Rating: The Ugly – 68.7 Genre: Adventure, Horror Duration: 89 mins Director: Luis Llosa Stars: Jennifer Lopez, Eric Stoltz, Jon Voight
A documentary crew sail deep into the Amazonian rain forest in search of a hidden tribe only to be hijacked by a madman and pursued by a giant anaconda. If it weren’t for the screaming snake, some preposterous aerodynamics of said snake, and some serious ham acting by John Voight, this creature feature might have made it onto the Good list. The production was well funded so the CGI was first rate (and still stands up), there are some decent actors on show (Eric Stoltz, Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson, Ice Cube, and Voight of course), some nice set-piece action scenes, and Luis Llosa takes his time with the build-up. This gives Anaconda a very enjoyable vibe. Alas, the snake does scream (and not really in a tongue-in-cheek manner) and Voight’s performance is so outrageous that we must treat this as a guilty pleasure. But a pleasure it definitely is.
Rating: The Good – 74.3 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 98 mins Director: John Carpenter Stars: Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Pam Grier
This John Carpenter sci-fi/horror/western about a police officer (Natasha Henstridge) and a dangerous prisoner (Ice Cube) trying to escape a terraformed Martian town as it becomes overrun by spirit-like aliens is a tongue-in-cheek heavy metal opera. Just like said music, everything about this movie screams mock-rebellion. Women run the show, aliens are ghosts, their language is a ferocious scream, the good guys are criminals and like that music, if you’re not a fan of Carpenter you just won’t get it. Thus, Ghosts of Mars has the semblance of rebellion but it’s not really that dangerous and Carpenter has a ball with it. The more technical aspects to the film such as the visual effects, make-up, and fight choreography are tinted with this light hearted sarcasm. Once you accept all this, however, you can really start to enjoy it. The patient start uses a series of dissolve-cuts to tell the back story as quickly as possible without feeling rushed but as the action moves through the gears, Carpenter’s utterly superb heavy metal soundtrack kicks in and sweeps you forward until the end. As with many of Carpenter’s films, the Rio Bravo theme is present and there’s plenty of innovative and over the top violence on show to keep most horror fans happy. There’s a great supporting cast on hand too (e.g., Pam Grier, Jason Statham, Joanna Cassidy) to deliver some outstanding and cheesy lines alike. And on top of all that, we have that wonderfully thunderous opening inspired in part by the opening to Bad Day at Black Rock (confirmed to this author by the director himself). Don’t approach this on the basis of what some of the critics have said and certainly don’t approach this as you would a typical science fiction/horror movie. This is John Carpenter – a director who has spent his career subverting conventions in the most entertaining ways possible (even if what he’s subverting is subversion!). That’s why he’s so damned important to the medium.
Rating: The Good – 80.5 Genre: War Duration: 114 mins Director: David O. Russell Stars: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube
David O. Russell is a very special film-maker, there’s no doubt. To take a heist movie that is essentially an allegory about the greedy motivations of modern superpowers, root it in a story that is equally touching and funny, litter it with hard-edged action, and then infuse the whole thing with more visual and auditory verve than practically any other movie of the 90’s…is no small feat. Set during the first Gulf War, George Clooney fronts an interesting cast as a special forces Major who leads three enlisted soldiers into enemy territory to nab for themselves some of the gold that Saddam stole from Kuwait.
Heist movie, war movie, comedy, or drama, Three Kings works effectively on all levels. There’s a burning originality to Russell’s approach as both director and writer. Images of bleached desertscapes contrasted with brilliant blue skies are pictorially enhanced due to combination of transparent film and silver halide to create vibrant colours and true blacks while, on the writing front, his adaptation of John Ridley’s story sews thoughtful but accessible dialogue with hysterically funny turns of phrase to produce a script of real elegance. The result is a cogent balancing of surreal moments of war with slick action drama, a madcap roller-coaster of sleek satirical mayhem.
All this is burnished by an understated intersection of character and plot that at all times does justice to the political sentiments of the overall project. And it’s here that the cracking cast makes their contribution as Clooney, Ice Cube, Mark Walhberg, and Spike Jonze are individually assured but collectively superb. Clooney’s Major Archie Gates has an edged charisma that is well suited to his role of the beleaguered special forces operative and, with it, he plays off the more homely charm of Mark Walberg who is undoubtedly at his best here. At the time of release, Ice Cube was a bit of a revelation as the spiritual yet burly chief while Jonze just about steals the show as the slightly unhinged but well meaning yokel.
The politics of the film bleed out bit by bit as these characters interact but through its easy humour, charm, and excitement, it never feels preachy. In fact, in these more cynical and manipulative times, Three Kings is exactly what a war film needs to be:- intelligent, bold, and with a necessary sense of humour.