Enemy At The Gates: Stalingrad is being attacked by the Nazis, and after a Russian sniper terrorises the Germans, they send their top marksman from a Berlin Sniper School in for an epic sharpshooting duel. How could a film about a sniper battle be so boring? There’s only a handful of kills and the rest is hammy, over-sentimental, schmaltzy war boringness and distracting “human element” side-story shite. The cast are confusing as shit too: there’s English people with cockney accents playing Russians, American’s doing German “Vith and Ak-scent”, and Ron Perlman (American) trying an English accent in order to fit in with ‘team Russia’ – accent-mageddon. I’m also pretty sure that no Russian ever spoke about “tea and a biscuit”. The look, feel and tone of the movie all reek of something from the 1950s – including bad acting, a poor script, the worst / most awkward love scene of the 2000’s, and a terrible “classic cinema” score that tells you exactly when you should be excited, crying etc. This is a film that starts off like Private Ryan on a budget and goes downhill from there. Utter war-pants.
Happy Endings (aka Winter Passing): when a struggling actress is offered some quick cash for her famous mother and father’s early love letters, she goes back home to weigh up her choices. First-off, this is Ms Deschanel being quirky and indie to the max: the movie opens with her singing at the 2 minute mark, and playing the piano within 15 mins so be prepared for full-on mopey, morose and tedious Zooey. It’s not just her though, every character is defined by their quirks and eccentricities, which makes them all memorable, but annoyingly the film ends up containing more randomness than a green flamingo in a roller-skate carrying a backpack full of iguana-flavoured blancmange. Don’t be fooled though, there’s some good moments of acting in here, particularly Ed Harris and Will Ferrel, who both go beyond their stereotyping and comfort zones. If you love a bit of shoe-gazing solemn quirkiness this will be right up your trendy street.
Cheer up goth!
Pain and Gain: A group of dim bodybuilders kidnap and extort some rich folks. This basically takes a bizarre true-crime story and gives it the Michael Bay treatment (boob job, botox, facelift etc). If there ever was a director with an unsympathetically “In-Yer-Face!” style, it would be Mr Bay. Every female in this is a big-titted supermodel, there’s scenes in strip-clubs where the camera just stares at topless strippers (I felt bad for not tipping), there’s a raft of un-PC/racist jokes, there’s midgets, supercar fascination, drugs, pumped up bodies, dildos / sex toys, dick and homo jokes, and generally everything is over-styalised, and turned up way past 11. In fact; Rebel Wilson’s token crude material is probably the least offensive thing in this. The direction is equally aggressive; resembling high-end music-videos with vibrant colours, rapid cuts, loud music, a superficial glaze, and plenty on-screen stamps/graphics reminding you of what you should be thinking. And having this much character narration is just plain-old sloppy for a director that’s been around as long as Bay. Despite all of the unlikable elements coming from behind the lens, at least he chose some of the most sympathetic and charismatic actors to front the movie: Wahlberg, The Rock, Anthony Mackie… however, these guys are playing cold-blooded, pre-emptive killers, who are picking on hard-working, self-made targets – hard to empathise with. On the upside, there a lot of laughs to be had in this, although they’re mostly at the expense of someone. There’s a fascinating story buried somewhere in this film, but you have to look so far behind all of the bullshit surface that it’s almost impossible to pick out – would have been much better as a less sensational, properly-handled movie.
The Rock: when some miffed ex-military seize Alcatraz and aim chemical rockets at San Fran, a SWAT team is sent in to the save he day. Unlike most run-of-the-mill action films this is genuinely intense in parts, and has a substantial story – particularly the bad guys cause, which makes you question if it’s wrong to be rooting for them. Connery plays a blinder, reprising the James Bond role (great article here) and owning every scene he’s in with all the best lines. Cage does his crazy/comedy acting that somehow fits the tone of the film perfectly, and you couldn’t hand pick a better bunch of bad guys if you tried. The only downside is that there are some ridiculous attempts at comedy that fail terribly, and undermine / cheapen the film. Despite that little niggle, It’s almost incomprehensible that Michael Bay used to make films this good. Brilliant 1990s action affair. Ahhhh, Nicolas Cage and his green balls…
The Way Back: book-to-film epic about a group of escaped convicts and their unbelievable journey – a 4,000 mile walk from a Siberian Gulag prison to safety in India. The biggest selling point is the fantastic cast, and nobody drops the ball here. Farrell‘s great as the tough inmate and Harris is superb as Mr Smith the American – Ronan as the girl and Sturgess as the lead are also enjoyable to watch. Furthermore, for having such a variation of accents there’s only one real lapse! In saying the above, the characters and drama are both pretty much by-the-numbers. Because of the scale of the journey the film’s quite long (133 mins) and the decision to railroad the entire Himalayan trek through in a few minutes of montage equally saved the film from being ridiculously long, but deducts from the size of that task (having spent the best part of an hour in Siberia and an hour in the desert). It also does particularly well to avoid laying it on thick with cheesy human adversity, resulting in a successful balancing act between a Historical Epic and keeping it firmly on the ground – there’s nothing glamorous about this journey. Watching the characters come out of their shell and bond throughout journey, coupled with the survival techniques makes for inspired viewing and saves this from being just lots and lots of boring walking. The Way Back reminded me of old-fashioned adventure films, pitting tiny humans against landscapes so monumental and beautiful, yet brutal. Seeing such stunning scenery, photographed this well is just begging for a great Blu Ray release. You know what you’re getting with this, and with the opening title letting you know how many people survive the trip; emphasis isn’t on the destination, but how you get there.