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Thriller

“Don’t move or my friend executes the bread”. De Niro and Statham do their best to seem tough.

“Life is like sucking honey from a thorn”. It’s a great quote spoken by the character of Hunter (Robert De Niro) in the film. Unfortunately there’s more spiky thorn than honey in this offering. Put simply this film really isn’t very good. It’s near dreadful for the most part and only picks up towards the end. So what’s wrong with it? Well for a start Jason Statham is the lead character. I always think of him as a B-list action hero, he can play “silent and enigmatic” very well but anything else (charismatic for example) severely stretches his abilities.

On this occasion Statham plays Danny Bryce, a contract killer. The film is set in the 80s to the soundtrack of the Clash and The Sex Pistols, there are no mobile phones and the characters drive thin-shelled (they didn’t worry about safety then) angular 80’s cars. Bryce’s friend and fellow assassin Hunter (De Niro) is taken hostage and Bryce is forced to take an assignment which involves killing 3 members of the elite British special forces – the SAS. Not an easy mission but made harder because ex-SAS Officer Spike Logan (Clive Owen) is on to him. Will Stratham complete his task or will Logan get to him first?

Robert De Niro really only plays a bit part as Hunter – Bryce’s mentor and friend – and you get the impression he’s only here for the money. The film isn’t very exciting and the first hour seems to be filled with ugly exaggerated caricatures of SAS men (the only accurate point seems to be that they have a lot of facial hair). The film improves for the last half hour but it’s still a largely dull turgid mess of a film, and appropriately, considering Statham is in it, feels like a B-movie action-flick and not one that is worth watching either. 4/10

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Salt in Russian-spy persona. Working for the CIA she’s blonde and more fragile looking. All part of her plan?

Salt or to give her her full name – Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is a CIA agent/spy with a distinguished service record – including a year spent being tortured in a North Korean jail after being caught spying for the US. Back home in the States many months later it’s a normal day in the office and she’s looking forward to going home early for a romantic meal with her husband. It’s at this point however that a defecting Russian spy walks into the CIA building, gives himself up and claims that there is a sleeper Russian spy working within the CIA who will soon assassinate the visiting Russian President. The name of the spy – Evelyn Salt. Is she being framed as seems most likely? or is she really a Russian spy? and why assassinate the Russian president?

Lots of questions then and it’s a hard film to talk about without giving the answers away, but I will do my best. Although the director tries hard to make it seem otherwise – it’s actually always clear which side Salt is *really* on. The director doesn’t really have the guts to properly deceive the viewer which is a shame – so he does it in a lame half-hearted way. However even so there is still some doubt as to Salt’s exact role and motivations which does keeps you interested.

Perhaps more worrying for Salt’s CIA bosses than her allegiances, the Russian spy speaks of many others like her – all ready to be activated and all currently buried deep within US society and institutions. In a way this film has more resonance now than it did on release – back then it seemed that Russia was integrating nicely into the world. However it’s still a slightly dated Cold-War paranoia scenario and isn’t particularly realistic either.

This is tense film – there’s action scene piled on action scene after Salt’s apparent initial ‘outing’. One clever aspect of the film are the different ways Salt is portrayed depending on whether she is being shown as a CIA agent or Russian spy. For the CIA she looks a little fragile, and more feminine and the action scenes featuring her are closer to real life. As a (possible) Russian spy : she is closer to Jolie’s Lara Croft persona, powerful, kickass, and akin to an invulnerable super heroine. What’s interesting though is that even though Salt may be a Russian spy – you still route for her.

A ridiculous and often predictable story but it’s still fun, watchable and above all entertaining. 6/10

“Woah… I’m really sorry for what I am doing to your girlfriend tomorrow.” Jasper (George Finn), Callie (Danielle Panabaker), Finn (Matt O’Leary) study tomorrow’s photo.

Imagine if you could tell yourself yesterday what to do today after you had lived through today. Yes it’s already confusing but be prepared to have your brain turned in more knots by this time-manipulation thriller.

Three housemates discover a camera that takes pictures of the future. The twist is they are usually in the pictures so they can use this to their advantage by sending messages back to the present. As long as they remember the next day to send the messages and take the photo. At first things work out well – Jasper (George Finn) is able to make a ton of money by betting on dog races, and Finn (Matt O’Leary) an artist who previously had creative block, now sees paintings his future-self has painted and is able to copy them. However soon their future-selves start sending worrying and disturbing messages and Finn’s paintings start to look less like art and more like warnings…

This is a pretty good film, with believable acting, it’s never boring and builds tension at a good pace. It’s full of twists and turns and you’ll often think you’ll know what’s going on but you won’t.

There are negative points: some of the time-logic seems a bit flawed at times and can be confusing unless you give yourself time to think. There are a few MacGuffins in there too that enable the plot to work – e.g. the camera is bolted to the ground and only ever points at the housemates’ apartment, and an early plot point means the housemates feel they have no choice but to match exactly what their future selves are doing in the photos. A device that is used to create much of the tension and conflict.

None of this really matters however because the films works so well. Even so it still all feels a bit small-time – more like it was made by a bunch of students with limited resources rather than a proper film company. It also cops out when it comes to nudity and sex whereas it has no problems going to extremes with the violence. Again conforming to that weird puritanical doctrine that sex is somehow worse than seeing someone’s brains bashed out. Something that continues to haunt a lot of American films.

An interesting and (comparably) realistic take on the time travel genre. Both dramatic and tense.  7/10

“Listen Hanks! We liked you in Toy Story but now you are pushing your luck!!”

I don’t like hostage dramas in general (predictable and samey), so I wasn’t very keen to watch this: a film about a cargo vessel being boarded by Somali pirates. There was a lot written at the time about how this was based on a true story and it was impossible to miss the obvious fact that Captain Phillips (played by Tom Hanks) had survived the experience. So already you have a tension-reducer right there. Not that they would kill off Tom Hanks anyway – a quick search on the internet reveals the number of films Tom Hanks’ character has been killed in as precisely 2. (and no Philadelphia doesn’t count)

Fortunately, not only is Hanks very good in the role as the practical and brave captain but the scope is admirably broad with just as much time paid to the backstory and motivations of the Somali pirates as to those of Phillips. The captain of the Somali pirates Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi) also impresses and won a much deserved BAFTA for his role.

This being said you still know that Phillips survives so even during particularly tense moments – for example where Phillips is alone with the increasingly hot-headed and desperate pirates in a small lifeboat – the tension is not as intense as it could have been. The only real question is ‘when’ he will be rescued. The ‘how’ being answered as soon as the Navy Seals train their sniper rifles on the boat.

Hopefully apart from being a good movie this will do a service to merchant shipping as a whole. It’s almost unbelievable how vulnerable large cargo vessels like the one in this film can be. You wonder at the lack of even a single armed guard on board. In fact in this case even a well placed crew member could have unhooked the boarding ladder and saved a whole lot of expense and trouble.

Overrated upon release but definitely one of the better hostage dramas you will see. 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

 

Amy (Heather Graham) cooks up a delicious meal for her ‘TV audience’. Her next dish however may be slightly less palatable…

This is based on a 1995 South Korean film 301,302. I haven’t seen the original but remembering The Ring, Dinner Le Cons and Old Boy made me immediately worried that I was watching the inferior version. Western film companies like to remake good foreign films with their own actors and at best render them less great. But at worst, they can be terrible (Dinner For Schmucks).

Anyway…Heather Graham is very impressive here as Amy, the obsessive, sociopath, needy wannabe chef in room 301. Her neighbour (in room 302), a famous actress Saffron (Carrie Anne Moss) soon becomes the focus of her attentions, and it’s not long before Saffron is receiving a daily knock at the door along with a dish of freshly cooked food. After Heather splits with her partner this obsession with her neighbour grows. Saffron’s vulnerability and need to be loved means her initial rejections of Amy soon turn to acceptance, and eventually, rather worryingly to complete trust.

I’m not sure if this is based on a play as well as a film but it has that feeling to it – it uses relatively few locations – and you can imagine Amy’s TV sections (where she pretends to have her own cooking show) working perfectly in a play. Here she is brightly spot-lit and audience sounds are played in. Possibly because of it’s original source being foreign, there is a odd feel to the story and character interactions (which probably would seem completely normal in it’s original Korean setting) which can make it feel a little strange at times. The acting is good however, and since the bare bones story requires a deep emotional study of both characters to help flesh the movie out – it needs to be. The overall story though needs to be a lot stronger – I wanted the final scenes to fit in better with what went before and to seem more dramatic – to make you feel the rest of the film was worth sitting through. It’s not… quite, which is a shame. An interesting movie however and also one that could have been a lot better. Refreshing though. 5/10

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