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Bullet to the Head (2013)

Bullet to the HeadI have no preface for this review except to tell you that Walter Hill and Sylvester Stallone are a blockbuster combination that have delivered an excellent, hard-as-hell and graphic action film that you MUST SEE!  Simply said, this has Walter Hill’s vintage style all over it, and I love it!  If Bullet to the Head signals a turning of the genre back to its best roots of hard edged bad assery, I’m all for it!

After the seasoned criminal Jimmy Bobo (Sylvester Stallone) and his partner Louis Blanchard (Jon Seda) carry out a hired hit, they are targeted by a mercenary named Keegan (Jason Momoa) who kills Blanchard, but fails in his attempt against Jimmy.  With the mark for the hit being a former corrupt Washington D.C. cop, it brings Detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) to New Orleans to investigate who he was hooked up with, and why he was killed.  However, Kwon soon finds himself lethally targeted, and joins forces with Jimmy in order to weed out and bring down whoever wants them both dead.  The unlikely duo soon take on all who stand in their way, but where Kwon wants procedural justice, Jimmy is ready to exact brutal, unforgiving revenge.

I revisited both 48 HRS. movies within the last two months, and so, Walter Hill’s classic style is really fresh in my mind.  I am a longtime fan of The Warriors, but Bullet to the Head certainly follows more in line with that sort of buddy cop dynamic.  I could really feel that vibe coming off this movie right from the start, and it had me hooked in by the end of the opening credits.  I was loving this movie within the first five minutes, and it never disappointed me.  Aside from the modern technology aspects, this feels right at home with a solid 1980s hard-hitting action film, but Hill does throw in some modern style to update it a little.  Bullet to the Head has a neo noir edge to it, but it doesn’t go down the Michael Mann route.  This vibe is mainly due to large chunks of the film taking place at night, and we get some very appealing cinematography out of it.  There are some shaky cam tropes used every so often, but it’s far from being the worst I’ve seen.  There’s some restraint used to keep the action scenes really satisfying, and while I would’ve preferred more restraint or at least wider compositions, it did work quite well for this film.

Stallone is excellent through and through.  He shows that he’s still got what it takes to be a top tier action hero.  He is really in phenomenal shape showcasing a lean, ripped physique that presents a man that can clearly rip you to pieces.  Sly gets plenty of chances to show his physicality with some really bone crunching hand-to-hand combat in addition to all the brutal, graphic gun violence.  Yes, indeed, there are numerous people getting their own bullet to the head throughout the movie.  Acting wise, Stallone’s solid.  He really carries the dramatic weight of Jimmy well, much in part to his grizzled voice.  The film’s not dripping with emotional grief or anything, but you definitely feel Jimmy’s dead set determination in finding the people responsible for his partner’s murder.  The scenes Sly shares with Sarah Shahi, who portrays Jimmy’s tattoo artist daughter Lisa, are really well done.  There’s definitely a rocky relationship there, but not one of heavy friction.  They play well off of each other creating a mature and honest father-daughter relationship that has some weight and grit.

The humor in the film is really played out nicely between Stallone and Sung Kang.  The trailers did do it justice as it seemed a little low grade, but in the context of the film, it really had me laughing quite a bit.  I like how Kang’s Detective Kwon keeps poking fun at Jimmy’s age, and it’s handled in an almost bad ass way when Stallone retorts that still sells a laugh.  It’s nicely written and smartly performed.  Both actors really grasped the tone and chemistry the film was going for, and it kept the tone light and fun when needed in between the slam bang action scenes.  That is a perfect example of a 48 HRS. Walter Hill style and balance of tone.  The humor works with the hardened action tone of the film, and invests you in the characters in how they contrast and complement one another.  It’s certainly something not every director can do, but Hill proves he still has that skill.

I will admit that Sung Kang himself start out a little weak in the film.  He wasn’t really selling me for the first few scenes, but once he clicked into the chemistry opposite Stallone, he really fit in quite well.  Detective Kwon is a very by-the-book type of cop.  He’s using Jimmy only as a means to an end, and is quite set in his ways of adhering to the law all the way through.  So, there’s this tough, seasoned hitman paired with a rather mild mannered police detective who wants to keep what they do on the straight and narrow.  However, they regularly clash in stellar fashion creating both some of that humor, but also, a fine building of a relationship that keeps forcing them back together.  Still, despite Kwon being very conservative with his violence, he regularly impresses by having the skills to take down an adversary quite efficiently either by hand or by gun.  So, Stallone doesn’t get all the action glory.  Sung Kang has his fair chances to show us something unexpected and satisfying in that vein.  There might be some that feel he wasn’t the absolute best choice for this role, especially since Thomas Jane was originally cast in it, but I think he earns his merit before the end.  Beyond anything else, Kung and Stallone work very smoothly together making this a very entertaining film.

Now, I was extremely impressed by Jason Momoa.  His role of Keegan is a very stern faced killer, but one that is simply a massacring bad ass.  As his employers say in the film, he enjoys the work he does.  He takes pleasure in killing, and he gets a ton of chances to indulge himself.  He never just walks in to kill one person.  He’s there to kill everyone in sight, and Momoa delivers to us a genuinely sadistic villain that you’d love to hate.  He may only be a hired gun, a mercenary, but he fits right into that perfect role of like James Remar from 48 HRS or Andrew Divoff from Another 48 HRS.  He may not be the mastermind criminal, but he is the number one force to contend with and is the one that we really want to see taken down.  Momoa is really awesome in this role, and he seemed to have loved playing it.  He makes Keegan intimidating and heavily threatening, despite his impressive muscle bound size of 6’5”.

Christian Slater has a nice turn as the somewhat sleazy Marcus Baptiste, a rich lawyer who enjoys his women and narcotics quite a bit.  He only has a few scenes, but Slater does sell the antagonistic character with plenty of zeal.  Baptiste is working with the actual mastermind of Morel, an African gentleman portrayed with sophistication, arrogance, and amoral villainy by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbajeas.  It’s a very subdued performance, but one that works quite well for the character.  Both actors gives us some firm antagonists with realistic motives that solidly fit the film and story.

And indeed, this is a hard R rated action movie with plenty of bloody gunshots and some explicit female nudity.  It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an action film be so casual and open with showing nudity, and it was very much a pleasing sight to my eyes.  Baptiste has a masquerade party where many of the masked women are wearing little else but those masks.  It was very titillating, but it does not distract the film away from its plot.  It doesn’t indulge in anything gratuitous beyond that.  Conversely, this may not have as much graphic violence as Dredd, but it surely lives up to that standard I just recently discovered.  Just like in Dredd, and again, living up to its title, people get shot in the head continually.  The film even sets up the need for it early on when a guy doesn’t go down until he’s shot in the head.  So, Jimmy Bobo is dead-on-the-mark, accepting nothing but point blank kill shots to the cranium.  While some of the blood splatter is likely CGI, it at no point did it distract from the awesomeness of this movie.  We get some big explosions in this that kick ass, and tell you that this movie is taking no prisoners.  It’s going to deliver that hardcore bombast that has been missing in most action films these days, and it’s gonna to do like only Stallone and Hill can.  What I really loved was when Jimmy and Keegan duel with those axes.  That is not something I believe I’ve seen in an action film before, and it seriously made for one really intense and suspenseful fight.  On wrong move, and you could be missing a body part.  It was a tremendously climactic and amazing action scene that amped up the level of tension and brutality that I wasn’t expecting.  From the trailers, I knew it was going to happen, but I didn’t expect it to be that damn good of a scene.  It was fuckin’ great!

I also really loved the score by Steve Mazzaro.  It’s very bluesy with some hard electric guitar and prominent and beautiful use of harmonica, giving this a real seasoned and down to Earth feel.  It sets a real down south vibe for this New Orleans set film that really just works amazingly well.  However, most of the action scenes are very minimal on music.  At most, you get a little underscore for a low end vibe, but mostly, you’re hearing the sound effects of guns firing, fists crunching bone, bodies slamming into hard surfaces, and axes clanging together.  I think that worked excellently with this very hard edged action as there is a lot of impact with those sound effects.  They really enhance the brutality of the movie, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

Seeing both this and Dredd within the same month really energizes me into believing that hardcore R rated action movies are making a genuine, high quality comeback.  Talented filmmakers, both old and new, are delivering to us some really amazing movies lately that are giving the action genre that hard hitting adrenalin shot it needed.  Stallone is in top form and clearly enjoying himself in this movie, and he was in masterful hands with Walter Hill as the director.  I had a HELL of a great time watching this in the theatre, and if a friend of mine was going to see it later, I’d tag along for a second viewing.  Bullet to the Head is a fun, exciting, ass kicking 90 minute thrill ride that is worth taking more than once.  It keeps itself simple by not trying to complicate the plot with any big twisting narrative.  It’s very straight forward and right to the point.  This is one awesome movie that satisfied me from the very beginning to the very end.  And this is literally a movie that starts with a bang!  I give Bullet to the Head a definite SLAM BANG recommendation!  This year now has a lot to live up to in terms of action movies for me, and I damn well hope it delivers.  So, 2013 – you have been put on notice!


Interview With The Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994)

There are countless interpretations of vampires out there.  Whether it is from Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, John Carpenter, or Joss Whedon – vampires will continue to be explored in literature, films, and television.  What Anne Rice has presented the world is a very classical, romantic, and aristocratic view of nosferatu.  It seems that many may have soured to this interpretation in recent years, at least in the filmed media.  With films like The Lost Boys, Fright Night, John Carpenter’s Vampires, and the television series of Angel and Buffy The Vampire Slayer integrating vampires into a modern setting with pop culture references and humor.  Still, Anne Rice’s view will likely remain the most traditional perception.

Louis de Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt) has chosen to grant an interview to a persistent reporter in Daniel Malloy (Christian Slater) in present day San Francisco, California.  Louis is, in fact, a vampire.  This easily takes Daniel by surprise, and is even more shocked to learn it is true.  Louis tells the tale of his life in darkness, as a vampire.  After the death of his wife and child in the year 1791, life lost its meaning for him, and he welcomed death at every turn.  Although, it would never come until he met Lestat (Tom Cruise), who offered him a new life where pain, death, and disease would no longer be a burden to him.  Still, he would have no idea the endless agony that would await him.  Louis spins the tale of two hundred years from Louisiana to Paris and beyond.  Encountering others of his kind, leaving a trail of blood, pain, sorrow, and death behind him.  It is a compelling and enthralling story which has many twists and some surprises.

There’s so much to praise about this film.  Director Neil Jordan gives us a beautiful sense of time and place.  With so much of this film being a period piece extending from the late eighteenth century to the present day, that is the most critical element in this film.  The landscapes are indeed gorgeous with a rich depth and a textured history.  The production designs and values are impressive and masterful.  This is award winning work.  I don’t think I really have the words to express how spectacular, epic, and grand it all is.  Philippe Rousselot’s cinematography compliments it all greatly and beautifully.  I have never seen anything else from Jordan, but I know that this film shows an immense breadth of artistry that I’m sure transcends into his other films.  Though, elegance is essentially the one word to describe this film.  Every second is filled with it from Elliot Goldenthal’s classical score to the performance of the actors.

Brad Pitt is sympathetic as a tortured man condemned to endure it all forever.  As a vampire, who knows for certain if he has a soul (again, depends on your chosen interpretation of them), but it becomes hard to dispute that Louis does.  He so tries to fight against his nature, to be a decent person, and thus, eventually finds nothing but agony from this eternity.  He does not seek death – he could easily step into the daylight and let himself fry – but some form of peace and solitude from eternal damnation.  Pitt portrays and emotes all of this to a tragic degree, but by the late twentieth century, he seems to have come to terms with most everything.

The flip side of this comes from Tom Cruise.  His Lestat finds nothing but pleasure and wonder in his reign as a vampire.  He is somewhat reminiscent of Julian Sands in Warlock – someone with a high sense of elegance and charm, but underneath this gentle facade is pure, delicious, sadistic evil.  Although, Lestat is far more naturally cultured and arrogant.  Up until this film, Tom Cruise had been the young heartthrob leading man with the million dollar smile.  He was the hero, the nice guy.  Here, he shows us his dark side, a striking performance that showed the world he had a talent no one imagined he had.  Cruise wouldn’t step into another dark, let alone villainous role for another nine years in Michael Mann’s Collateral as the sociopathic contract killer Vincent.  As Lestat, he shines with ease, and enjoys every magnificent moment of it.  Kirsten Dunst won several awards for her portrayal of the girl who would be eternally young by way of the blood of a vampire.  Those awards were well deserved, and easily launched her young career forward starring in dozens of films in the subsequent years.

The story eventually moves forward to Paris where new characters come into play.  Stephen Rea portrays Santiago as a very playful, mischievous, but still sadistic creature of the night.  It’s a fun performance, giving the film a different spark of life when it really needs it.  After the departure of Lestat from the story, these new personalities are quite welcomed.  Antonio Banderas, as always, is marvelous.  As Armand, he carries much weight about him, and has a powerful presence and allure.  He easily becomes the main antagonist at this point in the film.  He is more directly evil and seductive than Lestat.  Outside the view of the public, he makes no allusions to being anything but what he truly is.  Louis calls he and his minions monsters, and that is indeed true.  The final talent to mention is Christian Slater.  While his role is minimal, it is well played with an apprehension and fear.   The late River Phoenix was originally chosen to play this role, but when he met an untimely and tragic death, Slater stepped in to deliver a solid performance.

Louis’ story is filled with much emotional richness with so much tragedy, love, heartbreak, and pathos.  It surely has a different quality to something like Highlander where immortals are still human, can still do most things any other person can, but simply have to live for centuries on end enduring life on a larger canvas of time.  Here, Louis is tortured because he has become something ungodly and so against his nature.  He’s a man who comes to realize that he only traded one kind of pain for another, and now, must live with it for eternity.  It’s a journey that might be a little romanticized, but it is mostly sorrowful and somber.  His story is populated with rich, fascinating characters in a wide, sprawling, gorgeous world.

Overall, I must say that this is a remarkable film.  It is wonderfully constructed.  Everything blends and weaves together in an enrapturing narrative.  The editing remains wholly coherent and competent.  You never got lost in the timeline of events, or in the few flashes from the present to the past.  Anne Rice adapted her own novel for the film, and while I know nothing to the novel itself, I surely get the feeling that it is faithful from how much care clearly went into the film.  The film also definitely has its share of scares and frightening moments while gore is kept to a respectable minimum, but showcases some wonderful makeup work.  The movie concludes with a Guns N’ Roses cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil,” which I find very appropriate.  The lyrics of the song are very much akin to Lestat and those like him in the film.  Many never liked this cover deeming it tacky, but I truly enjoy it.  It was the last thing recorded with anything resembling the classic line-up of the band.  However, as far as the film goes, it was critically and commercially successful.  I have no qualms about it, and give it a perfect score!  While it might not be every horror fans’ taste, this is an extremely well made film showcasing an abundance of talent in every frame from everyone involved.  It gets my highest recommendation.