Black Mass: follows the criminal activities of the notorious James “Whitey” Bulger and his closest conspirators. First off; why the fuck would anyone want to make such a pointless film? One that tells the story of an evil murderer, pointing out that he’s an evil murderer by showing him commit and sanction said evil murders. We get it; but y tho? There’s no arc, no development, no story… it’s just a series of decreasingly effective cold-blooded killings. The pacing is dead slow, full of unlikable characters and shows zero motivation for anyone’s actions; especially the vampiric and despicable lead. If anything, it felt farcical that a FBI would allow such openly compromised detective to continue working on cases they were obviously invested in! Being set in Boston we’re treated to everyone trying (but failing) to nail BAWSTAN accent: Cumberbatch lands poll position with a change in both pitch and hammy accent, that feels like a straight-up comedy voice. The ensemble cast are phenomenal, but nobody is given a credible character to work with, and although he’s as good as he’s been in the last 10 years or so Johnny Depp continues his obsession with distracting dressing up / make up to get in to character. Black mass is well shot, boasts a couple of good scenes, and a decent central performance but it is the opposite of an enjoyable or interesting film. It’s the film that nobody was crying out for; and a great companion piece for Killing Them Softly.
The Factory: when his daughter is taken by a kidnapper who has successfully evaded him for years the clock is ticking faster than ever for a Buffalo detective. Featuring Cusack, and a similar type of story, you may expect something like The Frozen Ground; or a movie like Insomnia, Se7en, Mystic River etc… Unfortunately, this isn’t in the same ball park. The story’s horribly clunky, and the clues/pointers are even worse – in particular a ridiculously bumbling angle about fertility and infertility which would stick out in any dialogue. The film (and detective) flounder from missed clue to missed clue before it throws up a preposterous ending – complete with flashbacks for those at the back not paying attention. The title of the film makes no sense until the last 2 minutes of the movie – which is also distracting. Character-wise you’ve got the clichéd married-to-the-job detective, rookie sidekick, and a kidnapper that should have been demented and scary (Buffalo Bill style), but was played like a comedy redneck character. Despite a promising synopsis and Cusack in the lead is not much more than a bottom of the barrel, bargain bin, by-the-numbers, straight-to-DVD, B-movie with an A-List star and some TV actors (minor characters from Dexter, Good Wife, Arrested Development).
Inescapable: an ex-military intelligence officer loses his daughter while she’s travelling Europe, so he jets over and tries to hunt her down. That plot sounds familiar… This is essentially a more bureaucratic version of Taken/Taken 2/Frantic – with fewer thrills, and more focus on the ‘Eastern mystery’ angle. What’s quite good is that almost everyone the father meets is quite shifty, so you never really know what direction the plot is going to turn. Set in Syria (Damascus), it’s not particularly sympathetic to the country, nor are the American actor’s accents. 24 bad guy / all-round TV actor Siddig feels like he’s channeling the spirit of Bryan Mills a little too hard with the hushed, gristly hero yank voice. Inescapable is solid, but unremarkable; interesting, but not smart enough; not fantastic, but not awful… a totally middle-of-the-road movie.
Edge of Darkness: when his sick daughter is gunned down, detective Tom Craven starts looking for people with a grudge against him, but maybe he wasn’t the target. This is a good-old corporation/government conspiracy film that feels like a throwback to the blunt movies of the 80s. There’s a few totally unexpected, and fairy graphic deaths that have genuine shock value, and get properly etched in your brain. The plot starts to feel like a runaway train, where the crazy and unbelievable things start piling up. We also get treated to a variety of terrible Boston accents, which make some of the dialogue difficult to catch. Gibson pulls out a decent performance, given his characters complex mental state – but everyone else can be filed under ‘hammy’ or ‘generic’. One final note, to Ray Winstone, please stop being Ray Winstone! Despite sitting on the Edge of Realism, Edge of Darkness is a decent, albeit depressingly nihilistic, action / thriller / revenge / conspiracy picture from the director that had the stones and talent to save the James Bond franchise twice.
Brooklyn Rules: 3 young Italian-Americans grow up in New York where their upbringing is overshadowed by the mob: rampant plagiarism ensues. First off, the acting’s terrible (PFJ as a dramatic lead… well done), as is the story, as are the accents, as is the direction – and just so the script didn’t feel left out, they made that shit too. Ultra-sloppy stock ‘gangster’ characterisation and entire characters lifted from similar movies – which makes for some boring, predictable, tosh. What’s more insulting is that despite a reasonable cast – and assumably budget – the film looks like it was filmed on VHS.
Having cringed my way through the first 50 minutes, I knew I didn’t have another 40 minutes of self-loathing / punishment in me. Wouldn’t wish this on my enemies.
Alternative plan: fired on a few episodes of Community instead.
Cassandra’s Dream: two brothers in financial trouble turn to their wealthy uncle for help… First off, this has more simplistic teenage-level melodrama than a papa roach album. It’s also full of good actors doing terrible acting, with dodgy accents… it’s hard to tell if it’s the shit script, stock characters (forenames only – a major pet hate of mine), soap-opera story or just bad direction. The characters are established through teeth-grindingly clichéd dialogue, not to mention that the entire story can be guessed at least ten minutes ahead at all times. To top it all off, it’s yet another Woody Allen film set in a romanticised version of a city, crammed with ra-ra artisan characters who have old-timey sensibilities (like a countryside drive in the old motor to a meadow picnic). By the time that Tom Wilkinson gets to inject a bit of acting and class in to this the film is already dead. Cassandra’s Dream is a piss-poor excuse for a tragedy; the biggest example of which is that this is what Allen’s career had come to.
Battle Recon: The Call to Duty (AKA Battle Force): the first ever Special Service Force unit is sent into Nazi occupied Sicily to bring back a captured hero. A film that opens with the line “They were trained to scale cliffs, jump out of airplanes and kill Nazis” should grab any guys attention. It’s the classic story of a unit of dysfunctional army reject-rabble coming together and kicking ass; and being a b-movie there’s plenty of entertainment: camo paint that strays into ‘Black Up’ territory, one guy doing his finest Brad Pitt (Bawnjorno!) impression, ze kampvest Nazi general in history and a couple of random hot chicks thrown in for good measure. The action’s good for a movie of this scale too – especially the stray bullet effects – although it does dwell on the shoot-outs a bit too long. It’s well-directed, very well shot, the colour gives it a very expensive-looking finish (I initially thought it was a Blu Ray), solidly edited and overall well put together – a fine effort. Mixing the classic ‘behind enemy lines’ WWII story with a knowingly post Inglorious nazi killin’ tongue-in-cheek angle, Battle Recon has enough entertainment and heart to keep you watching for the duration, even if it isn’t the most original war movie you’ll ever see.
Con Air: a released prisoner (former U.S. Ranger) gets caught up in a plane hijacking carried out by the criminal cargo. This is one of the best examples of ridiculous, over-the-top 90s action films (homage to 80s). There’s something about the huge fiery explosions, big loud action and epic weeping / heroic guitar licks that plunges me right into these films. Cage, despite being laughably shit and doing THE worst accent in the history of cinema, holds the film together surprisingly well. Malk is the perfect villain – whose calmness only makes him more terrifying – and his band of crazy henchmen are all gratuitously evil. Cusack is good, but his dashing young looks always make him feel miscast as an authority figure. Everything towards the end of the film (In Vegas) is beyond excessive, ludicrous, and poorly cut – but I guess that’s Vegas for you! Held together by the supercast this is a solid, big action, big entertainment, film that still holds up well.
London Boulevard: the story of an ex-con fresh out of a stretch in the joint, determined to go straight, and avoid the trap of falling back into London’s underbelly. This has two too many stories playing out, in separate dedicated chunks, that never really come together: we’ve got Farrell and Knightley’s relationship, the gangster aspect, beggar’s retribution and sister saviour – any of which could be the main plot of a normal film and would have made a solid story – rather than being side-stories all competing for prominence. As the locations flip between the streets of London and a country manor you realise that this is an outsider’s rose-tinted view. On the upside, it’s rather well shot and the acting’s pretty good: David Thewlis is indisputably the most watchable (and has the best lines, including “if it weren’t for Monica Bellucci she’d be the most raped actress in European cinema” quote of 2010 for me). Farrell‘s also pretty decent – despite regressing into a South African accent now and again. Ray Winsone‘s growing a bit tiresome, and needs to branch out or give it up – he plays the same character, with the same lines (just changing the names) in pretty much every film – the likability factor isn’t helped when these characters are outrageously racist. The final product is a Guy Ritchie imitation, but with less flare, less interesting characters and too many strands. Other than the memorable ending, the rest of London Boulevard is passable at best.
Kill Speed (aka Fast Glass): Three chiseled ‘fly guyz’ make huge wads of cash by transporting drugs from Mexico into California in their state-of-the-art fiberglass ‘planes… until the plan changes! This is 100% aimed at the Maxim/FHM market: Cars, planes, chopper bikes, guns, babes, surfin’, partying, X-box – and in that respect, it ticks all the boxes. Staple B-movie elements are all present; stock characters, standard script and longer than necessary, being the three most obvious. Where it excels are the aerial battles / stunt flying which are surprisingly good, in abundance, real eye candy and almost entirely real. In the last 30 minutes the action is also ramped up and it works well. The film’s also shot very professionally, given the scale and budget. The biggest annoyance was Nick Carter, who played a flat-out ridiculous white rapper, and gets out-acted by a wrestler (who’s only in one scene) and inanimate objets like chairs and scenery. I’d rather listen to every Backstreet Boys (and solo) album, single and demo back-to-back than watch him act again! The rest of the cast do well with the characters their given, and there’s a few familiar faces like Matt from Heroes and Robert “T-1000” Patrick!! It’s very aeronautically orientated, so if you’re in to dogfights and supersonic planes check this out – as there’s some straight-to-DVD B-movie goodness here.
Changeling: Angelina Jolie gets re-united with her missing son, but all is not what it seems. Jolie’s great, and the cast in general are quite strong, however, I wasn’t entirely convinced with Malkovick. There’s a LOT of terrible accents through the film. It makes all men and police of the time look and sound like assholes, and by the hour mark I was screaming out “OK, the police are corrupt, we get it”. It’s all trundling along in a fairly textbook manner for around 90 minutes but in typical Eastwood style massive, depressing, twisting plot points start firing in until the final scenes. I would re-watch it, but only to play the “my son” drinking game. Overall, the story’s good but it’s dragged out for much longer than it can sustain, and turns into a boring courtroom drama for last 20 mins…
Inglourious Basterds: (Blu Ray) Not really much of a re-make after all. Straight off the bat the first 20 minutes are among the immense, intense and electric in memory. As the film continues there’s just so many great sections: Jews in hiding, the Jew Bear’s entrance, strudel meal, entire bar scene, cinema premier (Inc. Italian Accents). Cast-wise: Pitt looks ridiculous and uncomfortable, but is still very, very funny again; Stiglitz is great to watch, especially in the bar scene; Fassbender totally outdoes Mike Meyers, who plays a terrible British stereotype, and as for Cristoph Waltz, what can I say that has not already been said… It’s a bingo! He turns an already fantastic script in to comedy and tension of the highest level without even trying – 100% charisma!! The dialogue’s much more focused and natural than any of the previous Tarantino outings. I also applaud the use of foreign actors and dialogue, which most war films don’t usually have, Tarantino has masterfully cast some of the best European talent in a lot of the key roles – and although there are a lot of characters and story threads coming together it’s all managed quite well, with only a couple of minor lapses. The alternative history setting (& ending) is always a strange pill to swallow, but if you roll with it the film still works. The music chosen isn’t his finest to date. The Blu Ray Sound and picture are both fantastic, definitely reference material. While Tarantino may not be every critic’s cup of tea he keeps giving the public exactly what they want. Ballsy & enjoyable WWII action-romp.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time – Our prince must save the girl, his family, the sands of time, a magic dagger, himself and the entire world… because why not! This film has everything you could want in an action adventure; heroes, villains, a hot heroine, fights, chases, exotic locations, shaky cam, plot twists… unfortunately it’s just so lackluster and clichéd. CGI snakes. CGI landscapes. GCI weather. GCI sets. GCI Parkour etc etc. What ever happened to the days where escapist blockbusters were shot in massive physical studios (or locations) with a thousand props and at least a hint of realism? Based the eponymous computer game, 90% of the visuals seemed to be borrowed from the Assassin’s Creed franchise, particularly the chase sequences. Furthermore, the story was pretty much the Lion King with humans, no awesome songs and a Pirates of the Caribbean feel. The only standout was Alfred Molina, who happened to land the best character with all the good lines – and he nailed it. Otherwise, the acting’s generally flat, but I’ll blame the pants script and shallow characters. Gyllenhaal rocks a ridiculous accent that can only be described as ‘Orlando Bloom spoof’ but I guess his physique shows some dedication to the role. At the end of the day this film is, and does, exactly what it says on the ‘Blockbuster’ tin, and for that you can only applaud it. Unfortunately, it’s painfully middle of the road in every other aspect.
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 Ghost (Writer): A Ghostwriter replaces his predecessor who died under mysterious circumstances, as he researches and re-writes the memoirs of Britain’s ex-Prime Minister all is not what it seems on the surface. It’s a pretty generic conspiracy story, and just when it’s starting to drag everything happens in the last ten minutes, which feels a bit rushed: the ending’s quite disappointing / obvious but the final scene more than makes up for it. It’s very contemporary, political, and unashamedly based around Tony Blair; portraying him in the worst possible light! For a political movie the script’s quite warm and funny in parts, and other than some dodgy accents the cast are pretty solid – Cattrall’s just a more educated version Samantha, Olivia Williams is all over the place but you can’t go wrong with the Broz or Ewan McGregor. The main star for me though was Polanski, whose direction is outstanding (especially given he was under house arrest!). He lets this thriller tell itself, with no fancy trickery and just plain old-fashioned brilliant directing. Definitely worth a watch if you like this type of movie.
Note: As mentioned on Have I Got News For You: the film’s been given a 15 certificate in the UK, Polanski swears it’s 18!
Gangs of New York: Scorsese’s star-studded epic tale of one man’s quest for revenge in 1880’s New York. It starts and ends with some ultra-graphic violence and bloody guts – although the end is still quite flat – and pretty much everything in between is all about the drama & story. The cinematography’s more plain and subtle than you’d expect from a master like Scorsese, although the elaborate sets, large cast, costumes and historical references seem meticulous and keep your eyes plenty pleased. Daniel Day Lewis slightly overcooks his character, although was the highlight as usual and the rest of the cast were decent; even John C Reilly and his silly face. Like all ‘foreign’-background roles everyone’s accents oscillated between Americana and Irish (other than the natives Gleeson and Neeson). It’s a great effort, but quite a drawn out affair that lacks depth in both characters and story. Because it’s so specific, New Yorkers would appreciate it most.
They Live: Everyone’s favourite Canadian-American pseudo-Scot “Rowdy” Roddy Piper uncovers a conspiracy bigger than his 1980s Hair-do. The idea’s great but everything else seems to have been lost during film-making. The script is forgettable, barring one “bubblegum” line, and the acting & action are underneath below-par. The look, feel and themes aren’t dissimilar to a 1950s anti-Soviet or propaganda film, with a barrage of social commentary and messages being forced upon the viewer. The soundtrack’s atmospheric, but only has one song! There’s an infamous five-minute fight scene that feels so ridiculously out of place, and it takes about 40 minutes for anything substantial to occur. After Carpenter’s string of original and amazing sci-fi / horror films this seems like a major let down and is – to all intents and purposes – a proper “B” movie. Corny socio-political ‘thriller’ with too many messages.
The Departed: modern twisty cop tragedy based on a Hong Kong trilogy and set in Boston; which tees up some of the worst crimes against accents in modern cinema – the foxy psychiatrist being the biggest offender. There’s a lot of ‘hard’ and seemingly strange cuts & edits, with some amateur-looking camerawork in places (although it won Best Picture / Best Editing Academy Awards: so it must just be me!). Despite these foibles you still get absolutely immersed courtesy of the superstar cast and phenomenal story. Walberg’s rage and Nicholson’s insanity are especially great to watch, although all the mains put on a noteworthy show. The soundtrack’s also used brilliantly to get you more involved in the scenes, and the last hour of this film is pure cinema gold, with drama and twists all over the shop! It’s a great film, and if you liked this a lot it’s 100% worth watching the original ‘Infernal Affairs’ trilogy. It won’t do Boston tourism, or the Irish, any favours…
The Take: based on a Martina Cole novel, this was a 4 part mini-series following the two Gangsters as they rise through the London criminal underworld. From the outset (Kassabian theme song, stock gangster names, and violence accompanied by lame gags) you know it’s not going to be high-brow entertainment. It’s full of over-acting, terrible cockney accents and generic geezers that you’d associate with Danny Dyer / Guy Ritchie films. It started in the early 1980s and ended mid-90’s, leapfrogging months or years at a time, sometimes with little indication. Despite this it was shot well, the original music was great, had moments of drama and although it was fairly predictable, the story does keep you watching. The settings and props were also spot-on. They tried to make it smarter as smart as they could, but it still turned out to be a middle-of-the-road, sensationalised crime tale.
The Proposition: would have been far more watchable if there wasn’t so much violence and gore in your face throughout the entire film. Don’t get me wrong, I like my action, but this is a bit much. The story’s simple and had potential to be powerful, but was drawn out and poorly executed. There were no lasting rivalries, little suspense, no shoot-em-up scenes and no deep characters… basically, no staple Western ingredients! Definitely failed to make the most of the superstar cast, Ray Winstone in particular seemed to think he was playing a gangster. Gets a lot of hype because of the hardcore Nick Cave following, but surely such an acclaimed musician should have nailed a better soundtrack! It looks good, and is atmospheric, but if you like westerns you’ll have seen the story before, just never told this poorly, and with so many boring soliloquies.