Gladiator: an army general turned slave must rise from the pits of the Colosseum and take down a false leader who murdered his family, friends, and previous employer. The cast is a jaw-dropping mix of ‘classic’ thespians, up-and-comers, bodybuilders, and comedians but everyone feels completely at home in their roles. The plot is simple, but packed with so much Shakespearean betrayal and deception that feels hypnotic in parts. Action scenes are huge, flashy, and bloody – but remain visceral & entertaining, and stand up against anything coming out today. It’s hard to find flaws in this: In fact, my only minor niggle is that some of the setup feels rushed and clunky; like how you can pick anyone off the ground and make ‘em a slave. You know a film is special when even after a handful of viewings and years of TV re-runs it still grips you, and the 155 minute runtime flies by. Everything about Gladiator feels truly ‘epic’ in the classic Hollywood sense – the sets, the action, the plot, the acting, the score – and it all comes together perfectly to create what’s arguably the perfect swords and sandals film.
Spotlight: a special investigative unit of The Boston Globe investigate a potential child sex abuse scandal within the catholic church. Obviously, this is a fantastic ensemble cast; as you’d expect, everyone puts in a top shift and is rewarded with their moment. Granted the subject matter is tough to handle, but the movie plays it far too safe for me, with very little in the way of dramatic moments – it’s basically a couple of damp revelatory moments where one priest becomes thirteen, then more, then more, and Ruffalo’s rant was the single outstanding dramatic moment. Despite the journalists having an ‘enemy’ or ‘target’ there’s no real counterbalance or push back from the church – just one scene with the cardinal. The direction doesn’t help much either – felling so flat and removed from the story that it may as well have been marketed as a made-for-TV documentary. More than anything, it feels like a film that’s really personal to Boston and Bostonians; it’s set in Boston around their seemingly overbearing institutions which – as an outsider – maybe that’s the knockout punch that missed me. The profile and performances of such fine actors is really the only selling point for Spotlight, which is a disappointingly low-profile and unimaginative telling of a shocking and evil crime.
Note: for this film to have so many Oscar nods feels bizarre. Sometimes you see the list and can understand why films are on it… but not Spotlight. Nu-huh. Nope. Nein.
- Best picture? ROFL – it’s barely a “movie”.
- Best Supporting Actress? ROFL – McAdams is good, but gets almost no screentime.
- Best Supporting Actor? Fair do’s, Ruffalo is the best thing in this.
- Best Director? ROFL – More like BLANDEST Director
- Best Editing? ROFL – it’s basic.
I’m with Mark on this one – ROFLO!!!
Bring Me the Head of the Machine Gun Woman (Tráiganme la cabeza de la mujer metralleta): a geeky gamer must track down and kill a sexy assassin – The Machine Gun Woman – to save his own life. Although marketed as a Tarantino / Grindhouse flavoured low-budget B-movie it feels more like a guerilla film: short, cheap, and resourceful… natural light, minimal FX, no frills. The plot is split into missions/chapters marked by Grand Theft Auto fonts, and more generally the film is shot from the games’ camera angles, to give the feel the lead is playing his own version of GTA. If you’ve ever watched anyone playing a game like GTA, it’s not that much fun… and while this has a some bloody & violent set pieces, and a few brief nudie shots, it’s nowhere near as wild as it needs to be to keep you engaged with the computer game format. At just over 70 minutes, it’s already very short – but it still struggles to sustain the story and interest in parts. The other problem is that the film would have been better from the machine gun woman’s point of view; giving her more than 15 mins of screen time, and at least a smidgen of back story or motivations – instead she appears in full prostitute–fantasy glory, does some smolderingly sexy posing, kills some guys with ease, then wiggles her beautiful arse back out of shot… I know, I know – it’s not the worst thing you’ll ever see. Bring Me the Head of the Machine Gun Woman tries to mix old-fashioned grindhouse with modern video games, but didn’t have the conviction to sustain either – e.g. the classic ‘film grain’ effect is only put on the first and last few minutes. Less like Machete, more like MaShoeString (Budget). Sorry you had to read that, it was the best I could do. A serviceable film for the teenage male gamer market.
B-Movie Score: 6/10
Chungking Express (重慶森林): follows two lovesick Hong Kong police officers as they try to get over their last relationships. You can immediately tell that the visuals are the driving force of the film – the camera movement is light and fluid, framing and camera angles are experimental, the lighting is bright and bold – it ties together to create a very unique look. Unfortunately, no other elements of this movie come close to distracting you from this: the performances are decent but the characters (and their philosophy-lite inner dialogue) feel whimsical and slight; and the plot is inconsequential – relying on artsy / cutesy / quirky moments and fanciful gestures of romance to hold it all together. The film is split into two stories that have a few similarities (talking to inanimate objects, tinned food, chef salads, Indian people, and varying opinions on tears & water) but would have worked better focusing on the second part. If you think of a big HK movie in the 1990s, this is the complete opposite; so much so that it feels like a rebellious statement – ‘screw what you know about HK directors… I’m making a tedious homage to the French New Wave, suck it up losers!’ At over 100 minutes long it doesn’t half drag, which is a shame because a handful of nice moments and ideas get swallowed up by the dominating pop-video style, excessive runtime, and hammy dialogue – see below for genuine quotes. Chungking Express appears on list after list of seminal movies, but in reality it’s a barely-worked-on, directionless, and lightly scripted pet project between other movies – and it feels like nothing more than that to me. I’m sure he’s a lovely Won Kar-Guy, but I don’t understand Won Kar-Why the ratings for this are so Won Kar-High!?!? There are better films about Hong Kong and far better films about love: this is a definitive example of style over substance.
” If memories could be canned, would they also have expiry dates? If so, I hope they last for centuries.”
” Somehow everything comes with an expiry date. Swordfish expires. Meat sauce expires. Even cling-film expires. Is there anything in the world which doesn’t?”
” In May’s eyes, I’m no different from a can of pineapple.”
” When people cry, they can dry their eyes with tissues. But when an apartment cries, it takes a lot to mop it up.”
Sharknado: a freak storm is sucking sharks from the ocean and dumping them into flooded Los Angeles! You don’t watch a film called ‘Sharknado’ for its plot, cinematography, or effects… that being said, it would have been nice if the film tried! The normal shots look quite good, but the added “speshul” effects are piss poor – even basic stuff like rain looks bad; why would you not use real water!?! No tension or suspense is built up at any point; shots are disjointed and poorly cut together – everything ‘important’ to the ‘plot’ is shot as a close up, and quickly cut in and out – giving you no sense of scale, time, or location. Even silly details like the gang being chased up the street by a wave, but finding the time to individually winch an entire school bus of (50!?) kids and their driver to safety. Worst of all, it didn’t make much use of the actual ‘Sharknado’ – focusing instead on sharks swimming in flooded areas or just landing on people. The biggest distraction from all the mess isn’t even sharks; it’s Cassie Scerbo; a leggy short-shorts surf babe with a bikini / mesh top, who spends most of the runtime cocking a shotgun – as a male, this is a feasible distraction (I can only imagine American men getting a little light-headed.) There’s a few good quips, championed by “looks like that time of the month” as the guys stare at gallons of splooshing bloody water – a period joke lol. Despite a promising concept and wild title, Sharknado is more of the same from the company that brought us stuff like Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus. It feels more like a weak drinking game or marketing exercise, than even a basic attempt to capitalise on the attention-grabbing title. Not the worst film I’ve ever seen, but could and should have been way better than it was.
B-movie Score: 5/10
- Compressed Air Canister
- Pool Cue Stabbing
- Bar Stool Smash
- Shotgun (x4)
- Chainsaw Split
- Car Bumper Impalement
- Pylon Blasting
- Flaming Water (!!!)
- Knife Attack
- Internal Combustion
Generation Kill: an honest and accurate account of the 2003 Invasion of Iraq – told from the perspective of a journalist riding with an elite Marine battalion. Several things come together to make this an exceptional miniseries: i) the ensemble cast is phenomenal – you don’t for a second feel like they’re not real soldiers or real people spittin’, shittin’ and singin‘ their way through a dangerous and unfamiliar country; ii) the dialogue, interactions, plot and shooting style make this feel ultra–realistic: you’re sitting in the Humvee with the battalion; seeing their choices, struggles and the ‘greyness’ of the scenarios in which they’re left to operate in – corpses everywhere, very little action, not much heroics, and all part of the larger, poorly-led mess of an invasion. You also get a warts and all picture of the military: how the chain of command has the wrong people are in the wrong places; how some degenerates make it to the front line; the misuse of army personnel and equipment; and how they have the power to wipe out entire villages with a single decision. Despite the eye-opening shocks, action, and tension the most enjoyable parts are the inane chat and time-filling banter between the troops – and moments like the unit singing Drowing Pool’s “Let the Hajis hit the floor“ , “Teenage Dirtbag”, or “Sk8er Boi” are pure television. The only gripe I have is that some of the night-time scenes are infuriatingly dark and impossible to see anything – let alone follow what’s happening. Generation Kill is everything that you want from television (entertaining, informative, political) and everything you’d expect from the man behind The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Streets. Credible and incredible television.
Sicario: a young SWAT member joins a ‘special activities’ task force that may or may not be as legitimate as they first appear. The acting, direction, and visuals are gorgeous and often spellbinding; the characters and plot however… not so much. Very little new ground is covered, particularly with the characters: a naïve by-the-book agent (Blunt), mysterious and dangerous man-with-no-name (del Toro), the charismatic but cynical and amoral team leader (Brolin), questionable American operations, yada yada yada. The central character – who is already an unnecessary audience surrogate – has an even more redundant BFF to more explicitly vocalise her thoughts and attempt to let the dummies at the back know what may be happening (not much is actually revealed until the last 20 minutes). There’s a few nerve-shreddingly intense scenes like the border crossing, tunnel raid, and the last supper; which are paired with bursts of ultra-bleak violence and very graphic gore, which make the movie more grisly – although these felt like they were chasing notoriety, and ‘sexing up’ the otherwise flat tone. The daytime scenes look fantastic, downside being that some of the low-light or night-vision scenes are harder to follow. While Sicario looks fantastic, has the big names, and some dark and memorable scenes it’s far less effective than a straight-up drama like Prisoners: it feels a bit like a Steven Seagal/SWAT plot viewed through another character, and with an arthouse guise – leaving me with the impression that it’s more a film for the critics than the public. Like the pacing, story, shots, and characters, Sicario is intentionally slow and steady.