Archive for the thriller Category

The Departed

Posted in Crime, Drama, thriller with tags on November 18, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Martin Scorsese.
Screenplay: William Monahan.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Anthony Anderson, Mark Rolston, David Patrick O’Hara, Kevin Corrigan, James Badge Dale, J.C. MacKenzie, Robert Wahlberg.

When I was your age they would say we can become cops, or criminals. Today, what I’m saying to you is this: when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?

Despite Martin Scorsese directing consistently good films since the 1970’s, the well deserved Academy Award always eluded him. He was snubbed for such classics as “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas” but he finally got his hands on that long-awaited gong for this remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film “Infernal Affairs“.

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World War Z * * * *

Posted in Action, Drama, Horror, thriller with tags on September 11, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Marc Forster.
Screenplay: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof.
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Peter Capaldi, Matthew Fox, David Morse, Ludi Boeken, Fana Mokoena, Elyes Gabel, Pierfrancesco Favino, Ruth Negga, Moritz Bleibtreu, Abigail Hargrove, John Gordon Sinclair.

In making it to the screen, World War Z wasn’t without it’s problems; firstly, there were complaints of it’s very loose take on Max Brooks’ novel, then it’s violence was toned down to achieve a PG-13 certificate; a script rewrite happened half way through production; cinematographer Robert Richardson left to work on “Django Unchained” and the likes of Ed Harris and Bryan Cranston dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. As all these problems piled up, the expectation was that the film would be an absolute disaster. Well, quite simply, it’s not. Despite it’s problems, it’s actually quite a tense and impressively handled thriller.

Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is a former UN worker, happily spending some time at home with his family, until the sudden outbreak of a zombie plague takes over his home city. They are forced to flee and Gerry manages to get his family to safety but news breaks that the whole world is suffering the same outbreak, leaving Gerry to get back in the field and use his experience to search for a cure.

After a brief introduction to our protagonist, Forster doesn’t waste time in getting down to business. Within minutes we are thrust into an absolutely exhilarating opening sequence of the rampaging undead overtaking Philadelphia (actually shot in Glasgow, where I witnessed them filming) and it’s from here that you realise that there’s plenty of potential in this summer blockbuster. It doesn’t matter that there’s a lack of blood or gore because the suspense is handled so competently and effectively that you’re still on the edge of your seat. In fact, it’s the perfect example that less can be more sometimes. What’s most impressive, though, is the epic scale in which it’s delivered. There are several intense action set-pieces where hordes of zombies leap from rooftops, clamber over walls and rampage through an aircraft mid-flight. As an action movie, it certainly delivers the goods and also finds the time to incorporate geopolitics as the epidemic goes world wide. Anchoring all this mayhem is a solidly understated, central performance from Pitt. Having produced this movie – throughout it’s spiralling budget – his commitment to make it work comes across in his performance. He’s entirely believable and identifiable as a family man desperate to survive his chaotic surroundings. Nobody else really gets a look in, including a severely downsized role for Matthew Fox and a brief cameo from, the always reliable, David Morse. Ultimately, the film rests on Pitt’s shoulders, though, and he handles it with aplomb. So much so, that the lack of blood splattering and zombie flesh eating takes a back seat to the character driven drama.
Due to it’s production difficulties, plans for a sequel were shelved. However, having now become a box-office summer smash, the sequel has been given the go-ahead. I, for one, wholeheartedly welcome it.

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Against the odds, this manages to be a satisfyingly tense addition to the zombie sub-genre. It doesn’t go for the jugular in a gratuitous manner, instead it works on your nerves and focuses on telling a relatable story. Die hard horror fans may want more from it, but it delivered just the right amount of thrills for me.

Mark Walker

Blood Simple * * * * 1/2

Posted in Crime, Film-Noir, thriller with tags on September 11, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Joel & Ethan Coen.
Screenplay: Ethan & Joel Coen.
Starring: Frances McDormand, John Getz, Dan Hedaya, M. Emmet Walsh, Samm Art-Williams, Deborah Neumann.

(The following post is not so much a review, as it is a commentary on the creative work(s) of the Coen brothers. It’s my contribution to the Blogathon called “Debuts” created by Mark Fletcher of Three Rows Back and Chris Thomson of Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coup, whereby a number of bloggers have chosen a particular director to highlight and the significance that their first feature has had. You can access the rest of the Blogathon posts here).

Having cut his teeth as Assistant Editor on director Sam Raimi’s cult classic, “The Evil Dead” in 1981, Joel Coen went on to become a fully fledged director himself with his debut “Blood Simple” in 1984. On the advice of Raimi, Joel and his brother Ethan (whom, it has always been said, actually shared directorial duties) went door-to-door showing potential investors a two minute ‘trailer’ of the film they planned to make, which resulted in them raising $750,000 and just enough to begin production of their movie. It was at this point that two of cinema’s most consistent and original talents had arrived.

In West Texas, saloon owner Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) suspects that his wife Abby (Frances McDormand) is cheating on him with Ray (John Getz), one of his bartenders. Marty then hires Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh), a private detective, to investigate. Once Marty gains proof of the adulterous affair, he pays Visser to kill them. However, Visser is a very unscrupulous type and has plans of his own.

When you comb through the filmography of the Coen’s, three renowned and highly respected crime writers will inevitably surface. They are: James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. However, it’s their debut “Blood Simple” that fully harks back to the hard boiled noir’s of the 1940’s, namely, “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “Double Indemnity” – both of which are written by Cain and the latter, in fact, co-scripted by Chandler when it made it the screen. Hammett was also a contemporary of these writers and wrote the novel “Red Harvest“, which actually coined the term “blood simple”. It is described as “the addled, fearful mindset people are in after a prolonged immersion in violent situations”. This very description sums the movie up perfectly. It’s a homage to these great writer’s and the genre they excelled in. Also, like their stories, once the character’s and their motivations are established, there is no going back. Although this was their debut, labyrinthine plots and double-crosses would become a staple of the Coens’ work that followed. Give or take the odd zany comedy, their filmography largely consists of these writers; “Miller’s Crossing” was heavily influenced by Hammett’s “The Glass Key” while “The Big Lebowski” loosely took it’s structure from the work of Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain would resurface in the “The Man Who Wasn’t There“. Even the Oscar winning “Fargo and “No Country For Old Men” could be seen as riffs on “Blood Simple“, itself. The thing that’s most apparent about this debut from the Coen’s, though, is that their stylistic approach is plain to see. It cast the mould from which we have witnessed their serpentine abilities in storytelling and hugely inventive directorial flourishes.

Much has been said about the cinematography on the Coens’ output. This has largely been due to the work of their regular collaborator Roger Deakins. However, it was Barry Sonnenfeld who worked on the first three Coen’s movies and you’d be hard pushed to notice much of a difference between them. This simply comes down to them translating exactly the vision that the brothers had. That’s not to take away from the work of Deakins or, in this case, Sonnenfeld as their cinematography has always been sublime but ultimately it comes down to the Coens’ inventively keen eye for a shot. They are known for being sticklers for detail, knowing exactly what they want and exactly how it should look and working from a shoestring budget doesn’t prevent them from realising their Hitchcockian melee of passion, bloodshed and suspense. If anything, their limited budget shows how artistic and creative they really are and they’re not without (or what would become) their trademark moments of irony.

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The Coen brothers have went on to become two of the most respected filmmakers in the business, and rightfully so. With many classics – cult and mainstream – under their belts already, there’s really no end to what they’re capable of. That being said, it’s always a pleasure to return to their roots and see where it all began.

Mark Walker

Only God Forgives * * * *

Posted in Crime, Drama, thriller with tags on July 31, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Nicolas Winding Refn.
Screenplay: Nicolas Winding Refn.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Tom Burke, Gordon Brown, Yayaying Rhatha Phongam, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Byron Gibson.

After the success of “Drive” in 2011, another collaboration with director Nicolas Winding Refn and star Ryan Gosling was highly anticipated. Now that we are delivered the results with “Only God Forgives“, many have been left disappointed and, from many corners, it has received very harsh criticism. It doesn’t possess the postmodern cool of their previous effort but what it does have, is art house and depth written all over it.

Julian (Ryan Gosling) is a US ex-pat living in Bangkok, where he runs a Mauy Thai boxing club and a family drug business behind the scenes. Things begin to go wrong, though, when his brother Billy (Tom Burke) is killed with the involvement of local police Lt. Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm). This, in turn, brings the arrival of Julian’s sadistic mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) to avenge her first born’s death. Julian soon realises that they are up against someone who will not be stopped.

For some, this will be a sumptuous five star experience while others will (understandably) criticise it for it’s perceived pretension and ambiguity. It’s a very difficult film to rate and I can’t give it any less than I have, simply because I do believe that there’s substance contained within. The plot summary above, makes it all sound very straight forward but it’s far from that. If truth be told, I didn’t entirely understand it but that doesn’t make it a bad movie. That’s a fault that rests with me rather than the filmmaker and I think this is the problem that many people are criticising it for – not to mention, Gosling fans’ annoyance at his distinct lack of dialogue.
Anyone familiar with Winding Refn movies, will quickly realise that this type of filmmaking is actually the norm for him and much closer to his idiosyncratic style than “Drive” ever was. It’s filled with symbolism, metaphors and spirituality and categorically, it simply isn’t the action movie that most viewers were expecting. Credit has to be given to Winding Refn and Gosling for their bravery here. They refuse to try and recreate their previous magic and deliver a whole new experience. There are others deserving of mention here too, Larry Smith’s spellbinding cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and entirely authentic in capturing both the beauty and the beast of the city of Bangkok, while Cliff Martinez evokes a foreboding score. The biggest revelation, though, is a bleach-blonde, foul mouthed, Kristin Scott Thomas as the dangerous matriarch Crystal, where every time she’s onscreen she absolutely chews it up. It’s an outstanding, against-type, performance from the once (“Four Weddings and a Funeral“) English rose. Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm’s Chang is also worthy of note with his cold, supernatural, god-like, approach and wielding his own form of justice with the aid a samurai sword that he keeps on his person. He can be seen as the phallus to Scott Thomas’ yonis, leaving the lost and soulful Gosling with an Oedipal complex and dreamlike imaginings of castration – symbolically represented by the loss of his hands. Events don’t exactly make sense on a first time viewing but this is a film that demands repeated efforts to fully capture it’s themes. It has the similar surrealist approaches of directors David Lynch and more importantly Alejandro Jodorowsky (to whom the film is dedicated) and there’s no questioning Refn’s stylistic abilities.

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Is it for everyone? Most certainly not, but it will appeal to those who enjoy uncompromising, art-house minimalism and don’t rely on a storyline where everything is linear and readily explained. It’s ambitious and experimental and you probably won’t see a more polarising film all year.

Mark Walker

The American * * *

Posted in Drama, thriller with tags on July 3, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Anton Corbijn.
Screenplay: Rowan Joffe.
Starring: George Clooney, Paolo Bonacelli, Violante Placido, Thekla Rueten, Johan Leysen, Irina Bjorkland, Filippo Timi.

He made his directorial debut with the life story of the band Joy Division’s frontman, Ian Curtis in “Control”. Now, renowned photographer Anton Corbijn shows some more control – and restraint – in his second feature, with a beautifully shot and unexpected meditative thriller.

Jack (George Clooney) is a hired assassin who goes into hiding in a small Italian village to let things settle after someone tries to assassinate him. Here he befriends a priest who he very nearly confides in and also falls in love with a local prostitute. His employer, meanwhile, sets up another job for him but all is not what it seems, and his identity is more exposed than is comfortable.

When a film opens with the Cloon-meister shooting an innocent woman in the back, you know things are going to be different. Although, not quite as different as what transpires. Done with a very slow, deliberate and meditative pace – reflective in the mood and existential angst of Clooney’s hitman – and as the title suggests, the only thing ‘American’ about this film, is this very character. Everything else is purely European; the supporting actors, the setting, the look and feel. Its almost an art-house thriller. Emphasis on the art-house (and arduous) as there are very few thrilling moments. When they do appear though, they are impressively handled by Corbijn but ultimately the very slow pace kills the action and on a couple of occasions we are treated to scenes of almost unbearable tension and then left unfulfilled as the tension dissipates, without the expected delivery. I enjoyed the simplicity of the whole thing but also found myself wondering if it was worth the time I was investing. I admire Corbijn’s attempt at going against the formula but it wasn’t entirely successful and I couldn’t help but wonder what could have been had he concentrated a little more on his obvious ability in handling suspense and jangling nerves. However, a brilliantly understated and subtly emotive performance from George Clooney, yet again, proves his versatility and holds the film together.

It doesn’t entirely excite enough for a thriller and isn’t quite as astute as a character study, but falls somewhere, awkwardly, in-between.

Mark Walker

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The Secret In Their Eyes * * * * 1/2

Posted in Drama, Foreign Language, Mystery, thriller with tags on May 4, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Juan José Campanella.
Screenplay: Eduardo Sacheri, Juan José Campanella.
Starring: Ricardo Darin, Soledad Villamil, Guillermo Francella, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino, José Luis Gioia, Carla Quevedo.

The 2010 Academy Awards category for Best Foreign Language film contained some strong contenders with the likes of Jacques Audiard’s “A Prophet” and Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon“; two films that could easily have laid claim to the award. However, it was this film that crept up from under their noses and took the Oscar. Whether or nor you pay any credence to the Oscars is neither here nor there as there’s no doubt that this is solid and absorbing filmmaking.

In 1999, retired criminal justice officer Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darìn) decides to write a novel about a murder case that he investigated in 1974. He decides to visit his old colleague Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil) to talk it over. The case had repercussions for everyone involved but Benjamin didn’t realise the direct effect it had on him or his deep, suppressed feelings for Irene.

With a title like “The Secret In Their Eyes“, this film states it’s intentions and stands by them. Director Juan José Campanella lingers long on shots and wisely focuses on the eyes of his performers. For a film that’s predominately dialogue driven, the abundance of close-up’s add another dimension where the eyes speak a thousand words. It’s a great technique that conveys a myriad of hidden meanings in the relationship between the two main characters, Benjamin and Irene. However, this relationship is not entirely apparent from the off-set. It’s only when the film’s layers are revealed that this comes to the surface, as in the meantime you’re too preoccupied with it’s murder-mystery plot developments. This mystery progresses into a manhunt, while taking time to explore the judicial system and political corruption that was rife in Argentina in 1970’s. It’s during this, that Campanella takes advantage of the thriller element in the story, delivery an absolutely astounding and very skilfully handled tracking shot through a football stadium, leading to an impressively assembled chase sequence. Just how they managed to do it is beyond me and needs to be seen to be believed. There are many moments of intensity when it matters (including a nerve-racking elevator moment that’s hard to forget) but it also knows how to ground itself and that’s were the performances come in; Ricardo Darin is a charismatic presence who more than holds your interest with unshakable ideals and a strong moral compass, while Soledad Villamil delivers a strong and reserved show. It’s the chemistry between these two wonderful actors that play a big part in the film’s, effortless, tonal shifts. It’s also not without humour or tragedy which is provided by Guillermo Francella as Benjamin’s alcoholic, but loyal and reliable colleague, Pablo.
Quite simply, it’s easy to see why this film took the Oscar, it’s has a bit of everything; a sharp and involving script that pays great attention to detail; skilful direction; rich cinematography and natural, committed performances.

A complex tapestry about life, love and chances rued, that’s built around the constructs of a thriller. It excels in everything it challenges and that’s exactly where it’s strengths lie.

Mark Walker

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Gangster Squad * * *

Posted in Action, Crime, Drama, thriller with tags on May 1, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Ruben Fleischer.
Screenplay: Will Beall.
Starring: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña, Jack McGee, Jon Polito, Josh Pence, Mireille Enos, Sullivan Stapleton, John Aylward, James Carpinello, Don Harvey, Ambyr Childers, Frank Grillo, James Landry Hébert.

Although I’ve yet to see director Ruben Fleischer’s previous comedy film “30 Minutes Or Less“, I did manage to catch his debut “Zombieland” which injected a lot of humour and style in the zombie sub-genre. For his third film, he assembles one of the year’s most impressive casts and decides to drop the comedy and focus on a real-life crime story. His stylish approach is, once again, on show but unfortunately, his film suffers from a dreadfully threadbare script that fails to utilise his very talented ensemble or elaborate on a story with massive potential.

Los Angeles, 1949. Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is determined to take hold of the city and muscle out any competition. Police Chief William Parker (Nick Nolte) has other ideas, though. He forms a squad of no-nonsense cops to fight back and puts World War II veteran John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) in charge of the operation. O’Mara assembles his crew and tackles Cohen’s organisation with the same brute force that the criminal acquired it with.

From the off-set, Fleischer doesn’t waste time in getting down to business. The brutality of Mickey Cohen is captured within the first few minutes by a scenery-chewing Sean Penn, on menacing form. Following suit, we are then introduced to Brolin’s strong arm of the law, charged with bringing this notorious gangster to justice. Straight away, Dion Beebe’s gorgeous cinematography and production designer Mather Ahmad manage to capture the glitz and grime of late 1940’s L.A. and it looks like we could be treated to something akin to Curtis Hanson’s sublime “L.A. Confidential“. Unfortunately, the look and feel is where the comparison ends. This isn’t anywhere near as tightly constructed as James Ellroy’s labyrinthine thriller and that’s the most frustrating part; it could have been. The elements are in place but the all-important script seems to have it’s concrete shoes on. The writing is repetitious and lazily strung together and for a film that’s seemingly focused on it’s characters, it ultimately fails to deliver anything that resembles a three-dimensional role for any of the impressive cast on show. Brolin, Gosling and Penn get most of the screen time but this is a role that’s completely beneath the abilities of Gosling as he takes a back seat to the other two and the talented likes of Ribisi, Mackie and especially Peña needn’t have turned up at all. It all but completely abandons the good work it sets out to do and resorts to stylistic action scenes that are drawn out and devour the latter half of the movie – eventually leading to nothing more than a shoot-em-up and an obligatory toe-to-toe thrown in for good bad measure. Quite simply, the whole thing comes across as a poor case of cut-and-paste and squanders what little powerful scenes and performances it does possess.

It’s a real shame that this ended up so superficial when it had so much potential. Instead of being a passable piece of pulp with too much reliance on it’s star wattage, it could have been a solid addition to the gangster genre. I’m sure Fleischer believed in the material at one point but my Tommy-Gun’s not convinced.

Mark Walker

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Argo * * * *

Posted in Drama, History, thriller with tags on February 24, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Ben Affleck.
Screenplay: Chris Terrio.
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Victor Garber, Kyle Chandler, Zeljko Ivanek, Richard Kind, Kerry Bishé, Chris Messina Michael Parks, Taylor Schilling, Titus Welliver, Bob Gunton, Keith Szarabajka, Philip Baker Hall.

After a great directorial debut with “Gone Baby Gone” in 2007 and a brilliant sophomore effort with “The Town” in 2010, all eyes were on Ben Affleck in his third outing as director. Questions were asked as to whether he could do it again. And the answer? The answer is a resounding, ‘Yes’. Argo completes Affleck’s hat-trick behind the camera and confirms that he’s definitely a director that has an abundance of talent and awareness.

Based on true events in a post-revolution Iran in 1979. A mob of Ayatollah supporters storm the US Embassy and take 56 American hostages. 6 officers managed to escape, however, and take refuge in the home of a Canadian Ambassador. After two months in hiding and their sanctuary becoming increasingly risky, the CIA hatch a plan to get them home and extraction officer Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is given that responsibility. His plan is to create a fake movie called “Argo” and pretend that the six officers in hiding are his crew, scouting for shooting locations within the country.

Before going into Argo, I admittedly expected a heavy-handed political thriller but that’s not exactly what it delivers. Apart from the first five minutes of a brief overview of the, questionable, political relations between the U.S. and Iran, it sidesteps any political agenda and gets down to capturing the thrilling, human drama at it’s core. I’m not adverse to political film’s at all. In fact, I thoroughly enjoy them but Affleck is wise not to get too bogged down in boardroom banter and bureaucracy when there’s an brilliantly exciting story to tell. It does share similarities with the great political tinged thrillers of the 1970’s like Alan J. Pakula’s “All The Presidents Men” or “The Parallax View“. The late 70’s and early 80’s style is captured to perfection by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and Affleck’s orchestration can sit comfortably beside any from that great decade of cinema.
Chris Terrio’s solid screenplay delivers many dialogue driven scenes but Affleck keeps things moving at a frantic pace and not for a second, does the film ever get dull or drawn out. The tension is almost unbearable at times. Why Affleck didn’t, at the very least, nab an Oscar nomination for his substantial and well-constructed direction here is beyond me. There’s no doubt that he’s in complete command of his material as he leaps from Tehran to Washington to Tinseltown and delivers completely satisfying environments and effortless shifts in tone for the whole film to gel and come to life. He has the ability to capture a politically ravaged country; the backroom jargon of the CIA and the dark humour of Hollywood (that shares more than a passing resemblance to Barry Levinson’s “Wag The Dog“). In order to capture this ludicrous, stranger-than-fiction story in it’s entirety, it demands a maestro at work and Affleck can certainly consider himself one.

This is the edge-of-your-seat tension that “Zero Dark Thirty” wishes it had. With only three film’s under his hat, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Affleck has been at this directing malarky for a very long time. The comparisons with actor, turned quality director, Clint Eastwood will rage on and if anyone thinks otherwise, then Affleck can tell them to “Argo fuck yourself“.

Mark Walker

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The Experiment * * 1/2

Posted in Drama, thriller with tags on January 4, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Paul T. Scheuring.
Screenplay: Paul T. Scheuring.
Starring: Adrien Brody, Forest Whitaker, Cam Gigandet, Clifton Collins Jr., Ethan Cohn, Fisher Stevens, Travis Fimmel, Lavell “David Banner” Crump, Jason Lew, Damien Leake, Maggie Grace.

Once again, a brilliant foreign language movie (“Das Experiment“) is given an English language remake and once again, it fails to do the original justice in any shape or form. If any positives are to be taken from this, then a major one would be it serving as a reminder of how good director Olivier Hirschbeigel’s 2001 German film was.

Strapped for cash in order to travel to India with his girlfriend (Maggie Grace), gentle mannered political activist Travis (Adrian Brody) decides to take part in a behavioural psychological experiment whereby 20 or so men are chosen to live in a makeshift prison for two weeks. Each of them will assume either the role of guard or inmate but once the doors are locked and they are left to their own devices, things begin to spiral out of control.

The fact that this went straight to the DVD shelf when released says it all really. From the offset there are shades of a made for television appearance. This doesn’t last for the entirety of the film but the standards don’t rise very far above it and the voyeuristic nature of the story will appeal to fans of reality TV shows like “Big Brother“.
It’s strengths, unsurprisingly, lie in the performances; Brody is an excellent leading presence and fine support is delivered by a towering Forest Whitaker but the inclusion of Maggie Grace’s love interest is entirely unnecessary, adding little to no substance to the film and could have been completely dropped without it making any difference whatsoever. In retrospect, it’s a lazily written script that’s the films biggest downfall. Where the original instilled a sense of realism, this version just seems staged. The premise is still thoroughly intriguing though and all the more so, with the knowledge that it was based on a real experiment that took place in 1971 at Stanford University before it all got out of hand.
It’s decent enough to pass an hour an half of your time but don’t expect anything special. It’s the performances that make it worthwhile but overall, it’s just another example of a completely unnecessary remake.

If anyone is unfamiliar with the events or the original German film then this film will go down nicely. However, it’d be wise to seek out Hirschbeigel’s version instead.

Mark Walker

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Point Break * * * *

Posted in Action, thriller with tags on January 2, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Kathryn Bigelow.
Screenplay: W. Peter Iliff.
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, Gary Busey, John C. McGinley, Lori Petty, James LeGros, John Philbin, Bojesse Christopher, Lee Tergesen, Julian Reyes, Daniel Beer, Chris Pedersen, Vincent Klyn, Anthony Kiedis, Jack Kehler, Tom Sizemore.

Before the Oscar winning heights of “The Hurt Locker“, director Kathryn Bigelow cut her teeth on some intense and very impressive pieces of work; the brooding western/vampire movie “Near Dark“, the stylish and futuristic “Strange Days” and “Point Break“, the adrenaline filled action movie that proved a female director could compete with any male in the genre – hands down.

A gang of bank robbers known as The Ex-Presidents have been looting the banks of coastal Los Angeles towns. Not much is known about them as they commit their crimes while wearing the masks of presidents Reagan, Nixon, Carter and Johnson. What is suspected is that they are surfers, so the F.B.I send in special agents Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) and Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey) to uncover more information. Soon Utah is mixed up with surfing guru Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) and gets drawn into his adrenaline filled, spiritual lifestyle.

This film was a real favourite of mine growing up in the early 1990’s and still ranks as one of the very best of cop/action movies. Quite simply, where it’s strength lies is in some breathtakingly fantastic action scenes and shows that director Bigelow could always compete with the best of them when it comes to staging an action set-piece. The chase scene alone – through the streets by car before going on-foot through alleyways and houses and at one point, the involvement of a pit-bull – is one of the best action set-pieces committed to the screen and Bigelow should be immensely proud. This is also bookended by some excellent close-contact surfing scenes a spot of bank robbery and sublime skydiving. What more could you really want? It’s a film filled with testosterone and macho posturing but it’s unashamed in it’s delivery. It even throws in some light spirituality and Bigelow juggles the elements with a high level of skill. One thing she doesn’t have here is restraint but that’s entirely the appeal. She’s out to set pulses racing and have some fun and that’s exactly what she does. If you give yourself over to it, you will too. Of course, the film’s lack of restraint throws up some moments when it goes way over the top and stretches credulity to breaking point but it doesn’t matter. It’s entirely forgivable due to it’s sheer indulgment and edge-of-your-seat entertainment.

So is the action genre just one for the boys? According to Bigelow, the answer is a resounding… No. She displays such skill and conviction that she crafts one of the most enjoyable action yarns available. It’s tagline is “100% pure adrenaline…” and on the evidence, it’s not far off it.

Mark Walker

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Looper * * * *

Posted in Action, Science Fiction, thriller with tags on December 17, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Rian Johnson.
Screenplay: Rian Johnson.
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Jeff Daniels, Pierce Gagnon, Noah Segan, Piper Perabo, Garret Dillahunt, Qing Xu, Frank Brennan, Tracie Thoms, Nick Gomez.

12 Monkeys“, was the last time I seen a science fiction/time-travel movie that featured Bruce Willis and if that was anything to go by then this film could do no wrong. In hindsight, it’s not as tight or as clever as it thinks it is and it’s not quite up to the standard as the aforementioned Terry Gilliam movie but it’s still thoroughly good entertainment.

The year is 2044 and organised crime has a grip on society. Hit men (known as ‘Loopers’) are employed to execute people sent back from 30 years in the future. Time travel is illegal but being under the control of the mafia, it allows them to eradicate people without a trace. One of the rules of being a Looper though, is that they must execute their future selves when they are transported back. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper but he fails to carry out the hit on his older self (Bruce Willis) and they are both forced to go on the run, potentially altering their future with very dangerous consequences.

For any good sci-fi yarn to work, it has to have an interesting and thought provoking concept. This film can certainly claim to possess that. All-be-it, it’s a little self-indulgent and doesn’t entirely hold up under scrutiny but once you let yourself go the film has a lot to offer. Wisely, it doesn’t overplay it’s futuristic setting, preferring instead to go for a more subtle and minimal approach. This helps in creating a better sense of realism for it’s genre and concept, as well as making it easier to identify with the characters – of which, the ubiquitous Joseph Gordon-Levitt takes central stage. Now, a lot has been said about the prosthetic make-up of Gordon-Levitt to have him look more like a younger Bruce Willis and I can see why people have had issues with it. For a start, it seems unnecessary to have a very talented young actor mimic one that isn’t exactly known for having a massive range in the first place. However, this was the path they chose tread and for the first half of the film I thought Gordon-Levitt captured the mannerisms of Willis very well indeed. In some ways, he gave a better performance as Willis than Willis does himself. The only problem I had with the make-up was the meticulously shaped eyebrows. They looked too dark, out of shape and well out of place. Anytime, Gordon-Levitt was onscreen in the latter half of the film, I was distracted by them. Not only did he not look like Willis, he didn’t even look the same way that he started the film. It was bizarre to say the least. That aside, the film is brilliantly structured, well realised and poses the odd noodle-scratching moment. My only criticism would be the second half; it takes the action away from the dystopian city and heads into rural farmland and around this time hits a bit of a lull. Its saving grace being an outstanding performance from young Pierce Gagnon who, just about, acts everyone else off the stage.
Upon it’s release it was heralded as 2012’s “Inception“. I wouldn’t go that far in my praise for this; it didn’t quite have that Nolan magic but in respect of being a piece of exciting and thrilling escapism, it’ll hold up amongst the best of the year. For that reason, filmmakers like Rian Johnson can’t be encouraged enough when they seem intent on delivering movies that an audience can really get embroiled in. I was a big fan of his modern-noir debut “Brick” and despite some critical panning, I also enjoyed his con-man follow-up “The Brothers Bloom“. This is, undoubtedly, a bigger step forward for Johnson but he handles it admirably and I can only hope he continues to provide innovative pieces of work like this, without the Hollywood studios getting their claws into him.

A smart and imaginative thriller that manages to squeeze out more mileage from the time-travel sub-genre. It does so by bringing a fresh and original approach to it’s paradox while also possessing a moral compass.

Mark Walker

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Sinister * * *

Posted in Horror, thriller with tags on December 7, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Scott Derrickson.
Screenplay: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill.
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone, Fred Dalton Thompson, Clare Foley, Michael Hall D’Addario, Nicholas King, Vincent D’Onofrio.

Admittedly, I wasn’t a fan of director Scott Derrickson’s previous films “The Exorcism Of Emily Rose” and “The Day The Earth Stood Still” so it’s promising to see that he actually can craft something of a reasonable amount of quality. This didn’t impress me as much as it did others but it’s still an admirably (sometimes excellently) crafted horror movie.

Crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) has a career that is now nosediving. He’s in desperate need of another bestseller and to achieve this, he moves into a house to research a book where the hanging of an entire family took place. His wife (Juliet Rylance) and children are oblivious that they’re living in a crime scene but once Ellison discovers a box of home movies in the attic, the dark events begin to unravel and affect them all.

Derrickson’s handling of the material here is quite impressive. He keeps the plot moving briskly and has a good grasp on mood and atmosphere. He’s also aided by a typically reliable lead performance from Ethan Hawke. From the offset, it appears that all the ingredients are in place and for the most part they are. Very few modern horrors have achieved such a commanding hold over a contemporary audience. However, once the supernatural element to the story is introduced it begins to lose it’s way and credulity becomes stretched. If it had relied more on it’s highly effective, investigatory nature, it would have made a very good serial-killer thriller: the Super-8, home video scenes alone, are truly alarming and disturbing and instil a real feeling of dread. That being said, this a horror at the end of the day and most fans of the genre will, no doubt, be satisfied. Personally, I wish it had stuck with the intriguing first half. During this time, it was a far more effective take on Joel Schumacher’s earlier 1999 film “8mm” that also dealt with a similar theme of investigating ‘snuff-movies’. Like most horrors, it has the protagonist making foolish decisions in the dark and it throws the obligatory jumpy moment at you – which doesn’t always work – but for me, the real horror came from the genuinely unsettling atmosphere.

On the whole, this was a very effective and chilling film but it was the unravelling of the mystery in the final third that didn’t quite match what had went before. A fine effort but it could have been tighter.

Mark Walker

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Dawn Of The Dead * * * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Horror, thriller with tags on November 28, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: George A. Romero.
Screenplay: George A. Romero.
Starring: Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, David Emge, Gaylen Ross, Tom Savini, David Crawford, David Early.

In 1968, director George A. Romero made his directorial debut with the – now infamous – zombie horror film “Night Of The Living Dead“. At the time, it was considered the ultimate gore-fest and has since spawned numerous imitations. Not many have achieved the same standard of that classic zombie movie but Romero himself released this follow-up, ten years later, in 1978 and arguably, it’s as good as (if not better than) his debut.

The epidemic of zombies, who have risen from the dead and are now walking the earth, continues as four survivors of the zombie plague take refuge in a deserted shopping mall. They decide to stay longer than they thought and try to hatch a plan to escape somehow but with the arrival of a gang of militant bikers their security is compromised.

Less of a sequel and more of a remake to “Night Of The Living Dead“, this film benefits from an ingenious and very memorable conceit; four people barricaded in a huge shopping mall while the undead lurk and prey outside. It allows itself to be an allegory of consumerism with a clever and highly satirical approach. It contains an occasional humorous nature but the overall terrifying premise is never compromised. Some of this humour even comes unintentionally, due to it’s cheap budget and sub-par special effects – the blood used looks like vibrant, red, children’s poster paint. However, the low budget only adds to the overall authentic feel and despite it bordering on the ridiculous, Romero’s skill still shines through. His use of tension is excellently delivered, simply by using an extensive series of cuts. Each action sequence is edited in such a way that it is nothing less than highly skilful filmmaking and with Romero assuming both director and editor credits, he deserves the utmost respect. A more sophisticated audience may balk or snicker at the budgetary constraints and abysmal acting but really, it doesn’t matter. The material is so good and handled with such skill that it overshadows any lack of worth or imperfections.

In this particular sub-genre, bad acting and bad effects would normally make for a bad movie but in this instance, that’s not the case. Romero is a master of his craft and this is evidence enough to prove so. Hugely enjoyable, and one of the best, post-apocalyptic, zombie flicks.

Mark Walker

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Leon: The Professional * * * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Drama, thriller with tags on October 29, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Luc Besson.
Screenplay: Luc Besson.
Starring: Jean Reno, Natalie Portman, Gary Oldman, Danny Aiello, Michael Badalucco, Ellen Greene, Peter Appel, Willi One Blood, Don Creech, Elizabeth Regen, Frank Senger.

After some successful and highly creative films in his native France, director Luc Besson turned his hand to American cinema in 1994 with “Leon“. He had already covered the story of a lethal assassin in his 1990 film “La Femme Nikita“, which also featured Jean Reno in a small role as a “cleaner”. This time he focuses more on Reno and gives him the lead as a similar hitman for hire. It may be set in New York – with English speakers – but this is still very much an artistic French film.

Leon (Reno) is a contract killer and is seemingly content with his minimal social life. However, when his young and impressionable 12 year old neighbour Matilda (Natalie Portman) comes home to find her family has been killed by corrupt cop and drug dealer Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman), she runs to him for help. The closer they become, the sooner she discovers Leon’s profession and asks him to teach her the skills so that she can have revenge on her family’s killer.

From the off-set, Besson’s visual style is clearly apparent and he makes wonderful use of New York locations with regular cinematographer Thierry Arbogast. He also allows the characters to blossom and creates and endearing friendship that serves as the heart of the film. Both Reno and especially a young Portman (in her film debut) are marvellous as the unlikely pairing but while they share some genuinely heartfelt moments, the boundaries are blurred with an uncomfortable, sexual subtext between them. Granted, this is formed through the romanticised eyes of a 12 year old and Leon is entirely innocent but it adds a different edge to their sentimental relationship. On the periphery, is the inclusion of a scenery-chewing Gary Oldman that adds a real sense of danger to the proceedings. His performance has been criticised for over-acting but personal I thought he was superb and it’s ranks as one of my favourites from him.
What’s most impressive about the film is Besson’s assured hand and his ability in framing a scene; seemingly insignificant details play a massive part in the sheer beauty of this film while the dynamic music score by Eric Serra is a perfect accompaniment for Besson’s sumptuous attention to detail and deliberate approach. Action movies rarely have such style but this is one that starts and ends with a bang and delivers a warm and affecting emotional core in-between.

A stylish, captivating and emotionally complex film that could comfortably be described as an art-house thriller.

(This post forms part of a “Double-Take” that I done with Eric who runs The IPC blog. Please check out the post in full by going here.)

Mark Walker

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Skyfall * * * 1/2

Posted in Action, thriller with tags on October 29, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Sam Mendes.
Screenplay: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade.
Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Wishaw, Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe, Albert Finney, Rory Kinnear, Ola Rapace, Helen McCrory,

Whenever a new James Bond film is released, it seems to strike up enthusiasm and excitement amongst moviegoers. I’m admittedly not a massive Bond fan but having the reliable Daniel Craig shaking the Martini’s and introducing himself by surname first has worked a treat so far. It’s also not too shabby when Oscar winning director Sam Mendes is at the helm, as well as having an Oscar winning actor play the proverbial nasty. Even though I couldn’t summon the same enthusiasm as others, I also couldn’t resist in seeing what all the fuss could be about.

After a botched mission in Istanbul, Bond (Daniel Craig) is presumed killed in action. In actual fact, he’s been laying low and indulging a bit too much on alcohol. He resurfaces when he hears the news of attacks on M16 headquarters in London and M (Judi Dench) brings him back to resume service. It transpires that the attack on M16 HQ is at the hands of Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) who has a score to settle with M herself.

This is not your average Bond movie at all. Recently they have been doing away with the conventions of the franchise and stripping it back to basics. I, for one, have been a fan of this recent minimal approach but I still wasn’t prepared for how bare this one was. A lot of attention is placed on character development which is almost unheard of from a movie featuring this character. In a lot of ways, it seemed like this film was making a new statement and relaunching a new take on Bond. It dares to make some serious plot developments involving prominent characters and introduces new ones in the shape of Ben Wishaw as a welcome and convincing Q and a new introduction to Miss Moneypenny. The other developments I won’t divulge here. It even gives a little history and backstory to Bond and also shows some weaknesses in his character; Bond isn’t as invincible as some of the earlier instalments which is a welcome change of direction. Of course, this is all handled well by Craig who is very convincing in the role, further fuelling the argument as to whether he’s the best yet.
No Bond write-up would be complete without mentioning the villain of the piece and this is where the excellent Javier Bardem comes in. He puts in a marvellously on edge and surprisingly humorous performance that I really wasn’t expecting. Bardem can do these type of creepy characters with aplomb but unfortunately, it’s the decisions of his character that leave his addition to the ‘Bond baddies’ rather ordinary in comparison. When the writers intend on keeping things more realistic it would probably be wise not leave gaping holes in the story and have the characters behave a little more cautiously. It seemed to me that they’d rather have the best of both: they wanted the realism as well as the indulgence and the two don’t really go hand in hand. The villains in previous Bonds always made critical mistakes but to have one that just stumbles around as if they’re invincible is a little insulting to, not only, the deadly 007 agent but also to the audience. That being said, it’s still a decent flick and there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had with some clever nods to the Bond movies of old and some sumptuous cinematography by Roger Deakins.

I’m not sure how Bond enthusiasts will receive this one. There’s a good chance if you’re into the franchise then you’ll like it but personally, I thought it was a little underwhelming. It doesn’t match the intensity of Craig’s first outing in “Casino Royale” but is admittedly an improvement over his second “Quantum Of Solace“.

Mark Walker

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