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Death Proof (2007)
Assumption is the mother of all.....
Make no mistake, Death Proof is not a particularly entertaining film. In Russell and Tarantino you have a collaboration that I would and did pay good money to see. And in doing so I allowed myself to be misled by some astute promotional work on the part of Dimension Films (there's a new one) and a premise that all but screamed slasher film only to set up as anything but.
Like a moth drawn to the light, the lure of Kurt Russell engaging in road movie violence was too much to resist. It may not have been a deliberate fiction on the part of the film-maker to pack out the theaters with this premise. After all, Tarantino himself has publicly emphasised the difference between this movie and a slasher movie. Nevertheless the fiction remained right up until the credits rolled, by which stage you can't help but feel that Tarantino misused Russell in yet another attempt to further popularise his now distinctive style of film. A style that increasingly seems to resemble the director using his lofty position in the industry to showcase the 1970s because the rest of us don't know what we've missed. And I personally would not have had a problem with this had he not taken an 80s icon and epitome of bad-assedness and then proceeded to sell him down the river before my very eyes by making him both different and diluted.
Kurt Russell plays the role of Stuntman Mike, a psychopathic personality who stalks the roads in his death proof car preying on young and attractive women. As an idea it reads like a dream. In reality it was inconsistent and boring. Tarantino hung large sections of dialogue on the women in the picture, both hunters and hunted, while the audience waited patiently for something to happen amid the bluff and bluster of conversations that included references to sex, marijuana and of course lots of swear words, all stock in trade of an increasingly one dimensional Tarantino. In Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and even Jackie Brown these references are welcome and fresh. They represent breakout material. In Death Proof they are tired and old. You've seen it before. Again the script will likely be praised as another piece in the overall body of work that encompasses the genius. Those who disagree will be told they don't get it. What I got was that Tarantino makes use of fleeting bar-room wisdom, Robert Frost and Rose McGowan to let us know that Stuntman Mike is psychopathic. Alongside a dark car. And guess what? Not one of the three is unique in the slightest. And so the film lurches like a bar-room drunk between not having enough depth to be interesting on the dialogue alone and not having enough violence or tension to be interesting in the exploitation sense, all while being obvious from the outset, a bad combination to have. It runs slow, lacks build-up in key areas, is certainly predictable from one particular elongated scene onwards and is largely too abstract amid the boredom. To say it reminded me of Cannonball run is no exaggeration, from serious to slapstick while actually staying violent.
Kurt Russell! The Thing. Escape from New York. Big trouble in little China. THAT Kurt Russell is not the one you see in this film. Critically this will be received well because for what it is, it is great. And what it is is a raw showing of female empowerment, bad versus badass. The fact that this sort of material has a very specific time and place that isn't necessarily on the back of a potentially iconic collaboration is what lets Death Proof down. Do the research before watching this one.
Natural Born Killers (1994)
Natural Born Killers is a confusing, overwhelming and largely tasteless film of superb visual variation and quality. The film also has one of the best soundtracks I've heard in terms of music that works appropriately with the visuals to maximise audience response. I really liked this film, with much of the appeal stemming from the fact that it was never made to be taken seriously. It was an extremely funny, cynical and depraved look at an American society in which the media circus farce that remains ever-present in our faces is so blatant that we actually tend to miss it. In terms of commenting on the acting, I won't waste too much time as it serves no purpose in a film that was always going to touch the very limits of over-acting for Hollywood without employing the services of Jim Carrey. Critically evaluating the acting in-depth in this film is simply naieve.I will however say, that both Juliette Lewis and Woody Harrelson were superbly cast. Both looked and sounded the part, while any criticisms of Robert Downey Junior in particular that I have heard are grossly unfair. I would refer to my earlier point while adding that he overacted to the point where his spoof cop show was believable and his ranting and obsessiveness complete with the horrendous Australian accent (which he didnt need to employ) was hilarious and in many respects made the film. Likewise the jumpy, ranting and distasteful Governer played by Tommy Lee Jones and the driven but pyschotic cop Scagnetti, played by Tom Sizemore were fascinating for the film, albeit with limited screen-time. Both representative of an establishment as twisted as the Killers it cages, Jones added to the humour while Sizemore's role was darker and more thought-provoking. All typical Oliver Stone Territory. Above all else, I think this film is mis-understood and its controversial content ensures that it is easily written-off. While certain visuals were just too abstract or repetitive (As I found the majority of the car-driving scenes were) I found on the whole they were superb, adding another level to the audiences opinions and reactions to characters without the use of dialogue, providing a more useful method of conveying the insanity of both the central characters and those around them complete with the worlds they inhabit, awash as they are with commercial break, war, holocaust and even other film images. The scene with the Indian in particular still holds considerable fascination. There was also a tendency running throughout this film for the camera to return to focus that extra half-second on facial expressions made in the course of conversations. A great technique that makes you wonder exactly what you are seeing in a sequence that appeared normal seconds before. Combined with continual shifts to black and white, this all adds to the eerie and abstract nature of the film. This unfortunately is lost on the majority of those who watch this film, and again is typical of Oliver Stone, as are the little subtleties he employs throughout, such as the vietnam plaque on the wall for the Indian's son, the appearance of Nixon on TV, the spoof cop show or Mallory's TV-show family whose patriarch is a hard-drinking unemployed, sexual-abusing racist who rants at the wrestling on the TV. The TV show scene in particular is much maligned despite its signifigance in showing that, when presented in the right way, an audience will love anything, again tying in with the media madness that envelops the film. Theres a lot more to this film than can probably be appreciated with one viewing and the darker elements of Mickey's past for example were left tantalisingly vague for the audience. However, overall I'd say its the most unrealistic, yet brilliant film I've come across in a while, with the continual cuts and downright ludicrous images reminiscent of "Fear and loathing in Las Vegas", and the black Humour in a similar category as "Man bites dog." I liked it but I would recommend it anyway for the superb cinematography and the fact that its a highly unorthodox and fascinating take on popular American culture.
An extremely competent look at the Scottish drug-Scene, Trainspotting is a perfect example of the potential of the UK industry to tell a story of tragedy, horror and hope in a manner that the American industry has yet to do without drifting into tired Cliche. While the manner and style of delivery are extremely funny and at times appear almost unreal, the fact remains that these characters are real. The clearly psychotic and alcoholic Begbie, played by Robert Carlyle is a supporting role that is actually of immense value to the film. Here we have character who I've met, you've met and we've all met. A man with very little to lose absorbed in a sea of alcohol and prone to violence. I choose him as example because he isnt even involved in the drug-scene in which the main characters are central. In fact his opposition is somewhat humorous when we consider his own vices make him argueably worse off and the incidences of violence he becomes involved in
are most definitely black humour. Considering what is actually happening isnt funny, watching it play out, aside from one major incident, is extremely funny. And that is the tone of the film throughout, as characters continually talk nonsence and sail through the lives they have chosen, making very little progress, but instead drifting downwards until an opportunity presents itself to change their ways, where upon Renton, Ewan McGregor, must make a choice between his own life or his friends. McGregor himself is excellent in the film that made him, as is Jonny Lee Miller, who surprised me in this film by having a more thought-provoking character than the script and time strictly allowed considering his relatively minimal place in the main storyline. Ewen Bremner provided some excellent and often well-needed comic relief and Carlyle as I mentioned, was outstanding. This film is both real and unreal, taking the Humour of "Human Traffic" and the somber tone of "My name is Joe" and blending them together to create an unforgettable experience vividly accompanied by strains of "Perfect day" and other cultural and nostalgic sounds, particularly of the place and period. Trainspotting has been accused of glamourising drug-use but I firmly believe anyone who takes this view hasnt watched it properly. The fun is equally, if not more so, matched by some nasty images and for the time it was released, provided what was a very necessary look at the growing drug industry, the loss it creates and the hope that can arise. Superb.
Sleepers didnt work for me, although I must concede that the premise surrounding the plot was admirable and the story bold. The issue being tackled is a very dark one within modern society, largely because such instances of abuse and their effects are largely over-looked by Hollywood, with very good reasons from an industry standpoint, it has to be said. As such, the film handled such scenes with a level of maturity, leaving the link-ins, particularly involving Robert De Niro's priest character, to convey the brutality, rather than elongate the abuses themselves. The disturbing side to the film was a key aspect of the plot and would have worked well except for the later stages, when it became gradually evident that the film bore little or no resemblance to reality. Personally I have a problem with films that portray legal proceedings, or the process and outcomes of the law in an unrealistic manner, often blatantly to facilitate an outlandish plot. This was the case with Sleepers. Another key criticism was the setting of the film and more particularly, its portayal. It was set in New Yorks notorious Hells Kitchen district and I didnt feel this often came across as it should have done. Everyone was far too nice and I felt De Niro in particular was woefully mis-cast. Kevin Bacon was superb in a role that he must feel he is being type-cast into, while Hoffman had no presence or place in the film to speak of, Pitt gave a simplistic, if steady performance while Patric didnt look like he wanted to be there. The idea was superb and could have worked really well to produce a dynamic and thought-provoking thriller to the full. What the audience received instead was a mere glimpse of these two.
Falling Down (1993)
I really, really liked this film. Part of the appeal stems from the fact that it pulls the audience everywhere, from the riproaringly funny instances of violence, that probably were intended to be so, through to shock, apprehension, laughter again and ultimately poignancy, while never losing the grim realities of urban America. Falling down has been described as a "political" film, or certainly a film with a political message running throughout and I dont dispute this for one second. With the characters it inroduces, even fleetingly, it asks some tough questions about peoples attitudes in a city where millions coexist, which in turn diminishes the respect that people should have for one another. Ultimately the films conclusion has society as the loser and I felt this really hit home. One mans struggle to cope is not his own failure, but rather that of the people who govern him. The smaller story concerning Roberts Duvall's seasoned cop runs in parallel with the main plot but eventually links in beautifully. The role was a complex one that Duvall just fitted perfectly, right down to the cops jacket size. Douglas likewise was good as the mentally unbalanced white collar worker, with the disturbing side of his character reinforced by a very good musical score. However, as his encounters with his fellow citizens begin to add up, its then that the audience realise that there are more distasteful people out there. The scene with the Nazi in particular stood out, as it went from being hilarious to disturbing very, very quickly. This film also makes the audience aware of the prejudices of modern America in which the "white man, with a white shirt and tie" is easily tracked through gangland territory, where, as Duvall reasons: "What would a man with a white shirt and tie be doing in...Gangland?" A good film with a very good ending that leaves the audience with a strong message and feeling of sadness.
I knew from the opening scene that this was going to be a film that I shouldnt take too seriously, but nothing could prepare me for what was to follow. I must admit to being sceptical prior to viewing. Im not a big fan of Vin Diesel but this has nothing to do with the guy personally, I Just think he cant act, especially not in the lead role. His continuing attempts to seem like a real laconic hero served only to annoy all except the 16 year old girls in the audience, while his toned physique was more prominent in this film than his acting ability. His main love interest in the film (whose name escapes me) wasnt actually too bad in the acting department, but their romance was laughable anyway as this film took the term "unbelieveable" to new depths of depravity. Although the stunts in this film were spectacular, some of the best ever seen, they were to prove ultimately detrimental as it soon became apparent that all involved were trying too hard. The sheer scale of ridiculousness in some of the stunts had me in fits of laughter as many were a blatant attempt to top 007 in his many guises. Not to be taken seriously.
The villains meanwhile, might as well not have been there because aside from one moment in the entire film, I pretty much thought they were a bunch of guys having a good time and doing what they want in fabulous night clubs surrounded by beautiful women. What the hell is wrong with that? They rarely had anything to say and were largely shortchanged in the "Climactic showdown with the hero" department. In fact their missile was the real bad guy and probably deserved more dialogue than the guys firing it did. Notable only for the soundtrack this one I'm afraid. Watch for a laugh but I have a suspicion that as far as the producers are concerned, the joke is on us.
Red Dragon (2002)
A poor Effort
Quite frankly Red Dragon was a huge disappointment from start to finish. It struggled to make an impact with the audience and I found myself looking longingly towards my watch as the unnecessarily convuluted plot thickened. The film itself was based upon the novel and I recommend anyone choosing to watch this film seriously consider reading this first because the character development was very poor indeed. Anthony Hopkins continued with his usual swagger, but its overall effect was seriously lost in this weak thriller, especially with the vastly superior sequel. Quite simply, he wasnt menacing enough, with all too many instances of comic relief being played out with his humorous quips that were lost on a largely bemused audience. The man played a serial killer and was about as menacing as the ushers at the cinema door. The presence of Harvey Keitel was misleading, perhaps deliberately so, in that his appearances were infrequent and ultimately wasted upon an actor of his ability. Ralph Fiennes was very good in his portrayal of the active serial killer, giving a genuinely disturbing performance, but the plot let him down as I for one, struggled to guess the point of this mess. Edward Norton meanwhile, was reliable in his role as the retired cop who captured Lector, if unspectacularly so. Overall I felt this was a poor effort that could have been so much better were it not for the insertion of a number of pointless scenes and dialogue, which, rather than stimulate the audience, instead manifested themselves negatively, almost inserted as an after thought by the director, despite their importance, like a child placing a post script at the end of a bad essay. Overwrought, unbelievable and boring.