Shane K.'s Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Ratings and Reviews

Drive
Drive(2011)

It's kind of like Valhalla Rising in a car. Only the protagonist talks more, there's a love interest, a clearly defined antagonist & it's more of a thriller than in nature. So it actually isn't anything like Valhalla Rising, but it still great.

Tropa de Elite (The Elite Squad)
½

In the past decade, Brazil has become the world leader in crime/gangster dramas, in recent history Hollywood, Hong Kong, Japan etc. have failed to produce anything within said genre that can compare to City Of God or Carandiru as far as I'm concerned. I actually had misgivings going to this movie. I thought it was going to be a reactionary response to the aforementioned Brazilian movies that depicted the police in an overly romantic manner. Thankfully I was wrong.

In a nutshell, Elite Squad concerns 2 police force rookies that are placed in menial positions within the Rio police & the corruption to which they are exposed. The other primary character Captain Nascimento, is a commanding officer within BOPE, the elite squad of the title. BOPE is essentially the SAS or Navy Seals of the Rio police force. Captain Nascimento is also the narrator, though at first this narration actually aggravated my fears that this movie was a sort of Brazilian take on Dirty Harry. The narration brings to mind Travis Bickle in that he seems to diatribe about his disdain for criminals, crooked police & their supposedly socially conscious protectors.

As the film progresses however, the events on screen tend to undermine this notion of moral certainty, as the character & his BOPE colleagues engage in acts of extreme brutality that are depicted in an unflinching manner. The visual style works well, especially during one of the better trainig/boot camp sequences I've seen on film, that acts as a more gritty photo real counterpoint to the more stylised (but still superior) Paris Island sequences of Full Metal Jacket.

The acting in the film leaves a bit to be desired. The central characters of Neto & Andreas have a degree of depth to them, Neto is at first more happy go lucky but does an extreme (somewhat extreme) shift in tone to a more gung ho character when he joins the BOPE. Generally characters are 1 dimensional , that dimension being angry, wet liberal or corrupt.
Captain Nascimento does have a family to illustrate how work impacts on his personal life, but this arc feels a tad bit tagged on.

The character of Andreas, for me at least gives the film a more morally grey subtext than is obvious at first. He starts out as an idealist who sees the police force as a gateway to better things. He has to deal with being an outsider within his own corrupt police force & the at the college where he studies part time among the aforementioned 1 dimensional wet liberals. The tonal shift of his character, is as extreme as Neto's but in his case the films narrative supplies a suitably grave justification.

As far as I'm concerned, Tropa De Elite isn't a celebration of police brutality, if you read between the lines, it's actually about the loss of innocence & the brutalising effect needed to turn men into what are essentially soldiers.

*Edit* Since I first wrote this review I watched Johnnie To's Election movies, the line in the first paragraph about Hong Kong not producing decent gangster movies anymore is bullshit.

Smokin' Aces
Smokin' Aces(2007)

A movie I think is unfairly maligned. It has it's obvious flaws. Broad (to say the least) characters, clunky attempts to incorporate humour (the ADD kid for one) & the action when it finally does come is sloppily shot & paced.

Those major flaws aside, the film is still enjoyable & dare I say it cleverly constructed shlock. Essentially nothing of any real note happens in the first hour, but it's a compelling nothing. A lot of the performances misfire Jason Bateman's neurotic shtick doesn't really gel, but mercifully he's only on screen for a brief time, but there are also a few diamonds in the rough.

Chris Pine hams it up to a suitable degree as the leader of a trio of "redneck speedfreak Nazi" assassins. Ditto for Taraji P Henson, who channels the grit of a blaxpoitation heroine as the firebrand half of 2 woman hit team (the other half being Alicia Keys, who won't be winning any awards, but is still watchable) Ryan Reynolds manages the amazing, & actually transcends the inherent shlock of the material & manages to inject a few fleeting moments of discernible pathos into his performance.

Besides the aforementioned sloppy action scenes, the film's visual style actually does suit the fleeting shots that jump back & forth between the various strands of the plot. In spite of the general fast pace there are instances where will linger on a scene, & the contrast with the usual nippier pace does result in dramatic tension.

In summation, Smoking Aces isn't going to be troubling the AFI top ten (or 1000 to be honest) & the fact that it didn't sweep the Oscars that year was a shock to noone. On it's own terms however, as nihilistic action shlock, it works.

Inception
Inception(2010)
½

So Finally, it's here, Christopher Nolan's follow up to The Dark Knight. It's been hyped to the breaking point (which actually has been a little detrimental to the experience of actually watching the movie) but does it live up to these expectations. As far as I'm concerned it actually surpasses them. If I'm being honest I liked this movie a lot more than the Dark Knight.

The story is concerned with a group of criminals that are capable of entering the sub conscious via an individuals dreams. This is to gain access to information for the sake of corporate espionage, a process known as extraction. When one of these extractions goes wrong, the team are made an offer by their previous intended victim. He wants them to enter the subconscious of a business rival to implant an idea, a process known as inception. I won't go into the plot anymore lest I give away too much. But basically in short, the premise is highly original & the plotting of the film is incredibly engaging.

Though the premise is original, the actual content of the film is similar in spirit to a heist movie. There's scenes pertaining to recruitment of a collection of disparate characters & planning etc. There's also a good deal of action set pieces so the film works as a traditional movie going experience as well as working on a more cerebral level.

The movies visuals are very striking with grand sprawling shots of Urban landscapes like Tokyo & Mombassa coupled with more claustrophobic action shots in & around narrow African streets that never descend into Green Zone style shaky cam (though I've got nothing against that when it's used in moderation).The beautiful traditional photography is really complimented by the movies effects. The surreal dreamscape imagery feels like an extension of the natural environments. Nolan even manages to incorporate a considerable amount of slow motion into the film, which in theory sounds like the most clichéd cinematic technique imaginable, but in practice works in this context.

The cast is uniformly excellent, though no one jumps out as remarkable which in this instance, the cast being a relatively sizable ensemble, is probably the best praise I could give. If I had to choose standouts, in my opinion at least, I'd say Ken Watanabe who in spite of clearly not speaking English as a first language still exudes palpable charisma, Cillian Murphy, one of the most underrated actors working today (who's fallen off the Hollywood map in recent years), who plays it subtle for the most part, but manages to add an extra layer of pathos to he films conclusion & Tom Berenger, who hasn't been in a theatrical release since 2002 apparently (but we'll seeing more of him if this is anything to go on) who takes what could easily have been a 1 dimensional aggressive caricature & gives the character an underlying depth. But as I said the cast as a whole worked perfectly.

If you're wondering why I didn't give this movie the perfect 100%, well simply, as great as I think it is, it's not quite perfect. I did have issues with the climax & how an aspect of the plot was resolved that didn't make sense, at least by my understanding of the rules of how the dream worlds of the film actually work. This plot point felt like it had been glossed over.

But beyond my own nitpicking, Inception is most definitely a film of the highest quality. It's the best movie I've seen in the cinema so far this year (& I haven't spotted anything on the horizon that could outdo it frankly). Christopher Nolan has struck gold again. See this movie & pay full price for your ticket, this kind of quality deserves to be a blockbuster.

Tango & Cash
Tango & Cash(1989)

Wow, I know you're supposed to turn your brain off when you watch these types of movies but sweet lord Tango & Cash is so ham-fisted. It's saved from getting a zero by the ludicrous opening scene which involves Tango (Stallone) stopping an 18 wheeler with a tiny police issue .38 revolver. Beyond that it commits the action cinema No No of being crushingly dull. Barring a brief chase involving Kurt Russell & a hitman & the awful finale, there are no action setpieces to speak of. I know it's going for a Lethal Weapon style mismatched buddy comedy but that requires at least a modicum of character development. As a sidenote, the underscore of this movie, even by horrible 80s synth standards, is actually unpleasant to listen to. Basically avoid this movie, if you catch the opening scene on television, watch it, then change the channel immediately. Beyond that Tango & Cash has no redeeming qualities, it's not even possible to appreciate the movie as kitsch. Just avoid at all costs.

Shoot 'Em Up
Shoot 'Em Up(2007)

Are you looking for a deeply engrossing narrative with rich character & a script hat delves deep in the complex issues that effect your very world view.? No? Excellent, then you're probably in the right frame of mind for Shoot em up. A movie that I can only describe as action packed gun porn.

The plot involves a loner tough & hooker with a heart protecting a new born baby from shadowy gun men. But for all intents & purposes the plot in this gun porn is like the plot in actual porn, filling. Something to fill the gap between the action sequences. To be fair, there are some good one liners & there's even a message (but it's possibly the most retarded one possible in this context).

The action scenes are retarded in the best possible way. Clive Owen mows down a veritable assembly line of nameless goons in increasingly creative ways. There's shootout car chases, shootout skydives, shoot out's at playgrounds, shootouts in the public toilet, puppet guns (seriously) there's even a shootout at a gun factory. It isn't just guns, people are killed with carrots on 2 separate occasions. Basically it's big dumb fun.

The cast are good, Clive Owen does the wisecracking bad ass thing well (his role reminded me of his character in Sin City (sans the iffy American accent)). Monica Bellucci lays on the melodrama incredibly thick (once again not a bad thing) & looks great, it's hard to believe she's pushing 50. Paul Giamatti is, in my opinion, the standout, you can tell he knows the movie is schlock, & he just hams it up to the extreme. The rest of the supporting cast... Who am I kiddin? Everyone else serves as cannon fodder for the action goodness. Basically nobody's getting an Oscar but they all work well with the material.

There are down sides. The filler plot can stretch on a bit too long & you start to get antsy waiting for someone to get shot (or stabbed with a carrot). I'm not saying the dialogue is terrible, as previously stated there are some good one liners, but it's not the movies strong suit. Also for a film that aiming for our most base instincts that features Monica Bellucci, it could've used more nudity (Yeah!!! I Said it!!!) & explosions. The other big black mark is the aforementioned colossally retarded "message" (which might have been included as a joke (it certainly isn't presented that way)) that just causes the movie to fall a little in my estimation.

All & all, Shoot em up is quality retardtainment . If you liked Smoking Aces this should be right up your alley.

Eastern Promises

I'd like to just begin by saying I was no fan of A History of Violence. I thought it was an overhyped overly lauded disappointment. It was touted as this great treatise on the nature of violence but all I saw was a poorly scripted mess with a promising premise that devolves into painful stupidity, robotic performances, clunky dialogue & over the top violent set pieces that brought to mind an 80's action movie & just (to me at least) gave the film an air on unintentional humour that had me chuckling at the most inopportune moments (the bit where Tom Stall admonishes his son for being violent by slapping him, that whole exchange, just get's me everytime).

There might be an overlying message about violence in there but it's just too well hidden by an awful film. Though don't take my word for it the general consensus is that A History Of Violence is a masterpiece.

You may be asking yourself why I'm talking about a different film. My reasoning is two fold. Now that I've laid out why I disliked A History of Violence, I don't have to give it a review (snap!!) & ruin my recent trend toward positivity. The other reason, that movie weighed heavily on my mind before I watched Eastern Promises. For the longest time, I couldn't bring myself to watch this movie because of the actor/director pairing of David Cronenberg & Viggo Mortensen.

Don't get me wrong I like a lot of Cronenbergs stuff (Dead Zone, the criminally underrated Spider starring Ralph Fiennes) & Mortensen was/is Aragorn as well as Lalin & Lucifer. But the taint (huh huh "taint") of A History of violence, it poisoned them to me as a combo.
So eventually I bit the bullet, & decided to watch Eastern Promises & within a few minutes of the opening (in my estimation at least) the firm of Cronenberg/Mortensen was completely forgiven.

Eastern Promises is about the inner workings of Russian Organised Crime. But it's also about a midwife (played by a slightly wonkily accented Naomi Watts) & her investigation of the circumstances of a young Russian teenager that dies in childbirth in her ward. She finds a diary which leads her to a Russian club owned by the seemingly lovely old man Semyon (played by Armin Mueller-Stahl). She also encounters his loutish son Kirill (played by the tres excellent Vincent Cassell) & his driver/bodyguard/"undertaker" Nikolai (played by the Viggo Mortensen). They're embroiled in their own mess that relates back to murder of a fellow mobster. These distinct plot threads begin to embroil as the film progresses.

As a whole the story is well constructed. You'll engage with & want to know how everything will resolve itself. The story does start to lose it's way a little before the end with character's deviating from their established persona in a way I didn't find convincing. There's also a twist, that becomes apparent a little too early in the run time. Violence is used sparingly with only the occasion flash, which it turns gives those moments a greater degree of impact.

The performances from the leads are all good. In spite of her aforementioned wonky accent Naomi Watts is well suited to her role. Armin Mueller-Stahl gives equal doses of grandfatherly warmth & subtle menace with just occasional flashes of extreme emotion. Mortensen imbues his character with the right seemingly laissez faire tone but also shows an ability for physicality when required. In my opinion the man that steals the film is Vincent Cassel, he manages to display a ferocious (but obviously) overcompensating bravado. He also properly illustrates the love hate dynamic that exists between his character & the character of Nikolai while Mortensen imbues his character with an obviously protective feeling towards Kirill that is also tinged with a degree of disdain.

Another element I think is worthy of praise is that in spite of the fact that none of the supposed Russian mobsters is actually Russian, none of them sounds like a cartoon Russian stereotype.

Eastern Promises, isn't perfect. The way the story begins to lose the run of itself a little before the end keeps it from that but is still a film that I would heartily recommend

Waltz with Bashir

I went into Waltz With Bashir with high expectations. I'd heard so much about how it was a powerful anti war film but also visually stunning. For once, these high expectations were most definitely exceeded. This movie more than justifies the accolades & acclaim that it has received.

The film is partially a documentary following filmmaker Ari Folman as he tries to reconstruct his experiences during the Lebanon war of 1982. Of particular interest to him is the Sabra & Shatila massacre which he was present at but he has no memory of, save for a vague dream about walking out of the ocean.

Rather than doing a simple documentary consisting of talking head interviews & archive footage Folman decided to use animation to tell his story. This adds an extra depth to his vision & alllows Folman to seemlessly incorporate a depiction of dreamscapes into the narrative. Seeing as dreams are such an essential element of his motivation this hugely original approach just fits the material perfectly.

The tone of the film deviates between a lighter more humourous one where the madness of war is explored to a more sombre mood when the horrors are illustrated & when dealing with how war impacts on the men that carry it out. This balance is struck pitch perfectly. There are never any scenes, shots or visuals that seem inappropriate. The device of changing from animation to live action in the concluding scenes makes for some powerful images.

From a purely technical standpoint the film looks stunning. It has a cell shaded comic book feel. The animation in turn isn't always the most fluid feeling more like cells from a comic that are just barely moving & other times during more high tempo scenes the animation is wonderfully dynamic & rivals the best Disney or Studio Ghibli material. Once again this actually varies depending on the intended tone of the scene but just always seems to work. This may sound clichéd but there were actually instances when I was literally transfixed by what I was seeing on screen.

The film's soundtrack is also worthy of utmost praise. It combines period pop & rock tracks, classical pieces & original compositions in a way that always complements the visuals perfectly.

In closing Waltz With Bashir is a definite must see. It's one of the most powerful anti war films I've ever seen but it isn't weighed down by any overt political leanings instead choosing to explore human factors & how war is felt on a personal level. For anyone that has an appreciation of film in terms of aesthetics & as a means of engagement of the mind this a film tailor made for you.

La Haine
La Haine(1996)
½

La Haine (or Hate for you non Francophones out there) is a very important piece of cinema. It was so important it was actually screened for the then French government as a sort of information to get them up to speed about the strife at the heart of French society & the tensions that existed between the police & France's minority communities (as a sidenote Chuck Norris' reactionary action suckfest Delta Force (rated R for Retarded) was screened for the US senate during the 80's, read into that what you will (though to their credit most of them apparently left before the end)).

Did the movie change anything?? Short answer...nope. France still suffers bouts of rioting in it's poorest estates/projects to this day. Is La Haine a powerful snapshot of an urban environment in upheaval? You'd better believe it.

In the simplest terms the story of la Haine revolves around a day in the lives of 3 friends in a rundown housing scheme. The day in question follows a night of severe rioting caused by an instance of police brutality against a young Arab man. The day is marked by varoious misadventures from a barbecue on the roof being broken up by the police to a bathroom argument being interrupted by a dwarf telling a story about the importance of shitting that involves a trip to a Siberian gulag. It's an interesting journey to follow. They even get to see how the other half lives in Paris city centre. In spite of it's reputation as a message movie, The tone of the film is predominantly generally jovial with flashes of emotional depth petered throughout.

The three friends are Arab Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui) African Hubert (Hubert Koundé) & Jew
Vinz (Vincent Cassel) (I don't know where those character names came from). Vinz is the wannabe gangster, who quotes Taxi driver into a mirror & dreams of getting revenge on the police. Said is more happy go lucky, he doesn't see the point of the riots & is instead more interested in making some money & girls. Hubert is the cool one. He's realised the futility of the cycle of crime & violence & wishes to leave his life behind.

All 3 leads do wonderful work in their particular roles. Cassel's portrayal of Vinz is full of bravado but he also conveys the insecurity at the characters heart. Saïd strikes the balance between a wisecracking streetwise persona that hides a child like innocence. Taghmaoui can convey a genuine sense of hurt in instances when his character is disrespected. Hubert is the most subtle character. His expression is often a blank one, but that work in the context of this character, someone who's become exasperated at his situation & simply tolerates life. When the time comes for more emotionally heavy material, all 3 of these actors are just as skilled as they are with the more comedic stuff. The dynamic that exists between the trio feels like a real friendship, they banter, they bicker, they bullshit. When a narrative is so reliant on a group of friends this genuine feeling of friendship is incredibly important.

The film looks amazing. It's filmed in black & white & for some reason that just works here. There are a number of spectacular visuals over the course of the film from a dolly shot that rises up to look down over the tower blocks to another poster worthy static shot of the three main characters framed against the grand old buildings of central Paris. There's a good balance between scenes that are heavily stylised & more mundane moments that are captured in a more naturalistic fashion.

The film has been compared to Spike Lee, but I personally don't think that's fair. It's not as heavy handed in it's approach as a lot of his work. The film even makes note of the fact that not all police are bad (there's even a sympathetic cop character who didn't fell shoehorned in), but then kind of muddies the message by having the protagonists run in to cops that would've fitted in well with the Gestapo. Fortunately the scenes with the really bad cops are so powerful & hard to watch the film is actually better for their inclusion.


La Haine, isn't perfect. There's a running gag with a cow that I didn't really get. It felt a bit pointlessly surreal & like something that would be included in a parody of arthouse cinema. But as a whole Mathieu Kassovitz crafted something of the utmost quality. The film is a social commentary but not oppressively so. It's got humour & pathos. It'll make you feel for characters that (lets be honest) if you encountered in reality you'd probably cross the street to avoid. There are even philosophical motifs to ponder.

Yes Indeed, there is almost nothing to hate in la Haine (I apologise profusely for the rubbishness of that last line).

Grosse Pointe Blank
½

Grosse Point Blank is an unusual movie. It's predominantly a comedy with moments throughout that make me laugh (unlike most comedies that I always feel begin to peter out going into the final act). It features John Cusack, who normally I'm not a huge fan of, but in the context of this movie is great. It features a hip soundtrack, which in a lot of cases means you're in for a horribly smug that's all too self aware & in love with how smart it is. Don't get me wrong, this is a smart movie but not in an achingly knowing to the point of irritation way.

As I said I'm not a huge fan of John Cusack, he tends to be in (at least in my experience) Teen/rom coms that I tend to avoid like the plague. Of course I do like Say Anything & the character he plays in that movie is channeled in his performance here. Martin Blank is a hitman who's beginning to lose his enthusiasm for his chosen profession. He agrees to take one last job in his home city which just happens to coincide with his 10 year high school reunion. This will bring him into contact his high school sweetheart whom he abandoned on prom night.

Further complicating things is an offer from a fellow assassin who wishes to form a guild/union. This offer is (of course) of the join or die variety. So essentially Martin Blank has to navigate the social niceties of getting reacquainted with former classmates ("what has he been doing for the past ten years?") while all the while dodging bullets.

In my opinion a comedy film more than any other genre is dependent on 2 essential elements. Script & performances. This movie has a very sharp script managing to balance snappy dialogue & moments of physical & visual comedy with some high octane John Woo(though not as stylised) style action. The humour has a suitably dark tone.

The performances are good all around, John Cusack, gives his character a jittery quality that makes you feel as though this is a character that's just a little paranoid & always aware of his surroundings. Off setting this is the natural charm he exudes in his interactions with other characters. This charm is tinged with a memorised quality that underlies that the character is something of a sociopath & said charm at least in some instances is learned behaviour. Minnie Driver, who plays Debbie the literal girl of Martin Blanks dreams, also nails her character. Her portrayal manages to balance a cool distance with a underlying vulnerability & hesitation fearing she will be hurt again. There's a great chemistry between the 2 leads.

The rest of the supporting cast is top notch (in spite of limited screen time for most of them). Jeremy Piven manages to display the energy he would put into Ari Gold, in his performance as Martin's abandoned best friend Paul. The character feels needy & has a genuine sense of hurt about him. Dan Ackroyd, hams it up (to an appropriate degree) as Grocer a rival assassin. Joan Cusack, delivers a great performance as Martin's folksy yet foul mouthed Secretary/Personal Assistant. Alan Arkin, Mitchell Ryan, Hank Azaria, the class mates at the reunion. There are too many great performances to name them all. I'd give special praise to world class kickboxer Benny "the Jet" Urquidez (who was probably just hired for his ability in action scenes) manages to provide one of my favourite comedic moments when his assassin Felix LaPoubelle goes "undercover" at the reunion (they're his only lines but I really like the gag).

Grosse Point Blank isn't perfect. There are issues with pacing & some of the cuts seem clunky. Also some of the former classmates look a smidge too old to be at a ten year reunion. But as I said scripting & performance trump everything else in comedy so these faults don't take too much away from the film as a whole.

This movie is a tonne of fun & even has a bit of 80's nostalgia (if you're into that sort of thing). It's definitely one of the comedies of the 90's & (in my opinion) of all time.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
½

The 3 Burials Of Melquiades Estrada is a mouthful to say. If it was based on the novel Push by Sapphire it'd need street sized billboard. Of course we'd have to be in an alternate reality for this to be the sort of film that actually needed a billboard. No, this movie is not your standard Hollywood fare.

To borrow a soccer cliché this is a game of 2 halves. The first section of the movie revolves around the murder of Mexican cowboy Melquiades Estrada & the quest of his friend Pete Perkins to get to the bottom of the circumstances of the killing. The other predominant plot thread of this segment of the film is the introduction Border Patrol agent, Mike Norton. Norton isn't the most likeable character with a tendency towards brutality.

The screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga (who also provided screenplays for Amores Perros & 21 Grams) employs his usual non linear approach to the narrative of the first segment. Scenes are not played in chronolgical order with events jumping between before & after the murder. The film falls a little in this regard as the constant shifting between timelines can be a little difficult to follow (particularly on first viewing).

The second half settles into a more linear narrative & deals with the journey of Pete & a very reluctant Mike to fulfill Melquiades' wishes about being buried in his home soil south of the border. This section of the film is both a chase & a revenge movie. But not revenge in the traditional eye for an eye sense. This is where 3 burials earns it's monicker as a Neo Western. The Dessert's & high country of the border region have never looked so beautiful (this is the landscape to came to mind when I read Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian).

This is also a movie that genuinely plucks at the heart strings. The duo's encounter with an old blind hermit (played by The Band's Levon Helm) ends on a very bittersweet note. While revelations about Melquiades' family & the home he left behind are actually difficult to watch especially after witnessing such a grueling journey.

The two lead performances are equally worthy of praise. Barry Pepper, who's been unfairly tarred by association with notorious flop Battlefield Earth, is put through the ringer in physical & emotional terms. At first there's a blank emotionless quality to the character tinged with an underlying seething rage but as his journey progresses he truly conveys the emotional turmoil at this heart.

Tommy Lee Jones, gives a more subtle performance. His pain, sadness & anger are clearly bubbling below the surface. While in the scenes set during the happier times before the murder the character is clearly full of fun & inherently likeable. I'd like to add that he does this in 2 languages which I personally think is deserving of added praise. Julio Cedillo in spite of not having a lot of screen time also makes an impact. He imbues the character of Melquaides with a vulnerability that just makes seeing him die all the more difficult to watch. What I find amazing is that in spite of the fact that they're only on screen together for 5 minutes or so, you can feel the genuine warmth & friendship that exists between the characters of Pete & Mel.

The cast as a whole (which includes (a pre Mad Men) January Jones, Melissa Leo & the aforementioned Levon Helm) as a whole is quality. The film even manages to have comic relief in the form of incompetent Sheriff Belmont (played by Dwight Yoakam) a character that manages to be funny without undermining the emotional resonance of Melquiades final journey.

This film is a credit to Tommy Lee Jones as a director. It has a near perfect correlation of performances, cinematography, script, editing & score (in particular during a scene where Pete sits, looking out, contemplating the landscape while an out of tune piano is played in a run down Cantina). It manages to balance genuine emotional depth with moments of humour. Frankly, you owe it to yourself to watch it.

Mýrin (Jar City)
½

Jar City is a criminally underseen movie(you might know it has that one where a sheep's head gets eaten), it doesn't even have an image on it's rotten tomatoes profile. It follows a well thread path but does so from an interesting perspective. Like Memories Of Murder (another underseen, should--be classic), which dealt with the investigation of a crime in a dictatorship where police could essentially act with impunity, Jar City's investigation is in Iceland which in this depiction has the dynamic of a village on steroids. The country's most notorious criminal is on first name terms with an everyday detective & the police have to work everywhere from downtown Reykavik to lonely windswept fishing villages.

Speaking of windswept (warning the folllowing line may contain content certain readers will find clichéd, reader discretion is advised) the Icelandic landscape is a star in & off itself. The film looks beautiful in a bleak alien way.

In a nutshell the film has two storylines, one is the aforementioned investigation of a murder where the victim is essentially, a bastard with a shady past. The other element of the plot concerns a grieving father whose young daughter has recently died of an incredibly rare disease. This story incorporates the frankly creepy Icelandic genome project whereby the genetic information of every Icelandic citizen is collected & filed. This is where the Jar City of the title comes in. The two plots are connected but you will have to watch to see how. The plot of the film is solid, though it is actually possible to work out the connection between the disparate stories a little too early. In spite of that it's still compelling.

In my opinion the other great strength of this film is the characters. The lead detective Erlendur (played by Gordon Freeman lookalike Ingvar E. Sigurðsson) is an inherently likeable character that should be clichéd but manages to turn the potential clichés on their heads (he's not an alcoholic, but does have an affinity for disgusting food such as the aforementioned sheep's head & is religious but not overtly or oppressively so, there aren't any stock scenes in a church where he's asking God "Why?"). He does have a junkie daughter who's trying to get clean but that's handled well, there aren't any oscar bait histrionics. Erlendur's fellow officers are also strong. Elinborg is (shock horror) a realistic looking middle aged woman, who serves as the guide in matters of compassion when dealing with potential witnesses. Sigurður Oli is the pretty boy comic relief who (once again shock horror) is actually funny at times. The performances convey a dynamic that Erlendur & Elinborg have worked together some time while Oli is more a new guy outsider.

The other storyline is much darker. Örn (played by Atli Rafn Sigurðsson (no relation to Ingvar, I think)) is a father looking for answers about his only child's death. The character becomes obsessed & gradually falls apart as the film progresses & secrets come to the surface. The other Sigurðsson does a wonderful job in what looks a very difficult role.
It's a shame that both the stars & director(Baltasar Kormákur) of this movie aren't more recognised internationally.

Jar City is the first Icelandic film I've ever watched though if they keep producing work like this I'll definitely be returning to Icelandic cinema at the first opportunity. This film needs a bigger audience.

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex (The Baader Meinhof Complex)
½

The Baader Meinhof complex is the story of the activities of the Red Army Faction(a radical left wing group, that mounted a campaign of terror in what was West Germany, predominately in the 1970's(though the group continued to exist until as late as 1998).

The film in particular focuses on it's founding members Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof & Gudrun Ensslin & the transformation from student radicalism to violent militancy.

The film manages to capture the balance by illustrating the origins of the group without treating the acts of violence in an apologetic manner. These scenes are often quite gory, with the aftermath of bombings & shootings having particularily bloody consequences.

The acting is solid all around. The standout performance is Moritz Bleibtreu as Baader, who undermines the notions of the group being a proletarian collective by imbuing the character with an misogynistic bullying foul tempered unlikeability but also giving him charisma that underscores why people would follow him.

The look of the film is also great with the settings & style of the film changing between late 60's to late 70's. Cars, clothing, hairstyles, even the architecture seems authentic.

The film has it's flaws. It's a bit too long. The pacing is off somewhat, with scenes progressing a little too quickly at times & events taking place on screen that you don't have to get to take in what's happening. There are also instances where time skips over years at a time by using montages which would be fine if it weren't for the film's score, which has this driving baseline that to me at least felt like it would've better in a wonky Tony Scott thriller from the 80's.

Also (this isn't really he filmmaker's fault, but it did impact my viewing experience) the subtitles of the version, I watched were awkward to read. Small & occasionally they were nearly invisible against bright background (i reiterate that's not the filmmakers fault, but it affected my rating).

In spite of those flaws The Baader Meinhof Complex is a well above average film (That I'll probably appreciate more on repeat viewings). It's a compelling period film coupled with being a being a very well made biopic (of an organisation as opposed to one person). It's a film that pertains to politics that people of different political leanings can interpret & enjoy on their own level.

Hunger
Hunger(2009)

I watched this film with the impression that it would be a sort of pseudo Biopic of Bobby Sands during the final days of the hunger strike. I was somewhat right, though Michael Fassbender's take on Sands is a major part, the film is as much about the prison life as Sands himself.

Visually there is some spectacular imagery to be seen that is derived from let call it aesthetically unpleasant source material. Scenes of cell walls being power hosed, guards lining up in riot gear & even sores are quite compelling to behold.

Though the Lion's share of the acting plaudits have been given to Fassbender & Liam Cunningham ( the nearly 20 minute single shot centre piece scene between is of the highest quality), the supporting cast is also bang on. From the distress of the prisoners during scenes of brutality to the exacerbation of the guards who are forced to live in their own state of imprisonment, in fear of possible IRA retaliation. The humanity afforded to the guards robs the film of political partisanship & prevents it from taking on the us & them dynamic of lesser portrayals of the Nortern Irish conflict.

The films has it's flaws. In spite of their strikingness some of the shots drag on more than they should. I also found the film dragged too much into the avant garde at some stages & is also overly sentimental at others.

In spite of these minor flaws & the fact that it wouldn't be to everyones taste Hunger as a character study & harrowing depiction of prison life Hunger is most definitely a film you should see.

Perfect Creature

This film is an example of fairly interesting premise with fairly botched delivery. If you haven't heard of it, well you're probably not alone I only discovered it on tv the other week. I saw the premise in a digital tv programme guide & decided there were worse ways to spend eighty minutes. Yeah it's mercifully short. The program guide told of a film about a world where Vampires & Humans live in harmony until a chosen one throws the balance out of whack which threatens war or armageddon or apocalypse.... yadda yadda yadda, you're probably thinking. The fact that there vampires isn't supposed to be apparent at first so the program actually contained something of a spoiler. It really did ruin the big reveal that happens after about ten seconds. The premise as succinctly as I can, alt reality, vampirism was discovered, Genetics science blah blah blah, Vampires become priesthood for some reason, called brotherhood (never referred to as vampires in film), 2 actual brothers (i.e. have same mother) one is lead brother of brotherhood, other bad brother gone rogue, Lady cop investigates murders by bad brother with help of good brother, good brother falls for lady cop, love triangle, virus outbreak & so on & so on. Basically the story is fairly Clichéd. The cast consists of Dougray Scott, some other British actors & a bunch of local Nu Zilind ictors in supporting roles. The acting isn't going to trouble the academy but isn't painful to watch either. Visually it reminded me a lot of Blade 2 & Hellboy while the action in an attempt to match the story in the Cliché department is very influenced by the Matrix(you know wire fu, bullet time, crappy techno music etc.). To be fair Perfect Creature isn't a horrendous movie it's short run time actually does it a big favour. I did think the alternate reality angle was interesting & the world itself is a sort of pseudo thirties urban dystopia was a nice angle in terms of setting. For a film with a fairly convoluted it doesn't waste a lot of it's scant runtime on exposition. If you see it on sale don't buy it even from the bargain bin but if you run across it on tv, there are worse ways to kill an hour & a third.

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant

It's hard to believe this movie is based on 3 books worth of material. Nothing really seems to happen in the course of the film. Darren & Steve go to freakshow, it's super weird, main attraction has spider, Darren is some sort of arachnophiliac, nicks it, it bites Steve, Darren makes deal to save Steve, becomes vampire & so on & so on.

There's a whole thing about Steve being the chosen one of the evil Vampires (or vampinese). The fact that Steve is going to turn bad at some point is pretty obvious after about a minute. Having an prophesised anointed one named "Steve" is bad enough. The portrayal by Josh Hutcherson is very villainous-in-a-cackling-clichéd way(though to be fair he doesn't cackle at any point). Chris Massoglia(he plays the hero) isn't much better coming across as bland. The supporting cast is alright, John C. Reilly plays the part well, it's just that I keep thinking with the crazy hair do & costume that Larten Crepsly (at least in visual terms) could just as easily could be an SNL character or Will Ferrel sidekick. I liked Patrick Fugit as comic relief & Ray Stevenson's "Welsh/Yorkshire(??)" accented Lead Vampinese character was enjoyable & somewhat sinister.

The film looks alright, though it isn't visually spectacular. If you want to see a fully formed fantasy world watch a Guillermo Del Toro movie or the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. I think the film was created with a sequel to much in mind(this is particularly evidenced by Willem Dafoes role/cameo) & thus suffers accordingly. It didn't do too well, so that sequel probably won't be happening.

Gomorrah (Gomorra)
½

Brilliant use of it's source material. A wholly unflattering depiction of the Neapolitan Camorra, that goes down to the everyday minutiae of the criminal lifestyle from bottom rung drug dealing & delivering money to stitching counterfeit clothing & dumping toxic waste. The flashes of violence are sudden & brutal & any notion of the gangster lifestyle as glamourous is undermined accordingly. The film has it's weaknesses. Anyone that hasn't read Saviano's book, might initially find diverging story threads confusing. The primary characters are understated which means none of them jump off the screen, but that also makes them seem more like people & adds to the realism. The film makers avoided using voice over, which is a good thing as the knowing Criminal narrator thing has been done to death. The setting in the Scampia housing estates is very formidable (like a fortress) & coupled with the verité style camera work it add to a sense of claustrophobia during the scenes that are filmed in it's courtyards. All & all an excellent movie (though don't watch expecting Scarface)

Miller's Crossing

You may notice I've rated Miller's Crossing 100%. There's a simple reason for that. I love this movie. As far as I'm concerned there isn't a single weak scene or moment. I can watch the entire hour & fifty minutes that make up this film without checking my watch or wondering how many minutes before it's over. Pick any cast member at random & you can describe it as their finest hour & if it weren't for a certain loveable burnout named Jeff Lebowski it would be the Coen's definitive masterwork.

Why do I love it so? Well it strikes the perfect balance between comedy & drama. The story is multilayered but never descends into needlessly complicated convolution. In the simplest terms it revolves around sports betting & a power struggle between Irish & Italian crime bosses. The anti hero of the piece is Tom Reagan, played by a never better Gabriel Byrne, a gang lieutenant that has to navigate the increasingly complicated dealings of rival crime syndicates. The other standouts in terms of acting are regular Coen collaborators, Jon Polito & John Turturro as unhinged Mafia don Johnny Casper & inherently sleazy bookmaker Bernie Bernbaum respectively. The cast (which also includes Albert Finney, Marcia Gay Harden & a small role for Steve Buscemi) is quality as a whole.

The dialogue is deserving of special praise, the characters interact in a quickfire patois that brings to mind the cinema of the 1940's. The characters never swear in the modern sense, the worst you'll hear is son of a bitch, instead exchanges have a unique noirish quality full of quips & putdowns. The quirkiness that often puts me off Coen's films when laid on too thick is present here but a perfect balance is struck.

Speaking of 40's noir throwbacks, the look of the film also brings to mind noir cinema. At times during interiors it's like watching an interior scene from the Naked City that's simply been shot in colour. As for exteriors the shots (especially those from the forrest) are just beautiful. There's a transition during the forrest scenes that's just a marvel to behold. Bary Sonnenfield's (who went onto the direct (*shrug*) Men In Black) cinematography is more than a match for Roger Deakins.

People talk about how at the 63rd Academy Awards Goodfellas was robbed by Dances With Wolves for best picture/director. Miller's Crossing was nominated for nothing that year. Nadda. Zip. S.F.A. In a year when an abortion like Ghost take's Best Original Screenplay. (That's Right, Ghost). The Coen's should by all rights have gotten their first oscar 17 years before No Country For Old Men. When you think about that, the Goodfellas debacle doesn't seem half as bad.

Well I might be biased, as I said I LOVE MILLER'S CROSSING.

Carlito's Way: Rise to Power

MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS!!!!!! One of the most pointless prequels ever created, Carlito's Way Rise To Power is still watchable. Carlito's Way is one of the great film's of the nineties. This movie seems to ignore it. Other than the fact that a nightclub is called Sasso's & there's a drug dealer named Carlito "Charlie" Brigante I can't see any discernible connection. This can be a blessing in disguise there isn't any lame "Hey I'm Juan Blanco from the Bronx, this my kid brother Benny" or "you better not drink & drive Lalin, you'll end up in a wheelchair" type allusions. The story is okay the twist & turns of the plot are good in a sort of clunky thriller way & the dialogue doesn't have any cheesy clangers that spring to mind. The juxtaposition of supposed of ice cold killers like Hollywood Nicky (thats the one Diddy plays) & whoever Luiz Guzman played & their wacky interactions with other characters (ru ro!! you'd better not eat food in Diddy..I mean Nicky's pimpmobile) doesn't work at all. If this movie were called Juan Ramirez Rise to Power I wouldn't have given it a second glance. Frankly it might as well be the amount it has to do with the DePalma Pacino movie. There's worse way's to spend ninety minutes or so just don't spend money on it.

Carnival of Souls
½

One of the few films to genuinely scare me. The Man (as the ghoulish creature stalking Candace Hilligose is credited) played by director Herk Harvey, sends a shiver down the spine that better known Horror icons like Jason, Freddie & Michael Myers lack. The low budget grainy look & sound coupled with the lack of any major stars gives the film a sense of unfamiliaity to adds to the unease. If you get the opportunity see this film. Recommend viewing method, watch alone, late at night.

Ghost Dog - The Way of the Samurai

A wonderful blend of action & quirky dark humour Ghost Dog:Way of the Samurai is a splendid mish mash of Western street culture with Eastern philosophy. Forest Whitaker in my opinion his defining role as a samurai/hitman with an unerring loyalty to his Daimyo (who just happens to be a Mafia soldier). A cast of characters (the standout Flavor Flav loving underboss Sonny Valerio (played by Cliff Gorman)) that manage to be quirky(though not in a make you gnaw off your hand Gilmore Girls/Cameron Crowe way) while also exhibiting brutality when necessary that isn't blunted by aforementioned quirkiness. The pacing of the film is as relentless as the ghost dog character with the conflict being an internal between Ghost Dog's Samurai code & the instinct to survive. The film doesn't cop out to the standard Hollywood notions of redemption. Which is refreshing (to me at least). Add to this Jarmusch depiction of the "Modern Mob" (which could be described as the anti-Goodfellas) & a wholly mood setting eastern tinged RZA score & you've got an underrated classic & one of the films of the nineties.

The Firm
The Firm(2009)

Better than Nick Love's other paeon to ooligan cultcha "The Football Factory" the remake of the 1988 tv movie starring Gary Oldman has both good & points when compared to the original (which let's be honest wasn't exactly The Godfather Part 2). Paul Anderson isn't Gary Oldman & accordingly takes a different tack when playing the character. His version of Bex is more sneering & sociopathic & doesn't have the bubbling manic energy of Gary Oldman's depiction. This movie also uses a strange cockney patois that it takes a while to get you're head around. In a lot of ways this version of the Firm seems more authentic. I'm no expert on Casuals but in the original Bex's firm only seemed to have 7 people in it. From what I've seen in certain documentaries (*coughs* featuring Danny Dyer) the mass mobs in Love's version are more accurate. The large numbers also give the violence a more frantic gritty fumbling quality. The focus on Dom (played by Calum McNab) & his interactions with his parents gives the film some characters with a degree of likeability the original was sorely lacking. Add to this a modified ending (which improves on the original's let's far fetched turn of events) & the Firm is actually a solid period drama (though the use of tainted love by soft cell in the credits was a bit too much like hitting the audience over the head & going "oi, this is the 80's ya fahkin melt!!!"

Dead Man's Shoes

Taking the stock loner-on-a-revenge-mission format of so many a schlock 80's action extravaganza & throwing conventions out the window Dead Man's Shoes what is in my opinion the finest British film (or film in general) of the decade. From the seemingly clichéd notion of the avenging angel stalking his prey (given extra weight by the intensity of Paddy Considine's performance as ex soldier Richard & the seemingly pedestrian antagonists (that are essentially small time housing estate thugs)) to the measured depiction of a mildly mentally handicapped character Anthony (avoiding the usual Hollywood saccharine, thanks to the outstanding performance by Toby Kebbel). The film captures the overhanging sense of greyness that encapsulates small town/semi rural life. The sense of camaraderie between the "villains" & the tenderness exhibited in the scenes between the brothers is off set by brief flashes of extreme brutality. The end of the movie contains a heart breaking twist that was genuinely left me in a daze the first time I saw & I won't ruin it for anyone who hasn't had the pleasure of seeing the marvelous film. This is Shane Meadows' masterpiece.