Game of Thrones (Season 1): several noble families with royal ties feud over the right to rule all seven kingdoms in a medieval-ish fantasy epic. One year prior, Spartacus was balls deep in rumpy–pumpy and graphic violence, which felt like it was pushing boundaries; then someone in HBO said had said: “lets take Spartacus as a starting point, then add as much over the top sensational stuff as you can. 3, 2, 1… GO GO GO!” GoT is loaded with full frontal nudity (sausages, chuffs, and udders), blood, gore, prostitutes, lesbians, and as much offensive language as censors allow; not to mention the taboos like breastfeeding and incest being pretty major plot points. Whilst these add to the show’s notoriety, it detracts from the Rome-like inter-weaving political storylines; continually reminding you that it’s actually being pitched at teenage boys. Other than the odd stinker (Arya Stark!!) the cast are generally decent; although different characters giving their roles different levity levels – from scenery chewing (King) to borderline comedic (Bronn). Peter Dinklage is the one actor that really sticks out from the vast ensemble – impressing and entertaining with his larger than life character. Due to the number of characters, families, locations and concurrent plots there’s a lot of dialogue-heavy slapdash whistle-stop history & exposition lectures between characters – some hit the mark better than others, but most are required. While there’s one big “Holy Shit” moment, Season One feels like a 10-hour teaser – promising better things to come; introducing white walkers (zombie-ish creatures), dragons, teeing up a war – but blatantly not following any of it through to anywhere near conclusion.
Quentin Tarantino Presents – My Name is Modesty: based on the Modesty Blaise comics, this film tells us her background during a casino heist. It’s an internationally confusing film; the DVD cover makes it look like an Asian gang-thriller, it appears to be shot in Eastern Europe, supposed to be set in Spain (or Morocco?), featuring Hong Kong, European and American leads. The script is pretty terrible, with amateur written all over it, and isn’t helped by several foreign actors having to speak varying degrees of English. About half way through it starts to dive in to the cheesiest, clichéd backstory in the history of B-Movies – how Modesty learned her skill set from a wondering academic that also happened to be well versed in kung-fu, archery, etc. Everything else reeks of cheese, right down to the “wave your hand over dead people’s faces to close their eyes” trick. The story judders along with not much happening until a single, pithy, action sequence at the end. The film was rushed due to a rights issue, but if this is the best a studio can do for an action-packed, saucy, successful female spy comic, they deserve to lose it and let someone else have a shot. At a meager 75 minutes, such a short movie has never felt this long – with terrible production, script and ropey acting, I’ve seen better TV pilots.
Note: the DVD does have several of long interviews with QT and the cast, and Modesty Blaise creator.
Headhunters (Hodejegerne): a professional headhunter, and art thief, risks everything he has to steal a Peter Paul Rubens painting from an ex-mercenary. The central story is absolutely brilliant, and it feels surprisingly fresh given the setup. It’s plot and character driven in equal measures and it doesn’t stop once it gets rolling. The film’s punctuated with brutal graphic violence, although it’s most often used as comedy (!!) to break the unbearable tension built up in pivotal chase / confrontational scenes; I never thought I’d laugh at a smashed up skull, dog abuse, or poop – but if you didn’t laugh, you’d break down. Askel Hennie (a Christopher Walken lookalike) leads a great bunch of actors, and memorable but believable characters. Other than above, you can’t really mention much more without risking spoilers. The film didn’t need the quirky voiceover setup and wrap up – flat-out drama / thriller would have been sufficient – and some parts start to flirt with surrealism, but those are very minor niggles. Headhunters is well-directed, well acted, well written, funny, serious and dramatic crime caper… you couldn’t ask for anything more. It’s an absolute must see; European cinema at its best, and film of the year so far.