Sunday, November 30, 2008

29th Nov 08 - Body of Lies

Body of Lies is both a secret service spy-type thriller and a startlingly real and relevant punch in the face from Ridley Scott.

Secret service spy-type wise, you have Leonardo DiCaprio running around the Far East, hiding under baseball caps, chasing after people while shouting down a phone, with uber-technology backing him up in the form of big-ass satellites tracking his every move and a Brains-esque techie who sits in his weird house and types random shit into computers to make them do clever stuff.

Punch in the face wise, you have suicide bombers, fundamentalist arse-holes spreading the hatred, fat American officials making decisions that disregard various human lives, and violence that is brutally realistic. Take all your Saw-shite-tripe and shove it in the bin, because the only way to truly rattle an audience with torture is to avoid gore-exploitation but just show the stark reality of such practices. Oh, and use a hammer.

This is a bumper film spanning just over two hours (but feeling a little like four) and taking you to unexpected and, in cases like the hammer, unwelcome places too. DiCaprio is of course excellent, bearded up and freakily sporting brown eyes instead of blue. He melds the action (running, fighting, shouting) with the drama, the poor chap having many and various injury makeup sessions throughout the course of his adventures. Taking on the role of fat American official is Russell Crowe, and even when literally the majority of his scenes are spent on the phone, his intelligent but morally flawed Ed Hoffman is a great character, the harsh grey to DiCaprio’s softer brown, the comedy interlude if you like. Well, until you realise people like him are probably in similar positions in real life, making similarly dodgy decisions. And then that punch in the face happens again.

But for all the points gained in a great cast, thrilling set pieces and some definite brain fodder to chew on, Body of Lies slumps slightly because at times it seems to last for ever. New characters are introduced late and new relationships forged three quarters of the way through, leaving you with no clue of the plot’s direction or upcoming end point. Perhaps that is a good thing in a way, and applause to Ridley Scott for crafting such an elegantly long piece of work. But unfortunately when the bottom-seat-shuffle starts to happen, the CF points start to fall.

However, the points had plenty of room to fall, as for the majority of its running time this film is riveting, either in plot, character, or lip bitingly real moments of terror. DiCaprio and Crowe are backed up by a super-cool Mark Strong (Rocknrolla), and with a cast like that and a deftly capable man behind the camera, you canny go wrong. This is an action thriller with a brain. A message piece that doesn’t ram it in your face, or cast too many lob-sided views. It’s relevant, entertaining. A bit like if the news was presented as a drama, but with some nice bits in between to lighten it up now and then. Body of Lies gets a solid CF2, missing a higher mark only for dragging its heels a teeny bit too long. Go see it. Take a cushion. And don’t play with hammers.

Friday, November 28, 2008

26th Nov 08 - Choke

After a woeful gap in cinema visits, what better way to welcome back the big screen than with a film about a sex addict who thinks he could be the son of Jesus. Super. Based on the book by Chuck Palahniuk, whose name I can’t pronounce let alone spell, Choke is the mashed up tale of Victor, a chap who works as an actor in a historical museum, has an addiction to sex, chokes himself in restaurants in order to scam would-be saviours, and tries to look after his mentally ill mother who resides in a hospital and doesn’t recognise her own son.

If you think that’s a lot of rather disparate components then, well, you’d be right. But this is from the author of Fight Club, whose bleak look on the human condition traipses through the majority of his work, often featuring flawed leading characters that we none-the-less begin to identify with. Take Victor – on the surface he’s a pig, a liar, a cheat, and happy to hump any woman that moves. But with flash-backs to his rather unusual upbringing, some touching moments where he tries to connect with his fading mother, and a charming warmth brought to the role by Sam Rockwell, you will find yourself rooting for Victor. Even when he can’t stop imagining the size of every woman’s boobs.

Alongside Rockwell is Kelly Macdonald, flouting a slightly odd American accent (she’s Scottish) and bringing some sweetness to the proceedings, but stealing the show is Anjelica Huston as Victor’s mother. Though current Orange adverts mock her crazier side it’s still fair to say she doesn’t half play a good mental, whether it’s as a dolled up and dangerous lady in the flash-backs, or an increasingly frail old woman in a hospice.

Like Fight Club there is a streak of sardonic humour (the funniest rape scene ever, believe it or not) and because of the subject matter, a heck of lot of dirty humour too (many boobs and flashes of rude, err, positions). But Fight Club’s edgy nature was matched perfectly by Fincher’s erratic direction, turning Chuck’s work into one of the best films in Cinemafool’s experience. Choke is directed by Clark Gregg (an actor, and his first time behind the camera) with a jaunty backing track as Victor trots through the scenes, dampening the fizz and crackle of some of the dialogue or sentiments delivered.

There’s no doubt this is a good film. Original, funny, engaging with interesting comment on how we might choose to live our lives. But there are a few holes, certain relationships not being given full time to develop, and certain plot strands popping up and then disappearing where you feel the novel would have continued. It’s no Fight Club, but it stands tall among some of the shite out today (too many chirpy sing-a-longs for my liking…) and so gains a CF2. Welcome back cinema. Thanks for having me.