The Frozen Ground: when an upstanding citizen is accused of kidnapping, torturing and raping a ‘lying’ prostitute the case is immediately dropped, but lands on the desk of a diligent detective. The first-time director coaxes solid performances from an impressive cast: Con Air’s Cage and Cusack are always welcome (and Cage looks like he actually wants to be here!), supported by the likes of Vanessa Hudgens, Dean Norris, Kurt Fuller, Brad Henke, and 50 Cent’s teeth. Unlike 99% of serial killer films, this is different because you know very quickly who the baddie is – it’s not a random character added in the last act – so we see the cop stalking the killer, while the he tries to evade detection, not unlike Insomnia (in setting / location too). In fact the only real mis-step is the clichéd ‘over-committed-detective-with-suffering-family’ trope, but it’s a minor part of the picture. As great as this is, it’s a tough one to recommend because it’s pretty grim viewing in parts, but I’d put this as being head and shoulders above your average movie in the burgeoning ‘true crime / serial killer’ genre.
Filth: a detective gunning for promotion is also heading for a breakdown, but how long can he keep his many plates spinning? This is the latest movie adaptation of an Irvine Welsh book, and feels like it’s going for a “Trainspotting for the teenies” angle. It would be silly to complain about the content of a film called Filth, but in case you need a heads-up: it’s crammed with deviant sex & sexuality, drug use, violence, and oodles of fantastically creative swearing, amongst other things. The over-emphasis of the of the craziness going on in Bruce’s mind – hallucinations, binges, sex, porn – don’t really detract from the story, because Bruce’s nose-candy nose-dive IS the story. Despite all the headline-grabbing controversial content crammed into this, the main talking point is undoubtedly James McAvoy’s performance; in an era where leading men no longer required to be likeable or even remotely empathetic, he works wonders with the few tiny slivers of humanity he gets. My biggest concern of the picture however is it’s extremely unflattering – and wholly unrealistic – take on Scotland and it’s culture: if it’s not films about the Loch Ness Monster, it’s about the druggies of Trainspotting, Red Road, NEDS, and now Filth – the Scottish tourist board must really hate our film industry.
Ted: a young boy who wished that his teddy bear could come to life and be his best friend gets just that, but 25 years later their friendship is tested by a smelly girl! With Wahlberg, McFarlane and Kunis as the leads you know that this one should be funny, and it is. They’re also aided by some ace casting of the smaller roles; Giovanni Ribisi, Joel McHale, Ryan Reynolds, Sam Jones etc. The film’s pretty much gag-o-rama, with the funniest ones being the ‘shouldn’t be laughing’ moments – the Airplane / Saturday Night Fever homage to a spoof was brilliantly used too. The downside is that the direction is fairly plain, and story is weak, and although it’s funny, it’s not end-to-end-side-splittingly-good. The bottom line is that as a (live action) extension of family guy – cast, voices, music – the Ted does alright, but as a ‘film’, it doesn’t quite cut the mustard. It’s definitely funny, but most of it is forgettable.
Killing Them Softly: a mob ‘enforcer’ investigates the robbery of a protected card game. the style is a bizarre mix of Indie/Arthouse, and cutting-edge (often trippy) blockbuster effects and visuals. The sound mix is equally as strange, mostly through the ‘background noise’ being deliberately amplified in almost every scene. The script is very dry, boring, overly – and offensively – misogynistic, and contains characters called Frankie, Mickey, Markie – which gets hard to follow at points. Most scenes are overlong and rambly, Gandalfini in particular gets far too much time. Pitt is the best in class, everyone else coasts on mob/Australian stereotypes. Scoot McNairy – decent performance, but hands-down THE most annoying voice of the year. There’s a blatant political/economic overtone – mostly through in-picture TVs/Radios – and it’s as subtle as a brick to the face. Most frustratingly,, it plays out exactly as you know it will; with no twists, turns, surprises or originality – and you can’t root for any of the characters. Killing Them Softly is a bleak / grim / crushingly realistic mobster-procedural critique of corporate culture (where underpaid people do the dirty work, and getting a decision from the bosses is impossible – original, huh?) – unfortunately, it’s nowhere near entertainment.
Matador: a struggling salesman and troubled hitman meet in a bar… no it’s not a joke! First thing’s first, Brosnan absolutely owns this film as an alcoholic, borderline psychopathic, burn-out, jaded, lonely, vulgar assassin with homosexual undertones, including a wicked tache and fashion sense. He is nothing short of pure entertainment, with great comedy timing and black comedy vibe, effortlessly creating an unforgettable character. Greg Kinnear’s also rock solid, and plays the straight-laced guy perfectly – because there’s only two mains they’re both fleshed out well. There’s a great off-kilter tone throughout and it harks back to the classic screwballs – which keeps the film interesting. Visually, it’s delightful with lots of bright colours, tourist-friendly cinematography and some unique direction. There’s a few great songs masterfully inserted too. Of all the decent things that Broz has ever done, this is the one film that put him up for a Golden Globe – make sure you see why! Bottom line, it’s a well-made, very funny, black screwball comedy with two great characters at the centre.
Horrible Bosses: three friends are having major issues at work and decide it would be best if their bosses weren’t around any more… so they hire a ‘murder consultant’. The three bosses (Spacey, Aniston, Farrell) are all well cast and solid comedy characters. The three goons pull off the comedy of errors pretty well; albeit in a Hollywood shouty fashion, especially the little guy. However, it’s Jamie Foxx in the cameo role that and outshines and outfunnies everyone else put together with immaculate comedy timing. Worth noting that Aniston looks amazing, and gets to say some unbelievably filthy lines – ‘I fingered myself so hard I broke a nail’ – for the guys, this has been a looooong time coming! The majority of the jokes are consistent, and pretty funny, although mostly lowbrow crude/sex orientated – which is a shame as it had massive black comedy potential. It’s also well shot and has the advantage of being one of those films that everyone can relate to – who hasn’t had a boss that was a Psycho, Maneater or Tool at some point?! Horrible bosses is far better than it looks, and a contender with Bridesmaids for Comedy of the year.
Luther (Series 2): Detective CI John Luther Thud! Is back on the streets of London Thud! Stopping more bad guys Thud! and saving the day Thud… Hear that? That’s the sound of the BBC dropping the balls of everything that made series one great. 1) Format changed from 1 hour 1 case to 2 hours 1 case – also instead of 6 there are only 4 episodes (and only 2 cases) 2) Bad guys are ridiculous, one is straight out of a Saw film, and the other was just a normal nerd – neither particularly scary, or believable 3) Good, established characters are neglected – most noticeably crazy Alice, who is majorly poo poo’d – and the show suffers big time – and Schenk, who was hot on Luther’s heels in S1 and now his immediate boss. 4) Worst side story ever (Geezers, porn, drugs…) although I strongly suspect it was written as a 2-episode case, but was so bad they cut it in to the others as a backstory. 5) Super-Luther… he was suspiciously good in Series 1, but it’s all a bit too “just one more thig…” this time round. On the up side, there’s some really tense scenes, we get more of Ripley, the acting and production are to a high standard, and it’s still watchable. Don’t get me wrong, Series 2 is still good TV by UK standards, but it’s a mere shadow of the brilliant series 1.
The Lincoln Lawyer: follows a defense attorney that will represent any scumbag if the money’s right, but his latest case isn’t all it seems. First off, this is way, way better than the trailer makes the film look. Being based on a successful novel, the story’s rock solid, and stands up to the best court-based dramas out there at the moment (i.e. The Good Wife). There’s plenty interesting developments as the story moves forward. It’s also quite slick and really well made; the standout shot being the long revolving one in the courthouse. From out of nowhere McConaughey’s is excellent as a streetwise southern lawyer and Phillippe rises to the challenge with an equally believable performance. It’s a little slow in the 3rd quarter, and could have probably done without the last 15 minutes (everything after the major verdict) but hey ho, it still works well. Sack the casting director too; putting in two of the three most obvious latino typecasts working today. I was pleasantly surprised walking out of the cinema after this, well worth your time if you like your legal-flicks, topped off with a superb bluesy/R&B soundtrack.
The Mechanic: after wiping out his boss and mentor a Mechanic (Hitman) takes it upon himself to train the boss’s wayward son – but will the son find out his dirty secret… What can you really say about this one? Jason Statham playing another Jason Statham character in a Jason Statham film for the umpteenth time – if you don’t know the drill by now, please exit the cinema quietly. The story’s 100% predictable, right down to the very last Statham scene – absolutely no surprises. On the other hand the acting’s generally pretty damn fine and although there’s not as much Statham action as you’d expect, it’s all done really well and there’s some really memorable Statham deaths. Knowing what kind of Statham film this is – and needs to be – everything is geared at the lads; there’s the gratuitous nudity & Statham sex scene, antique cars, and laughable close up shots of manly men (i.e. Statham) firing big guns with huge bullet casings flying out the side. The fantastic Statham script pleases the crowd, with all the cheeky Statham hard-man line’s you’d expect; someone even tells Statham: “I’ll put a bounty on your head so big you own reflection will want to shoot you in the face” a quality Statham film line by any previous film standards. Disappointingly, there are two major distractions from this Statham fest in Ben Foster‘s scrawny little tramp beard and ridiculously shitty French muse hat – no points to the costume designer! If you like Statham doing his Statham thing in a Statham film this will certainly not disappoint Statham fans. The mechanic is nothing new, or nothing original but it’s a well-excecuted popcorn action flick. Statham!
The American: after a failed attempt on his life a master gunmaker accepts one final high-profile job, but must lay low and avoid other assassins. The plot’s a stripped down spy/thriller; almost like a bare-bones bond film – action, girls, locations… Clooney is fantastic for such a one-man show; all about the physical acting, but resists exaggeration – a massive pitfall when dialogue’s this sparse. The story and script are water-tight, every single line is spoken for a reason or explained later. The film’s extremely well-made, with lots of striking, bold and memorable shots/scenes and what little action unfolds is skillfully executed. It’s hard to miss the European style – down to the awesome nudity! – although the side-effect of such slow pacing is something that will alienate some viewers. it’s a great character piece, and Clooney keeps reminding us that he’s one of the finest, and most diverse, actors out there at the moment. Everything about the film is minimal, clean and genuinely believable – very enjoyable and rewarding.
We Are What We Are: Mexican film about a cannibal family who don’t know what to do when the father (and provider) dies. Sounds like a great premise for a black comedy of errors, right? Wrong. This one was Arthouse – to the point of parody – for the entire duration. Shot after shot of people looking vacant with a somber cello accompaniment; the entire soundtrack was hammy and very old-fashioned. There was very little gore, and when it arrived it felt gratuitous and out-of-place – bones snapping and many more sound effects from a butcher’s counter. The acting was decent, especially the kids – but the mother was exactly like the crazy gypsy from Drag Me To Hell. This would have fitted in quite well with the ‘video nasties’ of the 1970s, but today it just seems totally feeble. Missed a lot of tricks. Bad, slow, un-engaging, pretentious and dull ‘horror’.
The Killer Inside Me: American Noir set in the 1950s – a chilling character study of a sociopathic sheriff. Pretty much every review focuses and questions the two violent scenes so here goes: in my opinion the violence is shocking, but isn’t just a cheap shock; it’s to help us get further into Lou’s head, showing the audience that he has absolutely no boundaries or morals. Is the film misogynistic? Yes, but that’s because Lou is, and at least it doesn’t glamourise violence like so many other flicks. Beatings aside, whiny Casey Affleck fits the lead role perfectly, and considering he’s in every scene he never becomes boring, stale or overbearing. His believability and end-to-end range really shine through here. The rest of the cast are good, but all feel like bit-parts. Winterbottom’s style is pretty slick and although it’s clearly well-directed, aspects like the offbeat soundtrack and try-hard Noir vibe weary thin by the end. There are also some very, very dark bits of humour usually through Lou’s misunderstanding of normal people, but it probably wasn’t funny to most. Then there’s the ending, which for me was so ridiculous and out of tone with the rest of the story that I’m 95% sure it was a dream. The walkouts through the screening emphasised that this isn’t for everyone, mainly because it’s probably the closest you’ll get to feeling like a serial killer: we hear Lou’s every thought & justification and see both his flashbacks and events in his perspective. You will watch some bits through your fingers, but as much as it’s divided critics, it’s probably the single best example of a director harnessing the power of cinema to manipulate his audience in years. This is our generation’s, much more effective, Henry: portrait of a Serial Killer.
The Air I Breathe: Four separate stories of characters based on the emotions Happiness, Pleasure, Sorrow and Love are linked by a ruthless gangster. A somewhat tired idea these days that lands in the Crash / Amores Perros / Babel genre. For the most part the casting is unadventurous, Garcia, Bacon, Whitaker all play bread and butter roles. Hirsch is chronic. Michelle Gellar is really good but the real standout was Brendan Fraser; especially given how unconventional his character is. He pulls off an awesome performance; gruff, grim and interesting. FAO his agent, sack shit like Furry Vengeance and get him more roles like this, pronto! The cheesy voiceovers give the film a bizarre aftershave commercial feel and ‘Fingers’ is such a terrible name for a baddie. The big problem was that the four individual segments were too short and broad to build on the characters effectively. Towards the end the story comes together nicely (albeit quite cheesily) but just doesn’t quite have the full effect. Overall this has good intentions but just fails to rock you. A decent effort by any standards but could have been a real tour de force.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans. Werner Herzog’s tale of a crooked cop in post-Katrina New Orleans. This is to all intents and purposes a Nic Cage film, and boy is he back on form; overacting an eccentric, pain-ridden dirty cop and tripping on-screen for the full 2 hours… this is the man we fell in love with. The drug use brings a few bizarre and surreal moments ranging from Croc and Iguana close-ups to a breakdancing soul and Cage just talking absolute rubbish. There’s a good amount of very dark humour despite the drugs, murders, prostitution, blackmails and general shenanigans of the worst cop ever. The ending – particularly the scene at the Lieutenant’s desk where everyone visits him – felt like a massive cop-out and could have been so much more. Eva Mendes is good (and hot!), Stiffler‘s mum looks a little worse for wear until the end, Val Kilmer‘s only in about 3 scenes and I can’t see Xzibit without thinking about Pimp My Ride / Yo Dawg Yo. It’s really well shot, doesn’t drag too much and you know it’s well told when no matter how low the Lieutenant stoops, you’re still rooting for him. The amoral protagonist and situations he instigates will probably be the biggest turn-off here, nevertheless it’s a solid detective / drama film.
The Nines: 2007 ‘thriller’/mindfuck about a computer programmer, screen-writer and actor who are all connected in some way. It comes out of the blocks as a junkie-flick like ‘Spun’ and the rest of the first episode’s like a cheap soap with some of the cheesiest background music in history, then a documentary, then a TV movie, then a computer game… Reynold’s acting is also either a) a solid job at making the film a bit surreal, or b) so crap, he makes the film feel surreal. I think – and really hope – it’s the former. The main attraction of this film was that it’s a proper ‘thinker’. In the same vein as Waking Life and Primer you need to do a bit of thinking in to ‘get it’, otherwise it won’t make any sense. 2 days later, I’m still trying to figure it out… but that’s the attraction for me. Not the most polished piece of cinema, but definitely pushing boundaries.
The Departed: modern twisty cop tragedy based on a Hong Kong trilogy and set in Boston; which tees up some of the worst crimes against accents in modern cinema – the foxy psychiatrist being the biggest offender. There’s a lot of ‘hard’ and seemingly strange cuts & edits, with some amateur-looking camerawork in places (although it won Best Picture / Best Editing Academy Awards: so it must just be me!). Despite these foibles you still get absolutely immersed courtesy of the superstar cast and phenomenal story. Walberg’s rage and Nicholson’s insanity are especially great to watch, although all the mains put on a noteworthy show. The soundtrack’s also used brilliantly to get you more involved in the scenes, and the last hour of this film is pure cinema gold, with drama and twists all over the shop! It’s a great film, and if you liked this a lot it’s 100% worth watching the original ‘Infernal Affairs’ trilogy. It won’t do Boston tourism, or the Irish, any favours…
Volver: borderline surreal movie that tells the story of a Spanish family going through some rough times. It would be impossible to watch this film and not notice that it’s pretty much a showcase of Penelope Cruz (and her magnificent chest). Despite this her performance is stellar as she leads the cast cast, once again proving that Spanish-language films truly bring out the best in her. The film’s shot brilliantly, and the vibrant colours and great cinematography really bring another dimension – the Blu Ray would be great. There’s a lot of over-acting, almost to soap opera level, and as the story progresses it gets less believable to the point where the drama isn’t effective. Some great dialogue and black comedy moments throughout too. All-in, it’s very Spanish and unmistakably Almaldovar, which is by no means a bad thing; although it’s not quite his best. Definitely worth watching.
Princess (2006): mostly animation, but spliced with grainy real video. A Danish film about one man’s bad-blood with the porn industry. Weird story, weird animation and some royally fucked-up subject matter… Worth a look for those that like their films ‘different’, but slow pace to begin with may put people off.
Romanzo Criminalé: Set in Italy during the 70s/80s this film follows the rise (and fall) of a notorious crime gang in Rome – including their links with fascists and the government. It starts with lots of fast-paced action but after about an hour turns into the usual downfall / betrayal stories associated with gang films. It’s along the same lines as Goodfellas & Godfather and if you can stick it out to the end – almost 3 hours – it’s a pretty good film. Acting’s top drawer, the story’s pretty epic and the location (and retro Italy backdrop) are all fairly convincing.
In Bruges: Picked this up on the cheap from HMV yesterday and watched it straight away. One word: Brilliant. Lots of very dark comedy, although you could easily relate to the characters as they were pretty believable. Plenty of funny twists and turns and it’s got some serious subject matter too. To top it all off the scenery is great – makes you really want to go there. Don’t know whether it was the Belgian connection or just the insight of a hitman but it REALLY reminded me of a more upbeat Man Bites Dog, which is no bad thing.