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Body of Lies - Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani, Oscar Isaac, Ali Suliman, Alon Abutbul, Vince Colosimo, Simon McBurney, Mehdi Nebbou, Michael Gaston, Kais Nashif, Jamil Khoury, Lubna Azabal,Body of Lies: while hunting for a big fish terrorist, power and the upper hand continually shift between the Americans, Jordanian secret service and the man on the ground trying to bridge the cultural gap. It has the look and feel of an action thriller, but there’s not a whole lot of action (although when it’s on, it’s fairly violent). There’s a romance corner, an espionage corner, a cultural differences corner – it juggles quite a few things,  which are all are done reasonably well, and fused together nicely. The problem is that with all of these things going on, it feels less focused than something like Zero Dark Thirty – the peripheral stuff detracts from the central terrorist plot. Also, because the whole Jihad genre has had a lot of material lately, they all sort of blend in to one – it took took well over an hour to realise I’d already seen this. Acting wise, you completely buy in to Di Caprio‘s conflicted character; Crowe properly gets on your nerves as the brash and cocksure US agent; and you marvel at Strong’s portrayal of an old-school espionage master. Body of Lies looks and feels as slick as you’d expect from Ridley Scott; it’s also acted beyond what you’d expect from A-listers; unfortunately the plot feels completely borrowed and unimaginative. Despite looking a little worn and generic these days, it’s still completely serviceable modern jihad-thriller.

6.5/10

Se7en Seven 1 Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey, R. Lee Ermey, John C. McGinley, Richard Roundtree, Leland Orser,

Se7en (aka Seven, 7, Sept, Siete, Sieben, セブン, 七, 일곱 …) during a veteran detective’s final week a gruesome serial killer surfaces, whose work is based around the seven deadly sins. Despite being released in the mid-90s and framed as ‘modern’ this has a sense of timelessness; it’s puply and Noir to the core – especially Freeman’s character, who’s straight out of the 40s. This is just part of Fincher’s portrait of an extremely nihilistic vision of ‘downtown’ America – a nameless, timeless city characterised by sirens, rain, fear, vice and filthy, dilapidated buildings mirroring their residents. It’s a dingy look, but one that has subsequently influenced a lot of movies and TV (The US Killing as a prime example). Whilst the story takes a while to properly get going once it gains momentum it’s an unstoppable force -right through to the very last scene. It’s also remarkable that 20 years on it’s still effective, and shocking – which is a testament to Fincher’s directorial skill.  Despite all of the larger than life blood and guts, Se7en is all about the minor details; everything helps to flesh out the characters and explain their behaviours – allowing you to pick out more details every time you watch it, which is what makes it a classic.

Score: 8.5/10

Se7en Seven 2 Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey, R. Lee Ermey, John C. McGinley, Richard Roundtree, Leland Orser,

Hunted 02 Melissa George, Adam Rayner, Stephen Dillane, Stephen Campbell Moore, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Morven Christie, Lex Shrapnel, Dhaffer L'Abidine, Dermot Crowley, Indira Varma

Hunted (Season 1): 1 year after a botched murder attempt secret agent Alex Kent must find out who betrayed her, whilst carrying out a new mission for her private contract company. The production values on this are through the roof – it always looks more like a film than TV series (Going for the Luther / HBO vibe). A few characters stand out as good, including the botoxed lead Melissa George, but the rest are all definitely TV standard. The writing’s solid, with the current mission dramatically unfolding, as well as several well-connected revenge storylines weave through the central drama. As the season progresses and the plot thickens the show really grabs you – but – like with almost every modern TV show the greedy prospect of a second season made the writers go for a disappointingly limp finale that fails to conclude the bigger mysteries in the story, and (more annoyingly) raises even more last-minute questions. It’s a sour ending to what’s otherwise a top spy/thriller/espionage thriller show.

Score: 7.5/10

Hunted 02 Melissa George, Adam Rayner, Stephen Dillane, Stephen Campbell Moore, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Morven Christie, Lex Shrapnel, Dhaffer L'Abidine, Dermot Crowley, Indira Varma,

Strike Back Season 1 John Porter Richard Armitage Andrew Lincoln, Orla Brady, Shelley Conn, Colin Salmon, Jodhi May,  Toby Stephens, Ewen Bremner, Dhaffer L'Abidine, Shaun Parkes, Alexander Siddig

Strike Back (Season 1): When he takes the blame for a failed mission, Spec Ops soldier John Porter is kicked out of the SAS, but re-hired seven years later to catch a familiar face. After the briefest of setups Strike Back is pretty much just action-action-action with the odd scrap of plot – it has to be one of the most action-centric, kick ass, blood splattering, neck-snapping, omni-exploding pieces of TV badassery out there. Richard Armitage (as John Porter) holds his own and really makes the show, as the central Damaged Hero, and total badass – channeling guys like Rambo & Mclean – and could probably take on Jack Bauer in a fight; not even kidding! As the series sprints forward, the main backstory becomes more intricate, and interlinked with the current missions. The episodes which are decadently overflowing with set-pieces, deception, betrayal, action, adrenalin and politics – are all surprisingly believable, at least until the Scottish hacker pops up in the final mission. All-in-all Strike Back is like a mythical unicorn hiding in the TV Schedule: an action-heavy, huge-budget, Movie-styled TV show consisting of 3 interlinked adrenaline-soaked 90-minute episodes that truly raise the action bar. Action fans rejoice!

Score: 8.5/10

Strike Back Season 1 John Porter 2 Richard Armitage Andrew Lincoln, Orla Brady, Shelley Conn, Colin Salmon, Jodhi May,  Toby Stephens, Ewen Bremner, Dhaffer L'Abidine, Shaun Parkes, Alexander Siddig

Unthinkable 2010 Samuel L. Jackson, Carrie-Anne Moss, Michael Sheen, Stephen Root, Lora Kojovic, Martin Donovan, Gil Bellows, Vincent Laresca, Brandon Routh, Joshua Harto, Holmes Osborne, Michael Rose

Unthinkable: a converted muslim, posing a nuclear threat to America is captured – how far will the government go to get the information they need against the clock? Having heard nothing about this before finding it on LoveFilm I was surprised at how topical, dramatic, fast-paced, controversial yet very believable the film was. It’s also very well directed, featuring massive issues like human rights, torture, the ‘greater good’, constitutional rights, threat to America – yet yet it never gets preachy, as all sides to each argument are explored, and you ultimately have to make up your own mind as to what’s the ‘right’ thing. There’s also some pretty graphic and genuinely unbelievable scenes inside the torture chamber – especially when the specialist interrigator (Sam L Jackson) gets going. The acting is great all-round – but with a cast this strong it’s a shame that the SFX are so terrible (explosion LOL). This film ultimately plays far more successfully on the fears, realities and situations of contemporary America than two series of Homeland have, and this is just over the length of two episodes. Unthinkable is an unbelievably smart, neat, tight little film that – for whatever reason – seemed to be a total flop: it’s clever film-making serves up an enjoyable, thrilling, thought-provoking picture. What more could you ask for?

Score: 8/10

Homeland: eight years after going MIA a U.S. marine is rescued and taken home, but a C.I.A. agent suspects he may be a terrorist. Overall the scope of the plot feels like it would be a side-story in 24, maybe spanning 6 episodes – Homeland is stretched over 12 full episodes ‘beefed up’ with small, pointless stories – some of which aren’t resolved, or even mentioned again (internal investigation / Saul’s potential involvement / Saul’s wife). My biggest problem was the very slow-moving is he / isn’t he story, it gets quite monotonous after several episodes, and once you know what side he’s on, it kills the show flat. Both central characters are extremely complex – Danes struggles to convince with some horrific eye-bulding and body/movement over acting. Lewis is good, but doesn’t quite have the full chops to convey the inner conflicts and troubles of the character. The daughter (Saylor) and Saul (Patinkin) were the two best actors. In the end, I cared just enough to watch the finalé, which was undoubtedly the best and most fresh / original part of the series, 60 minutes of killer, 30 more minutes of wrap-up ‘meh’. I can appreciate how this would go down more favourably in the USA (it’s current, it’s political, it hits a lot of nerves) but for me, Homeland feels like it’s just filling a ‘post-24 American domestic terrorist drama’ gap, and not much more.

Score: 5.5/10

The Devil’s Double: after being forced into doubling for Saddam Hussain’s crazy son Uday, a regular Iraqi soldier is thrown into a crazy world. The biggest reason to watch this is the central performance; Domnic Cooper absolutely owns two completely separate and distinguishable characters – often in the same scene. It really is fantastic to watch, and the film shines brightest when the ‘brothers’ are together (Beginning, nightclub, wedding…). The girlfriend side-story on the other hand is pedestrian, predictable and feels crow-barred in – detracting from the political story and making the final half hour drag on, which is the film’s biggest downfall as the first hour is superb. Parts of the film are hard to watch, but it’s centered around such a fantastic story of identity and what’s wrong/right.

Score: 6.5/10

Die Another Day: A mission in North Korea is sabotaged, goes tits up, and 007 is captured! After a prisoner exchange, losing his 00 plates, and going dark James Bond is determined to find the traitor, and investigate a newfangled millionaire with a history that’s too good to be true.

Another Day... of pointing guns at things

Die another Day starts fantastically: huge hovercraft action sequence (well handled, superb choreography, definitely cool), Bond gets captured, tortured to shit, ends up looking like The Dude then gets released back to a country that turned its back on him – so he goes off the grid again. M herself says “You’re no use to anyone now”, letting us all know that even James Bond, at the end of the day, is an expendable commodity.

14 months in prison and he comes out looking like Jeff Bridges?!?

I remember that with rumours circulating of another James Bond hitting the screen in the new millennium you were genuinely uncertain as to whether Brosnan’s Bond would make it back from Korea, if he’d live long enough to go on an adventure, or simply be replaced, mid-film for the first time…

A new super-group of villains... or ABBA tribute, I can't remember.

Looking back, a mid-film replacement would have been amazing for several reasons. It would have freshened up the films and their now standardised formula. It could be used to shed some light on the identity of “James Bond”. Most importantly, it would have saved Brosnan from looking pretty awkward for a lot of the movie. As Bond, Brosnan brought a lot of sides to the character, but his key feature was undoubtedly his sophistication, suaveness and confidence no matter what he was doing. Here however, after the opening he can only play it from one angle; dark, tortured, jaded Bond – and being honest, it just doesn’t work. I can’t tell if it was solely the Broz, or the B-movie script he was given but some of the scenes were absolutely shocking – watching him try to seduce Halle at the bar is cringe-inducing. It’s a shame because he has the best actor track record – to date.

What EVERYONE in Cuba looks like... not just their leader... everyone!

As 007 follows the leads we end up in Cuba, and – as always – the exotic nation is represented accurately and with taste: apparently everyone just samba‘s their way around town, has grey Castro-beards, smokes Cuban cigars and drinks Mojitos… Once Bond’s fucked up a health club in style he heads back to London, and the blades club. The first swordfight of the film is an absolute master-class in action, with loads of nice little innovations, both actors putting their back in to it, and a gradual build up – it really is gripping stuff. So far, this film’s surprisingly fresh, with an intriguing story that we want to see through…

This scene was so good it could have been a grand finalé

Then some problems start appearing in the as soon as we pass the halfway mark because – as we all know – people in the 2000s use to get bored after 60 minutes of good storytelling, so someone in production decided to turn everything up to eleven. The film starts throwing dozens of ridiculous things at the audience… virtual reality, invisible cars, a war suit, a dream machine, switchblade mini planes, a tiny ring that breaks any glass… Then there’s an onslaught of CGI that makes the film look like a low-budget affair; buildings, waves, icebergs, ice and hundreds of explosions!!! That can’t be boring at all, right?!?! Wrong! The film makes two supercars drifting on ice, firing rockets and machine guns at each other boring. It makes two scantily clad chicks having a swordfight to the death boring. It even makes an airplane perilously breaking up and exploding in the air… boring. The aforementioned CGI doesn’t help either – looking like it’s been drawn with crayons – the old-school rear-projection would genuinely look better than this.

Whoa!! Two supercarsszzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Hale Berry’s character Jinx is pretty poor, literally waddling into the film and constantly quacking some of the most generic American lines with absolutely zero tact or timing – yo mama jokes, in a Bond film? Really? What’s the point in even having a US-UK sparring match, it’s 007, we all know he’s the best. Plotline redundant! Gustav Graves is a rubbish character, but sub-standard acting only makes him cheesier. And that’s it… nobody else really of note.

Kinky Jinxy gets stuck in her Bondage Bed - 007 has to bust her out. zzzzzz

Other unhealthy titbits are: ‘saved by the bell’, rubbish theme song (sounds like it was thrown together in an afternoon), credits that are integrated with the story (worked for me), an actual appearance by Madoga, “Sex for dinner, death for breakfast” (So good they say it twice!), and electricity manifesting itself in the form of 1980s blue lines, like it totally does in the real world.

Save christmas trees, lick wall sockets - zzzzzzzz

This film is what the word Bi-Polar was actually created to describe: the first hour is a solid, well-made classical Bond film with modern twists. The second half IS memorable but for all the wrong reasons, worst of which being the terrible CGI – my rule on this; if you can’t do it in-camera with a Bond budget, don’t bother!

Score: 4/10

Too many special effects makes this guy puke... (zzzzzzzz)

TOP TRUMPS
Villain: Bad actor – overly smug, diamond merchant. 4
Henchmem: Diamond-faced Zao – strong, smart, athletic, good match. Fiji guy – laser face. 6
Bond Girl: Hale Berry,  pretty. Fencing chick, ultra hot at the end. 7
Action: Hovercraft. Health Centre blowout, fencing/swordfight, MI6 break-in, Ice car chase, plane fight. 6

What a cool multicoloured face ma-zzzzzzzz

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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.

Score: 7.5/10

Note: In January 2010 news of a Warner Bros re-make was in the works, I just hope it folds like the Oldboy project.

24 – Season 8: Quite a strange season. The episodes seemed to alternate between good and boring; but when it was boring it centres around the political aspect of the story, which bogs the entire season down and doesn’t have shit on the Palmer years. Because all the good people get killed off for dramatic effect the acting roster’s diluted beyond recognition. In the crap corner we have President Taylor. Dana Walsh, Rob Weiss, Charles ‘the human scrotum’ Logan, Kim Bauer, Meredith Reed… Most of the others are in the middle of the ring, sketchy at best – exceptions being rock solid Ethan Kanin, Michael Madsen super-typecast cameo and Dailia Hassan; who single-handedly blows the rest of the cast away with her intense performance. Jack’s looking older, but still talking ridiculously fast, and if there ever was a moral line he’s been treading for the past 7 years he finally flies over the edge – which sees his story change from the familiar risque agent to a full-on revenge rampage. Story-wise the plot-holes were more like black holes; Rene (real or fake?) infiltrating the Russian mob for five years… mmmmm, that wasn’t mentioned before, and the token mole was so rubbish and predictable. Given all of the memorable twists, turns, highs and lows through all eight seasons the ending was a very, very disappointing cop out, leaving the scope of the upcoming movie wide open. There were a few great scenes and turning points but in general we had seen everything here before.

Score: 5.5/10

Note: I’m actually relieved that it’s finally been axed because the show and format had ran out of ideas around season 3. It was like to watching a new pet grow up, have its glory days, then become lamer and lamer to the point where it needed to be taken into the garden and smashed over the head with a brick, for its own sake.

The Ghost (Writer): A Ghostwriter replaces his predecessor who died under mysterious circumstances, as he researches and re-writes the memoirs of Britain’s ex-Prime Minister all is not what it seems on the surface. It’s a pretty generic conspiracy story, and just when it’s starting to drag everything happens in the last ten minutes, which feels a bit rushed: the ending’s quite disappointing / obvious but the final scene more than makes up for it. It’s very contemporary, political, and unashamedly based around Tony Blair; portraying him in the worst possible light! For a political movie the script’s quite warm and funny in parts, and other than some dodgy accents the cast are pretty solid – Cattrall’s just a more educated version Samantha, Olivia Williams is all over the place but you can’t go wrong with the Broz or Ewan McGregor. The main star for me though was Polanski, whose direction is outstanding (especially given he was under house arrest!). He lets this thriller tell itself, with no fancy trickery and just plain old-fashioned brilliant directing. Definitely worth a watch if you like this type of movie.

Score 7/10

Note: As mentioned on Have I Got News For You: the film’s been given a 15 certificate in the UK, Polanski swears it’s 18!

Slumdog Millionaire: modern twist on the rags to riches tale as an Indian kid from the slums lands up on a game-show. There’s a lot of stock themes throughout the film; good cop / bad cop, sensible sibling / criminal sibling, life-long obsession with girl etc. Despite this Slumdog’s an entertaining story – handling and highlighting some of the best and worst aspects of growing up in India effectively. The characters are all quite memorable and it although it gets a bit far-fetched in parts it still works pretty well. For me, the growing-up section of the film was great to watch (the child actors were fantastic), but the latter part  – love story – was insipid and seemed to take forever to finish. Somehow everyone looks cross-eyed, the English-Indian accents were bizarre and I couldn’t believe I made it through an Indian film without a ridiculous dance scene – never mind. Secretly wished it would have been an ‘Unusual Suspects’ ending, and he was cheating all along… no such luck. Decent film, but don’t believe the rave reviews, or that this is the ‘real’ Mumbai. Escapism!

Score: 6.5/10