Enemy [Mild Spoilers]: when a history lecturer spots his doppelgänger in the background of a movie scene he becomes increasingly fascinated by the actor. Quite a difficult film to articulate, this probably falls vaguely under the ‘Psychological Thriller’ banner. There’s a deliberately slow and intense build up, magnified by a doom-laden score that the intensity relies heavily on. This is completely Jake’s film, as we see him pull off playing two people, and then each character ‘impostering’ the other (Imagine Face/Off^²). Stylistically, there’s an intense amber hue for the duration, which I didn’t really see the point of – or understand. Naturally, there’s a lot of playing around with duality, repetition, mirrors, doubles, from the get-go, and although the film’s not explicitly wrapped up (the ending is a bit of a mystery/clusterfuck) there are a lot of clues and lines in there; namely that our lead may have a split personality. Definitely the least accessible film since he started working with ‘big’ names; this bleak, tense, and dark thriller is the perfect appetiser for Arrival; and lays out the “un film de Denis Villeneuve” style that he’s kept right through to his current, mega-budget films.
Lone Survivor [Title Spoiler: only one of ‘em survives]: follows a Navy Seal team as their recon mission goes south and they’re ambushed by Taliban militia. From the get go it’s a flag-waving military recruitment advert; glorifying the ‘Army Bro’ lifestyle and full of manipulative shots: wide aperture, emotional music, golden hour lighting. It takes a while to get going, but when the action starts the movie completely shifts gear. After a quick round of various viewpoints on killing potentially dangerous civilians (also the only real characterisation we get) there’s an epic, sustained and very intense action scene, that goes on just long enough to become a bit silly; as the protagonists are shot dozens of times but keep limping on, literally throwing themselves face first down massive cliff faces while mowing down seemingly infinite hajis with seemingly infinite clips of ammo. This set piece is grittier than most too, with blood splattering headshots, close-ups of wounds, shrapnel surgery – not much left to the imagination. This kind of action, and the way it’s shot make the film feel more like a HK influenced heroic bloodshed film than a traditional army or Hollywood action movie. The final five minutes are a tribute to the dozens American soldiers that died in this operation; a nice touch, but ultimately raises more questions about why America perpetually sacrifice so many young people to interfere in the middle-east. As a War Movie, Lone Survivor is pretty light, but as a no-brainer action film it works spectacularly, with one of the best gun battles in recent memory.
“Been around the world twice. Talked to everyone once. Seen two whales fuck, been to three world faires. And I even know a man in Thailand with a wooden cock. I pushed more peeter, more sweeter and more completer than any other peter pusher around. I’m a hard bodied, hairy chested, rootin’ tootin’ shootin’, parachutin’ demolition double cap crimpin’ frogman. There ain’t nothin’ I can’t do. No sky too high, no sea too rough, no muff too tough. Been a lot of lessons in my life. Never shoot a large caliber man with a small caliber bullet. Drove all kinds of trucks. 2by’s, 4by’s , 6by’s and those big mother fuckers that bend and go ‘Shhh Shhh’ when you step on the brakes. Anything in life worth doing is worth overdoing. Moderation is for cowards. I’m a lover, I’m a fighter, I’m a UDT Navy SEAL diver. I’ll wine, dine, intertwine, and sneak out the back door when the refueling is done. So if you’re feeling froggy, then you better jump, because this frogman’s been there, done that and is going back for more. Cheers boys.”
Fast and the Furious 5: Rio Heist: Initial stand-alone review here – only difference is that this paragraph holds Fast Five in the context of the box-set, and now knowing what happened in the previous movies. The Blu Ray ‘Extended Cut’ is hardly worth it, with just over an added minute’s runtime, only a rapid neck-snapping that felt new. The action scenes are absolutely outstanding: the train heist, safe chase, rooftop / favella footchase, convoy ambush – it’s all seat-grabbing, fist-pumping, adrenaline-rushing, and cooler-than-cool. It feels like an 80s throwback genre film with such big-budget action, the archetypal super-bad mega-villain, and more oiled-up machismo than you could shake a packet of beer soaked beef jerky at – with guys continually in-fighting, shouting and flexing their rippling muscles at any opportunity. That moment when the two action stars fight, and later when Vin picks up The Rock… it’s just action-movie gold! I really enjoyed Fast Five in the cinema, but having seen all of the films recently, I have to give an extra point to the such fantastically executed car-based mayhem.
The Fast and the Furious
2 Fast 2 Furious
Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
Fast & Furious
Fast Five (Old review)
The Hunted: the FBI turn to a master survivalist/tracker to hunt down one of his former star pupils, who has since become a rogue special forces operative. Tommy Lee Jones is guilty of a little overacting, although he does spend most of the runtime poking, touching and staring at his surroundings for clues – so I guess he’s making up for that. Del Toro does his tried and tested stone cold killer routine, but with such dialogue-light characters neither feels properly developed. The underlying issue being that you should really be giving guys of this caliber deeper, more rounded characters to play with. The film’s cut well for the action scenes, with a few standout heavy-handed, bloody fights – however there are a few moments where Del Toro feels more like a bogeyman than a human. The film’s full of good locations, good story, good leads – but it somehow fails to fully engage or grip you. Biggest flaw is the lack of mood music, when it appears it’s very low volume, and makes the film feel flat, and vacuous. Director William Friedkin could have got away with spending less on big stars for empty roles, and more for big music over flat scenes. The Hunted starts off with a bang, but loses focus and audience by about the half-way mark, relying on big, macho action to keep interest up.
Argo: one of the CIA’s clandestine experts creates a ‘real’ fake movie as the perfect cover-up to bring home 6 diplomats stuck behind enemy lines. The most obvious thing about Argo is the phenomenally chosen cast, particularly from the TV sphere; people representing Braking Bad, 24, The Good Wife, etc – everyone is on great form, doing their parts for the movie. Arkin and Goodman in particular get many great lines, which helps maintain the delicate balance between the drama & peril, and a tongue-in-cheek – almost knockabout – look at Hollywood in the early 80s (with a loving streak of appreciation for Sci-Fi B-movies). On that note, the immaculate, uncompromising, period detail adds an unusually thick layer of authenticity to the story. The film’s book-ended by some ridiculously tense, well-directed, moments of a siege and the final throes of an escape. There are a few minor issues; it feels a little longer than it needed to be, some of the drama comes from contrived methods (like the old “run that through the system again” trick); also, although it’s not a ‘political’ film per se – but it reeks of AMERICA, FUCK YEAH!! Bottom line, Argo is a solid, balanced (if somewhat over-dramatised), political/historical thriller, held together by a superb cast. It also looks like Ben Affleck is fast becoming one of the best Actor’s Directors around.
Le Dernier Combat (The Last Battle): every man struggles for himself in a bleak post-apocalyptic world. Shot entirely in Black and White and with no dialogue, this definitely a unique and memorable style. It looks great: the sets & costumes feel genuinely post-apocalyptic, and the actors are all interesting and peculiar, with emotive faces that lend themselves to silent film – each character’s eyes in particular tells you more than an hour of dialogue could. Despite such a grim vision of the future, there’s a healthy serving of dry, but humanistic, moments of humour and joy to provide some comic relief – the blow up doll piece is hilarious, and the “Hello” scene is cinema gold. Yet, as visually appealing and interesting as the film is, it’s equally stereotypically ‘French arthouse‘ and feels dragged out, disjointed, and pretentious at various points. Another downside is the jazz-lounge soundtrack, which is hideously dated – and with no dialogue, makes for such a crucial part of the film. For being Luc Besson‘s first film, it’s a surprisingly accurate blueprint for his career so far: ambitious, interesting, looks great, but there’s not much under the bonnet.
Kill List: after taking a break from contract killing, money problems force a hitman back into the game, but this list isn’t as simple as it first looks. Never before has a film rattled my cage like this. There’s a very heavy sense of doom heaped upon you, primarily through a clever soundtrack that’s part classic horror and part ultra-modern – white noise & distortion while all digetic (in picture) sounds are muted – a great effect to keep the audience unsettled. I was genuinely scared in parts and had to take deep breaths now and again for no real reason other than it was so tense; very strange for a film to get this reaction. It’s an unbelievable display of what a good director (Wheatley), and good actors (Maskell & Smiley), can put an audience through The story is intriguing from the first frame of the symbol, and plenty of hints dropped through the runtime, without much basil exposition. The only disappointment was several aspects of the ending; after 70 minutes of slow-boiling, grim, ultra realistic, impending danger, the final 20 minutes feel a bit wild, and the scream/costume effects (from the tunnel scene in particular) don’t match the rest of the film. Despite some minor niggles, Kill List is a superb film: tense, unsettling, uneasy, ultra-violent (guns, hammers, knives) – it’s not for everyone, but this is without a doubt one of the best thriller/horror I’ve ever seen.
Note: this is post #500 since starting the site way back in July of 2009! To mark this, next week will feature guest reviews, several ‘feature’ posts as well as some more regular Paragraph Film Reviews. Thanks to everyone that reads, comments and visits the site, particularly the regulars. You folks are ace!
Seraphim Falls: a determined bounty hunter (Neeson) and his hired guns are chasing a skilled man (Brosnan) through the wilderness for reasons unknown. With two big actors centre screen you’d expect this film to play well… Broz takes his grunting to a whole new level as he’s on his own for most of his part – unfortunately, there’s also a scene where he’s genuinely out-acted by a horse! Pre-heroic re-invention Neeson feels miscast here, and in general everyone looks a bit disinterested. The writing is sloppy, and storytelling has a lot to be desired – an Indian and saleswoman appear – only to facilitate a showdown – and we don’t know why Broz is even being hunted for around 90 minutes – who should we be rooting for? With this, there’s not a whole lot of tension (essential for a decent cat-and-mouse story). It’s partially well-shot, making the biggest reason to watch this some great scenery of wilderness and breathtaking landscapes. Overlong, uninteresting and full of questionable acting, Seraphim Falls feels like a bunch of guys walking about in the words, then desert for the most part – it’s is nobody’s finest hour. 3:10 to Yuma is still the daddy of modern westerns!
The Grey (AKA Wolf Punch): a suicidal wolf-sniper must lead a group of plane crash survivors back to safety when they ditch near a wolf den in Alaska. The biggest shock to me was Neeson‘s star appeal; it was the busiest screening I’ve seen in a long time – and the poster for this is just a close-up of his coupon. While there’s no other A-list actors, they’ve all been around the block and are a solid bunch of hands. The film has surprisingly artistic sensibilities; in particular the opening character building with voiceover, and overall focus / investment on the group, their dynamics, (& latterly the scenery) – instead of fighting wolves every 20 seconds. The plane crash is overwhelming, there’s couple of solid jumps, the CGI wolves look great, the gore is pretty visual, and overall the continuous threat of attack keeps you guessing. The only real downside is that there’s not a whole lot of wolf-punching to be had, and when it happens the frenetic action cam makes a mess of it all. As for the final scene, I still can’t tell if it is the bravest, dumbest, or most disappointing in memory – definitely a bold move. Neeson gets his token action line ‘let’s sharpen a big stick and ram it up this wolf’s ass’… as well a several emotional runs through the poem below, oh, and Taglet looks identical to Half Life’s Dr Freeman. The Grey isn’t the action-packed wolf-punching cheese-fest that you walk in expecting; instead it’s a tense, character driven well-made survival thriller; this will be a nice surprise to some, but a disappointment to others.
Once more into the fray.
Into the last good fight I’ll ever know.
Live or die on this day.
Live or die on this day.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale – something very Christmassy is buried under a mountain at the Russia/Finland border; when it’s dug up, everyone will believe in a very different Santa! The story is quite basic, but is laced with just enough crazy and black humour to keep you interested and watching. Nothing’s rushed and the story slowly plods along with plenty build up but not much action, until quite an absurd final 20 minutes, but hey – this is fiction! The setting, timeline and snow make the film quite Festive, but with the impending cluster-fudge and gritty Santa figures, you’d do well to keep away from the kids (something not right about hundreds of naked old men running towards a kid!!) There are also some strong Finnish political views and attitudes woven through the duration, but stick out a bit. Overall, it’s a good idea, and admirable execution but definitely hampered by the budget – especially the ending. While it’s another good twist on old tales, for me, this year’s winner of obscure Scandinavian folklore-based films goes to Troll Hunter! Rare Exports is a decent enough B-Movie, much like the secret cargo in the film, this will do better to remain underground.
Troll Hunter: a student film crew get more than they bargain for when they start following a suspected bear poacher in Norway. The clever part is that someone has taken the awesome ‘Man Bites Dog’ concept of students filming an interesting figure, and simply added trolls. There are two main reasons why this works for me; firstly, Hans the Trollhunter is a superb character, totally deadpan and very interesting / serious / believable / captivating (could have been a grotesque caricature). Secondly, there are so many pieces of additional info and detail in every scene – that didn’t really need to be there – but help build a fuller picture, so much so that you’d be forgiven for momentarily buying in to the concept. Being a B-movie (majority of footage is handheld and ‘everyday’) the special effects are surprisingly good, and effectively utilised. The only major downside is that the faux documentary style is a bit ten years ago, but would be hard to do this any other way. Finally, the stunning Norwegian scenery is worth the entrance fee alone. Bottom line here is that if you like smart, tight, original and entertaining B-movies – you won’t need to look much further than this at the moment.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (3D) – Jack Sparrow and Barbossa set sail for the Fountain of youth, but have to outrun Blackbeard and the Spanish. The story gets from A-Z coherently enough, but clunks from segment to segment, with very little flow. Being the 4th film in the series, the old-fashioned adventure feel of the original is all but gone – drowned out by big/loud CGI. The one thing that does remain impressive is the original score, which is about the only fully effective aspect of the film’s components. Cast-wise, the mammoth franchise reels in some equally big names, and while they all earn their money you get the feeling that they’re nobody’s really trying any more – there’s also the most gratuitous Cruz cleavage since Volver. The 3D’s pretty sharp & impressive, and more subtle than other recent flicks. In the end, Pirates 4 is passable, but not much more than a quite boring, overlong money spinning, summer blockbuster.
Thor: after putting the galaxy’s’ peace at risk Thor is cast out to Earth until he learns to tone down the arrogance, and ramp up the leadership. This is one of the most eclectic mixes of a film I can remember seeing; there’s oodles of tongue-in-cheek camp, so much so that everybody seems to think they’re in an amateur stage play; there’s about 30 characters all turning it up to eleven and vying for attention – not to mention robots, goblins, gods, scientists and feds. Most annoyingly, the SFX are insanely overused – reminiscent of the first wave of GCI laden 90s films. The action scenes are also poorly done – resulting in a series of blurry smashes and explosions until there’s a body is lying on the ground / frozen in ice. The bottom line is that the tone, style and elements of Thor are so erratic, that it ends up feeling like a film that exists just to be the next comic book film. Big, bright, loud and stupid, Michael Bay would be so proud
Fast and the Furious 5: Rio Heist – Various characters from the past four films unite for one big job in Rio. Being brutally honest, I’ve never bothered with this series as it’s just not my thing… That being said, the films are brutally honest and up front; Fast cars, Furious stunts. The action in this is 100% gravity and logic-defying nonsense but the last, huge, set-piece is worth the ticket price alone – it’s absolutely stupendous and wouldn’t surprise me if it had swallowed over 50% of the total budget. Character-wise, there’s a troupe of broad catch-all societal stereotypes, headed by the mumbling charisma vacuum Vin Diesel and a bread-and-butter Rock performance – nobody else is noteworthy. The story is bog standard and merely a vehicle to set up the next action scene; the Rio setting was ridiculous as it could have been anywhere; and the post-script was groan-inducing. Doing what it says on the tin, Fast Five is nothing more than cars, babes and stunts so ridiculous that it’s impossible to not enjoy or appreciate. Guilty pleasure of the year so far.
Animal Kingdom: Mid-budget Australian crime film focuses on one family and their ongoing struggle against the Melbourne police department. Probably more at home on TV than the big screen, there’s a few misfires that lead this high-potential film astray. The single biggest mistake was that it could have been an epic story, but the director forces it down the arthouse route, and it just didn’t work for me. Other faux pas’ were that it focuses on the wrong characters, honing in on the most silent and blank-faced kid; the music was so distracting – terrible psychological synths turned up to 11 that ironically drown out any ambience; moreover, it’s to bleak, grim and nihilistic – making it a difficult story to watch. What saved this from obscurity was the fantastic cast, some of whom you completely invest in: the mother and eldest son are two of the most heinous characters you’ll see this year and you even end up rooting for the wayward brothers; although he’s good, the main actor is one of the weakest in the film. Fiercely over-hyped, and at almost two hours, Animal Kingdom is dragged out at a pace that cripples the movie and really fails to engage. While it’s not in the same league as Romper Stomper and Chopper it will have the same effect in bumping much of the little known actors up to a bigger stage.
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.
Blindness: Julianne Moore plays the only sighted person in a compound for the quarantined during an epidemic of infectious blindness. Best part: lots of out of focus shots, conga lines, people walking in to things / falling over and random nudeness. Worst part: Children Of Men esque level of prophetic future gloom. As the quarantined spend longer in their prison human nature drives events to desperation, then worse, and worse… and worse. Depending on your disposition the film will become overbearing or hyper-dramatic – I landed in the latter camp, and despite the bleakness, couldn’t believe how much the last hour reeled me in. The camera’s used interestingly throughout, to convey certain people’s point-of-view, which enables you to feel right in the action. The underrated Mark Rofallo is ace, and Bernal plays a great villain and Moore pretty much mopes for the duration, but pulls it off quite well. The tone ends up somewhere between an inspiration and a critique of human nature. Blindness is an awesome idea, pulled off reasonably well. Check it out if you like your drama extra strong.
The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon: Richard Gale’s ten minute short that’s a pseudo-trailer for what would make an absolutely awesome film. Despite the descriptive, yet modest, title this short has explosions, beards, guns, the undead, tanks, global locations and spoons… what more could you ask for? Genuinely funny and very well produced this one is well worth checking out – ‘It will kill you. Even if it takes the rest of your life!’ No need to go anywhere though as it’s on Youtube in HD! LINK:
Kill Bill Vol 2: (Blu Ray) retribution continues at a slower pace as the back story is given more attention. This installment starts off as it means to continue, totally rip-off retro: effects, music, voiceovers, homage, etc. The story’s very strong until the last 45 minutes when it grinds to a halt, feeling drawn out with heavy conversation and that stupid truth serum. I’m not a huge fan of Tarantino’s ‘natural dialogue’. It’s not Kevin Smith bad but still quite annoying, and it really bogs down the end of Vol 2… On the upside there’s still some great cinema to be had; parts like the blacked out buried alive scene utilising big sounds to strike fear in to you are movie gold. The acting is top notch again, from Uma through to the let-himself-go Bud, sharp-as-ever Bill and the (still) foxy Elle Driver – it helps that all characters get good screen time to develop. The Blu Ray is absolutely stunning; close-up skin, face, hair and clothing detail will blow you away – even in the intentionally grainy Pai Mei scenes. The sound’s also fantastic, again making it worth the upgrade. It’s definitely the weaker stand-alone film, but when viewed back to back with Vol 1 it’s a great conclusion to one of the most epic revenge tales committed to celluloid!
One Day Removals: Two removal men see their day go from bad, to worse, to worser, to – how do you say it… ah… ‘fucked’! Being a low-budget, local, film I didn’t really know how bad it would be, but was totally surprised when it turned out to be pretty damn professional. For a sub-b movie this punches above its weight. A really good black comedy, with quite an original story and enough laughs to make it enjoyable. The effects and gore are impressive, the sound mix is solid throughout and you can tell that a lot of effort has gone in to it. Unfortunately, only Scottish people will be able to completely understand this as it’s in the full-blown local dialect. It’s also the most sweary film I’ve seen in a long, long feckin’ time! The news spoofing and court montage are great, but it’s worth picking up the DVD for the ‘Sewary Edit’ and out-takes alone. You can buy the film here, and it would a great gift for any homesick Scottish / Aberdonian people you know!
Away We Go: indie-feeling (but big-budget) love and road flick about a mid-30s ‘loser’ couple that are soon to be parents, in search of the perfect place for their kid to grow up in. While it doesn’t sound like much, there are two things that won me over: the fantastic script and the excellent blend of comedy, drama and offbeat characters. The acting’s of a pretty high standard, tugging at the heart-strings a few times. There’s some genuinely funny slapstick scenes but some of the more subtle lines delivered the biggest belly laughs. A couple of questions could be asked – like how can they afford their trip – but the only big flaw is that I’ll never see Maggie Gylenghall as the saucy secretary again. The ending feels a tad premature, but it’s a damn good story nonetheless. Definitely worth a watch.
Romanzo Criminalé: Set in Italy during the 70s/80s this film follows the rise (and fall) of a notorious crime gang in Rome – including their links with fascists and the government. It starts with lots of fast-paced action but after about an hour turns into the usual downfall / betrayal stories associated with gang films. It’s along the same lines as Goodfellas & Godfather and if you can stick it out to the end – almost 3 hours – it’s a pretty good film. Acting’s top drawer, the story’s pretty epic and the location (and retro Italy backdrop) are all fairly convincing.