Tag Archives: James Gandolfini

The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) Review

Time: 106 Minutes
Age Rating: R16 – contains violence & offensive language
Cast:
Denzel Washington as Walter Garber
John Travolta as Dennis ‘Ryder’ Ford/Mr. Blue
John Turturro as Lieutenant Vincent Camonetti
Luis Guzmán as Phil Ramos/Mr. Green
Michael Rispoli as John Johnson
James Gandolfini as the Mayor of New York
Director: Tony Scott

A subway dispatcher’s day is thrown into chaos when four armed men hijack the subway train and take the commuters as hostages. They demand USD 10 million from the mayor as ransom.

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Tony Scott’s The Taking of Pelham 123 is a remake of the 1970s hostage thriller of the same name. I did watch that 1974 original, but its been a while since I saw it, so I am viewing the 2009 version as its own movie. Overall, it is pretty good action thriller.  

The premise is pretty familiar and straightforward, it’s a hostage situation where a subway train is hijacked, and someone has to negotiate with the leader of the hijackers. The script is pretty thin, but it was suspenseful and well paced throughout, and I found it consistently entertaining. It particularly comes alive during the phone interactions between the two leads, it is vibrant, and the back and forth conversations are thrilling.

There is a great cast, but it mostly comes down to Denzel Washington and John Travolta in the lead roles. Washington is reliably good, bringing life to a character in an ordinary job who finds himself caught in a very tense situation, and he helps to get you connected to the story. Travolta plays the leader of the hijackers and that antagonist of the film. His performance is unhinged, campy, psychotic and brash, and he’s clearly having a lot of fun here. He definitely won’t work for everyone, but I liked him here. These two are the driving force of the movie and particularly made for a good pairing because of how much they contrasted against each other. Washington is grounded and underplays things, while Travolta is incredibly over the top. There’s a clear connection between the two characters and they play well off each other, with their interactions being some of the highlights of the movie. There’s also a pretty good supporting cast, with actors like John Turturro, Luis Guzman, James Gandolfini giving solid performances.

Tony Scott directs this with his trademark frenetic style (most evident in his 2000s movies), which really helps to propel things forward. The cinematography is dizzying, frantic and has vibrant colours, the editing is fast paced and flashy, and the action is pretty gripping. With this, Scott does particularly well at adding a lot of visual style to the phone conversations.

The Taking of Pelham 123 is a well made and tense hostage thriller, confidently and stylishly directed by Tony Scott, and with solid lead performances from Denzel Washington and John Travolta. Not one of Scott’s best by any means, but it is pretty good, and worth checking out.

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Crimson Tide (1995) Review

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Crimson Tide

Time: 110 Minutes
Cast:
Denzel Washington as Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter
Gene Hackman as Captain Frank Ramsey
George Dzundza as Chief of the Boat Walters (COB)
Matt Craven as Lieutenant Roy Zimmer
Viggo Mortensen as Lieutenant Peter Ince
James Gandolfini as Lieutenant Bobby Dougherty
Director: Tony Scott

The Captain of a submarine (Gene Hackman) wants to launch an attack while his deputy (Denzel Washington) wants to wait for confirmation. Their conflict escalates into a mutiny with both of them fighting for the command of the ship.

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I heard of Crimson Tide for a while, I knew of it as a submarine movie directed by Tony Scott and starring Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman. It was on my list of movies to check out eventually but for whatever reason I hadn’t checked it out yet. Eventually I did watch it and I was quite surprised at how good it was.

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The plot is great, it is a predictable yet entertaining story. It is always so kinetic from beginning to end, tightly crafted, and just all around suspenseful, with never a dull moment here. The pacing is just right, it can feel a little slow in the beginning as it is setting the scene and characters, but once it gets going, it really gets going. The second and third acts are particularly intense, without a stopping point. One of the biggest surprises is that it places character and conflict ahead of the action. Usually you’d expect this type of film to constantly cut away to the action as the drama unfolds, however Tony Scott keeps the distractions to a minimum, and it’s generally a very contained movie. The majority of the movie focuses its attention on the colliding ideals of the weathered Lieutenant Commander (Gene Hackman), and his vigilant new XO Captain (Denzel Washington). The moral greyness of the dilemma at the forefront of the movie is well handled, with a surprising amount of depth given to the nature of military procedure in the case of an emergency launch, and the importance of following protocol. Much of the tension the movie wrings from the internal conflict between the two leads, particularly with the tense and heated dialogue. As everything slowly builds up within that clash of ideologies, it just only feels like you could expect it all to blow anytime soon. Scott really drives home the fact that these men are alone, with just as many questions as the audience. Something also great is that despite some of what Hackman’s character does, there’s no clear-cut villain here really, just two men who both firmly believe that they are doing the right thing. Quentin Tarantino actually did some script-doctoring on this movie, but his contributions were probably the weakest part of the movie, with the comic book and Star Trek references being very out of place with the rest of the movie. On the whole though, Crimson Tide is very entertaining and thrilling from beginning to end.

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The acting is great from everyone, but it mostly comes down to Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington in the lead roles, both of whom deliver really solid performances. It’s thrilling seeing the two go at each other. I do feel like Washington’s character could’ve been better developed or defined really, though he did the job alright. Hackman’s character of Ramsey (the commander) however is very well written, with a good character arc. The supporting cast all bring their A-games too including James Gandolfini and Viggo Mortensen.

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Tony Scott’s direction is great and handles everything well. He keeps everything so fittingly tense, especially given the claustrophobia of the film’s setting, as well as strain applied to the ticking clock elements. It’s a great looking movie too, it looks fantastic with the colours, the set designs are convincing, and even the early CGI special effects are used appropriately enough. Finally, Hans Zimmer composes a bombastic yet very effective score.

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Crimson Tide is an effective and claustrophobic submarine thriller, and much better than I thought it would be. The story is simple yet one that you get invested in, it’s directed incredibly well, tense throughout, and has some strong performances, especially from Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington. One of Tony Scott’s best.

The Drop (2014) Review

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The Drop

Time: 106 Minutes
Age Rating: 2773-o[1] Violence & offensive language
Cast:
Tom Hardy as Bob Saginowski
Noomi Rapace as Nadia Dunn
James Gandolfini as Marvin “Cousin Marv” Stipler
Matthias Schoenaerts as Eric Deeds
Director: Michaël R. Roskam

Follows lonely bartender Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) through a covert scheme of funnelling cash to local gangsters – “money drops” – in the underworld of Brooklyn bars. Under the heavy hand of his employer and cousin Marv (James Gandolfini), Bob finds himself at the center of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighborhood’s past where friends, families, and foes all work together to make a living – no matter the cost.

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I remember I once saw The Drop many years ago, and I remembered liking it back then. I didn’t remember much of it however, so I had been meaning to see it again. Watching it again I liked it even more, a gritty crime drama, well paced, written and directed, with a solid cast, that is rather underrated.

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The Drop is based off a Dennis Lehane short story called Animal Rescue, and he actually adapted his own novel for the big screen, to some great results. It’s a good story and script, with some very naturalistic and well written dialogue. Make no mistake, this is a character driven story. Despite it being a crime movie, it’s not really a thriller, it’s actually a bit of a slow burn but I don’t mean that in a bad way by any means. I was personally invested from beginning to end, but just so you know it’s not a very active movie, moving at a calm pace. There happens to be some storylines and aspects related to crime but it’s about characters first and foremost. There aren’t many moments of violence but when they are present, they’re quite sudden and shocking, and pack the punches that the movie intends them to be. The Drop is an hour and 45 minutes or so long, and that was about the right length of the movie. With it being a slow paced drama you’d think that it would be rushed or something, but ultimately it’s a tightly written movie with a well handled story overall.

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The cast are among the best part of The Drop, each of them were great in their respective roles. Tom Hardy gives quite possibly his most subtle performance of his career as a soft spoken bartender named Bob. I won’t reveal too much of the movie but for at least most of the movie, he’s very unassuming, simple and naïve, and he absolutely works wonders in this role. Hardy manages to convey so much with just his facial expressions and eyes it’s incredible. Also, if you just want to see a movie where Tom Hardy is taking care of a dog for under a couple of hours then The Drop is right up your alley. The supporting cast are all good too. Noomi Rapace was good in her part too, and she and Hardy shared convincing chemistry (although she was slightly underused). Notably, The Drop is the last performance from James Gandolfini before his untimely death, and he was really great in his final role. A naturalistic performance with a lot of presence, he too works especially well in the scenes with Hardy. Matthias Schoenaerts is also in a supporting role as someone who threatens Tom Hardy’s character, Schoenaerts’s character is really meant to be a minor antagonist towards Bob and as that works as an easy person to dislike.

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This is the only film I’ve seen from Michael R. Roskam, and he actually directed this movie quite well. The Drop has got quite a great look to it throughout, especially the use of colour. The score by Marco Beltrami is also really good.

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I’ve noticed that The Drop has been overlooked quite a bit, and really deserves a lot more attention than it has been receiving. It’s not a particularly fast paced movie, but instead it’s a slow burn and investing drama, with a well written story, topped off with great performances from Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and James Gandolfini. It’s really worth a watch whenever you get a chance.