Tuesday, April 30, 2013

One Eight Seven - A Realistic View on Gang Life

I love gangster films, any kind of style of gangster films, because while a lot of them are romanticised there is truth behind them. I find them to be some of the most realistic films out there, and have a tonne more depth to them, then a lot of stale drama’s which are constantly getting Oscar nominated. This is a genre of film, which needs to be examined more, where do these stories come from originally before they were put on paper? Who experienced them? What happened to them? There will always be certain gangster films which will always be ahead of the pack, because a fair amount of money, experience and talent came together and created something brilliant. But they shouldn’t get all the credit. There are a lot of films out there, which may only have one actor which you may know of, or sometimes they don’t even have that, or they may not have a huge budget, but their story can be more realistic than any romanticised gangster film out there. ‘One Eight Seven’ is one of the most brutally honest portrayal’s of gang and street life I have seen on film. I only found out about this film several days ago from someone who know’s my taste in movies pretty well, and told me to give it a try; I am so glad I did. I couldn’t take my eyes away from the screen.

The lead actor in this is Samuel L. Jackson, and you may be thinking ‘Oh God really? I cannot take him seriously’, and sure you can have that opinion. However when he makes a film like ‘One Eight Seven’ he can make as many ‘Snake’s on a Plane’ type of movies as much as he likes. I never fully realised how much of an intense actor he was until I saw this film, and he proved he has some great acting chops on him, and should definitely be recognised for an honest film such as this.  Jackson plays a teacher by the name of Trevor Garfield, who is a teacher that was stabbed by a student for failing him. He then becomes a substitute at another school, and again he feels it’s the same damn routine again. The kids just don’t really want to learn or be there, and because most I’d assume don’t have the best home lives, they have had to ‘grow up’ quicker and they think they know best. He tries to establish discipline but fairness towards the students, and that doesn’t go down well with several of them, and backfires on him. And while he does try to reach out to certain gang members, he realises it was a waste of time, he didn’t want to give up on the kids but until they help themselves get out of their hole, there isn’t much more he can do. He believes everything should be fair but when he realises certain gangs do not play fair, he has to play their game with them, and try and beat them and shake some sense into them.

Another stand out performance has to go to Clifton Collins Jr. AKA Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez, and yes he really did go by the name Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez. He plays Cesar Sanchez who was the 2IC and now leader of a street gang, and man is he an intense guy. At first appearances he is acting like a punk, and you think he couldn’t do any real harm, but then you see the hate filled eyes he possesses, and it gave me chills to think of the damage and hurt he could cause people. Throughout the film, we see him becoming more aggressive and more hateful, and more self destructive. He isn’t a man at all, he is just an angry child in a young man’s skin suit, it’s like a disguise. He knows the system has failed his family, and we see just how much it has failed them but also how his mother just cannot control him. It’s a sad thing to hear a woman say how she wishes God would just take her son, just so she could find some peace for a while. A lot of things can affect a guy like Cesar, it’s the whole ‘Nature Vs Nurture’ debate.  He probably didn’t have a positive, strong male role model in his life, the only ones who probably wanted to take him under their wing is street gangs. It probably feels like the only ‘family’ he knows, and now because he has been involved in this for so long he is misguided. The sad thing is towards the end of the film, you start to see the cracks showing through his cool exterior and you realise he really is a self loather. And when he finally comes to that realisation, it’s too late.

‘One Eight Seven’ isn’t glossy in terms of production, set design, score, or anything technical. It is just an honest and realistic depiction, and you can feel the brutality of what these characters are suffering daily. It’s intense, and as a viewer it really made me want everyone to come out alive, changed for the better, but the voice in the back of my head was saying ‘Jade are you dreaming? That won’t happen’…and sure enough that voice was right. I won’t ruin the film for any of you, but all I can say is while it’s not overly violent, it leaves a lot to your imagination, with clever narrative and editing. While I didn’t know any of the songs in the film besides one which was by Massive Attack, I did like how the soundtrack was authentic. It wasn’t just full of rap and hip hop songs that we have heard a dozen times before on many film soundtracks. The editing was very well done, and I loved the close ups on the actors faces, because it really did capture their depth, intensity and hate in their eyes, and I felt it really added to the mood of the film.

There is a lot of themes in this film, which make you think beyond what you just watched. It makes you wonder how could so many people out there be living lives like this. It also makes me wonder about other real life stories that are out there that are like this. After I watched it, it made me wonder how can you get out of a gang like that or any other alive? What would you have to go through? What part of yourself will you have to sacrifice? But also what will you have to live with for the rest of your life? I could never fully imagine what they must go through, before, during and maybe even after they leave a gang, but I don’t think it’s as pleasant or as ‘fun’ as they make it seem. There are a lot of factors of why these kids join these gangs, and since a lot of them can be quite young when they join, they haven’t quite grasped life and how dark it can really get, so they may not understand the repercussions to their actions yet. Some may end up dead, in jail, in the Witness Protection Program or some may be living a new life but always remembering their past life, and knowing that it won’t go away. And while there will be gang members out there which have left that life behind them, you will always have those people who will always think of you as a gangster and nothing more, not even bothering to care to see how much you have grown and changed for the good; and I think that’s wrong. You may be thinking ‘How can you feel sorry for someone who commits crimes and hurts others?’. They may have paid for their crimes, or they might not, but if they have a heart, and warm eyes which are under a hard and cold glaze, I can sympathise with the pain they will have to suffer in their head daily. I don’t think anyone should commit any kind of hate onto anyone, I really don’t, and I am not condoning what they do, but part of me feels sorry for them. It’s a shame, when you really think about it. These kids may have come from broken homes, and they may be messed up mentally, shut off, and this is their only way of living, some may get out, some may not, but as long as people hate and aren’t there for them the cycle will continue. ‘One Eight Seven’ made me want to shake these kids, but at the end it made me want to say to them ‘What was the point in it all?’ ‘What did you get out of it?’

I am not going to pretend I know everything about gangs, because I don’t. I just know what I feel, when I watch movies like this, or watch documentaries, read articles, or listen to real life stories. When I was younger I always thought movies were black and white, and that is how I always saw the criminal justice system, but it isn’t. There are a lot of films you could watch about gang life and you may think they are the best ones out there, but you need to dig beneath that glossy surface and find the meat. Gangster movies are a big passion of mine, but street gang movies are something I didn’t watch a whole lot of besides the mainstream ones, and now I am  finding that the lesser known films are just as good, if not better. So I say to all your gangster movie buffs out there, get out of your mainstream and romanticised seat and watch something with a bit more depth, and honesty to it, pretty sure you will dig it. ‘One Eight Seven’  made me think a lot, and made me question society and how much we actually help one another for the greater good, and let’s face it, we don’t. We fear things we don’t understand, and we go on with our lives and pretend that all that hate which gets passed on from generation to generation doesn’t exist. We are all guilty of it including myself, I am no better than anyone.  It’s great that films like ‘One Eight Seven’ exist, while it may not make you get off your butt and do something about what’s wrong with all the hate we expose one another to, at least the film will make you think about it. People shouldn’t let all that hate consume their mind and heart, it’s so much more easier to hate someone than to love someone, and that’s where we need to change it.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

To the Death - Why the hell is this film not on DVD yet?

Remember when the 90's American Martial Art movies exploded in the Z grade scene, and there seemed to be millions of different films which all included a lot of the same themes....REDEMPTION. I was fourteen when I got to watch this for the first time, and at first I was not sure of what to expect from it, and I won't lie, it did look a little crap at first. But the more I got myself into the storyline the more I thought 'Hey this really isn't that bad, in fact I am really enjoying the storyline and the characters'. The thing is with 'To the Death' is that, it knows exactly what it is, it doesn't try to be a blockbuster smash or try to have the same calibre of fight scenes like any Van Damme film, but just because it isn't punching at those heavy heights, doesn't mean it isn't enjoyable. This film in particular always stand out in my mind as one of my favourite American Martial Art movies because it was just down right honest and dirty, and scummy. I mean c'mon the budget alone must have been pretty small, so I think the cast did a great job with what they had to work with. 

Here is the run down. Rick Quinn is a kickboxing champ and decides to retire, which really pisses off his main rival Denard who also plays TONG PO...Yep, so knowing that should make you want to watch this movie if you haven't. Anyway, Rick gets offered to fight for a tonne of money by this seedy little guy, Dominique Le Braque...but refuses. Next thing you know Quinn's wife is murdered and you can imagine he spirals out of control and finds himself getting bailed out of jail by Angelica Le Braque...so he meets again with Dominique and decides to fight for him. He knows something isn't quite right with these guys he is getting involved with, but hey earning some money can't be so bad right? Piece of cake right? WRONG! Quinn gets in the ring, and beats the absolute shit out of this guy, so what happens, this loser gets shot...now Quinn understands that shit has just gotten real. 

I love the storyline to this film because it isn't convoluted or over excessive in certain elements. It is violent, with some decent kickboxing and fight choreography, it has some funny but bad lines in this, and the characters are so terrible that you actually enjoy their presence on screen. I won't lie to you though, you have seen all these kind of characters before. You have Quinn who is the hero who has fallen on some bad times, he sides with the baddies until he realises what is going down, and will of course save the day. You have Denard, who at first may seem like this muscular hot head who hates our protagonist, but will come to realise he isn't that bad. Then you have Angelica, she is Dominique's wife, and the only reason why she is with him is because he has money and can afford to keep that habit of hers up her nose, but she realises that doesn't mean a thing because she has fallen for Quinn...see love can exist in Z grade American Martial art films! And lastly you have Dominique, he clearly has short man syndrome, he has a bad temper and will make any person feel uncomfortable, but if you put him in a room with Joe Pesci, I can guarantee he would be shitting himself. He seems tough and crazy but when you compare him to someone else, he really isn't a strong force to be reckoned with. 

There is a tad bit of romance in this film, and a sex scene, which is terrible by the way. But what is funny is that Quinn and Angelica get caught, it is just so hilarious, especially when Dominique loses his absolute shit over it. To be honest I didn't buy the romance, but hey I didn't watch 'To the Death' for that, so I can't really fault it for that. There really isn't any strong character development at all in this film, the only person I was ever excited to see on screen was Dominique, because he was such a violent boob who said things to make him sound like he was a man you don't fuck with it. I also thought his relationship with Angelica was actually kind of interesting because even though he treats her like shit, and she's drug fucked out of her mind on cocaine, he is wondering how he can better their marriage, and how he think's he isn't doing anything wrong, it's all her...I just found it quite funny and somewhat odd that he would actually bother to think twice about his marriage...Let's face it, most antagonists in films like 'To the Death' don't actually think about their marriages, they just know they don't want anyone else fucking their lady. 

Now after explaining all that, I believe it is a damn shame that this has not been released on DVD. I am lucky enough to have this on VHS, however I would like to have that option of having it on DVD. I will never understand how so many gems get tossed aside and forgotten, when they could be making companies money and people happy. American Martial Art movies like 'To The Death' will never die, as long as the fans are still around to enjoy those kinds of films. You can get so much enjoyment out of these kind of movies, whether it's with a group of friends or by yourself. And you can always heighten that experience with a Cherry Coke. I don't know the ins and outs of bringing out films onto DVD, obviously it will have something to do with rights for the films but, why don't they have a select group of superhero's out there who try and get all those classics onto DVD and Blu Ray...Those would be the best kind of heroes out there. Either way, you all need to try and track down a VHS copy of this film, because it will rock your damn world with how bad and good it is. Don't expect this to be the same calibre of gem of let's say 'Bloodsport' but it's a forgotten gem of tackiness with a hint of cheesy awesomeness.