Monday, 28 March 2011


So just who is Salt? Well it’s Angelina Jolie actually! Evelyn Salt is a CIA agent, retired from the field, desk job, happily married. That is until a Russian defector turns up in her building and calmly explains that actually she is a Russian spy and will kill the Russian president within 24 hours! The CIA obviously want to question Salt; but knowing it’s not going to end well, she escapes, and so a woman-hunt is started. Then Salt kills the Russian president. Or does she?

I had no preconceptions about this film before I saw it; the only thing I knew is that Angelina Jolie was in it. So I found I actually quite enjoyed it. Without being anything amazing or spectacular it was really quite entertaining. Jolie is good as the all action 007/Jason Bourne/Lara Croft CIA agent; Liev Schreiber is very watchable as the other CIA agent; and Chiwetel Ejiofor ends up playing a similar role to the one he plays in Serenity: hunting down someone (though he’s less of an assassin in Salt). There are also enough unknowns and twists & turns in the plot to prevent it from becoming predictable, stagnant and boring.

Having also made Patriot Games and In Clear and Present Danger, I guess director Phillip
Noyce has a good idea of how to make an action film (I’m not familiar with most of his other work), and the fact that Jolie does most of her own stunts adds more realism to the film, and keeps it fresh.

Overall: a good action romp of a film, with an interesting and intriguing plot that separates it from other espionage/CIA type films. The characters themselves are engaging enough so that we care what is happening to them, and they are played by actors who seems to throw themselves into the roles, making it all the more credible.

Friday, 25 March 2011

The Road

The road is a post-apocalyptic film following the lives of a man (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Based on the book of the same name (written by Cormac McCarthy), It tells the story of how the man provides for and looks after his son, until he becomes very ill and the son then has to look after his father. We never learn what the event was that led to the the destroyed world in which the film is set, but through flashback we do see why the mother (Charlize Theron) is no longer around. When the man finally dies (tuberculosis? I don’t think we actually find out), the boy is found by a “veteran” (Guy Pearce), his wife and two kids, and so he finds some stability in this world (presumably...).

The shattered world in which the film is set is very 28 Days Later/Survivors/I am Legend-ish, but what sets is apart is the colour: there isn’t any! Everything is so subdued and mute that the film is essentially black and white, except for fire. Sometimes warming, sometimes sinister when it appears that the sky is burning; the fire brings a stark contrast to everything else in the world. Perhaps this is a reflection that fire is the only thing that is man-made now. The only other colour is a rainbow in a waterfall; all animals are dead, the trees are dying and falling down, there is really nothing colourful.

Adding to the sombre feel of the film is another haunting soundtrack by Warren Ellis and Nick Cave. Perhaps not as stunning as the soundtrack from The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; but still, that looking out of the window on a rainy day/sense of loss ambiance is very apparent. The chord progressions these two come up with get me every time; the track “Memory” is very “Song for Bob” (which actually really choked me up the first time I listened to it outwith the film).

Viggo is superb as the everyman character who is thrust into this situation by the fate of the world, and who just wants to take care of his son. He manages to bring a humility and realism to the character, who is completely committed to his son:

“All I know is that the boy was my charge. And if he was not the word of God. Then God never spoke.”

But at the same time he is able to show a real desperation, and demonstrate that he is prepared to do anything to protect the boy. I really think Viggo is perfect for this role; don’t get me wrong he is great as Aragorn, Weps (apart from the flat-top), and in G.I. Jane; but his “guy next door” demeanour is far more suited to this film than as the King of Gondor. There is also a very brief appearance by Robert Duvall, though you can hardly tell it’s him; and despite what the extras on the DVD say, it really probably wasn’t worth getting him for the 5 min he’s on screen.

Overall The Road is a very good film, not a very cheery film, but a good one. The dynamic between the Man and his Son works really well, and you really feel the emotions the characters are going through as they try to find food, avoid cannibals, and not lose the food that they have found. Viggo is great, and the whole film has an atmosphere that is far more bleak than other films in this genre, and is difficult to shake.

Monday, 21 March 2011


Goldfinger (Mwa Wa Waaaa!) is the film that shows that Bond has really arrived, as a character and as a franchise. As a franchise, we now have Shirley Bassey belting out the title song (written by John Barry this time), a flash car with accessories, and an evil henchman with some sort of random (odd?) skill; thus really setting the template for so many subsequent Bond movies.

As a character, 007 is a bit more ballsey now (he has the guts to wear a blue towel onesy!), and we start to get the impression that his reputation is starting to go before him; as Felix says: "He'll either be after a dame or a drink" (something like that). I got the impression that now he has shrugged of the spectre of SPECTRE, he's rather enjoying himself a bit more, despite being drugged and imprisoned rather a lot.

Of course by the third film James needs little introduction now, but his entrance in this film is almost as classic as the first "Bond, James Bond" in Dr. No. Stepping out of his frogman getup (and seagull) to reveal a white tux is as iconic a scene as Goldfinger's Laser "No Mr Bond, I expect you to die!". Unfortunately, following this great entrance, we are then treated to some nonsense as Bond sees a perfect reflection of an assailant in the eyes of his latest conquest (only to then use her as a shield! Chivalry not dead in 1964!), followed by a fight that can only be described as a slapstick parody of his struggle with Red Grant on the Orient Express in FRWL; Shocking!

Auric Goldfinger himself (Gert Fröbe) is a bit of a strange one. He is obviously a force to be reckoned with, (as demonstrated by his dynamic pencil-breaking upon losing a hand of poker); he can harness the power of gold to make a laser; and he has a classic villainous meeting room complete with rotating pool table/computer console, a scale model of his master plan, and secure shielding over the windows! However, he does also seem to employ the world's worst guards. James escapes from his cell having winked at his jailer and then slowly dropping out of view! He might as well have dressed as a washerwoman and hidden in a large wicker basket! Auric does also have the ability to look like he has had a bit too much air pumped into him, while impersonating a startled rabbit!

So far this all sounds rather negative. I really don't want to come across like that because Goldfinger is great. Great plot, great masterplan, great action (particularly the car chase sequences), several iconic scenes, not so great if your character is a Masterson! Also one of the best Bond Girl names there is: Pussy Galore. Honor Blackman is good as head of a flying school, but her character doesn't really give her much to play with, though she is able to make the audience a little uncomfortable as Bond forces himself onto her!

I think a lot of what makes Goldfinger so enjoyable are the foibles and idiosyncrasies; for example, Oddjob's theme seems to be someone banging on a triangle: Ting! Ting! Ting! Also, it could be that we have a definite villain with a definite plan. Dr No was clearly the main baddie, but we were never really sure what he was up to: something to do with knocking shuttles off course. In FRWL there is the menace of SPECTRE, but nothing very tangible as a threat to Bond (except bad fish/wine combinations). The fact that we have Goldfinger with an evil masterplan (irradiation of Fort Knox gold bullion to inflate the value of his own gold) makes the plot more obvious perhaps, but in a way that gives the feeling of a more complete package.

So, there we have Goldfinger in a nutshell; the quintessential 007 movie format, oft repeated in the franchise, but perhaps never done as well or with as much style.

Order of preference so far:
Goldfinger, From Russia With Love, Dr No.

Friday, 18 March 2011


Having recently written a review of another Zack Snyder film, Watchmen, various people had made comments about 300. I have seen 300 before, and wasn't too enamoured of it, but I wanted to watch it again with an open mind, so I duly added it to our Love Film list. To my surprise I really enjoyed it.

300 is the story of 300 Spartan warriors led my King Leonidas (played by Gerard Butler's teeth), and their brave stand against the hordes of the Persian army fighting under Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), a self-proclaimed emperor-god. I will make it clear now that I have no idea how historically accurate the film is; I suspect there may be a nugget of truth there, I really don't know. What I do know is that some of my previous niggles with the film were a bit unfounded.

One of my complaints was David Wenham; I just didn't think that he was narrator material. I think perhaps I was being a bit harsh. He doesn't have a striking, imposing voice, but it acts as a good foil for Gerard Butler. Also it is rather the point that he has a storyteller's voice, as he is asked by Leonidas to return to Sparta to tell the story of how the 300 stood against thousands. Indeed, at the climax of the battle when Leonidas' helmet and shield are cramping his style, I thought Wenham's narration was utterly convincing; it vaguely conjured up memories of Maximus' "Husband to a murdered wife..." line, but not quite.

Another of my complaints had been some of the effects, specifically the background effects. Actually, most of the time these are perfect; the crashing sea as the Persian navy comes to grief, and the background of the senate is pretty good. The only thing I didn't think was great was a couple of the scenes that were clearly filmed outside on a sunny day (Leonidas and Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) saying farewell in a field of wheat - Gladiator influence) as their faces are very well lit. However, in the scene the sky is very overcast so the whole setup looks incongruous. I thought so anyway. I realise the whole film is shot high contrast to give the comic-booky feel, those few scenes stuck out though.

Anyway, enough with the minor niggles, the film is great! Zack Snyder shows he has real verve and style with the way he filmed this, everything about it is dynamic. The whole film has a very stormy feel to it thanks to cinematographer Larry Fong, and all of the battles look brilliant; gladly the slow-mo isn't overused and works really well. Gerard Butler is great as King Leonidas. I think maybe perhaps he could be accused of overacting at points: Tonight we dine in Hell! We will fight in the shade! Prepare for Glory!, but it's all really part of the fun.

                                King Leonidas played by Gerard Butler's teeth!

So despite my earlier misgivings, I really enjoyed 300, perhaps it's one of those films I should own, as I can foresee wanting to see it again, for some pure entertainment. Great main character, great fights, brilliantly filmed. Just one more thing: can someone please explain to me how I managed to recognise Michael Fassbender by his teeth?! A quick check on IMDB and yes, Fassbender is in this! By his teeth? I think I've only seen him in Inglorious Basterds, by no means am I that familiar with him! Strange.

Anyway. One more time everybody:


Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Touching the Void

In 1985 two young British friends, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, travelled to a remote corner of Peru. Ambitious mountaineers, their aim was to conquer the unclimbed West Face of a notorious 21,000 ft peak - "Siula Grande". Their story has become part of mountaineering legend.

Based on Joe Simpson's book Touching the void, and featuring interviews with Joe, Simon, and acquaintance Richard Hawking, this film is somewhere in between a documentary and film. For those who don't the story (and I really can't stress enough how much you should read the book); Joe and Simon set out to climb Siula Grande, a remote mountain in the Peruvian Andes; it would be a challenging climb, but nothing the two couldn't handle. They had met a fellow traveller in Lima a few days earlier (Richard Hawking), and as they needed someone to look after the tents while they were climbing, Joe and Simon asked if he would like to come along.

The climb was difficult but Joe and Simon managed to summit on the second day out from the camp. On the decent, Joe was climbing down when one of his ice-axes came out and he fell badly (not that far), and broke his leg, driving his lower leg up through his knee and splitting the cap! Still at about 6000 metres, Joe assumed that he was dead, there was no way he could get down the mountain. However, Simon began to lower Joe in 300 metre stretches (that's the amount of rope they could use), Joe could then secure himself to the mountain so that Simon could climb down to him and then repeat the process.

However, when Joe was lowered over an overhang he wasn't able to reach the mountain side to secure himself; Simon therefore was left higher up not knowing what was happening. Eventually Simon cuts the rope, and Joe plunges into a crevasse. What follows is an extraordinary feat of human survival. Joe not only survives the fall, but manages to crawl/hop/hallucinate his way back to camp. Simon and Richard both assumed that Joe is dead and cannot believe he has made it back. By cutting the rope Simon saved both of their lives; if he hadn't, Joe would have died of exposure hanging in mid air and eventually his body would have dragged Simon of the mountain.

That brief synopsis really doesn't do the story justice. It really is an incredible story that defies belief. It is really brought to life by director Kevin Macdonald and the way in which  he blends the interviews with Joe, Simon and Richard with the footage of actors on Siula Grande and some amazing photography of the Peruvian Andes. Joe and Simon are both very engaging (though Simon does remind me of Wallace a lot!) and really help the viewer empathise with the situation, resulting in a very powerful film. I recommend seeing this film, now! Read the book too, it's truly amazing; true stories are always more incredible than any novel.

Monday, 7 March 2011


Mesrine: Killer Instinct is the story of Jacques Mesrine (pronounced Mayreen) one of the most notorious gangsters in French recent history. Having been raised by a relatively loving family, he rebels and becomes a small time crook. With the help of mob-boss Guido, he becomes more confident. Eventually, though, he is captured by police, repeatedly, and repeatedly escapes from prison; even a maximum security prison. By this time we see that Mesrine is very influential, able to manipulate people on the outside to help him escape (even his lawyer), as well as bribing/manipulating guards to make his stay in prison more comfortable. Finally the police officer who is primarily trying to bring Mesrine to justice, is able to trap the gangster in traffic in Paris, and Jacques is shot dead.

The film is told in two parts, each beginning at the end, with the death of Mesrine. I left it quite a long time between viewing the first and second films, so I can't specifically remember if there was a clear theme to each. Thinking about it, I think the first film was really charting the rise of Mesrine, his influences, and ideas; whereas the second film rather concentrates on his influence and how powerful he has become on his way to being public enemy number 1.

Obviously being a gangster he is not a particularly nice fellow! He is particularly hostile to women, though he doesn't seem to be able to do without them. In the first film he does marry and have children, but eventually abuses his wife (more verbally than physically I think), and abandons them. He goes through various prostitutes, until he meets a girl who fall in love with him, though this doesn't stop him from being fairly rotten to her. All of this makes it hard to empathise with the character; like I say, he is a gangster, but being the main character there needs to be some emotional connection to watch him for 210 minutes.

The main reason to watch him for that long is Vincent Cassel. He is tremendous. He owns every scene. When he laughs his whole face lights up, but when he's angry he really has a look that could kill! From his performance it seems like he thoroughly enjoyed making the film. All of the performances from Mesrine's partners in crime along the way are also always very good, perhaps most notably by Mathieu Amalric as François Besse, the inmate who helps Mesrine escape from the maximum security wing of one of the prisons; and Gérard Depardieu as the mob boss Guido.

A very enjoyable film without doing anything fancy. Director Jean-François Richet is creative, but not outstanding (there was a very cool shot of Mesrine's getaway car having been hit side on; as it spun round we were inside, outside, spinning, inside, outside!) It sometimes gets a bit repetitive, as another bank is robbed, but Vincent Cassel is always highly watchable, and it can be difficult to tear your eyes away however nasty Mesrine is being.