A disparate collection of travellers including soldiers, diplomats, and refugees are thrown together in 14th century china as they are pursued by the Mongol army . Known as The Warrior in the UK, this historical epic inevitably draws comparison to Hero and House of Flying Daggers, but actually is more in the tradition of Kurosawa than those more fantasy based offerings. Clearly owing debts to Seven Samurai and The Hidden Fortress in particular, it's also influenced by John Ford's cavalry films in that it takes the time to explore all of the characters involved and the rich collection of antagonistic factions and conflicting loyalties make for a much more interesting character dynamic than most. It may not have the artsy visuals and production value of the projects of Zhang Yimou or Ang Lee but the grittier approach makes for a beautifully crafted historical adventure with just the right balance of heroism and believability, with beautifully shot locations and grippingly realistic, bloody battle sequences. Although it was a co-production with the Chinese film industry, Musa still deserves recognition as one of the films that marked the coming of age of Korean film making and is one of the best Asian historical epics of recent years.
An Iraqi army conscript is forced to become the body double of Saddam Hussein's psychotic son and finds himself losing his identity as he drowns in a sea of depravity and murder. There have already been a slew of projects based on the Iraq war and The Devil's Double is an interesting film in that it shows the other side of the conflict, to some extent at least. Dominic Cooper makes a decent fist of playing both the pampered, debauched and sadistic member of the Iraqi elite and his moral, working class impersonator who is appalled by the behaviour of those who rule. Sort of a bizarre cross between such diverse stories as The Prisoner Of Zenda, The Last King Of Scotland and Scarface, the excesses and violence of The Devil's Double are counterpointed by the even more bizarre fact that it is actually a true story. I think it would have been better for the greater context of the life of ordinary Iraqis of the time but it still makes for a shocking and brutal journey through the looking glass into Saddam's world.
A 17 year old girl left to care for her family in dirt-poor rural Alabama goes in search of her absentee father when faced with the choice of either forcing him to appear before the court or losing their home. Winter's Bone, despite its detective story-style premise, has a flavour very much of a frontier western; take away the synthetic fabrics, pick-up trucks, indoor plumbing and narcotics of choice and you have a community whose life has probably remained pretty much unchanged in the last hundred years. It's a portrait of the struggles of living below the poverty line in contemporary rural America as Jennifer Lawrence's destitute but proud heroine explores the underbelly of her tightly knit but deeply dysfunctional extended family. It's a stark, bleak and gritty drama full of characterful and completely believable performances set within a part of contemporary society rarely depicted outside of trailer trash stereotypes. Tense, occasionally frightening and extremely well observed, Winter's Bone is a serious drama that chooses substance over superficial flash and is all the more affecting and disturbing for it.
Miners accidentally reawaken a huge subterranean creature that feeds on nuclear energy and it threatens to destroy huge swathes of the Japanese cityscape. But when another creature emerges from the depths it appears that the problems of the human race are just beginning. I was a big fan of Gareth Edward's meagre-budgeted debut Monsters and was looking forward to his re-imagining of one of the longest running franchises in cinema history. Godzilla takes some obvious cues from the original Japanese Gojira, most notably in the form of Ken Watanabe's character who clearly follows Takashi Shimura's from the original film and the subtext of the human race foolishly messing with forces they cannot possibly control (in this case, nature and the environment) is always bubbling beneath the surface. Edwards always ensures that each scene is framed within the context of the natural world; the disaster is catalysed by a drilling operation, Godzilla's landfall echoes the catastrophic effects of rising sea levels and tsunamis and the final scenes set within a refugee camp inside a sports stadium is an obvious reference to the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Bryan Cranston also brings the right kind of hand-wringing anxiety of a bereaved conspiracy theorist but once the focus shifts to his son, the script begins to show the obvious shortfalls of being the subject of a Hollywood blockbuster. Watanabe and Cranston are both far more interesting than an ass-kickin', flag salutin' sole-juh of the U S of A, desperately clutching the photograph of his adoring family and the militarism of the second half of the story starts to make the film feel a little too ID4. It descends into a CGI monster mash shortly thereafter which is a shame because up until that point, the director brought a really nice sense of scale where humans are mere gnats that seem truly insignificant compared to the forces they'e unleashed. Because of this lack of a human face to the story it soon unravels leading to a rather unsatisfying conclusion. The film does work as an epic spectacle (the atmospheric railway bridge and visually beautiful HALO jump scenes spring to mind) but my overall impression was that of a talented director struggling to bring the best out of a rather substandard and generic script.