Body of Lies: while hunting for a big fish terrorist, power and the upper hand continually shift between the Americans, Jordanian secret service and the man on the ground trying to bridge the cultural gap. It has the look and feel of an action thriller, but there’s not a whole lot of action (although when it’s on, it’s fairly violent). There’s a romance corner, an espionage corner, a cultural differences corner – it juggles quite a few things, which are all are done reasonably well, and fused together nicely. The problem is that with all of these things going on, it feels less focused than something like Zero Dark Thirty – the peripheral stuff detracts from the central terrorist plot. Also, because the whole Jihad genre has had a lot of material lately, they all sort of blend in to one – it took took well over an hour to realise I’d already seen this. Acting wise, you completely buy in to Di Caprio‘s conflicted character; Crowe properly gets on your nerves as the brash and cocksure US agent; and you marvel at Strong’s portrayal of an old-school espionage master. Body of Lies looks and feels as slick as you’d expect from Ridley Scott; it’s also acted beyond what you’d expect from A-listers; unfortunately the plot feels completely borrowed and unimaginative. Despite looking a little worn and generic these days, it’s still completely serviceable modern jihad-thriller.
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.
I Saw the Devil: when his fiancé falls prey to a deadly serial killer a secret service agent will stop at absolutely nothing to get even with the perpetrator. Make no mistake, this is revenge, Korean Style, and some parts of this picture make Oldboy look like a kids film – masochistic, nasty, graphic moments of extremely inhumane behavior. These would normally put you off, but this is so well crafted, and masterfully/beautifully shot (by – arguably – Korea’s best director) that it absolutely captivates. There are so many outstanding & memorable scenes: the riverside one is heartbreaking, agriculture one shocking, and many more jaw-dropping moments. Acting across the board is great, but the two (arguably Korea’s best actors) leads are absolutely mesmerising: Lee Byung-hun and Choi Min-Sik doing it
gangnam world-class style. There’s a lot of ‘blood on your hands’ / ‘becoming a monster’ themes, which get a little tedious and feel over-emphasised. I Saw the Devil has everything: tension, drama, black-comedy, gore, shock, thriller, nasty, nice and everything in between – it’s all in there, and it’s all handled spectacularly by the director and his leading men. It may be too dark, graphic or gristly for some, but if you’ve got a strong stomach this is a fantastic film.
Juan of the Dead (Juan De Los Muertos): when zombies infest Havana Juan and his friends start up a zombie disposal service for survivors that want zombies out of their house. For a zom-com this is, crucially, really funny – the film’s held together with great moments of dark humour, and several genuinely laugh-out-loud running gags about the zombies being branded “dissidents” by the government, harpoons and poking fun at wider horror clichés. For a country with such a tiny film industry, it’s well shot and directed – with decent action scenes (mostly hacking and slashing) – and it looks great, save for some lame CGI explosions. The political undertones and jibes at the government are great because it’s something that Romero did at the beginning of the Zombie resurgence that has been lost in the plethora of modern flicks. Being Spanish, it does suffer from some over-acting, with most of the supporting cast ‘hamming it up’, and for some reason, a completely unnecessary random man in drag. It’s also crammed with naff music that sounds ripped off of cheap TV adverts and old ‘carry on’ films. Juan of the Dead is far more than just a witty title (and tagline “He’s Havana killer day”) – it’s a funny, entertaining zombie romp with more to say than most horror films.
“She’s a blogger; one of those people that write nonsense on the internet”
Django Unchained: a German bounty hunter frees a slave, then partners up with him to make some cash and rescue his girl from a flamboyant plantation owner. As expected, Waltz absolutely steals the show with what’s essentially a re-write/reprise of his intelligent, oddly-humorous ‘Jew-hunter‘. Everyone else turns up and does their thing entertainingly enough. While the film pokes a lot of fun at the stupidity of racism (KKK mask scene & Sam Jacksons rant about Foxx sleeping in the house), for me the ‘N-Bomb’ is dropped far, far too often: which may have been accurate of the period, but it’s such a loaded word that drags the tone down – taking it way beyond any ‘light-hearted’ Blazing Saddles similarities. Clocking in at 2hr 45, it’s also far, far too drawn out, for such a simple revenge tale, especially once Dicaprio pops up: some scenes seem to go on forever with rambling, empty, dialogue and plodding shot after shot. While they’re all quintessential Tarantino scenes, it also suffers from his trademark lack of self-censorship. Finally, although, stylistically, most scenes are undeniably QT -and this isn’t really his fault – his style’s been ripped off so many times (funky music, uber-gore and back-and-forth dialogue) that it no longer packs the punch it once did. As a stand-alone film, Django Unchained is a decent film dragged down by its ‘epic’ runtime and the difficult task of balancing racism and comedy. It’s only when you step back and hold it up against a film like Inglorious – equally long, but crammed with great, tense and cinematic moments – that you realise how ordinary Django Unchained is.
Immortals: King Hyperion will stop at nothing to obtain the Epirus Bow, but he faces an unlikely challenge from a peasant trained by Zeus himself. Directed by Tarsem – as you’d expect the clothes, masks, set designs and attention to detail is immaculate. It’s also technically impressive, well shot, and a good blend of CGI and real images that other directors would shun away from. Tarsem has some moments of intense vivid uber imagery (what he does best) however, the producers have clearly forced in as many ‘300’ similarities that the contract would support: plastic skies, million-man armies, traitors, rippling abs, oracles, boring grey colour pallets, scrolling one-on-twenty fight scenes… which everyone’s seen before, loads. The story is put to the front and played out well, although there are times when you think ‘less talk, more rock please’. It’s well cast, with Luke Evans, Stephen Dorff, Freida Pinto and John Hurt standing atop a mountain of decent performances; for a stylised Greek Myth! While it’s very watchable and a decent film, The Immortals and the Fall perfectly illustrate the differences between such an imaginative and unique director doing a stunning self-financed film, and a studio-backed blockbuster with some shining moments.
Drive: Follows a professional stunt driver (moonlighting getaway driver) as he makes a unique connection with his neighbour, and her criminal husband. This is a fascinating mix of raw drama and the most brutal violence you’ll see all year. Gosling is phenomenal; with so few lines (but when he speaks, he means it) this could have gone pear-shaped but his entire body tells so much more about the methodical, isolated driver character than any script could. The rest of the cast do well to keep up, except Ron Perlman, who is, as always, categorically pants – at least he’s consistent! What’s most apparent is that the film’s meticulously put together; tension levels are unbearable in parts (opening 15 will blow you away), music’s memorable and used effectively, general ambience is great, and it’s stylishly filmed yet maintains a painfully indie vibe – you couldn’t really ask for more in a film. Hopefully, this will have a bigger longer life in DVD players than the two-weeks it appears to be getting in most cinemas.