Last year, I watched a number of films. I’m going to briefly talk about some of them today.
(Starring Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman)
Ryan Gosling stars as “Driver”, a stunt driver by day and getaway driver by night. In the scene before the start credits, he is shown driving two burglars away from a warehouse. Pursued by the cops, instead of trying to outrun them, he uses a police scanner to detect and evade them.
Driver takes a shine to his neighbour, played by Michelle Williams. After her husband is released from prison, a gang starts menacing him. Driver agrees to help him on a job to clear his debt to the gang. The job turns out to be a setup, with the husband murdered and Driver and another robber barely escaping with their lives. Driver then sets out to avenge the husband’s death. Ron Perlman plays the instigator of the husband’s death, a Jewish man who longs to be an Italian mobster and who is treated with condescension by real mobsters who “pinch my cheek and call me a kike.” Albert Brooks plays an associate who is also disdainful of Perlman’s character. Brooks’s character commits two murders and is the most dangerous character in the film, because he looks like a kindly uncle and is able to get too close to his targets.
Despite the film being based on a 2005 novel, director Nicholas Winding Refn went for an 80’s feel. The music, cars and clothes all reflects this. Apart from one scene with a BlackBerry, it could actually have been the 80’s.
(Starring Taylor Kitsch)
This film is loosely based on the Hasbro game “Battleship”.
The plot of this is a little convoluted. A few years ago, an observatory on Earth sent signals to a nearby star. The star had a planet with intelligent life forms who have an advanced civilisation, who decide to come and invade. At the same time, the US Pacific Fleet is on a joint exercise with various other navies. The Weapons Officer on the destroyer USS John Paul Jones is Alex Hopper. In the end, Hopper saves the day.
The real story of the film is “Serial screw-up saves the day.” It’s all rather cliched, but if you can suspend disbelief, it’s fun.
(Starring Ryan Reynolds, Denzel Washington)
Ryan Reynolds plays a CIA Operative who runs a Safe House in Cape Town. His days are boring until an interrogation team arrives with a traitor (Denzel Washington). The traitor manages to escape and Reynolds’s character has to chase him down.
The film is set in Cape Town and a lot of it was filmed there and in the Western Cape. It was striking to hear Ryan Reynolds speaking Afrikaans like a boykie. The film has the obligatory twist to it, but is fairly good all round.
(Starring Michael Shannon)
This is a study of somebody quite literally going insane. Curtis LaForche is a team leader for a construction company. His mother had to be sectioned for paranoid schizophrenia and Curtis fears for his sanity. Things start going wrong when he hears auditory hallucinations. He then starts getting dreams of being attacked and turns paranoid. He also becomes obsessed with the idea that a huge storm is coming and starts improving the tornado shelter in his back yard.
His actions have a negative affect on his family. His daughter is deaf and needs a cochlear implant and his behaviour gets him fired and loses him his health insurance. Most disturbing is the fact that he has lucid moments where he realises he has a problem but is powerless to get the help he needs. The entire film is unsettling.
(Starring Riaad Moosa)
South African Muslim stand-up comedian Riaad Moosa plays a young man who works in his father’s material shop and who longs to be a stand-up comedian despite the fact that his father wants him to one day take over the shop. Despite being cliched, it’s quite entertaining. Moosa really knows his stuff and I intend seeing him live if I get the chance.
The film references South Africa’s painful past. The father was caught up in the forced removals of the 50’s and 60’s and is understandably still bitter. Moosa’s character didn’t live through that and wants to make his own life. He has allies in his grandmother and a friend. In the end, the father accepts that his son wants to take a different path. Like I said, all very cliched but still good fun.
(Starring Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Sasha Baron-Cohen)
Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is orphaned when his watchmaker father (Jude Law) is killed in an accident. He is taken in by his uncle, who maintains the clocks at the central Paris Train Station and trains him to do the same. The uncle later drowns after falling into the Seine drunk. Hugo’s most prized possession is an automaton. He runs afoul of the owner of a toy shop who has a secret.
The film is a tribute to the genius of filmmaker George Melies. At the end of Hugo there is a series of shots from his films, which made me want to see more.
The most jarring item in the film is the Station Inspector, played by Sasha Baron-Cohen. The first problem is the accent, which comes across as Baron-Cohen trying to play a British Bobby voicing a Parisian Policeman. The second problem is the actual character. Was he supposed to be a buffoon? A villain? He’s neither. He’s too clever to be a buffoon and as for being a villain, when Hugo falls onto the tracks while trying to escape him, he pulls him to safety just in time.
(Starring George Clooney, Matthew Lillard)
George Clooney plays Matt King, a Hawaiian lawyer and the administrator of a family trust. His wife is in a coma after a speedboating accident and a change in the law means that the trust has to be dissolved and the money distributed to the family members. He is also the father of two girls. The older is a rambunctious tearaway. After he collects them, the older reveals that his wife was cheating on him.
Upon learning of his wife’s infidelity, King loses it and starts lashing out. The man with whom his wife was cheating turns out to be a realtor named Brian Speer (played by Matthew Lillard) who will be involved in the transaction to sell off the trust’s land. The best line in the film is when King meets him. “My wife is dying. Oh, and fuck you.” King’s anger and pain leads him to conduct himself in a very unprofessional manner. Clooney was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar, but didn’t win.
In 1998, Matthew Lillard appeared in the film “She’s all that”. He played a slimy character who sleeps with the main character’s girlfriend. Project that character into 2011, and you get Brian Speer.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
(Starring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth)
Gary Oldman plays Smiley, who was pushed out of British Intelligence following a fiasco, and who is brought back to uncover a mole. The mole is one of four people involved in a mission named “Witchcraft”. Each has a code name: Tinker; Tailor; Soldier; Spy.
The film is based on a 1974 John le Carre novel. It’s as far away from James Bond as you can think. Few dramatics and no fireworks; just a long process to uncover a traitor. It’s still enthralling.
The Hunger Games
(Starring Jennifer Lawrence)
Based on Suzanne Collins’ novel of the same name. In the future, the US is headed by a despotic regime. Twelve districts rebelled against the Capitol and lost. As a punishment, each must send two teenagers, one male one female, to fight to the death in a televised match called The Hunger Games. The winner’s district will get a feast. Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss Everdeen, a skilled archer and poacher. When her sister is selected to compete in The Hunger Games, Katniss takes her place.
The main impression I got was of a parody of the Reality TV genre. Having said that, the film is fairly good.
I will write about more of the films I watched in my next post.