The Green Inferno: when she joins a deforestation activism group, a naïve student comes face to face with the cannibal savages she’s trying to protect. I’ll put it straight out there; I’m not a big fan of Eli Roth… that being said, I had a blast with this film. The naive protagonist / final girl is surrounded by thin and/or unlikable characters (angsty alternative goths, far out hippy protesters, etc) so you’re not all that fussed about their fates, and watching them get dispatched is rather entertaining. There’s some outrageous practical effects, showcasing bloody and disgusting gore, but it’s all tongue cut out in cheek – think ultra black horror / borderline stoner comedy – with several laugh out loud moments. There’s a fun Final Destination style plane crash, followed by an intense tribe meeting (the scariest part of the film) – and after that it’s all killer. The only two downsides are that the film takes around halve the running time to get going; it also feels less urgent / more detached than the ‘found footage’ ‘real life’ cannibal exploitation films of the 70s & 80s. It would have been foolish to try to pull off a ‘Mountain of the Cannibal Holocaust Ferox God’ movie in 2015, as it just wouldn’t have the same impact, so Roth has taken the ‘cannibal movie’ template and given it a nice postmodern spin. The Green Inferno got an unfair rep by people mostly focusing solely on the gore; but tonally, it feels more like an out-and-out send up of student, or ‘leftie’ activism to me. Over time I hope it’ll become a cult hit along the likes of Cannibal the Musical and Delicatessen. Disgustingly enjoyable.
B-Movie Score: 9/10
Se7en (aka Seven, 7, Sept, Siete, Sieben, セブン, 七, 일곱 …) during a veteran detective’s final week a gruesome serial killer surfaces, whose work is based around the seven deadly sins. Despite being released in the mid-90s and framed as ‘modern’ this has a sense of timelessness; it’s puply and Noir to the core – especially Freeman’s character, who’s straight out of the 40s. This is just part of Fincher’s portrait of an extremely nihilistic vision of ‘downtown’ America – a nameless, timeless city characterised by sirens, rain, fear, vice and filthy, dilapidated buildings mirroring their residents. It’s a dingy look, but one that has subsequently influenced a lot of movies and TV (The US Killing as a prime example). Whilst the story takes a while to properly get going once it gains momentum it’s an unstoppable force -right through to the very last scene. It’s also remarkable that 20 years on it’s still effective, and shocking – which is a testament to Fincher’s directorial skill. Despite all of the larger than life blood and guts, Se7en is all about the minor details; everything helps to flesh out the characters and explain their behaviours – allowing you to pick out more details every time you watch it, which is what makes it a classic.
The Counselor: when a lawyer invests in a drug smuggling operation that goes south, the world around him collapses. This movie essentially comprises of a heap of dragged-out scenes where fine actors deliver lines that probably looked great in a script, but end up coming over as quasi-biblical, pears of faux wisdom “that would sound totally rad in the trailer, man.” Some of the conversations were so vague and non-directional that they felt intentionally cryptic for no reason. The other distracting aspect was the ridiculously over-luxurious, decadent and excessive lifestyle of every protagonist; lavish clothes, jewels, cars, props, and even animals – it feels more like you’re flipping through a high-end fashion magazine. The casting here is crazy-good, and the quality of actors is world-class, there’s even some great flashes of acting – but it’s all crushed under the weight of great expectations. The most fun you can get out of this is playing the “OMG it’s that guy” cameo-spotting game, with the likes of Toby Kebbell, Dean “Hank” Norris, Donna Air, Rosie Perez, Bruno Ganz. And seriously, does Cormac McCarty just sit at home thinking of new ways to kill people all day? In a nutshell, The Counselor is too arthouse-y for it’s own good – and the distracting stars, lifestyles, plot, and “that would be cool in a film” conversations make it all feel like a surreal advert – aimed more at getting punters in the screen, than delivering a decent film. You can’t help but feel disappointed that a cast/director/writer this good have produced something so ordinary and forgettable – when compared to a lesser cast and (arguably lesser) director doing balls-to-the-wall a film like Savages. The Counselor is a ridiculously convoluted (although NOT as hard to follow as people have made out) that lets us know immoral actions may have grave consequences – ahhh duh duh duh duh!
Killing Them Softly: a mob ‘enforcer’ investigates the robbery of a protected card game. the style is a bizarre mix of Indie/Arthouse, and cutting-edge (often trippy) blockbuster effects and visuals. The sound mix is equally as strange, mostly through the ‘background noise’ being deliberately amplified in almost every scene. The script is very dry, boring, overly – and offensively – misogynistic, and contains characters called Frankie, Mickey, Markie – which gets hard to follow at points. Most scenes are overlong and rambly, Gandalfini in particular gets far too much time. Pitt is the best in class, everyone else coasts on mob/Australian stereotypes. Scoot McNairy – decent performance, but hands-down THE most annoying voice of the year. There’s a blatant political/economic overtone – mostly through in-picture TVs/Radios – and it’s as subtle as a brick to the face. Most frustratingly,, it plays out exactly as you know it will; with no twists, turns, surprises or originality – and you can’t root for any of the characters. Killing Them Softly is a bleak / grim / crushingly realistic mobster-procedural critique of corporate culture (where underpaid people do the dirty work, and getting a decision from the bosses is impossible – original, huh?) – unfortunately, it’s nowhere near entertainment.
Tree of life: I’m never normally bothered by how arty or pretentious a film gets – if anything, it usually makes a film at least a little interesting… Despite this my cinema buddy and I endured around 30 minutes in to this before we realised that there was nothing on the screen that could hold down the film and tie together all of the random imagery that we were seeing. Entire segments featuring dinosaurs, stellar galaxies, wildlife, nature, scenery… for what purpose? Could someone please explain this to me? The Tree of Life takes the idea of a ‘narrative’ and clubs it in the face until all that’s left is a few recurring characters at 20 minute intervals. Non-linear storytelling can also be awesome, but if you could find the story in this, you’re a better man than I.
Despite being hooked in by Pitt and Penn, we realised there was around another 1 hour 50 minutes (total runtime of 140 minutes) – this was definitely a case of Tree of Life 1, Paragraph Film Reviews 0.
Alternative plans – 2 bonus hours of Call of Duty: Black ops.
Sleepers: after a prank goes wrong 4 childhood friends are sent to a correctional center, where their lives are changed forever. Most obviously, this features a powerhouse of actors doing great acting, like nothing I’ve watched in a loooong time. The kids, all great; the adults, just as good. De Niro, brilliant (why can’t he do this more often); Hoffman, top form; Bacon, creep-tastic; The King, not overdone… It’s like watching a masterclass. The story’s not the most upbeat, but is told expertly and handled tastefully. It’s well-directed and topped off with a solid, populist soundtrack. I genuinely have no idea where this film’s been hiding all my life. Despite the risqué material, this is a Grade A tour de force in story telling.
Megamind 3D: After finally defeating his nemesis, supervillain Megamind finds out that life without a hero around is actually quite boring, so he creates a new enemy, but things don’t all go to plan! This idea and story is novel and interesting for the first twenty minutes, but Megamind quickly runs out of steam as the last hour plays out. It’s 100% aimed at the kids – getting only a handful of chuckles from the adults, attributed to a couple of drawn-out jokes that die too fast: Metrocity / Metro City & Marlon Brando impression. The animation’s good, and characters are interestingly designed but then again pretty much every big-studio CGI affair works on this level these days. The 3D is also nice to look at, but loses its effect after 10-15 minutes. The main selling point is the high-end, and very recognisable voice actors; everyone’s good, but David Cross and Will Ferrell are particularly enjoyable. While the older audiences won’t get as much of this out of films like Toy Story and The Incredibles, the kids will absolutely love this.
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.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: A man lives his physical life backwards, from a pensioner to a baby while his mental age increases as normal – interesting premise. This reminded me a lot of Forrest Gump: extraordinary life, laced with American history, boats, war, walking troubles and romance all told in flashback. The main difference is that BB doesn’t rely on being fluffy and funny; it tackles the topic of death from the start, and was just a more modest, and believable (!) story. It does have some humour with the lightning strikes, Irish sailor, and general growing young antics. Every possible effect must have been used to make Pitt & Blanchett look young & old, and the scary pensioner-baby and man-child are like something from a horror film. My only big problem was the thick southern accents (particularly the mumbling woman on her death bed) a lot was lost in translation for me. The heavy symbolism and long runtime were also minor nags. Fincher’s on top form here and it could arguably be his finest film to date – tough call though. It’s a great story, brilliantly acted, powerful, engrossing and tugs at the heart strings.
Burn After Reading: black comedy from the Coen brothers about a bunch of exceptionally dumb people going through their mid-life crises; adult-themed hilarity ensues. More than anything this film’s great for letting us see long established actors like Brad Pitt / George Clooney playing absolute idiots. Pitt is especially funny, playing an air-head who’s sheer idiocy ensures he commands every scene he’s in. The plot seems fairly absurd until the last half hour when it comes together nicely, and the CIA meetings between JK Simmons and David Rasche are phenomenal. It’s technically sound, but above the comedy there’s not much else on offer. Coen fans will definitely love this but unless you like or ‘get’ black comedy it will probably just seem like a failed Adam Sandler-esque film. The fantastic cast definitely keep this film watchable.
The Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford: The title pretty much sums up this film – twice as long as it had to be. At 2:40 I thought there’d be a lot to get through… this wasn’t the case… and it took about an hour for the first good bit of story to develop. Genuinely felt that every scene was at least 30 seconds longer than it had to be. Capturing the 1880’s details was done well, but to the point that it was difficult to understand ye olde dialogue. The best thing about the film was the short bursts of narration. Casey Affleck / Pitt did a great job of acting, but Affleck’s whiney voice started grinding my gears after about an hour. There’s also a few great bits of cinematography / imagery. Should have been great, but was mauled by the pace.