Self/Less: when a terminally ill millionaire has his mind copied into a young and healthy body he gets a second chance at life… but there’s always a catch. This one has a great, high-concept idea at the core, however it deliberataly shifts lanes into a generic Bourne-type action movie instead; shying away from the higher brow sci-fi elements. It’s not all bad though as the action is to a decent standard, the story is a bit different, and because it’s a Tarsem Singh film the look and design is fantastic (although it’s nowhere near as styalised or ‘Tarsemmy’ as his other movies). The emotional scenes are also stronger than you’d expect from a film like this. Reynolds is great at portraying a new man; and I love how he isn’t afraid to take on more risky and interesting pictures than his peers: stuff like Buried, RIPD, The Nines, Deadpool. While Self/Less won’t be going down as a Sci-Fi (or action) classic, it’s a both solid and interesting enough to keep you entertained – and maybe even think a little – for two hours.
There are very brief glimpses of Tarsem’s visual flare
Ted: a young boy who wished that his teddy bear could come to life and be his best friend gets just that, but 25 years later their friendship is tested by a smelly girl! With Wahlberg, McFarlane and Kunis as the leads you know that this one should be funny, and it is. They’re also aided by some ace casting of the smaller roles; Giovanni Ribisi, Joel McHale, Ryan Reynolds, Sam Jones etc. The film’s pretty much gag-o-rama, with the funniest ones being the ‘shouldn’t be laughing’ moments – the Airplane / Saturday Night Fever homage to a spoof was brilliantly used too. The downside is that the direction is fairly plain, and story is weak, and although it’s funny, it’s not end-to-end-side-splittingly-good. The bottom line is that as a (live action) extension of family guy – cast, voices, music – the Ted does alright, but as a ‘film’, it doesn’t quite cut the mustard. It’s definitely funny, but most of it is forgettable.
Safe House: a neglected CIA rookie sees a chance to prove himself when his safe house is attacked and he’s left to protect & contain a notorious rogue agent. Both Denzel and Reynolds are on good form, although neither’s particularly stretched given what they can do, it’s definitely easy money. In saying that, having these two does mean the characters are a bit deeper than standard action stars would be. The focus here is on straight-up, balls-to-the-wall action – about 1/2 the runtime is chase, shootout or fighting scenes, which makes for some great popcorn gawking. There are a couple of ultra-shaky cam moments where they’d have been better drawing black and white stick men hitting each other, but for the most part the action’s alright to follow. Unfortunately, this doesn’t put much thought on the plot, the story is the definition of unambitious and you can predict everything from the initial set up, right down to the final scene. Safe House may not be a particularly engaging or deep movie: “Post Bourne entry political thriller” just about sums this up, but with its eyes firmly fixed on the CrashBangWallop, it delivers ample in this department.
Buried [Blu Ray]: An American truck driver in Iraq wakens up in a coffin with a Zippo, Blackberry phone and a few other items; his shit has hit the fan. From Reynold’s instant panic at the blacked out start, and with the entire film playing out inside the box, this is very claustrophobic and unbelievably suspenseful. As time ticks down, and the story snakes forward it’s impossible not to get whipped up in the boiling tension – especially during the latter half when bigger events unfold. It’s not often that black humour can lighten the mood but when a film is this intense, being put on hold or flippant sarcasm does take the edge off – momentarily. Technically, it’s superb – the camera work, varied lighting and sound maximise the intensity, and for the Blu Ray, while the picture’s not particularly ‘worthy’, every single scratch, movement, phone tone and background noise punches through. The only limitation of the film is that if you don’t buy in, it will only ever be ‘a guy stuck in a box’. With a scope this tiny, you’d think 90 minutes would be a long stretch, but Buried is quite the opposite – hyper-dramatic to the very last frame – it’s amazing how much Cortés forces out of this concept, and kudos to Reynolds, who took yet another gamble on a left-field movie. Proof that a tiny, tight project can be just as good as any ‘tent-pole’ picture.
The Nines: 2007 ‘thriller’/mindfuck about a computer programmer, screen-writer and actor who are all connected in some way. It comes out of the blocks as a junkie-flick like ‘Spun’ and the rest of the first episode’s like a cheap soap with some of the cheesiest background music in history, then a documentary, then a TV movie, then a computer game… Reynold’s acting is also either a) a solid job at making the film a bit surreal, or b) so crap, he makes the film feel surreal. I think – and really hope – it’s the former. The main attraction of this film was that it’s a proper ‘thinker’. In the same vein as Waking Life and Primer you need to do a bit of thinking in to ‘get it’, otherwise it won’t make any sense. 2 days later, I’m still trying to figure it out… but that’s the attraction for me. Not the most polished piece of cinema, but definitely pushing boundaries.