug lord to justice. My one issue is that the character could be annoying at times and do reckless and dangerous things without thinking about his family, who had moved down to Mexico with him.

I thought Luna’s Gallardo was a villain on the same level of Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura), this is exactly what the series needed and was the issue the final series of Narcos was disappointing: because the villains were lacking. My one issue on this side of things was that I would have preferred to see Gallardo’s rise and fall within one series as opposed to two, it just feels more dragged out. A lot of episodes have plot points that go nowhere and feel put into pad out the 50+ minute runtime.

Overall, Narcos Mexico Season 1 is good, the characters are working and that is what made the first two series of Narcos feel so special, I still have a few issues with it, such as I feel like it didn’t need to be spread over two seasons and that I found Kiki’s character annoying at times.  Ps. Don’t even get me started on Raffa or more adeptly the worst character ever written.

Pros.

Back to basics in a good way.

Interesting new villain.

It feels fresh again.

Cons.

It is too dragged out.

Some of the characters are annoying.

3/5

Reviewed by Luke

The Raid: An Action Movie Masterpiece

‘The Raid’ is an Indonesian Action Film, written edited and directed by Gareth Evans. The plot follows a highly trained group of police officers who try and infiltrate a tower block owned and controlled by a ruthless drug lord. Amongst these officers we have Rama (Iko Uwais), who is our main character, Rama has gone to the tower block to try and convince his brother Andi (Donny Alamsyah), to come home.

‘The Raid’ is a beautiful film for a lot of reasons, but for me the main one would be the fight choreography. The fight choreography on display here is some of the best I have ever seen. The fights look brutal and real, you can feel the pain and exhaustion coursing through the performances. There is a hallway fight sequence that is better than anything I have ever seen before, said sequence sees Rama take on a large group of gangsters and with sheer force of will takes them all out; this isn’t like fake looking action movies like ‘the Transporter’ where the enemies attack one at a time, no here it is much more hardcore and realistic.

It makes sense now after seeing this why the ‘John Wick’ series hired the actors from ‘The Raid’ for the third film in that series, because they are incredibly impressive. The Wick series is the only other current Western action film that I would say is on par with this film in terms of its fight sequences.

The plot of ‘The Raid’ is also wonderfully complex as nothing is how it appears to be. Other than main character Rama, who is our moral compass throughout the film, the other characters flirt between the side of good and the side of bad, giving the film an excellent sense of moral ambiguity. This is shown through Rama’s brother Andi who saves Rama’s life, but decides to stay behind at the end and take over the tower block and be the next gang leader.

Overall, I think this is a must watch for everyone not just die-hard action fans, it is so beautifully done that is marvellous to behold. ‘The Raid’ has become prolific within action cinema and has gone on to influence a lot of films in the genre and I believe for a good reason: this film is fantastic and deserves to be seen!

Pros.

The Acting.

The Fight Choreography.

Maintaining The Balance Between Brutal But Not Overly So.

The Moral Ambiguity.

Making Character You Care About.

Cons.

None

5/5

Reviewed by Luke

Layer Cake: James Bond Use To Deal Drugs

‘Layer Cake’ is a British Crime film, focusing on the exploits of London based criminal XXXX, (Daniel Craig), as he tries to leave the drug business. This is the first film directed by Matthew Vaughn, of Kingman fame, and serves as one of Daniel Craig’s breakout roles.

The plot of the film is nothing new, drug dealer wants to retire, but then finds out he is too valuable to the boss; so said boss is decidedly not in favour of letting him go. The subplots of the film revolve around XXXX trying to stop a Serbian hitman from killing him and, his colleagues after a drug deal goes bad and, XXXX trying to find a girl who has gone missing. The culmination of all of these plots coming together make for an incredibly interesting watch, gripping through and, through. However, at times the plot does become a little messy, I think one of the subplots could have been dropped and, the film would still be incredibly engaging.

The style that has made Vaughn so famous is on full display in this his debut film, the editing and, cinematography of the film feel very Guy Ritchie esque, but lovingly like a homage to a contemporary rather than a blatant copy. Also to my joy, this film steers well away from a lot of the pacing and, plot issues that plague some of Ritchie’s work, especially in something like Revolver.

Another thing that makes this film so good is it’s leading man Craig is charming and charismatic throughout, he carries this film. There are moments in this film that are reminiscent of his later role as Bond, literally shot for shot the same; you can see where the Bond filmmakers looked to when they were casting. Outside of this year’s Knives Out this might be Craig’s finest performance to date, this is definitely a star-making turn for him.

‘Layer Cake’ is one of the best, and to an extent one of the last, big-budget, British gangster films, the genre that gave birth to such films as Lockstock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and The Business to name but a few. It is true to say that they don’t make films like this anymore, they’re very off their time, the late 90s early 2000s and, it is a shame that we don’t get these sort of films anymore. However, more recent films like Legend have carried on this tradition to a lesser degree, and are still excellent, speaking of Tom Hardy he is also in this film, albeit briefly.

Overall this is a superb film, a must-watch, and proof that Vaughn and, Craig are incredibly talented; I can’t recommend this film enough.

4/5

Reviewed by Luke

The Irishman: I Hear You Paint Houses

The Irishman is a crime epic directed by Martin Scorsese the plot follows Frank Sheeran, (Robert De Niro), as he descends into the mobster underworld. The film spans Sheeran’s whole life; focusing a lot of the runtime on Sheeran’s relationship with the notorious Jimmy Hoffa, (Al Pacino).

The Irishman is an incredibly ambitious undertaking on Scorsese’s part, as he uses de-ageing technology to show the actors in their younger forms, rather than casting younger actors, which for the most part works well, especially if you’re prepared to suspend your disbelief; there were only two instances when I thought the CGI technology was noticeably bad.

It is nice to see all of these Gangster Film/ Scorsese veterans back on the big screen together, De Niro gives a career-best performance, which is nice to see as he hasn’t been in the best films recently. De Niro has given so much to the gangster genre, effectively becoming a cornerstone of it and, it is nice to see him get centre stage once again. Pacino likewise is phenomenal, his Hoffa can go toe to toe with Sheeran both in terms of presence and memorability. Really the Irishman is the story of the relationship between these two men. Another thing that makes the Irishman so special is that it marks the on-screen return of prolific crime film star Joe Pesci. Pesci plays Russel Bufalino a crime boss who takes a young Sheeran under his blood-soaked wing, it is lovely to see Pesci return, he gives a hearty performance, perhaps not as manic and crazed as some of his older performances, but still incredibly commanding all the same.

My one issue with the casting is that of Anna Paquin as Polly Sheeran, Frank’s daughter. Since very early on in the film Polly and Frank have a very tense relationship; as such she doesn’t talk to her father in the last act of the film, despite him wanting them to, my complaint is not that Paquin doesn’t have many lines, instead being why cast Paquin at all; this would have been a great opportunity to give to an unknown or, an upcoming talent; as Paquin herself doesn’t add much.

My final note is that the runtime, in case you didn’t know, is 3 and a half hours, which can be off-putting to some. The Irishman is paced very deliberately, sometimes scenes feel very long and drawn out, and yes this did make me lose focus and I did almost give up with it a few times, but such is the nature of an epic.

If you like the genre then there is more than enough to get you to invest in the Irishman, however, if you’re more of a casual viewer you may find some elements of it off-putting. Overall it is very nice to see some of these familiar faces back on the screen and giving standout performances.

4/5

Reviewed by Luke