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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
Serbuan maut (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...)
Misfits: Episode #3.1 (2011)
Misfits: A retrospective - Part 3 of 5
The Season 2 finale was an interesting affair, a strong storyline which served to show us each character's moral standpoint, in a world where fame and fortune beckoned. Simon showed he was the right-minded one, and the other showed their own weaknesses. We also, for the first time ever, really felt sorry for Nathan, and realised that he was actually, one of the best things about the show. His death was easily the most tragic affair, in an episode with an ending so predictable, that it almost felt like an alternative reality. Curtis' time travel power was clearly the get-out clause, but the charge of seeing all our favourite characters bite the dust, in a well observed take on modern super powers, was something it was difficult to forget. The villain was the most tongue in cheek yet, and still possessed his own threat, by compensating for his seemingly feeble "lactokinesis", one of the most beloved powers in the show's run. And, we were granted another of the most unforgettably awesome moments in the show's history, as Simon left his dead girlfriend's side, and vengefully strode out, and flicked up his hood, and turned invisible in one movement. This, we could see, was the beginning of Superhoodie. Rheon's emoting was never better than in these scenes.
The ending was surprising, simply because, it was the ending. It seemed as though there was nothing else left to be done. There was that moment of panic, as it was all over, when we felt adrift, because we didn't know where anything would go afterwards, and it was not until 3.2, that order was again restored. Season 2 had been phenomenal, a great refinement of the first season, which had re-shaped its' characters subtly, and taken us on an emotional gamut. We had some of the best new music yet, primarily the unforgettable "Simon and Alisha Forever", by composer Vince Pope, which rocked the world of Misfits like nothing else did. Pope's music had always been a valuable part of the fabric of this universe, never more so than in this series. The tragic, "They're all dead", in episode 6, summed everything up nicely.
And then, came one of the most ill-conceived concepts up until this point, and that it features all the proper gang, and is still one of the worst episodes says something; this was the Misfits Christmas special, and idea which was supposed to be funny purely because of its' incongruity, and the chance to say things like; "I'm going to kill Jesus." Because the Christmas special was awful like nothing before. It did so much house-cleaning, in such a careless, haphazard fashion. Nikki was killed, and never again mentioned. Nathan met a pregnant girl, and sort of fell in love with her, and became the godfather of her son, and, as we would later find out, go on to live with her as her partner, which, if you'd been sticking with Nathan's character up until this point, was so out of character it was amazing. Not to mention the fact that the episode itself was rubbish, with maybe only one decent line (Lauren Socha's "Can you tell her to stop that? It's really distracting"). And then, there was the worst change in history; All the cast gave up their powers completely, even Simon. By the end of the episode, they're preparing to get new ones, but still. Half the point here was that every character's power was somehow an extension of themselves, and after 12 episodes, Overman was finally getting to understand the ins and outs of each character's abilities, and their place in the group. The only possible excuse I can see, is that he felt Curtis' time travel power was too easy an escape switch, and he thought that he could give the whole gang new powers while he was at it. Because it's a really shoddy idea.
So, by the end of this turbulent 45 minutes, everyone had lost their powers. Nathan had a son, and a sort of partner. Nikki was gone, and totally forgotten. No-one was in an orange boiler suit, and their lives away from community service seemed rather rubbish. And, they were just about to get new powers. Seth had been introduced, and Matthew McNulty's performance would be one of the best things about this festive farrago. Howard Overman had the chance here to breathe new life into the show, once he'd sorted out some unashamedly contrived way of getting the gang back on community service. But no. Instead, he dredged up a bunch of comedically ridiculous powers, none of which were ever anywhere near as good as the previous ones, and which began the change towards a show which seemed to shy more and more away from showing superpowers of any description. It all became a lot tawdrier after the classic gang lost their original powers.
And, just for the record, Robert Sheehan leaving was both a disastrous affair, and an unexpected one. In an interview given on 21.12.2010, Sheehan, and the rest of the cast had no idea whether they would be returning or not, prior to receiving their scripts, and beginning shooting, in May/June of the next year. Perhaps, then, there was a chance for Sheehan to return, because his send-off feels all wrong. Maybe it was because he just had better offers elsewhere. Who knows, but his absence was felt, because, as funny as he may have been, Joseph Gilgun was never a decent replacement for him, and it was the introduction of the admittedly very funny Rudy Wade, which made the show slip further, and further down the path of silliness, and stereotypes.
(See episode 4.1 for Part 4)
Misfits: Episode #2.1 (2010)
Misfits: A retrospective - Part 2 of 5
Many people believed that the series pinnacle with season 2, and in fact, many die-hard fans of seasons 1 and 2 believed that it should have been gracefully retired after this batch of episodes. And they do have a point.
The opening to episode 1, depicting the introduction of the show's most controversial character since Robert Sheehan, Superhoodie, was quite simply, the coolest thing we had ever seen on the show before. This was cinematic, exciting, Dark Knight-influenced superhero stuff, which, given the all too squirmy realism of season 1, was exactly what we needed. The whole pre-credits sequence, with Superhoodie throwing a paper aeroplane at Kelly, shot in a stunning, visually arresting manner, was like nothing we'd ever seen before. And, as the theme tune began, we knew we were in for a classic, classic series. For the first time ever, "Misfits" was back. And we loved it already.
The first episode, featuring a shape-shifting, psychotic ex-girlfriend, was a great opening, which messed with our character's lives like never before. Simon was given a slightly less creepy version of himself to play, who struggled with his socially awkward past, and finally confronted Nathan. The first episode dealt with Simon's assimilation into the gang, even though he still remained the slightly awkward one. Lucy, his obsessed lover, gave us a chance to see just how far Simon had evolved, and we were pleased to see the beginnings of his evolution, even if old Simon was a far nicer character. And yet, it was characterisation that was not twee or trite; they were still at each other's throats. They still didn't really hang out. They just argued slightly less than usual. But still, they all felt very real, and it was the realism of their characters which made such a cinematic trope as the character of Superhoodie seem like the freshest, most exciting heroic character ever. In this twisted, nasty world, "Misfits" finally had its' first superhero. The mystery concerning his identity was compelling. And no-one, but no-one, would ever guess just who he was. Then, things rather stalled, with one of the show's all-time turkeys, Nathan's brother, an aggressive thug. This was more down to earth, more moronic and unpleasant than ever before. Yet, the drama of Superhoodie kept it fresh. And, Nathan did have some great moments at the episode's end, as he makes his mark, and mixes up his cinematic references. Now, Superhoodie, the mystery, was great, before we knew who he was under the mask. He was the core, the heart, and the driving force behind season 2. And yet, somehow, when we found out, the show bowed to short term wish fulfilment, with a stunningly perverse twist, that surprised us, but which, by the end of the episode, we realised was intensely problematic. The stuff about Nathan going gay for Simon, the psycho tattoo man, and peanuts was all quickly forgotten. Simon Bellamy was Superhoodie. Stop the presses.
This, some may say, was the beginning of the end. Others say it's the best thing that ever happened to the show. Here's why it wasn't. Simon was the quiet, essentially likable character of the bunch. Robert Sheehan was phenomenally good, and his dialogue was constantly anarchically funny without fail. It was a great performance. But, at the end of the day, it was Simon who we felt sorry for. He was the empathic heart of the show, and Iwan Rheon was the show's breakout star. Now, one of the things that made both episode 2.1, and the all-time classic 1.5 so great, was the fact that we were getting a chance to see the painfully awkward Simon mature into a rounded, likable character with some depth. It was a triumph to have so much tenderness in such a crude, yet undeniably funny program about young scumbags messing around.
Whilst I'm sure Simon would have loved to have found out he was a superhero, hence affirming some kind of moral karma, it robbed him of the simple, very tiny steps of character development which were so entertaining to watch. By episode 4, we knew the dark truth; that future Simon would have to die to save Alisha, who would go on to become his girlfriend. It was all very confusing, but we knew that Simon's time was up. Present, shy likable Simon's destiny had been written, and it rather too away a lot of the fun of seeing him develop. The show, by messing around with time travel, effectively wrapped itself up in a knot of its' own complications, and the drama was severely affected.
Another rather disappointing twist, was the vision that Curtis has in 2.2, of himself dressed in a costume, with a mysterious girlfriend, and the power to fly. This was resolved in a very undramatic way, by 2.5, although it was still fun seeing how easily writer Howard Overman wriggled out of this tantalising little situation. Ruth Negga was an interesting addition to the cast, even if she was poorly treated in the long run. Her relationship with Curtis seemed more interesting than his affair with Alisha, simply because Alisha was never much of a character, another reason why her relationship with Simon wasn't quite as wish-fulfilling as it might have been. Still, 2.5 was another classic piece of work; a ridiculous premise, acted out with fun, verve and emotion. There was a strong guest, a lot of focus on Simon, and some great gags. And, definitely, the ending was one of the show's most affirming moments; no-longer virginal Simon smiles, and takes a drink, as the gang stand on the famous rooftop, looking out across the estate, and says, "Maybe this is what it feels like to be a superhero", and Nathan replies; "I think it'll take a lot more than you getting laid to turn you into a superhero." This was pure class.
(See episode 3.1 for Part 3)
Misfits: Episode #1.1 (2009)
Misfits: A retrospective - Part 1 of 5
After 5 years, and 37 episodes of varying quality, "Misfits" has finally come to an end, with only rumours concerning a possible film project remaining. Misfits has been a very interesting, very unique part of my life recently, and now, after it's all over, it's only appropriate to write this retrospective of one of the most original, frustrating and bizarre shows ever conceived.
"The synopsis always sounds crap...It's about five kids, who're doing community service, who all get struck by an electrical ice storm, and develop superpowers, and then people always go "Really..?" So said Robert Sheehan in one of the gang's first interviews, back for season one. And he was right. The idea, is not a sound one, nor does it especially convey exactly the essence of just what Misfits is. Only in Britain, would you get a concept this left-field, this subversive, and, frankly, this mental. Yet, series creator Howard Overman, although providing input throughout each series, knew exactly what he was doing.
When Series 1 kicked off, we were immediately dropped into a scummy, realistic world of unlikeable youth offenders, who quarrelled, and bickered, and bullied, and fought each other. The important thing to remember, which may seem something of a no-brainer after all this time, was that by making each of our main characters a youth offender, Overman was creating a posse of retrograde types, who we would come to know and understand as the show went on, and who we were challenged to like, and find attractive as human beings. People with ASBOs. Yeah, the total opposite of most superpower-centric narratives; our moral compass was being well and truly subverted.
But...somehow, with a record breaking amount of profanity, sex, violence, drugs and immoral behaviour, there was something so intrinsically believable about that first series of Misfits, the feeling that we were watching something real, despite its' very fantastic context. In a way, those first episodes genuinely provided us with the most believable depiction of super powered humans we'd ever seen. The dirty, stinking, foul-mouthed picture. It was dark, unpleasant drama, even in spite of its' amount of humour - humour which was invariably at the expense of other people, or pitch-black gallows humour, or plain simple crudity. There was nothing sophisticated at all about Misfits, and that was why that first series was the show's finest ever hour. Because it knew exactly what it was doing, and never pandered to a prettified version of the reality.
It was the show's own cruelty, its' foulness and its' lack of morality which made the humour such a relief, as unpleasant as it often was. It was a version of reality so un-heightened that we felt as though we were living through it all. And most of all, we came to feel sorry for Simon (Iwan Rheon), the sad, quiet outsider in the group. It was Simon who gave us our most emotional moments – his troubled relationship with Alex Reid's Sally was the show's finest ever moment (episode 1.5), because it was so gorgeously uncomfortable. This was a very real person, and whereas Nathan made us laugh, it was always Simon who we rooted for, because he never really was one of them.
Lauren Socha was simply what she was; a hard mouthed chav, with a tough exterior, which occasionally gave way for some moments of nice humanity. Out of all the gang, she was the one who had the most time for Simon, was the most forgiving, and the least unkind. Antonia Thomas, as sexually obsessed Alisha, was a one-note character who was rather tiresome, and never convinced us there was anything underneath – which made her metamorphosis in later series, to a far more likable character rather hard to take. Nathan Stewart-Jarret as Curtis, was another character without much character, who acted kind of as a sounding board for the other more extreme characters to bounce off. His big moment – episode 1.4, was the first time that we were presented with a familiar superhero trope, something dramatically sound, whilst still retaining its' sense of earthiness; Curtis was forced to choose between several versions of the past, which would have varying consequences on the future; however, the ending was ultimately rather botched, and instead of having a moral point or lesson, as we felt there would be, everything just turned out nice again, and Curtis had his cake, and ate it too.
The season 1 finale was horrendously disappointing, because it ignored everything before it. What it did, though, was to prove once and for all, that Misfits was not the show you thought it was. The villain's power was to make people nice, and good and pure, and sure enough, Nathan fought for his right to remain a complete arse, and finally died for it. And, in so doing, he defined the show's philosophies, as living fast, and loud and dying young. It was a blow, especially after the previous episodes touching humanity, and brilliant use of superpowers. But, it was true to these characters. It would go on to become a staple of the show that we would find ourselves enjoying a character's quirkiness, and their unique brand of humour, only to suddenly be pulled up, by their total immorality. These characters were so finely drawn, that we could become immersed in them, in spite of their weaknesses. Series 1 was real, and beautifully written, because it got us on the side of the devil, and made us enjoy it with some subversive, anarchic and impossibly dark story lines. The "punch-line" of the series, Nathan's invincibility, was a nice ending, partly because a little part of us thought that it was a kind of poetic justice. If it had all ended there, which thankfully it didn't, we would have had a perfect send-off for the gang. But there was more to come.
(See episode 2.1 for Part 2)
The Ward (2010)
"If I were you, I'd watch out, Carpenter fans"
John Carpenter...The man with a history of making two classics (The Fog, Hallowe'en), some average films (Hallowe'en 2, They Live!) and some absolute garbage. (Escape from New York, The Thing, Big Trouble, everything before Hallowe'en)So, his first horror movie for ten years was a tricky one to predict, but the tagline "From the director of HALLOWE'EN" on the cover sold me in the end. From the director of the best horror film ever made! It can't be that bad, surely...
And so. A brief, creepy pre-credits scene, in which a woman in an institution is haunted, and eventually dispatched by a shadowy presence, directed with all the classical panache you could wish for (excluding the crash zooms). And then, into a really stunningly creepy credits sequence, with breaking glass,and barbaric images of psychiatry through the ages, accompanied by a genuinely affecting theme tune by Mark Killian. Now, Carpenter himself used to always do his own soundtracks, composed holistically as part of the film-making process, which would help the music become enmeshed perfectly with the visuals, and create a solid, horrific opera. Sadly, however, old man Carpenter here has been totally outstripped by Killian's score, which is better than his own imagery. It lifts rather from the classic "Suspiria" score, by Goblin and Director Dario Argento, with it's quietly disconcerting vocals, and a scary, lyrical backing. Imagine a classical, rather than a rock, cover of the "Suspiria" music, and you'll get an idea of what this is like.
Anyway, back to the film itself. Pyromaniac Kristen (Cult favourite Amber Heard) is captured, and taken to North Bend Psychiatric Hospital, where she struggles to remember her past, to exorcise her own demons, and to survive in an oppressive, institutionalised atmosphere. Suddenly, though, things start going wrong. Strange noises. Things going missing, moving of their own accord. Then, her fellow inmates start to vanish. Kristen now has to escape the institution, or become the next victim, of a mysterious, ghostly killer...
All fairly standard so far, and if there's anyone who can get away with delivering familiar feeling material, it's Carpenter, who, to his credit, in just two films, effectively shaped the entire contemporary horror genre single handedly. Trademark shots - the POV slow pan, the eerie long dark corridor, the long hold as we see something moving in the background, and many more, are all almost entirely Carpenter's invention. And this modest little horror thriller buzzes along with style and some atmosphere, whilst putting little reliance on gore and bloodshed - there's only maybe two scenes likely to offend, both of which, to be fair, are variations of things we've seen in "Hallowe'en 2", the prototype of the institutionalised horror. What is refreshing, though, is that it doesn't attempt to punch above it's weight. The world feels believable. The characters are simple, and acted with earnest conviction, if not a massive degree of skill. Mamie Gummer gives a gently unsettling portrayal, and Laura Leigh is especially endearing as the child like Zoey. There is a sense of solidity, a refreshingly unpretentious take, on some fairly routine horror tropes. Jared Harris, the movie's "big star", gives a credible account of himself. In fact, quite simply, you'd be hard pushed to find too much to hate about this movie.
THis is John Carpenter, right? The master of horror? Creator of the best supernatural entity in the history of film? The guy who gave us decaying ghostly zombies stalking through a supernatural fog to get at our cast? The Horror Guy? So what is the deal with this pathetic cop out of an ending? I'm sorry, but when I watched this, I was shocked, and not in a good way. I felt betrayed. It's a cheat ending of the worst kind, because it totally shies away from any supernatural elements at all, and quite simply makes a mockery of the previous eighty minutes of good solid horror fun. This is a low blow indeed, Carpenter. We want horror. Not this pandering to mainstream rubbish. And yes, it is the kind of ending which invalidates the entire film. I can't say it was a good film ,apart from the ending, because the rest of the film was all built upon this ending. It's a sucker punch, oh ye horror fans, and I can warn you away from it, if it isn't yet too late. Save your money. Heck, even "Hallowe'en 3" wasn't such a cheat as this.
Wentworth: The Things We Do (2013)
Bleak Expectations: Liz's story
After her encounter with Jacs, Franky has become aggressive towards Bea, and Bea realises she's in dangerous territory with her fellow inmates. Erica is planning a public speaking event to gain support from important officials, but a drug-smuggling operation goes dangerously wrong, threatening the life of a young girl, and setting the inmates into fits of anger. Also, liaison officer Liz is facing her own personal demons, as the event stirs a bad memory of her past, and finally sends her over the edge. With the prison in turmoil, Erica goes ahead with the speeches, with disastrous consequences. Bea, meanwhile, has a meeting with Jacs, in which she learns more about her. Tensions escalate, as Wentworth prepares for its' darkest hour.
"Things we do" is perhaps the darkest episode yet. The one character-per-episode flashback has become the standard format by now, and this time, it's Liz Birdsworth's (Ceila Ireland) turn. Liz comes across as a relatable, well-adjusted mother figure for the more unstable inmates, the only one who seems totally normal. So then, her back story is the most shocking of all, because it is buried so deep. Doreen was shown taking drugs whilst driving and having lost her child through a moment of irresponsibility. Liz is an alcoholic, whose drinking ultimately costs the life of her child. But, unlike Doreen, Liz's drinking is totally self-destructive; she is deeply troubled, self-loathing, afraid and depressive, and her flashbacks are tragic to watch. Her plight, in this episode, is the most empathic moment in the series, as she struggles with her own self. To her credit, Ireland, a relatively generic character thus far, gives a tormented performance that's near perfection. It's resolution is totally believable, and deeply sad. Equally intense, is the sequence in which a drug-smuggling attempt goes wrong, and nearly kills one of the visitors' children. It's self-consciously dramatic, but has a definite impact. More importantly, though, it reminds us that not everyone in Wentworth is suffering from some deep emotional tragedy; some of them are just simply evil, deserving to be locked up. Ambiguous, unfortunate characters are all very well, and have been believable thus far (Bea, Doreen and Liz – even Franky to an extent), but remember this is a prison. Not everyone inside is innocent, or likable.
Also, Jacs has far more to do this time, and is played for all the manipulatory menace she can get. In her confrontation with Bea, there is a crackling tension, as she gently worms her way into Bea's confidence, and calms her down. Her dialogue is sparkling in this episode; "It's not a strong woman who survives in here, it's a smart one. One who knows the right moment to act, and can handle the repercussions if everything goes wrong." Whilst Ceila Ireland gives a beautiful account of herself, the acting award for this episode has to go to Kris McQuade, for her seductive, sustained evil. She, too, is betrayed by her husband, a rather disappointing individual who cheats on her, and doesn't have the guts to admit it. We see who's in charge (no surprises here), and get an insight into the bigger picture concerning Jacs, as someone with a lot of anger, but too smart to let it out. She also has her funniest, totally in character moment, whilst being strip-searched by Vera, and gives her a face full.
Her rival, Franky, is also on excellent form: she's minimalistic, and yet, gets a chance to display her more dangerous side, after her violent encounter with Jacs. More importantly though she's getting a chance to flirt more openly with Erica, which she does confidently, yet we can never be sure how much is bravado and mind games, and how much is for real. The emotional tension is played opaquely by Da Silva and Wallsmann, although we're definitely getting the feeling that it isn't simply a one-sided affair. In an oasis of threat, tragedy and violence, their scenes provide a welcome reminder of humanity. Chances are, this is more Nicole Da Silva than Wallsmann. Erica is increasingly becoming a less practical and intimidating character. She doesn't display the same ruthlessness as she did in part 2, and instead, has just become more and more antagonistic. It seems a lot less likely that such a character could succeed in this environment, and her domination of sweet-natured Vera is the only strength she still possesses. Which is something of a shame, because the cold, manipulative Erica is a brilliantly realised character, instead of the slightly inept, gung-ho-rights-advocate she's turning into.
Also, Bea is substantially side-lined in terms of storyline, as the anthology format begins to question whether this is indeed her series, or not. Her daughter, Debbie, on her own, has become whinier and more annoying, and will continue to become more so as the series progresses. Her husband, too, has vanished, taking the edge off their dangerous, adult relationship. Once more, she's become reduced to a cypher, to allow the others to say things, whilst her own character is buffeted about, and still lacks clear distinction.
Overall, though, it's a step up from the last chapter. Liz's dilemma is far more relevant, and interesting, than Franky's rather tired, yet emotive, parent issues, and far more gripping. The world is a lot grimmer and darker, with only Franky and Erica's chemistry, and Boomer's speech as lighter, nicer moments. It promises a more fraught, pessimistic direction, and a less conventional take, with Liz's bleak fate a reminder that things don't always go right, a main theme for the show. At the same time, a stronger focus on strong, central plot threads would help: there's little advancement in this episode, beyond the stunningly written characterisation. Both Erica and Bea suffer accordingly, as there's maybe a bit too much dwelling on peripheral characters. But, dramatically, this episode is sound, and easily one of the most engaging stories so far.
Wentworth: The Girl Who Waited (2013)
Franky's Story - Worth the wait?
Erica Davidson has become the Governess of Wentworth Prison, and sets in motion a series of changes which, she believes, will win her favour with the public. However, the prison staff are displeased with the changes, and are becoming restless. Meanwhile, enigmatic firebrand Franky Doyle has to come to terms with her past, when her father comes to visit her, and Bea's daughter Debbie finally gets to talk to her face to face, but only after a difficult incident. But, whilst the inmates face their own personal problems, Jacs is gunning for Franky, and uses Bea as a pawn, making things extremely difficult for everyone. After a brutal demonstration of her authority, Jacs sets Franky – now becoming increasingly unstable – against Bea, who is moving into deeper and deeper trouble.
The title of this episode, it's worth noting, is a deliberate reference to "Doctor Who", and companion Amy Pond, who, being only three years old (created in 2010) suggests the immense cultural impact that that show has. However, in this instance, it refers to Wentworth's most iconic character: Franky Doyle. The one character per episode flashback style is now the pattern, with each episode providing the back-story of a single character, and episode 3 is Franky's story. It deals with waiting, and expectations; with her incredible presence, and unique mannerisms, Franky is already by far the most intriguing character in the series, and so it is inevitable that we have been wanting some background to her. However, the sad thing is, that her background is not only rather mundane and unoriginal, totally unlike Franky herself, but also faintly silly, especially in comparison with some of the darker flashbacks we get. It's a tribute to Nicole Da Silva's performance that she acts such routine soap-opera fare as this with such unerring conviction, but there is no escaping the fact that her story rather detracts from her character, rather than adding to it. Her family squabbles with her abusive mother, and her absentee father Adam Doyle, relegate Franky to just another tough-childhood, emotionally scarred young woman, and her reality-show background verges on the farcical. Throwing a frying pan full of boiling oil into someone's face may be very nasty, but in the world of heightened dramatic reality, it has an inescapable sense of being just a little too slapsticky - rather like being sat upon by an elephant. Painful, yes, but ignominious and not scary in the way that beating someone up is. It also rather takes away from Franky's seductive menace, especially when she's against this episode's pumped-up Jacs Holt. The only good thing here, is that we get a chance to see Franky's emotional side, and in so doing, we learn why it has been so carefully hidden. Her childhood is clichéd but disturbing. Her crime is original, yet silly.
It's also becoming increasingly difficult to see how, beyond her roguish charm and sex appeal, Franky retains such a position of respect within Wentowrth. Though she has a lot of pent-up anger (rarely displayed) and makes a few threats, she has done almost nothing to prove herself up until this point, and has already lost out to Jacs every time. It's still unclear exactly why Jacs thinks Franky's such a threat to her, to us at least. Because what friends Franky has, apart from her right hand woman "Boomer", seem to keep a respectable distance from her – even Rah Chapman's Kim, her girlfriend – whereas Jacs is never seen without a small army of followers. With Franky slightly messed about with, the rest of the episode follows a similar trend towards being disappointing. Erica Davidson has become far less of a menacing adversary in all but one scene, in which she uses her politician's wiles to totally distort Tony's confession. Rather than the manipulator, she has become rather more of a failure – her staff moan at her, Tony vomits all over her expensive suit, and she seems too eager to please. She even asks Vera for advice at one point, which, after the events of last episode, seems highly unlikely. Even her dialogue scenes with Franky lack the underlying sexual chemistry that they had in the previous episode, although there is a nice moment with a cup of coffee. Similarly, Will Jackson has been totally relegated to just another guard, only one episode after he was a rampaging, grief-stricken madman.
Danielle Cormack, though, is on fine form, arguably her best yet. She finally sees her daughter, although a rather perverse plot twist about Debbie being strip-searched is both contrived, and seemingly pointless, as it is intercut with the key confrontation between Franky and her father. But, we are introduced to Brandon Holt, Jacs' teenage son, who is destined for greater importance as time goes on.
The final confrontation, in which Bea is forced to turn on Franky, though, plays out as one of the tensest moments in the series so far, and is especially welcome, given the rather maudlin nature of this episode. Hopefully, it promises that nothing else will ever be the same, as friends turn against each other, and allegiances are redefined. Sadly, after the gleaming pinnacle of "Fly me away", this episode is something of a let-down, with a few good moments, but also a lot of contrived false drama. The acting award for this episode has to go to Nicole Da Silva, who gives a touching performance, but one which kind of takes away from the appeal of the mysteriously mesmerising Franky. A slight mis-step, but a strong climax, and intriguing story elements win through, and encourages us to forgive this as nothing more than a slight aberration.
DOA: Dead or Alive (2006)
Sunny, Sexy and Sh1t kicking
Generally regarded as one of the closest video game - to movie adaptations, "DOA: Dead or alive" is the sort of film that surpasses being trashy, and goes into that realm of enjoyable garbage. In its' way, it's a lot more honest than other bigger budgeted CGI action thrillers of recent years, because in this case, what you see is quite simply what you get: Martial arts, Hot women, and mindless, but reasonably well-choreographed flying about on wires stunt work from director Cory Yuen. So, before you sit down to enjoy this brisk (83 minutes) movie, totally chuck away concepts of; intelligence; realism; and even story. This is just a mindless thrill ride, but one of the better efforts of its' kind, because of its' cheerful, sunny sexiness.
The plot involves an "Enter The Dragon" style fighting tournament, featuring fighting specialists of various different martial arts - although Christie is listed as being a "master thief and assassin", which, if you think about ti, isn't really a martial art. It's more just a cool skill set. But, nonetheless, she can indeed handle herself in a fight.
The characters, such as they are, are brought to life with a minimum of commitment from the good looking cast, although few have the distinctions of even possessing clichéd characteristics. Instead, they're just a bunch of human fighting machines, presumably in the spirit of the video game - renowned for its' sexist depictions of women.
Devin Aoki is the first of our heroes we meet, who plays a Japanese princess, Kasumi, on a quest to find her brothers' killer. Aoki is American born, half Japanese, and brings her rather unusual looks to bear well in a few decent fight scenes - the opening, whilst being completely over the top, is still a decent enough sequence in itself, and her fight with Natassia Malthe is her high point. Of the cast, she's the most serious and down to Earth of them all, taxed more with bringing along key plot elements rather than showing off her curves. However, she does get a chance to do this in the volleyball sequence.
Jaime Pressly plays a confident, ex-American wrestler, who struts about in a bikini and cowboy hat for most of the movie. Her character, Tina Armstrong, is attempting to prove others wrong, who believe that she was only a fake wrestler, and not a real fighter. She has the largest slice of comic scenes out of everyone, including a running joke with her father walking in on her when she's in compromising scenes with other ladies, leading him to surmise that she's a lesbian. (Rather like the gags at the end of Charlie's Angels 2, on;y better)Her fights are well handled, and what she lacks in talent, is more than made up for by her enthusiasm to show off her body ina number of revealing outfits. Not a feminist character, but a damned hot one.
Australian singer Holly Valance as master thief Christie, brings her own style of devilish glamour to the role. She's the best looking of the three leads, and her fight with Helena on the beach is stunningly sexy, full of gratuitous close-ups, as well as enough decent choreography to make you think; "Damn. This is actually a pretty bad ass scene." Sarah Carter as Helena, is a nother pretty face, most noted for her ability to...roller skate. Yep. In an epic training montage of all the fighters working out, Helena is cut in zooming about on roller skates. This, it seems, is her martial art. Whatever. Tell that to the dozens of men and women lying dead on the steps after her end fight.
NAtassia Malthe stars as a purple haired samurai out to kill Kasumi, and is seriously under-used. In a film which makes use of its' devastatingly hot cast, brushing someone as good looking as Malthe under the carpet is a crime. Malthe is the actress I know the most in this movie, from "Daredevil", and the equally mental "Blood Rayne" films.
Eric Roberts, brother of Julia and notable for villainous roles in everything from "Doctor Who" to "The Dark Knight", turns up as the gloating main villain, playing a kind of technologically updated Mr. Han. To me, this is terrible casting - especially as the 50 year old, puffy looking Roberts announces in the end fight that he's "Kept himself in superb physical condition". Roberts is not bad enough to ruin a film in which acting ability is totally irrelevant, but choosing him as a physical villain seems a big mistake. If it weren't for his pair of magic sunglasses, then it's doubtful that he could do anything - and, more importantly, it would be harder to hide his stunt double.
It's a goofy, entertaining, sexy film about fighting, with a formula that allows it to totally eschew any considerable plot. However, it's relentless finale is breathlessly fun in a kind of Brosnan-era Bond fashion, only not under any illusions of taking itself seriously, which is incredibly liberating. For all its' ludicrous CGI, and flying about on wires stunt scenes, this is ultimately just a fun, chilled out movie, set on a sunny resort island. The fight between Helena and Christie on the beach is the high point, both for sexiness, and simply for being well filmed, although the Malthe/Aoki fight in a bamboo forest has its' moments too. It's silly, it's simplistic, it's totally unrealistic. But, it does what it set out to do; showcase some sexy women in action, and show some exhilaratingly ridiculous fight scenes. To Hell with "The Matrix". If you're going to have cartoony, over the top fights, then have a cartoony over the top plot. It's not going to appeal to everyone, but if you can look at the DVD cover and think it looks rubbish, then its' not for you. Because to be honest, there's not a whole lot more to it than that.
Wentworth: Fly Me Away (2013)
Deeper, darker and better: Wentworth hits its' stride
After the death of Warden Jackson, during a riot between Franky's faction, and Jacs', Bea Smith is the prime suspect, as her grief-filled husband drives himself to find her murderer, breaking rules and using his position of authority to threaten the inmates, leading to a tense situation with Doreen. Meanwhile, with Jackson gone, Vera has trouble taking over her job, whilst Erica Davidson manipulates events to ensure she gets her old job. All the while, Bea struggles with her situation, and her husband's controlling, all the time protesting her own innocence, and trying to survive
After the bold, theatrically clean-cut nature of the previous episode, in which we are introduced to Bea, and larger than life icons like Nicole Da Silva's brilliant Franky Doyle, and the menacing "Jacs" Holt, "Fly Me Away" is a far more realistic take on things. Events are less operatic, and less conventional in the way in which they happen.. The emotional stakes are deepened considerably, whilst the characters we met in passing in the first episode lose their ambiguity, and begin to show their true colours, and are gradually separated into the more distinctly good, or evil boundaries. Manipulative, cut-throat politician Erica; drug-addled, absentee mother Tony; the driven, authoritarian Jackson; and, of course, Bea's abusive, cold-hearted husband, who becomes far scarier in this episode. All show their evils, in diverse, and disturbing manners, in a far less electrifying fashion, than the Franky/Jacs tension in episode 1, but it is all the more realistic, especially given the nature of the suffering which they inflict on the tragically flawed, yet still good at heart characters. Vera is far too nice underneath, for the job of Warder, leaving herself easily open an easy target for Erica's head games. Affection-starved Doreen, the surrogate mother of Tony's daughter, after her own child died stillborn is saddening to watch, and Bea herself, makes the important journey from cypher to idealist. Rather than simply being the generic protagonist with a terrible back-story, this episode introduces us to Bea Smith as a strong, capable and likable human being, trapped in an awful situation after being driven up against a wall by her husband. In other words, the roots of Bea, the survivor, the icon, and the heroine, are beginning to grow.
Whereas episode 1 was undeniably Bea's story, episode 2 focuses mainly on Doreen, a deeply tragic character, brilliantly acted by Shareena Clanton. Clanton conveys the role's guilt, her sorrow, and her desire to love again, after her terrible accident. She delivers a heart-rending monologue, and the triangle between herself, Tony, and Tony's young daughter forms the heart of this episode.
The other major new character we meet is Leeanna Walsman's Erica Davidson. Davidson plays on Vera, and uses her passivity as a stepping stone, to attain her position of power as Governess of Wentworth. There is far more prison politics in this episode, as we spend more time with the prison staff themselves. After a blink-and-you'll miss her appearance in the previous episode, Walsman's performance is sharp and clever, as we're introduced to one of the show's most dangerous antagonists yet; the ruthless politician-predatory, unscrupulous and opportunistic. One of the interesting moral points to note, though, is that of the four of the named villains I've previously referred to as coming to their fore in this episode, only one of them is actually an inmate.
In terms of the iconic characters, though, there is very little of Franky, and virtually no Jacs at all. Yet, both have a massive presence as soon as they appear, teasing us with their comparative restraint. All this, in spite of the fact that neither have any relevance to an episode which isn't about either of their characters. Nicole Da Silva shines through nonetheless in her scenes, displaying a bantering sexual chemistry with the totally in-control Erica adeptly, and she even shows her skills with a bit of ad-libbing. ("What do you think?" she adds, slapping a surprised actress beside her at the end of one of her few scenes.)
But, most importantly of all, the character of Wentworth Prison itself is beginning to shape up, with a strong sense of this environment. The stark pale blues reduce everything to a lifelessly drab colourlessness, as well as muting the blues of the uniforms themselves. We're really beginning to feel the horror of these characters trapped in here, both the inexplicably likable characters, and the irredeemably scummy, who adapt to the world of Wentworth. Yet, all are trapped in a locale where the boundaries are constantly being expanded and crossed, tensions are building to boiling point, and where the polite rules of normal society have been totally left behind, in their place, a drab survivalist instinct among some, and repressed anger in the others. Jackson uses his power to threaten Doreen, and to cause emotional havoc with one of Wentworth's most troubled inmates; Jacs Holt hovers over everything, totally at home, able to mould the truth, and – maybe literally – get away with murder, as the one person you don't dare cross. And, all the while, Bea is trying to keep her head down, and hold onto the one thing she loves; her daughter. Erica uses the chaos of Megs' death, and the heady internal conflict of egos, as part of a grand power play for her own glory, and only poor, lovely Vera seems to want the best for everyone, and she is hopelessly trampled underfoot by Erica's machinations. She's also becoming one of the most likable characters, with a cute, understated performance from Kate Atkinson.
In all, the lines are rapidly being drawn, as alliances are made, and so are enemies. With this episode, "Wentworth" evolves beyond being simply a prison drama, or a lesbian drama, or even a soap opera. It's finally found its' place as itself, and its' own sense of identity, as everything shifts into high gear. The best, one hopes, is yet to come
Wentworth: No Place Like Home (2013)
Welcome To Wentworth
Escaping from an abusive relationship with her husband, Bea Smith (Danielle Cormack – Xena's Ephiny) is taken into custody in Wentworth Correctional Facility for women. However, whilst fighting to survive a psychological war within the prison's wall, Bea gets caught up in a conflict between the dangerous, but quirky Franky Doyle (Nicole Da Silva), and the prison's stone cold Matriarch "Jacs" Holt. There, when she is forced to smuggle drugs for Franky, Bea gets discovered, but refuses to betray Franky, for fear of worse things happening. However, when a full-scale battle breaks out between Franky and Jacs' factions, there will be far-reaching consequences for all involved, as Bea's chances of release get smaller and smaller, and innocent blood is spilled
"Wentworth Prison" is an Australian TV drama, which updates the cult classic, "Prisoner: Cell Block H" for modern audiences, which it does admirably. The opening episode, "No Place like Home" has some classic moments, and promises a lot more to come, as well as introducing us to our colourful cast of characters, and the relationships between them. It's an edgy, gritty piece of work, nicely down to earth, conveying a sense of environment exceptionally well, whilst never as ostentatious as the majority of American made dramas which constantly swamp our screens. It's nice to see something charismatic and different for a change. The opening scenes of Bea's "cabin fever", at entering prison for the first times are exceptionally proficient in their execution.
The majority of the focus of this episode, and indeed, I assume, the rest of the series itself, is on Bea herself, but I'm sure there's no denying, that the star of this show is Nicole Da Silva. (Already heralded by Diva magazine as a "cheeky, lesbian icon in the making")Her performance is fresh and exciting, as well as her undoubted good looks. Her conflict with Jacs is electrifying to watch, the devilish, manipulative newcomer against the older, even more dangerous Jacs, who remains largely silent throughout the first episode, conveying menace in as few words as are needed. For Bea, who has to choose one side or the other, there's only one certainty: that she's going to upset somebody, and the consequences will be unpleasant. But, without Silva, this show would lack the energy and style that it has. Her opening scene – in bed with Rah Chapman - is perfect, immediately defining her character, but as the episode goes on, we learn that she is a far more complex person than we ever envisaged. Definitely more Franky in future episodes, please. (It's also worth mentioning that another important lesbian icon, Lip Service's Ruta Gedmintas, also played a character called Franky, also incredibly well. What is it with that name, anyway?) We're introduced gradually to the other characters inside – angsty Doreen, cool Jacs, motherly Liz, as well as the prison staff themselves. Anchoring everything successfully is Catherine McClements' Meg Jackson, who wins the acting prize for this episode, with a tense, restrained, nuanced performance, as a no-nonsense governess. It's rather a shame that she's so good, especially as this is destined to be her only appearance in the entire series. Her husband, Robbie Magasiva, is far less convincing, although gets into his element as his part darkens later on. Kate Atkinson, as the nice-at-heart Vera Bennet, is perhaps the most likable character in the series, or definitely is at this point anyway, and her struggle with her job is nicely realistic.
The main heart of the episode, though, is the final confrontation between Franky and Jacs, beautifully staged and filmed, forming a dramatic crux, to a largely introductory episode. Bea is still yet to develop beyond opaque antagonist, and audience identification character, and Franky and Jacs are both larger than life, iconic characters. The rivalry between them is charged, easily the most compelling thing about the opening episode, helped amply by great performances from Nicole Da Silva and Kris McQuade. Jacs' entrance is milked for all the tension to could possibly hope for, from director Kevin Carlin, who distinguishes himself throughout, and helps to set the tone for the rest of the series to come, with tinted, blue exteriors, and an unobtrusive, honest style, that never gets bogged down in being ostentatious.
Overall, then, this is a promising introductory chapter. We meet the characters, we enter the location we're going to be trapped in for the rest of the series, and we learn Bea's backstory. The acting is of a generally high standard, the writing competent always, and occasionally shining through. The theme tune is moody, and haunting, and the visual style is sparse and individual. The ending is superb, shocking and evocative, promising, as it does, an irrevocable change for all concerned. It's a good opening, but it has all lead to this single moment, and it does not disappoint. Promising, but yet to really take off.
(I'll be posting reviews for each episode of "Wentworth", as I watch them. Read the rest, and see what you think...tell me if you agree or not. I've only just started it, and already I'm hooked.)
Lust for Freedom (1987)
Welcome to the Eighties...
A film that sums up the eighties more than this, it would be hard to find. Pulsing synthesiser soundtrack, non-stop, screaming rock and roll, no-plot, aimless violence, total lack of any decent characters, and yes
very few real actors. It's a cheap, low-budget, sensationalistic thrill-ride, set in a woman's correctional facility. It's a Troma movie, the hallmark of absolute garbage, and yes, it's a well-earned reputation. This is a terrible, tacky work of zero-budget sexploitation, only with very little in the way of interest.
The story drags its' heels over just under ninety minutes, with Melanie Coll as a policewoman who gets captured by a crooked cop of an even more crooked city of flesh-peddlers, and generally unpleasant characters. However, things are surprisingly dull; it's not exactly the "Hell on Earth" that it could have been. Coll just sits about in prison for most of the entire film, looking at other people having a hard time. Her dull, gaping performance is nothing special, yet the voice-over she provides manages to make a really bad film seem even worse, along the lines of Harrison Ford's drudge-like tones pasted on top of Scott's "Blade Runner". To be fair, unlike budget-eating Ridley Scott, most of this is because the entire movie has been shot silently to save money, with most of the dialogue added in in post-production, often in totally no relation to their lip-movements.
The other stylistically rather irritating thing about this film is, it has been hacked-about considerably – this 82-minute version has endless jumps in in it, which, when you're watching a piece of very unsubtle exploitation, is frustrating, because you end up with all the dull bits, without any of the cheap thrills. However, there's still a couple of rather memorable moments, mainly a very lovingly filmed lesbian sex scene between "Crystal Breeze" and Michelle Bauer, and a disconcertingly well-choreographed wrestling scene between Dee "Queen Kong" Booher, and Elizabeth Carlisle. Worth a mention, definitely, is Elizabeth Carlisle's performance as the feisty bad-girl, Vicky, who gives a decent account of herself, in a rather over-the-top fashion, which is nonetheless entertaining.
Equally over the top, is Judi Trevor's "Miss Pusker", a fierce faced prison warden, who is referred to at one point as being "Like something from a bad movie?" Do I hear anyone disagree with this? Nah. Her interrogation scenes with Amy Lyndon, are something of a highlight, and some of the few scenes which don't appear to be too heavily cut about.
Main baddie Jud, a big Native American, is physically impressive as a creepy nutcase, but to be honest, in a Troma movie, it isn't hard to act like this. In fact, there's a car chase scene in this which seems to have come straight from Tarrantino's "Death Proof". In fact, I'm sure Mr. Q T would love this kind of movie, the sort of thing which "Death Proof" is a tribute to in the first place.
The ending is a ridiculous confusion of shouting, and people being shot, but to be fair, we've all kind of given up by this point, crushed under the weight of that god-awful theme song, as well as the "Rock You to Death", theme song. God, turn off the rock! Not only that, it's about twice the volume of the dialogue, which means you'll have to do a lot of fiddling about with the volume. Or, just mute it every time the music kicks in. Makes me wish they'd just stuck to the synthesisers in the start of the movie.
Overall, then, this is a movie which you are never supposed to judge as an art piece. It's just a piece of cheap exploitation, albeit a very heavily edited one with just a couple of decent scenes in it. Even as a "woman in prison" movie, a notorious sub-genre, it kind of fails, because there's so many scenes of literally nothing at all happening, with slow dialogue scenes in offices, no matter how sleazy and sensationalistic the DVD cover art tries to make it look. It's just a prime slice of the eighties, where everything was just so very loud, cheap and silly. Thre's a few really creepy, sordid moments, which hinge on the deeply disturbing side, but there is no denying that it does have a handful of relatively enjoyably exploitation moments, especially the longing close-ups in the Breeze/Bauer sex scene, which kind of makes you wish there's deen a lot more of this, than Coll just moping about doing nothing whatsoever. It's not a total waste of 82 minutes of your life, just maybe a very poor use of about seventy of them. Worth a watch, but be prepared to have to sift through a lot of crap, in order to get to the better bits.
But, in the wake of recent mainstream cinematic events, it is worth pointing out that this movie actually does pass the much-demonised "Bechdel" test: there are about a dozen women characters, at least half of whom have names, most have dialogue. They all talk to each other, and definitely about something other than men. So, does that mean this is a feminist approved movie? I'd love to show the cover of this movie to a feminist, and say to them, "This passes the Bechdel test."(Personally don't really care that much about the ruling, because what difference does that make? Movies with no women in them are generally rather dull. But I'm sure you know that already. Or else, why would you be reading this?)
The Wachowski Brothers best film
To say that this is the best Wachowski-siblings directed film ever made, really isn't much of a compliment. A few years later, based on the success of this film, they would go on to destroy action movies forever with the "Matrix" trilogy, and generally, they manage to destroy everything they touch - their only moment of glory was as screenwriters for the marvellous "V for Vendetta", bu then, they basically lifted 98% of it from the original graphic novel anyway. But, as their second film, "Bound" is by no means a typical effort. Rather than the crushing over-kill, and terrible stylistic choices, we instead have a kind of...average film.
As a genre piece, it's very unremarkable. Basically, it's ten or fifteen minutes of lesbian scenes, followed by your standard, unremarkable crime film, where everyone's unlikeable, and violence is glorified. There's some visually arresting scenes, usually depicted blood swirling in water, or paint, but for the most part, there really isn't much new and exciting about this storyline, about a gangster's girlfriend who wants to escape from the brutal world of the mob with her lover. The only change is, the lover is also a woman. Maybe the lack of lesbian fiction back in those days made this more remarkable, but to contemporary eyes, it's nothing new. In fact, it's rather clichéd in places, with it's rather unsubtle archetypes.
However, what makes a very limited crime drama palatable, is the standard of the acting. There's a tiny cast in this movie, really only about five or six major parts, and all the action unfolds in the same building. It gets a little wearing, and claustrophobic at times, but as I said, the acting is exceptional. Joe Pantoliano gives a marvellous performance, as Brooklyn-born mafia man Caesar, definitely his best role as far as I'm concerned. Jennifer Tilly, who plays Violet, his girlfriend, gives a fresh and interesting performance, although there's no denying that there's something terribly annoying about her breathlessly husky, squeaky voice at times. Is there something clinically wrong with her, or is htis just an affectation? Because it ruins about half her lines of dialogue. If, as was originally planned, she'd have been cast as Corky, the whole film may have taken a dive off a cliff - perhaps, as ws rumoured at the time, with Marcia Gay Harden as Violet.
The real star of the film, is Gina Gershon, as the electrically charged Corky, Violet's lover. Her workman-like clothing, and air of ennui may be rather a stereotype of a butch lesbian, but her performance is anything but stereotyped. In fact, there are definite signs that it has influenced Ruta Gedmints' portrayal of Frankie, the heroine of the BBC's superlative lesbian drama, "Lip Service". Gershon is a stunning talent, and carries the movie, with a little help from Pantoliano, almost single-handedly. She is nothing short of brilliant to watch.
Adult film actress Susie Bright appears in a bit part as Jessie, in the (presumably) gay bar into which Corky visits early on - one of the few changes of location in the entire movie - and even gets a few lines. Whilst her performance, aside form being very sexy, adds nothing, she would provide valuable assistance in a rather bizarre form as the "adviser" to the sex scenes in the film, which, with neither actress being gay, must have been quite a feat. Mary Mara also gives a brief turn as a visually impressive policewoman.
The rampant immorality is rather tiresome, although it has some style, rather than the barefaced repulsion of a Scorsese effort. There are no characters we can sympathise with, and, at the end of the day, the story is so limited, that there really is very little you actually get out of this film, other than some titillation, and a seen-it-all-before storyline.
Generally, though, this is a relatively uninspired gangster film, which, whilst promising a clever and witty thrill-ride, really descends into violence, sex and shouting matches. Its' visual limitations are always apparent, because of the claustrophobic nature of the plot itself, clearly influenced by superior efforts, such as Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas". Riding high on the crest of immorality, this offers us little new, except some steamy lesbian sex scenes, and a handful of superb performances. Some scenes stand up in isolation, where we get a sense of tension, such as the interrogation, or the police searching Caesar's place, or Caesar's artfully filmed demise. But, as a whole, there really are too few ideas, and even the decent moments have the feeling that we've seen it all before.
The Hunger Games (2012)
The most charismatic mainstream film in a long time
In the run-up to "Catching Fire", I realised it was about time to finally knuckle under, and watch the first "Hunger Games" movie, which I've been previously put off because it looked like a bunch of whiny teenagers running around a forest killing each other, and a society of very camp people in ridiculous clothes watching. Well, to be fair, it kind of...is. It's also probably the most human "blockbuster" film of the last twenty five years, defying narrative obscurity, massive CGI set-pieces, smarmy heroes, and people posing about trying to look "dark" and "cool". "The Hunger Games" is small-scale, intensely personal, and well-crafted. So why does everyone like it then, in this age of over-kill? I honestly don't know, because it's not at all your average blockbuster.
All this said, there's no denying that there really isn't anyone in the cast who, pardon the pun, really sets the screen on fire. Most of the cast are acceptable enough (Jennifer Lawrence, Hutcherson, Hemsworth, BAnks, Tucci, etc) with only a few duffers. (Kravitz, Ludwig)The main thing is, though, there's a strong story at work here, and Lawrence's rather opaque performance as Katniss Everdeen shows depth in places, which hopefully will be exploited in future movies. She's a good heroine for this film, don't get me wrong. She's just nothing special as an actress.
Director Gary Ross has excelled himself here, with a very subtle film. The action scenes have been intentionally filmed in a very realistic, low-key fashion, where things aren't glorified, or "stagey" in any way. In a film about a world which glorifies killing, this is a very wise choice, and adds immensely to the threat. For once, the threat has been calculated very simply, with the assumption that less is more, and the minimalistic sense of danger is more powerful than any one of countless CGI-driven action movies out there, because the threat, to, is human. It's "Lord of the Flies", meets "First Blood". It may all be set in the future, amidst elaborate trappings, but what it boils right down to, is a very dark tale about survival.
It's relevance to contemporary society cannot fail to be missed. How long before we're watching things like this? How long before our society will be taken over by camp, garish people like this? It isn't glorified in any way, and the implications are all very explicit. It's a sugar-coated critique, and, like the best dystopian fiction, it is done in a very extrovert fashion, to make the point all the clearer. It isn't a complex film, like say "The Dark Knight", but what it is, is an intelligent film, with more balls in it than any dozen other big budget "epics". It never loses sight of its' human characters, as shallow as they may be. The plight focuses on concerns so simplistic, that we don't need hours of moping about and soap-opera. It's about kill or be killed. That's all you need. And the drama remains poignant and undiluted. People fall, and we see their leg bloody and wounded. For once, we're not treated to computer-game like visuals. These are real people here. We feel their pain. Nothing is over-done. It's a film about simplicity, and, unlike every other "dark" film out there, is actually grounded in the laws of reality, however romanticised the story itself may be.
Along these lines, is James Newton Howard's score, very stripped back and poignant, and yet, it isn't in any way intrusive, hence allowing for the retention of the atmosphere of reality. Rarely has a major film been so unashamed to fly in the face of cinematic tropes. The action, of course, is limited, and you're more likely to be surprised than excited by this film, because of its' stylistic bravery.
The only thing, which IS especially modern, is that there is that creeping "sequel" mentality. There's a feeling of restraint to the sub-plots, especially Donald Sutherland's President Snow, who looms intimidatingly, promising great things, but doesn't get a chance to do anything. Similarly, the political unrest in the districts is glimpsed briefly, and the ending hints strongly at the events of the next "chapter" in the saga. For any film, even if the sequels are already in production, the story should have a beginning, middle and end. It should be self-contained, and not rely upon the fact that we're going to see the next film. Because it's thinking like that which stops second films from being made. As it is, "Catching Fire" looks set to be incredible, probably better than this, with more political intrigue now that we've got all the introductory work out of the way. The only sad thing is, no Gary Ross for the sequel. Regardless, though, this is a solid action/thriller, which stylistically feels like a grittier, more honest seventies movie, but one which has a profound relevance for contemporary society. Entertaining, and with more charisma than you'd ever imagine.
Fatal Passion (1995)
The Art of Murder
Despite selling itself as something rather cheap and exploitative, there is actually a lot of heart, and soul to this movie, if you look beyond the dark violence, and blood splatter. "Fatal Passion" is the tale of an damaged artist, Rebecca Barlow(Lisa Comshaw) who combines murder with her works in a most unique way, using the bodies of her victims. However, she soon finds herself developing something of an attraction for a young man, Adam Baxter, and she must come to terms with her past, as Adam tries to save her from her destructive nature, and rescue her humanity.
What I do applaud in this movie, is the understanding of the nature of "modern art," in a way beyond the satirical "Ha, ha, it's a car tyre, and they say that's art" style of most comedians. What art constitutes these days, is savagery, aggression and violence, which makes the point of the film - oh, yes, there is one - all the more poignant. Rebecca's final exhibition of bloodied statues is really a lot more palpable, and less unpleasant than anything Damian Hirst ever exhibited for sure. But, the fact that she can get away, quite literally here, with murder, and get paid for it, is all the more fascinating. The more bloody and perverse her works get, the more they sell. Fantastic? No, it's just modern art, the cult of being unpleasant.
It is a notably cheap work, shot for very little, and visually, rather sparse. Writer/Director T. L. Lankford obviously is ashamed to have his name attached to this, hence his rather savagely ironic pseudonym of "Gib T. Oidi" - an anagram of "Big Idiot." A little harsh, perhaps? What does stand out from its' rather impoverished style, though, is the strength of the story itself, which is simple, pacey, succinct and darkly visceral. The whole thing is a gruesome parade of bloody violence, and rather explicit sex scenes, and yet, it does all come to a refreshing point. There is a lot of charisma in this tiny budgeted thriller, that other "acclaimed" sex/violence movies like "The Girl with the dragon tattoo" totally lack, because, whilst it is rather trading on its' own graphic nature, things do happen for a reason.
Lisa Comshaw, an actress from a rather steamy background herself, as an adult movie star, and fetish model, gives an actually rather strong performance, which is free of all the rubbish you get with big name stars, and in the movie's latter scenes, she comes across as genuinely damaged, and deeply sympathetic, as well as incredibly menacing. There's a great little shot, when a pair of thugs break into her studio, and beat up her brother, and we see her standing in the shadows of the doorway, axe in hand, her dead eyes staring straight ahead. It's a nicely shot moment, which proves that even exploitation actresses can give as good as they've got, in the right situations.
As a weird counterpoint, martial arts phenomenon- not just a title, she really is a good fighter - Cynthia Rothrock appears in a relatively small part as Adam's girlfriend, looking stunning as always, and again, casting aside stereotyping by not having a single action scene in the entire movie. To be honest, I'd be lying if I didn't think that a movie starring a female martial artist, and a cat-fight model, would have a fight scene between the two of them at some point. But, it doesn't. And the story's all the stronger for it.
Lawrence Tierney, the eternal tough guy, plays Rebecca's manager, gruffly and opaquely, and really adds little but someone for Comsahw to bounce off in her scenes. The surprise star of the movie, though, is Steve Vaughn, who plays Rebecca's mentally-damaged brother Tommy, a deeply sympathetic part which he gives his absolute 100% in, and I really felt sorry for him as the movie went on. His damaged state is further useful, because it suggests that Rebecca is just as damaged, only on a far deeper level, and the relationship between the two of them is a nice emotional level to the film, which lends it a lot of heart.
The use of music - Beethoven in this case, although not the "glorious ninth" as heard in "Clockwork Orange" - is effective and rather chilling. The whole thing, is an example of a rare gem, which seems to justify my faith in tiny, zero-budget indie movies, where passion, commitment and ideas shine through, despite a lack of resources. Comshaw's performance was genuinely enthralling, and the confrontation scenes nearer the end were nicely written, and acted by Comshaw and Norcross. The ending is near perfect, intellectually rewarding, rather than opting for a simplistic emotional resolution. It may be difficult to watch, because of its' graphic, and rather sick content in places, but this is definitely a film which deserves a watch.
The Mummy (1999)
Indiana Jones meets Hellraiser, but with better actors
Totally disregard any previous "Mummy" films before going to see this. Not because this is the definitive effort, but just for the simple reason that this has nothing to do with any of them. It's a family-friendly version, with a lot of rather unnecessary CGI throughout, and far more gags than genuine shocks. It's your standard action/adventure movie, and yet, it still is reasonably entertaining. But the biggest disappointment of all, is the fact that there isn't really a mummy in the entire movie. Instead, in a plot exactly lifted from Clive Barker's original "Hellraiser" movie, we have a decomposing, cursed man who must drain his victims dry, to rebuild himself physically. Not exactly original.
What does make rather a nice change, though, is the fact that both our leads are capable and seem to be having a lot of fun, rather than the po-faced posing we're so used to seeing in movies these days. Brendan Fraser is a capable and solid enough hero, who, despite his constant dry quips, is not at all arrogant, and has a quiet believability to him totally unlike your average action hero. Rachel Weisz, back before the dark days of "Constantine", is charming and talented, and there is a great chemistry between the two of them that keeps the movie alive. The vast swathe of other characters, largely comic grotesques, range form John Hannah's likable buffoon, to Kevin J O'Connors' weaselly little git. Connor manages to get even more and more annoying in each scene, and whilst he isn't the only thing wrong with this movie, cutting him out entirely would improve this movie no end.
Arnold Vosloo is a fairly by-numbers villain, who adds little beyond a certain imposing physicality to the role, although he does look good in the role. His love interest, though, Patricia Velasquez, is phenomenal, and if ever there was a woman worth suffering a living death for, it must just be her. Velasquez has less than five minutes screen-time, but makes her presence acutely felt, with her elaborate, painted on costume, the most visually stunning element of the entire movie.
The story putters along, with some impressively staged action scenes, with great stunt-work throughout. It's just a shame that the horror content wasn't half as good as the stunt-work, because then we'd have a proper "Mummy" film. Instead, rather than being at all creepy, all the supernatural elements are handled with heavy CG. Vast biblical plagues are realised effectively enough, but the over-the-top nature of most of the CG threats - plagues of millions of beetles you can escape by side-stepping, plagues of locusts you can avoid by staying indoors, huge walls of sand, etc - aren't written compotently enough to be exciting. The main problem is the old chestnut of the all-powerful villain, who somehow gets defeated. They've amped up Imhotep's powers so much, that he's a supernatural entity who can do anything with a thought - so how does he get so easily defeated? Lesson learned here - don't give your villain unlimited powers, or else we'll just be massively disappointed when he finally gets beaten, and this movie is no exception.
There is a strong comedy quotient in this movie, where tension is never allowed to be built up, without immediately being diffused by a joke, or someone making light of the situation. It creates the jaunty, entertaining tone, but, unlike most movies, it doesn't go away as the stakes get higher. Our characters make jokes, and are engaged in comic set-pieces right up until the very end. The more fun tone is fine to begin with, but it gets a bit tiresome towards the end, when things should be getting a lot more serious.
Dramatically, "The Mummy" is heavily flawed. The CGI is far too over-used, the threat amped up to totally unrealistic proportions, which only succeed in being faintly disappointing. But, Fraser and Weisz are good leads. Jerry Goldsmith delivers a very traditionalist soundtrack, which largely goes un-noticed in the chaos. The first half is fun, reasonably exciting, heavily action-packed, and funny without being silly. Sadly, the end gets rather flat, and the build-up we've had, where we're waiting to finally see the mummy, is rudely shattered by a rather shoddy piece of CGI.
To be honest, it could have been a lot worse. It's very casually entertaining, made for audiences with a short-attention span, who laugh at gag after gag because they don't have the patience to follow a plot, or sustain an atmosphere. It's rubbish compared to the Hammer movie, but, compared to today's blockbusters, there's something charmingly human about it all.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
The "Batman Begins" of the franchise
Taking a fairly decent 80s-90s franchise, which started off with one average film, and a load of terrible sequels, in which things get campier and campier, until the only thing sustaining it is its' cannibalistic regurgitation of the same clichés. A franchise that didn't take itself nearly seriously enough, and ruined its' chances for survival by being so over-the-top, and not respecting the material enough in the first place, material which could have been incredible if done correctly. Instead, a franchise of very dated, 80s-feeling movies where you worship immoral characters, and just laugh at violence and camp jokes. Remaking this franchise into a serious, dramatic, well-visualised thriller, with a strong cast, rationalising its' mythology, and amping up nearly every aspect of its' production.
The Batman movies? No. Actually, it's 2010's "Nightmare on Elm Street", a beautifully designed, scary piece of work, which remakes something that - for a change - actually needed to be remade. Wes Craven's original intention was to take the entire thing seriously, but allegedly, Robert Englund added all the gags. Instead, with Jackie Earl Haley, we've finally got a chance to see what the original vision for Freddy Kruger could have been like... except much better, because, quite frankly, Wes Craven, like Tim Burton, is a pretty immature director, who enjoys sending up everything he does.
The plot is a mixture of nightmarish cat-and-mouse, dream-like visuals, and a mystery in the real world, with very dark roots. Teenagers are dying in their sleep, every one of them seeing the same figure, a man with a burned face, and knives for fingers. Only, these aren't just dreams: What happens in your dreams, happens in real life. Freddy Kruger, the dream killer, is one of the most fascinating characters in horror movies, and, robbed of the self-parodying humour, is genuinely menacing. We're gradually given flashes of him, until he finally appears in full, and his impact, every time, is considerable. The steaming, industrial basements are well designed locations, really nightmarish, as he stalks his victims through a landscape like something from Hell, with flickering flames, and steaming pipes, and Kruger himself has never looked so dramatic, or so scary. There are a few one-liners here, but they too work with, rather than against, the overall tone.
It is violent, but the violence is not especially over-the-top, and at the same time, is actually pretty effective. It isn't just, as some critics said, a succession of meaningless teenagers getting hacked up. Each death scene gets more and more disturbing, and the concept of a killer lurking in your dreams is powerful, and something we can all identify with. Haley gives a great performance, much better than his slightly underwhelming portrayal as Rorschach in "Watchmen".
Rooney Mara is absolutely stunning as Nancy, the heroine, a student artist trying to uncover the secret that is buried in the pasts of her and her friends. In the finale, against Haley's Kruger, she is brilliant, one of the few people you could imagine being able to stand up against this incarnation of Kruger. "Arrow's" Katie Cassidy gives a nice performance too. The rest of the human cast are fine enough, although few get the chance to be anywhere near as annoying as any of the bunch you used to get back in the old films. The plot is strong enough, that we rarely get the chance to notice deficiencies in acting.
One of the real stars of the movie though, in terms of adding sheer impact to the film as a whole, is composer Steve Jablonsky. Charles Bernstein, the original composer is credited in the end titles as having came up with the themes, but I can honestly hear no relation between his synthesiser - heavy, largely discordant ambiance, and this absolute work of art. It's chilling, dramatic, mournful, and immediately sucks you in. This is easily the best horror movie soundtrack since the original John Carpenter "Hallowe'en" score. If watching the credits doesn't give you chills, then maybe you're in the wrong genre - this music lifts a 7/10 good film, to a 9/10 near-masterpiece. Amazing use of vocals, great orchestration. Easily Jablonsky's best work.
The story is unpleasant in places, but the mythology of the Kruger character has been rationalised. The hat, the claws, the jumper...the reason he haunts your nightmares. (deep rooted childhood psychological fears manifesting themselves in adolescence)The Mystery side to the plot keeps everything moving nicely, and the dark flashes of the secret we do get along the way prove to be scary in a totally new way, adding a totally different malevolence to the character. Everything is fleshed-out perfectly, and the whole story stands-up excellently. The only slight complaint I have with this version of the back-story, is that it's so neat, it seems unlikely that there's room for a sequel. A sequel would be amazing, but, like Carpenter's "Halloween", not at all necessary.
This film stands alone, and has successfully re-invented a lame character from the 80s, and polished him up to an iridescent sheen. The ending is perfect, and reminds us all, that reality and dreams are harder to distinguish than we think. Is this end a dream? Or was the entire previous scene a dream? Definitely one of the major works in horror in recent years, amidst a sea of sick films about torturing people, a beautifully-crafted, imaginative fantasy. It's got a lot of impact, and manages to be disturbing, without being exploitative. Perhaps the best horror re-make of all time, this will hopefully become essential viewing amongst the people who can tell the difference between an intellectually-scary piece of cinema, and sick garbage. Not just built around it's gory special effects, this movie is a powerhouse, and whilst it may have a few deficiencies (some slightly lame acting in places), it's solidly made, with the courage of its' convictions. Without really annoying characters, or fidgety-direction, this is a really timeless movie