A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 177 – Unleashed

Unleashed – August 24th, 2010

I should apologize right now, because I’m about to get all serious in here. Serious about an action/martial arts flick. I know that’s not usually how these movies are meant to be watched, but watching it I found I couldn’t help but think serious thoughts about the plot. When we put it in tonight, I thought I’d be getting mindless action, some cool fight scenes with Jet Li, and all in under two hours so we could finish in time for me to write my review. No problem! And instead I’m thinking about child development and present-day slavery.

None of the coursework I did in grad school covered this sort of stuff. We mostly talked about literacy. So let me start by saying that the alphabet book Danny’s got near the beginning? The one he’s fascinated by and spends so much time looking at? Well, it makes a great prop for the movie, but a shitty alphabet book. An abstract concept like love? Tough. I don’t doubt there are books that have used it, but still. It prodded my librarian brain. It said “Cute idea, but not realistic!” Which sort of sums up a good portion of the movie for me. Oh, I enjoyed it, let me assure you, but like I said. I’m getting serious.

See, the movie takes this plot, with a loan shark, Bart, who’s got a fighter he’s trained up to be his muscle. And the fighter is Danny, who’s been with Bart almost his whole life. And he’s well trained to attack on command. You know, the alternate title of this movie is Danny the Dog. All Danny knows is to be quiet until his collar is off and when the collar’s off, attack on Bart’s command. And he’s lethal. Ruthless. Emotionless and efficient. The perfect tool. Not a human being at all. And as the plot goes, Danny escapes and meets a man named Sam who tunes pianos and lives with his step-daughter, Victoria, and they take Danny in and show him what a normal life is like until, of course, Bart shows up and wants Danny back and then there’s lots of fighting. Look at that plot. Look at it hard. This is slavery we’re looking at here, and while I’m sure we’d all like to think slavery’s a thing of the past, it would be painfully ignorant to believe it.

Slavery, the owning and using of another human being, is the gimmick that drives the movie. Danny hasn’t been free to make his own decisions and live his own life since he was seven. I know I’m taking this far more seriously than some, given that this is an action flick, but then there’s the whole middle section with Sam and Victoria. The writers wanted to show the effects Bart’s abuse has had on Danny, from his ignorance of cutlery to his total disregard of violence happening nearby. We’re supposed to see the bad stuff. And I think this is what bothers me, even though I did enjoy the movie. It’s presenting this horrible situation, with a man being kept as an animal and made to fight, and I know that slavery exists in the real world, and then it also asks us to accept that this unspeakably hideous damage done to the main character can be undone in a matter of weeks or months. Maybe I am taking it too seriously. It would be nice if some cooking and music lessons could undo decades of abuse. Maybe it’s better to just think of the movie as a fantasy. It’s rooted in reality. Painful and ugly reality. But it’s not real.

So, fantasy it is. And as a fantasy it does just fine. After all, the fight sequences are almost magical themselves. They’re full of slow motion cuts where near misses are lovingly captured for the viewer to admire from several angles. Jet Li as Danny spends every fight sequence doing moves that defy belief, bouncing from one enemy to the next and back again until they’re all gone. The movie starts with him up against a group and that’s really a thing for this movie. One on one fights are just so boring! We need multiple assailants to really spice things up, so every fight has a couple of people for Danny to beat on. And if the fights had been the whole movie it would have just been a very nicely done martial arts action movie. But then there’s that plot.

Now, I’m not going to complain about Morgan Freeman as Sam. I love Morgan Freeman, and he does play a good fatherly figure. When we review Batman Begins I’m sure I’ll get to wax rhapsodic about him and Michael Caine overloading the paternal wisdom intake in my brain. And I’m not going to complain about Kerry Condon as Victoria. She’s got an odd quirky character to play and she manages to make Victoria endearing instead of annoying. And I rather like their little family, brought together by tragedy and loss and kept together by music and compassion for one another. It’s a nice theme. It just strikes me as so oddly unexpected in the middle of a movie that starts with a fight sequence.

I guess what my problem is, is that while I enjoyed the movie, I was too aware of all of the nitpicky stuff. When I let go of all of that, it was a fun movie to watch. The performances are great, especially Bob Hoskins as Bart, and the fight scenes are a treat for those who like that sort of thing (and I do). So I’d suggest not doing what I did and getting bogged down in the particulars and realities unless you really want to do some serious thinking. If you want to enjoy a fun action movie, just let it go. Pretend it’s set fifty years from now or something. Because it’s an unexpected sort of movie. An action movie with a heart. And while it’s worth thinking about, it’s also worth just watching.

August 24, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Unleashed

August 24, 2010

Unleashed

It’s a Tuesday today, which means that we needed a shorter movie if we were to review it before the day was out. Amanda was in the mood for an action movie, preferably one she hadn’t seen yet. So we settled on Uleashed (A.K.A. Danny the Dog.) As I was putting it into the DVD player Amanda asked me if this was likely to be a movie she’d have to pay close attention to. I told her that it wasn’t likely to be.

I figured that this was a movie that could be summed up in about three sentences. “Danny is a killing machine raised by an English mobster to kill anybody on command. Eventually he is freed by circumstances from his life of violence and taken in by a kindly blind piano tuner and his daughter. Eventually his new life must collide with his old.” It’s not exactly deep or new in any way. But even so, it is a cool movie and one I’m glad I have in my collection.

For one thing this movie came out at a time when the name Yuen Woo-Ping was just beginning to resonate on this side of the world. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had won a bunch of Oscars, and his distinctive work had been featured in the Matrix and Kill Bill movies. Nobody knows better than he how to choreograph an impressive fight scene. And choreograph is definately the correct word, because the fights in a Wo-Ping movie are intricate dances, always with distinctive movements and intricate design. (For the Jackie Chan fan in me he’s always been the fight choreographer for Drunken Master.) So his name alone in the credits is enough to assure you that a fun movie lies ahead.

Add to that some really big names. Jet Li plays Danny. He gets not only to fight against crazy odds and do all kinds of cool stunts, but do it with this hang-dog look of bewilderment. Danny has known nothing but death and destruction and has almost no human feeling left in him. When he’s wearing his collar he shambles about completely disconnected and only comes to life when his master removes the collar and commands him to kill. It’s fun to see Danny as he emerges from this world and starts to discover what happiness can be, and what has been missing from his life.

The two opposing forces in Danny’s life are represented by Bob Hoskins as “Uncle Bart” the nefarious and thoroughly loathsome gangster who made Danny what he is and Morgan Freeman as Sam, the man who takes Danny in and gives him a new life. Both take their roles to the kind of extreme that only seasoned actors can without quite descending into caricature. Hoskins is wonderfully evil. His character is full of angry bluster and clearly out of his depth much of the time. And Freeman takes a role which is basically an extension of the kindly blind hermit from Bride of Frankenstein and manages to almost make him seem plausible. Almost.

If this movie has a flaw in my mind it is that the bright new life that Danny stumbles upon is so blissfully and completely perfect. There’s Sam and his daughter Victoria. They take in the wounded and clearly mentally unhinged Danny without ever a second thought. Sam is a font of well meaning home-spun advice and gentle encouragement. He teaches Danny how to shop for fresh produce and how to cook. And Victoria gives Danny lessons on how to play the piano. Neither of them ever pressure Danny as to why he was stumbling about with a gunshot wound, no social skills, and a strange collar on. It’s like two kindly people taking in Leatherface when they find him dying in the street and providing him with nothing but love and affection. It lends a slightly dreamlike quality to the whole movie.

As I wrote this review I noted that the movie was written by Luc Besson and it was as though a light had gone off in my head. “Of course!” This is like a kinder and gentler version of Leon. It has that Luc Besson trope of a unique individual who suddenly finds a reason to live and then has to face impossible odds to keep the new life they’ve found for themselves.

So if you had a movie written by Luc Besson, choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping, and starring Jet Li, Bob Hoskins and Morgan Freeman… well there’s nothing else it could be but this. A simple but fun to watch tale of a man facing impossible odds to gain a new life for himself. It’s not a movie that requires a lot of attention, but it’s a movie that you find you WANT to pay attention to. It’s gritty but light. A simple and enjoyable way to spend a Tuesday evening.

August 24, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment