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.
Black Swan: when a devoted ballet dancer finally gets featured in the lead role of Swan Lake she has to deal with all the pressures that drove her predecessor crazy. To get it out of the way, nobody does ‘descending into madness’ quite like Aranofsky – and this is no different in that you genuinely have no idea if what your seeing is real, unreal, paranoia, hallucinations, fantasy, or mental illness. The second half on the film in particular has some genuinely chilling and thrilling scenes. To begin with the camerawork feels awkward and unnecessary – walking shots behind the heads – but it works surprisingly well for most of the film – particularly when it starts spinning around the dancers. The film also uses SFX outstandingly, and wiping out the cameramen in the reflections gives the viewer a strange haunting sensation. The new-age classical soundtrack is nothing short of stunning. Although I wasn’t convinced by the first 40 minutes, seeing the complex relationships (mum, teacher, peer) develop is thoroughly enjoyable, particularly because the film always keeps you guessing. Cassel and the Hershey both give show-stopping performances, although they’re overshadowed by Portman who puts everything out there, and becomes the definition of fragile, slowly and believably transforming into a woman on the brink of madness. Don’t understand the big deal around theater walk outs – it’s definitely not for the prudish, but there’s nothing offensive here. Despite everything in front of the camera being golden, the real star is the man behind it, who gets everything pitch perfect and creates an absolutely stunning finale. Ballet’s never been this sexy and dramatic.
800 Bullets: When you see the phrase “tribute to Spaghetti Western“ splattered all over the box you’re kind of expecting a good old-fashioned cowboy flick, not the story of some washed up stunt guys waiting for the day when Spain will once again be the set of Western movies!! Parts of it are trippy, like some of the midnight movies (Black/White/Red credits especially). There’s the most gratuitous boobs & sex I’ve seen in a long time – you always expected in b-movies but it just feels out of place here. The ending totally doesn’t match the tone of the film. On the up side it’s very Spanish, with emotions flying all over the place and a few familiar names and faces. There’s a handful of classic and iconic Western camera shots scattered throughout, and in general the film looks great – from the landscapes to the costumes. By the end, you could divide 800 Bullets up into the following: 40% banal story focusing on main stuntman’s family; 40% ‘what keeps punters interested’; 20% love letter to old westerns and stunt guys. Overall, it just feels like a pretty bad idea, dragged out for far too long. For stories about washed up stunt men, stick to The Fall and for Spaghetti Western tributes this should do the trick.
Micmacs à tire-larigot: a very unlucky guy who has twice been the victim of arms manufacturing companies plots his revenge with lots of shenanigans. The main guy (Danny Boon) is absolutely fantastic at playing the slightly vacant but humble lionheart whose dedication – and comedic delivery – keeps the audience transfixed. The rest of the cast are also great; full of interesting characters, and with all the small details / close ups you instantly relate to them and know what makes everyone tick. The camerawork, detailed semi-steampunk objects and great 5.1 audio track whip you feet-first in to Jeunet’s unique, offbeat & bizarre world. My only complaint visually is the gold/amber tint throughout the film, which saps a bit of colour & life out of the picture. The themes and graphics throughout the film make a love letter to early cinema, and when the story, scenarios and visuals come together it’s an entertaining fairy tale for grown-ups. The ending is a completely different tone from the upbeat film as a whole, but it’s still smart and engaging. A great twist on the revenge genre, whilst spoofing the arms trade. It is a bit style-over-substance but for some reason – I blame French magic – Micmacs is far greater and more enjoyable than the sum of its parts. Would recommend this to world cinema n00bs and pros alike.
MacGruber: Silver screen spoof of TV’s most resourceful hero McGyver. For a Brit that has never seen McGyver or the SNL skits it comes across as an American equivalent of Austin Powers?? The range of humour isn’t very wide; all jokes are either gross-out or something built up then made to look stupid… which starts to wear a little thin by the end. It’s also potty, very potty, with constant sexual references and a couple of back-to-back romance scenes that rival the Team America one. Some gags – like the villain’s name ‘Cunth’ being repeated – get boring pretty fast. The cast all hit the right buttons with their humour & delivery, and the WWE cameos were pretty sweet, especially the Big Show, who was good game. Val Kilmer (ate all the pies!) plays a Seegal-looking villain, and while he’s alright, he doesn’t seem to care much. The whole retro spoof has been done before but this more watchable because it’s done with conviction – the clichéd dialogue/script in particular was my favourite aspect, executed brilliantly for the most part. The soundtrack’s fairly bland, just song after song but with no real purpose other than just being from the 1980s. While it’s not the most polished or sophisticated film in the world it is funny for the duration, totally quotable and has ‘cult comedy’ written all over it. One of the better comedies so far this year.
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.
The Isle: captures a deviant romance developing between a very strange couple of pseudo-mutes. It starts off quite dry – difficult to ‘get in to’ – introducing the characters and strange setting. As the drama ramps up it starts to drag you in, mostly through the eerie atmosphere because there’s almost no dialogue. One of the characters slowly turns into a terrifying psychopath, and a couple of scenes near the Antichrist level of fucked up appear out of nowhere. The acting, particularly the main woman, is really good: such a shame she didn’t do another movie. There’s some frog, fish and worm mutilation thrown in for good measure. The lakeside setting and scenery are haunting & atmospheric and the no-frills direction really just lets the story do the talking. Director Kim Ki-Duk has a decent track record, including Bad Guy and 3-Iron, which is one of the most memorable Asian flicks I’ve seen. This is a good film; not for everyone but worth checking out if you can handle your cinema ‘out there’.
Oldboy: After being imprisoned for 15 years with no explanation, one man has to search through all his skeletons and figure out who he offended. I can sum this up in one word: exceptional. And everything about this film is exceptional. Choi Min-sik and Yoo Ji-tae give career-defining performances. The editing throughout is top rate and there’s some fantastically dark comedy. The finale is one of the biggest cluster-and-head-fucks I’ve ever seen and despite around 10 viewings it still turns my stomach. The score is astounding, particularly how it complements the climax. That single-take fight scene in the corridor is stunning and there’s even some unique, but Improper, use of CDs, claw hammers & a toothbrush! An utterly remarkable and 150% un-remakable story (so relieved to hear that the hollywood re-make has been axed). The taboo material will be too much for some but otherwise this is flawless. This is still my favourite, and one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.
Antichrist: since studying Europa / Zentropa in Uni I’ve made it my business to see all of Lars Von Trier’s films, most of which push the envelope of style and content. This film sees none of his characteristic rules or obstructions in the film-making process, perhaps why there’s not much content and only a couple of memorable scenes. It’s it’s essentially a film too far, and with loads of needless violence, sex and symbolism – it feels like a slow burning ‘Hostel’ or ‘Saw’ flick. Technically it seemed a waste of the mighty Red One cameras used and things like the GCI animals / talking fox are plain absurd. Eden’s cabin and cheap atmospheric music seemed to nod at the Evil Dead series. The acting’s the only redeeming part of this flick, but I suspect this film will be a stain on both their careers. You can tell Von Trier’s depression was severe when he wrote this; uncharacteristically crap!