We all know what’s going on, but the last thing the internet needs is more unqualified half assed words of wisdom, so fuck it. Let’s go back to the simpler times of 2012, when you could leave your doors unlocked, have a good night out and still have taxi fare to get home on 50p (or 50 cents) and women were still campaigning for the right to knock the shit out of each other in the UFC.
Argo: (Director Ben Affleck)
1980, Under the guise of making a fake sci fi film, a US agent goes to Iran on a mission to smuggle out six Embassy staff in hiding in the Canadian Embassy.
Ever get a lingering effect after just seeing a film? Like when you’ve just seen a horror film and are looking over your shoulder as walk hurriedly through the deserted car. Or found yourself driving a home a little looser and quicker after coming out of Fast and Furious (guilty). One of the weirdest examples of this was after I’d just seen Argo and on the tram ride home I was overwhelmed by a nervousness as the conductor worked his way towards me to check my (very valid) ticket.
That’s how in nervous knots Argo had got me, because if there is one thing the Ben Affleck film excels in it’s ramping up the tension and playing havoc with audiences nerves, who if they know their history (though lets face it how many actually do) are aware it all turns out well in the end.
Argo is practically two films. The first half is on the heels of the storming of the American embassy in Iran in 1979 which resulted in 60 staff and civilians taken hostage for over a year. With six managing to escape capture and taking refuge in the Canadian Embassy, a CIA operative (Tony Mendez played by Ben Affleck) comes up with a plan to infiltrate and leave Iran with the fugitives disguised as a scouting crew for a Hollywood Science Fiction movie named Argo.
While the fugitives face discovery in Iran, back in Hollywood there almost a comedy tone, as Mendez teams with two producers (played wonderfully by the always worth a ticket John Goodman and Alan Arkin) to acquire a film script and give the fake film as much authenticity as possible with publicity and script rehearsals. Arkin is especially great as an eccentric producer proclaiming “If I’m gonna make a fake movie, it’s going to be a fake hit.”
The film totally shifts gear when Mendez arrives in Iran. The simple announcement of the collection of all alcoholic drinks from passengers as the plane enters Iranian space manages to invoke a nerve wracking sense of foreboding of entering a dangerous land. From the first encounter with the Iranian authorities at customs, to the sights of anti American protests, armed militias and the bodies of the public executed still hanging on the streets I was fraught with anxiety the whole time in the cinema.
I was a bag of nerves at every stage of the execution of the mission, the tension heightened by the nervousness and ineptitude of the six civilians as Mendez tried to prepare them for passing customs with their false identities. Even a scene in Washington to secure airline tickets out of Iran becomes an unbearable white knuckle race against time simply through frantic phonecalls and politicking. And as for the final confrontation between the team and an aggressive customs officer suspicious of their story, well it’s a calmer person than me who wasn’t pouring with sweat as the departure time for their plane loomed and everything seemed to be falling a part.
Argo is an absolutely brilliant thriller, but historically it has to be said a lot of the greatest nerve jangling moments are complete bollocks. I was slightly disappointed to learn in real life the plan pretty much came off without a hitch, and there certainly wasn’t any Iranian guards chasing down the runway after the plane (which even watching the time I suspected was total fiction).
Personally I’m fine with the story being altered massively in the name of drama, especially as it gives us something as brilliant as Argo. What is harder to palate is the diminishing of the real life contribution of others in the operation, such as the Canadian government, in favour of the CIA and it has to be said Hollywood (hardly surprising the film was loved by the Academy giving it Best Picture and Screenplay but snubbing Affleck as director failing to even nominate him). In something I find especially disrespectful the aid given by the British and New Zealand embassies is not only overlooked but it’s actively said in the film the two countries actually turned the six away. In truth the Six could not reach the British embassy and were sheltered by Brits early on but moved to the Canadians as it was a more secure hiding place, also New Zealand helped and offered an emergency hiding option. Affleck was also criticised for playing the role of a Hispanic with allegations of white washing, appropriation etc although the real life Mendez pointed out he doesn’t actually identify as Hispanic.
Liberties aside, Argo is incredibly entertaining with colourful characters, great performances and tension you could stand a spoon in (it’s strong is what I’m trying to say.) Down to Earth it may be, just make sure you read the real story too.
Also wouldn’t it be a blast to actually make “Argo,” someday?
Dredd (Director: Pete Travis)
The greatest cop in Mega City One Judge Dredd responds to a murder and is trapped along with his rookie partner Anderson in a tower block ruled by the criminal gang lord Mama.
There’s a story that when Karl Urban met to discuss playing the role of Judge Dredd he was warned that half his character’s face would be hidden by a helmet the entire film. Urban is said to have replied that if they’d said anything else the meeting would have been over.
Whether true or aggregation, any fans of the UK’s 2000AD comic would have responded with glee at this news. Confident that their beloved Dredd and his violent tendencies rooted from 70’s Punk rock anger were being shown more respect than Stallone did in his infamous, watered down version in the 90’s.
Dredd doesn’t stay completely faithful to the look and style of the comic, setting aside the futuristic Science fiction metropolis for a (probably affordable) more grounded, gritty urban environment. What it does convey from is the comic’s is the grim, fascistic society of Mega City One, where crime is out of control and policed by the Judges, who are empowered with on the spot trial, judgement and sentencing, sometimes even on the spot execution. In this callous world the Judges priority is enforcement of the law, with any civilians caught in the cross fire treated as little more than meat to be scooped up for “recycle.”
It’s in this dangerous world that we meet Dredd, saddled with evaluating for the day a rookie Cassandra Anderson, a failing Judge candidate only given one last shot because of her strong psychic powers. The pair respond to a gangland murder at a giant housing block which is under control of gang boss Mama (played by Lena Heady summoning all her Cersi Lannister ruthlessness). When Dredd and Anderson capture one of Mama’s lieutenants, she locks down the whole building, and orders her gang members to hunt down and slay them. Trapped, the two judges are forced to fight their way up 100 floors to take out Mama.
Of course this story is unmistakably similar to that of The Raid, the groundbreaking, spectacular action film from Indonesia that wowed audiences the year before. However accusing Dredd as a Raid ripoff is unfair as Dredd started production a couple of months before the Raid, but possibly due to the time taken adapting the footage to 3D came out behind, so any similarities would appear entirely coincidental on both movies part.
With just one location for much of the film Dredd is able to concentrate it’s resources on the hard edge, explosive and suitably violent action. There is an impressive amount of gory, bloody killings, some of them looking spectacular in ultra slow motion to emphasie the effect of the Ma-Ma’s new drug Slow Mo which slows down user’s perceptions (this may remind some in the UK of the Chris Morris comedy sketch involving the drug Cake).
While the action is pleasingly down and dirty, what really elevates the film is Urban’s performance. He nails the hard faced, uncompromising and disengaged from humanity facets of Dredd’s character, which have been the comic book’s trademark for decades. Wisely writer Alex Garland refrained from bestowing on Dredd a character development arc, leaving his story almost to be a day in the life of his duty. The real character story is that of Anderson, where Olivia Thrilby brought a humanity and vulnerability to being a Judge in training.
Anderson has a motivation to being a Judge, that being to help others, however we see this sign of morality compromised by the realities of the role. We see her shaken in her first firefight and forced to fight against her conscience when she issues and carry out her first death sentence against an unarmed prisoner (the burden is even heavier when she later meets the wife and child of the man she killed). Her story serves as an alternate experience to Dredd and allows Urban to fully immerse himself in the character.
Though the action isn’t especially spectacular when it comes to originality it’s darkness makes Dredd a fun action movie and pleased many 2000ad fans. But is it the definitive Judge Dredd movie? When it comes to Urban’s committed portrayal you couldn’t ask for more. What it doesn’t do is recreate the world of Mega City One, and it could be argued for all it’s faults the Stallone movie included more elements for fans such as Block War, The Cursed Earth, Angel Gang and an ABC Warrior. Dredd also lacks the very English satire and humour which is an underrated element of the strip and you can’t help but notice in the Judge Dredd-like Robocop.
Regardless Dredd was a great recovery for the character on the big screen, but sadly was a complete flop at the boxoffice, taking only $41 million which just about matched it’s budget. There are quite a few possibilities of why audiences stayed away. The stench of the Stallone version may have had an effect, but it’s entirely possible that while Judge Dredd is an iconic figure, he has more of mainly British cult following as opposed to a bankable box office property. Ultimately the marketing has to take the blame somewhat, especially in the decision to go so heavily on the 3D gimmick which was trying to make a comeback at the time. Dredd just wasn’t big enough a movie to draw in an audience ready to shill out for 3D. While I was lucky to have a 2D showing close to me to go see, such screenings were very scare.
Dredd though at least managed to bring the stone faced anti hero onto the screen, for a moment of glory for us to remember him by.
End of Watch (director: David Ayer)
Two LA cops make a name for themselves when they luck upon a Cartel safehouse, but find themselves targeted for a reprisal killing.
Rather aptly, End of Watch has elements from both of my film choices from 2012, namely the tension building of Argo and the gritty cop driven action of Dredd. In many ways End of Watch tore apart my nerves just as effectively as Argo.
In End of Watch the severe feelings of foreboding and dread that that played havoc with my breathing, found their source from the affection I developed for the two beat cops at the centre of film, Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Pena). The chemistry between the pair brings forth a sense comradeship and affection for each other, as we hang out with them on patrol, listening to their banter, making jokes at each other and follow their home life as Zabval becomes a father and Taylor begins dating and eventually marries a woman Janet played by Anna Kenderick.
Taylor and Zavala are everyday street cops and we see them interacting and dealing with gangs and responding to the various routine calls. However by chance they stumble across a house full of human trafficking victims, which while being the bust of their careers gains them the attention of vengeful drug cartels. There is a slow build of the impending threat to the pair, with the two unknowingly being followed by local gang members and even a local street criminal trying to warn them that he has heard there is a hit out on them.
The cops reluctance to take the threats seriously intensifies the unbearable build to the inevitable confrontation to the point that as a narrative would make no sense, you really don’t want it to happen. There is a sickening feeling when they begin following a speeding car and you know they are being led into a trap. The resulting shootout and chase, with the two cops wounded and trapped on the streets and pursued by the jackal like gangsters is distressing rather than exciting. There is a really sickening feel to the climax (like a violent Butch Cassiday and the Sundance Kid), as you’ve got to know these cops beyond their uniforms and see them as friends, husbands and fathers.
The early scenes of the film are presented found footage style with Taylor filming the duo’s daily routine on the streets of LA. This is an example of found footage making sense, since large swathes of the film takes place within the patrol car and scenes are thus captured from the position of the dash board, while the use of cameras on the vests of Police officers and handheld cameras for evidence enables and excuse for the footage being filmed constantly. Later on the story necessitates that other viewpoints are included, such as the growing threat from the local gangs who begin plans to retaliate against the pair. When it does switch views, the camera retains the shaky manner in common with found footage, so there is a blending of sorts of the forms of shooting the story. Thus the authenticity of the film remains.
End of Watch is one of my favourite cop films of recent times. It’s refreshing that these are just two regular cops, getting through their day and not the cliched corrupt cop dramas that is the trend in most depictions of the police on the screen. It makes for a really sympathetic set of charismatic, likeable characters which in turn draws you in to their ultimate plight and absolutely tear you apart while doing so.
WTF? Piranha 3DD, a guilty pleasure for the 2010’s
In 2010 a tacky looking remake of 1978 Jaws exploitation (or ripoff) Piranha appeared in theatres. As the name Piranha 3D suggested, the film made use of the reawakened 3D technology to not only bring us schools of Piranha busting out of the screen, but also ample, gratuitous shots of spring breakers tits and bums jiggling for our pleasure, two piranha battling over a bitten off penis and Kelly Brock in a bikini. All in fabulous 3D!!!!
The film turned out to be really fun, colourful and even funny in places, aping the Roger Corman style B-movie horrors of the past. However when a sequel was announced you couldn’t help but think they were pushing their luck. And the results kinda confirmed that, Piranha 3DD (Fnar Fnar) this time set in a theme park, felt claustrophobic and overdid the gross out humour.
That said the film had it’s moments, and by God what moments they were.
The first, was a truely great cameo by David Hasselhoff, playing the role he was literally born to play in David Hasselhoff. Haseelhoff is hired by the park on opening day as a celebrity lifeguard donning his old Baywatch outfit. Hasselhoff is hilarious, playing himself as miserable and arrogant and has a few fantastic moments when called into action as the Piranhas strike.
The second is a moment that creased me up with laughter when I first saw this, with a line from Ving Rhames that I found way more funny than I really should have.
If you’ve seen Piranha 3D you probably assumed that the deputy played by Ving Rhames met his demise at the teeth of a school of Piranha. However he turns up in Piranha 3DD having survived the encounter but having both his legs bitten clean off. The now depressed Deputy is at the water park in his wheel chair when the Piranhas attack.
Rising to the occasion and the chance for some payback Rhames tells his carer “get me my legs.” Which as well as being made of titanium also have shotguns attachments. Rhames stands in the water gloriously, despatching Pirahana after Pirahana with his shotgun legs.
After this heroic stand the carer asks Rhames how he could afford Titanium, shotgun legs?
And Rhames deadpan reply, the one that had me in uncontrollably hysterics?
“With the money I saved not having to buy socks!”
Well you had to be there I guess.
That’s all for now.
See you next time, be responsible, be safe and make the most of this time to do something that will make you happy.