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Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Given that, by my count, he’s made 10 average-to-awful films in a row
(from 2004’s National Treasure to 2009’s Knowing) with only a 12-second Grindhouse trailer cameo to leaven the dross, I thought it a pretty safe bet
that Nicolas Cage was never going to make another decent film in his life.
That was before I saw the trailer for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans:

From what I can gather, it’s a “franchise” re-imagining of the Abel Ferrara / Harvey Keitel original – perhaps they’re aiming to kick off a corrupt cop version of softcore DTV serial The Red Shoe Diaries? I saw the original Bad Lt. once in college and remember quite a lot of heavy religious iconography and El Harvo stumbling around muttering, firing guns and whining, frequently all at once
and occasionally without his pants on. That was a treat and no mistake.

This time round, Werner Herzog seems happy to bin all that stuff and just go for Saint Nic reprising Sailor Ripley from Wild At Heart, off on another psycho bender except this time with a cop’s badge instead of a snakeskin jacket. What won’t be to like? The only minus marks here come from a sequence which seems to hint that his drug use stems from an injury incurred in the line of duty, which in my book feels a little too Hollywood-character-compassionate for what’s obviously an indie film. And since when do Werner Herzog protagonists, of all people, need to have mitigating moral circumstances? You can only imagine how Klaus Kinski would have reacted to a bunch of studio suits looking to play to the multiplexes. Anyhoo, any film in which Val Kilmer’s playing the straight man must be worth a look. And with any luck, its success will lead to any number of future Bad Lieutenant spinoffs. James Van Der Beek in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call Capeside, Massachusetts? Matthew Perry in Bad Lieutenant: Upper West Side Social Circle? John Cusack in Bad Lieutenant: Chicago Museum of Science and Industry? Bring them on. Bring them all on. But bring this one first.

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So R.I.P. then Patrick Swayze. Work’s precluded me from doing much blogging of late but some passings can’t go without comment. Most will be remembering him today as the romantic lead of Dirty Dancing and Ghost, others still as surfin’ dude/stickup man Bodhi in Point Break, but for me and most men of my age,
it’s time to raise a glass at the Double Deuce and pay our respects to JT Dalton, the best damn cooler in the business.

Twenty years on, Road House still holds its own as a Saturday night sixpack’n’pizza guilty pleasure par excellence, as this scene amply illustrates:

Annnnnd repeat to fade. Directed by the tellingly-named Rowdy Herrington,
it’s a heady concoction of bar-room brawls, cheesy wisecracks, hairsprayed tarts, more bar-room brawls, Jeff Healey essentially playing himself, salty language, even more bar-room brawls, stuffed polar bears, the entire central casting roster of good ol’ boy bad guys, and for good measure, a bar-room brawl or two. Essentially, it plays out as a grown-up episode of the A-Team, with Swayze rolling into town as a one-man combo of the smart one, the tough one, the hunky one and the crazy one, in order to help out a troubled venture by taking down a supercilious local crimelord (Ben Gazzara – who else?) and his denim-clad goons.

With some fairly crunchy violence, a sweet’n’steamy love interest in Kelly Lynch, gratuitous swearing aplenty and no end of classic quips like, “I was on a break!” – “Stay on it…” or, “Consider it severance pay – take the train…”,
Road House will forever be the one you reach for when the vicarious urge
takes you to imagine yourself as the toughest, smoothest sonovabitch in
all of Missouri. And if the imminent tombstone doesn’t read “PATRICK SWAYZE, 1952-2009: IT WAS HIS WAY OR THE HIGHWAY”, then I’m gettin’ too old for this shit.

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French gangster movies have, in the past, tended to be unpleasantly brutal, shouty affairs, populated by a rogue’s gallery of vicious hoods and sadistic,
bent cops that, more often than not, leave you wanting a thorough shower afterwards. So while it’s certainly not all roses, Mesrine: Killer Instinct is un plaisir particulier by comparison, coming across as a stylishly-shot period biopic
in the mould of Goodfellas or Scarface, and featuring a central turn from Vincent Cassel that’s both charismatic and callous in equal measures.

Until now, Jacques Mesrine would have been scarcely known outside of France and Canada, the countries where he forged his infamy, but throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s he cut a relentless, bloody swathe on both sides of the Atlantic until his death in 1979, gunned down by les flics. Although not perhaps as much of
a folk hero as some of his American counterparts, he was the closest thing Francophones have had to a Dillinger or Jesse James. And Jean-Francois Richet has deemed his story eventful enough to make not one, but two films about him.

Death Instinct is the first, and once we’re past a wonderfully suspenseful multi-camera opening sequence, it starts at the start, with Mesrine’s return home from national service in Algeria with the French Army. Unsurprisingly, the notion of a quiet life in the suburbs with his bossy mother and meek father doesn’t appeal to him, and he quickly hooks up with his old mate Paul (Gilles Lellouche), doing petty burglaries and spending his ill-gotten gains on gambling and women. His natural flair for criminality puts him on the radar of local kingpin Guido (Gerard Depardieu, bigger than ever) who brings him on board for
higher stakes work, and this early part of the film is pure Scorsese homage,
all sharp tailoring, nightclub entrances, roistering laddishness and back office showdowns, right down to the inadequate husband role he fulfils for the young family he’s sired with Spanish holiday fling Sofia (Elena Anaya).

Following a spell in French chokey and a short-lived go at the straight life, Mesrine debunks to Canada with his new squeeze Jeanne (Cecile De France), and pretty much picks up where he left off. No mere gangster’s moll, Jeanne’s as much into crime as Jacques is, and they’re soon back in trouble after a kidnapping attempt goes awry. Mesrine and a French-Canadian accomplice
(Roy Dupuis) then end up in a Canadian prison whose conditioning techniques – depicted in a fairly harrowing sequence of systematic brutality – make Oz look like a day spa. Mesrine, however, refuses to break, and after coming out the other side of his solitary confinement even colder and meaner than before, breaks out to commit a string of armed robberies – and worse – in Montreal.

Events reach a natural pause with the promise of Part Two – Public Enemy No. 1 – to follow. On the promise of Part One, it can’t come soon enough, and this is largely down to the wonderfully complex performance Cassel offers up.
He’s long since matured from the suburban wild child he essayed in La Haine, and while he still takes his share of hair-trigger nutjob roles, this portrayal of Mesrine is an altogether richer bouillabaisse, sucking in both his fellow characters and we, the audience, with a feral magnetism that can, without warning, turn on a centime into surly disobedience or behind-the-fingers acts
of violence. Yet Richet still feels at pains to show him as a caring father
(if not husband), and as a man as much failed by society as a menace to it.
It’s hard to tell how much of this is poetic licence, but in actual fact it doesn’t really need it: love him or loathe him, you just can’t take your eyes off Jacques Mesrine, and this reviewer for one will be coming back for more.

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Yo, Joe, whaddaya know? It’s the latest toy-franchise-derived summer blockbuster rolling off the Hollywood assembly line, and like Transformers,
it’s steeped in nostalgia for anyone who grew up in the ‘80s. Back then,
of course, we knew G.I. Joe as Action Force; while our older brothers had
Action Man, with his realistic gripping hands and Eagle Eyes, we had an internationally rebranded range of figures and comics dealing with a multinational special ops taskforce fighting the Cobra terrorist organisation across the globe. It was a great way to learn about geography and semi-automatic weapons simultaneously, with the always welcome bonus of good and bad ninjas, and once the robots-in-disguise popcorn tallies came flooding in, the Joeniverse was an obvious choice for similar revival.

So, in light of Michael Bay’s two too-much-of-everything CGI x ADD depictions of Transformers, how does G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra measure up? Well, as with all these things nowadays, it has to incorporate the “opening chapter character establishment” longueurs deemed necessary to allow non-acolytes figure out who everyone is – and they’re always worse when you’re dealing with a team of characters rather than a single superhero. X-Men suffered from it, Transformers suffered from it and so, to an extent, does Joe, reducing most of the team to ciphers in order to squeeze as many of them in as possible. Channing Tatum’s Duke is a super soldier and super nice guy. Marlon Wayans’ Ripcord is the wisecracking Black Comic Relief Who Can Handle Himself When He Needs To. Dennis Quaid’s Hawk is the gruff, experienced father figure to his troops. An engaging TV actor of Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s calibre is reduced to a cocky Cockney tough nut. As is often the case, the bad guys have more screen-time, but Christopher Eccleston – having previously shown his unsuitability for action movie villains in Gone In 60 Seconds – comes back for scenery-chewing seconds as a duplicitous Scottish arms dealer. Sienna Miller fares better as the heartless Baroness, seemingly having a tremendous time
as she struts round in a leather catsuit with her arrogant ninja accomplice Storm Shadow (a coolly aerobic Lee Byung-hun).

In much the same way, the whole plot acts as one big MacGuffin; G.I. Joe’s biggest scraps were always with Cobra, and as the subtitle implies, this deals with their inception – the big villains fans would expect from this world of characters only show their fangs very late in the game. So really, it’s all just one big franchise setup, keeping its fingers crossed for a second chapter green light. Perhaps mindful of this, the action rarely relents. There are plenty of flashy vehicles and weapons, lots of bright and shiny CGI firepower and explosions, and military jargon and evil scheming aplenty. Courtesy of the reliably rubber-limbed Ray Park’s good ninja Snake Eyes, there’s more mano a mano scrapping than you can shake a nunchuka at, and a solid grunts’n’goons body count (albeit a fairly bloodless 12A one) clocks up throughout. There’s the feeling of having seen it all before, with one plot twist blatantly nicked from X-Men,
yet it’s still a passable bit of popcorn action entertainment which hasn’t forgotten to pack its sense of humour, with one Parisian set-piece in particular proving to be worth the admission price alone. Anyone over 16 or not hopped up on caffeine may come out a bit dizzier than when they went in, but if it’s mindless wham-bam you’re after, you could do much worse.

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A little sidebar here to the Moon article:

I saw it in the Light House Cinema, my favourite cinema in Dublin for its space – I’d gladly hang out there for hours if it wouldn’t disturb the staff too much –
and for the little gems you can often find screening there.

However, being the city’s most deliberately focused arthouse cinema, it was a bit depressing to see two trailers for upcoming French movies – Mesrine: Death Instinct, starring Vincent Cassel as the eponymous gangster, and Coco Avant Chanel, starring Audrey Tatou as… well, you can guess. I wasn’t depressed because they were French, but because the trailers gave no inkling as to what language they were in at all. Lots of English on screen titles – “her inspiration was legendary…”, “his crimes shocked a nation…” etc, and lots of shots of
Vince striding round with a gun/Audrey peeking out from behind curtains etc
(you can probably guess which elements belong to which trailer),
but nobody actually utters a word in either trailer.

Now, the cynic in me wonders whether this is to make them palatable for a multiplex audience, to dupe them through the doors before nefariously revealing – ha-haaaa! – that they’re in a foreign language. I was reminded of the trailer for Dreamworks’ Sweeney Todd, which managed to sell it as another gothic Tim Burton movie with Johnny Depp on Cockney overdrive but without any hint whatsoever that it was also a musical. And fair enough, a large film corporation will slice a trailer any way they see fit to increase a niche movie’s demographic get as many bums on seats as possible. (Speaking of Depp,
I saw wildly different Public Enemies trailers in the cinema prior to its release, one very much cops’n’robbers fare and the other focusing on the love story element between his Dillinger and Marion Cotillard.)

But surely when running a trailer for an arthouse audience – and how much can it cost to edit demographic-specific ones as with the likes of Public Enemies – the fear shouldn’t be there that you’re selling something to a demographic who don’t mind the occasional bit of reading when they go to the cinema. Should it?

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Whoever coined the now-legendary tagline for Ridley Scott’s Alien had terror in mind when they wrote those infamous words, “In space, no-one can hear you scream.” But once you consider the solitary scenario of Moon’s protagonist Sam Bell – played with wonderful humanity by the great Sam Rockwell – and replace yelps of horror for howls of loneliness, frustration and boredom, it’s a sentiment that could equally be applied to Duncan Jones’ debut feature.

Sam has the type of job you hope pays extremely well: he’s two weeks away from completing a three-year-long night watchman’s stint on a lunar space station, of which he’s been the only inhabitant for the full duration.
Far from man decamping a dying earth to live on the moon, this future posits our favourite natural satellite as just another resource for the human race to plunder for fuel. The machines harvesting the surface for Helium-3 are completely automated, so save for the occasional jaunt in a spacebuggy to make sure everything’s hunky-dory out on the farm, Sam spends his days cloistered in the white-panelled confines of his base trying to keep it together, with any other human faces and voices in his life held tantalisingly out of reach on a monitor screen.

Even at that, actually talking to people is a no-no; poor network coverage (some things never change) has rendered any direct comms with Earth impossible, so he has to rely on pre-recorded updates from his superiors in
the Lunar Industries corporation and the occasional missive from his wife and daughter. His only nominal companionship comes from mundane interactions with the base’s robot, GERTY, who converses with, cares for and advises Sam in the same unnervingly placid tones throughout, with only a smiley face emoticon to indicate his feelings on matters. It’s almost like listening to Kevin Spacey. Hang on a minute, it is Kevin Spacey…

With the end of his shift in sight, Sam seems to be stumbling towards the finish line, suffering nightmares, hallucinations and a gnawing sense of paranoia, which GERTY’s soporific reassurances do nothing to dissipate. (Mind you,
if I had Kevin Spacey telling me everything was fine, I’d get paranoid too.) Matters come to a head when a distracted Sam causes some damage to one of the harvesters and, contravening orders from head office, goes back out to fix it himself. What he finds out there sends things spinning off on an entirely different orbit…

Although it undeniably plays its hand too early – proceedings could have definitely done with a longer thread of suspense – Moon still offers plenty
to enjoy and to get one’s head around. Jones obviously grew up on ‘70s and ‘80s “blue-collar” sci-fi like Silent Running, Dark Star, Outland and, indeed,
the aforementioned Alien, where the various characters were all space pioneers just getting on with their jobs, sacrificing their own quality of life for the greater good of humanity and/or a decent payslip. It’s a vibe he’s recreated here,
and affectionate homage to that particular strain of classic sci-fi is stylistically and visually paid throughout. Indeed, whether deliberately or through low-budget necessity, the whole thing – right down to the pleasingly retro use of vehicle models rather than CGI – feels like it could actually have been in cryogenic storage for decades.

As Sam Bell, Rockwell is fantastic, portraying a man who’s grown desperate for even the simplest of human interactions – a conversation, a handshake – with a wonderful poignancy throughout. As the only performer who’s actually up there in front of us, he’s by turn optimistic, melancholy, funny, confused, anguished and angry. How very human.

Spacey, for his part, brings obvious tones of 2001’s HAL to his vocal duties,
his perpetually emotionless tones and reassurances that he is there to look after Sam hinting at deeper motives or directives within. A small supporting cast are seen via video, although fans of The IT Crowd and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace may find it hard to take Matt Berry seriously when he shows up as one of Lunar Industries’ blithely chipper suits. And while it never quite escapes the trap of making you feel like you’ve seen this sort of thing before, Moon still serves up a slice of intelligent science fiction in the truest sense of the genre, showing us an extremely plausible glimpse of the tribulations certain ordinary Joes will have to endure in the years to come, all on behalf of the rest of humanity.

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