Rating: The Good – 76 Genre: Crime, Thriller Duration: 101 mins Director: Danny Boyle Stars: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel
A suave and tricksy thriller detailing a heist mob’s unconventional attempt to hypnotically uncover the location of a stolen painting amidst emotional turbulence and full-blown crises of identity. Trance offers the best and worst of mercurial director Danny Boyle at about a 30/70 split. Stunningly shot and soundtracked to Rick Smith’s pulsing melodies, it sets out to explicitly defy narrative convention and treat us to a razzle-dazzle experience over old fashioned storytelling. Though we’ve seen attempts like this before, what Trance lacks in originality it makes up for in burning focus and unflinching persistence. And with James McAvoy and the always splendid Rosario Dawson mischievously wrapped up in the deep dark psychological hijinks, the experiment is only enriched. But trippy entertainment only goes so far and with the plot hoisted so brazenly atop of Boyle’s sacrificial alter, not even actors of their class and magnetism can keep us invested in the manner we’d expect and desire from a clever heist thriller.
A scarred stuntman stalks parties of young women by night and then mows them down in his reinforced stunt car. Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof really is a visionary triumph of action comedy. A film that defies its grainy perspectives, low-budget cast and sets and becomes more slick and pulse-thumping than most big budget actioners. Tarantino took on the DP duties and in some ways, this is visually his most impressive film. Many of those visuals are also wonderfully humorous such as the deep staging of the bobble head and the running-to-the-bathroom tracking shot of the opening scene or the Kill Bill-esque black-&-white-to-colour transition. The dialogue is hip, engaging, and sharply real and despite the majority of it revolving around typically female conversational topics, it’s no less appealing if you’re male.
Of course, the movie’s appeal to males is helped by the presence of the perennial man’s man Kurt Russell as the instantly iconic “Stuntman Mike”. Russell is tremendous as the disturbingly charming yet cowardly psychopath and it’s he who links both halves of the movie by being the only character to feature in both. The first half focuses on your typical college gang as they party the night away in Austin only to inadvertently welcome Stuntman Mike into their midst. The second half focuses on an older, more mature, and ultimately tougher gang who also get Mike’s attention. Tarantino has lots of fun in separating the two stories (Michael Parks cameo as the familiar sheriff is a howl) and contrasting the two groups (check out his very subtle tongue in cheek morality lesson) and despite each story having its own feel and plot, they never feel like two different films. The numerous female characters are all terrifically played by a host of top young actresses with Rose McGowan, Rosario Dawson, and real life stunt woman Zoe Bell (playing herself) doing especially well.
Ever the student and expert crafter of his characters’ movement, Death Proof is one of Tarantino’s most sensationally choreographed movies and strangely enough, the most memorable sequence in that respect is not one of the driving scenes but the gently and seductively framed lap-dance sequence which is the coolest thing we’ve seen since Hayek took to the stage in From Dusk til Dawn (and there are some nice parallels between those two scenes such as the women dancing in the background). The action driving sequences are nothing short of stunning in both their choreography and cinematography and they beat most of the car-chase films which inspired this feature with the possible exception of the 1974 Gone in 60 Seconds.
Death Proof is a celebration of cinematic freedom and adventure that will have you looking forward in time as much as backwards. It nods affectionately to its influences from the indie road films of the 70′s, the cinema of John Carpenter and Brian DePalma, to the TV shows that made the car chase its most important staple. Whether you’re a fan of those films/shows or simply an appreciator of the hip conversational films of the 1990′s, this film hits all the right notes and will have you coming back again and again.
Robert Rodriguez’ adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel is a tour de force in conceptualisation and story-telling. Shot on digital video against green screen to give the effect of comic book pages coming to life, it tells three main stories that are interwoven into one overall tale of life in a city dominated by corruption, murder, sadism, and men and women of steel. This is hardcore squared as one mean mutha goes toe to toe with another until not one is left standing. Mickey Rourke’s Marv is the Alpha in this tale and the segment dedicated to his all-or-nothin revenge rampage is indisputably the best. Rourke is electric as the man mountain and with his gnarly voice being married to his digitally enhanced visual frame he becomes an awesome sight. The direction is truly inspired and elegant almost beyond belief. Rodriguez deserves the lion’s share of the credit obviously but he is aided by Frank Miller himself and Quentin Tarantino who did the tar pit sequence. The final sequence involving Bruce Willis’ character is the most visually arresting and wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Wilder or Welles film from the 40/50′s. Sin City is a singular film going experience and not to be missed if you’re a fan of graphic novels, film noir, action, or just plain great movies.
Rating: The Good – 77.2 Genre: Comedy Duration: 98 mins Director: Kevin Smith Stars: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Rosario Dawson
“I hope that donkey doesn’t have a heinie troll!” Who would have thought Kevin Smith’s most emotional and outrageous film could be one and the same? Given the fact that sequels to unexpected hit films are almost always stale rehashes of the first film, one could’ve expected this to go the same way. Happily, Clerks II joins a small band of sequels that rise to the level of the original. Smith makes all the right moves as he brings every main character back from Clerks (rule number one which most sequels are forced to break) and introduces new secondary characters who are given more room to grow than the secondary characters in the first film. The plot also allows his main characters to justifiably be faced with the same daily dilemmas so they never feel like shadows of their past selves. This precludes any melancholic “lost times” vibe which defines many sequels. Instead we have exactly what it says on the tin: “Clerks II″. There is a fast food restaurant instead of the quick-stop and a new romantic dilemma for Dante as he must choose between the always excellent Rosario Dawson and his fiancée (played by Smith’s real life wife Jennifer) who wants to move to Florida. Randal is also faced with more serious issues as he contemplates losing his best friend for real.
However, while the overall framework is similar, what allows Clerks II to succeed is that it avoids trying to compete with its predecessor which was fueled by the independent verve of the 90’s and instead takes an entirely different tack. Thus, the surgical and insightful college humour of the original is replaced with a coarse and outrageous comedy. It was a risky move and not everyone will approve but it allows the film to stand on its own and out of the looming shadow of one of independent cinema’s great comedies. And in judging it on its own merits, one must acknowledge that Clerks II make you laugh and in some cases, hysterically so.
There are naturally some strengths shared with the original. Brian O’Halloran is again flawless in his portrayal of Dante managing to be funny and completely likable throughout while Jeff Anderson as Randal is perhaps even funnier than he was in Clerks. As he was in the first film, he is the beating heart of this film’s comedy and he carries that task with ease. In particular, he works very well with Trevor Fehrman who does well as the naive (though sometimes overbearing) Elias. Jay and Silent Bob are also on hand five years on from their own epic adventure and instead of being wheeled in like an old joke they burst from the screen in one of their funniest performances (that Silence of the Lambs bit will have tears rolling from your eyes).
But as the comedy climaxes (no pun intended) in the most outrageous way imaginable (seriously) and you’re just managing to catch your breath, the true emotional punch of this film is delivered as Dante and Randal finally come to terms with their relationship and their own transitions. Even Jay and Silent Bob have moved on in this film and while none of the characters are less the funnier for it, they have changed. These are characters who Smith’s own generation of fans have grown up with and as Smith waves farewell to them he is firmly nodding in the direction of those fans as Dante, Randal, Jay, and Silent Bob and even Smith himself become as identifiable to those fans as ever. A masterclass in comedic reflection.