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Savages 2012 Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Blake Lively, Salma Hayek, Benicio del Toro, John Travolta, Demián Bichir, Sandra Echeverria, Emile Hirsch, Oliver Stone

Savages (mild spoilers): when two pro pot dealers have their shared girlfriend kidnapped by a cartel for leverage, they don’t take it lying down. This one is absolutely packed to the brim with torture, violence, action sex, drugs and rock & roll – it’s all turned up way past 11. All the characters are all pretty broad stereotypes, however it’s the cast and story that raise this above your standard gang-banger flick. Hell, it’s worth watching this just to see the scene with Del Toro and Travolta – each doing their thing and loving every second of it. For a 2hr30 film, it’s so packed with action and plot that it never drags: as it plays out like a dramatic chess match. Savages barely puts a foot wrong until it doubles back on what would have been a powerful, Shakespearian out-of-the-blue ending – instead copping out at the last second for a crowd-pleaser. The only real downer for me was a sloppy, grating, “ike-OMG-totally-I-was-like-and-she-was-all” So-Cal voiceover that does nothing more than point out the obvious – and annoy the shit out of viewers. After a couple of duffers, this one definitely puts Oliver Stone back on the cinemap, and with ample style to spare.

Score: 7/10

Film Title: Savages

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You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger: shows two married couples and what happens when infidelity and ‘real life’ takes over. It’s starting to feel a bit like Woody Allen only has one story, and he just changes the locations, names and occupations of his characters. Once again, the focus is on some ridiculously beautiful, artistic, troubled and self-obsessed middle class people that are quite hard to empathise with. This one struggles, trying to juggle far too many characters and flesh out each of their stories: the divorced female wreck, mid-life crisis pensioner, wife seeking family, disillusioned writer, art gallery owner, exotic love interest, blonde bimbo… As we expect from Allen, there’s some sporadic narration by the most Jewish voice ever, a really adorable ragtime old-fashioned score, and a whimsical / romanticised vibe – although I spent over half of the time shouting in my head “THIS IS NOT LONDON!!” There are some really nice touches; great lines hidden among the script, proper belly laughs and the odd comedy character – like the charlatan. It is enjoyable, but not much more. Don’t get me wrong, I like Allen but he’s been doing this schtick for far too long now.

Score: 5.5/10

The Eagle: twenty years after his father led 5,000 Roman soldiers to their death a rookie tries to restore his family’s name by finding the lost Roman ‘eagle standard’. In a nutshell the biggest problem this film has is lackadaisical direction – every other issue seems to stem from this: naff/ridiculous plot, complacent acting, lazy storytelling… There’s genuinely a scene where a minor character says “To find them you have to go over the snowy hills and into the next glen” – there’s a 5 second shot of our soldiers struggling through snow, and wham – they’re back in normal terrain again!!! Complimenting the visual vomit is the corniest stock Gaelic music, that drones away in the background when the soldiers are in the highlands. To make the film more sellable there are a few gratuitous action scenes but you can’t really see what’s going on, and it winds up a blurry, shaky mess. The only redeeming part is when Mark Strong appears and shows everyone how to act properly!  All in, it just all feels a bit amateur, and like more of a project about someone finding their roots / heritage, than wanting to let a decent story take centre stage. If you wish to see a film about southerners taking on crazed tribes of ugly Scottish people check out Doomsday instead! Or if you want to keep it historical – Spartacus.

Score: 2/10

Salt: (Mild Spoilers) CIA agent Evelyn Salt is accused of being a Russian sleeper assassin and has to go on the run ’til she can prove her innocence – but who are her loyalties to?? Jolie‘s still looking good and does a top job at keeping the character of Salt grounded in reality (even though her action capabilities are anything but realistic). Liev is typical Liev and Ejiofor is Mr bit part again, which is a shame as he can hold his own as a main. Action-wise the film’s pretty good, and although you’ll have seen most of this done before, and better, it’s all done quite well (other then a few super-crazy shaky cam scenes). The story, however, is as uninspired as modern spy thrillers go – with the film twisting its way to the end from about the 40 minute mark. Twists have become so much the staple of this genre that they’re no longer effective – you can also see the plot developments and twists in Salt a million miles off. What ever happened to the good guys being good and bad guys being bad? After years of modern thrillers being based in and around the middle east it’s refreshing to see the good old Col War Russians getting back behind the guns and planning AmericaMageddon!!  All-in, this is essentially Jolie’s chance to play a sexier version of Bourne or Bauer… no complaints from this guy.

Score: 6.5/10

Hamlet 2: a melodramatic drama teacher has to inspire a bunch of underachieving Latinos to turn his sequel to Shakespeare’s Hamlet into a successful production and save his department. There are a few funny parts, but the play at the end is the only real winner. The rest of the laughs stem from shock value: ‘face rape’, Christian-bashing, gay jokes and a lot of Steve Coogan’s ass – probably won’t help you break America Steve! The main song ‘Rock me sexy Jesus’ is totally catchy, but could have been better. The story plods along quite predictably and is a jumble of Dangerous Minds, Summer Heights High and Jerry Springer the Opera. With Pam Brady’s track record on South Park BLU, Team America and Hot Rod (not to mention the likes of Catherine Keener Amy Poehler, David Arquette and comic genius Steve Coogan) you expect a bit more from this.

Score: 4/10

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.

Score: 7/10

Hallam Foe: psychological profile of a teenage voyeur two years after his mum suspiciously killed herself. Bell plays a believable rogue nutter, and the rest of the cast aren’t that bad at all. There’s no doubting that this tried to be a totally ‘Scottish’ film, especially given all the shady characters and coarse dialogue. The story however is far too convenient, unrealistic, randy and plain old weird. In doing this, the film ends up being a fiction piece, as opposed to believable, which ruins it a bit. It’s not garbage, but certainly isn’t great. The main problem I have with ‘Scottish films’ (this, Shallow grave, Trainspotting, Red Road, Sweet Sixteen…) is that they almost always present all Scots as violent/murderous raging alcoholics that will pump anything. Overall, it’s interesting, but don’t go out of your way to get this.

Score: 5/10