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I love films,
I run a movie website and several podcasts on www.aftermoviediner.com
Have had the pleasure of interviewing some of my heroes.
A BIG fan of action, comedy and horror movies.
Schwarzenegger's comeback continues with this generic 80s action plot ruined and retooled as a 'gritty' violent thriller
Sabotage is a gritty crime action thriller. It is also, on the surface, an unusual film for Schwarzenegger who, despite a slate of upcoming sequels to his former big hits or franchises, is in the middle of a really interesting comeback. The criminally underrated Last Stand saw him try a little bit of an Eastwoodish turn as the old, tired, grizzled sheriff of a small town, Escape Plan saw him having tremendous fun and stealing the film in his supporting role and in the upcoming Maggie he will be dipping his toe into the bloody and crowded waters of zombie films but with Sabotage it appears to be a first for Arnold: a, mostly, dramatic, serious performance, leading an ensemble cast, with, comparatively minimal action.
Arnie plays a tough as nails but quietly haunted and lost DEA Agent, whose special team of hard training, hard fighting, hard drinking and hard talking undercover agents are divided by an incident and investigation surrounding a missing ten million dollars. This fills the team full of mistrust, which only grows as they, individually, start showing up dead in a series of brutal, unflinching and hard R murders. Schwarzenegger must team up with Fed Olivia Williams and work out just what the hell is going on.
Sabotage is a film that is all about appearances. It appears to be a grainy, dark, violent and adult crime film which pulls no punches with language, nudity and gore but aspects of the plot are as generic as your favourite 80s or 90s revenge action film. It's, also, a film that appears to be taking clichés from the past and turning them on their head and a film that appears to be clever, full of twists and reveals but, a few minutes out of the cinema, you have more questions than answers and any logic the script has falls away pretty quickly. This, normally, in a wham bam, 80s throwback, action film wouldn't matter but structuring it the way they have and presenting it the way they have, demands you look into it a little closer and, when you do, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
One of the good things about the movie was definitely the fact that, from the trailer, I thought it would have that shaky-cam, grainy-video style cinematography that sadly passes for so-called "realism" these days and is meant to signal you're watching something edgy and serious but it didn't. The cinematography was pretty good and the action scenes, particularly, were clear, pleasing and watchable. There were a couple of moments where the camera would suddenly and needlessly be mounted on top of a gun or something silly but apart from that, very cool. Another thing was Arnie and Olivia Williams performances, while the chemistry between them never really materialised like maybe the script called for it to, he has the presence and she has the acting chops, so that you were always pleased when the film followed them. Lastly it's violence and gore is joyously hard R, in your face, unflinching and even shocking. I just wish it was attached to more enthusiastic and pleasing action sequences.
Sadly though the movie has a lot of faults and I hate to write or report this as I really do think Arnie fans, action fans and thriller fans should go and see it, if for no other reasons but to make your own mind up and to see the Austrian oak do something very different in tone at least, if not in story. However, a couple of hours detached from the movie now and I just wish they'd told the story differently or it had been a different story. While I applaud anyone trying to come at generic material a different and new way, I don't think this did it successfully. There's a reason this kind of story has been told differently in the past, it's more satisfactory that way. Also it's full of plot holes which are covered only by the fact that, because we are meant to suspect everyone in the film, no one really has any kind of character to speak of. Their motives aren't quantified, explained or examined beyond very basic assumed reasons. The second reason Sabotage is not the film I hoped it would be, is that the team around Arnie are all horrible people and while Sam Worthington's character displays a little sensitivity and tragedy, quite well I might add, most of the time they are all obnoxious, swearing, bickering imbeciles. I couldn't believe one of them had any more elite training than a mall security guard and even if they did, not one of them seems to respect it. I understand the team in the film is meant to be divided by mistrust and devastated by the deaths of their team mates but there are more scenes of them visiting strip clubs and drinking booze than there are scenes of them kicking ass and taking names, which annoying and grating. Lastly, the film is also horribly misogynist. I can't, exactly, go into all the reasons why here but there aren't many glowing representations of women in the film, most of them are drug addled, whores or strippers. Not that the men are likable and perfect either but they don't get anywhere near the bad representation that women do in the film. It thinks it combats this claim by having Olivia Williams' seemingly strong, intelligent character in there but it really doesn't once you see what happens.
Despite all this stuff, I did enjoy the movie for what it was and it's definitely an interesting film for Arnie to have in his come-back cannon. It's nothing like I was lead to believe from the trailer though and it's not as clever as it thinks it is but disengage your brain and just go with it and there's a ton to enjoy. It's my least favourite of his films since 2010 though.
Bad Words (2013)
Jason Bateman ditches Mr.Put-Upon-Nice-Guy but you'll need to remember him to make it to the end of this crude, funny but empty comedy
Jason Bateman makes his directorial debut with this R Rated indie comedy that sees him attempting to drop his Mr.Put-Upon-Nice-Guy persona while starring in a film that doesn't exactly work without it. Bateman plays Guy Trilby a foul mouthed, negative, man-child with a savant way with words who has, through a loop-hole and with the support of reporter Kathryn Hahn, entered the Golden Quill spelling bee much to the chagrin of it's organisers Allison Janney and Philip Baker Hall and the parents of the children, the other participants.
The film is a short, well acted and competently directed, verbal, indie comedy. The humour is, at times, very rude, crude but pleasingly inventive and Bateman, especially, seems to be relishing the role. Good thing too as he holds the whole thing together. Which is more than can be said for the script. The tagline to the film is 'the end justifies the mean' and the fact of the matter is, it really doesn't. Whether you find spelling competitions important or not, nothing really justifies the cruelty Guy Trilby unleashes on, not only, the people directly involved in the competition but just general people in the world, funny though a lot of it is. His personal vendetta effects way more people than the actual, solitary focus of it and I guess it's just down to Bateman's like-ability as an actor, the genuinely funny dialogue and the fact that we are stuck following him for the whole movie that keeps us, the audience, dubiously 'on his side'.
There is a sub-plot about his befriending a child, a fellow contestant, and 'tearing up' the town with him in the evenings which, I suppose, is intended to endear him to us a little and play to the rebel in all of us but some of the things they do, including causing a stolen lobster to lacerate a man's genitals, seem a tad cruel for no reason, as well.
Now before you think I am taking this all too seriously, let me explain. The film IS funny. Taken on face value, if you find vicious, dark, crude humour for the sake of it funny, then you are going to love it and there was much about it I did enjoy. Films, however, whether people like it or not, have to have characters, plots and motivations that make relative sense within their presented frame work and while "it's just a comedy" may excuse a lot of illogical or unforgivably cruel behaviour, the fact that the film, ultimately, asks us to give a hoot about this selfish, arrogant arse hole of a man means that we have to, at least, buy into the story and care a little, when it doesn't give us a lot of satisfactory reasons to. Had he participated in the contest without cheating and eliminating some of his opponents in humiliating ways or had he befriended the kid, torn round the town but not hurt a man's penis with a large clawed sea creature then his character might have been a little more redeemable, while being no less funny.
There are echoes of Wes Anderson in the characters and the plot, especially Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums without, of course, it being anywhere nearly as charmingly presented or stylish.
A worthy debut, though, for Bateman as a director and interesting to see the R Rated comedy given the mumble core indie treatment.
The Big Score (1983)
A cool, fun, exciting, well paced, action packed movie with The Hammer, Shaft, John Saxon and Stack Pierce
OK, listen up, the rest of the people who have reviewed this movie are either blithering idiots or have never watched a B Movie actioner before. Fred 'The Hammer' Williamson directs and stars in this renegade cop versus a drug syndicate movie which has everything you could possibly ever want from one of these kinds of films. There is gun play, fisticuffs, explosions, great one liners, a damn cool soundtrack and a terrific cast having a ton of fun with the subject matter. Is it true that it's low budget, fairly rare, shot on a lower grade film and sort of illogical in places? yes of course, it's an action film made in the early 80s but that's not why you watch a movie like this. You watch it because Fred Williamson is one of the coolest men on the planet, because The Hammer always gets his man, because the cast list reads like a Whos Who of AWESOMENESS, because it's shot on real locations, because it's fun and gritty and, if you need one more reason, because there are full human body explosions in the movie!!
The Hammer plays a rough and ready, rule breaking cop who gets suspended after a drug bust gone wrong fails to turn up a million dollars in cash. Now this renegade has to clear his name and stop the bad guys who have a vendetta against him and want their money back. It doesn't disappoint. From the opening scene of Williamson undercover dressed like the smoothest pimp you've ever seen to the explosion filled ending it is a well paced, slick, fun, exciting, funny, action filled movie with a soundtrack that sets it on fire. A fairly bad copy is available on YouTube or you can buy it cheap on Amazon. I would suggest you do so. Yes this film needs to be watched and reviewed as what it is. Although the production value might not stand up against a big studio picture, considering it was probably made for 7% of the budget of say, a Beverly Hills Cop, it's a damn fine film and The Hammer knows how to get bang for his buck on screen.
Also, for the other reviewer that said that Black Caesar is the sequel to Hell up in Harlem, it's the other way round. You're on IMDb it would've taken you literally seconds to find that out.
Anyway, please ignore everyone else and give this movie a chance. It's kick ass!
Statham delivers a solid and entertaining throw-back action film
The ever prolific Jason Statham is back for his third film this year! First it was Parker, then Redemption and now, finally, the Sylvester Stallone penned Homefront, based on the book by Chuck Logan. My reviews of his earlier outings this year were full of pride and praise for the guy who, despite harsh, incorrect criticism and rarely stella box office, continues churning out diverse, yes I said it, diverse films. This time round please take that as read because, actually, in Homefront, Statham has delivered his most throwback, recognisable and just down right enjoyable action film of the year. While the junkets and interviews for this have tried to emphasise the emotion in the story, Statham showing vulnerability as a father and talk of him trying something different, actually this is the one movie this year that he's made that is just a straight up, old school, actioner.
When the movie starts we see undercover agent Stath's last case gone bad when his delicate work undercover with a biker gang is shattered by the heavy and messy hand of the DEA. He resigns, his wife gets sick and dies and so his daughter (Izabela Vidovic) and him move to the Louisiana countryside that his wife loved so much. He hasn't been there long when trouble at the daughter's school escalates into confrontations with the local, strung-out hillbilly woman (an almost unrecognisable Kate Bosworth) and her no good, dentally challenged, lank haired man. Bosworth happens to be the sister of the local nut job meth dealer Gator (James Franco), who is unceremoniously banging an ex druggie biker chick (Winona Ryder) who, in turn, happens to know the old biker gang who still hold a massive grudge against our musclebound, monosyllabic, balding hero. The stage is set for all hell to break lose and for The Stath to do what he does best and clean house. Throw in a crooked but charming sheriff (The always welcome Clancy Brown), the dependable, one good man in a hick town, best friend (Omar Benson Miller) and the beautiful, red headed, more than perfect, school psychologist (Rachelle Lefevre) and you've got yourself a damn enjoyable, by the book, nostalgia tinted, kick ass action movie.
If you've seen and loved Walking Tall or Road House then you'll like this. In fact I had to chuckle when I heard the name he was using, at the beginning, as an undercover biker. You'll see what I mean...
Much has been made of the script being written by Sylvester Stallone, you know because short-term memory critics forget the man has written a ton of screenplays, was Oscar nominated and developed three of the most successful franchises of all time, but, here, again, he shows that he hasn't lost his touch. Stallone writes relatable, human and enjoyable, kick ass entertainment and he does it almost better than anyone else. That's what you get here, some pretty decent character moments, some recognisably entertaining and enjoyable interactions, the odd cool one liner and action on and off through out. There is a pause in the middle to allow for character and plot development, some father and daughter bonding scenes and a nice sense of building tension for the third act fight but Statham dispatching some lunk headed rednecks is never far away.
As for the action we get a couple of car chases, some old fashioned fisty cuffs and even an enormous explosion. Statham is an old pro at this stuff and, thankfully, there isn't too much shaky cam-itis or heavy handed editing to ruin his masterful handling of the rough and tumble, although, ideally I'd prefer my fight scenes with no added style or flash from, overly twitchy, DPs at all. The direction from Mr. Old-reliable, Gary Fleder (Kiss The Girls, The Runaway Jury) is absolutely fine. He captures everything with the minimum of fuss and you're never unsure of what is going on. I imagine it would be difficult to make Louisiana look ugly but Fleder and his DP do their best to really make the surroundings pop with colour and texture.
As for the acting, the mad hodgepodge of a supporting cast do their roles pretty damn well actually. Kate Bosworth stands out in her role of the tweaker sister and it's by far the best she's been in anything I've seen her in. Franco is good, he doesn't overplay it and while he lacks overall menace, he does his best to portray the strung out Gator as a ruthless, wasted loser who could snap at any minute. Winona Ryder doesn't have a ton to do and neither does Rachelle Lefevre but Clancy Brown and Omar Benson Miller are effortlessly enjoyable and welcome whenever they're on screen.
Statham is his usual strong self, with maybe even less to say in this than in his normal roles and while he seems comfortable and it's never jarring, he does, sadly, lack great chemistry with Izabela Vidovic, the girl playing his daughter. Which is odd because in Safe he formed a very real and pleasing on screen bond with the girl in that. It is not that Izabela is no good, either, because she's a great little actress and they do have some affecting scenes together, it's just not 100% believable, not that it has to be for the film to work.
So, for all of you who don't believe Statham does anything but the same character in the same film, hopefully 2013 has proved you wrong, if it hasn't, Homefront is hardly going to go any further to change your mind, that being said, if you watched Parker and Redemption and longed for some of the wham bam, throw back days then Homefront should help stop that craving. For me, personally, I like them all. If I had to rank his last three it would be Redemption, Homefront and then Parker but there's really very little between them. They're all damn cool.
A good attempt at something different that sadly doesn't go anywhere.
Let me start by saying that James Cullen Bressack's film 13/13/13, released by The Asylum, has, at its core, a GREAT idea. At a time when the Horror and Sci-fi genres seem plagued by remakes, copy cats and irony filled shark attack films, even from so-called first time or indie talent, 13/13/13 has this great horror sci-fi concept.
Basically it's all something to do with leap years violating the ancient Mayan calendar and all those extra days in February, over time have created an extra month and on the date of 13/13/13 everyone who wasn't born on a February 29th goes completely nuts.
It's a wonderful, end of the world scenario that allows for lots of death, destruction, mayhem and the symbolism of the "unlucky number" 13. More importantly, I hadn't really heard of much like that before and it's always nice to hear a fresh idea. Yes, OK, so behind the idea is the whole Mayan calendar hoopla that went around last year claiming that, in 2012, the world was going to end and, I'm sure that, The Asylum liked it for that reason, as they're always making B-Movie versions of big budget disaster films (or Mockbusters as I believe the affectionate term is for them) but this has a decent spin on that and actually attempts something novel with it. The idea that leap years added up would form this weird 13 month is just the kind of bonkers, surreal hokum I am drawn to. There was a bit of George A Romero's The Crazies mixed in there as well but it's, at least, a different Romero source to draw from than the interminable bad zombie films we've had to wade through lately.
The things that I enjoyed in this film were the slow build up to people going crazy, some good and, on some occasions, even darkly comic deaths, a nice, atmospheric, gory and weird hospital sequence and attempts to establish different types of craziness for different groups of people. There was a really strong bedrock here for a pretty decent end-of-the-world horror film and what the filmmakers were able to do with, what was, obviously, a limited budget was, also, very impressive.
What was a slight disappointment with the movie, for me, was the fact that, I didn't feel, the concept went anywhere or was explored as much as I would've liked. For example, it needed a crazy old professor, or someone, who knew about the old world and spouted Donald Pleasance-like doom filled one-liners. The film, definitely, could've done with some sort of further explanation of the situation or some place to go. Maybe a glimmer of hope to reverse the situation using a mystical rock, Mayan gold amulet or something, or, maybe the rising of old beings to establish their order again on earth. As it was, while it was atmospheric, gory as all hell and nicely shot, the hospital sequence went on entirely too long and once our two, Feb 29th born, protagonists finally escaped there was little time for anything but a muddled and, I felt, rushed finale back at the house.
The acting was a problem in the film. I watch a lot of amateur and low budget films so it doesn't bother me a lot but the acting was pretty stale, unfortunately, and not one character really shone in the film. A lot of that might have been the script too because, while the idea was there and the deaths, gore and action were all there, the dialogue was, in places, dreadful. I thought that more creative ways could've been used to convey the craziness other than just rage and repeated uses of the f-word said unconvincingly by actors struggling to act. Don't get me wrong, there were some creative bits of craziness, especially Quentin (Jody Barton) believing himself, suddenly, to be a Korean war general but overall the swearing and the anger felt forced in some of the performances. I liked the laughter and the random acts of violence but thought the opportunity to make that truly creepy was missed. Without a few strong, decent lines of dialogue and the odd interesting character, the film did, very slowly, become something of a slog but there was, genuinely, some nice potential here.
Trae Ireland and Erin Coker were solid enough, but neither of them had very interesting characters. Calico Cooper is Alice Cooper's daughter but sadly didn't get to do very much but what she did was fine though. Jody Barton got the showy role and was, at least, enthusiastic with it and, probably, the strongest performer of the lot. Bill Voorhees, with the name made for horror film acting, was sort of funny in the role of sidekick to Jody Barton despite it being an underwritten, obvious, slob-friend role.
While it, sadly, does go nowhere, there was lots to like in this B-Movie. One positive on the acting was that I didn't feel anybody was winking at me or playing any scenes in a lazy, half-arsed manner. I felt that everyone was trying their hardest and playing the scenes straight and true. This is important because it's become all too fashionable these days, even amongst high-profile stuff like Tarantino and Rodriguez's later work, to knowingly and lazily play every scene just for puerile, pathetic and ironic laughter and, for me, that just takes me right out of the film. While the acting isn't always strong or dynamic, I am glad to say 13/13/13 doesn't do this. The key to making a fun, enjoyable, weird, silly, wonderful, cult or B-Movie is to believe in what you're doing, no matter how ridiculous and, again, this film does succeed in that regard.
While not quite there completely I appreciated this film for it's attempt at a different, creative take on an apocalypse scenario. It was an enjoyable romp, some great scenes, some good enthusiasm and a decent idea at its core.
The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012)
Belgians, Beards, Bluegrass and Death
Belgians, Bluegrass, Beards, Tattoos, Child Cancer, Marriage, Death, Birth, Life, Sex, Religion, Science, Politics, America, Birds, Stars and Suicide. The Broken Circle Breakdown is about all this and more. It's a phenomenal, brilliant, difficult, depressing, heart warming and joyously musical movie from Belgium by writer/director Felix Van Groeningen starring the supremely talented Johan Heldenbergh and Veerle Baetens. Johan Heldenbergh was also a co-writer of and performer in the original stage play and even learned to play guitar, mandolin and banjo to perform the lead role of Didier who is fascinated by America and bluegrass music.
The film tells the tragic story of Didier, the bearded bluegrass fanatic and passionate atheist, Elise/Alabama the head strong, mysterious, confused, emotional, sexy and lost tattoo shop owner and Maybelle their doomed daughter. The film chronicles their lives together, through the good and the bad, in a nonlinear narrative. The emotions involved and the relevant life moments, though, flow in a perfectly understandable and pleasing way. It's not unlike someone, sat round a table, telling you their life story. It wouldn't go from start to finish, there would be moments where they'd have to go back and fill in the blanks for you, that's the nature of this film. The characters meet, fall in love, find joy, get pregnant, face that hurdle, have a child, suffer that child getting leukemia and passing away and then the rest of the film shows how both Didier and Elise handle that while also taking time to cover the religious, spiritual, political and scientific ramifications of that. Didier is thrown more passionately into his steadfast belief in science and the political, religious fundamentalists who would block its exploration, while also desperately, emotionally and lovingly trying to keep his marriage and music together and Elise begins to find beauty and solace in notions of re-incarnation or the spiritual realm but also retreats from a situation she sees no remedy to and slowly, tragically abandons everything. Interspersed through all this tough life stuff is some of the most exquisite live performance of bluegrass, country and Americana roots music by a brilliant team of bearded Belgians. It's one of the best movie soundtracks of this kind, in my humble opinion, this side of O Brother, Where Art Thou?
The music, overseen and, very often, written originally by Bjorn Eriksson is most definitely the soul of this film and where it really hits its stride in terms of displaying truth, beauty and raw emotion. The whole film could've been dialogue free and told in just that incredible series of performances such is the skill of the actors and musicians. It helps immensely that the two leads perform the songs themselves and so can imbue them with the emotional journey their character is taking. During the rendition of 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken' We see attraction, amazement and the first flickers of love in Elise's face from the audience. During "Cowboy" Didier connects with Elise, shows off, struts, feels confident and she responds with excitement, awe and lust. During "Boy Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn", shown in a fantastic montage that goes from Didier practicing in the caravan, passed a beautifully photographed, fireside hoedown and up to the point when Elise finally joins her man on stage, you see her blossom and Didier unable to believe his luck. You even see the band buoyed and pushed forward by the way everything is gelling. Elise's solo performance of "Wayfaring Stranger" is so powerful and perfect that it doesn't really need the intercut images of poor Maybelle's fate, as everything is on Veerle Baetens' face and in the words of the song. This continues throughout the film with everyone hitting the right note so as to make the emotions utterly raw and believable in a way that only the combination of great direction, editing, performance, music and film can. In what might be one of the most beautiful performances of the entire film, Elise joins Didier and the band on stage one last time to perform a duet version of "If I needed You". It is the point where everything shifts and the two lovers are moving apart, Didier reaching out and Elise retreating. It's so sad, awkward and stunningly simplistic.
These musical interludes and their deep, clever, subtle storytelling are not, in any way, too obvious, mawkish, sentimental, over wrought or manipulative. They are woven so perfectly into the broken narrative that they enhance the journey you're on with the cast. It helps, of course, that I am already a fan of this music and it helps too that the film is photographed, directed and edited in such a wonderful way as to make even the slightest nod of a head, or the move of a hand poetic and rich. The colours, the grain, the lighting, the sound and the shots are so full of detail, texture, shadow as to both be seemingly realistic, you can feel the warm fire in a cold farm house, and utterly artistic, vibrant and clearly a movie.
Is it a tough watch, a tad depressing and definitely melodramatic? yes. It wasn't the love story I was expecting by a long shot but whereas other films I have seen are just relentlessly dreary, depressing, slow and devoid of ideas and emotions, Broken Circle Breakdown can be watched over and over again for the depth, detail, performances and ideology it has. I took from the film that life is meant to be held on to and fought for, not given up on or run away from and while finding solace in the religious or spiritual is all very well, there is more than enough beauty, mystery, music and reason to keep living, as much as you can, day by day, on earth, no matter how hard it gets. You never know, one day you might be surrounded by awesomely talented, bearded Belgians singing bluegrass... we can all dream, right?
Missed Connections (2012)
Office Space for the Internet dating generation
Indie romantic comedies are often treacherous waters to splash around in. Mostly they are not either as romantic or as funny as they need to be and it can be awkward to watch the 'fairly inexperienced' actors fumble around attempting to be loving or intimate. I am pleased to say that 'Love, Sex & Missed Connections' is not one of those films. With a fantastic 'Office Space' vibe, the film had me laughing out loud on several occasions.
Writer and lead Kenny Stevenson, director Eric Kissack and producer Lisa Rudin present, what is described as "the story of a guy named Neal. Neal's been trying to get over a traumatic break up with his ex-girlfriend by doing what anyone would do... tricking women on the Internet. Neal's plan is going amazingly well, until he meets Jane, who just may be as devious as he is."
The central conceit being that Neal's reprobate friends, in order to cheer him up, hatch a plan to get him laid. This involves having him reply to 'Missed connection' posts on a Craigslist- like site, showing up, observing the woman in question waiting for her mystery man and when he, obviously, doesn't show up, swooping in to seal the deal. Remarkably it works until he finds Jane, the woman with the blue shoes, out there gaming the system and the two become drawn together. It's a strong enough set up on which to hang a series of hilarious interactions between Neal and his friends, Neal and the women, Neal and his family and Neal and his Ex. The film survives on the strength of the script and the likability of the performers.
Everyone involved in the production has a history in comedy from the Director editing Role Models and the Producer working with Bill Maher and Sasha Baron Cohen to almost everyone in the cast being in one comedy theatre group or other, mainly the Groundlings, and this is my main reason for wanting you to see this film. It's really funny. I know this sounds like a stupid and even offensive point to make but they even bother to make the women funny. In most Rom-Coms the Women are victims of supposed male charm, looks or apparent superiority, slaves to their emotions and, surprisingly, either dull or, worse, cutesy. This is even true when the film is written by a woman! Not so with Love, Sex & Missed Connections, despite what, on the surface, may start out as a fairly misogynistic premise, the main two women in the film, played by, the wife of the lead, Dorien Davies and Sami Klein are written and performed as interesting, funny, complex and different. It's refreshing.
While there's nothing particularly new about the male roles in the film, again think Office Space or The Hangover, they are still well observed and played by charismatic, funny actors (Shane Elliot, Alex Enriquez, Abe Smith and Scott Beehner) who you enjoy spending time with.
Also, the film doesn't say a whole lot of anything new about relationships or the battle of the sexes, anymore than the next Tom Cruise movie will say anything new about being an upright, respectable, everyman, super spy with a ready quip and neat fighting abilities but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be watched and enjoyed. The central premise is one you haven't heard of before and there are some wonderful little, subtle moments in the film that really make it something different. The observation that, when depressed, the character makes the life changing move of walking everywhere, certainly in LA, feels like a novel little detail in the movie.
Funny, charming, well put together and worth a watch! It's Office Space for the Internet dating generation
Lost in space...
When I saw the trailers for Gravity, each of them brilliant, short, panicky glimpses of a desperate situation, I had no idea what to expect from the finished film. "How is this a movie?" I thought. "What happens? How can they just sustain that for 90 minutes?" All I knew, was that, I was going to see the film as soon as possible. It was a refreshing inner monologue to have because after most film trailers, even for films I am interestedin still seeing, I know, pretty much what is going to happen in the film by the end and what kind of film it is. Gravity was different though. I didn't have a clue.
I am a big fan of Alfonso Cuarón's dystopian action drama Children of Men and he's the only man to make a satisfactory Harry Potter film so I knew, with the director, I was in safe and interesting hands. I am also an unabashed George Clooney disciple, believing the man to have pretty impeccable taste in scripts and projects to work on (seriously, listen to my 'When Clooney met the Coens podcast' he's my man crush). Sandra Bullock is a great comedienne and can pretty much raise the standard of any generic rom-com or action-com she takes part in. I haven't seen a lot of her "serious, worthy" films and I don't want to but "an interesting choice" I thought and a good fit with Clooney. So what was going to happen in this mysterious space film?
Well, I am not going to tell you here. If you're looking for spoilers or plot points then you've come to the wrong place because it's best to go into Gravity fresh and ready for anything. What I can tell you is that it is one of the most breath taking, nerve shredding, tension sustaining, technically advanced and most complex directed film, I think, I have ever seen. I would need to watch it again, not because of any twisty turny story developments but to try and wrap my brain around just the level of organisation and unfathomable skill that went into creating this heart pounding 90 minutes. It is a sublime magic trick of a film because, unlike the cartoonish nonsense of, say, Avatar or Abrams' Star Trek you just, quite reasonably, assume that Clooney, Bullock and Cuarón filmed the whole thing in ACTUAL SPACE. Cuarón realises that to wow and amaze with CGI and modern special effects, you don't need to go hog wild and create insane worlds and multi-headed monsters, just make a seemingly realistic and simple film, set in space. He did the same thing to similar wonderful effect in Children of Men. It's not what you see, it's what you don't realise you've seen. You take everything for granted in a Cuarón film and buy the world completely, it's only later that you stop and think "Wait?! how on EARTH did they do that?!" In an age where everyone knows "oh yeah, they just draw that stuff on a computer, right?" (you know, like ANYONE could do it effortlessly) it takes real skill to hush those tongues and drag the audience, spellbound and quiet as amazed church mice, into your film. There is a similar trick that the story pulls and that is that, with so few cast members, you know somebody, logically and presumably, is making it to the end of this film alive but that never holds you back from being on the edge of your seat, biting your knuckles or gripping the hand of your loved one next to you, every time peril rears it's ugly head.
The acting, too, is fantastic, with Sandra Bullock, especially, giving, to quote EVERY critic on the planet, the performance of her career. Hell! the performance of anyone's career! For the physical strain, it must have been to make this film, alone she deserves all the Oscars Billy Crystal can quickly polish and shove into the back of a Lexus. That's not to say Clooney's a slouch but it becomes pretty apparent why they cast him after just a few lines of dialogue, in a pleasing, welcome way.
Again, like Children of Men, the film is a mix of genres. It gave me more of a jolt and locked me rigid with tension more than any horror film of recent times, it has enough action in it to please any of John McClane's ardent admirers and it's also an achingly beautiful science fiction film, with critics throwing around 2001: A Space Odyssey comparisons like happy, pretentious puppies with a Kubrick designed squeeze toy. It may just be Clooney, the minimalist cast and an emotional theme of the film but referencing Solaris, in an attempt to seem smart and educated, might be slightly more apt actually.
It is in the emotional, character based thread of the film's narrative, though, that the first tiny, critical comment must be made because the slightly over-egged and obvious motivations of Bullock's character and the emotional journey she undertakes, is not as deep, fleshed out, or as relevant as the film thinks it is. I would argue it's the physical journey, and the mental struggle and dilemma that produces, that is a more satisfying and watchable than her emotional one. However, like all good sci-fi, there's lots of layers to the thing and you can enjoy what you want about it. I just didn't think the script or dialogue was particularly strong when dealing with a certain topic, that will remain unnamed here.
It's a film all about connections though, in more ways than one, and the ultimate connection we must make with our own lives. That being said, it's also, pleasingly, about hair raising stunts and explosions in space. Unusually, if I urge you to go see this film at all, it's for that, latter reason, the sheer, jaw dropping, spectacle of it all.
Profile of a Killer (2012)
Ambitious and chilling indie thriller
Profile of a Killer is the ambitious directorial debut by British born screenwriter Caspian Tredwell-Owen, he also penned the script. The film is a serious look at the mind of a teenage serial killer, his captured profiler and the people tracking him. While it still has some of the welcomed clichés of the serial killer and police procedural drama genres, it also does its best to dispense of them and try something different. The main one being that we, the audience, discover the identity of the killer fairly early on and from that moment the film jumps between FBI agent Rachel Cade (Emily Fradenburgh) trying to track him down and the killer, David (Joey Pollari) instigating a battle of wits with his kidnapped profiler (Gabriele Angieri).
It was apparently intended as a studio project but when financing fell through Tredwell-Owen relocated to Minnesota, got a fantastic, local cast together and a fairly extensive crew, for an indie production, and they all took the project on themselves. The gamble appears to have paid off as a solid script, some excellent performances, beautifully real cinematography and strong production values has propelled this taught drama onto the big screen across America and onto DVD using a word of mouth, grass roots campaign that continues today with humble blogs like mine receiving screeners and doing reviews.
I am happy to report that this film was well worth the watch. I was impressed by its visual flair. The snowy farm land and freeways of Minnesota, while, of course, conjuring up some favourable comparisons to the Coen Brother's Fargo, also remained feeling very fresh, different and unique to this film. The set dressing and art direction of the farm house, where the majority of the action takes place, is pleasingly run down and filled with texture. It's also lit and shot in an evocative and vibrant way, creating depth and shadow, as well as a sense of unease. You can feel the bone chilling cold and the rough harsh surfaces of this unforgiving building.
The performances prove, once and for all, that you don't need a big name star to present compelling characters on screen. For one half, the film is a riveting two hander between Joey Pollari's David and Gabriele Angieri's Saul. Both actors enthrall with their range and ability and even when, in the long second act, the dialogue gets quite complex and wordy, throwing the pacing off somewhat, their acting never wavers for a second and is always impressive to watch. The other half of the film is focused on the FBI and local police's attempts to track them both down, lead by Emily Fradenburgh's dedicated and dead pan agent Cade. She is the determined centre of this story and it can be a thankless task because while Fradenburgh's performance is pleasingly assured, serious and earnest, she can, sometimes, lack an emotional core. There are a couple of scenes in the film, a throwaway plot strand about her father and the death of someone close, that maybe could've used some beefing up, so that she could show the wearing affect of her steadfast dedication to the job but those are small complaints overall. The cast of characters she is surrounded by or interviews are also resoundingly great and you're never thrown from the film because of some unfortunate dialogue delivery that can, sadly, derail even the most well intentioned low budget film.
The writing is strong and the dialogue authentic. The procedural elements of the police work felt real and without the usual over-the-top flashes that TV so often employs. The same can be said for the back and forth dialogue in the farm house. The questions, the actions and the reactions were different from what you'd expect as, usually, they would be ramped up and accompanied by an overly dramatic score but here they play out naturally. This makes these scenes disconcerting as you can't second guess what will happen next, which adds to the tension. The script is definitely clever and never overly stylised.
The film makes excellent use of the budget and it feels like every penny is on screen in the right place. There are authentic police cars, a helicopter, a delivery van and a variety of locations. There are also some nice, gruesome effects and while it's not exactly excessively gory or exploitative, the deaths are uniquely twisted and macabre.
I have to admit that the overly serious tone, pacing and length of the film are not usually my cup of tea. I also found some of the dialogue and drama during the mid section of the film to be a little confusing as I'm not sure I bought strongly into the mental cat and mouse as much as I would've liked. The ending was good though and the ultimate irony well thought out and haunting. This is definitely a film to track down on-demand or for rent as it really has a lot to offer and projects like this need to be supported.
An overly long, grim and obvious drama with a lack of characters
The most complex thing to think about the film Prisoners is why any of the Oscar nominated or recognisably 'serious' actors agreed to be in it in the first place. While it is clearly meant to be, judging by the blind critical reaction, a tense, thought provoking, violent and difficult film, I found it to be too dreary, too melodramatic, too obvious and, most importantly, too long.
There are few films that can, successfully, keep me gripped for 2hrs35min. JFK is one and that other Gyllenhaal detective drama Zodiac is another but what they had, that Prisoners forgot, was a complex, gripping detective narrative with possibly many solutions and actual characters. It is in these two areas that Prisoners woefully falls short.
Focussing, for the moment, on the little good in the film, Prisoners is very well shot by seasoned director of photography, Roger Deakins and not badly played by the starry, Oscar grabby cast, not that they're given a whole lot to work with.
That being said, my first problem with the kidnapping plot is that it was obvious. If you, like my wife and I, indulge your silly brain cells every week by watching 45min detective procedurals like The Mentalist, Castle, Elementary, White Collar or whatever, then you will see the ending of the film coming a mile away. This is because, the way it was set up and as it continued to play out, there was only a handful of ways it could play out. Now, I'm sure, for those not so used to the simple twists and turns of evening TV, Prisoners may have been a gripping whodunit but, I am sorry, if you've read any, even mildly, detective orientated books or watched a Murder She Wrote then you'll know the plot, like I did, 45mins in and will have to sit there for another 1hr and 45mins waiting for surly, grumpy, tattooed Jake Gyllenhaal to work it out too. Which he eventually does but even his, supposedly brilliant, 'never lost a case' detective is beaten to the punch by 'very angry indeed' Hugh Jackman.
Gyllenhaal's detective is supposed, I am guessing, to be a tortured, dogged genius but we never see any evidence of him really doing anything insightful or perceptive, he's not a fantastic puzzle solver, good with people particularly and there doesn't appear to be a great intellect pounding away inside his furrow browed, slicked back haired head. It struck me as one of those characters him and the director talked endlessly about but forgot to put any of the motivations into the actual script. We are told in dialogue he is brilliant and we are just meant to take it as read, despite the fact that all he does is mundane and routine investigation. Yes he has tattoos, a grumpy face and spends thanksgiving alone in Chinese restaurants but apart from that, we have no idea what makes him tick, oh and his superiors and the police around him are also woefully inept.
Jackman is a survivalist, all American, possible religious nut who is also an alcoholic with an atrociously bad temper bubbling underneath a, not very interesting, surface. I was never sure if we were meant to side with him so that, we the audience, were complicit in his violent actions later on but seeing as I didn't really like him from the get go and seeing as I suspected that probably Paul Dano's massively red herring probably wasn't the bad guy (just by watching the trailer) that didn't really work for me. I actually found his reaction a little unrealistic and over the top but then I also found Paul Dano's character as annoyingly, idiotically stubborn as Jackman found him. Mind of a 10 year old or not, traumatised or not, I didn't buy for one second he'd stay silent for as long as he does, when he had no problem talking to Gyllenhaal's character for an apparent 10hr interrogation (we're told and see on video).
Maria Bello, Viola Davis & Terrence Howard are all shockingly underused and irrelevant (mostly) and poor Melissa Leo is left playing, what slides very close to being, a comical old grandma part. Complete with bad clothes, huge glasses and a terrible wig.
I am, personally, amazed that this film got made the way it did at all and, secondly, amazed that people love it so much. It's not that it's a bad film. It's fine. It just felt very obvious, mundane, grim and too long.