The Duel Project started out as a drunken bet, when Japanese movie producer Shinya Kawai challenged two up-and-coming directors to each make a film that had only two actors, who would fight to the death, in a single location – it also had to be shot in less than a week, and stick to a tiny budget. The results were 2LDK and Aragami. (ARAGAMI REVIEW HERE)
2LDK: two actresses – who are also flatmates – have auditioned for the same leading part: they’ll find out who got it tomorrow morning, if they haven’t killed each other by then. This is split into two distinctive parts; 30 minute setup and observational comedy about living with an annoying flatmate, the other 30 minutes is simply two girls beat the tar out of each other in the ultimate catfight. Hearing the inner-ramblings of two polar opposites (paired with their polite spoken dialogue) as they grate on each other is entertaining, although it takes a few moments tuning in to 4 quickfire word tracks. The two actresses are great, but the main star is Yukihiko Tsutsumi with direction that has urgency, impact, flare and style, all in abundance; the framing is also superb. Such great direction means that the tension and action are served up raw. For a one-week rush-job the make-up and FX really add to the brutality. 2LDK is a highly enjoyable, momentum building, entertaining movie, that’s strangely relatable for anyone that has ever shared a flat.
The French Connection: two NYPD narcotics officers uncover a smuggling operation with links to a French movie star. Despite being set in New York, his isn’t the Big Apple we all know; it’s filthy, seedy, unpleasant, and realistic with bodies in doorways, fires in the alleys and racial tension – there’s a thick social commentary here, and with it, documentary-level realism. Hackman is great – carving out a legendary cop figure as Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle; anti-heroic to the bone, he’s an unorthodox disobedient alcoholic racist, but has some fantastic lines and scenes to help out. Interestingly, the bad guys are also cunningly clever – particularly Fernando Rey, who’s the embodiment of dastardly, a joy to watch. Action scenes are intense (urgency of the car chase amplified by the road-level car cam) but are hidden among a lot of cops tailgating and observing their marks; it sounds boring but these sections are also very well done and exciting. Streets ahead of any ‘great cop films’ that came before it – sorry, Bullit – this became the blueprint for everything from cop dramas to computer games (Driver / Grand Theft Auto). Because of this it’s probably lacking a the full effect that it would have had 40 years ago – also, I didn’t understand the opening Marseilles scene – Doyle finds the smuggling ring without this. Bottom line: this is 90 minutes of all-killer, exciting and intriguing story – The French Connection is way, way more than just a fantastic car chase.
Wrecked: A man wakens up in a mangled car at the bottom of a cliff, with no memory of what happened and a shattered leg, he has to survive and figure it out. Sounds interesting, but it boils down to Adrien Brody being stuck in a car for 30 minutes then crawling around in the woods for a further 50 minutes. It’s a poorly told story, with nothing significant revealed until the last two minutes, which is pointless as you never connect with the main guy. Brody’s good, but doesn’t have to do much more than grunting, crawling and crying. Would have been a walkout after 60 minutes if it had a longer run time – it’s a shorty. Wrecked is a nice concept, but with crap execution – feels like a rushed, poorly planned project that was shot in a couple of days.
Melancholia: follows a group of upper-class people with first world problems as a stray planet is scheduled to do a close fly-by past earth. This film feels like Von Trier spunked most the budget in the opening and closing 5 minutes with the arty, expensive-looking, Tree-of-life-esque scenes – then worried about filling the rest as an afterthought. For being an ‘apocalyptic drama’ there’s not enough apocalypse or drama in the story for my liking. Dividing the film into two chapter-parts is ridiculous: part one is dedicated to Kirsten Dunst’s chest, at her wedding (which is brimming with pomposity) and showing us that her character is a total dickhead – this goes on for far too long. Part two is more of the same but focusing on Gainsbourg and her flaws… The film looks pretty good (cutting edge SHD Arri Alexa cameras) and is shot well barring the uber-shaky cam scenes. The acting’s also decent, but not as amazing as is being made out. The bottom line here is that it appears Mr Von Trier seems to have lost his flare for proper stories and proper storytelling. Annoyingly boring, really should have walked out.
Chatroom: London teenagers meet up online in a ‘Chelsea Teens!’ chatroom where they discuss their problems and bring out the worst in each other. At the centre of the film are five teens, overdramatized and riddled with angst, hatred & depression to the point of stereotype. There’s the least likable central character for as long as I can remember, and the other four people/plot-lines are picked up and dropped when convenient – and not properly explored or concluded. Unsurprisingly, it’s a very wordy film, but that creates the small problem that every word comes from 5 depressed teenagers all burdened with issues. When a story is driven through these characters manipulating and bringing the worst out in each other it doesn’t really make for inspired viewing. The best idea in the film is representing online chatting through a discussion with real people in a physical room, but it’s only novel for about 10 minutes. This is propped up by a few good tongue in cheek ‘online LOL‘ moments like the paedo entering, sex chat rooms and clay-mation skits. It’s shot well (Ringu series / Dark Water director) and the ‘chatroom’ sets are as seedy, sleazy, strange and twisted as your mum’s opinion of the internet. This film is to the internet use, what Requiem for a Dream is to drug use. Apparently nobody online does anything positive these days, and everyone’s up for egging on a suicide etc. There are a few neat ideas scattered throughout, but nothing sustainable for +90 minutes. Emo teen drama.