I’ve rarely enjoyed a film as much as I enjoyed ‘Drive’.
Is it down to Ryan Gosling’s beauty? Yes. Is it down to the taut writing, the 80′s stylings which magically fit perfectly well into the present day? Yes, yes. What got me above all though was just how perfect a noir thriller this was, fulfilling all the conventions with grace, attitude and dark humour. The scenes of ultra violence will without question offend some (I was genuinely shocked twice in this film, and I’m hard to shock), but I loved every minute of it; as far as I’m concerned it was note perfect.
Car mechanic Gosling works part-time as a film stunt driver, but at night he acts as getaway driver for criminals. It’s easy money for someone emotionally detached from the world around him, but his priorities change when he falls in love with his neighbour Carey Mulligan, single parenting while her husband is in jail, and the two of them enjoy a brief period of happy ‘family’ life. Enter her husband Oscar Isaac, free and contrite, but in hock to gangsters he owes protection money to for keeping him alive in jail. With Mulligan and son Kaden Leos under threat Gosling joins him on the heist he’s being blackmailed into holding, to ensure their safety. But it all goes horribly, violently wrong.
Rooted firmly in pulp noir territory the ending is never in doubt (and no that’s not a spoiler), but director Nicolas Winding Refn has you rooting for the stunt-driver-with-no-name (toothpic permanently in mouth and everything) to defeat villainous Ron Perlman (chewing every single scene he’s in right up) and Albert Brooks, who delivers such an accomplished performance as a villain you’re left wondering what he was doing wasting a career in comedy. Gosling may be a crook but is without doubt the hero, and the tension in this dichotomy gives the film its energy (and the actor has no difficulty at all balancing his character’s criminality and heroism). But every performance is sublime, from Mulligan’s bad boy magnet single mother, to Gosling’s likeable but desperate boss Bryan Cranston, through to Gosling himself, owning the screen with just a look more convincingly than anyone since Clint Eastwood; this really is a classic in the making.
Screenwriter Hossein Amini delivers a highly emotional and challenging film by steadfastly refusing to adhere to a single Hollywood convention – it’s an intelligent film, which presumes its audience has a brain and wants to use it. Unashamedly minimalist from start to finish, with only sparse bursts of dialogue, the moments of extreme violence (which those fazed by that sort of thing should consider before watching) carry disproportionate weight because Refn and Amini make them so unexpected. It’s proof that thoughtful, old fashioned storytelling still very much has a place in modern cinema; even the car chases which happen service the story rather than the other way around. In a fair world it would win a clutch of Oscars, but what it will (rightly) do is propel Gosling and Mulligan right to the top of the ‘A’ list. More like this please, a lot more.
Far and away the funniest and most enjoyable film of the year, bar none. I haven’t laughed like that in years, and it’s down to two things: writer/director John Michael McDonagh’s vicious, yet well-observed script, and lead Brendan Gleeson’s towering performance. The film at times veers pretty close to Father Ted territory – almost surreal characters mixed with humour so un-politically correct even the EDL would shriek – but as a whole it’s an awful lot more shrewd (and the humour blacker) than it seems at the start. Guarda cop Gleeson investigates a murder on the sleepy west coast of Ireland, which turns out to be connected to a drug smuggling operation led by Liam Cunningham & henchman Mark Strong. But it’s when FBI man Don Cheadle arrives to lead the larger investigation that Gleeson’s ascerbic nature has consequences – his rampant racism for starters. But is Gerry Boyle really the one-note character he initially seems?
The bad guys lose, the good guys win (notably after a totally ridiculous Western shoot-out), but not as you might expect, and it’s to McDonagh’s credit that your expectations are screwed with from start to (literally) finish. Gleeson’s Boyle is a whore loving, drug taking, racist slob, who’d rather bark complaints about his coffee and steal drugs from dead joyriders than follow orders. Yet his sense of integrity and natural justice is far more solid and true than any of his colleagues – bend and break the rules he may (particularly in his friendship with an IRA gunrunner), but he does know how to get the job done. It’s difficult to do the subtle humour justice, nor the way in which it succeeds in transforming a bog standard buddy movie into something very special indeed.
I haven’t really mentioned Don Cheadle yet, largely because he’s little more than a device for Boyle’s character development. Trotting around the sleepy Irish community in which he finds himself, he too (but unintentionally) causes the same offence we call Boyle out so easily on, with equally amusing results. But he’s not alone in brilliant support – Mark (what film isn’t he the baddy in?) Strong’s turn as a philosophising drug smuggler has to be seen to be believed. Taken together they comprise a complex film masquerading as slapstick comedy – by far the most intelligent comedy I’ve seen in years. But at the end of the day it’s Brendan Gleeson’s show – he doesn’t just chew up the scenery, he devours the entire set. Admirably executive produced by Cheadle, it’s the sort of film you could never get out of the US. Gleeson should get award after award for this, whilst McDonagh has no doubt an even brighter future.
One of the worst films I’ve ever seen. Ever. I should point out that I’m not going to write a very long review for this pretentious load of crap because I walked out of it after 25 minutes, but I will give the reasons why.
Brad Pitt & wife Jessica Chastain lose one of their sons in the 1950s. It’s never explained how but he dies in his youth, and the aftermath is anguish, sadness, loss and pain. You know this because the music tells you, the shots of an odd afterlife and trees and the sky tell you; there aren’t any scenes as such. Cut to 2011 and the remaining sibling has grown up into Sean Penn, whom we see on the anniversary of his brother’s death. We know this because he’s sad. There’s no dialogue, we see lots of sunshine, trees and shots of Penn in an Armani suit in the afterlife himself. He mulls things over, he’s sad and anguished even now. Cut through to the beginning of time, with vocal appeals to God by Chastain. I left when writer-director Terrence Malik got as far as the dinosaurs, taking what felt like forever to make a very easy point that life goes on and always has!
There were no scenes, there was no plot, and whilst I have since learned that scenes and plot do appear after the horrifically self-indulgent musings over life, God and the meaning of existence (which did have astonishing cinematography), I don’t regret walking out at all. Art should of course make you think, and should try to provoke, but I do expect a film I watch to have a plot, a beginning, a middle and an end. I also have no interest in watching a blatant, overly pious religion fest. Malik’s arrogance is quite astounding, and I would encourage everyone who reads this review to avoid this pompous, patronising, self-important film like the plague.
1/10 (because the cinematography was so impressive)
Here’s the counterpoint to Captain America: Ryan Reynolds looks the part, Martin Campbell is an excellent action director (when he’s in the mood), and even DC co-publisher Geoff Johns – the ongoing book’s writer – is on board. But it’s a complete waste of time – all for nothing. The film is a garbled mess, it has no unique selling points, and noone clearly thought whether the highly successful comic property would work at all well as a film franchise. The moment where Hal’s mask is first seen in public drew hysterical, catty laughter in the cinema, for the few moments that people weren’t asleep from boredom or thoroughly insulted by the shoddy script and lazy acting. Martin Campbell has shown he knows how to direct blockbusters (‘Casino Royale’/'Goldeneye’), but either his eye was off the ball here or there was a far more serious series of failures. It’s not unwatchable but it is tedious, the script is terrible and far too much of what you need to know comes from endless exposition.
You know something is wrong when Blake Lively is the best actor in the film. Reynolds simply isn’t up to the task of playing a hero, but he isn’t helped by being woefully badly written. Test pilot Hal Jordan crashes his boss’ super fighter jet – he’s reckless. We know he’s reckless because we have it drummed into us every few minutes. We’re also constantly told he’s unreliable – again it’s drummed into us. Then Hal gets the ring (he doesn’t even show the slightest awe when seeing alien Abin Sur), instead just goes on admitting he’s reckless and unreliable and unworthy – we’re even given a brief flashback to prove his confidence issues come from seeing his father die. So how is this supposed to be interesting? In short it isn’t.
Hal gets a spine when he defeats Parallax (seriously – how are kids with today’s sophisticated tastes going to be remotely interested in an amorphous ‘entity of evil’?), but until that point there’s no moral centre to the film. Bruce Wayne has his revenge, Clark has his upbringing, as does Peter; Tony was just plain cool, but Hal? Hal’s not interesting, and Reynolds offers nothing to make him interesting. It’s a film which does everything it can do badly badly, but even then clearly by committee. I can’t recommend anything about it really. I went off to sleep for about 15 minutes of it. Why didn’t they bother spending more than a cursory few minutes with Sinestro (Mark Strong)?
Hint to DC: if you want us to like your heroes on film, you have to give us nobility (nope, not from Hal), tortured past (nope, not for Hal), wry humour (Thor gets it, Hal doesn’t), or a likeable everyman quality. The Corps wasn’t needed this time around – randomly including huge numbers of characters who aren’t given remotely decent screen time (Kilowog is the moral core of the Corps for example) comes across as a cynical licensing opportunity. Only the post-credits sequence with Sinestro gives any hope for the inevitable sequel, but I can’t really say I care about the prospect.
The Adjustment Bureau
I really liked this film, in large part because it turned out completely differently to what I’d expected. I was expecting hardcore sci fi and traditional Philip K Dick mindbending, less so a very traditional love story anchored by two outstanding performances and a script which the writer/director never has anything other than full control over. It’s a clever, witty sci fi romp(will Terence Stamp demand Damon kneels before him?), the chemistry between Damon and Emily Blunt is downright electric and if it doesn’t both make you think and pull at your heartstrings in the best way by its end, you’re a cold, heartless bastard.
9/10 because it’s clever, has heart and Matt Damon at his very best.
I’m not sure what all the fuss was about – although it starts with huge potential, very little of it is realised. Is it a crime drama? A semi-documentary look at a family of criminals? A morality play? It’s never clear and quite frankly it’s an annoying failure. It takes a very long time to get to a very obvious ending, and it might have been wiser to have given Guy Pearce (without whom the film would never have been made) a role which actually mattered to the narrative.
There’s far too little substance and far too much padding, and when the actors are called to up the ante it never quite comes together. Most of the performances are quite impressive – Jacki Weaver in particular, but the film loses its way for no apparent reason, largely because James Frecheville’s central character’s motivations and behaviour rarely make sense.
5/10 but largely because of its potential than what it manages to do.
Battle: Los Angeles
Don’t expect any attempts to reinvent the wheel in this wholly by-the-numbers humans v aliens war movie. Good lead Aaron Eckhart may be, but he’s better than his material. Having said that it’s a fun look at interstellar war from the grunts’ point of view, although the movie is about nothing else than the fighting. There’s a bit of irritating jingoism thrown in, but no attempts at characterisation other than that. Enjoy it for what it is rather than what it isn’t. The SFX is pretty good, the adrenaline high it offers is pretty cool, and you never care about a single character. It’s largest fault is indeed an absence of charm.
7/10 because it’s fun rather than because it has anything to say about anything really.
A great and occasionally inspiring attempt to dramatise the grudge match between Ambassador Joe Wilson, his wife Valerie Plame and the Bush White House. It comes across as stridently left wing, but it’s adapted from the couple’s own accounts of the actions of Scooter Libby, Karl Rove (presumably) and potentially higher up in outing Plame as an undercover CIA agent (a serious criminal offence). The acting is top notch, particularly by Naomi Watts, and it’s a brave attempt to inject an element of suspense into an otherwise suspense-free story. Ultimately although it’s a slightly outdated indictment of the rampant criminality at the heart of the Bush Administration, it’s quite depressing and the ending is painful – citizen activism to keep the republic true to its founding principles isn’t exactly working, is it?
8/10 because it’s extremely worthy, even though it clearly knows it.
The Lincoln Lawyer
A delightful, back-to-the-basics courtroom drama, showcasing Matthew McConaughey at his best in nearly 15 years. Ryan Philippe is his client who may or may not have attempted to murder a call girl. But what does McConaughey do when it turns out Philippe has been killing and framing people for years, and then starts to move on to McConaughey himself? The acting and writing are top notch – cinema has needed more material like this for some years, and it doesn’t hurt that the stars are very pretty indeed…
9/10 because films should all be this fun, and not grim & gritty like The American all the time.
Another film from Hollywood without even a winking understanding of the double entendre in its title, and for the most part it’s downhill from there. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have funny moments or that there’s no enjoyment to be had from it at all, but you have to know going in that this is pure formula – it’s an attempt to cross Princess Diaries with Devil Wears Prada and all other rom-com/feel-good movies in an attempt to boost lead Rachel McAdams’ profile. Let me say right now that’s not a good thing – she’s skull-crushingly awful. It’s hard to judge who she’s trying to channel the worst – Reese Witherspoon? Anne Hathaway? It’s so hard to tell and it’s so knowing from the outset it’s impossible to warm to her. It’s far from the only lax shortcut director Roger Michell takes, and it’s a shame because somewhere buried in screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna’s script is a good idea.
McAdams is a cutesy live TV producer from nowheres-ville who unexpectedly gets a shot at the big time in New York city. Tasked with somehow rejuvenating the daytime show from hell, she fires the existing male presenter and replaces him with all-time-great journalist Harrison Ford, whose TV career has fallen on hard times. The predictable clashes occur – Ford with McAdams, Ford with co-presenter Diane Keaton, until inevitably his hard heart softens because McAdams wants what’s best for him and, well, everyone really. Smarmy? You bet, but the script does touch on a valuable argument about high vs low culture in American media. Ford’s rebellion is fuelled by his anger at no longer being required for old fashioned high class TV journalism, while McAdams is forced to acknowledge (and teach him) that their continued employment in today’s market depends entirely on what sells. It’s a curious parallel with Ford’s own career, and you can’t help but be left wondering what he feels he has to do to rehabilitate his former high-flying career.
Ultimately the hard bitten old pro manages to trick McAdams into broadcasting a major scoop, and at the last minute he in turn is convinced to compromise and cook live on telly, out of respect for his oh-so-lovable boss. It’s entirely predictable (as are all of her annoying ups and downs) but the thoroughly formulaic presentation of the first half is replaced but a punchier, funnier second half, which at least takes a small handful of risks, and which allow the conclusion not to be entirely painful. It’s a shame that more isn’t made of the ascerbic relationship between Ford and Keaton (who gets far too little screen time), indeed that Ford’s character isn’t better written. The opportunities for him to channel a Sue (‘Glee’) Sylvester-type attitude were there in abundance but sadly never taken, leaving the real world hard bitten old pro coming across well, but nowhere near as well as he could have.
It’s a film with little charm and countless wasted opportunities but it’s not without its moments. I can’t really recommend it for the cinema, but it’ll be great to pass the time on planes…
If Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush hadn’t been in this movie it might have come across as a nice but highly predictable British period drama, with the inevitably irritating, saccharine formula and the predictably uplifting conclusion. But Firth as King George VI and Rush as his Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue grab their roles and fire them up with incredible intelligence, honesty and likeability. The film skirts over difficult areas – the rise of Hitler and the constitutional crisis caused by Edward’s (Guy Pearce) relationship with Wallis Simpson never really affect the tone of the film – it’s rather Firth who makes their impact on Albert/George clear. A man instructed never to show emotion, Firth masterfully shows the highly emotional undercurrent afflicting the future King, and it’s a powerhouse performance. Most of the rest of the cast is enjoyable but little more – Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon is there for little more than gentle comedic value, Derek Jacobi is amusing as the conniving Archbishop Cosmo Lang, but little more than a caricature, whilst the aforementioned Pearce is downright miscast as the hapless Edward VIII, who plays Firth’s playboy brother as little more than a party-loving dandy.
To its credit the film focuses on the relationship between Bertie and Logue, and it’s a brilliant partnership, one of the best I’ve seen in film – Logue uninterested in bowing and scraping to a man born into (and who can only comprehend) privilege, with his royal counterpart torn between the life he was groomed for and his inability to cope emotionally with it. The ups and downs they face together say a great deal about their characters, but screenwriter David Seidler also uses them to convey the changes racing ahead in society around them. What is the need for the stiff-upper-lip royalty in an increasingly modern world, where even his brother is more interested in marrying for love than for duty? As history accelerates and Bertie’s accession to the throne becomes ever more likely, we see him confronting the effects his brother’s bullying and his parents’ disinterest in him had on him. It’s a highly contemporary story, which lifts the production from being a mere period drama, and Firth above all gets it.
It’s not a perfect film by any means. The formula comes straight from Working Title, the liberties taken with history are a disappointment, but Firth’s George VI is one of the all-time-great royal performances in screen history. At once he embodies a man utterly unknowable but at the same time deeply sympathetic, but he wouldn’t have been half as interesting or as enjoyable without Rush as Logue – a failed actor pushing against Britain’s class system, yet eager to be accepted by it. It’s to his enormous credit that he keeps those issues in balance with at least an equal humour and intelligence to Firth’s. Their final, make-or-break collaboration – managing Bertie’s first wartime address to the nation – is a sheer delight which will get you cheering in your seat. Rush almost actually conducts the anxious King’s speech, but this subtext shouldn’t be a surprise – director Tom Hooper shoots the entire film with enormous sensitivity to the power of set design and cinematography.
With its clever script, smart direction and sharp design, ‘The King’s Speech’ deserves a whole slew of awards; above all it’s inconceivable that Firth won’t walk away with a long-deserved Oscar.
Plenty of comparisons have been made between writer/director/cinematographer Gareth Edwards’ debut feature and other recent, shoestring-budgeted films about aliens like ‘District 9′, but being completely honest ‘Monsters’ is in a league of its own. ‘Monsters’, made by a crew of four, with only two professional actors, looks and feels like a $100 million + production, and whilst it (as ‘District 9′) has something to say, its agenda is far more subtle than its South African counterpart, and as such is even more engaging and in many ways more interesting. Years after alien life has taken root on earth, photojournalist Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy), working in central America, is asked by his boss to escort his daughter Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able) back to the US. After an ill-timed drunken fling, Kaulder loses their passports, forcing the couple to cross the ‘Infected Zone’, a region of northern Mexico otherwise quarantined off because of giant killer aliens. So far so stereotypical eh? And yet ‘Monsters’ is anything but stereotypical.
What Edwards instead delivers is an odd-couple road movie, and he manages to fill it full of insight, strong characterisation and a quite different take on ‘what if aliens invaded the earth’. Kaulder and the engaged Samantha grow ever closer as they trek slowly through the beautiful yet scarred rainforest landscape where aliens have long since become the norm. The further they go the more they realise the alien threat isn’t what they’d previously imagined it to be, nor is America the impregnable fortress they’d been led to believe. It’s far from a good guy/bad guy tale – our expectations are also toyed with, as Edwards presents the story almost as an extraterrestrial natural history documentary. And as the documentary below shows, he did it almost single-handedly:
Shooting guerilla-style and getting his documentary feel from knocking on locals’ doors in central America and asking to film in their houses gives ‘Monsters’ a fresh, almost revolutionary feeling, lacking even in ‘District 9′. The fact that he’s a special effects wizard and did most of it himself is remarkable, but yet more impressive is his sparse, well considered use of his CGI. Whereas most monster movies are CGI-driven spectacles, he uses it to build tension, to illustrate the framework of his two-character road movie and to add to the tone his wonderful cinematography has already set. This is a beautiful film where it needs to be, a gritty film where it suits, and still manages to be epic on the scale of ‘Apocalypse Now’.
It’s flawed of course – there isn’t really much of a monstery pay-off (apart from the climax – not what you expect even then), and some of Edwards’ message does get a bit preachy sometimes, but these are tiny gripes about a sensational, sensitive debut feature from a film maker clearly destined for great things. It would be a mistake to ignore real life married couple leads McNairy and Able, whose easy chemistry and effortless performances show them destined for great things too. Their uneasy friendship and growing relationship are utterly believable, and give us a powerful stake in caring about what happens to them. Using them to illustrate the issues Edwards is interested in is a masterstroke - even when the energy sags slightly, they hold everything together.
Gareth Edwards has offered sci-fi/alien films an entirely new set of avenues to explore in the future. I couldn’t help but think at many points that it was like ‘Cloverfield’ but with a script, but it’s so much more. ‘Monsters’ is ultimately a film which dares to have a perspective on its monsters, which presumes its audience is intelligent and is looking for more than an easy hit of shocks and spectacles. ‘Iron Man 2′ and the like may have been splashier efforts this year, but this is far greater quality.
George Clooney’s latest is an intensely clever film which forgets it needs to be entertaining. I mean a film which calls itself a thriller about a hitman hiding out in Italy surely needs some actual thrills, no? Instead we have a character study with a surfeit of existential angst, and while it’s shot extraordinarily well by director Anton Corbijn, and Clooney’s performance as a man doing everything in his power to avoid human emotions is highly impressive, the film is dull, lifeless and very rarely interesting.
Clooney plays hitman/armourer Jack/Edward, who is tucked away in the Italian mountains after a failed assassination attempt in Sweden. In the tranquil countryside he is befriended by local priest Paolo Bonacelli (who nearly steals the film from him), whilst working on a weapon for his boss Johan Leysen and his client Thekla Reuten. Alone and forsaking his emotions, he avoids contact with others, yet frequents hooker Violante Placido, who unexpectedly falls for him. Isolated by choice, but affected by the world nonetheless, his well ordered world refuses to stay ordered, under constant threat from unknown assassins, as well as his growing feelings for Placido. When the weapon is completed everything falls apart completely as his last job really does start looking like his last.
People are starting to get fed up of Clooney’s mid-life crisis repertoire now, adept though he may be at portraying them. His Jack/Edward may be charismatic but has very little likeable about him, indeed because of screenwriter Rowan Joffe’s sparse script we barely even get to know him. And Clooney may be mesmerising, but there’s little point to this film – the weapon he works for is ultimately used against him, his love for Placido is ultimately doomed and his friendship with Bonacelli may be peppered with amusing one-liners, but it ends up leading nowhere.
Corbijn gives his film wonderful detail and context – Jack/Edward has a totally fleshed out world in which to reside, but it has no warmth to it whatsoever. That may have been part of the point – a man who eschews emotions to keep himself safe is hardly likely to engage the world emotionally through choice, but it robs the film of entertainment value; there’s only so long you can tolerate him sitting in his room, either meditating or working (and without dialogue) without getting bored quite frankly. Joffe’s script too is painfully obvious – it’s pretty clear from early on that the film is going to be a tragedy (making its thriller moniker quite baffling), but there is almost no character conflict in getting there. The car park face off with Reuten could easily have had more made of it, but even in the final act Corbijn opts for angst instead of dramatic engagement. There are also moments which don’t make sense – Clooney’s behaviour in the film’s finale in particular. There may be high drama (almost the only instance of it) in the lead character knowing he’s about to die, but it’s preposterous to suggest it couldn’t have been avoided.
It has its moments – the burgeoning friendship between Clooney and the priest has some cute moments, and the is-it-a-face-off-with-Placido-or-isn’t-it is gently amusing, but they’re pretty shallow. You never get the feeling that Jack/Edward questions his life or chooses to engage in life until it’s too late, and as a viewer you never see any action until the final act. I admired the sparse script – there was next to no exposition in telling the story, and that’s rare in this day and age, but the absence of warmth, humour or conflict made this a largely (but not entirely) futile experience – I’d have preferred it to have been more than just clever. I’d also like Clooney’s next outing to have some fun again, thanks.
You’d have thought a film about cannibals would be gripping right? Wrong. From its promotion I was expecting a Mexican ‘Let the Right One In’, but where the Swedish vampire classic had a very clear vision and rock solid writing, this is just a mess. ‘Somos Lo Que Hay’ fails on character development, a consistent plotline, engaging acting, competent direction, you name it – very little of what writer/director Jorge Michel Grau offers is believable, and given the opportunities available in its premise it’s almost unforgiveable. I’m getting ahead of myself though.
A dirt poor family’s patriarch freaks out and dies at the mall. His batshit crazy family finds out, after brothers Alfredo (Francisco Barreiro) & Julian (Alan Chávez) are kicked out of their market stall for being, well, violent, and decides extreme measures are needed in order to keep eating with no income. So they kill a local prostitute and try to kill Alfredo’s first gay lover, before things get messy and the inept local detectives (not so) hot on their trail unexpectedly catch up with them. Will they get a chance to eat their prey before the law stops them dead?
With a sharp directorial eye this could have been a deeply uncomfortable horror film with a biting (ahem) social commentary; there’s even a rich seam of dark humour available. But Grau sidesteps these options in favour of irritating ambiguity – Alfredo questions his sexuality and appears to find a first love, but ultimately craves his insane mother’s approval more than his own future. Mother Carmen Beato wants to protect her kids from unbelievable poverty and social exclusion, but is only able to show it by beating people over the head with a shovel. Sister Sabina (Paulina Gaitan) manipulates brother Julian with semi-incestuous advances, but to no clear end, and then just looks menacing in the film’s pointless finale, having seemingly manipulated her siblings into killing one another. Black comedy or woefully badly thought out?
The opportunities for satire and black comedy are endless, and it does seem as though Grau has something to say – bereft of any morality whatsoever, the family justifies its killing spree with a quasi-religious ritual, but even then this is never adequately explained (or completed) and their reasons for descending into cannibalism aren’t remotely clear. Is this a ham fisted attempt at social commentary on the social exclusion of absolute poverty? Well it may have had an impact if the characters didn’t spend most of their time just looking longingly at nothing. The refusal to romanticise any of them is a refreshing departure from the Hollywood norm – there really isn’t anything else like this out there right now – but the problem is none of them is ultimately very interesting. Only Francisco Barreiro’s Alfredo comes close but Grau’s apparent conclusion that his embracing of his sexual orientation is merely a means to find new *ahem* meat falls flat and switched what little interest I had off completely. As it stands, it would need to be remade with a thoughtfully tuned script and insightful direction for me to want to revisit.
I could have told you more about the plot in the video I suppose, but you could write it yourself. In this story allegedly based on true events, two idiot train workers lose control of a huge train with a seriously toxic cargo. Dispatcher Rosario Dawson must find a way to stop the ever accelerating juggernaut before it derails and takes out serious numbers of people. Of course it’s rookie Pine (continuing the theme of reluctant, rookie hero he initiated in ‘Star Trek’) and old timer Washington who come to the rescue, lobbing a few class-based grenades at their superiors, in an amusing series of credit crunch jibes.
It’s typically jingoistic (can you name a Tony Scott film which isn’t?), painfully simplistic (rugged heros separated from their women at the start – will they find love by the end?), but a hell of a lot of old fashioned fun. The leads all know they’re in a silly piece of hokum and tailor their performances accordingly, the production values are as big budget as you’d expect from Scott, and it’s frequently extremely funny. I should also mention that although the film is woven around Washington and Pine and whether or not this initially antagonistic pair can work successfully as a team, Dawson (as in ‘Sin City’) comes very close to stealing the show on a number of occasions. It’s a neat element you wouldn’t expect from a film like this – charm from all the leads which just doesn’t quit.
‘Unstoppable’ isn’t remotely original but it’s the epitome of no-brainer, rollercoaster ride films.
It’s very American is all I can say, by which I mean clearly made for a very broad, undemanding, Friday night, cheap-and-easy-laughs market. That would be all well and good in itself if it weren’t such a drab, lifeless, cynical and uninteresting film, which has nothing to say about its characters and doesn’t even pull the comedy off well. Robert Downey Jr plays an architect in Atlanta desperate to get home to his wife in Los Angeles who’s about to give birth to their first child. At the airport he comes into contact with Zack Galifianakis, a perm-headed lunatic with behavioural problems far more serious than just tourettes. Galifianakis gets them thrown off the plane and onto a no-fly list, forcing the most unlikely road movie ever; without even his wallet, Downey has no choice but to join him driving across the US.
It would be all well and good if this were merely a re-run of the far superior ‘Planes, Trains & Automobiles’ but this film fails in every area where Steve Martin and John Candy succeeded. Galifianakis has no redeeming qualities worth speaking of – he portrays the lovable Candy figure from time to time but is hindered by a one-note script. Downey has the same problems – where he’s supposed to be the straight man, he’s written as the fully straight man – he’s not terribly likable either, nor terribly interesting, and has to get by on his charisma alone (of which he admittedly has in abundance). To succeed and overcome its lack of originality this film needs charm, but mystifyingly neither of the leads offers it. Galifianakis may not yet have proven any ability more than he demonstrated in ‘The Hangover’, not so Downey. I can’t fathom why he accepted this role which, given his enormous comedic talents, he then appears to sleepwalk through. I’m sure he needs a quick film between Marvel film appearances, but this shouldn’t have been it. The only time he comes alive is with Jamie Foxx – hardly surprising given their chemistry in ‘The Soloist’, but it makes you wonder why either of them bothered with this.
You could yourself write most of the thrills and spills they get into – Galifianakis falling asleep at the wheel, their accidental incursion into Mexico, the confrontation at the Grand Canyon, but for reasons known only to the committee of screenwriters an extra level of conflict is added – could they not agree a more convincing motivation to justify Foxx’s casting? But it’s a mystery too why punching a child in a film otherwise relatively serious should be deemed funny, or why Downey’s character should be written as so relentlessly mean in a film meant to be a comedy. Perhaps the American audiences aren’t thought to care that much – the British one never raised much more than a titter. A confused and pointless film, just not uniformally hateful.
I must confess I don’t know all of Gregg Araki’s work, but was blown away by his adaptation of Scott Heim’s ‘Mysterious Skin’. ‘Kaboom’ appears more of a return to his cult roots, and what a return it is. Drug addled realities, huge amounts of sex between extremely hot actors and preposterous conspiracy theories. What more could you ask for, particularly with a lead actor as hot as Thomas Dekker (I may return to this)? Nothing as far as I’m concerned – this is a definitive gay cult film for the early 21st century.
Dekker (‘Heroes’/'Sarah Connor Chronicles’) plays Smith, an 18 year old gay student who refuses to self-define as such, but gets around. He lusts after his impossibly beautiful surfer roommate Thor (Chris Zykla), gossips with his sarcastic lesbian best friend Stella (Haley Bennett) and shags much of what moves – men, women, it’s all the same to him at the end of the day. One night he eats a drug laced cookie at a party and sleeps with the redoubtable London (Juno Temple); he also appears to see the violent murder of the Red Haired Girl. Or does he? Who are the animal masked men?
With this film Araki has a lot to say about the current generation (although he’s also admitted ‘Kaboom’ is a semi-biographical work as well). Smith has sex with the outrageously well-built & hot Hunter (Jason Olive) whilst on a nudist beach, is pursued by the cute Oliver (Brennan Mejia) and is desired by pretty much everyone; he’s equanimous about whom he beds as long as they’re cool. He studies film for no clear reason at all, but loves his indie music (a personal obsession of Araki’s) and only finds a hint of true intimacy with London. The writer/director has even more of a snipe at lesbian culture, suggesting (or does he?) Stella’s one conquest is an actual witch, and he peppers his highly sexualised teen drama with these odd contradictions. Smith’s obsession with the Red Haired Girl walks the film uncomfortably through this murky world, albeit without much purpose until the film’s final act.
Of course Araki peppers the film with his other personal obsessions – what is the cult of the animal masked men and what do they want? Why does Smith keep appearing to be able to see elements of his future? What starts out as a teen drama veers towards a vicious, self-satirising black comedy with bitingly incisive wit. Stella attacks public figures like Clay Aiken, Mel Gibson, Lady Gaga, and gay people in general, with even Smith acknowledging ‘strange seems to be the new normal’. Araki wraps his characters in a 90210-esque pastel coloured world, but it becomes increasingly paranoid – Smith and Oliver never get it on, Smith gets attacked and robbed in his dorm room by an assailant who might just be imaginary, and asks too late if Hunter has safer sex, whilst continually being pursued by the animal masked men just out of the edge of his consciousness. Araki has no shame in suddenly changing perspective, and when he breaks out fully into black comedy the film takes on an entirely different and in many ways deeper significance: are all these relationships for naught?
As the writer/director points out earlier in the film, film studies student Smith may be completely wasting his time in education by studying an art form which has a limited shelf life, and Araki hints very strongly that there’s no point to anything. It’s quite an achievement to wrap nihilism in light hearted sexuality, which keeps it very light, enjoyable and entertaining from the outset. It may become very Twin Peaks-esque but it’s also very funny – the Red Haired Girl changes persona and identity more than once as the film races through its various acts, but never once does Araki lose hold of your sympathy for some terrifically drawn characters (Dekker’s Smith in particular). Cult films may or may not be your thing, but when the film starts with a full frontal nude shot of an outrageously beautiful young man, how can you go wrong? Run, don’t walk I say. I will again when it eventually hits British cinemas.
They do still have it, it’s true. And if director Robert Schwentke and screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber had played to that, you’d have had a film truly worthy of Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, the co-creators of the DC/Wildstorm book, upon which the film is based. The tone of the adaptation is completely different for starters, sure – Bruce Willis’ retired CIA assassin Frank Moses isn’t a cold, relentless killer with room in his heart only for pensions clerk Mary-Louise Parker, before killing everyone in Langley for trying to off him in his retirement. The film’s Frank Moses instead has friends – the batshit crazy John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, who lives in a care home, and the deadly Helen Mirren, who although retired still kills a bit on the side. He cracks a bit wise, but the film’s Moses is still targeted for assassination by the CIA, here by up-and-coming CIA assassin Karl Urban, who is as unquestioning as Willis was in his youth and is no less deadly.
The movie fast becomes a good humoured road trip around the US, as Moses tries to stay one step ahead of Urban, who is in turn being controlled by nefarious people behind key figures in the CIA. Will he and his gang stay alive long enough to track down who’s behind the plot to kill them? It’s an awful lot of fun, with Malkovich’s excellent insane act (we need more of him on screen please), Freeman’s normal stoicism commanding every scene he’s in, and Willis is well enough cast as Moses, although the gleam in his eye was occasionally jarring (Sin City proved he can do without). The film offers some quite sharp commentary on age too, with the parallels between Willis and Urban clear, and Helen Mirren effectively stealing the show out from under the men, but for some unknown reason she and her male cohorts are only allowed to burn slowly on screen, rather than explode. You are granted what becomes a rollercoaster ride, sure, but it surely would have made better sense to have taken these larger than life personalities and let them off the leash. The first half of the film also suffers from far too little energy – it takes far too long to get to Malkovich and for the wisecracking to start in earnest; artist Cully Hamner imbued the book with more pathos than the film has, and with less plot to work with.
From the amount it’s earned, ‘RED’ has successfully made a statement about age in Hollywood. Willis and co couldn’t have been more warmly embraced by audiences both sides of the pond, and rightly so – it’s wonderful to see these greats so warmly embraced. It may not be a perfect film – Parker’s role for example is horribly underwritten and occasionally fully out of step with the characters around her, the dark rationale behind the book is ditched in favour of a generic conspiracy theory, and Willis could have been much truer to Ellis’ Moses, but the film gets right more than it gets wrong. Pity that its moments of real bite – Malkovich running with a suicide jacket at the vice president (Julian McMahon), pretty much any scene Mirren is in – weren’t more plentiful.
Ken Loach is angry about Iraq and he wants you to know it. The thing is Ken Loach is always angry, and this is both the biggest strength of this film and its biggest weakness. ‘Route Irish’ is a story about the private security industry in post-war Iraq, and the way in which the British working class are hired by unscrupulous profiteers, often at the cost of their lives. Loach as ever offers a fierce, class-based perspective on what remains a largely secret war – it’s often gruelling stuff, often brilliantly acted, but its uncompromising viewpoint leaves you questioning the point of it. If an all-time great film-maker insists on making a film which is so harsh it’s barely entertaining, how does he think he’ll get his message across (however valid)? Who’ll want to come and watch it? It’s not ‘Hurt Locker’ after all.
Mark Womack plays Fergus, a former soldier and mercenary who doesn’t believe the official explanation of his life-long best friend Frankie’s (John Bishop) death in Iraq. As he investigates (with the help of Frankie’s girlfriend Andrea Lowe), Fergus finds the ruthless lengths which the private security firm they were both attached to will go to in order to retain their lucrative contracts. Will a man already angry and impatient be able to hold it together long enough in order to bring those responsible for Frankie’s death to book?
Loach’s latest is little more than a glorified blogpost – a polemic against the security industry in post-war Iraq, and how the working classes aren’t just being butchered there as a result, but how the secret war they’re involved in is being exported back here. It’s fantastic that he’s exploring a story which most of the media are largely ignoring, but his his relentless, uncompromising position on his subject matter is regularly offputting. His leads are ghoulish stereotypes, and whilst they may be true to life they’re hardly enjoyable characters to spend time watching. Loach has been around long enough surely to get off his high horse and compromise some analysis for entertainment value, but he persists in retaining production values better suited for television (despite some impressively well-shot action sequences filmed in Jordan).
Paul Laverty’s script irritatingly veers from intelligent to overblown, as a dour (but worthy) investigation into the issues turns into an exercise in revenge, as Fergus kills first the fellow contractor he believed murdered Frankie, and then the bosses of the firm itself, before committing suicide. The consequences of his actions are never properly looked at, and the waterboarding sequence endured by co-star Trevor Williams was surely unnecessary in making the sociological points Loach wants rammed down your throat. You can’t help but wonder if the sudden change in tone was imposed on the veteran film maker (the film was financed by more film companies and authorities than I’ve ever seen before), as the impact of his investigation is largely lost. It would surely have been far more enjoyable and worthwhile to have seen the impact of contractors continuing to war back in the UK.
Having said that, if Loach is your thing you can’t miss this. You won’t exactly leave feeling warm hearted, but you will have learned something about the war you may not have understood before, and he should be commended for achieving that. Pity that his audience will be so small he might as well not have bothered.