7 stars

Taken

dir: Pierre Morel
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Taken is a glorious throwback to the 70s and 80s where revenge wasn’t a dirty word. Sure, revenge flicks are a dime a dozen, and one is released every week (to the cinemas, with about five per week going straight to DVD), and they travel very well overseas. I guess it’s because everyone can relate to revenge.

That being said, revenge is a fundamental cinematic genre in and of itself, but that doesn’t mean that most of these flicks are good. They’re not. They’re easy to fuck up.

I guess it’s the fact that they should be so easy that lulls people into a false sense of security, or a real sense of insecurity. They don’t take the time to craft them well, or to make the main protagonist worth following in their journey to blissful, blood-spattered Old Testament style vengeance.

Taken probably isn’t at all believable, plausible or remotely likely. Neither are the Bond films or the Bourne films or the Sisterhood of the Travelling Underpants films, masterpieces though they are. None of it matters, because Liam Neeson does so well in a role few men do credibly.

Rating: 

Gran Torino

dir: Clint Eastwood
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What a sweet, crusty, curmudgeonly old man Clint is. And boy, is he old. He has officially reached Methuselah age, but it’s not slowing him down, not a bit. Gran Torino was one of two films Clint put out in 2008, following closely on the heels of his other massive two-film endeavour, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. So age has clearly not wearied him. He’s making more films than ever, and his films are more loved than ever. The man’s certainly not in decline.

All the same, as a director Clint happily works far harder than as an actor, since he’s earned the right to just coast along by now. And coast he does, playing the same Clint he’s been playing for forty years, just older and crustier.

And we love him for it, and are more than happy to let it slide. Even when the melodrama is as cheesy as it is here, even when the acting (admittedly by non-professional actors) is atrocious, and when the script is so appalling. We don’t care because it’s Clint.

Rating: 

Changeling

dir: Clint Eastwood
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Before Gran Torino, the highest grossing and 437th film directed by Eastwood, stunk up the multiplexes and delighted American crowds with its rascally racist protagonist bellowing at Hmong immigrants to get off his lawn whilst aiming a shotgun at them, Clint unleashed this curious little true crime / period piece movie to less fanfare but more critical acclaim.

At least initially. Before it premiered at Cannes, and was still known as The Exchange, the buzz was that it was one of Clint’s best films. Of course, after actual humans and not PR cyborgs saw the film, a resounding ‘meh’ was heard to echo around the cinemas of the world. Angelina Jolie receiving a nomination for playing the main character here is very strange, unless, there’s a new Biggest Lips – Anglo Category I haven’t heard of to be honoured at the next Academy Awards, but otherwise most of the world tried to pretend the film never existed.

So it was a bit of a surprise when I found the film quite enjoyable and interesting despite Jolie’s presence, since she has the thankless role of playing a mother whose most compelling dialogue is “I want my son back” and “this boy is not my son, I want my son back.”

Rating: 

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

dir: Guillermo Del Toro
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I usually give Del Toro respect for his Spanish films which have all been great (Cronos, Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth), and derision for his Hollywood flicks (Blade II, the first Hellboy). Perhaps I’m feeling more forgiving, or perhaps Del Toro is starting to meld the two ways of working into a workable whole.

Whatever the reason, or whatever is really going on, I surprised myself by enjoying Hellboy II: The Golden Army much more than I thought I would. The main reason I’m surprised is that I really didn’t get into the first Hellboy, and that one of the main reasons is something that’s carried over to this sequel.

I’m also a bit burned out by the whole comic book adaptation thing, and Hellboy is nothing if not a comic book property.

Hellboy (played, I guess, by Ron Perlman) is an actual demon, snatched from the gates of hell by a kindly scientist (John Hurt) when still a baby hellspawn. He grows up to love and protect humanity whilst fighting against supernatural shenanigans that threaten humankind.

He is bright red, with ground-down horns, a very large fist, styles his hair like a samurai, smokes cigars and loves kittens. And he loves to fight.

Rating: 

Promotion, The

dir: Steven Conrad
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What are our dreams? I don’t just mean what do we dream of, because most of us dream of flying, or exacting revenge on our childhood tormentors, or giving speeches naked in front of our co-workers and fellow students. And let’s leave out all the sex-related dreams regarding 80s sitcom stars or bus drivers. Please, let’s just leave them out.

Most of us, not being the super-creative and talented people whose works we crave in written, visual or auditory form as entertainment, have modest hopes and dreams. We dream of having jobs that don’t crush our souls on a daily basis. We might dream of owning, past a certain age, our own homes so we’re no longer at the mercy of deranged housemates, too-thin walls separating us from annoying neighbours and independence from the whims of landlords and slimy real estate agents.

We dream of being able to do okay and avoid looking like shmucks, at least those of us that aren’t shmucks. And even those of us who are shmucks dream of somehow getting that one thing (or several things) that’ll make everything seem a bit more worthwhile, in our eyes and in the eyes of others.

Rating: 

Hancock

dir: Peter Berg
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There seem to be superhero flicks coming out every goddamn week, and mostly they’re the tried and tested superhero properties carefully branded and nurtured by DC and Marvel Comics over the last century. They are, at least the successful ones, considered to be powerful box office draws and dependable investments. Yes, I’m talking about Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, The Hulk, Fantastic Fours and the X-Men flicks. You can now, due to its inexplicable success, add Iron Man to the list.

Then there’s the second tier of flicks based on lesser known superheroes which seem not to do as well simply because they’re not as well known, and aren’t considered serious draws, no matter how well they do (Spawn, The Crow, Blade, Daredevil, Electra, Hellboy, Constantine, Ghost Rider, The Phantom, The Shadow et bloody cetera.) The primary difference is that the top tier characters are so well known and so recognisable that everyone goes to see them at the cinema, and children the world over whine until their parents buy them the merchandise. With the second tier, only the fans and nerds go or care.

Rating: 

Be Kind Rewind

dir: Michel Gondry
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Being able to enjoy a flick like this is dependent upon a few variables. A high tolerance threshold for enduring Jack Black helps. Being able to put up with yet another variation on the ‘stick up for the little guy against the heartless government/corporations’ plotline helps.

Being able to appreciate the artschool, ramshackle aesthetic / messiness and the idea that an entire community in New Jersey could be delighted by and pay good money to see short films based on famous movies starring Jack Black and Mos Def, in lieu of watching actual movies, would also be paramount.

Also, where I write ‘artschool’, what I really mean is ‘artfag’. Such a term is not exactly dripping with political correctness and sensitivity, so I’m glad I never used it in the body of this review.

Phew! Dodged a bullet on that one, eh?

In varying degrees and with varying quantities, I guess I do possess or at least entertain some of the variables previously mentioned, because I didn’t hate Be Kind Rewind, despite feeling as if I should have. Sure, it’s pretty shaggy, creaky and cheesy, but I still enjoyed the shit out of it.

Rating: 

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