Big Bad Wolves (aka מי מפחד מהזאב הרע, Mi mefakhed mehaze’ev hara): Three men’s lives come to a head when a child is murdered and the hunt for the killer intensifies – Israeli black comedy horror/thriller. Off the bat this is a very odd mix that flips from gruesome child murders straight to bawdy comedy with no hesitation. Centered around the question of “is he / isn’t he guilty” the main chunk of this plays out like a Mystic River / Prisoners dilemma… showing normal men becoming monsters. The torture scenes are very visceral and gnarly, difficult to watch. It also starts becoming darkly comical in the last act, as the multiple – seemingly innocuous – strands are brought nicely together. Hailed by Quentin Tarantino as the best film of 2013, this is one of his shout-outs that is actually worth a punt!
Sweet Karma: when a mute christian girl loses her sister to a generic Eastern European prostitution ring in Toronto there’s only one thing for her to do… find and kill ’em all! So this one’s a Human Trafficking film, but with proper (s)exploitation and revenge elements – a weird, but quite original combo. The low-res, grainy, cheap-looking film don’t help the watchability much, and there’s a couple of grim ‘Baise Moi’ type scenes in there, which are anything but pleasant. The story’s solid enough, and the finale is surprisingly good and tense. I was going to have a slight dig at the acting, but considering the lead is a Playboy Playmate (WTF), and everyone else is unknowns, I’ll give ’em a pass today. When a film’s trailer boasts the line “One of the hottest strip scenes on film”, it tells you all you need to know! Sweet Karma ticks all of the boxes of an old-school revenge film, but with Human Trafficking in there, it pales in comparison to the benchmark that is Lilja-4-Ever.
Undercover Brother: when it turns out that “The Man” is trying to quash black culture through brainwashing important figures, an all-black spy agency (the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D.) send in their best man. The script grabs every stereotype imaginable by the horns and rolls with it: afros, fashion, jive talk, a mind-control drug deployed through fried chicken, Undercover Brother’s weakness is ‘White she devil‘, the agency have to employ a white guy through affirmative action… most of them are hits, but as a honky, there were probably a load that slipped by me. The director needed a better handle on this; doesn’t know if it should be a straight up spoof / blaxploitation / Spy / martial art or political… it covers them all, but in half-hearted, clunky segments. The camerawork is also quite poor: awkward jaunty angles overused and it breaks the 180-degree rule for no reason. A lot of the jokes reference the time where it was filmed (2002), so it feels a little dated now, and at 85 minutes, it does well to not overstay its welcome – but hey, the real James Brown appears at the end. Undercover Brother is both a hit and miss; it’s smart and dumb; has both high and low brow laughs – there’s something for everyone, but just not enough of the good stuff.
Bound: Violet wants to leave her mobster boyfriend after hooking up with ex-con Corky – so they hatch a little ol’ scheme to steal laundered some money. A project to prove that the Wachowski‘s could actually handle a film before studios gave them money for The Matrix, it had to stand out, so the guys made a noir film with a unique twist – LESBIANS!!! The retro vibe mixed with the semi-corny script, cheapy music and lesbian undertones make the first 30 minutes feel a bit like a soft porno. When two beautiful women start fingerblasting each other it feels like an actual porno, but with more passion & realism. After the setup the film picks up the pace; with the story twisting along and the directors quickly proving that they can handle themselves. It’s very, very slick and stylish, well shot, technically proficient and a dramatic rollercoaster towards the end. A couple of really high tension scenes are also handled masterfully, and although the script’s a bit clunky, the story makes up for it. Both females (Tilly & Gershon) do well with their characters, as does Pantoliana but seeing Cypher with hair is a bit weird. The final act in particular has a real Reservoir Dogsy type feel to it in both the bloody violence, and the career kick-startability. As a readiness project, consider this mission accomplished, although the Wachowski‘s would soon realised that all the money in the world couldn’t make a good film *coughMatrixRevolutionscough*
How will we convince people to give us money for our project... LESBIOOOBS!!!!
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol: the IMF’s best agent Ethan Hunt is back again; his team go off the grid as they’re blamed for bombing the Kremlin – they must also stop an unfolding global Nuclear War – instigated by a madman! This film sticks to what the franchise does best; action and tension. The tension is wrung out and maximised like a boss; the Kremlin corridor and double-meeting in particular are proper edge-of-your-seat scenes. The action is also well above par, bone-crunching fist-fights and well-handled/edited camera work (other than the sloppy sandstorm chase). This story is typical of the other three films, with more newfangled espionage in various hyper-photogenic locations. Pegg comes out on top of the cast, providing a bit more comic relief than usual, but avoids becoming the clown – everyone else is solid. There’s some awesome gadgets and technical details for your inner-geek, the fastest-booting servers in the world and an onslaught of Apple products. On the downside, it definitely needed more Ving Rhames quips & ass-kicking, and Nyqvist as the ‘main’ bad guy could have done with more screen time and evil development. M:I-4 is another slick instalment of the winning James Bond formula cranked up to 11.
8mm: A private investigator is hired to authenticate or debunk a snuff film found by an eccentric millionaire’s widow. The headline here is a shocking display of anti-acting by Cage – could easily be in his bottom 5 performances (and that’s saying something) – totally woeful – especially when he loses his shit near the end Gandalfini steals the show with his ‘here’s what happened’ scene, and Phoenix plays a stereotype deviant well enough. So you’re thinking ‘Cage is rubbish, but at least the story’s alright…’ then the last hour happens. What the shit is the end of this film about; why does some guy have a crossbow? Why is Cage going vigilante? Why burn a stack of Porn? Rainy Mud fight? DANZIG?… everything is turned up to 11, or 20. It reeks of all the good 90s thrillers, but feels like a TV movie. 8mm is one of those films that everyone remembers being decent, but when replayed, is absolutely terrible. While the subject matter is intriguing, this film’s far too bizarre for most people to enjoy. Would recommend Tesis and Hardcore over this. Shame on Schu-macher!
Amores Perros: three separate stories brought together through a nasty car crash, with love being the common theme. Gritty doesn’t come close to describing this; with dog fighting, robbery, murder, abortion, and crazy hobbos all brought up in the first 20 minutes… definitely not for kids. The three stories of a wayward youth, fashion model and homeless guy are all fantastic, and the acting couldn’t be any better. Even though he’s the hardest to like, the hobbo‘s story is still my favourite as it’s nothing short of a dramatic roller coaster. The filming style further intensifies each story making it even more raw, and visceral. Although dogs play a large role in all three stories this definitely not a film for dog-lovers… particularly in the last act, heartbreaking. What Amores Perros boils down to is simply pure storytelling with no tricks, low blows or grand budget. Inarritu creates an extraordinary set of circumstances woven through a cast of fleshed out, realistic characters. Dramatic, moving, powerhouse.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: pulp noir parody about a small-time criminal that gets in way over his head when he discovers a Hollywood murder plot. At the centre of this are two rock solid characters; RDJ is a quirky lovable rogue, and Val Kilmer plays ‘Gay’ Perry, a hardened P.I. but again, quite likable. Both interesting, charming and acted superbly; the chemistry between them is second to none. As the film pans out the story broadens and remains interesting, but the best part of KKBB is the humour. Almost every base is covered; screwball, wit, black, gross out and slapstick – with corpses, fingers, dogs, guns and a Christmassy undertone. This is further backed up by a sharp script, littered with comedy gems. I also liked the non-glamourised aspect of being in bottom half of the film industry and L.A. social scene. There’s a few minor faults; pretty corny and obnoxious meta narration by RDJ, a lot of smug pulp and movie references, and for some people it’s probably too left field. It’s more of a mish–mash of genre than a single type too, although that could equally be a good thing. Other than the ridiculous action-hero ending KKBB is an absolutely solid film, funny, sharp, black and a total hoot.
District 13: It’s the near future and entire urban areas of an unstable Paris are walled off to contain the scum! From the very first frame, this film’s an insane mix of athleticism, action, martial arts and physical prowess. The jaw-dropping breakneck action is complemented spectacularly with ultra-slick editing (that show’s every single jump clearly from start to finish) and pounding Euro techno/grime music. While the action’s totally nuts, it ends up being used quite sparsely and never really surpasses the opening chase scene. Much of the run-time is beefed up with huge sections of socio-political story, clearly rooted in modern France, which makes the story pretty believable. Despite there being no ‘real’ actors everyone’s good to watch and the two main guys in particular are solid – the theory Vs reality angle makes for some great back-and-forth. The style and feel are 100% gritty, urban, French and in-yer-face. Everything’s aimed at the guys, from the uber macho gangsters right down to the grotesque super sports cars. With the Taken director behind the camera and Luc Besson as producer you’re in good hands here, and although this goes down in most people’s books as ‘that parkour film’ it shouldn’t be overlooked, as District 13 winds up being a very enjoyable, solid action flick with remarkable stunts and a worthy & interesting story to match.
RED: (Retired, Extremely Dangerous) A retired Black Ops soldier is targeted by a hit team, so he calls a favour on his old-time buddies to get to the bottom of it all. I guess the best thing about this newfangled trend of adapting the shit out of every comic ever made is that – on the whole – the source material is usually good, and abundant. Because of this, RED is watchable enough as the story predictably lurches forward, however the way it’s all presented on the big screen is nothing new – peppered with gratuitous fights, action and explosions. They must have known the story was ten-a-penny before they pulled in such a heavy-hitting cast: Malkovich steals every scene with his familiar oddball routine, and the only other person that turns in something good is the determined agent Karl Urban. Everyone else, including Bruce Willis, is on cruise control, and despite being OK, everyone seems more interested in making a quick buck than doing anything noteworthy. There’s a couple of ‘hostage humour’ laughs as Willis tries to win over a girl that looks half his age, and the overall script is decent. Between the massive cast and unusually low certificate for an ation/spy flick (all violence and most swear words are edited out or covered up) this is clearly all about getting as many bums on as many seats as possible. RED nowhere near as good as the sum of its parts – and ends up being nothing more than a Bourne/Salt/A-Team re-hash, with marginally more interesting than average geriatric characters.
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.