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Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)
Look OUT, Fans of Salma Hayek!
What I actually thought of this low-brow, mock-exploitation film is largely irrelevaent, given the general lack of any serious attempt to present anything more than 90 minutes of bizarre, escapist wham-bang action. Like Rodriguez subsequent, and better known "Machete" franchise, this features a bunch of Mexican, and not so Mexican guys posing around, looking cool, and blowing things up/shooting things. That's basically it. In fact, its' aesthetic is so similair to the MAchete films, that it makes you wonder whether Rodriguez is stuck in something of a rut. Anyway, though, if you have to watch this movie, then I'd recommend you watch it for Johnny Depp being a bad ass as usual, with his third-arm gimmick, and his distinctly annoying, but you like him anyway style. In fact, by the end of the film, he's the only thing worth watching, if you'll pardon the pun. Not that Antonio Banderas is a bad lead, but moping about doesn't exactly suit such a film, and that's basically all that he does. Shoots a load of people, then has a mope. Does this a couple of times, then that's the film over. But, like I said. Not the real point here.
THE REAL POINT - is to warn anybody who looks at the cover of this movie and thinks, "Oh, A kind of rubbish looking film with Salma Hayek in it," then buys it for that very reason. Despite being large on the cover, and second in the cast list, I feel it is my duty to warn the world that SALMA HAYEK IS BARELY EVEN IN THIS FILM. This is a classic case of deliberate misrepresentation, on the part of the film-makers who obviously felt that selling this movie as nothing but a macho-posturing movie would hurt their sales. And they'd be right. Oh, those cunning devils, who knew that she's the best actress in this movie by some considerable margin, that she's basically the only reason why I even watched this film. To be featured so large in the promotional material, and to have about four minutes of screen time, all in hugely irrelevant flashback sequences, is definitely a crime, not to mention the fact that it's a decidedly undignified role for her even when she is on screen. So, if, like me, you love Salma Hayek, as one of the sexiest screen presences in film, and you think this will constitute "A Salma Hayek Film", then you're totally wrong, oh my brothers (and sisters). 'Tis a travesty, indeed, and a massive waste of talent. Now, excuse me. I'm off to rewatch "Savages" again. I may be gone for some time. And, if you have been fortunate enough to have read this public serveice message, then I thank you, and feel that I can go about my business, in the hope that at least one person will be saved from the same arch disappointment that I felt.
Thank you, and Good night.
Say "Good Night", Salma...
Spectacular Character, Horrendous Film...
"Savages" is one of those films produced, during the "Breaking Bad" era, which basically exists to show, in a relatively high-brow, intellectual fashion, that being a drug dealer is seriously cool. Sadly, however, it isn't, and the last person you'd expect to jump on this particularly sub-fascist train, would be the director of perhaps the best ever liberally minded political conspiracy thriller of all time, Oliver Stone. Stone shows that he's one who will willingly adapt himself to suit trends, but unfortunately, there is little passion in this especially empty film. The sunny, travelogue photography never quite manages to get any dramatic traction with the subject matter, and the stars are much the same.
Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch and Blake Lively play a particularly unlikely gang of hippyish drug dealers, who seem convinced that they're out to do the world a favour by producing the best marijuana in the industry. The trio are a classic example of the type of empty, soulless good-looking types cast to divert people from the actual substance of your film. All three deliver beautifully dead performances, never managing to sound anything other than bored or unconvincing, and, as the lead characters, they certainly do flatten the drama out impeccably, let alone the immoral politics of their characters' particular beliefs, which leave a lot to be desired. Basically, it's immorality done up in a nice, neat modern bow, which seems like absolutely nothing on the surface, but in actual fact, is deeply subversive to the sort of people who rarely go beneath the surface.
The plot is a mish-mash of romanticised violence, and brutalist-macho clichés which never really transcend a totally bored air from the director, from the script, and from the majority of the performers. As well as the young, hot and tedious trio, there's an equal number of older, but by no means wiser actors who attempt to provide the film with some gravitas. It's a tribute to how bad the majority of the cast are, when Benicio Del Toro is one of the better people on screen, but, on its' own, his performance is utterly lacking in emotional maturity, all full of fake twitchiness and assumed mannerisms, and clichéd sadistic dialogue like "Oh I hate it when they scream," and supposedly weird things, like licking Blake Lively's spit off his own face. Which, admittedly, is pretty damned weird. A kiwi-fuzz John Travolta is on hand to play a dull, expository character, with a performance that illustrates a well-known fact; that John Travolta is a horrendously embarrassing actor, who cannot act to save his life. There's a scene added in the commercially available "extended edition" with him speaking to his dying wife, which beggars belief.
In fact, from casting to plot to substance to morality, there really is very little going on that's worth the wait, and the exorbitantly overlong 2 hours 15 running time goes past very slowly indeed. There are, however, a small handful of things which make this languorous, pretentious, shallow film worth watching, and however small they may be, they contribute an awful lot to this film as a whole. In no particular order, there's a fairly standard informer-punishing scene, with Del Toro in full creepy, over-the-top sadist mode, which overdoes the brutality on a scale appropriate to such an unrealistic, and out of scale film, and the attempts to squeeze a moral dilemma from Aaron Johnson's character seem particularly artificial. However, there's a nice moment of music which kicks in at the close of this scene I believe the track name is "Force of Nature", from the fairly okay score album by Adam Peters. Suffice it to say, that this is the only decent merging of music and image to create an in any way dramatic effect, and it's one of those trailer scenes which sends a chill down your spine, despite the fact you're not really that involved with any of the characters. Because that's what a good soundtrack is capable of doing.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly though, is Elena, the character, and Salma Hayek, the actress, who I would argue is the only half way decent performer in the entire movie. However, it's not just Salma's performance which is entertaining, but rather her characterisation as a slinky, sexual in control woman who is never objectified as such. Her long, silky black Cleopatra hair, and array of sumptuous gowns and stylish clothing serve to give her more presence than all the skeleton masked psychos going around killing people, and blowing things up. Credit to Costume Designer Cindy Evans and Hair Stylist Rhonda Ann Burns, more known for TV work than big screen fare for elevating this amazing character to iconic status. There's also a gorgeous scene, worth the entrance fee alone, where the regal Hayek sits back and has her feet massaged by Maya Merker, her Hispanic Maid, which she does with all the aloofness of a queen...and,she does have exceptionally beautiful feet. They are the stars of the show, definitely.
If you're still with it, then be prepared for one of the most pointless cinematic gambits you'll ever have seen, with an ending that's so clichéd and flat and pointless, that it had to be preceded by an imaginary over-the-top ending, just to make it seem more "reasonable" by comparison which, by the way, it doesn't. It just concludes a long film unsatisfactorily, with more closeted references to a homosexual relationship between its lead actors than a Josef von Sternberg film. And that's saying something.
The extended edition actually offers virtually nothing to recommend it, and actually includes scenes which were wisely cut in the first place. It's just more of the same, really. So, like I said, there is virtually nothing to recommend it
other than the aforementioned gems. Which are pretty damn spectacular, let me tell you. But as a whole film? As an intelligent work of art? As a work of solid entertainment? Nah
The Raid (2011)
Wall to Wall violence, but lacking in heroic distinction...THere's good against evil, and then there's watching someone beat a load of people up...
A succession of admittedly well choreographed fight scenes, in an over-gritty, computer game like scenario. The opening scenes play out like nothing more than an elaborate, and well-filmed shoot-em-up, and the first twenty minutes or so are full of fairly standard gung-ho macho gun worship, and bang-bang action, of the sort that isn't remotely "realistic" - it focuses far more on over-elaborate squibs and gore effects than anything else. Once the guns are down, and Rama is taking on hordes of bad guys, then the film really takes off. However, we never quite leave behind the feeling of a slightly murky tightrope walk, between immorality, and just plain brutality. There's nothing heroic about "The Raid"'s fight scenes, and instead, there is little more than a grass roots heroism about the main character, which serves to justify the carnage that ensues.
Fight scenes unfold with a rapidity and intensity that is dynamic, but often or not, they are built round rather complex, or unusual "gags", or set pieces, and have little internal rhythmn of their own, which is why the best fight scenes are generally the short ones - when Rama goes up against the machete gang, or the dozen or so thugs in the first hallway. The end fight is gruelling indeed, and its' finale is another piece of gritty bloodshed, which never quite feels right, coming form the hero.
Traditional martial arts films - arguably, this film takes the "Game of Death" pagoda concept, and plonks it down in the middle of an urban, decayed environment - were about good people going up against scum, and handing them their butts. This feels more like a survival film, and the heroism is all but gone from the blandly idealistic Rama (well acted, but generally, rather conflicted in the scripting process), so instead, it's difficult to fully feel that we're on his side. It's a story which pares itself down to the absolute minimum, and its' attraction, its' selling point, is that it features realistic looking fight scenes, in an intense, and simplistic setting, without using the dreaded wirework, or CGi. It does this, indeed, but rather than over the top choreography, its' the intensity of its' wall to wall bloodshed that feels rather unrealistic. The movie's aesthetic is down and dirty, with both heroes and villains employing functional, but ugly fighting moves. It features impressive stuntwork definitely, however, and the fights are arguably as good looking as anything seen in films these days, but it's rather too unnecessarily bleak and bloody for its' own good - with a storyline of such comic-book simplicity, the over the top nature of the spaltter and dismemberment becomes rather wearing, and, far from feeling exciting, tends to be dwelt upon with a fetishistic zeal and attention, that makes you wonder just where the director's sympathies lie: with the idealistic, but brutal hero, or with the massacring psychopaths that he goes up against. Entertaining, it does what it sets out to do, but you could wish for a little more icing, and a little less grit, on your cake, than this.
Raze your glass to Waller and Bell...
The subject matter of this prison/cage fighting movie is pure exploitation, and it is marketed as such rather adroitly. However, by the time the first fight scene has concluded, there is little in the way of cheap thrills to be had from this sort of thing, and instead, we're presented with the kind of gritty brutality that only comes along in indy, low-budget concept pieces like this, from Josh Waller, directing his feature film debut with a lot of grass-roots style and a panache that is all the more skillful in its' lack of show-off techniques. Instead, we're given a very raw, lean piece of work which focuses on violence, rather on well-crafted fight scenes, despite the presence of a well-choreographed team of stunt performers, fronted by one of the most physically talented stuntwomen in the business, Zoe Bell.
There is little time devoted to navel-gazing, and yet the characterisation does sometimes feel a little on the clunky side, although it is doubtful that its' absence would provide us with anything better. Without it, there would be fight after fight, followed by scenes of painful silence, and the full horror of the situation. Whilst the teary eyed drama makes a precarious balance with the blood and guts of the fight scenes, perhaps the most impressive feature here is the sense of hopelessness which is created. Hopeful, this movie isn't, and in many ways, it's an adult, and female, version of "Lord of the Flies", only with a more artificially constructed set up. The idea here, is that by fighting, killing and surviving, the survivor of this ordeal will become somehow awakened, enlightened, and open themselves up to a wider world of awareness. That this idea is set up by a bunch of mad-eyed religious fanatics strains credibility, although the contrast between opulent upper class, and filthy stone-walled dungeons is nothing new, yet remains valid. The ending tells us, quite simply, that this is a load of rubbish, and, rather than being designed for this purpose, the idea of nobility through killing, of a "Napoleon" complex, is a myth, and that killing actually provides nothing but thrills for the rich, and that, for the survivor, no matter how tough she is, they will always be stronger. Contrived? Perhaps. But the drama is played out convincingly, and the power of the hellish fight scenes is arguably as anti-stereotypical as anything seen in films. There are not a series of carefully contrived, well-scripted and erotically filmed scenes of rolling around and grunting. This is brutal, survival of the fittest stuff, and the edginess of the movie's central dilemma kill to save your loved ones, or do nothing and let them die is well utilised. The tagline; "No man could handle this" is well put; This scenario with a male cast would scarcely feature the same level of horror, and uneasiness, and the reversion to savagery would be far less of a shock.
Acting is generally nothing special, but then, the real drama of this situation comes not from the script, or the over-embellishment of certain of the actresses, but in the heat of the fight sequences, in the minute reactions, in the bursting of the welled up emotions and fears, and in sharing that feeling. It's a film not so much about the journey of its characters, or their own personal features, but rather, about seeing how you would react in this situation yourself; in short, it is a film which speaks directly to the audience, with a well-shaped hell of anti-humanity. Throughout the entire ninety minutes, the feeling of impending doom, of inner pain, and futile hopelessness, as relationships build feebly, only to be broken down again minutes later, or as they realise just how little they can actually do.
Which is why, in the truest sense of the word, this is a horror film, about the horrors of being faced with that most primal of dramas. And be sure that this isn't just a bad excuse for trotting out some more niche genre fare; You will feel every punch, and every angry exhalation, and realise that fights are basically just someone pummelling bits of their body against bits of someone else's, in the hope that they'll break before you do, and that death isn't administered with a quick twist, or a carefully placed blow. It takes time, and it isn't exciting, or cool. It's actually the worst thing that you can imagine. Even the climactic fight scene, when Sabrina takes on the films supposed "villain" i.e, the one who's enjoying it all is deliberately restrained, rather than being played out for drama. Every kind of painful situation is played, and it is when the film is at its' most explicitly brutal, that it becomes the most emotionally painful. Hey, look. Someone has made violence in horror movies scary again. And all it took was a small, dedicated cast of women, and a director with a strong vision, and sense of purpose.
Ocean's Twelve (2004)
The Real Heist in Ocean's Twelve Occurs when Steven Soderbergh walks off laughing with your Money...
Well, the joke's on him, because I bought a two-film set of Ocean's 11 and 12 together, for 50p. So, technically, he only got 25p off me for this,and I probably did get about 50p worth of enjoyment from "11" - although not a great deal more. It was okay; it was fun and silly, with a cast of a few annoying people, and some decent ones. But anyway; back to this one.
Oh, there must have been tears of laughter rolling down the director's cheeks when he made this movie. It is so jam-packed with self-knowing nudges and winks, and quite frankly, ends up way, way too far up it's own bottom. The actual plot itself is negligible, and seems to ratchet everything up to 101, and then resolve it with some ridiculous contrivance. Even the humour falls flat, what little there is - the Robbie Coltrane jargon scene at the bar especially is an appalling piece of cinematic showing off, and not only isn't funny, or witty, or absurd, is actually embarrassing. In fact, the entire film, is embarrassing.
The main talking point of the film, comes when Tess, played by Julia Roberts, decides to pull off a stupid robbery, by disguising herself...as Julia Roberts. Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha...No, seriously. That's ridiculous, and not even vaguely clever. Then Bruce Willis turns up,playing himself, proving the rule that every film with Bruce Willis in it, is total rubbish. This is such arrogant, self-important claptrap, that it happily demolishes everything in sight with a brainless, relentless absurdity, which, when the dust finally settles, leaves you with the feeling that someone has, quite sincerely, just robbed you of time and money, and stuck their middle finger in your face for two hours.
I give this movie two out of ten, because I love Brad Pitt, who plays this entire film with a bored, I can't be bothered with life swagger, and does seem rather fed up; Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is usually good fun, and sometimes quite a good actress, and the marvellous Vincent Cassell, star of "La Haine", and "Black Swan", who gets a chance to strut his stuff here with some cool acrobatics, but little else. Because any character development, or decent acting all just gets in the way of this film's overwhelming desire to spit on everything, to outdo itself in stupid gags, and unrealistic plot turns. To be honest,it lacks even the superficial gloss which the first movie had. That had twists in it, sure, but this movie has so many twists, that it doesn't even have a story. It's just an absurd collection of infantile rubbish, held together by three decent actors, that has guaranteed itself future economic success by plonking itself square in the middle of a trilogy, and has come after a fairly decent first movie.
I don't know how to impress upon you strongly enough, but even if you thought the first movie was THE BEST FILM YOU HAVE EVR SEEN IN YOUR ENTIRE LIFE - In which case, you are probably beyond helping anyway, due to your terrible taste in films - but even if this was the case with you PLEASE...I beg of you...do not give Steven Soderbergh the satisfaction he deserves. This is a travesty of film-making, and its smug laziness does not deserve to con more innocents out of their money. So do everyone a favour - if you want a star-studded, comedy/thriller movie...then watch "Hot Fuzz". Or "Charlie's Angels". Or, Heck...watch anything. Just not this movie.
(And, if you're still here after all this ranting...it's worth mentioning that this ain't the worst film I've ever seen in my life. I just feel incredibly cheated right now, and have the urge to convey that feeling to others. I'm sure it'll go away soon enough...But, goodness, has this put me off watching the third one, or what?)
Man of Steel (2013)
You Won't believe a man can be this boring...(Or Can Fly)
I refuse to believe that "Man of Steel" was really anything to do with Christopher Nolan, for the simple reason that it sums up the very worst things about contemporary superhero films, which the dark knight trilogy so carefully avoided. Instead, we have a creative collaboration from the guy who wrote the "Blade" films and the director who brought us the screamingly over the top campiness of "300". So, instead of a mature, intelligent measured take on a classic character, we have an over the top, dingy, poorly-told, horribly-filmed CGI cartoon of Super-Codpiece taking on another generic giant space invasion of the "Avengers" mould.
For the first half hour of this next-generation attempt to make a Superman movie, you're not quite sure whether this is a decent movie or not. In part, Hans Zimmer's relentless, percussion heavy soundtrack adds a gloss to Snyder's tacky imagery, and Goyer's mind numbing script, but, as soon as arch-villain General Zod comes to Earth, things devolve into a gigantic demolition movie, in which story, characters, well-choreographed fights and super heroic stunts give way to an hour of sheer, mindless destruction of poorly computer generated glass skyscrapers seriously, the CGI in this movie is amongst the worst I have ever seen, just in its' simple aesthetic, let alone in Snyder's addiction to it, as he smothers virtually every scene with computer imagery of some kind.
The story itself seems desperate to distance itself from previous versions of this iconic character, and perhaps, wisely so. Beefcake Henry Cavill screams his way through his Superman scenes, and spends the rest of the film moping about in scruffy designer clothes and a baseball cap and stubble. Seriously, where does his stubble come from? How does he shave it off, when his hair will be indestructible? Did they stop to think about this basic stepping stone of super-lore, or did they just think that it would be cool to show Kal-El in his degenerate, mopy posing phase, smashing up trucks, drinking beer, watching rugby, sniping at his dad, and generally wasting time doing totally un-Superman like things?
It isn't the fact that this takes a pitch-black look at Superman's character that annoys me. It's the stupid lengths to which Goyer goes to to make everything so artificially dismal and falsely morbid, combined with the utter lack of sense in the script, the general poor abilities of the cast, and the totally useless fight scenes. How difficult is it to make Superman a mope? He can do anything, for God's sake. The character was designed as a piece of wish fulfilment, the ultimate fantasy character. Why do we need to see a horrendously camp young Clark sniping at his dad? "Oh, I wish I didn't have super-powers " Yeah, really? That's totally how we'd all feel isn't it? And, how ridiculous is the scene in which Kevin Costner's Jonathan Kent dies? How contrived is this drama? Is it really feasible that Clark would just stand by and let this idiot risk his life, when he can do it without personal risk to himself? Or, maybe it's because Jonathan is the worst Dad in the world, who lets his "son" get bullied by local kids, because it builds character? Why is it beyond any superhero film these days - or indeed, any film to show a normal child/parent relationship, without resorting to soap-opera bitching, and contrived fake drama? Apart from probably being the best actor in the film, Costner sticks around long enough to provide a few whispered, posing quotes to stick onto the trailer, and then he's gone. His mother is just a waste of space, who stays alive only for Goyer to not really be exactly sure how to use her.
So the first hour of the film is contrived, moany drama, with a handful of horrendously filmed "action" sequences the tanker scene is so pointless, and badly executed, I'm not sure why it's even here, and Snyder films it so badly, all we get is Henry Cavill's bulging torso not actually any super-heroics, which I think is what we should be seeing here. After this, things shift to mass destruction, with computer-generated Kryptonian villains smashing everything in sight, until you will have seen so much computer-generated glass smashing, that your eyes will hurt. Michael Shannon is your standard, screaming, posing, I-love-myself villain, who has no presence, and his sidekick, Antje Trau, is a concession perhaps to the Bechdel test, and makes the most of her unusual features to play a good, completely one-dimensional villainess, who spends most of her time as a computer cartoon. In fact, at the risk of sounding like a hard-core fan, the visualisation of these Kryptonians is infinitely worse than back in the first two Reeve movies, where we actually had real people doing these things, not terribly animated, zooming about, smashing everything computer characters. I do not exaggerate when I say that the last hour of this film contains some of the worst fight scenes I have ever seen, because they do not present the characters in any way you can barely see what's going on most of the time, just endless tinkling, shattering and smashing. No excitement, no sense of heroism, or joy in these titanic struggles.
This is one of those movies, where it seems that an immense amount of effort has gone into making everything this bad. And, the terribly contrived "dark" ending it's so, so overdone and stupid, just to justify indulging in more carnage and destruction, it's laughable. Best line in the entire film, comes at the very end Lois to a finally bespectacled Clark; "Welcome to the planet, Mr Kent." Yeah. That was worth the entrance fee alone. Please. For Goodness sake just stick to Superman and Superman II, to see what the real appeal of this character is. Can't wait to see Snyder cock-up Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, etc., etc
The Other Woman (2014)
The Lawyer, The Wife and The Boobs
Cameron Diaz is back in comedy, after her amazing turn in last year's "The Counselor", in which she finally nailed a solid, challenging dramatic performance. Now that she's back in the home territory, she would, one assumes, be able to do what she's been doing so well for almost twenty years. "The Other Woman" is really a two-header, between Diaz and Leslie Mann, as a standard straight-laced/ridiculous combination in the Laurell and Hardy vein, as two women unknowingly in love with the same man; Mann is his wife, Diaz is his casual fling, although she doesn't know it yet. When things finally come out, Kate's(Mann) world collapses, and she clings to Carly (Diaz) for help, and eventually, revenge. What neither of them are aware of, though, is that husband Mark, is his infidelity is pathological, and that Mark, far from being the desirable lover, is a worrying villain, who not only cheats in love, but is planning to cheat millions of dollars out of various businesses. Can the Lawyer, the Wife and The Boobs defeat his evil schemes in time? Actually, Nick Cassavettes new film is delightfully un-pretentious in its' presentation of good, relatively clean fun. Whilst this is not one of the most outstandingly memorable comedies you'll ever see in your life, it is an appealing, aesthetically pleasing 109 minutes of frothy, silly entertainment. It isn't all Biblical moping about, or CGI dominated video game super hero movies. It's a film about people - simple, bizarre comic archetypes, in a relatively competent script, that is just sufficiently lacking in structure to be fun, without being aimless. It's not especially laugh-out loud funny, again, but it mixes slapstick sequences, with sharp wit, and cringe-worthy monologues, courtesy of Leslie Mann, who is hilarious, and yet at times, so embarrassing it is hard to watch. But this is, thankfully, all in character - she plays a hopelessly devoted, and hopelessly stupid wife, whose enthusiasm is both cute and more importantly, the driving force behind the entire plot more or less. Feminists may criticise this character, as indeed they have, but without her, none of this film could have happened. And also; it's a comedy for god's sake. Of course she's silly. She's meant to be. This isn't a statement about what all women are like, the same way that Mark is not meant to represent an archetypal man. Grotesque stereotypes are what fuel all the best comedies, and this is no exception.
The balance between the three female leads is at times, uneven - Mann gets most of the gags, Diaz is playing essentially an exasperated "Straight Woman" to her incessant stream of breakdowns, and Upton plays perhaps an even more offensive stereotype (very well) of the dumb, sexy blonde. Whilst she isn't the best actress in the world, Upton's character actually has a lot of potential, which isn't quite fully exploited, when you finally get over the fact that you enjoyed the film better when it was just Diaz and Mann.
There are a few moments of rock-bottom crudity, which, depending on your tastes, will make or break the movie for you. Some work, and some don't, but on the whole, it is a love song to female friendships, about the importance of having friends you can rely on...over having a single meaningful relationship. Yes, it is a little cock-eyed, I'll grant you, but, allowing for the situation these characters are in, its' about the most positive message to be derived from the action. Mark is totally without redeeming features, which is a good thing in these days of moral apathy, and a light comedy is a strange place to find such a well defined sense of moral aesthetic, but at the end of the day, it is rather a "Sisters doing it for themselves" kind of film. And Mark is a worthy adversary for their curiously puerile revenge, which soon blossoms into something far more effective - A point a lot of critics who have criticised the film's "lack of realism", seem to have missed out on.
Their final revenge is definitely satisfying, although there are moments were the momentum rather sags, not soon after Kate Upton is introduced. This isn't Upton's fault - she actually has some of the best lines("She's not a whore - She's just a slut"), but there's no denying the film's finest moments are the horribly awkward "Let's be friends" chemistry between Diaz and Mann. However, the resolution is quite complex, and very well worked out - only, it's not exactly set up very well - although there's no denying that it is an effective climax. However, the final shots - freeze frames detailing the fates of each one of the three "Other Women", seems rather ill-conceived, and a more fully realised ending may have been nice, especially as it makes the rather perfunctory romantic sub-plots seem even more perfunctory. But then I suppose in a film about "Women Together", the idea of romantic fulfilment may see rather old-fashioned.
On the whole, then, Cameron Diaz is on cracking form, and may well be reaching a new pinnacle in her career, although its' more than likely that this will go down in history as a decent enough movie, not a classic.(Like "The Holiday")But Diaz seems even more comfortable at this age, sharper, funnier and more measured in her performances. Mann essentially makes 75% of the comedy in the film, and a nice sexy cameo from Nicki Minaj as Diaz's self-serving, empowered PA is a nice bonus- but it really doesn't make or break - she's on screen for maybe 4 and a half minutes in all. But, this is a piece of fun, and, in a rather turgid climate of grossly over-rated mainstream garbage, it's definitely an entertaining way to spend an afternoon.
"The Twenty-First Century is a digital book, and HYDRA has learned how to read it"
In that dark limbo between "The Avengers" and "The Avengers 2", known tentatively as "Phase two" of the MCU, the bar has been consistently lowered. It's safe to say that, as a Marvel fan, both Iron Man 3, and Thor 2 were unadulterated garbage, of the most cynical, mindless, crowd-pleasing nature. The Avengers was good, but not great. It was fun. It was silly It was kind of cool, because it was something that had never been done before, as well as having Joss Whedon onboard, who helped it from plunging it the depths of mainstream, American trash, like the Iron Man trilogy. But now, just as we were prepared to consign MArvel films to the doldrums of consumerist mass production, along comes a hero. A real hero. Because basically, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is the first great Marvel film ever made, the only one to stand up to any scrutiny, the only one with an intelligent plot, which emphasises character, storyline and intrigue, rather than one-liner after one-liner, rubbish CGI action scene after rubbish CGI action scene. And, most importantly of all, it's a film which has a lot of balls, which, coming from a corporate giant like Marvel, makes it especially remarkable.
"The Winter Soldier" is not a typical Marvel movie by any means, and that is the highest praise that you can give it. Oh sure, it surrenders to a couple of gung-ho action scenes, car chases and shoot-outs, but generally, these are in pursuit of the plot, not as a means of defining it. Things happen for a reason, even if they do happen a little too frequently. But don't despair. Seeing this film, was like a godsend. It made me realise just how genuinely sub-standard every previous effort from Marvel has been. This feels like the first great film they've ever done. It's an adult, intelligent, respectable film, which also has some of the most purely exciting action scenes of the last few decades, fuelled by a tense score, and capable direction. (Although, it does descend into shaky-cam a bit: Think "Arrow"'s fight scenes on a larger budget, and with a more heightened, super power level. ) Basically, it's Captain America's humanity which makes this film such a hit, both in terms of personality, and in the level of his fight scenes. He's not a CGI-powered God, or a flashy narcissist in a tin suit: He's a super soldier, and, for once, he actually seems it. The opening action scene, a hostage rescue mission on board a ship (brief appearance from a real world version of Cap foe, Batroc), is one of the best things in years, where super-heroics have never looked quite so super, and fight scenes have never been shown in such great detail. No CGI here.
The plot itself, is reminiscent - as the directors have often said - of a 70s espionage thriller, mainly "Three Days of The Condor", with SHIELD being compromised, and political power plays going on, which cover up one of the most chilling villain schemes in years. It may still be a little simplistic, but for once, we have a threat which does not feel stupid and cartoonish: Robert Redford's Alexander Pierce is a screen-stealing political villain, and it's a credit to Chris Evans assured, quiet charm and confidence, that he can hold his own in a scene with this cinematic legend. For once, Sam Jackson's Nick Fury is relevant, and well used, not just a cool guy in a leather jacket. One of the best things, is that this movie takes all the pieces already on the board, and crafts a brilliant piece of work that is dynamic, thought-provoking and rewarding. Has Marvel started making movies for grown-ups for a change? I will say, though, that if you thought Anne Hathaway was out of place in TDKR, then you'll probably hate Scarlett Johanssen in this. Her character's sarcastic brand of humour, and inability to gel with the seriousness of the plot in 80% of her scenes does rather take away from things. I'd have definitely cut a few of these quips out, but then, maybe Marvel just wasn't ready to go totally cold turkey yet.
Is this the shape of things to come? I doubt it. "The winter soldier" is fantastic entertainment, but on a far less ephemeral nature than most super hero films. It's not afraid to highlight the evils of America, of our society today, and of what we're becoming. It dares to have a message to put across, and, hopefully, it will not be absorbed by the (admittedly very proficient) action scenes. Do not expect all Marvel films to be this good, because they never, ever will be. Just savour this gem, far and away, the best film ever made of a Marvel character. You will feel everything you used to feel when you were younger, and enjoyed superheroes because of their blend of action packed heroics - and, like a lot of comic character these days, Cap is unashamedly heroic; an idealist without any shades of grey, worthy of the original Superman - but also, you'll feel that, as an adult, the sheer joy of seeing a super character standing up to the evil and corruption; A crusader for the rights of humanity, finally striking out where he needs to be striking. So, if you've ever felt that Marvel has turned out a stream of rubbish, yet you 've always wished for one decent, grown up movie, then look no farther. Captain America, has saved the Marvel Cinematic Universe
Deserving of better, but still not perfect...
Perhaps rather undeserving of being labelled one of the most controversial and "vivid" movies of all time, "Baise Moi" is perhaps most challenging in its' depiction of a seductive immorality, than in any particular "vividness" of imagery. (Altohugh it does have distinctly adult moments, with a rather alarming regularity.) This is one of those rare films which courts sensationalism, and mines it for all the perverse pleasure our characters take from being as far removed from humanity as is possible to depict. Like "A Clockwork Orange", "Baise Moi" is rather uncomfortable watching, although I can't help thinking a less explicit version could still have told the same story, and, in so doing, doubtless have attracted a far wider audience, and may not be wreathed in notoriety. Because a lot of the most successful moments in this disturbing thrill ride, are those when the power of suggestion is at its' strongest. Violence is depicted with the usual blood and thunder, but there is definitely a conscious attempt to mask some of the more extreme moments - such as our protagonists delightfully stomping, droog style, a man to death after he has suffered a particularly unpleasant and humiliating fate.
The point here, is that this is indeed a very graphic film, but if the same effort had been made to mask the sex in this movie, that is made for the violence, the whole thing may have been more palatable. As it is, it's difficult to sincerely recommend this movie to someone else, because it's little short of pornography in places. This, it seems to be, need not have been the case. "Spring Breakers", by Harmony Korine, deals with a similar subject - disaffected, over-sexualised, bored girls going on a voyage of pointless, emotionless violence - but is far more successful because it knows exactly what it is doing, and is careful in its' depiction of both sex and violence, and is a truly scary movie. Instead, "Baise-Moi" is a frustrating experience, because, not only is its' depiction of sex rather striking, it is also rather unnecessary in the telling of this story, especially in its' rather single-minded obsession with oral sex. This rather makes our protagonists seem a lot less believable, because there is little empowering about this particular practise. Instead, the violence is shocking, and powerful, and the sex just seems like someone felt the need to put as much sex as possible in the movie to get it to sell. Which it doesn't need, because parts of this movie shine in unique ways.
At its' best, this movie seems to recall "La Haine", five years previously, and far better constructed, in its' depiction of ennui amongst seedy, borderline criminal cases. Nadine and Manu drift around in a truly horrific world, in which things have become so bad, that they have all but lost their grip on reality. The subsequent "road trip" which they go on, is as each for purpose, for glamour, and for kicks. In a particularly harrowing scene, Nadine even finds that rape has lost its' power to shock her.
The relationship between Nadine and Manu is tender, and fresh: They hang about lethargically, debating the life they are undertaking, before exploding into a fresh act of violence. NAdine discusses their "lack of good lines" during their kills, in a rather postmodern sequence which is at once chilling, funny and mesmerising. Both girls give stunningly good performances, and their friendship seems so realistic, yet strange, that it helps carry us through about twenty minutes of solid sex scenes. A more established director would have devoted far more time to their relationship, because, when they are together, these two really, really shine, but instead, they are given a few scenes together, and largely are relegated to standard interactions with other infinitely less interesting characters. The sudden frazzling out of their desires is disappointing, yet totally in character: These are two characters who, from the first time we meet htem, are combating suicidal urges, from sheer boredom, and their clinical discussions about how they are going to "go out big" are again stunning and clever.
The climax is rather unsatisfying, in that it delivers a decidedly unremarkable ending to a unique story. It does little to really address the realities of these characters, instead providing a simple closure on the lives of these fictional characters. Which is a shame, as the film has courted allegory from start to finish, and raised some dangerous points. Its' rather a chapter 21 case (Clockwork Orange reference), of closure for closure's sake. But ultimately, although frustrating in its' pandering to lower common denominators, this is a vivid film in that it is morally complex in its black-for -white world view. It is still powerful, altohugh its' power to shock is rather muted by its' tendency towards stylised sexual violence. Disappointing, and tricky to watch more than once, but still a valuable movie in its' depiction of a genuine human evil.
Tamara Drewe (2010)
A Water Dream...
In this day and age of blistering, multi-million dollar Hollywood blockbusters, full of unrealistic emotions, and over the top special effects, and loathsome characters, the small British comedy is definitely on the decline. So, presumably, "Tamara Drewe", a sleepy black little comedy of love and betrayal, should fill a very nice little gap indeed. Sadly, however, someone slipped up along the way, and, whilst it has not too much wrong with it, it's ultimately something of a wasted opportunity, which misses the mark on many occasions.
The action all centers upon a small rural community of tired people, in particular, a writer's retreat where an unlikely gang of rather jaded characters assemble. In comes ex-ugly duckling Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton), and things start to hot up soon enough for all concerned.
Stephen Frears, a director of some considerable pedigree, described the film as being like a "tragedy, and a comedy". That is true to an extent, because there's nothing incredibly funny, and yet, nothing extremely tragic happening. The comedy is tragic, and the tragedy is comedic. The whole mix has rather been upset by its' having an essentially unlikeable cast of characters, despite there being some decent actors and actresses assembled. It's one of those slightly po-faced dramas which wallows in its' own mundanity, wondering just how dull and "realistic" the whole thing can be. The flip side of this is, for genre fans, it stops the whole thing feeling "cliched". The reality, though, is a rather bathetic, self-indulgent study of some rather weak people.
Gemma Arterton is an exceptional actress, perhaps the best "big name" British actress in the world right now, but I'm not sure why she has been cast here. Bereft of her usual quiet charm and wittiness, Tamara Drewe is a very unlikeable personality, who makes a habit of mucking things up for everyone around her. The sad thing is, she behaves like such an idiot, that she doesn't deserve to have a film devoted to her, and she isn't anywhere near decent enough to deserve any measure of happiness, which she gets in an ending, which seems to be the film's only concession to the mainstream.
Dominic Cooper, as Ben Sargeant, a typical bad rocker, is enough to ruin the entire film, with a portrayal of the cliché that is so broad and unlikeable, that it's one of those choices which makes you realise just what a total idiot she is. In fact, there seems to be nothing whatsoever appealing about Ben as a character. To be honest, though, if it was anyone else but Gemma Arterton in the role of TD, you could say the same thing about her.
The only vaguely likable characters, Bill Camp and British standby Tamsin Grieg, are awash in a sea of scumbags, and are routinely abused until the absurdly realised ending, which, if you stop to think about it, is a cop-out of the first order. Without this convenient herd of deus ex machina, the whole film would have been a very tawdry affair indeed.
In the end, though, it's not a horrendous film, just one in which you struggle to find anything to like in it. Four out of ten, for some lovely rural Northern English countryside, for Gemma Arterton's ass, and for Tamsin Grieg and Bill Camp. Nothing you couldn't enjoy individually in much better surroundings. Read the graphic novel, as well. It's at least one and a half times as good as this.
(And by the way, the title of this review is an anagram of the titular heroine. The whole way through the movie, I was convinced that "Tamara Drewe" was an anagram of something significant. THis was the best I could get, but at least I was able to use those 106 minutes of my life fruitfully...)