A BAD CALL?
Halle Berry’s career has taken rather a downwards turn. She appeared in the three X-Men films and she even got an Oscar for her performance in Monster’s Ball back in 2002. But since then she’s made some rather poor choices. The Call is her latest, a very pulpy affair where she plays 911 operator Jordan Turner, who takes a call from a distraught girl who has an intruder in her house. The intruder turns out to be a murderer and Turner feels that she is to blame for the girl’s death. Fast forward a few months and the murderer resurfaces, kidnapping another girl, this time from a shopping mall. So the race is on to locate the girl and stop the killer from killing again. It’s pretty basic fare, we’ve seen it all before and it has a particularly silly ending but Berry is decent value on screen and it doesn’t outstay its welcome in terms of its running time. The rest of the cast including a cameo from Michael Imperioli as a hapless motorist who gets caught up in the murderer’s orbit don’t have a great deal to do. The Call is a competent but ultimately forgettable film…
It passes ninety minutes pleasantly enough but leaves no impact on the viewer and you forget it almost as soon as you vacate the cinema. Berry seems trapped in these sort of films.
THE TALENTED MR DELON
1999’s Talented Mr Ripley, directed by the late Anthony Minghella and starring Matt Damon and Jude Law, was not the first adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s charismatic psychopath’s adventures. Plein Soleil, released in 1960, was directed by Réné Clement and also transferred the author’s novel to the big screen. Here, future heaththrob Alain Delon plays the evil, manipulative Ripley, who latches onto the wealthy Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet) and then proceeds to steal his identity. In terms of plot, it is very similar to Minghella’s 1999 version except that it has a far more Gallic feel to proceedings and the homoeroticism of the later adaptation is lacking. Delon is excellent as the increasing desperate chancer Ripley and there is some clever casting here with Ronet and Delon looking quite similar, making it more credible that he could take his life over than when we saw Damon and Law in the late nineties version. Marie Laforêt as Greenleaf’s girlfriend Marge is suitably gorgeous although she has less of a part to play than Gwyneth Paltrow in the 1999 adaptation. The Blu-ray is a 4K restoration so it looks beautiful with every detail jumping off the screen. Plein Soleil is a classic and it does deserve a Blu-ray issue and even if you have seen the Mingella film, there is plenty to appreciate here…
LACK OF THRILLS
Deadfall is a film that came out in the US last year but the distributors have been sitting on it in the UK until now. It is a thriller that follows the fortunes of two siblings, Addison (Eric Bana) and his sister Liza (Olivia Wilde), on the run in the wilds of America’s midwest after escaped a casino heist gone wrong. It is a very odd film. The conceit is quite a nifty one and the opening scene which introduces the pair is well-handled by director Stefan Ruzowitzky. The pair go their separate ways, with the gorgeous but crazy Liza falling in with disgraced boxer Jay (Charlie Hunnam), who has just been released from prison, and the psychotic Addison trying to find somewhere to lie low, who finds himself in the house of June Mills (Sissy Spacek) and her husband Chet Mills (Kris Kristofferson). Buried somewhere in here, there is a taut and engaging crime thriller but the arthouse approach that Ruzowitzky takes means that it is turgid, ponderous and a rather shallow affair. You can’t knock the cast: Bana acquits himself well and Kristofferson and Spacek keep you watching. Wilde is the weak link here: she isn’t much of an actress and pales when compared with the standout members of the cast. Hunnam isn’t much better either, to be honest. So Deadfall is just about worth watching for some strong performances but it suffers from a poor script and an unengaging denouement…
It’s hard to believe that only a few years ago, Affleck was best known as Mr Jennifer Lopez and the star of some questionable movies. Everything changed with The Town, a brilliant crime thriller which came out in 2010 and showed that Affleck was a very capable director. Of course, he had also helmed Gone Baby Gone three years previously but The Town showed that this wasn’t a fluke.
Fast-forward to 2012 and we have Argo, the latest effort from Affleck. Argo is based on the article by Joshua Bearman about the incredible story of how the US government rescued six embassy employees from Iran just after the fall of the Shah through a subterfuge that made the Iranian authorities believe that the six were in fact in Iran making a cheesy science fiction film, Argo.
Affleck plays Tony Mendez, the fixer who is brought in by the US to make it all happen. Argo sets its stall out pretty early, and you can tell that this is a very ambitious work of US political cinema in the vein of All The President’s Men and Three Days of The Condor. They even resurrect the 1970s Warner logo.
Mendez recruits Lester Speigel (Alan Arkin) and special effects maven John Chambers (John Goodman) to ‘make’ the film while the CIA and the Canadian government are working frantically to provide the six with fake passports to get them out.
Of course, things don’t always run that smoothly and at one point, the US government tries to pull the plug on the operation, potentially leaving Mendez in a very difficult position.
Affleck plays a pivotal role but Argo is an ensemble film and it wouldn’t have worked as well as it does without the input of the rest of the cast especially Bryan Cranston as CIA bigwig Jack O’Donnell and Arkin and Goodman make a great double act.
The film succeeds in being both light, in the scenes where we watch the filmmakers go through the motions, and dramatic, where we witness the disturbing events going on in Tehran at the same time.
Affleck has a unique lightness of touch as a director and he is able to tackle both sides of the coin with equal skill and panache.
And he is also a very accomplished actor, who knows when to eschew the limelight here for the other players in the story. Arguably, Mendez is the glue that holds the tale together but at no point does Argo feel like a star vehicle
It isn’t quite in the same league as All The President’s Men and Three Days of The Condor but it’s very close. For anyone interested in modern, intelligent cinema, run don’t walk to see Argo. It’ll be intriguing to see what Affleck does next.
SAFE PAIR OF HANDS
Safe House is the latest film starring Denzel Washington and I went to see it recently, just before its release. The English-language feature debut from Swedish director Daniel Espinosa, Safe House is about CIA agent Tobin Frost (Washington), assumed to be a rogue agent by the CIA themselves but he is forced to return to the fold when he is left vulnerable in South Africa. He is taken to the safe house of the title, run by Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds). But the safe house is breached and so Weston has to try to keep Frost safe while they’re on the run. Elements within the CIA are after Frost because he has a list of compromised agents from every major security agency on the planet including MI5 and the CIA. On paper, you would think that Washington is a little bit too old for a role like this and that Safe House would just be another predictable and improbable action movie. But to Espinosa and Washington’s credit, it has a slightly off-kilter feel, both in the directing and the acting, so it does keep you watching. Reynolds as the less experienced agent turns in a decent performance even though he does feel outmatched at times by Washington. Support from Brendan Gleeson and Vera Farmiga as the senior CIA heads is very solid and the South Africa setting lends it a different mood to the scores of American-set suspense thrillers we’ve seen over the years. Espinosa is definitely a name to watch and if you like action thrillers with a little bit of intelligence, then Safe House is for you…
The film Kill List, which came out early this year at the cinema, has just hit DVD and as I missed it on the big screen, I thought I’d check it out on the small one. A British film directed by Ben Wheatley (Down Terrace), Kill List has as its central protagonists ex-soldier and now assassin Jay (Neil Maskell) and his partner Gal (Michael Smiley). Jay has a wife, Shel (MyAnna Buring), who is fully aware of what her husband does for a living but Gal is not married. Promised a big payoff for three seemingly simple jobs, the pair find themselves in a situation that’s anything but simple. Kill List is well-acted, well-directed and with a decent script but the big reveal at the end, where the film takes a different direction, isn’t totally credible and it doesn’t quite hold together as a single cohesive idea. However Maskell and Smiley are both very good as is Buring and director Wheatley also acquits himself well, so it’s definitely worth watching. Kill List isn’t a wholy satisfying production but people interested in modern British filmmaking should check it out…
LOOKING BACK AT A CLASSIC
Blu-ray has given people the opportunity to take another look at classic movies. Unfortunately, even though these films are still classics, sticking them on Blu-ray is a bit pointless as the film company is unable to improve picture quality on movies of a certain age. Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, made in 1973, has always been considered to be a masterful contemporary thriller and so this Special Edition Blu-ray was inevitable. The problem here lies not with the film itself, which is still a thrilling tale that shows the breakdown in Laura and John Baxter’s marriage, but the fact is that the picture doesn’t look any better than if you were just to stick the DVD onto your Blu-ray player. Roeg’s adaptation of Daphne DuMaurier’s work is just as powerful now as it presumably was almost four decades ago. After the tragic death of their daughter in a pond near their house in England, the Baxters decide to relocate temporarily to Venice where John (Donald Sutherland) is involved in restoring a historic church. But Laura (Julie Christie) is still obsessed with the loss of her daughter and continues to look for answers. Meeting a blind English clairvoyant woman and her sister, Laura begins to believe that the woman is in contact with the spirit of her deceased daughter. John continues to be sceptical but, when he is warned of impending doom befalling him in Venice, he ignores this at his peril. Roeg uses Venice very effectively as a location where nothing is as it seems and the viewer takes things for granted at his or her peril. Sutherland and Christie have excellent chemistry and the film never outstays its welcome. But it is redundant as a Blu-ray release because the quality of the picture is not enhanced. The extras are okay (interviews with Roeg and some of the production crew) but nothing special. So for people keen to watch Don’t Look Now, they would be better served picking it up on DVD and having it upscaled on their Blu-ray player (although the price difference is pretty negligible between getting it on DVD and Blu-ray). So it is still an exceptional film but don’t expect to get any more out of the Blu-ray than you would from a DVD…
DO NOT ADJUST YOUR SETS
Over the last thirty years, Philip K Dick has had a lot of his work adapted to the big screen, some more successful than others (Blade Runner, A Scanner Darkly and Total Recall, to name but a few). The Adjustment Bureau, directed by George Nolfi and starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, is the latest attempt to bring Dick’s work to the cinema, loosely based on Dick’s short story ‘Adjustment Team’. Damon plays politician David Norris, who, on the night that the results of his election contest are announced, meets Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) in the men’s toilets at the hotel he is watching the results. So this chance meeting causes Norris’s destiny to change course and we are introduced to the existence of The Adjustment Bureau, a group of shadowy figures whose role it is to make certain that peoples’ lives run according to a grand plan. Norris is warned by Richardson from the Bureau (Jon Slattery from Mad Men) that he is not intended to be with Elise as eventually he will end up as President of the US. But of course, this being a movie, the viewer knows that Norris will never settle for this. The Adjustment Bureau has a likeable cast, is well-directed and a decent script but the problem is that it’s all too light. When you are first introduced to the shadowy figures, you are expecting a dark and thrilling adventure tale a la The Matrix or Dark City but as it progresses, the romance overbalances it. Damon is very good and Blunt makes for a fairly captivating female lead but, at the end, there’s no meat on the bones. So it’s not a bad film, by any means, and is certainly worth watching but there is something lacking here…
TALK OF THE TOWN
The Town is the second film directed by Ben Affleck and it adapts Chuck Hogan’s hard-hitting Boston crime novel, Prince of Thieves, reissued as The Town. Unlike Gone Baby Gone, Affleck has also cast himself in this film. He plays Doug MacCray, a veteran bank robber who comes from the wrong side of the tracks, Charlestown in Boston. He rips off banks with his gang and he never really thinks about what he is doing until he meets bank manageress Claire Keesey (played by Rebecca Hall) during one of their robberies. Their paths cross again after the robbery and what starts as an insurance policy to check that she can’t identify MacCray or any of his accomplices turns complicated. Affleck shows here that he can handle action like an experienced pro as director and he also turns in a performance that is measured, accomplished and quite subtle in places. Support is very solid too: Jon Hamm (Mad Men) as FBI agent Adam Frawley shows that he can be more than just Don Draper and Rebecca Hall makes what could be quite a limited role her own, treading the fine line between vulnerable and intelligent. Pete Postlethwaite as the evil florist (seriously!) Fergus, who has MacCray by the short and curlies, is very entertaining on screen and the actors playing the other members of the gang acquit themselves well, especially Jeremy Renner as the psychotic James Coughlin. Chris Cooper’s cameo as MacCray’s old lag dad is small but pivotal. Heist movies have always provided fine entertainment on the big screen and The Town is only let down by an ending that feels like it’s tacked on to provide MacCray with some redemption. But it’s still a very impressive thriller with some top-notch performances and assured directing. Director Affleck may have a future in Hollywood…
I went to see Buried last week. A film made by Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes and starring Ryan Reynolds (Hal Jordan in next year’s Green Lantern), it is truly a one-hander in the ultimate sense. Reynolds plays lorry driver Paul Conroy who was working in Iraq and has now been captured by an insurgent group. So Conroy is trapped in a wooden coffin somewhere in the country, waiting to be rescued with only a mobile phone for company. Buried isn’t a film that you could rewatch because it is rather harrowing but you have to give credit to Reynolds, who embodies the all-American here, a man who has been left to dry by the company that sent him there. He shows that he is actually a pretty decent actor as Buried stands or falls on his performance. The cinematography is suitably claustrophobic throughout and Cortes really does manage to give you enough to keep you watching for its 90 minute duration. Buried feels a little bit like a Seventies film as it doesn’t employ the gimmicks of something like a Blair Witch but its lo-fi feel does place the viewer in the box with Conroy. And you just know that it isn’t going to end well. From the start, you have this feeling. But the journey is engaging and unsettling at times and Reynolds is very good. Incredible to think that he’ll be flying around in a green CGI costume fighting space monsters next summer. Buried is an interesting curio and one that holds the viewer’s attention while he or she is watching it. So it’s definitely a smart choice for people interested in cinema…