Chinese Zodiac (十二生肖, CZ12): professional relic hunters scour the planet for 12 lost Chinese artifacts of the zodiac calendar. This most reminded me of The Extra Ordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc Sec – in that it’s a kids film with a big story, historical fantasy, and some PG-rated action. Speaking of which, no matter how many Jackie Chan action set-pieces you see, they never get tired or boring, and always have a jaw-dropping, unbelievable quality about them. It’s also a testament to his skills that even when he writes and choreographs the scenes – the ones where he’s not on-screen lack that special touch. Outside of the action, the film’s OK: a pretty standard globe-trotting, multi-lingual, universal-rating, big-name, big-budget, ‘big-appeal’ movie that’s been killed by committee. If this was only made of the JC action scenes you’d have to give this film a 10/10, however, the overly complicated story, continual flipping between languages, and some clunky CGI haul the overall product into the average zone.
Audition (オーディション, Ōdishon): a TV producer and widower stage a fake TV audition in order to find the latter a new wife, but the best candidate seems too good to be true. The opening half hour feels a little too rom-com-y for a ‘horror’ film (upbeat music, cheesy jokes etc). The film trudges on and after 1hr 15m of setup it gradually becomes weirder and more interesting until the payoff semi-ending finally kicks in. Knowing that there’s something not quite right with the ‘perfect girl’ is a tad unsettling, but you couldn’t have predicted an ending as extreme as this – the sound of bone being sawed is vomit-inducing! There’s a small, but obvious social critique about the time in lines like “The whole of japan’s lonely”, and “Japan is Finished” – not-so-subtle! What makes this worthwhile is that it is a unique horror film in that is doesn’t pander to conventions, or give you what you expect. It also beat the wave of late 2000s movies that kick-started ‘torture porn’/’Splatter’ craze again. As original and unique as Audition is, it’s essentially a psychological drama for this most part with 10 minutes of gore capping off a lot of humdrum!
Margin Call: ensemble piece set around the 2008 financial collapse, when bankers first discover how much they screwed up. Seeing as the whole world knows how this story ends, it feels a bit odd creating a tight drama out of it, especially only starring the culprits. The script feels like it’s been written by a committee of naïve, lefty students, with some terrible “OMG – guess how much this banker was paid last year” and “LOL- it’s OK to screw over the unwilling public” type dialogue thrown in every ten minutes, just in case you still happened to like/respect bankers. The film only really comes to life when Tucci, Spacey and Irons are in the frame; they do what they do best and for those scenes you can soak up the proper acting. Unfortunately, there are also scenes where broody Baker and Moore struggle to convince, or keep up with the big boys. It is – and feels like – someone’s first time behind the camera; filmed in a rough-ish documentary style, when it needed to be more slick, engaging, flashy or all three. The best bits of Margin Call are powerful scenes with A-listers earning their buck and dropping your jaws; the worst parts feel like unnecessary hindsight-laden anti-banking propaganda.
Wrecked: A man wakens up in a mangled car at the bottom of a cliff, with no memory of what happened and a shattered leg, he has to survive and figure it out. Sounds interesting, but it boils down to Adrien Brody being stuck in a car for 30 minutes then crawling around in the woods for a further 50 minutes. It’s a poorly told story, with nothing significant revealed until the last two minutes, which is pointless as you never connect with the main guy. Brody’s good, but doesn’t have to do much more than grunting, crawling and crying. Would have been a walkout after 60 minutes if it had a longer run time – it’s a shorty. Wrecked is a nice concept, but with crap execution – feels like a rushed, poorly planned project that was shot in a couple of days.
The Artist: follows a silent film star struggling to cope with the advent – and subsequent dominance – of sound in Hollywoodland after 1927. It’s black and white, there’s almost no digetic sound, the picture is box ratio… yet it’s in crystal clear HD! Definitely missed a trick with ‘worn footage’ or ’genuine reel’ look, feel and sound that would have polished off the aesthetics perfectly. Despite this, the film looks sublime, is beautifully shot and full of bold, striking, iconography and period detail – all packed in to the stunning mise en scéne. The charisma of both leads leaps off the screen – genuine eye candy – particularly Dujardin who without saying a word effortlessly entertains for the duration, while guiding you through his highs and lows better than most ‘talkie’ actors can. The story is simple, and drawn out in parts, most noticeable in the mid-section (Valentin’s struggle), giving the film quite a large, over-emphasised, centre-sag. The original score feels authentic, old-timey, and carries the movie during the slower parts. Above all else, The Artist is an adorable love-letter to ‘classic’ cinema in both its style and content; the opening theatre-in-theatre is silver-screen gold. However, because of this – and in the same vein as films like Cinema Paradiso – it feels like most critics, reviewers and cinema enthusiasts have been hypnotized by the cinematic history/nostalgia (combined with the non-standard formatting) and are clambering over each other to gush the highest praise imaginable. It’s a cute period piece, no doubt, but ‘Film of the Year’ is a big stretch for me. Equally good and novel (if you never watch B/W/Silent films), The Artist is enjoyable, entertaining and undeniably unique sitting in modern cinema listings; but the more steps back you take towards objectivity, the lighter, fluffier and style-dependent it begins to look.
50/50: a healthy 27-year-old is diagnosed with a rare spinal cancer, and we follow him through the ordeal. This is a difficult film to fairly review because it was pitched through the trailers / posters as a Rogen-esque comedy; however, it’s actually pretty intense, and the serious stuff far, far outweighs the lolz. I guess there’s a zaror to walk between giving cancer enough gravitas and trivialising it, but at least sell it as a drama – like Adam. With this in mind the film puts you through half a dozen or so ridiculously emotional beatings through the various stages of the illness. The cast are very strong; J.G.L. is a powerhouse – arguably his best performance, Rogen reels in his comedy schtick; BDH puts in a respectable short shift as the girlfriend, and although Kendrick can’t quite keep up, my mind was full of dirty thoughts when she was on screen anyway. 50/50 is serious, it’s dramatic, it’s touching, and it’s nothing short of an emotional smackdown. It also has a little bit of funny, but had I known what I was in for I’d have waited for DVD (and cried like a bitch in private).