The Heir Apparent – Largo Winch: when a billionaire tycoon is murdered his secretly adopted son has to prove he’s the true heir to the business empire, while fighting off an aggressive takeover attempt. It’s an easy film to engage with for several reasons: firstly, it’s not a completely dead by-the-numbers affair – the story is interesting and is split between the eponymous Largo discovering his roots, and getting tangled up in action-based situations. Secondly; it looks great – sometimes even Besson–esque. Thirdly; it’s full of familiar spy/espionage aspects like frenetic action and chase scenes, global locations, femme fatales and everything else you’d expect from a James Bond type film – minus the budget. Think Bruce Wayne in an indie Bourne film and you’re almost there. LW also aims high with blatant global aspirations: it’s primarily English and French, with a decent ‘World’ Cast, and worldwide filming (Brazil, Hong Kong, Baltic States). There’s something for everyone in here: action, politics, drama, family, business, espionage, rumpy pumpy – but the only real problem is that large parts of backgrounding made it feel more like an ‘origins’ story, setting up a larger franchise. Having not heard of it, and with a wildly international scope and graphic novel roots, I was expecting a total euro-pudding; but with a charismatic lead, interesting story, and solid action Largo Winch is a fun, albeit lightweight, film.
Zardoz: when a ‘brutal’ unintentionally enters ‘the vortex’ he poses a major threat to the peaceful sanctuary, which is ruled by immortal ‘Eternals’. This my friends is drug-induced 1970s sci-fi on a scale you’ve probably not experienced before. The initial five minutes consists of a floating disembodied head explaining the set-up, then a massive talking stone head that vomits guns and ammo in exchange for grain… and the rest of the film is even weirder. If you’ve ever seen this unexplainable photo of Sean Connery in thigh high hooker boots, wrestling undies, bandolier belts, and a double-whammy ponytail / mexican bandit ‘tache combo, this is where it’s from. If you hadn’t seen that before, I can only apologise. On one hand the film muses over some high-brow questions about mortality, sexuality, philosophy, religion – and references films from 2001 to The Wizard of Oz. On the other hand you’ve got a nearly-nude anti-hero trying to make sense of his trippy surroundings, erection stimulus experiments, gratuitous boob shots every five minutes, and hordes of bored zombie pensioners milling around in tuxedos. Some of the special effects and camera trickery – like the projecting rings/floating heads etc – are great, even by today’s standards, yet other moments – like a hammy ‘learning montage’ – are beyond kitschy and laugh out loud terrible. Zardoz is the hardest kind of film to rate: it’s intentionally camp & outlandish; and deliberately indulgent, unruly, and confusing – to the point where it feels like nobody (stars, director, writers) really knew what was going on. The one thing it did get right is hitting the cult jugular; whether you love it, hate it, or are simply confused by it, Zardoz is a film that really has to be seen to be believed.
Real Score: WTF/10
Dogtooth (Kynodontas): three teenagers are completely isolated from the outside world by their overprotective parents; but they’re starting to become curious. This manages to successfully juggle various usually-avoided elements: it’s all very strange, quite full-on, and doesn’t really go anywhere; it’s completely awkward and deadpan – yet despite all of this, it manages to draw you in, entertain, and make you laugh. A lot of the funnies come from simple things like the misuse words; they call a salt shaker a telephone, a large lamp a cunt, flowers are zombies, and in one of the best – and weirdest – scenes the father intentionally mistranslates “Fly Me To The Moon”. The house is an unsettling location, almost like a laboratory: total white-out where everything is crisp, clean, clinical. There’s some full-on sex, full-frontal nudity, and a lesbian sub-plot – but these are also completely cold and sterile. Cast-wise, the three children are fantastic, and the main reason this film works: their naivety and childlike awe of external interference is completely believable and great to watch. It’s also masterfully directed, and effectively shot & framed – the most important part of scene is usually off-center, or sometimes completely out of shot. In a word Dogtooth is bizarre – on the cinematic map it’s in relatively uncharted territory between the severity of Haneke and the dark humour of Solondz – and as the runtime progresses it just keeps getting weirder and funnier. Dark and original, Dogtooth is a treat for those that want to try something completely different.
Before I Go to Sleep [Mild Spoilers]: after severe head injuries a woman wakes up every day with a blank memory and has to piece the last ten years back together. The biggest boob is that this is a super-tight three-hander, about one of the people, so there’s only two potential characters you can’t trust, and one can be ruled out fairly quickly, which makes the majority of the film – especially the ending – a bit of a damp squib. Despite a couple of short pieces of tension the film takes its time, and the story warms up very slowly. The whole project has a feel of being entirely driven by Firth & Kidman (and Strong) – if this was 3 unknowns nobody would have touched this. All three actors are solid, but Kidman‘s on top, looking dowdy and showing a better range than usual. Firth also gets to flex his muscles, and does well with what he’s given – which is a testament to him more than the writing. Otherwise, and disappointingly, there isn’t a whole lot more to say about this other than it looks very televisual and drab, which doesn’t help either. Before I Go to Sleep is a fairly slow paced story, with a single twist that works well – but for the majority plays like a depressing version of 50 First Dates
The Drop: when his bar is robbed on a ‘drop night’ – when illegal bookies stash their winnings for gangs to collect – a bar owner, and bartender need to figure out who’s ripped them off. This is a film that’s been designed to be a quiet slow-burner with sustained tension. It’s the kind of film where someone asking for directions or talking about a dog has multiple meanings and veiled threats. There’s a lot of additional detail thrown in to deliberately set up every character as being potentially dangerous, giving you just enough information about their life to explain their circumstances, and making them feel more authentic. The mood is carried expertly by a strong central cast – Hardy plays a blinder as a slightly simple bartender, Gandolfini was engrossing but because it was his last role it would have been good to see him doing something that wasn’t a ‘Soprano lite’ job. Rapace and Schoenaerts are also very impressive in their supporting roles. it’s so well made and acted that it reminds you of other ‘hefty’ films like Mystic River or Prisoners. The only couple of missteps were that the Chechen gangsters felt like they were straight out of Taken; and because it’s set in religious Brooklyn, the thick accents were a little bit iffy across the board. It’s clearly meant to be an actor’s piece, but when it’s this well-presented and finely tuned, you’ve got to tip your hat to director Michaël R. Roskam and Cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis. Despite being intensely low-key and a touch dreary, The Drop is ultimately a gripping character-driven crime drama, and I’m surprised there’s not been a bigger buzz about it.
Steven Seagal: Nothing breaks my heart more than seeing good actors in shit films for a quick buck. However, I never experience more intense bouts of simultaneous anger and apathy than seeing Steven Seagal‘s latest releases. Seagal shot to fame in the 1980s with a rapid bout of mainstream action films; Nico (AKA – Above the Law), Hard to Kill, Marked for Death, Under Seige… While none of them were ‘Best. Movie. Ever’ status, they were all quite enjoyable but – most importantly – fitting for the time. Not one to let past glories fade, if you pick any point over the last 30 years I bet that SS was working on the same old hackneyed one-man-army B-Movie action film.
There’s not much else that Seagal hasn’t dabbled in: directing, producing, writing, choreography, he’s got a blues band with two albums, he’s a Reserve Deputy Chief with his own ‘reality’ TV show (Steven Seagal: Lawman), he has released his own therapeutic oils and an energy drink (‘Steven Seagal’s Lightning Bolt’), aftershave (‘Scent of Action’), knives, and is in the process of designing his own gun with ORSIS rifles.
Verdict: I don’t really care that he has a bunch of dodgy lawsuits, or is friends with Putin, or still tries to convince everyone he’s a total badass (Video)… What bothers me about Seagal are his crimes against cinema. His films are literally all the same. He’s always an Ex-Black Ops / Mercenary / Hitman. He’s never in danger. Every synopsis is the same. And practically every poster & DVD cover is identical: his big face – usually close up – with an equally massive gun, pulling a ‘badass‘ pose. Even the titles are impressively unimaginative like “Ultimate Revenge”, “Out For Vengeance”, “Retribution Overload”, “Payback Force”, “Explosive Justice” or other such nonsense.
Justice Genius or Arsey Ryback – YOU DECIDE!
Repo Man: A down-and-out kid takes a job as a car Repo Man, but soon gets mixed up in an alien conspiracy. This feels intentionally retro and ‘cheapy’, like a 1950s era B-movie (aliens, radiation, dystopia…) Under the surface it feels like the director had a lot to say about the mood and culture of the time; unfortunately, it feels like there wasn’t enough budget or focus to properly explore the promising glimpses. The film’s set in quite a cynical version of L.A. where all factions are caricatured: the young punks/skinheads are knuckleheads, the repo men are jaded, the conspiracists are ‘nutjobs’, the government agents are obedient – it’s all a bit surreal, especially when characters drink from generically branded ‘Beer‘, ‘Rum’, & ‘Food’ bottles/tins, and spout lines like “Fuck this… Lets go do some crimes”. It stands out most for focusing on the disenfranchised youth of the 1980s, but the appeal (and audience connection) have faded in the past 31 years. There’s a great Surf Rock / New Wave soundtrack, and some infamous lines of dialogue, particularly those delivered by Harry Dean Stanton, who’s the only actor that truly stands out, spitting magically heartfelt and bitter lines like “Ordinary fuckin’ people… I hate ’em”. Repo Man is billed as ‘Sci-Fi‘ and ‘Punk‘ – I’d argue that this is neither, but simply a Troma or Corman styled B-movie. It’s cheap, cheerful, in the same boat as Surf Nazis – but overall better, more charming, and feels authentically ‘cult.