Thirst: after a failed experiment a priest develops an urge to drink human blood, it doesn’t help that the world thinks he’s blessed by god, and he’s falling in love. For most of the runtime the film never really ups gear, remaining slow and intense from start to finish – the setup in particular takes time to get going. Adding to the mood are some morbid undertones (suicidal priest, very awkward sex scene etc). The final act feels like a jumbled-up mess, with lots of sudden developments and a lot to tie up, although the last scenes do save the movie. Much like OldBoy, JSA, I’m a Cyborg, and Sympathy for Mr vengeance, Park Chan Wook’s streak of offbeat, oddball and very, very black humour crops up to provide some guilty laughs. Leading man Song Kang-ho is superb to watch as his character wrestles between his moral/religious background and new-found vampire urges. The scariest part of the film is how technically proficient and well-directed it is, no matter how dingy or clinical the settings are, they’re immaculately planned, framed to perfection, and the camera movement is immense… this guy is, without a doubt, one of the best directors in the world. Whilst Thirst is a fresh, poetic, and ultra-stylish take on the crammed vampire genre, its own silver bullet is the slow pacing and lack of drama for the most part. It’s not a bad film, by any stretch, but will probably appeal most to goths and fans of vampires / blood / self-harming / sex.
Buried [Blu Ray]: An American truck driver in Iraq wakens up in a coffin with a Zippo, Blackberry phone and a few other items; his shit has hit the fan. From Reynold’s instant panic at the blacked out start, and with the entire film playing out inside the box, this is very claustrophobic and unbelievably suspenseful. As time ticks down, and the story snakes forward it’s impossible not to get whipped up in the boiling tension – especially during the latter half when bigger events unfold. It’s not often that black humour can lighten the mood but when a film is this intense, being put on hold or flippant sarcasm does take the edge off – momentarily. Technically, it’s superb – the camera work, varied lighting and sound maximise the intensity, and for the Blu Ray, while the picture’s not particularly ‘worthy’, every single scratch, movement, phone tone and background noise punches through. The only limitation of the film is that if you don’t buy in, it will only ever be ‘a guy stuck in a box’. With a scope this tiny, you’d think 90 minutes would be a long stretch, but Buried is quite the opposite – hyper-dramatic to the very last frame – it’s amazing how much Cortés forces out of this concept, and kudos to Reynolds, who took yet another gamble on a left-field movie. Proof that a tiny, tight project can be just as good as any ‘tent-pole’ picture.
The Hangover Part II: Take my review of the first film – change mentions of ‘Vegas to Bangkok and it’s a job well done! Realising that the one-man wolf pack and Leslie Chow (the only two that pull off ‘funny’) were the best things about The Hangover, these two characters get even more screen time and gags than before. Once again, the humour is very Lad / Frat friendly and doesn’t appeal to everyone. Not much else to say other than it’s even more crass and offensive than the first, and seemed to have longer periods where nothing amazingly funny was happening. It’s good, but definitely more of an expansion pack than a new addition. Kudos to the people responsible for taking Hangovers for from a low-budget comedy to the biggest comedy of all time in 2 films!
Black Swan: when a devoted ballet dancer finally gets featured in the lead role of Swan Lake she has to deal with all the pressures that drove her predecessor crazy. To get it out of the way, nobody does ‘descending into madness’ quite like Aranofsky – and this is no different in that you genuinely have no idea if what your seeing is real, unreal, paranoia, hallucinations, fantasy, or mental illness. The second half on the film in particular has some genuinely chilling and thrilling scenes. To begin with the camerawork feels awkward and unnecessary – walking shots behind the heads – but it works surprisingly well for most of the film – particularly when it starts spinning around the dancers. The film also uses SFX outstandingly, and wiping out the cameramen in the reflections gives the viewer a strange haunting sensation. The new-age classical soundtrack is nothing short of stunning. Although I wasn’t convinced by the first 40 minutes, seeing the complex relationships (mum, teacher, peer) develop is thoroughly enjoyable, particularly because the film always keeps you guessing. Cassel and the Hershey both give show-stopping performances, although they’re overshadowed by Portman who puts everything out there, and becomes the definition of fragile, slowly and believably transforming into a woman on the brink of madness. Don’t understand the big deal around theater walk outs – it’s definitely not for the prudish, but there’s nothing offensive here. Despite everything in front of the camera being golden, the real star is the man behind it, who gets everything pitch perfect and creates an absolutely stunning finale. Ballet’s never been this sexy and dramatic.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: pulp noir parody about a small-time criminal that gets in way over his head when he discovers a Hollywood murder plot. At the centre of this are two rock solid characters; RDJ is a quirky lovable rogue, and Val Kilmer plays ‘Gay’ Perry, a hardened P.I. but again, quite likable. Both interesting, charming and acted superbly; the chemistry between them is second to none. As the film pans out the story broadens and remains interesting, but the best part of KKBB is the humour. Almost every base is covered; screwball, wit, black, gross out and slapstick – with corpses, fingers, dogs, guns and a Christmassy undertone. This is further backed up by a sharp script, littered with comedy gems. I also liked the non-glamourised aspect of being in bottom half of the film industry and L.A. social scene. There’s a few minor faults; pretty corny and obnoxious meta narration by RDJ, a lot of smug pulp and movie references, and for some people it’s probably too left field. It’s more of a mish–mash of genre than a single type too, although that could equally be a good thing. Other than the ridiculous action-hero ending KKBB is an absolutely solid film, funny, sharp, black and a total hoot.
The Good, The Bad, The Weird: Set in the 1930s, a bounty hunter, most-wanted criminal and petty thief are all after the same ancient treasure map. This flick has it all: style, action, plot, rivalry, twists, adventure, suspense, guns, huge sets, humour and explosions. Most of all, it’s actually great fun to watch, with the exception of a few short ‘meh’ sections and one psychedelic scene – the rest is all killer. The whole story, but most notably the final scenes are brilliantly executed classic Western. The Bad and Weird characters are great to watch, and the director‘s on good form. Definitely a bit more of a bloodbath than you’d expect from an upbeat film like this with scarlet, limbs and fingers flying all over the place. The audio track really comes alive during the action scenes and there’s a nice nod to Tarrantino with an epic song choice for the huge chase scene. There’s also a nice bit of Korean history thrown in the mix. Overall, it’s an amazing film from a director with a great track record, and another brilliant example of why Korea is one of the best countries as far as movie exports go.