I’ll admit that Silent Hill: Revelation pales dimly compared to the first excellent film, and is kind of a slipshod mess, but it’s a lovable mess in my books, still a Silent Hill film after all, and kind of wins points just for bringing back some of it’s old cast as well a few newcomers. Silent Hill is one of my favourite horror films of the 2000’s, and I waited on this sequel like a dog, through production delays and distribution hell, and I think somewhere along the way I realized it wasn’t going to measure up, but nothing would deter me from seeing it. Well, it squeaked out onto Blu Ray and made a tiny splash on everyone’s collective radar, prompting terrible reviews. The story more or less picks up where the first one left off, if a few years down the road. Sharon (now played by Adelaide Clemens) and her father Christopher (Sean Bean returns) have been on the run for most of her teenage life, eluding the dark forces from the town of Silent Hill, which still linger and follow them. One day Christopher disappears, and Sharon is forced to confront her past (which she curiously has no memory of) and return to dreaded Silent Hill, assisted by a mysterious hunk (Jon Snow, who does know some stuff here, and more than he let’s on). Once she’s there it’s essentially more of the same, with abstract looking demons running about, a disconcerting tarantula made from spare mannequin limbs (shudder) scuttles aroind, that relentless fog permeating every alcove and street, as well as a new arch villain in the form of terrifying Claudia (Carrie Ann Moss, of all people), a matriarchal cult leader who creates all kinds of trouble for Sharon. We are treated to a brief ghostly appearance by Sharon’s mother Rose (Radha Mitchell cameo), the return of damaged soul Dahlia Gillespie (Deborah Kara Unger) Sharon’s birth mother and far more coherent this time around, and a bizarre special appearance by a blind, babbling Malcolm McDowell, whose part in the whole mess still escapes my comprehension. The 3D effects are odd and stand out in not so much of a good way, the plot makes little sense when compared to the first, and where the first was eerie, elemental and atmospheric, this one is clunky, rushed and nonsensical. But you know what? I kinda liked it all the same. One thing I really enjoyed is a very well done WWE smackdown of a fight between a souped up Moss and the infamous Pyramid Head, who pulls a T-101 here and actually steps in to save the day. It’s the one sequence that achieves that hellish, otherworldly aura which ran through both the games and the first film like an undercurrent, and as a rule. It’s too bad they decided to replace Jodelle Ferland with a badly rendered CGI dollface in scenes where that little brat Alessa shows up, the effects there are abysmal. Watch for Peter Outerbridge briefly as trucker Travis O’ Grady, a character from the games who I imagine would have gone on to star in a third film, which seems unlikely now. If you’re a fan of the first film, you may get a marginal kick out of this, or at least certain aspects, but only if you’re feeling generous. It ain’t all that.
GoldenEye is the very finest hour that Pierce Brosnan had as James Bond, both as a film and in terms of what he gets to do as the character. It’s my third favourite Bond film of all time and stands as one of the most exciting ventures the series has seen to this day. It definitely falls into a campy style, but one that’s removed from that of the original Bond films from way back when, one that’s all its own and decidedly 90’s. It’s also got one of the strongest and classiest villains of the series, a man who is in fact an ex agent himself which was a neat switch up. Brosnan is so photogenic it’s ridiculous, whether dolled up in the tux or careening through a valley in a fighter jet. He just looks so damn good as Bond, and I sometimes wish he’d gotten a fifth crack at the character. Here we join up with 007 on a mission gone wrong, where he is ambushed and his partner Agent Alec Trevelyan a.k.a. 006 (Sean Bean) is killed, or so he thinks. 006 is in fact alive and well, with a few gnarly facial scars and a new nasty attitude. He puts Bond through a wringer with a diabolical scheme to hijack a Russian nuclear space weapon and do all kinds of lovely things with it. Bond teams up with the survivor of a decimated Russian research centre, a beautiful scientist named Natalya (Isabella Scorupco) who inevitably ends up in his bed. It’s slick, it’s stylish, it’s sexy and everything a Bond flick needs to be. 006 has a dangerous asset in Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen), a lethal assassin whose weapon of choice are her thighs which she employs with the crushing power of two Amazonian pythons. Janssen plays the role with ferocious relish and the kind of enthusiasm that hadn’t been seen in a Bond villainess since Barbara Carrera in Never Say Never Again. Bean plays it ice cold, letting restraint and calculated malice steal the scenes as opposed to flagrant mustache twirling. I always thought he would have made a cracking good 007 as he has so much residual danger to his vibe from playing many heartless bastards in his career, but perhaps in another life. One of my favourite characters to ever hang out in a Bond flick shows up here, a cranky but lovable russian general named Valentin Zukofsky, played by the awesome Robbie Coltrane, an actor who really, really needs to be in more stuff. His few short scenes are the stuff that makes a piece timeless, and I wish we’d gotten to see more Valentin and more Hagrid elsewhere in the franchise. There’s the usual suspects like Judi Dench as M and Desmond Llewellyn as a crusty Q, and a host of other actors including Joe Don Baker, Tchecky Karyo, Minnie Driver and the irritating Alan Cumming who singlehandedly ruins scenes with his hammy preening. The film thunders along with furious energy and nicely paced action sequences, including a chaotic tank chase through the streets of Moscow and a stunner of a climax set atop a giant satellite dish. As Bond films go, you can never go wrong with this one.
The Red Riding Trilogy is one of the most dense, absolutely impenetrable pieces of work I’ve ever seen, let alone attempted to dissect with my clunky writing skills. It’s also fairly horrifying, as it chronicles the tale of the Yorkshire Ripper, an elusive and mysterious serial child killer who terrorized this area of Britain through the late 70’s and early 80’s. Viler still are the strong implications that very powerful people, including the brass of the West Yorkshire police, made every disgusting attempt to cover up the crimes and protect the killer, who’s murders included that of children. It’s a brave move by UK’s Channel 4 to openly make such notions obvious within their story, and commendable the level of patience, skill and strong ambition in the undertaking is quite the payoff, whilst simultaneously taking a toll on you for sitting through it. The sheer scope of it must be noted; it’s separated into three feature length films, each vastly different in setting, character and tone, and each blessed with a different director. The filmmakers even went as far as to film the first, which is set in 1974, in 16mm, the second in 35mm being set in 1980 and the third makes a leap to high definition video and takes place in 1983. Such a progression of time is a dismal reflection of the sticky corruption which clings to societies, decaying them stealthily over years, and the few keen individuals who will not let the truth die as long as there is a glimmer of uncertainty. Now, if you asked me exactly what happens over the course of this trilogy, who is who, what has happened to which characters and who is guilty, I simply wouldn’t be able to tell you. It’s a deliberatly fractured narrative told through the prism of dishonest, corrupt psyches and has no use for chronology either. Characters who you saw die in the first film show up in the subsequent ones, actors replace each other in certain roles, and there’s just such a thick atmosphere of confusion and despair that in the 302 minute running time I was not able to make complete sense. I think this is a great tactic to help you realize that the film means to show the futile, cyclical nature of reality, as opposed to a traditionally structured story with a clear cut conclusion. Events spiral into each other with little rhyme or reason, until we feel somewhat lost, knowing full well that terrible events are unfolding in front of our eyes, events that are clouded and just out of our comprehensive grasp in a way that unsettles you and makes you feel as helpless as the few decent people trying to solve the case. One such person is an investigative reporter searching for the truth in the first film, played by Andrew Garfield. He stumbles dangerously close to answers which are promptly yanked away by the sinister forces of the Yorkshire police, brutalized and intimidated into submission. He comes close though, finding a lead in suspiciously sleazy real estate tycoon Sean Bean, who’s clearly got ties to whatever is really going on. The level of willful corruption demonstrated by the police is sickening. “To the North, where we do what we want” bellows a chief, toasting dark secrets to a roomful of cop comrades who are no doubt just as involved as him. The kind of blunt, uncaring dedication to evil is the only way to explain such behaviour, because in the end it’s their choice and they know what they’re doing. Were these officers as vile as the film depicts in the real life incidents? Someone seems to think so. Who’s to know? Probably no one ever at this point, a dreadful feeling which perpetuates the themes of hopelessness. The second film follows a nasty Police Chief (David Morrissey) who is bothered by old facts re emerging and seems to have a crisis of conscience. Or does he? The clichéd cinematic logline “no one is what they seem” has never been more pertinent than in these three films. It’s gets to a point where you actually are anticipating every single person onscreen to have some buried evil that will get upturned. A priest (Peter Mullan is superb) shows up in the second film only to be involved in dark turns of the third. Sean Bean’s character and his legacy hover over everything like a black cloud. A mentally challenged young man is held for years under suspicion of being the Ripper. A disturbed abuse survivor (wild eyed Robert Sheehan) seeks retribution. A Scotland Yard Detective (Paddy Considine) nobly reaches for truth. Many other characters have conundrums of roles to play in a titanic cast that includes Cara Seymour, Mark Addy, Sean Harris, James Fox, Eddie Marsan, Shaun Dooley, Joseph Mawle and more. The process in which the story unfolds is almost Fincher – esque in its meticulous assembly, each character and plot turn a cog in a vast machine whose purpouse and ultimate function are indeed hard to grasp. I need to sit down and watch it at least two more times through before the cogs turn in a way that begins to make sense to me, and a measurable story unfolds. It’s dark, dark stuff though, presenting humanity at its absolute worst, and in huge quantities too, nightmarish acts that go to huge levels of effort just to produce evil for.. well, it seems just for evil’s sake, really. The cast and filmmakers craft wonderful work though, and despite the blackness there is a macabre, almost poetic allure to it, beauty in terror so to speak. It’s rough, it’s long, it’s dense and it thoroughly bucks many a cinematic trend that let’s you reside in your perceptive comfort zone, beckoning you forth with extreme narrative challenge, an unflinching gaze into the abyss no promise of catharsis at the end of the tunnel. There’s nothing quite like it, I promise you.
Death Race 2 is one of those sequels that is a little more colorful and off the wall than the first one, and less gloomy. Death Race tried a bit too hard to play it straight and serious, and while still a gnarly flick, I personally have to give the edge to this one simply for coming a little closer to the trashy mark that the genre begs for. Any franchise with a title like Death Race has just got to have a touch of camp, some balls out B-movie action and a good dose of pulp. This one is actually a prequel, now that I think about it, taking place in the same penitentiary that the first film did, a year or so before Jason Statham’s arrival. It follows the origin of Carl Lucas (Luke Goss), who would go on to be the masked driver known as Frankenstein in the original film. Lucas starts out as a getaway driver and thief for ruthless mobster Marcus Kane (Sean Bean). When a heist gone wrong lands him in Terminal Island prison, he’s introduced to ‘Death Match’, bloody gladiatorial fare instigated by a random prison fight caught on camera and broadcasted online. The prison warden Weyland (Ving Rhames) has his moral doubts, but in swoops opportunistic corporation head September Jones (Lauren Cohan) with a sociopathic agenda to turn simple combat events into all out vehicular warfare, with state of the art machines and artillery, all privately funded. Since this genre exists in a world without anyone, government or other, to protest, Death Race is born. The rules go that if you win a certain amount of races, you go free. Kane has his own plans on the outside though, making a pretty penny off of Lucas and his driving, cruelly trying to keep him inside. Bean is a cut and dry psycho as Kane, relishing in the kind of nasty arch villain skin that action films have to offer. Goss has always had a heart and level of gravitas along with his physical intensity (his villain in Blade 2 is still legendary), which he brings out in Lucas. Danny Trejo comes along for the ride as Goldberg, Lucas’s mechanic. The first Death Race was solid, but a bit monochrome in the personality department. This one lets its freak flag fly, getting down and dirty with the bone crunching violence, and thundering motor mayhem. It sinks a level below the first one, which is sometimes a great thing for a particular franchise. It knows how over the top it needs to be, and is all the better for it.
I love The Island, because it breaks ranks from Michael Bay’s mostly uniform career and gives us entertainment where story is as important as action, which can’t be said for most of his films. Don’t get me wrong, I love his destructive maelstrom of a career to bits (except Transformers and Pain & Gain. Those are shameful.), it’s just nice to get a movie from him with something to latch onto besides just… boom crash smash. His visual setups are like fire dancing on the retinas, but with The Island we get to see what’s behind those eyes and actually get a concept to explore along with our helping of razzle dazzle. Now this type of story has been done before, in stuff like Logan’s Run or the lesser known Clonus Horror, and obviously this time around the story is jazzed by a considerable amount of chromed up energy and adrenaline. In the far future, a group of people are kept inside a gargantuan facility and told that the world’s population has been nearly wiped out by a contamination. Only one untainted zone remains: The Island. It’s a place where some take off to, after winning a much touted ‘lottery’ that allows them access. Only, they aren’t going to any such place at all. They are selected based on the need for organs, spare biological matter and baby carriers for their human counterparts, the rich and affluent. They’re dormant cattle, so to speak, clones awaiting empty promises. Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) is one such individual, a curious fellow who first suspects something is wrong with their utopian existence, and once confirmed knows he needs to get out. Dragging along his friend Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) he makes a harebrained run for it, escaping the facility and venturing into the world outside, which is anything but contaminated. I like what Bay did with the production design; Things aren’t too wacky or space agey, and more or less that same as now, but accents like flying motorbikes or massive additions to existing skyscrapers let us know how brave of a new world it is. Lincoln and Jordan suffer considerable culture shock as they flee, and it’s amusing to see the childish way they react to simple things like a telephone, or ordering drinks at a bar. The facility’s Director, an arrogant son of a bitch named Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean) sends a team of off the books ex special forces dudes after them, led by Laurent (Djimon Hounsou gets the best moments out of the film, the only actor who can stop the momentum dead in its tracks with his soulful performance). From there a lot of it is a deafening roar filled with chases, car crashes, fights and a spectacular highway chase that will wake up the tenants both above and below your apartment. Yes, Bay just can’t help throwing in colossal action scenes where they aren’t particularly needed, and complain if you must, but if it’s really that much of a wrench in your enjoyment of the actual story going on around it, then use such interludes for a bathroom break or to go apologize to the neighbors for the racket your speakers are kicking up. You can only hope for Bay to reign it in so much, the dude just loves his action. Ask him to direct a Jane Austen adaptation and you can bet your hat he’d throw in a fireball or two in just for good measure. It’s his passion, and I don’t resent people for what they love to do. In any case it’s a terrifically fun piece. McGregor and Johansson are pitch perfect, as they begin to clue in about the world around them, lashing out in anger over what’s being done to them and becoming quite resourceful. Bean resists the label of villain with his performance, branding Merrick as an idealist whose breakthrough blinded him into extremism, from which there is no turning back. Steve Buscemi shows up bearing kindly comic relief as a tech worker who assists in their escape. Michael Clarke Duncan is very affecting in one scene as a clone who finds out the truth the worst way possible. There’s also work from Shawnee Smith, Chris Ellis, Max Baker, Glenn Morshower and an incredibly bizarre cameo from an uncredited Kim Coates. Steve Jablonsky composes what I believe to be his finest, most stirring work and the best score to date in a Bay flick, adding to the sweeping scope and pure cinematic current that this one soars on. One of my favourites, highly recommended.
The Big Empty is a quirky, off kilter little flick that packs a backpack full of borrowed elements from the Coen brothers and David Lynch, before embarking on a perplexing outing into the Twilight Zone. That’s not to say it rips any of these artists off, and indeed it’s got a style and cadence all its own. It just loves other oddballs before it and wants to wear it’s influences proudly. Everyone’s favourite lovable schlub Jon Favreau plays John Person, a flailing, out of work actor. He’s presented with a dodgy proposition by his whacko neighbour Neely (eternally bug eyed Bud Cort). Transport a mysterious blue briefcase to a remote town in the Mojave Desert called Baker. There he will meet a much talked about, little seen individual called The Cowboy (Sean Bean), who will take the case off his hands. He agrees, as he must in order for us to have a film to watch, and heads out to the back end of nowhere. In any respectable piece like this, the town our hero visits must be populated by weirdos, eccentrics, dead ends, missed encounters and an abiding, ever present atmosphere of anomalous peculiarity. Right on time, he meets a host of charming characters, including Grace (Joey Lauren Adams), her sensual daughter Ruthie (Rachel Leigh Cook), Indian Bob (Gary Farmer), grouchy FBI Agent Banks (Kelsey Grammar), and a bunch of others including Daryl Hannah, Melora Walters, Jon Gries, Brent Briscoe, Adam Beach and Danny Trejo. He’s led from one head scratching interaction to the other, each step of the way proving to be a step behind the elusive Cowboy, with no form of coherence appearing to ease poor John’s bafflement. I was reminded of Jim Jarmusch, particularly his masterpiece Dead Man, perhaps because Gary Farmer appears in both, but most likely mainly due to the fact that both films follow a hapless Joe on a journey that doesn’t seem to be going much of anyplace, but holds interest simply by being bizarre enough. Favreau is the only one that doesn’t fit, the outsider whose laid back suburban affability creates friction with almost every individual he meets, all who seem to have wandered in from the outer limits of some other dimension. Sean Bean is relaxed, mercurial with just a dash of danger as The Cowboy, quite possibly the strangest person John meets. The film has unexpected jabs of humour too, which occasionally breach the surface of its tongue in cheek veneer of inaccessibility. Upon meeting Indian Bob, John inquires: “Are you Bob The Indian?”. Bob jovially retorts “No, I’m Lawrence the fuckin Arabian.” Gary Farmer brings the same cloudy, sardonic cheek he brought to the role of Nobody the Indian in Jarmusch’s Dead Man, which had much the same type humour as this one: little moments of hilarity buried like treasures amongst the abnormal. Sometimes I muse that films like these which seem to really go nowhere in high style are there simply to give your brain a workout in odd areas that it wouldn’t normally play in. Set up a voyage like this, lead the audience down a yellow brick road and arrive at.. well basically nowhere in particular, just to chuckle at your efforts to figure it all out, jab you in the ribs and say “Don’t take this shit too seriously, man!”. Or maybe not. Maybe there’s deeper meaning behind the meandering, that will reveal some holy significance. This one, though, I doubt it. It’s pure playtime.
Ca$h has an obnoxiously tongue in cheek title, and a premise that could have easily run off the rails into the silly zone. But rejoice: It knows how to create a tense, unpredictable environment accented by the slightest bits of naturally occurring humour here and there, a winning combination indeed. Sean Bean doesn’t often get a movie to himself, or at least get to play the lead. Here’s he’s the top dog, and while most would argue that he’s the antagonist as well, I’m in the opposite corner on that one. Yes he’s a criminal, yes he goes to extreme lengths to get his money back, but he’s a rigidly disciplined and staunchly fair bloke, driven by a set of principles and operational tics that reek of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and trust me, it takes one to know one. Oh, and he gets to play identical twins as well, pulling a Parent Trap and acting opposite himself which is a delight to see. When reckless career criminal Reese Kubrick (Bean) dicks up a robbery, loses a bunch of money and gets apprehended, a young couple think they have hit the jackpot. Played by Chris Hemsworth and Victoria Profeta, they find the money and make that fateful cinematic mistake of trying to keep it for themselves. Before they know it, Reese’s brother Pyke (also Bean) comes looking for them, and believe me when I say that this guy is a dude who finds what he’s looking for. Fast. The young couple has already begun to indulge, and as Pyke barges into their lives he finds a great deal of the amount spent. He then buckles down and calmly, coolly forces them to come up with every remaining cent of the ‘deficit’, as he calls it, even if it means doing a bit of illegal stuff themselves. Bean has a ball as the icy cool, ruthlessly efficiant prick who plays hardball with a glint in his eye. He’s karma manifest, a very real and very dangerous metaphor for the perilous risk of excessive currency and ill gotten gains. It’s a terrific role for him, both in the moments of dangerous serenity and the few rare instances where he loses his cool streak, which sting like daggers. Hemsworth and Profeta play their standard roles very nicely. An arbitrary bit of fun: the actor Glenn Plummer shows up for a hysterical cameo as a dude named, I shit you not, Glenn The Plumber, who receives a whollop of a verbal beatdown from Bean that serves as the film’s most lighthearted moment, and is a riot for anyone who gets the reference. Snuck into limited DVD release back in 2010, this one deserves more than the small shelf space it’s gotten. Fun stuff.