Take: A parent and a gambling addict are linked by a life-changing event, and years later they each have to face their demons. Depending on how you feel, the film’s fragmented narrative will make or break this for you – it combines two completely different filming styles (indie/arthouse & power-drama) and there’s four different stories playing over two timelines – so it takes a while to properly tune in. When it’s indie/arty, the film gets a little cold and isolating but when the drama kicks in it more than makes up for this – playing the long-game with a slow-burning, dramatic, poignant, gritty story that comes to a head in an intense 15 minutes near the end. This was one of Renner‘s last films before – and undoubtedly a huge factor in his casting for – the Hurt Locker: he does really well with his repenting scumbag character. I’ve never been a big believer of Minnie, but she delivers plenty of clout here – hats off to by both leads. It could do with being a little shorter and punchier – cutting the clunky religious scenes with pastor, and lots of long, heavily-filtered arty shots – but it there’s also some lovely/striking lomo-style ‘Americana’ visuals to be found. If you can handle a non-linear story, and like your drama fairly hefty, Take is well worth the effort.
Sleepers: after a prank goes wrong 4 childhood friends are sent to a correctional center, where their lives are changed forever. Most obviously, this features a powerhouse of actors doing great acting, like nothing I’ve watched in a loooong time. The kids, all great; the adults, just as good. De Niro, brilliant (why can’t he do this more often); Hoffman, top form; Bacon, creep-tastic; The King, not overdone… It’s like watching a masterclass. The story’s not the most upbeat, but is told expertly and handled tastefully. It’s well-directed and topped off with a solid, populist soundtrack. I genuinely have no idea where this film’s been hiding all my life. Despite the risqué material, this is a Grade A tour de force in story telling.
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut: Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny get their first feature-length musical where they must save the world, watch their language, and find the clitoris. Musically, this film’s got so many great and memorable songs: Uncle Fucka, Blame Canada, What would Brian Boitano Do?, I’m Super and my personal favourite, the La Resistance medley. And it’s not just the musical numbers – the entire score is top-notch. It wouldn’t be South Park without an endless string of satirical stabs at pop culture and celebrities – it even parodies the backlash against the TV show. BLU takes vulgarity to the next level, but it’s always tongue-in-cheek: reaction to lines like “I just don’t trust anything that bleeds for 5 days and doesn’t die” is a rarely experienced contrast of horror and laughter. This is one of the best things that Matt and Trey have written – with gag after quotable gag that puts the current, churned out, episodes to shame; and while the gags are rapid-firing there’s so much attention to detail in the background. They ran wild with it and it totally worked, I guess it was a build-up of ideas they wanted to put on TV but couldn’t. It’s a great film, and well over 10 years later it’s still hilarious
Grosse Pointe Blank: Follows a hitman going through a midlife crisis as he heads back home for a big job and school reunion. This was supposed to be a dark comedy but the only black part was Martin Blank’s clothes; the tone was more mawkish than anything else. Minnie Driver was pretty terrible, Cusack is just plain old Cusack and none of the others are particularly noteworthy. There’s a massive (but predictable) soundtrack that they must have spent a lot of the budget on. It pokes a lot of fun at the technology that appeared in 1980’s films although the final message is that too much TV is bad for you. Not a whole lot more to say really. This is probably the finest example of an entire film being drawn out around a single pun – what’s worse is that it adds absolutely nothing to the film! Despite everything that happens it just ends up feeling bland and absurd.