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‘I’m a soldier of the apocalypse, man!’ July 29, 2008

Posted by Ian W in : DVD Viewing Journal , add a comment

Mr Bale’s been in the news a bit recently (you’ve probably noticed) and he’s also been making regular appearances on my DVD player this week as a warm up to seeing The Dark Knight at the IMAX cinema in Birmingham this coming Saturday.

Equilibrium
This Orwellian tale is a better film that it probably has a right to be. Essentially 1984 done as an action movie, it benefits from a great cast, particularly Christian Bale, and some good action sequences. The Gun Fu idea manages to be both silly and incredibly cool at the same time and is about the films only original idea. To see what Equilibrium would have been like without Bale check out director Kurt Wimmer’s follow-up Ultraviolet.
Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

The Machinist
How far should an actor go in pursuit of authentisity? Christian Bale goes above and beyond the call of duty in Brad Anderson’s film about an insomniac machine operator, to the point where you start to worry about his health. Bale, all skin and bones, gives a typically intense performance in this surreal story that avoids categorisation, being part drama, part thriller, part horror. It’s an excellent film that feels like something David Cronenberg might have dreamed up, which is high praise indeed.
Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

Harsh Times
The military takes young men, teaches them how to kill, puts them through things that leave them traumatised and unable to deal with life in the ‘real’ world and the lets them loose on that world – that’s the premise behind David Ayer’s directorial debut. The ex-Army Ranger is played by Christian Bale and he gives another first rate performance, showing the inner turmoil of a character who misses the order of military existence and finds himself pulled into a life of drugs and violence when his application is turned down by the LAPD. Playing his best friend, Freddy Rodríguez is an excellent foil for Bale, adding a touch of humour and likability to an otherwise pretty bleak film. Desperate Housewife Eva Longoria Parker isn’t required to do much more than look pretty and gripe at Rodríguez for not getting a job but she’s more than capable of both tasks.
Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

The New World
Terrence Malick’s take on the Pocahontas story is certainly sumptuous to look at but it failed to grip me as it should. This may be sacrilegious but I’ve never been a big Malick fan, I’ve always felt his reputation was far greater than his body of work warranted, it’s almost like his lack of output is what convinces people he must be a great filmmaker. But my main gripe with The New World isn’t Malick’s direction, although the lethargic pace doesn’t help the film, no it’s with the film’s star Colin Farrell. Now I’ve enjoyed more than a few of Farrell’s films but his mumbling performance here was so irritating I developed an instant dislike to the character (not that he’s particularly likable anyway). As he’s one of the few people that are really developed in the film (that lack of characters being another of the films problems, and an inexcusable one given its length) it’s no wonder the film failed to engage me. Q’orianka Kilcher as Pocahontas is remarkably good for such an inexperienced actress and Christian Bale does a good job given the small amount of screen time he gets, making John Rolfe far more endearing than Farrell’s Captain Smith, to the extent that it’s hard to accept the attraction of the mumbling Irishman.
Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆

The Prestige
I actually found The Prestige far more enjoyable second time around, without the weight of Christopher Nolan’s cinematic slight of hand to divert my attention. It’s got three (or should that be five?) first rate performances from Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale and Michael Caine, it’s got humour, it’s got tragedy and it’s got a gorgeous period setting. It’s also got David Bowie doing a funny accent but even that odd bit of casting doesn’t spoil the film. Hopefully Nolan will continue to make films like this in-between Batman movies, it would be a shame to see his talent tied to closely to the Dark Knight as Sam Raimi was with Spider-Man.
Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆

Keep Watching the Skies… July 2, 2008

Posted by Ian W in : DVD Viewing Journal, DVD Reviews , 1 comment so far

Sometimes they’re cute and cuddly, like ET (or Jeff Bridges) but not all aliens are nice as this  weeks viewing shows…

The Thing from Another World
There is much to enjoy in The Thing from Another World and then there’s James Arness’”Super Carrot”. The character interplay sparkles, although I could have done without having a woman stationed at the Arctic base (does a horror movie of this type really need a love interest?), and the isolated setting adds greatly to the sense of unease but then they show us too much of the monster and it all falls apart. It’s not fair to blame Big Jim, you could have put anyone in the veggiesuit and it would have looked silly. Important rule of horror moviemaking – if you have a crap monster don’t show it anymore than you have to.

Body Snatchers
I don’t know the background to this adaptation of Jack Finney’s novel of alien invasion but there’s certainly an unlikely combination of talent involved. Genre veteran Larry Cohen gets a credit for screen story while ‘Master of Horror’ Stuart Gordon is one of the scriptwriters and Abel Ferrara handles directorial duties. It seems an odd choice for Ferrara, a director who’s not exactly known for mainstream horror, more so as it followed his most famous film, Bad Lieutenant. He does a good job though and certainly creates more tension than the latest big budget take on the story, last years Invasion. If there’s a complaint it’s that it fails to make the most of its cast in particular Forest Whitaker and R. Lee Ermey, but Meg Tilly’s very good in her alien-stepmom role. The military base setting makes sense - surely alien invaders would target military installations? -  and adds to the central characters feelings of isolation. Not the best (or even second best) version, but certainly a worth a look on a classic story.

Signs
When I first watched Signs I saw it as just another alien invasion movie, albeit an unusual one, watched again now it’s more a film about loss - loss of faith, loss of a loved one – than it is about unfriendly aliens. Director M. Night Shyamalan is unfairly branded a one trick pony, but there’s far more to his films than just a twist ending, if there wasn’t there’d be little reason to re-watch them. He also knows how to get good performances from his stars, and not just the full grown ones either - Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin aren’t overshadowed by big names Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix. Damn creepy looking aliens too, and all the more effective for the little we actually see them.

Evil Aliens
Jake West is the Benny Hill of horror, not intelligent, not classy, but, if you’re in the right mood, he’ll provide you with some low brow laughs. He doesn’t so much tickle your funny bone as rip it out and beat you to death with it. The acting is pretty awful, including Zone Horror presenter Emily Booth, but that’s part of the films low budget charm, and West throws so much at you that some of the gore and jokes have to hit home. And any horror film that uses The Wurzels “I’ve Got A Brand New Combine Harvester” has to be worth a look for novelty value alone.

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