So, onto Part Two of last week's movie round up...
Four Lions (2010)
Chris Morris' feature film debut is a controversial comedy centring on the (mis)adventures of five would be suicide bombers (spoiler alert - one of them doesn't even make it to the main event). Morris shows the human side of the jihadists - they're shown to be more as bumbling fools rather than fearless agents of death (though the police investigating their activities ultimately prove to be just as incompetent). Of the terrrorist cell in question, only the leader, Omar, seems to have any idea what's going on - his brothers in terror consist of two simple minded souls, an Ali G like rapper and a white Muslim convert who believes the best course of action is to bomb a mosque 'to radicalise the moderates'. Despite the serious subject matter, this film is often hilariously funny and is definitely worth a watch. It's certainly the only suicide bomb-com out there at the moment.
I'm not really a big Angelina fan, and find Clint Eastwood to be a bit hit and miss as a director (loved Unforgiven and Mystic River, liked Gran Torino, hated Million Dollar Baby). I was therefore a little surprised to be so impressed with this film. I suppose it's the period trappings that really sold it for me - the late 1920s - early 1930s era has been lovingly recreated with some sumptuous set and costume design, but that is matched by a thrilling plot and very strong performances from Jolie, John Malkovich and Jason Butler Harner. The story sounded almost far fetched to be plausible - a woman whose son goes missing is presented with another child by the LAPD who refuse to accept that they have made a mistake, at the same time as a deranged child killer keeps kids locked up in a chicken coop on his ranch on the outskirts of town - until I realised that it was all based on a true story. A powerful story and a very entertaining movie.
The Shining (1980)
My favourite horror film of all time - I've seen it about 4 or 5 times before, but the images are still shocking. I suppose the measure of its success is the way in which certain scenes from the movie are indelibly etched in my mind - in particular, the twin girls appearing in the hallway, the old lady in room 237 and the elevators filled with blood. Masterfully directed by Stanley Kubrick, who apparently drove his cast (in particular Shelley Duvall) to the point of madness with his demands, it's a film that can be watched time and time again, without ever revealing all of it secrets. Why does Jack appear in the picture at the end of the movie? Has he been sucked into the evil of the Overlook Hotel, or has he simply 'always' been there? A true classic. I've just discovered that the American cut of the movie contains an additional half an hour's worth of footage - I shall have to try and track down a DVD with that cut of the film.
Taxi Driver (1976)
Probably Martin Scorsese's masterpiece, this is another stone cold classic - everything about this movie is great. Scorsese and De Niro are at the absolute peak of their powers. De Niro worked as a taxi driver in New York for a month before shooting to enable him to get inside the head of the protagonist, Travis Bickle, a lonely man whose sense of alienation and misanthropy gradually leads him to madness. The cinematography and sound track are top notch too, with the steam rising through vents of the streets of New York pierced by the neon lights of the then seedy Times Square are of the city to create a hellish atmosphere. One plot point I'd almost forgotten since the last time I saw Taxi Driver is that Travis ends the film a hero in the eyes of the media, lauded for gunning down the pimps who had 'enslaved' 12 year old Iris (played by Jodie Foster). A brilliant film which always holds up on repeat viewings.
Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2008)
From the sublime to the ridiculous... this film has recently been touted as the 'worst of all time', and while I can't claim to have seen many of the other contenders which are frequently cited as the absolute nadir of cinema (Plan 9 From Outer Space, Manos: The Hands of Fate etc), Birdemic is definitely the worst made movie I've ever watched. The most glaring errors come in the form of the sound mix, which drops in and out wildly during scenes, but the storyline makes no sense, the acting is atrocious and the special effects appear to just be animated GIFs of birds superimposed on the screen. Actually calling the acting atrocious may do it too much credit - the line readings are excrutiatingly stilted and unnatural, with the worst offender being Alan 'Block O' Wood' Bagh, who plays the lead role in the movie. I'm torn between giving it the high mark which it might merit as an unintentional comedy, or the low mark which it deserves as a piece of filmmaking. As I'm generally a little soft on movies and rarely give a mark below 5, I might never get another chance to dish out a 1, so I'll take the opportunity here.
13 Assassins (2010)
A bloodthirsty romp in feudal Japan, Takashi Miike's movie tells the story of twelve Samurai warriors (and one wild man from the forest) who team up to take down the unspeakably cruel ruler of a prefecture. It reminded me quite a bit of the Seven Samurai - as in that movie, the first two thirds of the film involves putting together a crack team of warriors, while the final third consists of a violent showdown in a village. Solidly entertaining, and well worth seeing for the climatic battle scenes.