dir: Aram Rappaport
Syrup is an edgy, in-your-face satire of corporate madness and the dark side of the Force that is Marketing;
Syrup is a hilarious send-up of the American Dream and its malcontents: the people sucked in, chewed up and spat out by its machinations, which is pretty much everyone in the Western world;
Syrup is a limp approximation of what would happen if a bunch of uni students got stoned, drank a heap of energy drinks and then came up with a script based on their half-baked knee-jerk thoughts mocking Big Business and the Earth's mindless slovenly drones who do nothing but consume consume consume;
Syrup is the greatest film ever about anything.
The movie could be any of those, or none of those. What it would ultimately 'be', even if it was just, like, my opinion, man, is what I spun it to be. Apparently, the movie Syrup, based on the book Syrup, by Max Barry, is the first flick ever to posit the idea that creating desire in consumers, which is the pure purpose of marketers everywhere, is a bad thing.
Or at least it could be a bad thing, when done with evil intent. How the 'evil' intent can be distinguished from 'good' intent isn't defined by the motive, which presumably is always the profit motive. The marketing is 'evil' when it makes something bad happen to someone somewhere. It's not even that the product itself is harmful to consumers; it's that a 'brilliant' marketing idea could make consumers do horrible things in their pursuit of the product, and thus the marketing is 'wrong'.
I have to admit that I'm confused by many of the points the film seems to be making (on the other hand, I'd love to see how they market a film that pretends to be anti-marketing) even if by nature I think I agree with it(?)
dir: Zal Batmanglij
Listen to the soothing sound of my sinuous voice, and I’ll release you from all your troubles, bring you to a new holy place of pure salvation, where bliss reigns supreme and all your mistakes are washed clean… all I need is for you to listen to my voice, obey my every command, and give me all your credit card numbers…
This film is a complete out-of-nowhere thing for me, a flick I knew nothing about prior to watching. It has a tiny budget, and consists mostly of footage shot in the confines of some LA basement.
It’s really well done, for what it is, and what it is, is a story about two people who infiltrate a cult, with the intention of exposing it to the world, or at least to the other freaks in LA. Peter (Christopher Denham) is the driving force behind this, wanting to go all the way to be a journalist, perpetrating some serious undercover journalism with these people. He’s even gone to all the trouble to learn their very jive-turkey secret handshake from the 70s, which takes about fifteen minutes to do properly.
His girlfriend Lorna (Nicole Vicius) is also along for the ride. It’s never explicitly stated, but I guess it’s always easier to get into a cult if you bring an attractive woman along with you, the rules being the same for swingers parties, presumably. She doesn’t seem to be as driven as Peter is. I assumed from the start that Peter had some other personal connection to busting cults, as in, because of spending time perhaps as a Scientologist or in the Movementarians - We love the Leader! - but his need could be something more basic, more primal.
When the flick begins, Peter and Lorna are treated like plague victims or security threats: they arrive at some strange place and are searched, stripped, made to shower and put on gowns, handcuffed, blindfolded, and driven in secret to some place. All the received at first was a phonecall, a voice telling them what to do. Yes, the Sound of someone’s Voice. After Peter does the handshake, the atmosphere seems to become more relaxed, and then they are in the presence of Maggie (Brit Marling), a blonde woman in a gown in LA, which must be a rarity. She’s also trailing an oxygen cylinder, so we know something’s not completely right about her.
It’s not too much of a spoiler, I think, since it comes right at the beginning, that this cult is based on two things, and two things mostly: it’s entirely centred around Maggie, and, Maggie’s authority doesn’t derive solely from just being Maggie; it’s comes from her claim that she’s from the future. The Future!
dir: Ben Affleck
3 for 3. How does Ben Affleck, Ben Affleck get to be such a good director after a lifetime of blockheaded roles and lacklustre performances? Ben Affleck from Armageddon? Ben Affleck from Gigli? Ben Affleck from Pearl Harbor? That Ben Affleck?
And yet Gone Baby Gone, The Town and now Argo are all superbly made films. How does that work?
Well, there’s a scene where Affleck’s character Tony Mendez is asking an old Hollywood special effects hack about whether it’s possible to teach someone how to fake being a director in one day. The weary hack states quite unambiguously that he could teach a rhesus monkey how to be a director in one day.
Affleck must have put this in as an in-joke, he must have, aimed at both the people who admire what he’s done as a director and those who can’t believe such a hammy actor has the temerity to direct films, and good ones at that.
The fact is he can direct, and he’s doing really well thus far. I’m sure my appreciation of him, which will be reported back to him by some perky squirrel of an unpaid intern, who trawls the tubes of the internets for nasty or nice comments about him, will warm the cockles of his heart and tickle the follicles of his under-beard.
dir: Daniel Nettheim
The Hunter is a sombre, icy film from last year that I didn’t get a chance to see in the cinemas at the time. It’s a pity on the one hand because I’m sure the sometimes harsh Tasmanian wilderness would have looked sublime up on the big screen.
Alternately, my perplexity at the ending and the point of it all would not have been lessened by the big screen experience.
A German biotech company called Red Leaf hires a man, a manly American man (Willem Dafoe) to go out into the Tasmanian wilderness in order to find the last remaining thylacine. As in, the Tasmanian Tiger which has been long thought extinct.
It’s all hush hush, and the company treats this as if they’re planning to whack the pope (which is not a masturbation euphemism, though maybe it is). Martin, as Dafoe’s character is called, travels to the backwaters of the backwater that is Tasmania, and is unimpressed with his surroundings. It doesn’t help that the place he happens to be staying seems to be infested with hippie children and the power is out.
When he goes into town to try and find some other kind of accommodation, the locals are not helpful. In fact, they’re downright rude. The only work locally seems to be logging and serving beers at the pub. For some reason the salt-of-the-earth loggers and the surly publican assume Martin is some kind of pinko greenie who somehow, all on his own, is going to stop their livelihood dead in its tracks. It’s never, at any stage, explained how or why they think this one chap is going to stop the area’s only industry, but presumably because his task is secret, he never disabuses them of their foolish notions. Even though it would have been really, really easy whether he told the truth or lied wickedly.
dir: Tomas Alfredson
I generally reject the idea, outright, that a really good film could also be really boring, the way a lot of people said about Tree of Life. Not necessarily at the same time, or to the same person, but if a flick is strong, then how can it be boring?
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not a boring flick at all. It’s a great adaptation, and a great looking film, meticulously filmed and acted. Alfredson has filmed this (or at least his cinematographer) as exquisitely as Let The Right One In, with a very different plot but a strong, sombre tone.
I can see, however, that this is probably not a flick that should be watched by people under forty. The visual look of the sixties and seventies depicted here, and the cool, stately scenes, edits and transitions, and the considered, intricate nature of the plot is going to anesthetise audiences hoping for the kind of movie they think of when they hear the words ‘spy thriller’.
This is certainly a thriller about spies, but this has to be at the absolute other end of the spectrum from action flicks like Ghost Protocol or The Bourne Legacy. In fact, a flick like this seems to be mocking them outright.
I’m not personally going to know which kind of flick is closer to the reality of international espionage. From what I’ve read and the many and varied compulsive liars I’ve spoken to over the years, I suspect the constipated, dull, institutional approach is probably the closer to reality. The people you might have met over the years who tell you they’ve worked in the clandestine services (and I’ve spoken to a surprising number of them) tend to be delusional braggarts, the kind of people you assume would have been weeded out in the selection process. The people who really have worked in those capacities tend to look more like non-descript accountants rather than suave motherfuckers in tuxedoes with their guns and cocks out, trying to fuck half the world and kill the other half.
dir: John Madden
Who would have thought a flick about three Mossad agents trying to hunt down a sadistic Nazi war criminal could be a depressing and unfulfilling trawl through the sewers of human weakness and failure?
Not me, proving how truly not bright I am, which is why I’m reviewing films instead of making them. But there’s nothing I can do about that now *sob*. So let’s just talk about the film then, shall we?
John Madden is, I’m sure he’ll be mortified to hear, not a director I’ve ever had much time for. The most famous thing he’s done is probably Shakespeare in Love, which has about as much to do with the actual Shakespeare as that recent hilarious flick Anonymous did, which argued that Shakespeare himself was too much of a bloody peasant to have ever written all those plays and sonnets, and so it had to have been the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward De Vere. But even if he had something to do with Gwyneth Paltrow shooting forth like the poisonous, leprous star that she is, and she may have even won a goddamn Academy award, if I’m not mistaken, for her weepy performance, he obviously wishes that he was directing stuff that was taken a bit more seriously.
So, instead of following Gwyneth’s lead and popping out strangely-named children, he persists in making movies, much to our collective disinterest.
The Debt is about three characters in two timelines. In the 1960s, Stefan, David and Rachel are played by Marton Csokas, Australia’s Own Sam Worthington, and delectable redhead of the minute Jessica Chastain, respectively. Worthington is trying to make up for being in Avatar, and he assays the role nobly. Chastain doesn’t have to make up for anything, because she was great in Tree of Life, though possibly less so in The Help as the white trash Marilyn Monroe-lookalike. Csokas is always commanding and awesome no matter how terrible the flick he might be in, so he’s got nothing to apologise for either. Go on, breath a sigh of relief.
In the ‘present’, which is the 1990s, Stefan, David and Rachel are played by heavy-hitters David Wilkinson, Ciarin Hinds and Helen Mirren, sporting a wicked scar on her cheek that Lucky Luciano would have envied. As people age, I guess a lot of them lose, because of all the bad shit that happens, their capacity for happiness. Maybe that’s why the three of them are so glum all the time. They’re so glum, in fact, that the old version of David kills himself within minutes of the film beginning. And Rachel looks even more miserable than David does, if that’s possible.
dir: Steven Soderbergh
As if germophobes and compulsive obsessives didn’t have it hard enough already.
Speaking as someone who has long been pathologically afraid of germs and contamination (the psych term used to be mysophobia, or, having too much time on one’s filthy, filthy hands), I don’t need flicks like this. I’m already freaked out enough by the prospect of infection that I am the person the scientists lament creating superbugs by using hand sanitiser and giving other neurotics a bad name.
I’m not at the mask or tinfoil hat stage just yet, but, you know, it’s only a matter of time.
Contagion does me no favours, does me no help. It’s almost as if it’s aimed specifically at people like me for whom the horrifying prospect of an epidemic like this, of evil germs finishing off many, many people, is almost too close to home to appreciate. It’s easy enough to handle zombie flicks, where the virus is transferred through biting. Hand washing and ethanol can’t do anything about that. But a bunker mentality and obsessive hygiene could, actually COULD help if this scenario came to pass. And that’s why it hits closer to home. It’s practically goading us with the propensities into indulging them further and falling even further down the rabbit hole.
Conversely, or perversely, actual epidemics that the media and World Health Organisation beat up don’t affect me at all. I’m no more afraid of the spectre of bird, swine or monkey flues than I am of meteorites or werewolves. But when they explicitly spell out in the flick (Kate Winslet’s character does so) the vectors of infection, and how basic they are, my skin crawled, and my stomach lurched multiple times.
Soderbergh does a tremendous job grounding this flick in reality. It’s a what if, but played out as a what if in the real world, rather than requiring sci-fi or genre horror concepts beyond the grim reality of what would happen if a percentage, even a small percentage, of the world’s population contracted such a virus.
The people that try to deal with this outbreak are the characters that are depicted here, albeit by very recognisable actors. It’s the heads of the Centre for Disease Control, the World Health Organisation’s epidemiologists, and the microbiologists whose expertise would, we hope, be our species’ saving grace.
Exploiting the situation are shitheads like an Australian blogger (Jude Law), and a lot of the American population, who seem to go batshit crazy like they’ve watched too many post-apocalyptic flicks. A flick like this, like lots of American flicks, contends that the general population, the great unwashed and nicely washed, are always a bee’s dick away from turning on each other. All it needs is a flu outbreak or a hurricane called Katrina, and the general American population that doesn’t have a panic room or an underground, fully stocked bunker is immediately going to start bashing in the skull of the person next to them in order to feast on the scooped-out goo.
dir: Joe Wright
This is an odd film, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. Far from it. It’s actually much better than it has any right to be.
The oddest thing about it is that I was sure it must have been directed by Tom Tykwer, the German director responsible for the decent flick Run Lola Run, and the tremendous flick Perfume. But, no. It’s Joe Wright, responsible for the ordinary version of Pride and Prejudice with that bony hag Keira Knightley, and that great version of Atonement with all those other good actors including that bony hag Keira Knightley.
Hanna has him venturing into unknown, yet ultimately familiar territory. The real point of the flick doesn’t become obvious until the Brothers Grimm fairy tale allusions start piling up like a sink full of stinky dishes until you can’t ignore them anymore.
The Hanna of the title, Saoirse Ronan, is a very young, alien looking creature. She either looks like an Aryan superchild, or one of the more grown up children from the Village of the Damned. She hunts and survives in the icy wilds of some place. Out of goddamn nowhere, some bearded lunatic (Eric Bana) starts trying to kill her dead. She’s pretty well trained in lethal hand-to-hand combat, though, and she holds her own.
They seem to live a very isolated existence, and seem to have done so for a while. He reads facts to her with his heavy German accent, an accent that she has as well, though she seems fluent in a bunch of languages as well. You’d think the accent would be an impediment to their overall plan, but who am I to criticise?
dir: Duncan Jones
Singer and national treasure Paul Kelly had the violent alcoholic’s lament If I Could Start Today Day Again, reincarnation-believers base their whole religious-spiritual existence on the allowance of do-overs, and computer game players long have known the joy of getting another chance (depending on how many lives you have left) to make things right.
They all come from the same source, they all appeal to the same part of us that wishes the universe could allow for multiple chances to get things right. If we could just have one more shot, if we could only have replayed some moment from our lives, and done something right, then everything else would have worked out right. If only…
Well, our universe doesn’t work like that, but our art does, so when a science fiction flick comes along based around that very idea, then we’re supposed to be throwing our hands up in hallelujahs at the chance to bask in the warming glow of wish fulfilment with Jake goddamn Gyllenhaal as our stand-in.
Are we fuck… Source Code does, as you might have guessed or heard, sound and play out like a less Buddhist and more sci-fi Groundhog Day, with a bit of the television series Quantum Leap thrown in for good measure. Although it is dependent on repetition, and a same set of 8 minutes is played out multiple times, it’s not really the multiple viewpoints kind of repetition that we’ve seen in some films lately (something like Vantage Point is what I’m thinking). No, through the magic of technology, Jake Gyllenhaal’s character gets to try to save a trainload of people, and then, the people of Chicago.
How? Well, through the quantum magic of the Source Code. I understood the individual words which the expositioners used to describe the maguffin, but there’s no goddamn way I will ever understand what any of it really means. I know what it means in terms of the flick, as in, they explained something, so now they can continue on with the plot. But it’s pretty unbelievable.
dir: Neil Burger
My memory still works fairly well, even at my tender age. It’s not eidetic (photographic), but it’s not porous or sieve-like either, especially since I scaled back on the drinking after becoming a dad. Somewhat. Relatively.
I recall seeing, in some magazine, some kind of ad for something. See how great my memory is? In the ad, which was black and white, there was an image of a brain at the top of the page, and the fairly famous trope expressed as Einstein saying something about how humans only use ten percent of their brains, and imagine what potential we could unlock if we could get the rest of it working? Narrowing down the likely publications, it was either a science magazine like Omni, a comic book or Playboy.
I have remembered the diabolical claim all my life, since I was but a callow child when I first read it. I heard the concept repeated continuously throughout the 1980s, mostly by types of people with certainty about how they had psychic powers or some other supernatural / spiritual bullshit. I even remember a science teacher in school repeating the claim as truth. Honestly, I really should have gone to a better school.
Upon surviving, improbably, to adulthood, this idea had even less traction with me than ever before, sounding even more like ignorant wishful thinking. And once I read and understood the merest amount of neuroscience stuff, I knew it was a profoundly misguided myth propagated and repeated by idiots who didn’t have the least amount of idea how the human brain functions.
In this ‘brilliant’ flick, they repeat the deeply retarded claim, except now, because of inflation, they say 20 per cent instead. In the context of “imagine if we could activate the other 80 per cent of our brains”, the film posits a maguffin in the form of a tablet which can transform the most insecure and self-sabotaging shlub into a supergenius.
dir: Philip Noyce
And you thought it was about the mineral…
Were you disappointed to find out that Angelina Jolie wasn’t going to be playing this most ancient of food additives? I know I was. Imagine her, sitting on a table, in one of those grinders or in a shaker, just sitting there patiently, waiting for someone to pick her up and sprinkle her onto their food during dinner. The twist is, though, the middle-aged people at the dinner are all on a low sodium diet, due to doctor’s orders, and Angelina Jolie goes sadly unused, uneaten, untasted for the whole film.
It’s a story about longing, about unfulfilled potential, about loss of purpose.
Sure, it’s far more sedate than what’s actually on offer here, but there should be a place for films as deathly dull as the one I just described. Salt, this Salt, is possibly a lot of things, but it certainly can’t be accused of being dull.
It’s 90 minutes long, and most of it is action action action, with Jolie’s character of Evelyn Salt, running, punching and shooting her way through almost every minute of that running time. Is it preposterous, is it unbelievable, is it absurd? Yes, to all three, but to assert that all those descriptives are a problem here is to basically forget how absurd all these kinds of spy thrillers are: it’s no more or less fundamentally or conceptually absurd than the Bond flicks, the Jason Bourne franchise, The Fugitive, or any flick where someone evades The Man and a bunch of bad guys for any great length of time.
So from there I guess it becomes the inherently sexist argument of “Well, I can accept Matt Damon as some kind of superspy killing machine, because he’s a big beefy guy. Jolie’s a girl, and thin and feeble-looking enough to look like she’d need help tearing open a packet of salt, let alone play a superspy called Salt.”
To that I have no real argument. Both require suspension of disbelief, because neither Damon nor Jolie are actual ninjas, but I guess it’s down to the individual, and also down to the filmmakers as to whether they can sell it adequately, and whether we can buy it.
Jolie, for all of what her faults might be, as a tabloid individual, as a baby stealer, and as an actress, she does attack her acting roles with relish. She’s not always great in every role, but she can be a damn fine actress, which people forget because she seems to be more famous for always being on the cover of those fantasy chick fulfilment magazines that come with added made-up bullshit about her strange life.
But when she’s on, and the role’s right, she’s more than decent. She’s great. Sure, she’s not always as great as when she played Alexander the Great’s mother Olympia in Oliver Stone’s travesty Alexander, where she inexplicably used a Russian accent. Here she goes one better, and actually speaks in Russian. How’s that for progress?
dir: Martin Scorsese
Marty and Leo, sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G. He puts him in every one of his goddamn flicks these days. If there were a way Scorsese could have figured out to get Leo onstage for that last Strike a Light Rolling Stones concert flick, probably playing Keef Richards or a better version of Ron Wood, he would have done so. Unlucky for us that they didn’t.
It’s a remarkable line of high quality flicks that they’ve been pumping out together, which brings us to their latest collaboration. Shutter Island is a departure for both of them, since I can’t think of the last time either of them, apart or as a couple, made a psychological thriller / horror flick. But they’ve done it now, so let’s see what the fuss, if any, is all about.
Shutter Island is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, a writer whose other books, always situated in Boston in different eras, generally follow, like Scorsese usually does, a more down-to-earth, true crime feel to the proceedings. This is a departure for all concerned, except some of the characters get to use that awesome Southie – Dorchester - Masshole accent. Lucky for them, unlucky for us.
The other Lehane stuff you might have heard of would be movies like Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone and his numerous other crime novels that haven’t yet been made into movies. Mystic River, in my humble opinion, was utter shite, but the world disagreed. Gone Baby Gone was superb, though, and justified, for me, the continued focus on the goings-on of the Dorchester scum Lehane is so obsessed with.
dir: Pou Soi Cheang
There’s this thing about Hong Kong films: most of them aren’t good, and most of them are the same. The rare good ones, to people who don’t watch a lot of Hong Kong flicks, could be indistinguishable from the bad ones.
Actually, that’s probably not entirely true. The really bad ones usually have lots of annoying screaming, people eating snot and Stephen Chow pretending to laugh until food falls out of his mouth.
But good goddamn do they get it right when they get it right. The last of the contemporary HK directors that I considered worthy of following each and every project that came down the chute was Johnnie To, with his atmospheric and contemplative crime dramas. Now I have to look out for this chap, Soi Cheang, as well, because I haven’t seen something this good in a while.
The problem is that it won’t be easy to translate the ineffable ways in which this very slight, very moody, and virtually silent flick gets everything so right into a worthwhile film review. Of course, it’s never stopped me before, so it’s not going to stop me now, is it?
There’s this crew of people, four of them, and their job is to carry out contracts on selected targets. Yes, they’re assassins, but their job is not only to kill people, but to make it all look entirely like an accident, happenstance, a random and unfortunate occurrence.
Everyone knows their job, and more so they know how to look at a particular environment meticulously in order to figure out a sometimes incredibly complicated way to take someone out with what’s available to them, or the innocuous stuff they can inject into the environment to have the cumulative affect of snuffing out some poor triad boss’s lights.
They are led by Kwok-Fai, or Brain, as his team call him (Louis Koo), who is a very uptight but effective leader. He clinically observes every location until he can feel comfortable that he’s taken every variable into account. And then, after exhaustive reconnaissance and theorising, and only then, do they put their complicated plan into action.
Being meticulous, and with their objective being not only the ending of the target’s life, but the overarching requirement to make the deaths look like accidents, it’s not anywhere near as easy as just finding the right place to pull a trigger. These deaths are intricate works of art.
dir: Guy Ritchie
I should probably be ashamed of myself for having enjoyed this flick so much, but there it is. I’ve put it out there. I heartily enjoyed a Guy Ritchie movie, and, even worse, one based on the much beloved works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
When I heard Ritchie was making a version of Sherlock Holmes, and that it would be an action fest, I felt like I’d been punched in the nuts so hard that I was bleeding out of my mouth. Ritchie hasn’t made an enjoyable flick with a coherent plot or even vaguely coherent editing since Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Since then there’s been this dire swirling of the same characters, the same over-stuffed plots based on Cockney slang, criminal doings and painful coincidence down a drain of creative bankruptcy, whereby the only decent moments for the viewer seem to occur almost by accident.
Well, someone must have forced Ritchie to calm the fuck down and produce something half-watchable, and I don’t think it was the vengeful ghost of Arthur Conan Doyle threatening to rip his nuts off. Even as tenuous and complicated as this story manages to be, with many a confusing scene that has to be explained in detail later on, it still manages to be far more coherent and easy to follow than anything else he’s ever had his name attached to.
Now, the world has recently rediscovered its extreme love of Robert Downey Jnr, and that’s a great thing. The man is wonderful, a delight, and often the only good thing in most of the flicks that he’s been in for the last thirty years. Iron Man raised him to iconic A-list status again, and in fact most of his roles in the 2000s seemed to be focussed on undoing the evil he’d perpetrated back in the 1990s, both in terms of cinema and his numerous criminal convictions.
I don’t know if he’s genuinely in any better a place that he was back when judge after judge kept sending him to jail and rehab, but at the very least, he’s getting decent roles and is at least getting better quality drugs so that he’s not wandering the streets all fucked up and breaking into stranger’s houses in order to pass out in their children’s beds.
dir: Dennis Illiades
The original horror flick does have a nasty reputation, which is certainly well-earned. Since everything is getting remade, from the Friday the 13th flicks, to Halloween, to Gone with the Wind, so naturally, Last House on the Left has to, nay, must be, remade too. On the most part, I would contend that the flick doesn’t do too bad a job for what it is. The ending, though, shows just how worthless the whole setup really was, and how it’s ultimately a lazy entry in both the revenge and nice white middle class people under siege in their own homes genres of quality filmmaking.
The original is a nasty, exploitative, vile flick. It truly is. This certainly isn’t, and for most of its running time actually seems like a highly charged drama more than an out-and-out horror flick. Of course it relies way too often on “someone comes out of nowhere to either attack or save a person that looks like they’re about to die”, but it’s virtually impossible for hacks to make these films otherwise.
A family, consisting of a doctor (Tony Goldwyn), tightly-wound mother (Monica Potter) and their teenage daughter Mari (Sara Paxton), go on holiday to their lovely house by the lake. The house is so lovely, it even has a guest house right next to it. And that guest house has a guest house, onwards to infinity like an unending sequence of Russian dolls.
No, that’s not entirely accurate. But they do have the lovely lakeside mansion, the rich bastards.
dir: Ron Howard
They must be taking the piss, right?
It’s impossible to believe that intelligent people, which includes all the people involved in this production except for Dan Brown (let’s give them the benefit of the doubt but not him), could make this film and be treating it as a serious endeavour. It is one of the only films I can think of in recent memory that would benefit greatly from the inclusion of a rabid, nitrous oxide suffused laugh track. Taken on face value, that this wasn’t intended as some kind of parody or black comedy, is almost incomprehensible.
The two words that come most readily to mind about anything to do with Dan Brown in general and this film specifically are ‘absurd’ and ‘unconvincing’. I’m sure there are plenty of other words, but these are the cleanest and most accurate I can think of right now. I’m not going to ramble on about The DaVinci Code, because I reviewed it when that stinking, lumbering turd of a film first stank up the cinemas a few year’s ago.
dir: Alphonso Cuaron
Imagine a world where a baby hasn’t been born in 18 years. Imagine a world where the entire human race is infertile. Imagine how people would act towards each other with humanity’s extinction being just around the corner.
Based on the novel by PD James, Children of Men is really a thriller. It sounds like a science fiction film with a weighty premise, and it is, but it is still essentially a film where the hero, played well by Clive Owen, spends a lot of time running away from all the dangers that exist in the world around him.
The film is masterfully put together. Even if there are a few elements I thought were wretched (especially in an idiotic scene where two characters play around with a CGI ping pong ball, or a wasted scene at the Ministry of Art), the film consistently sticks to its vision and does it in a remarkable fashion.
Apart from the immediacy and feeling of being there in the action, the use of handheld camera really works in the film’s favour (instead of causing headaches in the audience, as it sometimes can). There are also numerous long, unedited takes which would have required an amazing amount of coordination. This is virtuoso film making, but it doesn’t call attention to itself. Sequences towards the end of the film are particularly amazing in the way they show our heroes trying to survive a military and paramilitary attack on a refugee camp.
It is a fast paced, harrowing descent into a hell on earth, one which crystallises so many contemporary elements from the daily international news that you feel like you’re looking at something happening right now.
dir: Kim Ji-woon
Jeez, do I need a shot and a shower after that. Make that three shots and two showers to get the taste of death out of my mouth and the stench of this film off my skin.
This is a revenge flick, usually a genre known for being full of sweetness and light, made even uglier and darker by a director committed to making the audience feel as harried, exhausted and sick to the stomach as the main characters.
And good goddamn is it a long film. Even had this flick been 45 minutes shorter it still would have felt like the longest flick since Gone with the Wind crossed with Holocaust epic Shoah.
You wouldn’t know it, but South Korea seems to be, based on this flick, infested with serial killers. They’re everywhere. And, even better, they all know each other. I tell you what, this entire scenario is only even vaguely plausible if South Korea is actually located right next to Ciudad Juarez, in Mexico, because they’re getting away with murder on a daily basis in both locations.
Okay, so the Korean peninsula is nowhere near there, but all the same, these fuckers put Hannibal Lecter, Henry Lee Lucas and Colonel Gaddafi to shame.
A woman, stranded by dint of defective car, is raped and murdered by a deeply horrible man, who then dismembers her and disposes of her earthly remains. Not that the guy would care, seeing as he is a complete psychopath, but the woman’s husband, Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun), works for the National Intelligence Service, and is some kind of superspy type. Not only that, but the girl’s father was a police chief. Not only that… I think you get the idea.
Soo-hyun intends to find the vile motherfucker (played by Choi Min-sik, best known for playing the main character in Old Boy) in order to get revenge for his murdered lady love. And he intends to do so, in the old parlance, with extreme prejudice.
dir: Niels Arden Oplev
I don’t know how many people are going to make this point, since I assume that people, like sheep, like doing stuff in concert with each other, that this is the rare instance where the movie resulting from an adaptation is better than the book it’s based on. There, I said it. In reality this is the best adaptation of a Dan Brown novel Dan Brown never wrote. But Sweden’s Dan Brown, called Stieg Larsson, sadly died before he could profit from his success, collect his royalty cheques, and watch this version of his book on the big screen. It’s a shame, because he could have gotten to see what his story looked like with most of the boring bits cut out.
When I read the three books in the Millennium trilogy, as you could say with most crime or detective mystery kind of novels, I remember thinking they seemed like they were always intended for the big screen. They all read like that, usually. I’m sure it wasn’t a fact lost on the shmuck’s publishers, or on the people who made this Swedish film version, or the American shysters who snapped up the rights and who are going to allow Fight Club director David Fincher to remake it.
The fact that it’s a bestselling set of books helps too, I’m sure. The women I see on the train not reading any of those damned Twilight books are often reading one of the three books in the trilogy (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Girl Who Played with Fire, Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest).
They’re not great literature. Actually, I’ll restate that. Perhaps in Swedish those novels are brilliantly written and plotted, but in English, which is the version I read, they’re so hacky and flat that their tremendous success would be mysterious if it weren’t for a few salient factors.
The thing with crime fiction is that no-one expects it to be well written or even well-plotted. I’m not trying to malign the entire genre or the fans of that style of writing. It’s a perfectly valid genre, and I’m a big, big fan. But the shit writes itself. The general audience just wants a plot that moves, location changes, surprise twists and red herrings, and closure at the end where everything fits together nicely, with a hint of future adventures. And of course, sexy results.
These books have all that, along with the flattest exposition and most unlikely conversations as dialogue I’ve ever read. But they get the job done.
dir: Gregor Jordan
I know, I know: you’ve never heard of it, and neither had I until yesterday.
You have to wonder how flicks with A-list casts like this can disappear so completely in an era where the biggest flick in the world at the moment only has Tom Hank’s voice in a major role, and the next in line hosts the anti-charismatic properties of Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner in lead roles: three people who if you added their personalities together, you’d still be coming up with a figure significantly less than 1.
I hear they share the one personality between them. Which is why, most of the time, you don’t see them all together in the same place. And the rest is computer generated imagery, just like their sparkly, bare-chested, sexless fame.
Perhaps it overstates it to claim that Unthinkable has an A-list cast. Michael Sheen did play Tony Blair, and a werewolf, and a vampire, David Frost and an even more horrific undead creature in the form of the coach of Leeds United. He’s got to be up there.
Samuel L. Jackson once tickled some Maori guy with a lightsabre in some Star Wars flick, and some snakes on a plane, and lost an overacting battle with John Travolta in a couple of movies. I guess he’s at least somewhere on some list of vaguely credible actors. Still, this flick disappeared into the aether without so much as a by your leave, and you have to wonder why.
dir: Paul Greengrass
Finally, a film made by crack addicted monkeys with ADD for crack addicted monkeys with ADD! Be careful. You could go into this film without any recognisable neurological condition, and come out of it having contracted the epilepsy shared by the director and editor of this here film, The Bourne Supremacy. Kinda like the manner in which watching Disney films eventually leads to diabetes. And, let's face it, arse cancer.
It's true I tell you. The Bourne Supremacy is the apotheosis, the crowning pinnacle of the cinematic movement that now graces our screens with spastic creations that possess nothing but momentum. You
don't so much watch these movies, in my case, as endure them. The editing here would fill the people responsible for Moulin Rouge with jealousy and murderous rage. For the majority of the movie's running
time, few shots actually went for more than 3 to 8 seconds. There were a handful of scenes that may have gone for 15 seconds, but they were in the distinct minority.
dir: Gregory Hoblit
I went in expecting one thing; what I got was completely different.
I was expecting a movie that would be passably entertaining. What I got was a lazy court room / legal drama that was marginally less interesting than the average episode of Murder, She Wrote.
Ah, Angela Lansbury. They just poured her into that old biddy outfit.
Godsdamnit, that’s going to replace the ninjas in my nightmares. I can’t say I was ever a fan of Murder, She Wrote, or Diagnosis: Murder or Matlock, but they do serve a purpose: a light confection designed to present a puzzle and solve it just after the last ad break, with everything tied up in a neat little package.
Personally, I was always a bit more of a Columbo fan. Watching Peter Falk and his glass eye shuffle around and causing the murderer to go berserk with ever-escalating levels of frustration was a joy to behold. By the time they’d get to the end of the episode, you knew Columbo knew the bugger or buggette was guilty right from the start: he just needed enough time to figure it out for himself, or to wait for the guilty sod to trip him or herself up.
dir: Tom Tykwer
What the fuck happened to the guy who made Run Lola Run?
Here’s your answer: He’s making shitty, ludicrous flicks that sap the will to live of any audience anywhere.
The International is fucking unbelievable. It is a Bourne Identity – Supremacy flick without Jason Bourne or Matt Damon, but, perversely, with Clive Owen, who was in the first Bourne flick anyway. Recursive much?
So imagine: someone wants to make a Bourne flick but can’t afford Matt Damon. Who’s next on the list, oh, we can’t afford them, how about, no, further down, okay, Clive Owen and Naomi Watts? Brilliant.
And of course you need some German people in it, so why not hire German hot stud superstar Armin Mueller-Stahl, who’s 80 if he’s a day over 16?
Sole direction given to Clive Owen in this: “Um, act the way you did in Children of Men, but don’t run around as much.”
Clive Owen roles can be divided successfully into two groups: the ones where he has stubble, and overacts wildly, and the once where he’s clean shaven, and doesn’t overact as much. This role is clearly one of the former rather than the latter.
Naomi Watts doesn’t really have any differentiation between roles, and strides around with “concern” face the entire time here. Is she credible as a district attorney trying to bring down one of the biggest banks in the world? Maybe, if her plan is to wear them down by asking them continuously to make monthly donations to Amnesty International whilst on the street corner outside their headquarters.
dir: Ridley Scott
Ridley is, apparently, the decent Scott brother who directs sometimes quite decent films. Yes, he made Hannibal, and part of me will hate him forever for that one, but generally he makes okay flicks, or at least he did thirty years ago.
Tony Scott is the awful hack who makes painful films that sully the Scott name, generally. He makes occasionally less than horrific flicks, and then makes horrific flicks which are an insult to the eyes and the intellect, damning our entire species whenever a single person pays good money to watch any of his movies.
In case you miss my meaning: I’d rather watch a Michael Bay movie than a Tony Scott movie.
In genre and content Body of Lies would seem to almost be more of a Tony Scott flick than a Ridley one, since he has previously made spy – high tech thrillers, with varying degrees of success (or annoyance, as the case may be), but for whatever reason the Brothers Scott flipped a coin and it came up Ridley. Which is good, because that means the film is at least watchable, as in a human pair of eyes can be trained upon it for minutes without bursting in dual showers of vitreous humour.
That’s not to say the film entirely works, and it seems like it drags a bit despite being fairly fast paced. But it’s very much of its moment, and tries to give itself credibility by treating, with credibility, the contemporary world of US Intel / Counterintel, jihadist terrorism, puppies with hurt paws and making out with hot Iranian chicks.
dir: Brett Ratner
I would never have believed that Brett Ratner, director of such classy fair as some of Mariah Carey's film clips and Rush Hour 2 would be capable of making a decent film. I guess films like this go against the auteur theory of film making, either that or he deserves more credit than I am capable of giving him.
It's weird. The film works, amazingly enough. It's not Battleship Potemkin, don't get me wrong, but it is not the mess that I expected. What can be said with a comfortable level of certainty is that Ratner achieved something that Ridley Scott, for all his pretensions of being a first rank director, could not: he manages to make the whole serial killer thing work again, and somehow compelled Anthony Hopkins to actually act. Like he gets paid to.
My hatred of that farce masquerading as a film known as Hannibal is well known, If it isn't, it should be. I proudly aligned myself with the masses last year in declaring it one of the most truly stupid and mishandled films ever made. I can count at least fifteen levels upon which Hannibal failed, and with a somewhat slightly less passionate zeal I can comfortably assert that in my anything but humble opinion, Red Dragon gets it right.
Yeah, I've seen ManhunterM, which people are in a rush stumbling over each other and themselves in order to praise as the definitive version of Thomas Harris' book. Honestly, I saw it back in the late 80s, and it didn't really get my juices flowing. There were some interesting ideas, but the most frightening ideas in the book (as in exactly how much Will Graham ends up identifying with his prey) are left out entirely. As they are here, as well. But most importantly, having watched it (Manhunter) recently again as well, I don't actually feel that it stands the test of time. If anything it looks uncomfortably dated, and the only real aspect of it with any lingering significance is William Petersen's performance, which was tetchy, nervous and desperate.
I kind of wish they could have used the magic of modern technology not to make Hannibal Lecter look younger (which they entirely fail to do, not that I cared), but to be able to interpose William Petersen's performance from Manhunter into Red Dragon. That would have made this film sterling, truly champagne stuff. As it is we have to accept in the role that lucky bastard that gets to have sex with Salma Hayek on a nightly basis, Ed Norton. Sure she can't act, but like any sensible person would care. You think Norton walks down the memory lane of Salma's laughable 'acting' performances every time they have sex? Hell no.