Archive for October, 2012

DREDD 3D *** (out of five)

Dredd, the second big-screen adaptation of the long-running British comic strip, is an unbelievably beautiful technical accomplishment that is also ugly, grim and horrendously violent; as a fifty million dollar movie – the most expensive independent British film ever made – it is astonishingly bleak, and completely uncompromising, which probably contributed to its very luck-luster financial performance in the United States.

Fans of the original comic should be very happy with the tone of the film, which doesn’t water down the source’s incredibly dark world-view in the slightest, maintaing title character Judge Dredd’s nihilistic and brutally thorough approach to maintaining the public good. Wearing his trademark helmut throughout the entire film, Karl Urban’s Dredd is a perfect movie version of the character, down to perfectly simulating the character’s strange, inverse-U-shaped downward grimace.

Mega-City One, Dredd’s hood, is swiftly set up at the beginning with some business-like voiceover and a good little action scene, establishing Dredd’s bona fides as a badass. From there we jump into the plot proper, which sees Dredd guiding psychic rookie Judge Anderson (the beautiful and enigmatic Olivia Thirlby) through her day of assessment; investigating a triple murder at 200-story City Block “Peach Trees”, the two become trapped within, and must deal with hordes of violent scumbags working for the evil drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey, from Game of Thrones).

The contained nature of the storyline – once they’re in the Block, they stay in the Block – limits the story, but rather than get stuck in the running and shooting groove, screenwriter Alex Garland’s script is composed of ever more strange and surreal set-pieces allowing for directer Pete Travis to compose some of the most spectacularly grotesque 3D images yet put to film, many involving bright red droplets of blood.

Overall, Dredd is tonally one-note, and that note is grim, nihilistic, super-stylized, violent and humorless. But it’s a spectacular technical feat, hugely loyal to its source, and a highly specific piece of work: an extremely expensive arthouse action flick for the die-hard crowd.

SAVAGES *** (out of five)

Oliver Stone, like all of us, is getting older, and perhaps mellower. Outside of the opening scene – which is very violent – Stone’s Savages is a sun-lit, almost rosy affair – his love letter to the joys of marijuana and California, sun, sand and surf. Based on a novel, Savages has a unique love affair at its heart: a three-way live-in situation between Ophelia (Blake Lively), Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Chon and Ben grow the world’s greatest weed, and have become wealthy entrepreneurs in the process, Ben using his share to fund good works in poor countries. The three share a gorgeous house on Laguna Beach, growing pot, smoking pot, and having all sorts of beautifully-photographed, vaguely kinky sex.

Into such an idyllic existence conflict and drama must come, and in this case, it comes in the shape of a Mexican cartel wanting to muscle in on Chon and Ben’s turf, fronted by the ruthless Lado (Benicio Del Toro) and ultimately leading to kingpin Elena (Salma Hayek).

Stone loves visuals and sound – particularly music – sometimes at the expense of storytelling – and that’s definitely the case here. Savages veers way off course in its second act, becoming confusing and vague – indeed, stoned. But it all comes good in the end. This is Oliver Stone’s movie about the glories of pot. If you like pot, you’ll probably love it. If you’re indifferent… well, there you go. Dude.

Affleck One, Allen None

Posted: October 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

ARGO *****

Ben Affleck’s third feature film as a director, Argo is flawless, a film with the lot: gut-wrenching suspense, wicked humour, an underlying incredible true story, excellent performances, exotic locales, and two essential milieus – Hollywood and covert government action – that are simultaneously satirized and highly celebrated. It’s a stunning achievement – a masterpiece – and Affleck will be nominated for a directing Oscar this year, and, thus far, may well end up winning it. It would be deserved. There wasn’t a single minute in this entire thrilling film where I wasn’t one hundred percent entertained.

When the American embassy fell in Iran in 1979, beginning the long hostage crisis, a secondary drama played itself out behind closed doors: six of the embassy’s staff escaped and took hidden refuge in the house of the Canadian Prime Minister. When that man was recalled by his government as the crisis made no signs of ending, the CIA had to get those six individuals out, and they did it with a plan so audacious that if it wasn’t a true story you’d never believe it.

Affleck shot the film for around $US44 million and substituted Los Angeles for Tehran, but you’d never know it – it feels like a massive movie filmed on location, so all credit to production designer Sharon Seymour, who will be nominated for an Oscar and completely deserves one. There are so many good performances it seems churlish to single any out, but Alan Arkin once again proves he is simply in possession of one of the greatest, and funniest, presences in cinema today.

The whole thing is paced like a whip, and the third act may literally be the most suspenseful piece of film I’ve ever seen – and yes, I have seen Rear Window. Recommended without any reservation for every and any cinemagoer, I only urge that you see it immediately, as the less you know about the story, the more astonishing your experience will be. Best film of the year thus far.

TO ROME WITH LOVE *1/2

Woody Allen’s latest film is simply terrible. Horrendously, lazily scripted, it is a complete, laugh-free disaster from beginning to end. Once the world’s greatest writer of comic dialogue, Allen, admittedly in his dotage, seems to have lost his touch in a supreme way. The dialogue in To Rome With Love is atrocious, and it is painful to watch such great actors as Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Penelope Cruz, Judy Davis and Roberto Benigni attempt their way through it. Allen gives himself a role – and quite a big one – and this is yet another terrible mistake: he simply seems to have lost the ability to act for the screen, overplaying all his scenes like your drunken uncle – your worst drunken uncle. To suggest there was a plot would be to give this film far too much credit. Suffice to say, there are four “stories”, linked by the fact that they all take place in Rome. None of them are funny, interesting or in the slightest way connected to how real people exist. Rome is shot in a panoply of sunny moments that would make a tourism commercial director commit career suicide in shame; they completely suggest Allen is now being funded by whatever European city he’s shooting in: watch out for Prague is for Paulina, Berlin Rhapsody, and For the Love of Latvia. The blocking is atrocious (witness the “rainy Colosseum” scene), the editing horrendous, and even the costumes, makeup and hairstyles are awful: it’s as if Allen didn’t show up to any pre-production meetings, the editing room, and perhaps even the set. It is unbelievably sad to watch your hero in such poor form; Allen is – or once was – my hero, but this movie, I’m afraid, is a lazy, boring, terrible piece of work. Avoid at all costs to avoid soul-destroying disappointment.

Dominik’s Third

Posted: October 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

KILLING THEM SOFTLY ****

Andrew Dominik’s third feature film Killing Them Softly is a masterclass in precise, auteurist cinema. Adapting a darkly comic crime novel from the 1970s called Coogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins, Dominik reframes the action against the US Government’s bailout of the banks in the wake of the Global Financial Collapse, drawing clear parallels between the workings of the Mob and the Government. It’s a witty conceit, and the film is inherently a comedy, but a very, very black one. A couple of nincompoops (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn, wearing his own accent) are hired to rob a Mob card game, which upsets the local criminal economy, so Coogan (Brad Pitt) is called in to restore order.

Pitt gives a solid performance, there’s a clever turn by Richard Jenkins as a Mob lawyer, and McNairy is a fresh presence. But if this film turns up at Oscar time in the acting categories, it will be as Best Supporting Actor for Mendelsohn, who walks away with the movie as an Aussie junkie barely surviving in the lowest depths of criminal America. It’s a perfect Mendelsohn performance, and it’s going to lead him to a thousand more offers to play junkies – and a lot else, too. He’s always been a dynamic actor, and Animal Kingdom was a massive platform for him to shine, but this is something else again, and it’s terrific to see.

Look mate, MULLET was a good film!

Short, sharp, talky, lean, and almost completely inhabited by men, Killing The Softly is cerebral, nasty, and hugely entertaining. Its seemingly simple two-hander dialogue scenes – far longer than in most films outside of those made by Quentin Tarentino – are broken up with violent set-pieces that are astonishing in their visual bravado.

Dominik (Chopper, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) is a true filmmaker. He’s made a great work of art with Killing Them Softly. I can’t wait for his next one.

Sorry, a major other job has stolen all my time, but I just HAD to at least tell you about how BLOODY BRILLIANT LOOPER is. Plus, a nice adaptation of a classic

LOOPER ****1/2 (out of five)

If you liked Inception, The Sixth Sense, Terminator, The Matrix and, in general, Twilight Zone, you’re gonna love Looper. Intelligent, extremely imaginative, visually stunning and constantly surprising, this is filmmaking of the highest order from Rian Johnson (Brick). See it — unless you don’t like Time Tavel Sci-Fi, in which case, simply don’t. I loved it. Already, and very easily, one of the Top Five of 2012.

DANGEROUS LIAiSONS ***1/2 (out of five)Why another adaptation of the pulpy, melodramatic (but admittedly very sexy) Dangerous Liaisons? How about if it’s set in Shanghai in 1931? That’s the hook here, and it works. This unbelievably visually sumptuous film has opened at box-office-breaking records in China, and is worth seeing if you want to feast your eyes. The cinematography is gorgeous, the costumes are gorgeous, the sets are gorgeous, and the people are so gorgeous it beggars belief. What can I say? Gorgeous.