Triangle: having endured a freak storm, friends on a casual yachting trip are rescued by a passing ocean liner, but find themselves in a trap! As soon as they step on to the ship it’s pretty much +60 minutes of relentless tension, and edge-of-your-seat atmosphere. The old haunted cruise ship is a great setting, with deck after deck of rolling corridors and a Shining-esque eerie vibe. When the story develops and people start being picked off the murders are bloody and violent, which is great for horror fans. The storyline is complex, yet not too flashy, or in-your-face, or explanatory – just brilliantly smart and unassuming. I went back and watched the first 10 minutes again, just to check that it was as clever as I thought… After finishing it, I sat for a for a while in disbelief – asking myself: did I really just watch an intelligent, brilliantly-executed, high-brow, low-budget, well-acted, horror film that scared and impressed for most of the runtime!?!? The answer: absolutely. This film is like a beacon of hope, proving that Horror films don’t have to be moronic, dumb, cliché packed affairs. Triangle ticks all the boxes!
Hanna: Raised as an assassin, Hannah is cut loose in the real world and soon becomes a fugitive. It doesn’t take long for you to realise that this is nothing short of meticulously filmed – there’s some fantastic single takes, stunning framing / mise en scéne and the action is put together with enviable ease. Said action’s also heightened by a great soundtrack; not dissimilar to Lola. Being set, filmed and funded by Europeans – it has a great anti-blockbuster quality and feel that’s pretty difficult to describe. Distracting everyone from the all of the awesomeness mentioned so far is a cast jammed with as many ridiculous characters as the story could hold: a washed-up clown Grimm, two Neo Nazis, comedy homosexual hitman, ke-razy traveling family (with the worst daughter ever). Because of these characters, the tone bounces around frenetically – serious chase, followed by fish-out-of-water, followed by some action, then a Volver-esque ‘genuine’ Spanish street performance, then some serious plot development… Cast-wise, you can always rely on Eric Bana to pull through and Blanchett nails her portrayal of a determined, cold villain. Ronan was good, considering her part kept flipping between comedy and thriller. Hanna proves to be an above average, and well-directed cat-and-mouse movie with a nice backstory that’s drip-fed throughout the duration.
Salt: (Mild Spoilers) CIA agent Evelyn Salt is accused of being a Russian sleeper assassin and has to go on the run ’til she can prove her innocence – but who are her loyalties to?? Jolie‘s still looking good and does a top job at keeping the character of Salt grounded in reality (even though her action capabilities are anything but realistic). Liev is typical Liev and Ejiofor is Mr bit part again, which is a shame as he can hold his own as a main. Action-wise the film’s pretty good, and although you’ll have seen most of this done before, and better, it’s all done quite well (other then a few super-crazy shaky cam scenes). The story, however, is as uninspired as modern spy thrillers go – with the film twisting its way to the end from about the 40 minute mark. Twists have become so much the staple of this genre that they’re no longer effective – you can also see the plot developments and twists in Salt a million miles off. What ever happened to the good guys being good and bad guys being bad? After years of modern thrillers being based in and around the middle east it’s refreshing to see the good old Col War Russians getting back behind the guns and planning AmericaMageddon!! All-in, this is essentially Jolie’s chance to play a sexier version of Bourne or Bauer… no complaints from this guy.
The Expendables: A band of gruff mercenaries feel up to the task of overthrowing a corrupt Latin-American dictator. First thing’s first: this film has the action cast to end all casts – while it’s not 100% perfect, you just don’t see this many huge names in a film these days. It’s hard to describe but seeing star after star after star is spectacle in itself. Then there’s the action, which is awesome – and although CGI heavy, it’s great fun watching henchmen get mauled by fists, blades, bullets, fire and grenades; watching anything and everything get blown up; watching all the standout musclemen fight each other; and watching set piece after set piece. Little else is particularly noteworthy, but little else matters in a film like this; the script’s terrible laughable, the plot is contrived beyond belief, the acting’s utterly forgettable (everyone’s on auto-pilot) and even the ‘hot chick’ was a bit of a dog. Essentially a B-movie with an A-star cast and massive budget, this isn’t a homage to 1980s blockbuster action films, this is a 1980s blockbuster action film. It’s also an action film for action fans, and it does the big scenes way better than anything else I’ve seen recently. I laughed, I cringed, and I shouted ‘Holy Shit’ (usually while clutching a limb that’d just been snapped on screen) about 20 times. What can I say? I’m a sucker for big names, big guns, big explosions and big set pieces. Roll on the Expendables 2!
Sympathy for Mr Vengeance: A deaf guy must secure a kidney transplant for his dying sister, two tales of vengeance on a grand scale follow. While this is hardly the most uplifting story in the world the way it’s presented, and the way in which it develops, elevates this far beyond your average drama. It’s very well-shot with smart, striking visuals that intensify the story. The editing and lighting are very also slick – one scene with Song Kang-ho stands over an autopsy table and his skin goes from natural to red as a rib cage gets cracked open is is more unsettling than full-on gore. There’s some absolutely riveting, unforgettable scenes throughout, particularly towards the end when the story spirals into poetic tragedy. It’s also very smart, with some black humour and witty lines – one punchline about a crash is delivered about 40 minutes after the set up, unfortunately it would be lost on some. It’s raw, powerful, and there are a few scenes of no-holds-barred violence, but don’t let that put you off. The biggest selling point is the powerful story and how it’s told, piece by piece – very little is explained at the time but all key plot points are be added to later in the film. As part of the Vengeance trilogy (alongside Oldboy and Mrs Vengeance) it kicks off the set in style. Great film with great performances all round.
Note: In January 2010 news of a Warner Bros re-make was in the works, I just hope it folds like the Oldboy project.
Blindness: Julianne Moore plays the only sighted person in a compound for the quarantined during an epidemic of infectious blindness. Best part: lots of out of focus shots, conga lines, people walking in to things / falling over and random nudeness. Worst part: Children Of Men esque level of prophetic future gloom. As the quarantined spend longer in their prison human nature drives events to desperation, then worse, and worse… and worse. Depending on your disposition the film will become overbearing or hyper-dramatic – I landed in the latter camp, and despite the bleakness, couldn’t believe how much the last hour reeled me in. The camera’s used interestingly throughout, to convey certain people’s point-of-view, which enables you to feel right in the action. The underrated Mark Rofallo is ace, and Bernal plays a great villain and Moore pretty much mopes for the duration, but pulls it off quite well. The tone ends up somewhere between an inspiration and a critique of human nature. Blindness is an awesome idea, pulled off reasonably well. Check it out if you like your drama extra strong.
Three Kingdoms – Resurrection of the Dragon: (Blu Ray) A Chinese historical epic that takes you through the life of a legendary military General. Nothing about this seems particularly well thought-out. Our hero (Zilong) ends up with a new BFF after five minutes, you only see his wife once, and he becomes an invincible warrior after twenty minutes; as you do. There’s hardly any martial arts, but quite a few battles; some of which are on gigantic scale… but you couldn’t have made them any more boring if you tried. This is mostly down to the poor disjointed editing and slow-motion / blurry techniques that are overused. The BD is mediocre: some of the costumes and scenery are detailed but there’s a lot of noise in some scenes, the sound is also up and down. Different era altogether but Assembly is the best Chinese war film I remember seeing. All in, it had good intentions but is riddled with cheesy over-sentimental vibes.
Beast Cops: A bunch so-called ‘policemen’ (how they’re remained gainfully employed was the biggest plot hole) get a new boss that tries to shake things up a bit. Unfortunately this one takes about 50 minutes of 1-dimensional character-building before anything interesting happens; we got it after 5 minutes – there’s no honour among thieves in Hong Kong! The acting’s very hit-or-miss, ranging from subtly great to parodic overacting, and at times the script makes it feel like a sexual awareness campaign. Other than the lame credits the style’s quite slick and does a great job in distracting you from the plain story, however the main actors break the fourth wall several times, which is strange and unnecessary. The last fight is a pretty epic and brutal affair, and generally everyone in this film ends up getting a machete lodged in their neck at some point. To sum up, this is the epitome of a bog-standard Asian cop flick with a twist of ‘gritty street’ thrown in for good measure. Talks the talk all over the DVD box but fails to walk the walk.