Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Stylish and bloody historical slasher - 73%
I suppose that it was inevitable after the considerable success of "Sin City" that movie producers would go looking into the back catalogue of Frank Miller for further adaptations. This one, based on actual events in ancient Greek history, may take one or two (hundred) liberties with the truth but as a spectacle, it is a brutal and bloody history lesson. Director Zack Snyder has quickly developed a reputation as a visionary who occasionally loses focus on the story (see "Watchmen" for details) and I sometimes felt that was part of the problem here. It is extremely stylised, fit to bursting with toned muscular bodies and lashings of digital gore. There's no doubt it is a very pretty picture, despite the subject matter. But the story felt a little lost at times and pacing was also a problem.
In 480 BC, a vast Persian army led by the supposedly divine Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) was making its way through Greece. In his way stood a small force of Spartan warriors led by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler). Facing a face of around a million, Leonidas' 300 men are greatly outnumbered but by using the terrain at Thermopylae and the Spartan's natural fighting skills, Leonidas hopes to prevent Greece from falling. Back in Sparta, his wife Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) attempts to convince the council to send the rest of the Spartan army but her efforts are challenged by the treacherous Theron (Dominic West). Leonidas knows that help is unlikely to come but refuses to back down or surrender, intent on taking as many Persians with him as he can...
As I said at the start, "300" is an easy film to watch. It may be almost all CG but the film presents a living, breathing glimpse into an ancient world full of myths and monsters and it gives the film an odd sense of plausibility. Whether CG was used for the huge number of abs and pectorals on display, I couldn't possibly comment but I can't recall seeing any film which made me consider my own bulky, overweight frame with quite so much disdain. Butler is remarkably good as Leonidas, giving the role both nobility and savagery in the many battle scenes. I just wished the plot gave him and the other characters more to do - once Leonidas and his men reach Thermopylae, the film kinda stops and presents battle after battle after battle and all populated by misshapen creatures and liberal splashes of red against the colour-infused chaos. It's like an 18-rated version of "Lord Of The Rings" and the screenplay issues are even worse with poor Headey who at least gives us plenty of reasons why she would be cast in "Game Of Thrones". Her political struggle with Theron is desperately slow and serves only to break up the carnage that would otherwise be on screen and this is a great shame because Headey's Queen is just as steely and determined as her husband.
I did enjoy "300" but I couldn't escape the feeling that they could have done a better job. The film needed more characterisation and more input from the screenwriters who seemed content to relax once battle had been joined. But aside from the odd costume (the Immortals seemed to have borrowed their masks from the set of "The Chronicles Of Riddick"), the film's true strength is the look of it. Snyder has fashioned an attractive film out of typical swords-and-sandals material and propelled it onto the screen with an orgy of violence behind it. It has been some time since I last saw a film with so many heads, arms and legs being chopped off outside of a teen slasher flick and whether you'll like "300" might depend on how strong your stomach is. Right, I'm off to hit the gym and I'll try not to look at any mirrors on the way...
Simple but effective thriller - 77%
Not many people know this but during a flight to Las Vegas to celebrate my 30th birthday, I actually watched two and a half films. The two complete ones ("The A Team" and "Iron Man 2" if you must know) were made as we cruised over the Canadian wilderness but the half-movie was this one which I was prevented watching fully by two things. Firstly, I was distracted by icy beauty of Greenland and the vast desert emptiness of Nevada and secondly, the movie's graphic nudity would have prompted a sharp dig in the ribs from my wife. Today, alone in the house, I caught up with it again on BBC's iPlayer service and was determined to finish the job this time. A good job I did because this film is about much more than Gemma Arteton's boobs.
The film opens with two former convicts, Danny (Martin Compston) and Vic (Eddie Marsan) quietly and efficiently acquiring the materials to construct a sound-proof cell with a remote house somewhere. Before long, they had kidnapped estranged heiress Alice (Ms Arteton) and have successfully locked her in the cell. After placing the ransom demand with her tycoon father, the two of them simply wait and take turns looking after their hostage. But as is often the case with the simplest of crimes, it doesn't take much to unsteady the ship...
I'm reluctant to give away any more of the story because "The Disappearance Of Alice Creed" is only a small film and needs all the help it can get and spoiling the twists would do it a disservice. And when I say small, I mean it - the cast number is limited to three, the crew is minimal and the budget feels stretched. But sometimes too many cooks spoil the broth and this film feels sharp, tense and atmospheric as a result. The cast are all in fine form - Arteton gives a brave performance as the poor victim (especially given that I associate her with fluff like the wretched "St Trinians" remakes and "Tamara Drewe") and Marsan is always watchable. The key to the film is Compston who I'm not familiar with but might keep an eye out for in future, given that he's equally as good as the others. The plot doesn't give much away and feels pretty slow at times as though director J Blakeson was more interested in filming Ms Arteton's numerous humiliations. It can be an uncomfortable watch at times such as the moment when she needs the toilet whilst still handcuffed to the bed. Without Arteton's convincing portrayal this might have been comical but with it, it is a disturbing scene that left me feeling nauseous and squirming in my sofa.
Torture-porn veterans might think this tame but I felt "The Disappearance Of Alice Creed" to be an effective and enjoyable thriller. The ending feels a little stretched and I would have liked someone else to appear in the movie - a policeman or two - to prevent the movie feeling too claustrophobic. But on the whole, I reckoned I should have watched this on the plane instead of "The A Team" and risked bruised ribs. We Brits seem to do a good job on small budgets and simple stories and the movie almost feels like a play, albeit one written by a rather disturbed individual. Not every thriller needs a car chase or explosions to drive it - a good screenplay or compelling actors can do the job just as well and this movie is one such example. It won't be to everyone's taste but I believe that the movie deserves more attention than it got in the cinemas when it was released.
Date Night (2010)
Daft but enjoyably silly - 80%
Having watched this last night with my Better Half, I was somewhat surprised by the middling rating and bile-fuelled comments. Are people's expectations now so high that unless they're crying with laughter or peeing involuntarily, a comedy is useless? Personally, I was delighted to find a comedy that made both her and I laugh at times. True, it is not a riot of fun - it takes time to get going, given the fairly short running time and the film's fantastical plot takes some believing. But with two seasoned comedy performers in the lead and surrounded by a stellar supporting cast not afraid to laugh at itself, it's definitely worth a look and more so if you identify with the couple in question like I did.
For middle-aged couple Phil (Steve Carell) and Claire Foster (Tina Fey), their weekly date night is the highlight in their otherwise stable but boring marriage. Shaken when two of their mutual friends split up, Phil decides to take Claire to a new place - the Manhattan-based seafood joint Claw - but aren't able to make a reservation. Mulling their options at the busy bar, Phil throws caution to the wind and claims a table booked by the Tripplehorns who haven't turned up. But his impetuous behaviour has unforeseen consequences for them both involving a couple of crooked cops (Common and Jimmi Simpson), a sleazy DA (William Fichtner), a muscle-bound security expert who's never wearing a shirt (Mark Wahlberg) and a couple of minor criminals (James Franco & Mila Kunis) with relationship problems of their own.
I hadn't many expectations of "Date Night" so it was a pleasant surprise to find a comedy with a genuine heart to it and didn't rely on gross-out humour and needless sexism. It is, in short, a comedy about adults for adults - none of this "American Pie" nonsense about desperately trying to get your end away. Granted, the plot is somewhat far-fetched but Carell and Fey handle the material with humour and the requisite amount of seriousness. As good as they are, they don't really convince as a couple. Thank Heavens for the supporting cast - Wahlberg gives his funniest performance to date as everyone else hams it up to spoof their roles very well. The only performer I didn't like was Taraji P Henson (who I normally enjoy) but saddled with an unconvincing haircut, she fails to convince as the bemused detective on their tail which may be why her screen time is sorely limited.
What makes "Date Night" stand out from most comedies these days, aside from the fact it is genuinely funny, is that it's also a touching look at a marriage in decline with both participants unable to do much about it. The early scenes, with their sleep being interrupted by young children and the bitchy commentary they provide for other diners, rings truer than anything in the movie. This is why what follows (which I'm being quite cagey about, deliberately) is so good because when it does kick off, we have already formed a bond with these two characters. In fact, remove the kids and add on a few pounds to each character and we could have been watching ourselves! In truth, it was just refreshing to see normal people on the screen for once and allow the comedy to revolve around them instead of having extraordinary people trying to do normal things. Clearly, judging by some of the comments here, this movie isn't for everybody but I urge you to give it a chance. It's funnier and sillier than you might imagine but at least it's something different and for that, I respect it.
Hopeless - 49%
Desperate for a film to disprove the theory that there has not been a decent movie adaptation of a video game, I stumbled across this generic homage to the mother of all shooters. Way back in the early Nineties, "Doom" was a landmark title which paved the way for the torrent of first-person shooters (FPS) that flooded the market and led to stuff like "Quake", "Half-Life" and "Call Of Duty". This movie adaptation is based upon the most recent entry in the franchise "Doom³" which focused on being more of a horror game than the traditional demon-hunt with a mini-gun. Trouble is, none of the Doom games were the most narrative of experiences and trying to extract a movie of near two-hours length is like trying to make a movie adaptation of a single Dilbert comic piece.
On a remote scientific outpost on Mars (aren't they all?), the small team of scientists lose contact with Earth so a team of military specialists are sent to the planet to find out what's happened. It turns out that at the site of an archaeological dig, the scientists have discovered ancient Martian fossils with an extra chromosome which turned most of them into monsters. Judging by the number of bloody deaths and mysterious disappearances, it would appear that some of them aren't as dead as they supposed and from this point, it becomes a macho version of the Dead Teenager cliché of most horror films. Can you guess who survives from the military professional (Dwayne Johnson), the religious one (Ben Daniels), the sleazy one (Richard Brake), the ladies man (Razaaq Adoti), the enigmatic one with a back-story (Karl Urban), the young rookie on his first mission (Al Weaver) or the heavyset gun-head (Deobia Oparei), not forgetting the obligatory female scientist in a tight sweater (Rosamund Pike)? I forgot about the other member of the team (Yao Chin) who plays the guy you forget about almost immediately.
"Doom" is the sort of brainless actioner that would appeal to the teenage boys who grew up running around dark corridors with a BFG. Trouble is, those teenage boys have now grown up playing "Call Of Duty" and watching "The Matrix" so one wonders how relevant "Doom" still is. Certainly, the movie is as technically advanced as the original game is today - almost every scene involving the beasties is pitch black so not only can you not see the crummy effects but you also have no idea what's happening which isn't a good thing for a movie reliant on action. After all, "Doom" isn't reliant on much else - the actors do their thing but really have little more to do than run, shoot and shout. The movie also doesn't work as a horror because it's just too damn predictable. Every corridor is ill-lit and full of the usual distracting objects - random chains hanging from the ceiling, sparks flying from walls, steaming pipes, you know the stuff. After about an hour, you start to wonder why you even bothered thinking that this film would be the one to buck the notorious video-game adaptation curse.
I can't completely condemn "Doom" because there are one or two moments that make you think that things might have been different. Take the first-person sequence which isn't just technically impressive (if you ignore the crummy CG) but an obvious nod to the original games. The movie also matches the game's level of violence and gore - I liked the chainsaw, prompting memories of playing the first "Doom" many years ago. But generally speaking, this movie fails on almost every level. For an action pic, the action is too ill-lit and composed of hundreds of needless edits, making it impossible to follow. The story is practically non-existent, the cast are little more than one-dimensional cut-outs and the film's horror element is tragically comical. However, I have found one level on which the film DOES work. Sadly, it reinforces my theory that there are no decent film adaptations of video games...
The Road (2009)
The Road to nowhere - 80%
It's hard to ignore a film described by 'The Independent' as one of the most important films ever made and one that everyone must see. Bold claims but I can't really imagine any film living up to such hyperbole. Not being familiar with the source novel, I was aware that this movie was a long, sterile exercise in depressing atmosphere and earnest acting. It felt a very worthy film, the sort of movie that tries really hard to appeal to voting members of awards bodies. Despite this, it does work - the film has a stark beauty to it and everyone in the cast does indeed bring their A-game to the picture. But it's a hard film to recommend because it is so relentlessly bleak and it's difficult to understand exactly what it's trying to say.
A few years after some sort of global apocalypse, the world is now devoid of plant and animal life and populated by roaming gangs of cannibals scavenging whatever they can find. Amidst such devastation, a man (Viggo Mortensen) is escorting his young son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to the south coast in the hope of finding better things. Armed with a pistol with two rounds and haunted by memories of his late wife (Charlize Theron), they struggle to survive as they escape from murderous gangs and live on their wits. But the longer they are exposed to the cold, grey environment, the greater the toil on themselves.
You know how movies are coming adorned with numerous warnings for things like violence, drug use and 'mild peril'? Well, "The Road" should come with a warning reading something like this: "This film contains scenes of tedious dreariness and will make you want to slit your wrists." It is a pounding on your ability to watch scenes of terminal sadness, one after the other until the credits finally signal the end of the film. You wish for something hopeful, something to offer the viewer some respite from the gloom. Amid this cycle of cheerlessness, the cast offer what they can - Mortensen is in full-on Aragorn-mode and is painfully plausible as the tortured protector of his son. Alongside him, Smit-McPhee is equally up to the task as his son. His face is full of the fear I'd imagine one who grew up in such an environment would have. The only other cast member with any significant screen time is Theron but her desperation and resistance to her husband's determination to live brings the film back down.
I've no doubt that "The Road" is a well-made, well-intentioned picture but I'm struggling to think who it's for. It's far too depressing to be entertainment and I can't understand what the film is trying to say. The story leaves several questions for the viewer and while I acknowledge that not every film should answer its own questions, it does make "The Road" a frustrating picture to watch. I admire it but can't really enjoy it. It's too abstract for me, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that I'm not entirely sure are from the same box. After all the doom and gloom on screen, for the viewer then to be left underwhelmed at the end is something that I cannot forgive. As Talking Heads might have put it, this is "The Road" to nowhere...
Not exactly Marvel-lous - 68%
It's easy to forget that not every film based on a Marvel character is a blockbusting smash. Long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was even planned, they were reliant on other studios adapting their material and usually, they cocked it up. Indeed, so disastrous was their first attempt at a movie (1986's "Howard The Duck") that they left it twelve years before having another go - and reduced the character to a brief cameo in the recent "Guardians Of The Galaxy". But here, finally, they were on steadier ground. Vampires have long been favoured baddies in movies so it made sense to have a straight-up action movie involving the bloodsuckers. Sure enough, the movie is fairly conventional by todays standards - anyone who has seen any of the "Underworld" movies will be at home here - but fans of the current crop of Marvel movies might reckon a reboot is in order because this first film in the series hasn't dated well at all.
Tax dodging Wesley Snipes plays the titular hero, a half-human, half-vampire hybrid who has dedicated himself to ridding the world of vampires everywhere. Alongside his armourer Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), Blade has a run-in with a vampire named Quinn (Donal Logue) who has attacked a haematologist named Karen (N'Bushe Wright). Rescuing Karen and taking her to his secret base hoping to cure her before she turns, Blade realises that his true enemy is fellow hybrid Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) who has plans to enslave humanity forever.
Ignoring the pretty dumb story behind, "Blade" does a pretty decent job of being a horror-themed action flick. Snipes knows what he's doing in these sort of movies and has all the moves to convince, even if his portrayal is fairly monotone and uncharismatic. In truth, nobody really does themselves any favours with their performances - Wright does an adequate job of being the rabbit-in-the-headlights, caught up in a war she doesn't understand and barely believes. Logue, who I'm currently enjoying in the under-rated TV show "Gotham", is little more than a sniggering sidekick while Dorff looks and feels like a weak Jack Nicholson impersonator. It's a pity because the movie generally does a good job, fuelled by frenetic fight scenes and decent visuals. But it's much darker than Marvel's current output (unsurprisingly) as there is a good deal of gore splashing about and some of the characters (like the grotesque archivist (Eric Edwards underneath a tonne of prosthetics) tortured by Blade and Karen) are weirdly reminiscent of the equally dark "Spawn".
It avoids being a "Howard The Duck"-shaped turkey but "Blade" is somewhat underwhelming. I liked the character but wished he had a bit more to him than a back-story and a vast array of interesting weapons (how expensive are those silver bullets, given how many he shoots at a time?). Maybe the sequels will offer something a tad deeper but somehow, I doubt it. Despite the shadows and blood-letting, this is actually a standard shooter that overemphasises the violence instead of letting the characters develop naturally. It looks good on screen and has a good feel for the aesthetics, much like director Stephen Norrington's later adaptation of "The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen". But like "LXG", it disappoints in terms of story and character although nothing like as bad as "LXG" did. I wanted to be scared, entertained and interested and in truth, I wasn't any of these. Nice try but needed a lot more to it, especially compared to its stable-mates these days.
The Artist (2011)
C'est magnifique! 91%
As we hurtle yet again towards the Oscars, I always try to make the effort to catch previous winners. I find it's easier to fully judge a film once the hype has died down and dissenting voices can be fully heard, rather than dismissed as being deliberately controversial. With this in mind, I really had no idea what to expect from this successful revival of a long-dead format. But I'm happy to report that the numerous awards it received are fully justified - not only is it a loving homage to the magic of cinema but also full of genuine humour, shed-loads of charm and wonderful performances from the cast. Looks like silence really is golden.
Hollywood in 1927 and silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is happily promoting his latest hit "The Russian Affair" alongside studio producer Al Zimmer (John Goodman) and his ever-popular canine sidekick. Bumping into enthusiastic fan Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) outside the theatre, George encourages her to become a star herself and soon, Peppy's career as a dancer and actress takes off. But within a few years, the silent movie is replaced by 'talkies' and George finds himself on the Hollywood scrapheap while Peppy's career takes off. As George hits rock bottom, Peppy realises that she cannot deny her feelings for him - but will tragedy strike before she can tell him?
I cannot begin to tell you how much personality is contained within "The Artist", a film that flies in the face of modern convention by being largely silent and black-and-white. Each performance is beautifully portrayed on screen, largely through the lost art of acting with the face - Dujardin in particular and Bejo both look like they could have stepped off the silver screen themselves, looking and feeling every inch like early cinema stars. But they are the cherries on top - Goodman and James Cromwell lead a fantastic supporting cast who utterly convince. The screenplay, taking its inspiration from several silent stars who couldn't cross over to talkies, is believable and charming while director Michel Hazanavicius has a good eye for the era - even the opening credits look authentic for the time while some of the scenes are reminiscent of silent movies of the time. I loved the scene between Dujardin and Bejo on the stairs of what looked like the Bradbury Building (from "Blade Runner"), shot side-on and instantly recognisable to anyone who's had the good fortune to watch "Metropolis". But because it's a modern silent movie, it can play with convention - the dream sequence is a prime example, twisting our expectations of what the movie is and what it's capable of.
The musical soundtrack is also first class, complimenting the action on screen without being too intrusive. Really, I'm struggling to think of anything not to like about "The Artist" and God knows that I can be really picky at the best of times. There will be many viewers who won't like it, put off by the near-total absence of audible dialogue or the black-and-white visuals. These are the same people, presumably, that didn't enjoy "WALL·E" because it had no audible dialogue to begin with. But that fault lies with them and not with "The Artist", a wonderfully winning film that really can be watched by everyone. I spent the whole movie with a broad smile on my face, entranced by the beauty and magic of it. And even though I was born in 1980, it made me nostalgic for when cinemas brought excitement and romance into peoples lives, where films were enjoyed the way they are supposed to be - on a big screen in a sumptuous setting instead of downloaded onto a tablet the size of a mouse mat. And what better reason is there to recommend a movie besides the rarely-uttered statement "It made me happy"?
Looks like a dog's dinner - 58%
After the financial disaster of "Sleeping Beauty", Walt Disney needed to save a few pennies on his next outing. Indeed, he even considered shutting down the animation studios altogether before he was rescued by the unlikeliest of machines - a photocopier. Armed with this new technology, Walt could rapidly reproduce animation cels at a fraction of the cost. There was, sadly, a trade-off as the quality of reproductions wasn't that great and left everything with a grainy black outline. This is why the original "101 Dalmatians" looks the way it does but it is a shock to the system considering the beautiful fluidity the earlier films contained. Combining this with the fact that the story and characters aren't especially memorable and it's perhaps not surprising that the film's one true lasting legacy is in the shape of the movie's legendary baddie.
Lonely Pongo (voiced by the late Rod Taylor) yearns for some company for both himself and his owner, struggling song writer Roger (Ben Wright). After spotting fellow Dalmatian Perdita (Cate Bauer) in the park, Pongo contrives to get Roger to meet her owner Anita (Lisa Davis). After Roger and Anita marry, it isn't long before puppies are on the way and Pongo and Perdita become proud parents to fifteen puppies. But their happy home life is shattered by Anita's old school friend Cruella De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson) who has plans for the helpless puppies and together with bumbling crooks Horace (Frederick Worlock) and Jasper (J. Pat O'Malley), conspires to steal them. After the police turn up empty-handed, Pongo and Perdita realise that it's up to them to get their litter of puppies back.
It isn't just the story which is barking in "101 Dalmatians". None of the characters really make much of an impact, meaning that the already-weak story hasn't much impetus to it and my attention often wandered during the film. The one exception is the delightfully devilish Cruella, who has become an iconic creation thanks to the wonderful performance by Gerson. The animation also helps - her cigarette's billowing green smoke and her grayish skin make her stand out from the others on screen. Looking at it, it would appear that most animators concentrated on the characters instead of the backgrounds. Some scenes use that horrible technique of simply colouring in sections of the background, giving the film a weirdly stark and indistinct feel. There just isn't as much colour or magic as there is in Disney's earlier films and it makes "101 Dalmatians" a difficult film to love.
I realise that I might be in the minority but I prefer the live-action remake from 1996. Glenn Close can't quite match the manic madness of Gerson's Cruella (though she's still excellent) but in every other respect, that movie trumps this one. Real dogs will always be cuter than animated ones and Horace & Jasper's bickering sideshow is also more entertaining. But this earlier film still has its merits and its fans - understandable if you've grown up with it. I just wished that it didn't look and feel as cheap as it does because with more effort and energy, this might have been one of Disney's classics. But it simply isn't on a par with the likes of "Dumbo", "Pinocchio" or the animated sequence from "Mary Poppins" and typifies the occasional laziness of the Disney studio. Even the most ardent of Disney fans will acknowledge that they have a long list of half-hearted films on their CV along with the classics and for me, "101 Dalmatians" is somewhere in between. I can understand why old man Walt wasn't too happy with this film...
Source Code (2011)
An imaginative and high quality science fiction blast - 87%
I might be inclined to argue that of the many things George Lucas introduced to cinema-goers back in 1977, the slow death of intelligent science-fiction is one. Nowadays, sci-fi is associated with the likes of the "Transformers" franchise and (more chillingly) conventions full of nerds. I find this a real shame - when I watch a film, I want to be able to think about it instead of gawking at the latest fancy visuals animated on a computer somewhere. But sci-fi is not dead yet as this proves that there is some life left in a long-stagnant genre. Directed by someone with only one other feature under his belt and scribed by the man who brought us "Species 3", you might be forgiven for ignoring this when it came out. Shame on you because this pulsating thriller offers a gripping story, a mind-bending mystery and Jake Gyllenhaal in fine form.
US Air Force soldier Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a crowded train to Chicago but things are not what they seem. The beautiful woman opposite him (Michelle Monaghan) calls him Sean and he appears to be inhabiting a different body entirely. Eight minutes later, the train blows up killing everyone on board but Colter finds himself alive and at a mercy of a secret military project. Gleaning what little information he can from his handler Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), he is forced to relive the previous eight minutes in order to identify the bomber before he can strike again. But what is the truth of his predicament and which reality can he really trust?
Like a cross between "Quantum Leap" and "Groundhog Day", "Source Code" is a wonderfully rare blend of exciting thriller and genuinely imaginative science-fiction. The hunt for the bomber on its own gives the movie a tension (together with the soundtrack) that money can't buy but as the first run finishes and it appears that something else entirely different is going on, the movie takes on a unique vibe that I enjoyed very much. Gyllenhaal is surprisingly brilliant in the role, his best performance since "Donnie Darko". At first bewildered by the experiences, he understands his mission and the implications of where he is and what he's trying to do. Like all great science fiction, the movie forces you to ask questions of the film's themes and for those of you who miss such movies, this is a welcome return. Directed with confidence by Duncan Jones ("Moon)) and superbly written by Ben Ripley, I honestly wasn't expecting to enjoy the movie as much as I did. It also disproves the theory that sci-fi needs to have aliens, superheroes or giant robots stomping all over Shia LaBeouf's face. Although, thinking about it...
I digress. "Source Code" is probably the first proper science fiction film I've seen since "Minority Report" and is much better than that. It can feel a bit depressing at times, which I imagine it would be if you were forced to die horribly in eight minutes time over and over again. But for sheer quality, there's not much released these days that can touch "Source Code" for class, imagination and entertainment. I'm reassured that I'm not alone in wanting to be challenged at the movies, that there are others who are fed up with being patronised and bombarded with endless CG. If this is you then this movie will be a shot in the arm and feel like settling down with a good book. However, if you want see Megan Fox in denim shorts then you know where to go. And if we ever met in person, please don't mention how much more "Transformers" makes at the cinema compared to decent, intelligent thrillers like this one. I'm depressed enough as it is, thanks...
The International (2009)
A cracking old-school thriller let down by a couple of issues - 76%
Are bankers the new Nazis for the 21st Century? I only ask because the faceless, shadowy corporations they work for seem to crop up in an inordinate number of thrillers, making bankers the pin-striped version of Nazi soldiers. Only with a briefcase instead of a machine-gun. Nevertheless, they are still not to be trusted - the financial crash of 2008 made sure people wouldn't forget that in a hurry. It's little things like this that make "The International" an enjoyable watch because what might have seemed implausible before is now suddenly very real. This classy thriller is a little different to the sort of material director Tom Tykwer is drawn to and is actually very well shot indeed. Its globe-trotting location shoots and intense soundtrack make it feel like an old-fashioned spy thriller but hidden within is arguably one of the best shoot-outs I've seen since the famous Lobby scene from "The Matrix".
Interpol agent Salinger (Clive Owen, looking like he's just woken up in someone else's bed) has been investigating suspicious dealings at the International Bank of Business & Credit for over two years. Just as a lead appears, his partner is possibly murdered and the lead disappears. Working alongside Manhattan Assistant DA Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), Salinger believes that the IBBC is responsible for a high number of arms deals to rogue nations, money laundering and terrorist funding but is unable to gather enough evidence. After an Italian arms manufacturer and presidential candidate (Luca Barbareschi) is assassinated by a contract killer (Brían F. O'Byrne) working for the IBBC, Salinger and Whitman follow him to New York. Can they successfully bring him in or will the IBBC get to them first?
If one ignores the subtext about killing all the bankers, "The International" is a first-rate thriller that has both the intellect and firepower to really entertain. For the most part, it's a slow-burning conspiracy film that doesn't do Owen or Watts many favours - neither imbue their characters with much personality. The only things that liven the pace up are occasional chase sequences (Tykwer was responsible for the excellent "Run, Lola, Run" way back when) and brief moments of intrigue. It's as though Tykwer was saving all his energies for the shoot-out at the Guggenheim gallery which is a magnificent piece of action cinema, one of the best. Noisy, brutal and beautifully shot, it makes a mockery of most recent action films with much bigger budgets. But all too soon, it goes back to the story although you just want more gun play. The film's sentiments that the world is governed by organisations investing our money in political upheaval with nothing we can do about it is rammed home in a manner reminiscent of a Michael Moore documentary so it's a shame that Owen and Watts couldn't make me care more. What we're seeing here, I suspect, is the reason Daniel Craig was chosen to be 007 rather than Owen.
I'm a little annoyed because I feel that "The International" could have been much better. It's a rare thriller that never patronises the viewer and treats them to a positively electric action sequence. It's also remarkably topical and beautifully shot - characters are dwarfed by the vast urban landscapes and cold, sterile buildings they enter. But it lacks a couple of things, namely a more engaging lead duo and a more urgent pace to the editing. Despite the action, it feels a lot slower compared to something like "The Bourne Identity" which was fast, frenetic and jam-packed with blistering action. "The International" manages intrigue by the bucket-load and just the one brilliant action scene. But it can't quite bring it all together - I still had questions at the end and personally, I hate it when that happens. The ending also felt an anti-climax although the film utilises the same rooftops of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul that Sam Mendes did in "Skyfall" and sadly, I saw that film first. I so want to score it higher than I have but I just can't. It's a great little thriller that captivates as well as it entertains and if you can forgive the faults then you'll enjoy it too.