Sunday, 9 September 2012

Dredd 3D

Now this is a bit more like it. Director Pete Travis brings us a straightforwardly-plotted, grungier (in a good way) and spectacularly more violent treatment of Judge Dredd. As opposed to the 1995 version: a rambling, glossier (in a not good way), and significantly less violent flick.

Writer Alex Garland cooks up a simple and effective day-in-the-life premise. Dredd (Karl Urban) and young rookie Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) investigate a multiple homicide inside a vast Mega Block in Mega City One. The inappropriately named ‘Peach Trees’ block is run by sadistic drug kingpin, Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) and her fearful gang. They trap the two Judges inside the building and subsequently hunt them down.

Filmed in Cape Town and Johannesburg it is brightly shot by Anthony Dod Mantle with sterling visual effects support. It’s a scary and believable urban future within a radioactive wasteland of a planet.

Karl Urban is the iconic lawman. (In fact, he is the law.) Although judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one, he is certainly most adept at the ‘executioner’ part of that skill set. It’s a lot of fun seeing him maim, burn, gas etc an endless string of bad guys who attempt to take him down. Three words to those bad guys: in your dreams. For this Dredd is badass to the last. Urban is very watchable - no mean feat considering more than half his face is obscured. The filmmakers wisely respect this aspect of 2000 AD’s mythology and Dredd’s helmet stays firmly on throughout. I anticipated the worst when the young rookie was revealed to be a young, attractive blonde but the pairing works well. A mismatched pairing of law enforcers is nothing new but it’s a grand tradition because it keeps things interesting. As the yin to Dredd’s yang, 26 year-old Thirlby more than holds her own amongst all the macho posturing.

The action is intense and the director maintains a thrilling momentum. Tonally it’s pretty serious, while still allowing some killer quips from Dredd. The violence is graphic and downright nasty (as it should be) and brings to mind the likes of Paul Verhoeven, who was always unafraid of creating something truly horrific. In an age where studios pussyfoot around with 12As and PG13s this makes Dredd 3D a rarity: a piece of 18 Certificate/ R Rated blockbuster entertainment. Congratulations to the filmmakers for making it so. Here’s hoping it’s a global smash and we might just see a bit more of this kind of thing.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Company Men

John Wells, writer of much quality TV (e.g. The West Wing, ER) directs this, his first feature. It is ably written, directed and acted, and certainly captures the zeitgeist.

A major corporation is laying off staff in droves. The successful Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) finds himself out of a job and struggles to find anything new. Another big hitter, Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) falls victim to the cuts at an age where you don’t want to be looking for work. This radical downsizing occurrs while much unnecessary expense is laid out elsewhere. Big cheese Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) rails against this putting his own job at risk.

Tommy Lee Jones is at his most fantastically curmudgeonly, and with good reason. The company he helped build no longer has any scruples. When the chips are down he’s just the kind of no-nonsense grumpy old man you’d want on your side. It’s a quality cast. Cooper displays a marked vulnerability. Mario Bello’s character has the unenviable task of doing the sacking and manages to make the role human. Rosemarie DeWitt lends support as Bobby’s wife. Currently to be seen in Your Sister’s Sister, it’s good to see her featuring in a lot more roles this year. She is supremely talented, exudes a sparkling intelligence, and… ok, she’s a crush I’ve been nursing for some time. Regarding Kevin Costner - for an actor at whom there have been more than a few accusations of vanity he certainly seems happy to appear on the sidelines lately. (Here, as Bobby’s blue collar brother-in-law he barely features.) He’s been damn good in these smaller roles too. There’s not much to like about Affleck in this but that is due to the writing. Unattractively cocksure and disrespectful to all I would have liked to have seen him go through something a little more humbling than having to sell the Porsche (boo hoo).

Some of the scenes that are supposed to be of an uplifting nature and/or comedic are a little cringey and feel shoehorned in. (Pressure from the studio perhaps?) But luckily there aren’t too many of these moments. The director seems more concerned with the serious stuff, and he’s great at it too. The film is perhaps lacking a bit of heart but the corporate intrigue is exciting and earns it a very respectable three stars.