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Crime

This film is “Scalpel-Sharp and Shocking” and “The Perfect Crime Drama” apparently. Not “Slow and Slightly Dull” then…

So what moves at night? Your bowels? Long-distance haulage? Well.. the answer here is a boat full of explosives.

This is the well-made but sloooow story of Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), Dena (Dakota Fanning) and Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard). Three environmental activists who want to make a statement by blowing up a hydroelectric dam. I know… what are they thinking?? It might be spoiling fish bio-diversity (or something) but this is clean electricity right? Surely a coal-fired power station would have been a more appropriate target? All that pollution belching out into the clean air…

Did I say this was slow? At the time though, you are always convinced something exciting is about to happen so you don’t mind, but nothing ever really does. They blow up the dam, there’s the predictable consequences of this and then one of the three does something that is too far out of character to be believable. Then the film just ends, leaving you to cogitate on what happened before, or if you are like me you immediately watch a more exciting film (Guardians of the Galaxy) to wake yourself up.

An interesting character study which starts off tense but soon succumbs to dullness. A great film to relax to though. 5/10

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Yes they look innocent but wait until they do the ‘internal bleeding’ dance by jumping up and down on the dying bodies of their enemies.

An strange mixture of fairytale, realism, innocence and violence. This fantasy-drama tells the story of teenagers Violet (Alexia Kepel) and Daisy (Sairose Ronan) who work together for their boss as contract killers number 8 and 9 respectively. The lower the number the more people they have killed.

However their next job is an unusual one, they need the payment to be able to buy the new Barbie Sunday dresses (every girl wants one apparently) but the man they have been sent to kill (James Gandolfini) seems to want to be killed. It confuses them and they want to find out why.  Even more confusing he’s nice to them and bakes them cookies.

There are worse complications: killers from a rival crew have also been sent to kill him and will be arriving soon, and ominously the lethal killer No.1 is lurking nearby to make sure they get the job done.

An enjoyable film, well acted and different enough from the norm to be interesting and the naivety of the girls often sets up some unexpected events. I did feel there could have been a bit more to it though. There’s a lot of set-up and then it just ends. It also seems to be aching to tell you something more about Violet’s previous partner Rose, but never actually does, leaving you to guess. Having said that each of the main protagonists discovers something about themselves that they didn’t know before, and has changed in some way by the time the films ends.

6/10

 

“Here take the wheel, I’ll stand up and make myself more of a target”. Gabriel Shear (John Travolta) about to single-handedly take out six vans filled with assassins.

I’ve never eaten swordfish before but I have seen Swordfish before. How’s that for a terrible introduction? (Wait, there’s more) – unlike the start of Swordfish, which has a very good dramatic introduction. Here Travolta sits opposite 2 police detectives and complains about the bad guys in films who typically show mercy towards hostages – where in reality killing a few hostages would get them taken seriously and get them what they want. A few minutes later we realise Travolta is in the middle of a siege himself and it’s not long before one of his hostages explodes taking several policemen and cars with them…

Strangely considering I had seen it before, not much of the story came back to me while I was watching. I do remember at the time of release a big deal was made of the fact that you get to see Halle Berry’s breasts. Those were clearly lean breast times, and apparently she agonised over the decision. Ironic because since then she has been seen dipping one of them into a bowl of guacamole while being cheered on by a room of party goers (Movie 43).

Anyway I digress – Swordfish is a stylish crime thriller in which Hugh Jackman plays an unlikely super hacker : Stanley Jobson. He is hired by Gabriel Shear (John Travolta) to help him with a plan to siphon millions of dollars from a secret governement bank account. Berry is Shear’s henchwoman (or is she?), charged with getting Jobson onside. For the most part it’s exciting and tense, although it’s spoilt by some unrealistic sequences (especially disappointing since the opening sequence seems to indicate the the film will be grittily realtistic) such as where ‘master-strategist’ Shear makes himself a sitting-duck by standing up in an open top sports car spraying bullets from a gun held in each hand. Even though driving duties are swiftly passed on to Jobson – who claims he has never driven a stickshift before – Shear not only survives unhurt but takes out six vans filled with trained assassins in the process.

Aside from a few blips though it’s tense,exciting, and good fun. You do get the impression though that it had more impact in it’s time – I imagine it seemed super brutal back then, but even so it hasn’t dated too much. A solid and exciting 6/10

Franck (Vincent Cassel) leader of the criminal gang wonders why everything has suddenly gone black.

Trance is an interesting movie and is often more cinematic drug than film. It can also be at times an indecipherable mess, often resembling more a fast-cut music video where violence, action and reality-switches come thick and fast.

Simon (James McAvoy) is an art auctioneer who needs to locate a £27 million painting (that’s 45 million US dollars) which he hid during a robbery at the auction house. He received a hard blow to the head during the robbery and he can’t remember where he put it. The criminal gang want the painting and are threatening him with extreme violence. A hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) is brought in to help him recover his lost memory. The trouble is – if he locates the painting he will no longer be of any use to the gang, and he is sure they will kill him. Also, why is he becoming obsessed with the beautiful hypnotherapist? And why does she seem strangely familiar to him?

It’s an interesting set up and makes for an intriguing film, however it never really fulfils it’s intelligent initial promise. Eventually proving more visceral and exciting than thought provoking. Trance music (appropriately) is pumped into your brain as well as violence, and the story is pumped inside along with it.

You do of course expect a twist but the director keeps you guessing as to exactly what that twist might be. Since Simon is frequently under hypnosis, you never know for sure if what is happening is really happening or if he is in a trance. Its a trick that’s been done before many times before but the way it’s done here does seem fresh and new.

I would have liked to have seen this on release. It’s perfect cinema-fodder and would have made for a semi-dumb but enjoyable hour and half of escapist viewing. It has satisfying pay offs, good acting (James McAvoy is surprising good here, switching between weak and ineffectual and strong and confident as the role demands), a fast story with multiple layers which you may not fully be able to process at the time but which you can think about later. On the negative side it’s frequently ridiculous with the concluding section straying a little too far into the unbelievable. Fast, thrilling, unbelievable but certainly not boring.  6/10

While under interrogation, ‘The Suspect’ (Mekhi Phifer) seems overly concerned that the police camera stays on at all times. But why?

A black man walks into a bank, pulls a gun on the cashier and demands $3 million in cash. Half-an-hour later, a man matching his description is picked up by the local police walking towards the town. Not only does he look suspicious but he is covered in dirt as if he has just been digging. Is it the same man? It’s worth noting here that this is a small mid-western town with a African-American population of zero. The police take him into custody, but soon it becomes clear that there is much more going on here than just a robbery. In fact no-one is who they initially apppear to be, not the chief-suspect or the apparently racist police…

This is an interesting set-up and could have made an intriguing film if events had been handled well and with subtlety. Sadly however, this has TV-movie written all over it – the acting isn’t quite true to life and the core concept (which I won’t spoil for you by going into detail) becomes more and more preposterous as the story unfolds. Even worse the director assumes you’re an idiot and when there are twists in the plot he insists on showing you flashback sequences detailing exactly what happened. This removes any mystery from the proceedings and robs your brain of the chance to build up it’s own picture of events (usually a powerful way of involving the viewer).

Positives : there are some, The movie keeps you guessing and the central character, Mekhi Phifer who plays ‘The Suspect’ certainly has charisma and screen presence, but it’s wasted here. To sum up an idea that initally shows promise but is handled badly 4/10

Miguel (Benicio del Toro), Elena’s henchman helps Ophelia (Blake Lively) to get stoned while she is held hostage.

This is an Oliver Stone film but it starts badly and initially feels like a lightweight post ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ overly-contrived female fantasy. An impression only re-enforced by the narration from O (Blake Lively). O is Ophelia a beautiful blond hippy/surf chick. She tells us she lives with and loves two men, Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch). Ben is smart, soft and warm and ‘makes love’ to her. Chon is also smart but in a different way. He is an ex-Iraq war veteran and is cold and hard. He just ‘fucks her’. So they get to share her but she gets everything. Thankfully this ménage et trois works well in the context of the story and gives the main characters much of their motivation in the events that follow.

Things are complicated : Ben and Chon run a large drugs business, growing and selling the best marijuana anywhere. However not everyone is happy with their expansion and some in fact see it as a business opportunity. Enter Elena Sanchez (played by a mostly very impressive Salma Hayek). She is a drugs baron and head of the brutal Tijuana Cartel. She doesn’t think twice about ordering the raping, torturing, mutilating or more commonly the decapitation of anyone who gets in her way. Now Elena wants a big cut of Ben and Chon’s drug business and has decided that O will be her leverage to get that…

This is a good film, despite the slightly inauspicious opening. The acting is believable, the script solid and the story is tense with a lot of twists and turns. You will often think you know where it’s going but it will then take a different path. The ending however is disappointing. I can’t say too much because I don’t want to spoil the film but I was hoping for something a bit deeper – maybe the pain of seeing the destruction of something beautiful (O, Ben and Chon’s relationship) and then the thrill of the creation of something new and more realistic would have been a good way to end the film and to make you think you had seen something meaningful. This is hinted at as one direction the story could have gone in, as Elena starts to plant barbs beneath O’s skin: “Sure they both love you but you realise they must love each other more or they wouldn’t share you”. An impression further reinforced by the hardening and animalising of Ben. Previously he is portrayed as soft and altruistic – he puts money from his drug’s business into education and sustainable energy in Africa. He is forced by Elena and circumstance to do very bad things in order to keep O alive, including the framing, torture and burning alive of one of her henchman. O watches on and looks shocked.

However ultimately the film does takes a viable route and can be summarised in just a few words “What would you do for love?”. The answer seems to be “Anything”. Seeing something so ugly come from something so beautiful, and from something held in such high regard is actually quite frightening. 7/10

Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) and Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) relax on Block’s yacht.

Well first of all don’t watch this film at the cinema. It’s not really worth it. It was hard for me to put my finger on what was exactly wrong though. I suspect the answer is actually a lot of things : the story isn’t amazing, the acting while not bad is not always quite ‘right’ for the film, and you never feel enough of an emotional-connection to most of the characters to care about them. It seems like  Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) is the only one that counts, but with him there are problems too which I will get to later.

Desperately needing money for tuition fees Princeton student Richie risks and lose $17,000 at poker (all his savings). Not understanding how he could have lost, he puts the plays through an algorithm and concludes that the poker-site must be cheating. Angry he flys to Puerto Rico to confront the owner Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) and this sets up a chain of events whereby he ends up working for Block in a senior position. Of course Block’s business isn’t entirely reputable and Richie is soon in over his head. The FBI starts sniffing around, and Richie gradually begins to find out what Block is really up to but is it too late for him to get out?

Justin Timberlake is actually quite a good actor (he put in impressive performances in both The Social Network, and Southland Tales for example) but here he seems a little miscast. His student turned senior gambling boss never has the weight or depth to make you believe he is really capable of some of the things he does. He also often looks quite physically small against Ivan’s business partner Rebecca Shafran (Gemma Arterton, his romantic interest). Is he really that small or is she just quite large? I suspect the former.

The key to this film is really making you believe that Richie Furst could be you, me or anyone of us.  He’s an outstanding but otherwise normal student who ends up hopelessly out of his depth in lawless Costa Rica. His career, future life, his own father and even his own life are all at stake. It wants you to feel the fear that you could be easily be him, that you too could lose everything. This is where it falls down. It never fully achieves that, and as a result comes across a little bland and ineffectual at times. Without that deep connection between viewer and main character the story isn’t as exciting or menacing as it should be. If you have a spare hour and half by all means watch it. It’s just average not terrible. 5/10