Self/Less: when a terminally ill millionaire has his mind copied into a young and healthy body he gets a second chance at life… but there’s always a catch. This one has a great, high-concept idea at the core, however it deliberataly shifts lanes into a generic Bourne-type action movie instead; shying away from the higher brow sci-fi elements. It’s not all bad though as the action is to a decent standard, the story is a bit different, and because it’s a Tarsem Singh film the look and design is fantastic (although it’s nowhere near as styalised or ‘Tarsemmy’ as his other movies). The emotional scenes are also stronger than you’d expect from a film like this. Reynolds is great at portraying a new man; and I love how he isn’t afraid to take on more risky and interesting pictures than his peers: stuff like Buried, RIPD, The Nines, Deadpool. While Self/Less won’t be going down as a Sci-Fi (or action) classic, it’s a both solid and interesting enough to keep you entertained – and maybe even think a little – for two hours.
There are very brief glimpses of Tarsem’s visual flare
Contagion: as a lethal virus spreads rapidly around the globe – we observe as the government, pharmaceutical industry and everyday people struggle through the pandemic. It’s always good to see an ensemble cast this big, but with the numbers involved some people go +30 minutes without an appearance, and each person’s angle feels underdeveloped. Too single one person; out I can’t tell if it was Jude Law, or the ridiculous blogger / twitter journalist he was playing, but that strand was just terrible. Other than the devastating virus and ensuing medical procedural hunt for a cure, there’s no single dominant story; there’s a slow build-up, mildly tense middle, and it ends quite abruptly as we just stop dipping in and out of the characters lives. Unlike most blockbusters the science is very realistic (on good authority from my buddy with a Master’s in Cellular Immunology). With the ultra realism in both content and a simple, minimal directorial style, you’re left with a ‘film’ that feels more like a discovery documentary / re-enactment – but with some familiar faces. The final product is a mildly depressing, Dell sponsored, montage heavy film that tries to juggle too much, with very little focus.
Role Models: good old-fashioned comedy about a couple of guys forced to do community service. I call it old-fashioned because it doesn’t rely on gross-outs or shock scenes, instead it just picks things like live action role play, energy drinks & relationships and shows us funny sides of them. The casting’s epically safe but works: Sean William Scott is still playing ‘Stiffler‘, Paul Rudd is Paul Rudd, Mintz-Plasse is a nerdier Version of Fogel and so forth. Jane Lynch’s non-sensical (no B.S.) councilor is fun to watch and no doubt sealed her role in Glee. Not much else to report back on this; it’s good & simple film, well told, with some underpinning messages about fatherhood, decent gags and no fancy trickery. The KISS ending is sweet, and although the final scenes are a bit cheesy, you wouldn’t have it any other way.
Speed Racer: (Blu Ray) Follows the Racer family of car-enthusiasts as their son Speed takes on the biggest companies in the world. Off the bat this is blatantly aimed at kids but off the bat I didn’t really care much because this looks absolutely outstanding. The Wachowski‘s mash together so many elements for the visuals: the Jetsons space age, Metropolis, 1920s, Al Capone, Neo Tokyo, extreme sports, The Gumball Rally, Wipeout & Rollcage games, and the list just keeps going… pretty much all green-screen. The editing adds another layer on top, with some awesomely bamboozling wipes and cuts. The comic roots shine through as the overall visuals sit somewhere between classic manga and souped-up CGI. With all of this behind it, the visuals are almost too good as it ends up being a sustained assault on your eyes over the 2hr 10min runtime – especially during every race / ‘Car-Fu’ battle. Looks aside, the story & characters are terribly textbook and the absurd Kid & Monkey combo kept trying their hardest to make me hate the film, it started to work by the end. There’s some genuinely funny nubs of humour throughout like the R-R logo and Paul Frank ‘human’ shirt on the monkey. There’s also a nice James Bond assassination-attempt homage and couple of criminally underused actors – like Moritz Bleibtreu. The BD Picture’s is among the best I’ve seen so far – with everything from the huge city-scapes down to the roads rendered so sharply it feels like 3D in parts – the sound quality is less impressive but the mix still flies out all the speakers during the action scenes. Overall, despite the plain story and shallow characters I was absolutely mesmerised by the spectacular visuals. One of a kind.
Bangkok Dagerous: (2008 Remake) The best hitman in the world goes on one last big job before retirement but breaks all his own rules and ends up in a whole bunch of trouble. Unfortunately this isn’t Cage’s finest hour, or hair cut, and although coming across as emotionally retarded generally works for hitmen he ends up looking super goofy in scenes that require any feeling. Even in the voiceover parts sound affected. I was bamboozled as to why almost everything about this re-make was so true to the original it turns out it was the same directors are behind this, which is no bad thing. Barring both deaf aspects this is shockingly faithful, even down to the rough, grainy and washed out look. It was a bit weird that Cage was the only white guy in a ‘westernised’ re-make, almost made it pointless, but I guess big names put the bums on seats. The 5.1 audio track is great, particularly in the action scenes. Not a bad film by any means but if possible, definitely check out the original.
Machine Girl: (Blu Ray) the story’s just a vehicle for the onslaught of gore, so it’s not even worth dwelling on… ‘revenge’ should cover it. This action & blood fest includes… <spoilers> shot in the eye, face shot to bits, hand hacked off, exploding head (2), maid murder, extreme bullying, tempura arm, brains facial, intestine facial, blood facial showers (gave up counting – ?), cook brutality, forced cannibalism, ninja stars (?), fingers sliced, amputation (2), necrophilia, urban ninjas (3), decapitation(?), blood drinking, nails in the face, fountains of blood (?), chainsaw deaths (?), bucket of death (2), limb fighting, an unforgettable boob job and many an OTT gory death. To lighten he mood they also chucked in some… swordfights, cleavage, ghosts, questionable first aid, midriff, sexy lingerie, a drill bra, pant wetting, death by strobes, Japanese schoolgirls and a MILF. </spoilers> The picture quality drifts between barely acceptable and below upscaled DVD, the sound is also poor – definitely not worth paying more for the BD. Bad and camp acting throughout, but for being on a budget the gore’s pretty good and is more comical than serious. It’s pretty entertaining but definitely a required taste: think ‘Story of Ricky’, ‘Braindead’, ‘Versus’, ‘Bad Taste’…
Leon: story of a hitman that takes a 12 year-old under his wing, trains her up and slowly becomes more human in the process. Leon’s pretty complex: made out to be one of the most badass men in the history of cinema in the action scenes, yet comes across as quite coy and simple in others. Gary Oldman’s intense villain is a bit over-acted. The original score dominates many of the scenes and despite being set in New York it’s unmistakably French & has loads of cheeky trademark Besson bits. My favourite aspect of this film is that it plays on the peculiarities and mystique of hitmen / assassins: they come from nowhere, vanish into thin air, can take out swat teams and bodyguards… and scope out every new location. Upon re-watching this for the first time in years it wasn’t as awesome as I remember, hasn’t really aged well (totally 80s) and the plot’s full of massive holes, not to mention severe bouts of police malpractice. It can’t really pass as an action flick because there’s only two action scenes, and as mentioned the story’s pretty flawed. What’s left is a piece of trademark Besson fantasy that’s good, but seems to enjoy an uncannily large ‘best film ever’ reputation.