Gladiator: an army general turned slave must rise from the pits of the Colosseum and take down a false leader who murdered his family, friends, and previous employer. The cast is a jaw-dropping mix of ‘classic’ thespians, up-and-comers, bodybuilders, and comedians but everyone feels completely at home in their roles. The plot is simple, but packed with so much Shakespearean betrayal and deception that feels hypnotic in parts. Action scenes are huge, flashy, and bloody – but remain visceral & entertaining, and stand up against anything coming out today. It’s hard to find flaws in this: In fact, my only minor niggle is that some of the setup feels rushed and clunky; like how you can pick anyone off the ground and make ‘em a slave. You know a film is special when even after a handful of viewings and years of TV re-runs it still grips you, and the 155 minute runtime flies by. Everything about Gladiator feels truly ‘epic’ in the classic Hollywood sense – the sets, the action, the plot, the acting, the score – and it all comes together perfectly to create what’s arguably the perfect swords and sandals film.
Justified: The Final Season (Season 6) – Old-school kick-ass US Marshall Raylan Givens tries to put his lifelong nemesis Boyd Crowder behind bars before he gets re-posted to Miami. I didn’t get round to writing up reviews of Seasons 4 & 5 as they felt like the show was resting on its laurels – but Season 6 brings back all of the elements that make Justified a great show to watch; well written storylines and characters, fantastic dialogue, and a thick streak of humour – it’s entertaining TV in its purest form. The writing is particularly special in this season, which boasts an intricate, overlapping and multi-layered story that sees the upper hand continually shift between the law, and Harlan’s various quibbling crime factions. Everyone that’s still alive gets drafted back in, and because it’s the final season there’s no shortage of people being written out either – usually at the behest of Boyd, to make him seem more dangerous than the last few seasons. The only thing that is missing is a baddie that matches the villainous heights of Quarels or Maggs Bennett – or even a consistent henchman – but with all of the other fireworks going on, it’s not as big a deal as the previous seasons. The final 20 mins our may divide people, as it plays out in an ‘X years later’ fashion, trying to round everything off. Season six had a major legacy to uphold and close out, which it managed comfortably, while staying true to the characters, which are the biggest draw to the show – Olyphant and Goggins will always be Raylan and Boyd to Justified fans. Season six is a satisfying conclusion to one of the most enjoyable and truly entertaining shows on TV – sad to see it hand over its gun and badge.
Breaking Bad (Season 4): The pressure’s turned up even higher as Walter White and his protégé Jessie Pinkman play a dangerous game of tactics with Mexico and ABQ’s top drug kingpins. This is the first season of BB that comes out of the blocks sprinting, starting dramatically, with the coldest murder to date. Almost every episode has a narrative purpose, story & character development and some solid drama – it’s not just about the characters anymore (finally). Needless to say the acting is some of the finest on TV; Walt and Jessie continue to evolve, but it’s Gus who shines brightest as an ever-calm, focused, calculating, courteous, professional, ruthless, business-minded, innocuous drug lord. Hank gets a lot more time, and a gripping sub-plot as he does some top investigation work; as does Mike, Gus’ hardened, dryly comic right-hand man. Visually, the show is like nothing else, with so many innovative & beautiful time-lapses, montages, and knockout camera shots. They’re often unusually high or low which sticks out; attached to an object (like a shovel or self-navigating vacuum cleaner); and sometimes stuck inside / behind / under something – a pipe or oven – and there’s even a dodgy ‘filming up through glass pretending to be underground’ shot. The show’s visual flair is one of its best and most unique features, and something that always keeps you on your toes. The tone also becomes more eclectic as everything closes in on Walt: synth music and manic laughter wouldn’t feel out of place in The Shining, and there’s some flat-out slapstick moments like Walt scrambling around his house trying to evade hitmen. Season 4 is when Breaking Bad finally makes the leap from good to fantastic and unmissable TV; every aspect is continually improving and evolving in to everything you could ask of a show; stylistically, plot-wise, and such 3D characters – which comes together to produce a final product that is entertaining, thrilling, dark, funny, ‘gritty’, and believable.
Breaking Bad Season 1 Review
Breaking Bad Season 2 Review
Breaking Bad Season 3 Review
The Man with the Iron Fists: loads of warring factions descend upon ‘Jungle Village’ to snatch up some government gold. It could have just been the version I saw but parts of this looked re-dubbed and deliberately out of synch, with illegible subtitles barely peeking up from bottom? While that’s cute, all of the fancy tricks and money can’t re-create the cheese and charm of a low-budget kung-fu flick. Highlights of this film are the absolutely awesome wire-work, fight choreography, and ultra-gore – there’s more throat rips than MacGruber. There’s also a pretty good cast, with some familiar faces; Bond Baddie, Pai Mei encore, and Russel Crowe (‘Jack Knife’ – LOL!) clearly just there to molest hot-chicks – which will make you nauseous. RZA – a Badass black blacksmith with a penchant for Assassin’s Creed clothing and Jax from Mortal Kombat forearms – was alright, deliberately kept his bit to a minimum, which was a wise choice for a non-actor. The film looks solid – costumes, sets, backdrops – all make for popping visuals. The story was a little too convoluted and complex for the first-time director – but the wow-cast and action were distracting enough. From an action perspective, The Man with the Iron Fists has some great scenes, but as a ‘film’, it’s quite flimsy and superficial, and feels far like more of a continuation/extension of the running in-jokes that the WuTang clan have long had with olde, badly dubbed Kung Fu films. (See Kung Faux).
American Reunion: the original gang head back to Great East Falls for their ‘Class of 99’ high school reunion, but will they be up to their same old antics? In a nutshell, it’s pretty obvious that the cast have struggled to shake off the image from the first few films (which were such a phenomenon at the time) and are only looking to make a bit of good cash again. In my books, Sean William Scott (Stifler) is the only one that’s done well – but even he’s still typecast! Being honest – although they’re all flatter than stamps – it is good to see everyone back on the screen again, and it’s even better when the smaller characters keep popping up: Shermanator, MILF guys, Nadia, Stiffler’s Mum, Jim’s dad etc etc. As before, the soundtrack is very punchy and pop-rock filled (with a nice encore from one of the original tunes), but has some of the most uninspired literal lyrics to match the scenes that I’ve ever seen. The story’s a bit of a mess; it feels like a bunch of random / funny scenes that loosely fit the tired ‘shaky friendship’ story arc. It’s all a bit business as usual, from the gratuitous boob / bum shots, slow motion scenes of hot babes being hot babes and plenty alcohol-fueled regrettable & misunderstood scenarios. I won’t lie, I laughed, lots so on a comedic level it’s better than expected, but overall it feels much safer than the original three. American Reunion is familiar territory (dick and poop gags), that will land well as a nostalgia piece for people like me that grew up on the first films; however, younger viewers will see this as a pretty weak effort, especially in the wake of films like Superbad, Pineapple Express, et al.
Alternative sticker, will be in the DVD extras