Director: Christopher Nolan
Featuring: Leonardo Di Caprio, Marion Cotillard, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Michael Caine
Christopher Nolan has produced an amazing Body of Work in just a few years – constantly inventive, playing with the form and structure of film but interested in character. He has got one of Al Pacino’s most finely nuanced performances in “Insomnia” (and turned Robin Williams’s cutesiness into something truly frightening in the same film); got a career best performance from Heath Ledger in the magnificent “Dark Knight” (which should have won him an Oscar); and even given Hugh Jackman some depth in “The Prestige”.
“Prestige”, like his mind-boggling “Memento” (soon to be out on Blu-Ray) was very tricksy, sleight-of-hand film-making. In “Inception” he takes that tricksiness to another level. Compared to this film, “The Matrix” is for kindergarten kids.
You’ll know the premise by now: DiCaprio is a corporate spy who steals ideas in dreams but is asked to do the reverse – plant an idea in the mind of a target.
This is an action film that also plays with your mind – it requires close attention from the outset. The action scenes are extraordinary. Because it’s dealing with a dream-world comparisons with the fight scenes in “The Matrix” trilogy are inevitable. But these are light years ahead, I guess because movie technology has developed so much more.
The internet is already buzzing with the “significance” of the names of characters: Ellen Page plays Ariadne, who in Greek mythology provides a way through the maze; another character is called Eames – Charles Eames was a celebrated architect. DiCaprio’s character is called Cobb, which comes from Jacob, the Biblical character who dreamt of a ladder to heaven.
In a way, for DiCaprio it’s a companion piece to Shutter Island [see DVD reviews] as in both films his characters are beset by notions of reality and unreality, loss and faith.
It’s a tough film to review as I don’t want to give away secrets. Think “Solaris” with great fight scenes and a nod to James Bond movies. It’s a glittering achievement though and absolutely essential viewing. In fact, twice is better.
Knight and Day
Director: James Mangold
Featuring: Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Dano
Some films just reek of failure before they even get going whether it’s a shot by shot remake of “Psycho”, one too many returns to a successful franchise or any film starring Nicole Kidman. (Okay, that last one is just me, I admit it.) Why did this classy director (“Copland” anybody?) and classy stars allow the absolutely crap title of this film get beyond an initial draft of the film. It sets it down squarely in TV territory, even though it aint made for TV.
The idea of re-booting those 80s adventures like Die Hard or The Last Boy Scout – or even Cruise’s own Mission Impossible trio – is fine. But to do them as a rom-com stinks of Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn in “Bird On The Wire”. And you can’t get much worse than that.
I like Tom Cruise. A lot. He does good action – “The Last Samurai” is one of the most undervalued films of recent years – and he doesn’t mind messing with his star image. Witness Magnolia and that great turn in “Tropic Thunder” as bald, hairy, pot-bellied agent Les Grossman. And he’s been doing comedy since his break out performance in “Risky Business”.
And Cameron Diaz has great acting chops – although she only needs to grin and the audience loves her.
So as rogue agent Cruise takes Diaz hostage on a flight that he crash-lands you hope that we might be in for an update of Hitchcock’s adventure romances – 39 Steps or North By Northwest. Hitchcock is certainly referenced but this film lacks his nuance or his lightness of touch. There is PLENTY of action – it’s almost non-stop, in fact – but that means that in the end any pretence of characterisation fizzles out under fireballs and Uzi attacks. A big disappointment and a waste of these two fine actors and their undoubted chemistry – they were great doing Top Gear together….
Director: Ben Wheatley
Featuring: Robert Hill, Robin Hill, Julia Deakin
My favourite of the three British films up for review this month – and not just because it’s set in beautiful Brighton. I’m nervous of any British film doing gangsters as Guy Ritchie casts a long, malignant shadow but this ploughs its own darkly humorous furrow. A father and son lure the narc who got them a prison sentence to their Brighton home to get revenge. What follows is a lot of horrible fun.
Director: Jonathan Lynn
Featuring: Bill Nighy, Emily Blunt, Rupert Grint, Rupert Everett, Martin Freeman, Eileen Atkins.
A British remake of the 1993 French film Cible Emouvante (now re-titled for DVD release – see DVD reviews), this has a touch of Ealing comedy and pleasurable performances from a solid British cast. Nighy is the phlegmatic hitman hoping to retire, the gorgeous Emily Blunt is the kleptomaniac target who changes his life when instead of killing her he decides to save her. A bunch of fine comic actors turn this simple premise into an entertaining time-passer but – as with the original - it’s by no means essential viewing.
Director: Scott Mann
Featuring: Ving Rhames, Robert Carlyle, Kelly Hu
Nice if unoriginal pulpy premise – a corporate betting league sets 30 assassins against each other. Whoever survives the next 24 hours wins. Only problem is, it takes place in Middlesborough. Accrington, now, I could believe…
Director: Philip Noyce
Featuring: Angelina Jolie, Live Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor
The role of CIA agent Evelyn Salt was originally written as a man for Tom Cruise but he didn’t want to cause confusion with the Mission Impossible franchise (the latest of which is in the stocks). So, thanks to the wonders of Hollywood, Jolie has stepped into his raised shoes. The story is initially straightforward – Jolie goes on the run when accused by a Russian defector of being a Soviet sleeper agent briefed to kill the US president and start World War III. But then, naturally, things get tricksier.
Jolie has form as an action heroine and Noyce has form handling these big kind of thrillers – he directed the two Harrison Ford Jack Ryan films. However, he also directed Val Kilmer in The Saint. And Jolie, fine actress though she is, has to work hard to make the film and her character in the least plausible. (Especially when she has to pass herself off as a man…)
There are enough set-piece action scenes – chases, shootings, brawls and explosions – to provide an entertaining hour and a half. On balance, Cruise should have chosen this over Knight and Day.
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Featuring: Sly Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Eric Roberts and cameos from Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke,
I was really looking forward to this slice of bang-bang nonsense as I have a soft spot for the action movies of yore and most of these actors. (I could have lived my life happily without encountering on celluloid Roberts. Lundgren or Statham.) And I did enjoy it but, as with Rambo IV, I felt let down. Why doesn’t Stallone make the scripts better and not just settle for blowing everything up? The plot was obviously sketched on the back of a fag packet: a bunch of mercenaries take on a rogue CIA agent and a Mexican drug army on an island in the Gulf of Mexico. The actors rely on their previous to sketch in the characters of the 2-D tough guys. Enjoyable schlock but what might have been…
This Argentinian Oscar-winner (for Best Foreign Film) is fab. A retired lawyer visits a former colleague with an account of the long-ago (1974) rape/murder case that has had repercussions ever since. A likely culprit was long-ago spotted and tracked down but the second half of the film unravels the supposed certainties of the first. Thrilling but also very moving. A must-see.
Director: Richard Berry
Starring: Jean Reno, Mariona Fois, Moussa Maaskri
Based on Franz-Olivier Giesbert’s L’Immortel, this might have been “Mesrine” had the direction been better and the narrative stronger. Reno is great at the just-retired Marseille gangster who tries to find out why he was was shot 22 times then goes for revenge. Luc Besson is attached but it’s many a long year since his glory days of Leon (with Reno). A mess.
CHERRY TREE LANE
Director: Paul Andrew Williams
Featuring: Rachael Blake, Tom Butcher, Ashley Chin, Jumayn Hunter
A suburban couple have their dinner interrupted by a teenage gang out to teach their son a lesson. Think Eden Lake in a semi and with gruesome humour. Good
THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (FIRSTSEQUENCE)
Director: Tom Six
Featuring: Dieter Laser, Ashley C Williams, Ashlynn Yennie, Akihiro Kitamura
Okay, I wimped out of seeing this but I will, I will. However, I just want to bring it to your attention now. Essentially, it’s a classic mad scientist film from the fifties. The reason the scientist abducts two women and a man is pretty much 21st century gross-out. He stitches them together mouth-to-anus in a sick simulacrum of a centipede…