Director: Paul Greengrass
Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Jason Isaacs, Brendon Gleason, Amy
deliberately make you think this is a continuation of the Bourne
Trilogy and with Damon in the lead and Greengrass (who did the
last two Bourne films) directing, in some ways it is. But whilst
the Trilogy is without equal as an action series, Green Zone is
a much more complex shoot-em-up. Damon plays Chief Warrant
Officer Roy Miller, posted to Iraq to find the weapons of mass
destruction that provided the justification for the US and
Britain going to war. Miller is as tough as Bourne, obstinate
and determined and it’s that determination that puts him in
harm’s way as both Iraqis and some of his own side want him
Greengrass is comfortable with political shenanigans – he
started out years ago in current affairs, making World In Action
documentaries – and used as a starting point Rajiv
Chandrasekaran’s mind-boggling “Imperial Life In The Emerald
City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone”. But he doesn’t allow the
politics to get in the way of the action.
What’s clever, however, is that Damon’s character is a believer
– he’s not there to rock the boat. But Damon is superb at
capturing Miller’s growing sense of disbelief about the
corruption, incompetence and malevolence he sees in the Green
Zone (the secure area in Baghdad occupied by the Coalition
Provisional Authority, in case you didn’t know) .
Soon he’s pitted against Jason Isaacs badass soldier - and
nobody plays villains better than the man who stole the show
from Mel Gibson in “The Patriot”. Brendon Gleeson, simply one of
the finest actors around, is brilliant as an ambiguous CIA man.
Amy Ryan plays a disappointingly cardboard cut-out journalist.
Intelligent action movies don’t come along that often so grab
this whilst you can.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben
Kingsley, Max Von Sydow, Emily Mortimer, Michelle Williams,
novels have been served well by Hollywood. Eastwood made a
decent fist of “Mystic River” and Ben Affleck’s brilliant
direction of “Gone Baby Gone” even overcame his decision to cast
his runty, irritating brother as the tough-guy lead. Scorsese,
though, is the icing on the cake.
Like Clint Eastwood, Scorsese is having a late flurry of
creative activity, although he has overall been more consistent
in his output. I don’t agree he’s America’s greatest living
director, as many claim – he’s been too narrowly focused for
that and is pretty rubbish with female characters – but he’s
been loosening up nicely.
In “Shutter Island” he returns to the Gothic sensibility of his
remake of Cape Fear. It’s 1954 and US marshall DiCaprio is sent
to an offshore lunatic asylum for the criminally insane with his
sidekick Ruffalo. They are there to investigate the
disappearance of a murderess from her cell but DiCaprio also
wants to confront Elias Koteas, an arsonist he thinks killed his
wife (Williams). If that weren’t plot enough, when the two cops
meet psychiatrists Kingsleyand Von Sydow they become suspicious
that unethical medical experiments are being carried out on the
Di Caprio, who has replaced De Niro as the Scorsese muse, does
haunted tough guy well. And the tricksy plot in the novel mostly
makes its way to the screen. Which means that the set-up for the
first seventy minutes is overturned comprehensively in the rest
of the film.
Ruffalo I’ve never got. He’s one of those actors , who seems to
do well without any discernible talent or charisma , that makes
you think there’s some secret society at work ensuring these
people have jobs. Chaz Palmienteri, Joe Mantegna and Danny
Aiello are in the same boat (or society?). I jest, of course,
you lawyers. These fine actors all have won their success
entirely on their acting chops, I’m sure. Shame they leave those
chops at home when they make movies.
Scorsese, of course, likes to reference other films even more
than Tarantino. So here there’s Hollywood B horror galore.
Flashbacks of DiCaprio’s war, images of death and madness are
stylised but effective. Scorsese screened two Hitchcock films
for his crew and cast – “39 Steps” and “The Wrong Man”. I can’t
say why because it would be a shame to give the plot away but
when you see it, you’ll know. But watch out for homages too to
British director Michael Powell’s “Black Narcissus”. (Scorsese’s
regular editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, married Powell late in his
Scary, suspenseful, twisty and atmospheric. Go see it.
Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Director: Niels Arden Opley
Starring: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi
Larsson’s immensely popular “The Girl With The Dragon
Tattoo” is going to be made into a Hollywood film, possibly
starring BAFTA award-winner Kristen Stewart as kooky Lisbeth
Salander. But in the meantime here is the two year old, two
and a half hour, Swedish film version of the mega-selling
first part of the Millennium trilogy, with Noomi Rapace as
Salander and Michael Nyqvist as the journalist Blomkvist.
I’ve long been bemused by the popularity of the source
material, which I found indigestible and trite, even whilst
it was dealing with important and shameful aspects of
Sweden’s history. Salander, the pierced and tattooed wild
child-cum-ace private investigator/hacker was for me wholly
unbelievable. But I know there are around 23 million people
in the world who disagree with me and bought into the story
of the punk hacker teaming up with a disgraced journo (Blomkvist)
to solve a decades old crime.
The source novel is 500 pages long so there’s a lot to pack
into the film, even at its extended running length. (The
film is actually a condensation of two 90 minute TV movies.
The other two parts of the trilogy have also been made into
two 2-part TV movies in Sweden.) For that reason (and
because it would be difficult to put on screen) much of
Larsson’s comments on the misogyny and corruptness of
Swedish society are lost. And, whilst the fascist crimes
hidden in Sweden’s past are brought forward here, the
concluding part of the film is all a bit of a rush.
The film is more whodunnit than thriller and both it and the
source material owe something to Chandler (the rich man
summoning the journalist to his big house to discover the
truth about a past crime is, essentially, the start of “The
Big Sleep”) and bits of Agatha Christie – neither of which
is a bad thing.
Thanks to actress Noomi Rapace’s blistering performance, the
complex, contradictory Salander actually makes more sense on
screen than in the novel – I could actually believe in her
as a real person for the first time. The opposite is the
case with Blomkvist – already pretty much a cypher in the
novel, here he is almost blank, despite being embodied by
fine actor Nyqvist. In consequence, the unlikely pairing of
the two in the novel becomes even less likely in the film.
Not a spark flies.
The film looks good and there’s a cool musical score but
overall the film is as disappointing to me as the novel. But
no doubt 23 million viewers will say I’m wrong.
[And I’ve just seen the new edition of Empire film magazine
and seen that Kim Newman, whose opinion I usually value, has
given it 5 stars, the top rating the magazine gives. That’s
one more than the mag gives to Scorsese or Paul Greengrass.
And that is just bonkers.]
Starring: John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Travolta, so long defined by his snake hips (even
beneath the late-life pasta layers) and his luxuriant
hair is really going the other way these days. First
there was the tonsorial challenge of “The Taking of
Pelham 1, 2, 3”, now he’s a bearded slaphead in this
crazily enjoyable action movie set in Paris. The
director also made the dodgily enjoyable “Taken”, in
which Liam Neeson’s ex-CIA operative fed every American
parents’ nightmare about Abroad by warning his daughter
how dangerous a trip to Paris might be. When his
daughter was then kidnapped and drugged to be sold into
prostitution by Eastern European rent-a-baddies, Neeson
was not only proved right, he was impelled into a
vigilante revenge trip that made Death Wish seem like a
family film. Nasty right wing stuff …that I’ve watched
about a dozen times.
I realise I’m reviewing an old film rather this one
because this one should be as enjoyable but the right
wing stuff just intrudes too much. Of course lone cop
movies were inherently fascist long before Dirty Harry
came along but even Dirty Harry was nuanced compared to
this. Travolta’s CIA operative is out to bust a Chinese
drug ring in Paris but in doing so he tangles with every
stereotypical foreign baddie you can think of, ending
with a middle eastern megalomaniac.
All nasty stuff but, as with “Taken”, boys will still be
thrilled by the set-piece fights, car chases and big
bangs. A lot of shit gets blown up. Travolta - as over
the top as only he can be and still get away with it -
and Rhys Meyers, as his straight man, make an
entertaining odd couple but it’s still a guilty pleasure
of a film.
Director: Ian Fitzgibbon
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Jim Broadbent, Brendan Gleason
not sure why this doesn’t quite work as it has similar
ingredients to those that made “In Bruges”, a film with
a similar tone, such a success. Indeed, it features that
film’s Gleason, having fun as a vicious, foul-mouthed
mobster. Jim Broadbent is equally foul-mouthed as the
father of Cillian Murphy, who is desperately trying to
repay an overdue debt whilst dodging hoodlums at every
corner. It’s entertaining enough and these actors are
always good to watch but, in the words of George Clooney
in Out of Sight, it just doesn’t have that “Thing”.
Director: Stephen Milburn
Starring: Sean Bean, Chris Hemsworth, Victoria Profetta
A zippy low-budget
film in which a suitcase full of money lands on Chris
Hemsworth’s car and he and his wife set about spending
it. Unhappily, the suitcase’s owner (Sean Bean) – his
twin brother threw it from a van during a police chase –
tracks them down. He moves into their house until they
can raise the money to pay back what they’ve spent.
Before you know it they’re robbing convenience stores
whilst Bean keeps a tally to the last cent.
Bean is suitably threatening, the tone of the film is a
nice mix of menace and humour, there’s a pleasant enough
sub-Tom Waits soundtrack and a neat little twist after
the end credits have started rolling. Worth a look.
Director: Michael Keaton
Starring: Michael Keaton and Kelly MacDonald
a thriller but a fine directorial debut from
Michael Keaton, who also plays the titular merry
fellow (not). He’s a troubled hitman who
develops an unlikely friendship with Macdonald -
who is on the run from a troubled marriage - in
the hope she can save him. As there’s a
detective who has also taken a fancy to her you
know there’s going to be trouble ahead.
The film has an indie feel to it: Keaton doesn’t
move his camera around much, the look is
relentlessly unglamorous and the pace is slow as
he takes his time developing the relationship
between two lonely people. Although there are
murders they are mostly off-screen and this is
too quiet a film to count as a thriller. Indeed,
it almost goes against Mr Chekov’s famous dictum
that if you introduce a hitman in the first act
he has to kill someone by the end of the third –
The film’s focus is on MacDonald and she is
extraordinary. How the homely girl of Gosford
Park turned herself into Texan trash in No
Country For Old Men and now into this complex,
damaged character is proof of her brilliance.
And Keaton, always watchable in front of the
camera, shows he has a good eye behind it. Most
Director: Stephen Soderbergh
Starring: Matt Damon
This one came and went
without troubling the box office too much, which
is a shame given it’s one of versatile Damon’s
most compelling roles. Any film about a
whistleblower is going to suffer in comparison
to Michael Mann’s magisterial “The Insider” –
the film Rusell Crowe truly deserved an Oscar
for. Perhaps that’s why Soderbergh goes for a
light touch. Damon, who piled on the pounds for
this role, plays fantasist Mark Whitacre who
blows the whistle on corporate fraud in a jokey
spy film. Soderbergh provides his usual added
value with his commentary on the extras.
Director: Peter Strickland
Starring: Hilda Peter, Norbert Tanko
A startling debut from
Reading-born, Budapest-living director
Strickland . Filmed on a minimal budget in the
Hungarian countryside it tells the story of a
young mother (Peter) and her son (Tanko) who set
off across Transylvania in a horse-drawn
carriage and on foot to take revenge for a past
crime. Not much happens for much of the film but
the landscape is stunning and the tension builds
and eventually it is a powerful tale of
betrayal, revenge and, of course, redemption.
DVDextras include Strickland himself talking
engagingly about the film to camera. Worth
Worth buying for Michael Caine’s commentary
alone. It ranges far wider than this film
Loved the film, still love it on DVD - except
the subtitles are tiny.