Micmacs à tire-larigot: a very unlucky guy who has twice been the victim of arms manufacturing companies plots his revenge with lots of shenanigans. The main guy (Danny Boon) is absolutely fantastic at playing the slightly vacant but humble lionheart whose dedication – and comedic delivery – keeps the audience transfixed. The rest of the cast are also great; full of interesting characters, and with all the small details / close ups you instantly relate to them and know what makes everyone tick. The camerawork, detailed semi-steampunk objects and great 5.1 audio track whip you feet-first in to Jeunet’s unique, offbeat & bizarre world. My only complaint visually is the gold/amber tint throughout the film, which saps a bit of colour & life out of the picture. The themes and graphics throughout the film make a love letter to early cinema, and when the story, scenarios and visuals come together it’s an entertaining fairy tale for grown-ups. The ending is a completely different tone from the upbeat film as a whole, but it’s still smart and engaging. A great twist on the revenge genre, whilst spoofing the arms trade. It is a bit style-over-substance but for some reason – I blame French magic – Micmacs is far greater and more enjoyable than the sum of its parts. Would recommend this to world cinema n00bs and pros alike.
12 Rounds: After accidentally killing a terrorist’s girlfriend the hero cop must save his own Mrs in a game of revenge when the baddie escapes from jail a year later. Before watching this I had the sentence “Cena couldn’t act his way out of a joke shop” already typed up; turns out he’s the best actor in the whole film, which doesn’t say much about anyone else. Aidan Gillen was particularly bad, sounding like Raab Himself doing a Tommy Lee Jones from Blown Away impression. Can’t say a good thing about anyone else, other than they pretty much killed what would have been quite a compelling story. It’s from the director of a Die Hard film and the producer of Speed so it’s all familiar territory: high-octane action, constant peril, tasks, explosions, black cop / white cop and ridiculously aware driving. The 5.1 soundtrack’s worth nothing because each crash will thump you in the chest. With the right actors behind it 12 Rounds could have been more memorable however it’s still a pretty decent balls-to-the-wall action flick, and it doesn’t try to be anything else.
The Good, The Bad, The Weird: Set in the 1930s, a bounty hunter, most-wanted criminal and petty thief are all after the same ancient treasure map. This flick has it all: style, action, plot, rivalry, twists, adventure, suspense, guns, huge sets, humour and explosions. Most of all, it’s actually great fun to watch, with the exception of a few short ‘meh’ sections and one psychedelic scene – the rest is all killer. The whole story, but most notably the final scenes are brilliantly executed classic Western. The Bad and Weird characters are great to watch, and the director‘s on good form. Definitely a bit more of a bloodbath than you’d expect from an upbeat film like this with scarlet, limbs and fingers flying all over the place. The audio track really comes alive during the action scenes and there’s a nice nod to Tarrantino with an epic song choice for the huge chase scene. There’s also a nice bit of Korean history thrown in the mix. Overall, it’s an amazing film from a director with a great track record, and another brilliant example of why Korea is one of the best countries as far as movie exports go.
Valkyrie: There’s only one WWII movie faux pas that’s more insulting than Nazis “Telking Leik Zeis” amongst each other, and that’s Nazis that speak full-blown “Jolly good, tally ho” English – especially Adolf Hitler. Listen out for American and Irish accents in the mix too. What’s more infuriating is that they type, read and sing in German to make it more ‘authentic‘! Accents aside the dialogue’s pretty naff, and predictable – not unlike a 60s/70s WWII movie you’d see on TV through the day. There were also too many scenes with dozens of similar uniforms and names to keep on top of. A stumpy Tom Cruise doesn’t really set the world on fire, and Bill Knighty was the only real standout for me. There are some good moments when the tension builds up, but that’s about all this had going for it. Until I saw this I wouldn’t have thought that such a major, and potentially exciting, chapter of history could be so boring – especially when it’s marketed as ‘action packed’.
Bangkok Dagerous: (2008 Remake) The best hitman in the world goes on one last big job before retirement but breaks all his own rules and ends up in a whole bunch of trouble. Unfortunately this isn’t Cage’s finest hour, or hair cut, and although coming across as emotionally retarded generally works for hitmen he ends up looking super goofy in scenes that require any feeling. Even in the voiceover parts sound affected. I was bamboozled as to why almost everything about this re-make was so true to the original it turns out it was the same directors are behind this, which is no bad thing. Barring both deaf aspects this is shockingly faithful, even down to the rough, grainy and washed out look. It was a bit weird that Cage was the only white guy in a ‘westernised’ re-make, almost made it pointless, but I guess big names put the bums on seats. The 5.1 audio track is great, particularly in the action scenes. Not a bad film by any means but if possible, definitely check out the original.
Sukiyaki Western Django: Takashi Miike’s Japanese take on the spaghetti western & samurai films of yesteryear. Most confusingly all dialogue is English, but it still requires subs because the Japanese actors (naturally) struggle to deliver the Americanized lines – everyone’s acting totally suffers because of this huge distraction. All of the action is good to watch, from the quick draws through to Gatling Gun mayhem and the action-packed showdown is pretty immense. The gang costumes are flamboyant and seeing the red & white colours constantly jumping out is a real treat on the eyes. Miike does a fantastic job of keeping it stylish throughout, whilst minimising his trademark ‘weirdness’ – although the sheriff character was truly pants. You can’t help but think that if he focused on perfecting one or two films a year instead of 5-6 he’d be one of the best directors on the planet. Overall there’s no denying this is a bunch of tried themes, concepts and characters tied neatly together and packaged as homage. Still, this one’s worth a watch if you like foreign and offbeat movies.
Taken: (Extended ‘Harder’ Cut) a stupid girl runs off to Europe to follow a U2 tour, and if that doesn’t warrant getting kidnapped I don’t know what does! Naturally, her badass daddy (conveniently ex CIA covert / black ops) has to sort it all out. My favourite thing about Taken is that it has an amazing mix of action, drama and a no-brain story. It’s very realistic; the fighting’s well-choreographed but never really over-the-top, there’s also a great – no holds barred – authenticity on the human trafficking story. Despite seeing this a few times my heart still ends up in the stomach when Kim gets kidnapped. Above all that, Laim Neeson’s on top form, showing his acting and action abilities in equal measure. I guess the downside is that it doesn’t exactly make you want to visit Paris in a rush. Unashamedly in the same vein as Bourne, 24, Man on Fire-type movies but other than that, you can’t fault this much!
Watchmen: (Blu Ray) A gang of retired vigilantes squeeze back into their costumes to figure out who’s trying to kill them off. The story itself is a near perfect blend of action and dystopian Noir mystery, although it’s no Sin City rip off. Picture and surround sound are both absolutely stunning and could easily be used as test/demo material. All aspects of the visuals are totally slick, and bone-splitting graphic violence has never looked this good. The run time may put some off, at 2:45, but it’s all about the characters past and present. A few streaks of hardcore physics to melt your mind, and older viewers will remember the constant fear of a potential nuclear holocaust. On a downside the soundtrack’s very dominating, trendy and generic for such an original story, and it’s never good seeing a huge blue wang, ever. Haven’t read the graphic novel so can’t compare them, but as a stand alone film this is certainly a great achievement. Plain awesome viewing.
A Bittersweet Life: follows a loyal and solitary badass as one mistake throws his life into bedlam. My favourite aspect of this film is how almost every single shot reveals something new about the story or a character, adding depth with unmistakably brilliant direction. The entire cast are great, the main in particular is nothing short of fantastic. The long fight scene is one of the best, and most emotive of any I’ve seen, and all of the action set pieces are choreographed and pulled off effortlessly: although the violence may be rough for some. Comically dumb gangsters provide just enough humour to ensure that the film doesn’t become overbearing and no Asian movie would be complete without some generic ancient proverbs about pride, honour, tradition and morals. This film looks great and is stylish to the max – just like the characters. Unfortunately, this is often compared to Oldboy and although they share some themes, A Bittersweet Life can most definitely speak itself. Korean Masterpiece.
The Host: creature feature from South Korea. Starts off like a trendy comedy horror, with awful over-acting, but gets more serious as the story progresses. There were a few awesome moments of suspense, but in general it didn’t seem to know whether to be funny or serious – ended up an eclectic mix. The music also conveys this, being spot on in parts, but totally ridiculous in others. The start and end are great, action-packed and when the film really comes to life, although the mid-section isn’t as good, coming across as drawn out and filler. The most outstanding part of this film was the monster, and the special-effects. Other than the very end it’s amazingly convincing and looked great. Some good, but predictable jumps along the way, and why is it that people in films like this always fall over when they’re running for their lives?! Mini political agenda regarding media hysteria, chemical warfare, failure of ‘the system’ and western criticism but it’s never really in your face. Far more focus on the family than the monster. Great action and tedious backstory but don’t really understand how it became the biggest Korean film of all-time, reasonable attempt nonetheless.
Cloverfield: a digital tape retrieved in Manhattan after a monster attack, played back in it’s entirety; cue mish-mash of relevant footage and soppy backstory. Because it’s all in first-person it throws you right into the action. Only fault I had was that it’s pretty hard work on the eyes, given that the camera’s almost always shaking but the immense 5.1 audio track makes up for this, flexing all main speakers and giving the bass a good workout. The film’s also good at playing on all the big fears: darkness, silence, gore, unknown creatures, terrorism, viruses etc. The special effects – both NY in tatters and the monster itself – are also great, and believable enough in most parts. The performances are alright despite the unknown cast – shaky cam may have masked some of the guff! Overall, this exceeded my expectations, and it could easily compete for the title of ‘best monster movie’ ever. Solid creature feature!
Kung Fu Panda / Bee Movie: Only watched these films because Sky are having an animation season at the moment and the visuals are usually nothing short of stunning. Despite being from the same studio, and only a year apart Kung Fu Panda is a far superior film in every sense: story, characters, voice acting, gags, audio mix, and entertainment factor. KungFu Panda also looks a thousand times better, you just get the feeling that the team paid more attention to detail; definitely the best-looking animation I’ve seen with vibrant colours and rich textures. Don’t get me wrong, Bee Movie’s not the worst film in the world, but it’s definitely aimed more at the kids than the whole family.
Kung Fu Panda: 8/10
Bee Movie: 5/10
The Bourne Ultimatum: it’s almost like a bond film, with its bonanza of locations, technology, action and thrills. The shaky cam and generally gritty / urban look of the film means that watching it in HD is pretty pointless, although the amazing 5.1 track and slick editing more than made up for it! This film ticks all the boxes for a great action movie, yet it’s anything but dumb; it even leaves you thinking about things like intelligence tactics, torture and (to a lesser extent) the media.The entire trilogy is strong, and this final installment is the icing on the cake – setting a new benchmark for action film!
Persepolis: animation following an Iranian girl growing up in Teheran and Austria. Although the obvious attraction to this film is its amazing aesthetics – and from the start to finish it’s nothing but amazing – it’s easy to forget that the actual story is so remarkable. Above this the film is quite informative, giving a good background of the modern history of Iran, yet there are so many funny bits to balance out the tragedies and shocks. I’ve not seen anything like this, and was mesmerised for the full 90 minutes. I’d suggest watching this with the French audio and subtitles (unless you won’t be affected by Sean Penn and Iggy Pop doing the English audio… WTF?!?!?) Would recommend this to most people.
3:10 to Yuma: arguably two of our generation’s finest actors (Bale / Crowe) play a law-abiding rancher and a notorious outlaw respectively. Initially, I thought they’d work better cast the other way but was absolutely blown away by both performances. The story moves along brilliantly and from start to finish the film is full of action, drama and brilliant characters – both main and the supporting cast. Unfortunately, the ending’s a wee bit far-fetched, but adds even more depth to one of the main roles. A must-see film!
Cowboy Bepbop (The Movie): Watched this film for the umpteenth time to test a 5.1 surround sound and it definitely does the trick! Could easily be considered as a demo disc for a multi-speaker set up. The story’s ace, animation’s quite good and all of the jazz / blues music is immense. Not as good as the series but definitely worth a looky!