El topo: a surreal wild-west-type cowboy tale that’s heavy on the religious symbolism and appeared to have been conceived (& filmed) whilst on all of the drugs. The biggest thing this film has going for it is reel after reel of top-shelf insanity and phenomenal imagery: attempting to put some of the scenes into words wouldn’t do them justice – but suffice to say that the locations, landscapes, characters, and overall visuals are absolutely remarkable. Beyond the aesthetics, the rest of the film feels like a hodgepodge of themes, styles, and ideas. The tone continually bounces around from jarring “Texas Chainsaw” style, straight into to a Russ Meyers type shoe-sniffer: from po-faced religious moments through to Blazing Saddles levels of stupidity. It’s also – unfortunately – a film of two halves, that gets tangled up after the initial “mission” and really loses the head of steam (and patience) that the first have had built up. The foley work is particularly terrible – the film is shot outdoors, but most of the speech and effects appear to have been recorded in a boxy echo chamber. There’s also a lot of violent (although reddest blood ever) and exploitative stuff in here too, like the misuse of religion, lesbians, and midgets & disabled people for no real reason. Bizarre and easily one of the strangest & most overlooked cult movies ever made, El Topo is the most peculiar of beasts, that’s only worth watching for it’s sublime and visionary aesthetic.
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.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time – Our prince must save the girl, his family, the sands of time, a magic dagger, himself and the entire world… because why not! This film has everything you could want in an action adventure; heroes, villains, a hot heroine, fights, chases, exotic locations, shaky cam, plot twists… unfortunately it’s just so lackluster and clichéd. CGI snakes. CGI landscapes. GCI weather. GCI sets. GCI Parkour etc etc. What ever happened to the days where escapist blockbusters were shot in massive physical studios (or locations) with a thousand props and at least a hint of realism? Based the eponymous computer game, 90% of the visuals seemed to be borrowed from the Assassin’s Creed franchise, particularly the chase sequences. Furthermore, the story was pretty much the Lion King with humans, no awesome songs and a Pirates of the Caribbean feel. The only standout was Alfred Molina, who happened to land the best character with all the good lines – and he nailed it. Otherwise, the acting’s generally flat, but I’ll blame the pants script and shallow characters. Gyllenhaal rocks a ridiculous accent that can only be described as ‘Orlando Bloom spoof’ but I guess his physique shows some dedication to the role. At the end of the day this film is, and does, exactly what it says on the ‘Blockbuster’ tin, and for that you can only applaud it. Unfortunately, it’s painfully middle of the road in every other aspect.