Sign in using your account with
Criminal Activities: You Shouldn't Like this Cliched Crime Thriller, But You Will
While it seemingly draws on the likes Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and True Romance, there's still something alluring and awfully inviting about Jackie Earle Haley's lively and intriguing directorial debut, Criminal Activities.
Like most stories that follow amateur crooks tripping into the path of mobsters, the film is centred on haughty, arrogant young broker, Zach (the wonderfully edgy Michael Pitt), along with old college pals, Noah (Stevens), Bryce (Brown) and Warren (Abbott), and their plans to cook up an investment scheme whilst attending a funeral of an old friend.
Said plan is to invest in a small pharmaceutical company and Noah, who initially proposes the plan, is ready to put down the large sum of money they will need in order to proceed. However, after the deal falls through weeks later, the debt – owed to kale smoothie-drinking mobster, Eddie (Travolta) who lent the money to Noah to begin with – needs to be paid which of course, none of the boys are in any position to do. Instead, Eddie tasks them to kidnap a rival gang member and, as a reward, he will wipe the slate clean.
Adapted by Haley to cater to a more modern audience from a script written by late writer and poet, Robert Lowell, the skeleton of the plot offers nothing new and uses a tried-and-tested formula: headstrong protagonists fall foul of a mobster and must carry out an unspeakable act in order to save their own asses.
However, there's a certain confidence and energy on display that keeps things ticking nicely throughout the film, which strangely has more of a 90's feel to it. Although not completely free of predictability and even technical flaws, what keeps the film's head above water is the way in which Haley adds a creative edge with a couple of seemingly random sequences that don't necessarily address the main plot,
Much like his Chili Palmer in G. Gary Gray's comedy crime-caper, Be Cool, John Travolta – sporting a freshly botoxed look and an off-fitting wig - is very much at home here as a chatty, Macbeth-quoting mob-boss whilst, Pitt is absolutely brilliant as the neurotic young broker.
Faulty but sufficiently violent and relatively amusing, Criminal Activity is a satisfying crime thriller which, regardless of its shortcomings and a weird twist ending, will guarantee a contented view.
Marking the fifth instalment in the Underworld franchise, Blood Wars rests in the hands of a first-time feature director, Anna Foerster who, although managing to create a few notable moments of action, fails to bring any ingenuity or freshness to its now exhausted vampires-versus-werewolves narrative.
The story begins with a brief recap of events from the last four films where we learn that everyone’s favourite vampire death dealer, Selena (once again fully embraced by the leather-clad, forever sulking Kate Beckinsale) has been betrayed and banished by her kind.
Still trying to cope with the pain of having given up her vampire-werewolf hybrid daughter Eve for everyone’s safety, Selena is surprised to be summoned back into the vampire community - now led by the scheming Semira (Pulver) - who wish to make use of her skills in order to train the new generation of fighters, while still escaping her own chasers and searching for her daughter.
Taking quite a bit of time to get going, Blood Wars – written by Cory Goodman – is filled with lots of politics and nonsensical dialogue between characters who seemingly have a hard time in conveying any emotion, thus, making it all that difficult for the viewer to get invested in what they have to say. Drenched in a seemingly cold, metallic-blue tint, Blood Wars – although certainly not heavy on the action front – does manage to offer a couple relatively exciting action set-pieces. However, considering that this is a vampires-verses-werewolves kind of a movie, there just isn’t enough of that that specific mythology to set it apart from any other action movies – no wooden stakes or silver bullets to see here folks, just plenty of swirling swords and guns that can’t hurt anyone.
Another problem here is that the mythology behind the franchise in general – something the keeps spinning around aimlessly with no real focus or ending in sight – is a little hard to take seriously.
All of the characters, including the PVC-wearing Kate Beckinsale, who thinks that scowling her way through the scenes will get her anywhere, are all without an ounce of charm or personality – which sadly, brings us to a conclusion that there is no fun to be had in this rather forgettable cinematic offering and generic continuation of a franchise which, perhaps, might be ready now to close its doors and call it a day.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.