TIFF 2012 – The Iceman Review (Dustin SanVido)

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The Iceman (2012)

Starring Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Ray Liotta, Chris Evans, David Schwimmer, and James Franco

Written by Morgan Land and Ariel Vromen

Directed by Ariel Vromen


Boy, did I have high expectations for this film. I’m a big fan of true crime stories and I had The Iceman in my festival top ten. The story of Robert Kuklinsky is one that’s interested me for the better part of ten years. Kuklinski was notorious for the killings he carried out over his adult life and lauded by those who worked with him for his innovative ways of disposing of his bodies. His story has a very cinematic quality which I thought could make for an exciting film adaptation if handled by the right filmmaker. As it turns out, Ariel Vromen is as capable as any first time director I’ve seen, but the decisions in the script to abandon certain aspects of his life and over-dramatize others as well as an overall blandness and sterilization of the factual violence that happened in reality severely hinder The Iceman. This coupled with some inexcusably bad performances from actors that have no place in the film leaves this as one of the more disappointing films of the festival.

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The Iceman is the true-life story of Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski, one of the most notorious hitmen in the history of the American mafia. The film chronicles the early beginnings of Kuklinski’s adult years, from his time as a sound technician in the adult-film retail distribution business to his rise as a reliable problem-solver for the Gambino crime family, all the while keeping a seemingly squeaky clean image as a loving father who provides for his family as a market trader. I will spare the inclusion of any additional plot breakdown as it would spoil the sole reason to watch this film, and that being the titular character’s story is and remains interesting. Viewers who are unaware of Kuklinski’s history in American crime will find the story interesting and entertaining, but those who know the true story will be frustrated.

The most damning aspect of The Iceman is the script. Important moments in his criminal life are never mentioned. In no single moment is there a sense of terrifying dread that was present in every interview and account of his life I had researched in the past. Aside from one or two total lines of dialogue in the entire film, the subject of the Gambino crime family, even their name, is never mentioned. Characters are the film equivalent of cardboard cut-outs. The murders portrayed are few and far between and are shown in bunches in a series of montages, with the exception of a few. The pacing is severely flawed as any tension that is built dissipates thanks to attempts at creating domestic drama. The filmmakers obviously didn’t care for the family aspect of the story and it’s surprising they went back to it during the one or two times the plot was actually moving smoothly.

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The acting wasn’t as bad, but it was ultimately disappointing and didn’t do the filmmakers any favours. Michael Shannon was an inspired choice to play the titular character, but I feel as though he missed his mark and perhaps just couldn’t fully realize the demands of such a two-sided sociopathic killer. I applaud him for trying because of the appeal of such a role, I just didn’t find him scary at all. For such an imposing character I found his performance rather nonthreatening, however I feel these problems for the most part were due to the script and not the actor. Surprisingly, I really liked Winona Ryder in this film; she plays off of Shannon’s emotions perfectly as his loving wife Deborah Kuklinski. Ray Liotta as Roy Demeo is his usual bad self, doing nothing better or worse than he’s done for the latter part of his career. The rest of the performances are as poorly written as everything else, but what makes them even worse is the inclusion of a group of actors that bring zero to the table and leaves one to wonder why they are even there. First is David Schwimmer as a soldier working under the guidance of Demeo. His performance is awful and is only surpassed in its awfulness by his porn star moustache and the performances of the other two in question. One of those is Chris Evans, who plays Robert Prongue, a fellow killer who befriends Kuklinski. Evans plays his character much like his earlier performance as the dumb jock in Not Another Teen Movie. Lastly we have James Franco, who makes a short cameo, the likes of which have been deservedly chastised by a fellow writer at Entertainment Maven in a review of Aftershock. Portraying Marty the scumbag, his character is only onscreen for a brief time before meeting his end in one of the better moments of this messy film.

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There isn’t much else to say except that this was a greatly unsatisfying film that had all the elements in hand to tell an interesting and fresh story and were squandered and lost almost solely thanks to poor decisions in the script process. I can only hope the director finds a better script for his next feature, while this is the second straight poor choice for Michael Shannon. I think I just may avoid him until Superman returns to fight him in next year’s The Man of Steel.

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Premium Rush Review (Dustin SanVido)

Premium Rush (2012)

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Wole Parks, and Jamie Chung.

Directed by David Koepp

Editor’s note: We’re very happy to add yet another member to our team of enthusiastic cinephiles. Dustin SanVido, aka The Film Authority, is off the charts when it comes to enthusiasm and appreciation of modern movies. I have a feeling that when Ridley Scott or Chistopher Nolan become attached to a new project, Dustin knows what they will be directing before they do. Add to this enthusiasm some very entertaining writing, and I think Dustin will fit in just fine here at Entertainment Maven. I hope you enjoy his first review: Premium Rush.

Walking into Premium Rush I couldn’t help but feel that it was rife with potential. The cast is lead by Joseph Gordon Levitt and Michael Shannon, two personal favorites of mine. I don’t believe there are any other actors working today, with the lone exception of Gary Oldman, who can slip into a character with such ease that you forget you’re watching a performance. Watching these actors play with dialogue in any of their work is an utter joy, despite whether their characters tread softly or outright dive into a pool of madness.

Premium Rush is directed by David Koepp, a man whose talent for screenwriting has resulted in some of the great blockbusters of modern cinema, including Jurassic Park and Spiderman. His efforts behind the camera have been far more disjointed and uneven, but I laud him for trying different themes and genres to broaden his artistic pallet – for every Pitch Black there lies a Secret Window!

The premise of Premium Rush is simple enough. Wilee (JGL) is a law school dropout who has chosen the path of a bike messenger instead of taking the bar exam and beginning a mature adult life. He lives for the rush of bicycling into NYC traffic on a hot summer day with his secure goods in tow, while dangerously weaving through traffic with complete disregard for the safety of himself and others. In fact, this seems to be the unwritten code of all bike messengers in Premium Rush. He’s also in mid breakup/fight/make-up with his girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), also a bike messenger, who is being comforted and consoled by Manny (Wole Parks), also a bike messenger and the foresworn rival of Wilee. Did I mention Manny refers to himself only in the third person for the duration of Premium Rush? (Yikes, this guy’s a badass).

Enter NYPD Detective Bobby Monday (Shannon), a good intentioned officer of the law whose penchant for gambling in low-rent Asian establishments and back-door gatherings has landed him in a rather large debt with the local mob. After detective Monday’s resistance to a simple non-payment beating ends up proving fatal for the opposition, Monday finds himself in hot water. To save himself he accepts a standing offer from his friend, a current member of said mob organization. Instructions are simple: retrieve a letter from a woman (Jamie Chung) across town and the debt is forgiven. Simple enough right?

What follows is a film that shows great disregard towards the most entertaining character (Monday) and instead focuses heavily on JGL’s Wilee. This would normally be more than enough for me, and it has in the past (see Jingle All The Way), but in this case there just isn’t enough to like about the protagonist, leaving the plot to spiral out of control with its unnecessary complexities and contrivances. Unfortunately, the fact that all of the exposition is revealed in backwards format becomes increasingly frustrating as the plot moves along, especially because of the predictability of the script.

During Premium Rush’s brisk running-time I found myself asking the same questions: Why must these bike messengers purposefully cause accidents that injure and cause pedestrians and drivers untold amounts of damage and tragedy, when following the rules of the road would get them to their destination nearly just as quickly? Why must Wilee stop mid-delivery to have a race with his rival through central park? Why must the detective allow the messenger to peddle away when he’s within arm’s reach so many times? Why must all the actors in the film of Asian descent speak with generic, forced, and shall I dare suggest borderline offensive accents? Finally, why is the protagonist’s name Wilee? I understand the joke, but his name CLEARLY should have been Road Runner with the detective taking the name ‘Wilee’.

And then there’s the bike messenger super sense (yes, you read that correctly). It seems Wilee has the power to slow down time and view all the outcomes of the directions he can choose with all the examples of potential vehicular manslaughter included. This was an interesting idea on paper, I’m sure, but the result is rather silly.

The few positives I can take away from Premium Rush are mainly due to the effective cinematography during the action sequences. The camera moves quickly and fluidly around the streets of Manhattan and I was genuinely thrilled by the stunt-work and speed of the sequences. I also enjoyed a scene in which Detective Monday interrogates Wilee in the back of an ambulance. This was the single moment in the film where a genuine sense of danger was created and I felt like something bad could realistically happen to our protagonist.

In the end, Premium Rush truly offers no surprises or anything fresh, and is anything but premium. Although I feel generally let down by his latest effort, I am excited to see what David Koepp has in store for his return to the world of Riddick. Joseph Gordon Levitt and Michael Shannon will also escape this film relatively unscathed as their stars continue to rise.

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