Ray Liotta

Smokin Aces

Year: 2006
Directed By: Joe Carnahan
Written By: Joe Carnahan

RYAN’S REVIEW

This is a movie I like but don’t love. A movie that caught me at the right place at the right time and I thought it was cool. It’s the kind of movie that reminds me of scenarios I acted out with my action figures as a kid. A lot of cool actors were brought in and they had fun making a movie that is a lot of fun to watch.

I’m a big fan of anything that kills off most of the characters it introduces. Such boldness creates a level of unpredictability that makes the whole experience more fun. This movie doesn’t kill off all its characters but a large number of them don’t survive this shoot out. Killed without a second thought are not just the small time actors from TV playing big parts but also bigger guys like Ray Liotta and Ben Affleck. It takes a lot of gusto to pull the trigger on so many characters, it’s what we love about Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. This movie doesn’t necessarily do it as well as those but the balls it took to do it still count for something.

How high Chris Pine has risen since this movie came out. Nevertheless, despite all of his success I still can’t see him in anything without thinking of the scene in the elevator when he licks his finger and touches the bush of the naked girl tattooed on his shoulder. It’s such an obscene gesture from a dirty and obscene character. Captain Kirk, Steve Trevor, Jack Ryan, or anybody else it doesn’t matter what role he is playing, the guy I see is the Tremor brother he played in this one. Not to say he wasn’t good in any of those roles, in fact I thought he was a terrific Captain Kirk in the Star Trek reboot. His memorable role actually came late as he was a replacement for Michael Shannon who was fired after pissing someone off.

My opinion has changed in recent years but I used to be a big time Ben Affleck hater. It was one of the things I loved about this movie back in 2007 because it was evidence that his career was spiraling down. At a time when his buddy Matt Damon was on the high horse Affleck was having trouble getting roles. Here he was in an entourage film not even making it halfway through the movie. In 2006 I found this hilarious and relished in it as a hater. Like I said, I feel differently now. Ben Affleck’s star has risen again and this time much higher than it ever had before. I initially changed my opinion when I saw him in Runner Runner and then again when he showed such promise behind the camera. His rendition of Batman sealed the deal and I look forward to what else he does with that character.

I felt Ryan Reynolds proved dramatic acting capability with this film. That unplugging scene in the end is very intense and well played by Reynolds. I am a fan of Reynolds, even after his many failures prior to the success of DeadpoolHe’s a funny guy but I think in this movie he pulls off serious and angry pretty well. I thought back in 2006 that this was proof he could move beyond Van Wilder and do better things. He has stayed true to being a comedic actor and Deadpool is just the start of more to come.

This movie was the featured film debut of both Common and Alicia Keys. I have never listened to either’s music but I thought they both gave great debut performances. Alicia Keys is cool as the sexy assassin and Common is a bad ass hit man to have at your disposal. I am a big fan of Common from his role on Hell on Wheels. An awesome show that if you haven’t seen then you’ve been missing out, it’s worth binge watching.

Without delving into the rest of the large ensemble cast I’ll simply say I liked the cast overall. It’s a really cool blend of popular TV actors, musicians, and movie stars. I love a big cast and I like it even better when you never know who among them will survive the adventure. I liked that about this movie and I enjoyed watching it again. I think this is a fun movie that is worth your time to see but I wouldn’t go out of my way to see it.

NEXT MOVIE: Snakes on a Plane (2006)

 

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Cop Land

Year: 1997
Directed By: James Mangold
Written By: James Mangold

RYAN’S REVIEW

This was a Christmas present to myself.  I got a little carried away Christmas shopping online a couple of weeks ago and bought a few movies for myself for good measure. I had seen this movie for the first time recently and was thoroughly surprised by how much I liked it.  I remember when it came out and can’t figure out why it took me so long to see.  Nevertheless this is a really interesting story with a great cast, all of whom delivered excellent performances.

You can say what you want about Sylvester Stallone but I have always been a fan.  The thing I like most about this movie is that I think for the first time I watched him in a movie and was really impressed by his performance as an actor.  This role got him out of his comfort zone and for once he did something drastically different.  I thought it was a really compelling performance and gives us an idea of the potential Stallone had if he had ever branched out more. His career could easily be targeted for plenty of criticism but I grew up with many of his movies and some are dear to me.  I think he is often reaching too far in his efforts to stay in the lime light but I can’t help but admire him on some level.  He has really overcome quite a bit to be an actor and to enjoy the success he has achieved.  When Stallone was born he got stuck in the birthing canal and had to be pulled out by forceps.  In the effort to get him out the doctor accidentally caused paralysis to his face and within his mouth. It’s the reason Stallone has such a difficulty speaking and has that awkward movement with his mouth.  When he initially wrote the film Rocky he specifically wrote it with minimal dialogue from his character to attempt to mask the disability.  If I am not mistaken he has had many operations to try and fix the problem that met with moderate success.  He is capable of much more than he was forty years ago when he was working on the first Rocky. So whatever you think about Stallone keep in mind that the guy overcame quite a bit to get where he is today.

This movie came out as the Stallone/Schwarzenegger power years were becoming more and more distant in the past.  During the 80s and early 90s there was a time when these guys were on top of the world but by 1995 their time seemed to be over.  They have both made efforts to get back into the game over the past several years with some success but things will never be liked they used to be for these guys.  When Stallone made this movie he went against the norm.  He actually gained weight to play the part (40 pounds) and while he does have his moment in the end it’s still not a role that compares to all the other action roles he has played in the past.  He received great reviews for the role but Stallone has actually claimed that the role hurt his career because the weak box office results made it difficult for him to get parts for the next eight years.  I don’t think that is the case, his career was already dragging and in truth he always had his ups and downs.  Anytime Stallone had trouble in his acting career he just went back to the basics, doing another sequel for either Rocky or Rambo.  In the end that is what he did again as nine years after this film he went back to both franchises with a 6th and 4th film for each.  I happen to think Rocky Balboa was one of the worst movies I have ever seen but Rambo wasn’t as bad.  Stallone has found new success with the Expendables of late but the time for a movie like that has passed and I’m not down with those anymore.  As a lifelong fan of Stallone I take the guy for the good and bad but most of the good is long behind him now.  Personally I would like to see him accept his age and go after more roles like the one we saw in this film.  Of all of his films I literally think this was the best he ever did acting and believe that he is capable of doing it again.

While Stallone makes the easiest talking point for this movie there is plenty to be said about the film as well as the rest of the cast.  It’s a mob movie about cops and that’s an interesting dynamic.  Those charged with serving and protecting the rest of us are expected to hold themselves to a higher standard but sadly this is often not the case.  The men who are supposed to be the good guys are often in the position to be as bad as they want if they choose and plenty of them choose to do just that.  It’s a low paying and thankless job that makes the decision easy on men with low morals to begin with.  The cops we see in this film are as dirty as they come and they have all gathered together to live in the same neighborhood, Cop Land if you will.  They run the town themselves while the introverted sheriff is more than willing to turned a blind eye and what is really going on. The sheriff has had an unlucky life in which he was never able to accomplish what he really wanted.  He turns the blind eye because he wants so badly to be part of this group of men he oversees.  He had always wanted to be one of them but couldn’t pass the test due to his hearing disability.  They know what he wanted out of life and it gives them an opportunity to sweet talk him into anything they want simply by including him from time to time.  When the sheriff’s eyes are finally open he rises to his station in life and does the right thing against all odds.  It was a great role for Stallone and he did an excellent job playing it.  It’s really a pity he isn’t proud of it himself.

This is a star studded cast featuring many men regularly cast as mafia men playing the same type of part only in a blue uniform.  Robert De Niro checks in as the dreaded IA officer who polices the other cops.  Harvey Keitel is the big dog leading the corrupt police officers in his crew.  Ray Liotta is the wild card who used to be in with Keitel but now operates on the outside so to speak.  Michael Rapaport has never been an exceptional actor but he has played many exceptional parts.  In this movie he is the officer who screws up royally and becomes a liability for the others.  Robert Patrick is an awesome actor who brings a great presence to any role he plays, in this film he looks ridiculous in that mustache but still manages to pull it off as the enforcer type for Keitel.  Janeane Garofalo really goes against the norm in this one playing a cop and doesn’t bring the same type of character we usually see from her on screen. Making this a true mob movie about cops we also have several cast members in small roles that would go on to play parts on The Sopranos such as Pauly Walnuts, Phil Leotardo, Carlo Gervasi, and Carmela Soprano just to name a few.

I really enjoyed this movie and felt I was at a loss for not having seen it over all these years.  One of the things I liked about it personally, aside from how great Stallone played the part, is that the part of the sheriff reminds me hands down of a guy that I work with.  The Sheriff had this shy awkwardness to him and his mannerisms that are just spot on with a man I work with.  The guy I work with is a character.  For reasons nobody can remember we call him “the Juice” and sometime he comes in flavors.  Depending on his garb, style of hair, or simply something strange that he does we have a variety of names that apply to him.  Such as G.I. Juice, Dr. Juice, The Juicelhoff, Papa Stache Juice, Grizzly Juice, Dapper Juice, and the list goes on and on.  The guy is really one of a kind and he is good humored when we pick around with him.  I can’t stress enough how much Stallone reminds me of our Juice in this movie and that makes it specifically special to me.

photo (10)

Here is an image of the Juice.  This guy is truly one of a kind.  He is the Juicelhoff flavor of Juice in this image.  If you notice the chest hair he exposes us to in this garb you might understand why we call him the Juicelhoff on a day like this.  (We just merged his name with Hasselhoff).  This guy may be different but he has a heart of gold and he brings an interesting character into our lives at work.  I always appreciate the characters in life, because we all have a role to play in the stories we create in our lives.  In our work place this guy is a character that brings a quality we all find endearing and he is a valuable member of our work family.

This movie hasn’t made any noise in the last fifteen years or so and hasn’t had the staying power that other films like it have enjoyed.  I don’t specifically know why but I think it deserves the attention that plenty of others do.  It’s a good movie with an interesting story and a great cast.  I don’t know why it took me so long to see myself but once I did I wasted little time making it part of our collection.  I think it deserves its spot on the shelf and I think it is worth your time to see.

AMBER’S REVIEW

I actually thoroughly liked this movie. It was the least cheesy I have ever seen Stallone. I thought the concept was interesting and the cast was well done. The poster didn’t hold up to the movie for me because…

cop_land

…it’s another montage of characters and scenery. Really the designers just can’t be blamed anymore. The clients are in control. The movie powerhouses are in control. Appeal to this x audience and put in the city. OH we can get more viewers in the theaters if we show five guys on the poster instead of one. Insert eye roll here. I just think simple is better and more intriguing. Which is kind of what you want the audience to feel right? Intrigued? It’s just my little opinion, but I think less is better. Having said all that, this one isn’t as bad as most of the montage posters that I have looked over. It’s not by far my favorite poster obviously but it’s not the worst either.

Goodfellas

Year: 1990
Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Written By: Nicholas Pileggi

RYAN’S REVIEW

After The Godfather, this is far and away the next greatest mafia movie that has ever been made.  Nothing can and will ever touch The Godfather but this film is the standard I set all other modern mob movies against. I was only six years old when this movie came out so I don’t remember the reaction it got when it was released.  I wish I could have been around for it. It came out the same year as The Godfather Part III and must have completely blown it away. The Godfather III was actually nominated for more Academy Awards that year but so was Dick Tracy and neither are even half as good as this film. This is one of Scorsese’s best films and it has always been one of my favorite mafia movies.

The opening scene in this movie does a great job setting the tone for the film.  Everything is all cool but brace yourself because at any moment you might be subject to sudden and savage violence.  The movie begins with three legendary actors riding in a car, they look to have been doing some partying.  Then suddenly there is a noise and it turns out they have a body in the trunk, and the guy is still alive.  Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro brutally finish him off and that is what sends Ray Liotta into a voice over about how he always wanted to be a mobster. I think this is the kind of film that really satisfies the latent desires we all have to look into the world of the bad guys. We see this kind of ferocity all of a sudden and somehow it makes sense that he says that line right at that moment.

This movie is based on a true story but like all movies based on a true story it has to be taken with a grain of salt.  I have researched before how close this movie was to the truth but that was years ago.  If I remember correctly it isn’t completely accurate but isn’t that far off either.  What I found most compelling about that research was that Henry Hill, the character Ray Liotta plays, was still alive and not in hiding.  Not only was he not in hiding but he was a regular guest on The Howard Stern radio show.  Something about that crushed my ideas about the  mob because not only had they done nothing to the traitor that sent so many to jail but he was bold enough to live out in the open with no repercussions.  Henry Hill actually did die recently, of natural causes and I think that proves we all have unrealistic ideas about the power of the mafia.  They are not super powerful or the threat that we like to think they are.  If Henry Hill, who betrayed and then cashed in on his experiences in the mafia, can die of natural causes then what makes the mob any better than any other petty criminal? The truth is they aren’t, in reality they are just uneducated and often idiot men who gain their power through brutality and taking advantage of weaker people.

Joe Pesci won the Academy Award for his role in this movie beating out the likes of Al Pacino (nominated for Dick Tracy) and Andy Garcia (nominated for The Godfather III).  I don’t think that he was actually aware he was going to win because he wasn’t prepared.  Unless it has been broken now, he holds the record for the shortest acceptance speech for a winner of his award.  All he said was “Thank you, it’s an honor” if I remember correctly.  I think that was awesome though, I have always really liked Joe Pesci and the fact that he just took the award and walked off makes me like him even more.  Pesci is a little guy but in all his mob movies he tends to be the most violent and dangerous one.  He is savage in this movie, and possibly even more brutal in CasinoYet he can still be so funny in a movie like Home Alone or My Cousin VinnyPesci played many memorable and awesome characters during his career but I have always wanted more of him.  He is almost 70 years old now and doesn’t seem to be as interested in staying in the limelight as guys like Anthony Hopkins or Michael Caine.  It’s unfortunate but we will always have his greatest movies like this one to enjoy.

I have never really been a big fan of Ray Liotta but he owns it in this movie.  As Henry Hill he gave his greatest performance.  He was the centerpiece of this movies standing next to much more notable actors like De Niro and Pesci but he holds up well and delivers. I love when he attacks the neighbor that came onto to his girlfriend.  The ferocious way he beat the guys face in leaves quite an impression.  I also love that in the very next scene Liotta and Bracco are getting married. Robert De Niro is great in this movie, outside of his role as Vito Corleone I think this is his best mobster part.  De Niro has always been great though and it is really hard to pick and choose when discussing what was his best.  In this movie De Niro is cool, ruthless, and unpredictable.  He was great in this movie and he continues to be great as an actor even today.  I also like Paul Sorvino in this film but little else he has done over his career has impressed me.

As with for the rest of the cast I think they were all great. I have also found it interesting how The Sopranos seemed to take so many of the supporting cast from this movie for their series. That starts with Lorraine Bracco who had the largest role of all of them in this film.  She is great in this film and was incredible as Dr. Melfi.  Showing a beauty that was ageless so many years later.  Other Sopranos cast members from this movie include Paulie Walnuts, Big Pussy, Christopher Moltisanti, Larry Boy Barese, Phil Leotardo, and Carmela’s mother.  Those are just the ones I noticed this time around and I’m sure there might be more.  I think it says something about the influence this movie had on the genre that so many people from the film were used in the series though.  Like many people, I was a huge fan of the HBO series and wish it had never ended.

This is an incredible movie and I can’t say enough about how much I love it.  It made me fall in love with the mafia more than any other film before it.  As a teen I was so entranced by the lifestyle they lived and at that juvenile age wanted to grow up and do the same thing.  Those were foolish thoughts that fortunately I grew out of, but I imagine many people that see this movie feel the same way regardless of age. The really great movies leave a lasting impression on the people that watch them and I think this movie had that effect.  It is a great movie that I recommend to anyone I meet who hasn’t seen it, which it rare.  This one is worth your time but you don’t need me to tell you that, everyone else will tell you the same.

AMBER’S REVIEW

I remember the first time that Ryan made me watch this movie. I loved it then and I love it now. I think this movie is different from the regular cliche mobster movies. This one is told from the actual point of view of an actual ex mobster. When you know that already going in it makes the movie a lot more interesting. I am sure that Ryan wrote all about the movie’s intricate details so I will go ahead and skip to the design.

Goodfellas Movie

This is an image of the DVD cover. I have to admit that I am not crazy about this. I do like the three main actors on the front and how the stark values and shadows allow them to fade into the black background. I feel like this should have taken up the entire front. Instead, there is the bottom of the cover where someone is lying dead under the bridge. I think they were trying to hard to show too much. I know what they were trying to do, but it doesn’t work for me. I do love the typography. I think it works for the movie.

NEXT MOVIE: The Goonies (1985) 

Blow

Year: 2001
Directed By: Ted Demme
Written By: Bruce Porter

RYAN’S REVIEW

I was 17 when I saw this movie for the first time and it fueled my juvenile fantasies of being a gangster.  It had the same affect on many of my friends as well but it was merely a phase for some.  This is a great movie despite any bad influence it may have had on me and my peers as youths.  Its name belongs right up there with the other great films in its genre like Goodfellas, Casino, and The Godfather.  While those movies all center around the Italian Mafia they do have one big things in common with Blow, which has no Italian Mafia elements.  It’s that white powder that they are all involved with in the end.  This movie is not as iconic and fantastic as Scarface but it is an interesting story about a real life criminal and the movie was well made.

I have said before that this was the last good movie Johnny Depp made, and while I don’t believe that any longer it is still a great movie for him.  He is cool and his ageless quality came in handy when he played this part of a man who ages over twenty years during the film. Paul Reubens revived his career with this movie but was unable to turn that success into anything meaningful.  I will never forget the cover of Entertainment Weekly that had his picture on it.  He had powder all over his nose and the front of his face and the tagline said “Pee-Wee does Blow!” Penelope Cruz is unbelievably smoking hot and the obvious choice for the Colombian wife of George Jung.  Ray Liotta has a natural place in movies like this and is well cast as Geroge Jung’s father.  I am not overly familiar with the work of Ted Demme but I understand this movie had a bad influence on him as well.  A much worse influence I should say as he died about a year after this movie was released from a massive heart attack brought on by using too much cocaine.

This movie might make you want to relive some of the good old days if you aren’t careful but it is still a fantastic movie.  I do not know how historically accurate the movie it, I have studied Pablo Escobar at some length but still know very little of George Jung outside of what I have seen in this film.  Crime movies are always very exciting and offer alot of like.  This movie is more than worth your time.

AMBER’S REVIEW

I thoroughly enjoy this film. I heard someone tell me last week that they had never watched this film because they were not a big Johnny Depp fan. I think that is a completely stupid reason to have never watched this film. It is art in movie format and depicts the story of a man on a mission. His mission may be drugs, but it is his mission as he sees it and we follow him through his trials and tribulations. The story itself is based on quite a real story and to have such a monotonous life, his life is quite thrilling and amazing to someone like me. With movies like this I feel like we can live out some of our fantasies through the characters on the screen.

All of the actors in this film play their role to the “T” and it shows. The story is believable, and you can ride along in the crime and drug filled events that take place. This is a great movie and is completely worth the time to watch it.

NEXT MOVIE: The Bounty (1984)