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Posts Tagged ‘Luc Besson’

At last year’s Golden Globes, while accepting the award for best foreign language film, director Bong Joon-ho stated (via his now famous translator Sharon Choi) suggested “Once you overcome the one inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films”.  At the time I intended to write about the first time I personally crossed the proverbial barrier, but didn’t get around to it.  Since then, it has won four Oscars (including best picture, and director), and to BAFTA’s and has grossed over $250million.  What better time to revisit this idea.Bong Joon-ho

The film that made me the breach the “one inch tall barrier” was Nikita (1990) from French Auteur Luc Besson.  The first I heard of it was probably from Barry Norman on Film 90.  As far as I can recall, like most people at the time, he gave it a lukewarm review praising the style but suggesting it lacked substance.  However he showed a clip from the film including part of the big action scene at the centre of the story, I was hooked.  At the time I didn’t visit the cinema often, and had I wanted to, had the issue of being four years younger than the 18 certificate would allow.  I was however, a very good customer of my local video shop!  They didn’t know, or more to the point chose not to ask my age, so sometime the following year, the day the movie was released on VHS (ask your parents) I was there waiting to rent it.

It didn’t disappoint.  With far less action than I expected, and more style than I had ever seen, it was a neon masterpiece.   For those who don’t know it, the obligatory synopsis (warning – spoilers, most of the first act revealed).  A group of junkies break into a pharmacy, chaos ensues, three cops, and all but one of the kids are killed.  The lone survivor Nikita (Anne Parillaud), is sentenced to life imprisonment.  He death is faked by an apparent suicide, she then wakes to be given the option of death, or serve her country as an assassin.  To date, it has spawned tree adaptations  Just three years after the original, there was an American remake: The Assassin (aka Point of No Return) (1993).  There have also been two TV series: La Femme Nikita (1997-2001), and Nikita (2010-2013). All three have some merit,  but are a shadow of the original movie.

Anne Parillaud is perfect for the part.  Throughout the film she goes through a series of transformations, from the feral junkie, the petulant teenager impossible to teach, to the sophisticated killer.  But the real character is then revealed.  The woman who doesn’t know what to buy in the supermarket.  And most importantly the real person, the one who falls in love, and is trapped between by her past and her job, unable to talk about either.  There is action, and it is very slick, but my modern standards it is also very realistic.  Thanks to the 18 certificate, the film can be brutal and violent.  This gives a surprising sense of realism.  But the film has more to offer, the titillation of the action and violence, gets people through the door, but the real appeal of the movie is its portrayal of humanity, despair and distrust.  Made just after the end of the cold war, and the tail-end of the excess of the 80’s.  This is year zero of the Tyler Durden generation “the middle children of history” – “No purpose or place” as described in Flight Club (1999) at the end of the decade.

I was unable to find Barry Norman’s original review, but in looking for it, I found a lot of other  opinions.   It appears Nikita has a 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but most of these reviews are more recent.  Back in the 90’s most people and critics seemed to dismiss the film, focusing on the style and/or the violence.  Not surprising, it is after all a key film within what has become known as the Cinéma du look movement.  However, I did find one contemporary review, from Roger Ebert.  As you would expect it is more interesting and insightful; concentrating on the transformation of the character, and the price we pay for decisions.  He called it “a version of the “Pygmalion” legend for our own violent times”.

Back to that one inch tall barrier: It wasn’t the first time I had read subtitles.  I had seen films with sections in other languages.  I also remember my mom watching a French film, I think it was Mourir d’aimer… (1971), which looking back seems bizarre as she hates reading subtitles now!  But most importantly, Director Bong was right it did introduce me to so many more amazing films.  My favourite film of the century so far, Oldboy (2003) is subtitled.  It was a good time to discover subtitled movies, as well as everything that had gone before, within a couple you years of Nikita there were some excelled films released including: Delicatessen (1991), Hard Boiled (1992), El mariachi (1992), Cronos (1993), Three Colours: Blue (1993), Three Colours: Red (1994), Chungking Express (1994), and The City of Lost Children (1995).  People have said to me they can’t read, and concentrate on the movie.  I have never had an issue with this, after a while, you forget you are reading.

My experience of subtitles hasn’t always been perfect.  As a student I had a part time job in bar.  I worked with a French girl who complained she couldn’t go to the cinema in England.  She explained that although she could converse in English she struggled with movies, especially American ones where people either mumble or speak too quickly to under understand.  Growing up she always watched “version originale” films; films shown in the original language but with French subtitles.  It had the dual benefit of being able to read anything she didn’t understand, but also helping her learn English.  I was unable to find her a screening with French subtitles but did take her to see a French film, La Haine (1995).  Not only did she hate the film, but spent the entire screening telling me the English subtitles were wrong!

If you are yet to get past the one inch tall barrier, why not give it a go, their is a whole world of amazing movies waiting for you.  What else are you going to do, watch Gone with the Wind? 

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In recent years Luc Besson has been at his best when making totally bonkers films with extraordinary vision: Angel-A (2005), The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010), Lucy (2014), and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017).  At the same time he has moonlighted as a writer, producer, mentor, or just contributing a story idea for other directors.   These have resulted in some excellent B pictures: Taxi, District B13, and Lockout, as well as some not so good movies/franchises: Taken, From Paris with Love, and 3 Days to Kill.

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This makes his latest film, Anna, something of a curiosity.  On one hand it is return to the world of assassins, the subject of his best films, Nikita (1990) and Léon (1994), (or at least my favourite).  Anna has a lot more in common with Nikita, taking a young girl with a drug problem and a deadbeat boyfriend and training her as a killer.  To its credit, the film skips the usual training montage, and takes Anna from recruit to deadly killer in a moment.  The downside to this is a lack of character development.  Anna is looking for a way out of her life as an assassin before it has even begun.  The use of time is problematic.   The story keeps jumping backwards and forwards as a narrative device.  This works well in some ways, but, I’m not convinced adds up; probably best not to think too much about it.  Then we have the setting.  The main part of the story is set in 1990, so we are in Atomic Blonde territory,  the last days of the Cold War, and yet the film seems to be telling a story at the height of the tensions as seen in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  This leads to further issues of distracting technology, mobile phones, laptop computers, and USB drives appearing five, ten or even fifteen years before invented.

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The film is peppered with action set pieces all of which are well choreographed and shot, but they are interspersed with the spy stuff that is far less interesting and convincing.  This all results in the story feeling both rushed and too long.  Newcomer Sasha Luss is suitably attractive, and good in the action scenes, but doesn’t have the charisma, acting ability, or comic timing to match Charlize Theron, Scarlett Johansson, Anne Parillaud, and Jennifer Lawrence who have all played similar characters better.  Ultimately what we are left with is a film that doesn’t know if it wants to be Atomic Blonde or Red Sparrow (more the plot driven book, than its film adaptation) but ends up being an inferior retelling of Nikita. I enjoyed Anna, and would certainly watch a sequel should it be made, but will not rush to re-watch this one. 

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AAvengers: Captain America: The Winter Soldier set the Avengers franchise in a new direction and Marvel announced phase Three schedule covering films up to 2019.marvel-avengers

B  – Boyhood: What could have been a gimmick turned out to be the best film of the year.boyhood poster

CNick Cave: 20,000 Days on Earth was neither documentary or a narrative film, but was one of the best movies of the year.20,000 Days on Earth

DDoug Liman: Edge of Tomorrow was the enigma of 2014.  The Doug Liman directed movie received solid reviews and great word of mouth but underperformed at the box-office.edge of tomorrow

EEgypt & Exodus: Gods and Kings – Ridley Scott’s biblical epic was released on Boxing Day in the UK and few weeks earlier in some countries.  The film has been banned in Egypt as the courtiers censors are unhappy with “historical inaccuracies”.Exodus Gods and Kings

FFincher & Flynn: Director David Fincher turned Gillian Flynn’s bestselling Novel Gone Girl into an excellent movie.Gone Girl

GGuardians of the Galaxy –  Made up of a cast of largely unknown characters, it was considered a risk for the franchise.  Not only was the film great fun but was the Highest grossing film at the US box-office (and 2nd highest worldwide) for the year.Guardians-of-the-Galaxy

HThe Hobbit: After more than 20 hours screen time, The Battle of the Five Armies brings Peter Jackson’s time in Middle Earth to an end.Peter_Jackson_Hobbit

IThe Interview:  The release for the movie The interview was cancelled following threats from hackers.  Barack Obama and George Clooney joined the debate and the film received a limited Christmas day release earning $1million from 331 scenes in independent theatres.the-interview-poster

JJennifer Lawrence: With an Oscar win and two other nominations as well as a starring role in two of the biggest movie franchises, Jennifer Lawrence is probably the biggest young star in Hollywood.  She was also the most outspoken victim of hackers who stole nude images and posted them online.jennifer-lawrence

KKickstarter: the big names to come from kickstarter in 2014 were the Veronica Mars movie and Zach Braff’s ;Wish I Was Here.  Blue Ruin and Obvious Child also raised a little to help get them released.veronica-mars-movie

L Luc Besson & Lucy: After numerous movies with his name attached as a writer or producer Besson is back in the director’s chair with the surprise hit Lucy.  Making back its $40million budget back in its opening weekend.Lucy

MMcConaissance: Matthew McConaughey’s resurgence was completed with a best actor Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club.Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club

NNightcrawler: Jake Gyllenhaal gives the performance of his career in Dan Gilroy’s feature debut.Nightcrawler Jake Gyllenhaal

OOprah Winfrey: as well as producing two movies: Selma and The Hundred-Foot Journey Winfrey proved her Hollywood power by lending her support to the independent British film Belle.Oprah Winfrey

PPaddington: What could have been a disaster turned out to be charming and funny.paddington

Q – Quvenzhané Wallis: The young star of Beasts of the Southern Wild retuned with a small part in 12 Years a Slave and starring role in the remake of Annie.Quvenzhané Wallis

RThe Rover: After his début feature, Animal Kingdom in 2010 David Michôd is back with The Rover, a movie full of subtext, foreboding and great acting from Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson and Scoot McNairy. The Rover

SScarlett Johansson: It’s been a busy year for Johansson with the UK release of: Her, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Chef, Under the Skin and the surprise hit of the year Lucy.Scarlett Johansson under the skin

TAlan Turing: The imitation Game finally told the long overdue story of war hero and farther of computing, Alan Turing.the imitation game

UUnreleased: A region 2 DVD of Snowpiercer is available from a well know online retailer but the film is still yet to receive a UK release.Snowpiercer

VVampire: Forget Twilight, with Only Lovers Left Alive and What We Do in the Shadows there are two original ideas to kick-start the genre.Only Lovers Left Alive

W – Mia Wasikowska: After appearing in Stoker my favourite film of 2013 Mia Wasikowska is rapidly becoming one of my favourite actresses with appearances in Maps to the Stars, The Double, Only Lovers Left Alive and Tracks in 2014.Mia Wasikowska

X – X-Men: Days of Future Past: Bryan Singer returned to the X-Men franchise with a seminal story form the 80’s. It beat Captain America: The Winter Soldier at the world box-office, dragging the franchise from the shadow of Marvel Studios.X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-chess-game

Y – 12 Years A Slave: Winner of Oscars for Best picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and best supporting actress for Lupita Nyong’o in her first feature film.Lupita Nyongo

ZThe Zero Theorem: Terry Gilliam is back after five years, and back to what he does best, making interesting films that look like the cost a lot more to make than they actually did.The Zero Theorem

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3 Days To Kill opened a couple of weeks ago to universal derision, it surprisingly isn’t that bad. With a script by Luc Besson and a plot featuring an aging CIA hit-man, comparisons with Taken are unavoidable. Kevin Costner does a good job with a flimsy and derivative story that loses its way in the middle. The action scenes and the family bonding both work on their own merits but the film fails to join the two elements together into a coherent movie. Not as nasty as Taken but also not as focused, it is worth seeing for any fans of either Costner or Besson, but we should expect so much more from Luc Besson.3 Days to Kill

Both as a director and writer/producer Besson has been responsible for some great films. Subway (1985) was the beginning of the style over substance tag (known as Cinéma du look movement ) that has followed Besson for his entire career, but with this much style how much substance do you need? Five years later came the film that introduced me to non English language cinema: Nikita (1990), I rented the VHS when I was 15 years old (I know it is an 18 and I was 15, but the video shop man didn’t notice or care!) about a year after its cinema release, I was drawn to the movie mainly because I liked the cover. Often criticised for lack of originality, Nikita has surely influenced more movies than it was influenced by. Anne Parillaud’s reluctant government assassin has spawned a Hollywood remake, two TV shows and countless imitators. Léon(aka The Professional) (1994) is widely regarded as Besson’s best film thanks to the just over-the-top enough turn by Gary Oldman and the sensational feature debut of 12-year-old Natalie Portman. It is also notable as Besson’s first film in English. Again in English, this time with an even less restrained Gary Oldman, The Fifth Element (1997) saw a new direction for Besson, a big budget Sci-Fi adventure. it has its problems but on the whole is a fun with some interesting ideas. Better know as a writer and producer in recent years, he is still able suprise as a director as he did with the bizarre but brilliant Angel-A (2005) and The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010). Sadly less well know, possibly because they are in French, I would recommend both movies to anyone who hasn’t seen them.nikita

Probably the best know of his writer/producer movies is The Transporter (200, 2005, 2008), starring Jason Statham, they are exactly what you expect from Besson and Statham, slick, glossy, well made, dumb action. Also falling into that category but with more comedy is Taxi (1998) and its three sequels (2000, 2003, 2007). Also notable for early appearances from Marion Cotillard nearly a decade before La Vie en rose. I wouldn’t bother with parts 3 and four or the American remake (2004) but the first two films are great. There were three films released in the UK in 2006 to feature parkour: Breaking and Entering (2006), Casino Royale (2006) and District 13 (2004) (original title Banlieue 13, also known as District B 13). Only District 13 stars parkour founder David Belle. Belle and writer/producer returned for a sequel District 13: Ultimatum (2009) and Brick Mansions (2014), neither were as good as the exciting and innovative original film. Lockout (2012) is a B Sci-Fi starring Guy Pearce and go-to kidnap victim Maggie Grace. The story is derivative and the effects terrible, but the film itself is tremendous fun and really Enjoyable.Lockout

Working across multiple genres, Besson also wrote, produced and directed the Arthur and the Invisibles movies (2006, 2009, 2010), and the biopic of Aung San Suu Kyi, The Lady (2011). I haven’t seen any of these films so can’t comment on them other than to say they were not well received critically. Returning to the director’s chair for his next film Lucy, set for release in August (in UK). Starring Scarlett Johansson in the title role it looks from the trailer like a riff on the ideas of Limitless. A return to large budget Sci-Fi and yet another film to feature a strong female lead, I am looking forward to it.the lady

All this producing isn’t an act of randomly placing his name on movies to help distribute them, in 1999 he founded the Paris based EuropaCorp, one of the few independent studios that both produces and distributes movies. As well as the films Besson has creative infuemce over, he has also produced Nil by Mouth (1997), directed by Gary Oldman; The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, by Tommy Lee Jones (2005) (and Tommy Lee Jones’ upcoming The Homesman) and Tell No One (2006), by Guillaume Canet. Three fantastic films that may not have been made if not for Besson and EuropaCorp. While I respect what Besson is doing with EuropaCorp, I would just like to see a few more great films directed by him and a few less mediocre ones written and, or produced by him.

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The cinema has been awash with sequels in recent years some good, many bad! But are there any characters you would like to see again? Here are a few I would like to see:

Eden Sinclair – Played by Rhona Mitra – Doomsday (2008): A cynical and wisecracking, hardcore but emotionally detached soldier. Essentially she is a female Snake Plissken, when she says “if he touches me one more time, I will kill him where he stands” you know its true. With the character left open at the end of Doomsday, a sequel could follow, but only if written and directed by Neil Marshall, anything would be a mistake.Eden Sinclair Rhona Mitra

Dirk Pitt – Played by Matthew McConaughey – Sahara (2005): We have seen Dirk Pitt before, played by Richard Jordan in Raise the Titanic (1980), but that’s best forgotten. Sahara is an underrated and fun action adventure, the closest anyone has ever come to emulating Indiana Jones. The right blend of hero and comedian Matthew McConaughey was perfectly cast and had great chemistry with co-stars Penélope Cruz and Steve Zahn. Sadly the film “underperformed” at the box-office and was beset with legal issues mainly involving author Clive Cussler making a sequel unlikely but we can hope.Dirk Pitt Matthew McConaughey

The Bride – Played by Uma Thurman – Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) & Vol. 2 (2004): The Bride aka Beatrix Kiddo codename Black Mamba is the character created by Thurman and writer/director Quentin Tarantino. A member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, a group of female assassins with a striking resemblance to “Fox Force Five” the group that Mia Wallace (played by Uma Thurman) describes in Pulp Fiction when talking about the TV pilot that she was in. There has been a lot of speculation about a Kill Bill 3, but who knows what Tarantino is thinking. Will we see a grownup Nikki Bell (Ambrosia Kelley) tracking down the bride?The Bride Uma Thurman

Wesley – Played by James McAvoy – Wanted (2008): When Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (The man responsible for Night Watch (2004) and Day Watch (2006)) made Wanted, James McAvoy was an unlikely action stat , but he really pulls it off. There has been talk of a sequel since before the release of the original film, but it has never happened. Their have been reports that both McAvoy and Bekmambetov are interested so it could happen.

Wesley James McAvoy

Nikita – Played by Anne Parillaud – Nikita (1990): We have already seen a lot of Nikita, there has been an American remake and two TV series, but what I would really like to see is a new movie written and directed by Luc Besson and starring Anne Parillaud. The plot possibilities are endless but one thing that could be interesting, Parillaud and Besson have a daughter, Juliette Besson who is in her mid twenties.

Anne Parillaud as Nikita and her daughter Juliette Besson

Anne Parillaud as Nikita and her daughter Juliette Besson

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When visiting my parents or talking to then on the telephone they often ask what movies I have seen, if I respond with the name of a film they haven’t heard of my mom, knowing I watch a lot of foreign language movies will ask “is it foreign”. On more than one occasion I have given the somewhat flippant and slightly rude response “yes, American”. It is funny that a movie made five thousand miles away in Hollywood is familiar and not foreign because it is in something similar to “The Queens English”, and yet something made across the channel in France, still on the same continent as England, is in some way foreign and exotic. Maybe we are two nations joined by a common language and not divided by it as George Bernard Shaw quipped. Whatever the reason, as we step below the surface of these idea we find an interesting thing, filmmaking does exist beyond the bright lights of Hollywood, both in Europe and in the rest of America.Mean Streets The Terminator Blood Simple Memento

When I talk about American independent cinema it isn’t just the obvious and seminal movies like Easy Rider (1969) (Dennis Hopper) or Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) (Monte Hellman) or the small no budget movies that you have never heard of. Think of some of the biggest name directors working today: Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Ethan and Joel Coen, Christopher Nolan, then look at their independent films Mean Streets (1973), The Terminator (1984), Blood Simple (1984), Memento (2000) . Sam Raimi may be making money movies for Disney now but it all started with Evil Dead (1981) and Evil Dead II (1987). Would George Lucas have made Star Wars (1977), if he hadn’t already made THX-1138 (1971) or the hugely profitable American Graffiti (1973)? Then there are directors like David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino and Darren Aronofsky that are just more comfortable outside or on the edge of the system. There was a time before he started believing his own publicity that Kevin Smith was the darling of the indie scene thanks to the cult status of Clerks (1994), but before that came Richard Linklater’s Slacker (1991). A day in the life of various social outcasts and misfits held together by loose strands and an even looser narrative, the style and the realistic dialogue became a blueprint for a generation. Linklater wasn’t seduced by Hollywood instead he remained in Austin and two years later he came up with Dazed And Confused (1993).Dazed And Confused Clerks THX 1138 Evil Dead

The same can be said for foreign language cinema, it isn’t all about weird esoteric art house movies, there are many accessible movies not in the English language. Not that the weird esoteric art house movies are a bad thing, they are just not the best place to start. The test as to if a movie is accessible and worth seeing is simple, would you watch it if it were in English? If the answer is yes, it is worth a look. There were two movies that seemed to cross the language barrier that came out within a year of each other just over a decade ago: Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie (2001). Many of the people who watched and enjoyed them wouldn’t normally have seen a movie in another language. There have been some interesting examples too; the French thriller Tell No One (2006) is very American in its style, no great surprise, it is based on an American novel (of the same name) by Harlan Coben. A Hollywood remake was supposed to have been made but it doesn’t appear to have materialised yet. The same can’t be said for Anything for Her (2008), it took just two years for the American remake The Next Three Days to hit cinema screens. Both Tell No One and Anything for Her benefited from the presence of actresses familiar to English speaking audiences Kristin Scott Thomas and Diane Kruger respectively. On the subject of remakes the terrible Queen Latifah movie Taxi (2004) is a remake of a great French movie also called Taxi (1998). It has spawned three sequels (the first of which is also really good) the movies are notable for lots of things including significant early roles for Marion Cotillard.Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Amélie Tell No One Anything for Her

When I first saw Oldboy (2003) it immediately became one of my all time favourite films. I didn‘t expect it to have gained the following that it has, I also didn‘t think Hollywood would dare to touch it, but they have the American remake of Park Chan-wook’s vengeance movievis in production and is set for release later this year, it is directed by Spike Lee. The other movie that plays well to British and American audiences is Run Lola Run (1998). It put its German star Franka Potente and director and Tom Tykwer onto the international stage both have worked in American and their native Germany many times since. But I can trace my first experience of a foreign language movie back a little further than that. In 1990 I read a review of a film I really wanted to see Nikita (1990). At fourteen years old I didn’t have a chance of getting into see it at the cinema to see the eighteen certificate movie, but a couple of months later (when I was fifteen) renting the video was surprisingly easy. Its impact in America was such that it spawned a Hollywood remake and two television series. Its director Luc Besson’s next two films Léon (1994) and The Fifth Element (1997) were in English.Oldboy Run Lola Run Nikita Taxi

I have done little more than scratch the surface of independent and foreign langue movies, but I hope I have inspired at least one person to look below the tent-pole blockbuster and popcorn movie and towards the smaller films that don’t get all the publicity. Many of them will get limited runs in big multiplexes but others are harder to find, but if this means you are also helping to support your local independent cinema’s it’s an added bonus. As you grow to love them as much as I do you will look deeper and further back at older movies and a whole world of cinema will open up to you. I know that I am to a certain extent preaching to the converted as many readers are film fans and bloggers themselves and are far more cineliterate than me.

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Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises are amongst my favourite movies of the year, but between them they cost the best part of the unimaginable sum of half a billion dollars. What can be done with a lower budget? All of the ten films listed below were made for less than $25million and are all the better for the invention and creativity that comes with limitations of a small budget. In a B movie tradition I have discarded indie drama’s in favour of genre movies: action, gangsters, sci-fi and horror.  The other notable thing, is that despite their B credentials they all received a UK cinema release.

Haywire
Budget: $23,000,000 (estimated)
Legend has it that Steven Soderbergh was sat at home late one night channel surfing when he came across a Mixed Martial Arts contest (a cage fight). He was so enthralled with one of the contestants Gina Carano that he diced to write a movie for her. Having never acted before it was a big risk, but we are talking about the director who cast porn star Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience. Taking a different approach for haywire, he filled the supporting roles with talented actors (Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton and Ewan McGregor), but it is the action that really sets the film apart. Forgoing the post Bourne trend of ultra close-ups and staccato editing in favour of long takes and mid length shots with lots of depth of field. It all helps show off Carano’s fighting talents. A love it or hate it film, it has received mixed reviews, personally I love it.

Killer Joe
Budget: $10,000,000 (estimated)
Back in 2006 William Friedkin made a criminally overlooked gem called Bug, it was based on a play by Tracy Letts who also wrote the screenplay. The pair re-teamed to adapt a play Letts wrote twenty years ago. Set around a criminally stupid dysfunctional Texas family it is a violent and repugnant tale. Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon are all brilliant but are in the shadow of the real star Matthew McConaughey. Often funny but the humour is truly jet black, this is a seriously fucked up film that many people will hate, again, I love it.

The Raid
Budget: $1,100,000 (estimated)
Welshman Gareth Evans is the unlikely director of this film that highlights Indonesian martial art, pencak silat. Set in a Jakarta tower block controlled by a crime lord a swat team have to fight for their lives as the story of why they are there gradually unfolds. A brutal and violent film that isn’t actually that originally but still manages to feel fresh and new. It isn’t as good, inventive or as memorable as Die Hard but it cost less than £1million, in other words less than the coffee budget from Lord of the Rings.

Wild Bill
Budget: no idea but its British so it won’t be much!
Dexter Fletcher has always been a decent and likeable actor, although never a great one, therefore it many come as a surprise, but his debut feature as a director is brilliant. Given his association with British gangster movies it is natural that Wild Bill would be set in London’s underworld. What’s great about the movie is that it avoids the usual storylines associated with this type of movie in recent years and concentrates on more personal story of an ex con who returns home from prison to find his two young sons abandoned my their mother. Being a farther is the last thing on his mind but something compels him to do the right thing. Fletcher also avoids the pitfall of casting himself instead opting for a whose who of British TV and genre movies.

Killing Them Softly
$18,000,000 (estimated)
This gritty tale of low level mobsters and hit men could have been a disaster. Not a great deal happens, it is filled with scenes of men talking around the issues of the movie. The social and political commentary have earned the movie its greatest praise and largest criticism. Directed by Andrew Dominik and starring Brad Pitt, the pair worked together on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and are both on top form again. And like all great genre movies, it clocks in at less than 100 minutes.

Lockout
$20,000,000 (estimated)
Based on an “original idea” by Luc Besson, I’m not sure there is an original idea in the whole movie and don’t think Luc Besson has actually had an original idea in a long time, but that really doesn’t matter, the movie is great. Its silly and its fun and that’s all it ever intended or indeed needed to be. The plot involves a shady but honest spy type character who is forced to rescue the president’s daughter who is held hostage on a prison in space. So basically its Die Hard meets Escape from New York, in space. The CGI is terrible and the plot is thin but none of this matters, the action is good and the dialogue is often funny. The real appeal is a surprisingly good Maggie Grace and the always brilliant Guy Pearce.

Chronicle
$12,000,000 (estimated)
The surprise low budget hit from the early part of the year. A Sci-fi movie reminiscent of Push (2009) and the TV show Misfits. I’m not a fan of the found footage genre but they get away with on the whole here. It loses its way in the final act but overall it is still an enjoyable movie. The unknown cast are good and the fact they are unknown often works in the movies favour.

Storage 24
Budget: again no idea but its British so will be well within the $25million limit.
I have suggested in the past that Noel Clarke is the most important person in the British film industry at the moment. Actor, writer, director and producer, awarded the Orange Rising Star Award at the 2009 BAFTA’s, he is the writer and star of Storage 24. Ultimately it is an alien invasion movie but without the grandeur of Hollywood movies and scaling it back to a small intimate and personal story. It plays out like a haunted house movie with a great blend of horror, comedy and action. Remembering the golden rule the creature is kept hidden for a long time and when we see it, its pretty good for a low budget movie. Criminally overlooked and underrated.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (aka Get the Gringo)
$20,000,000 (estimated)
Sadly under seen thanks to Mel Gibson’s personal problems and the lack of a cinema release in America. First time director Adrian Gruenberg worked for Gibson as assistant director on Apocalypto, the pair give us an old fashioned story of a getaway driver who finds himself in trouble south of the border. There is a scene towards the end of the movie where Gibson impersonates Clint Eastwood but long before that the film starts to resemble A Fistful of Dollars (1964)/Yojimbo (1961) and is all the better for it. Full of both the action and the dry whit you would expect from Mel Gibson of old. Ultimately it is the story of a flawed character looking for redemption, just like Gibson himself.

The Grey
$25,000,000 (estimated)
A horrible and inaccurate portrayal of grey wolves but a haunting and entertaining movie. Liam Neeson has always walked the line between serious actor and action star, originally leaning more towards actor but more recently falling on the action side of the line. When a plane carrying oil drillers crashes in the freezing wastes of Alaska the survivors are hunted by killer wolves. A metaphor for the destruction of the environment and the power of nature or just a survival thriller. Whatever you get from the movie it is well made and largely enjoyable.

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There are many mysteries in Hollywood, one of them is why isn’t Guy Pearce one of the biggest movie stars in the world? He has flirted with the A list in movies like L.A. Confidential but the real classics like The Proposition and Memento have come out of leftfield as has Lockout.

Captured by the secret service and wrongly accused of treason, Snow (Guy Pearce) is convicted without a trial. Meanwhile liberal do-gooder President’s daughter Emilie (Maggie Grace) is taken hostage while visiting a prison orbiting in space. Snow is sent in to rescue her, what follows is basically Die Hard meets Escape from New York, in space.

The CGI effects in the early scenes are cheep and really bad, but the action in the rest of the movie is good without the use of shaky cameras, ultra close-ups and over editing that has become the norm. The real success of the movie is the Snow, or more precisely Pearce playing him. Wisecracking and kicking ass like John McClane and Snake Plissken Peace absolutely relishes the role. To help things even further Peace has genuine chemistry with the surprisingly good Maggie Grace. We actually care about these underwritten and undeveloped characters. Of the supporting cast, the most notable performance comes from Joseph Gilgun who you may recognise from This Is England and his TV work.

Based on an “original idea” by Luc Besson (I’m not sure there is an original idea in the whole movie). I have kind of mixed feelings about Besson, I like most of the movies he has directed and really love a couple of them, but the conveyor belt of his original ideas is a mixed bag ranging form great to utter shit. I am pleased to report this is one of the better ones. Ultimately the movie is irrelevant, disposable and unoriginal fluff but is also fun, funny, exciting and immensely watchable. Helmed by first time feature directors James Mather, Stephen St. Leger, without Besson’s name attached it would have found its way to DVD without troubling the inside of a cinema/theatre, this would have been a shame. Not wanting to outstay its welcome it clocks in at 95 minutes, this is about right.

There is enough going on to turn this into a low budget franchise with two or three sequels, this would probably be a mistake. Left on its own it will age well (other than the effects) and be remembered as a B movie classic. It isn’t a great film this doesn’t stop it being enjoyable, and that’s why I love it.

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Have you ever noticed the number of actors and actresses who advertise aftershave and perfume? If you haven’t take a look at your TV as we approach Christmas and you may be surprised. The thing I didn’t realise until recently is how many of them are directed by big A list directors. This isn’t a new thing, David Lynch made an advert for Opium by Yves Saint Laurent in the early 90’s, he has since gone on to direct one for Gucci and a bag commercial for Dior starring Marion Cotillard.

Dior’s Midnight Poison Commercial starring Eva Green was made by In the Mood for Love director Kar Wai Wong. Sofia Coppola has made two adverts for Dior, the most recent feats “brand ambassador” Natalie Portman. With the help of CGI Charlize Theron’s second Dior, Jadore advert also feature Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Marlene Dietrich it is directed by French director Jean-Jacques Annaud. The inclusion of Marilyn Monroe is an interesting and potentially risky one as the actress is generally associated with Chanel.

On the subject of Chanel, they have really embraced the idea of using movie directors: The Bleu de Chanel advert featuring French actor Gaspard Ulliel (Hannibal Rising) was directed by Martin Scorsese. The Chanel #5 advert from a few years ago featuring the song Sea of love (the one that ends with an aerial shot of a swimming poor that looks like a perfume bottle) was directed by Ridley Scott. Do you remember Estella Warren as the Little Red Riding Hood? (also a Chanel No. 5 commercial) That one was directed by Luc Besson. Its no surprise that the Paris set Chanel No. 5 commercial had echoes of Moulin Rouge! Not only does it star Nicole Kidman but it was directed by Baz Luhrmann. The current Chanel No. 5 advert stars Audrey Tautou and is set on the Orient Express, it reunites the actress with the Amelie/A Very Long Engagement director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Keira Knightley has made two Chanel, Coco Mademoiselle adverts the most recent one was directed by Pride & Prejudice and Atonement director Joe Wright.

The commercial that has been getting a lot of airtime recently is the Gucci Guilty advert featuring Evan Rachel Wood and Chris Evans and directed by comic book writer turned film maker Frank Miller. With an over stylised look and heavy use of green screen it is very reminiscent of Sin City.

A recurring trend in fragrance commercials is directors reuniting with actors they have made films with. Maybe one day Tom Tykwer will make a perfume commercial with Ben Whishaw and Rachel Hurd-Wood or Karoline Herfurth, that’s one I would like to see!

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