Resident film buff, Gerard Elson explores some of the latest flicks to hit the screen…
After reinvigorating a blockbuster franchise in sore need of a shake and a stir in 2006’s Casino Royale, Daniel Craig slips the Rolex back on and refastens his bow-tie for the latest 007 adventure, Quantum of Solace. Quantum finds Ian Fleming’s globetrotting secret agent as we’ve never seen him before – itching for vengeance and nursing a freshly cracked heart. First-time Bond helmer Marc Forster, with his track record of diverse and impressive mid-budget character dramas (Monsters Ball, Finding Neverland), proves the perfect filmmaker to navigate the iconic superspy through is his darkest and most personal vendetta yet, as well as showing himself a deft hand with the action, Quantum serving up some of the most imaginative setpieces of the year. It’s satisfying to find Bond so resolutely single-minded (the signature martinis here serve as a passport to woe-avoidance), and Quantum of Solace rightly builds its churning maelstrom of mood about Craig’s steely-eyed, tight-lipped central turn – only Sean Connery has previously inhabited the role as expertly.
Tasmania’s criminal past is exploited to gruesome effect in Dying Breed, feature debutant Jody Dwyer’s undercooked Aussie cannibalism schlocker. Pitting a quartet of city kids in search of the now-fabled Tasmanian Tiger (Saw’s Leigh Whannell and Wolf Creek’s Nathan Phillips among them) against the inbred descendents of real-life colonial man-eater Alexander “The Pieman” Pearce, Dying Breed frontloads its narrative with some solid cultivation of atmosphere, only to undo any good work by racing to a fizzling wrap-up well before its billie has boiled. It’s a shame for those with an appetite for homegrown genre fare, as the film boasts a smattering of shocks, and that cheeky revisionist set-up itself is a killer.
New York City, summer, 1994. A sweltering heat wave has lethargised the streets set to be cleaned up by new Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, and teenage pot pusher Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck), lonely, and on the brink of high school graduation, is trading green for regular sessions with therapist (not to mention questionable role model), Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley). As coming of age tales go, The Wackness offers a fresh spin on a well-spun genre, pulsing with a palpable authenticity of an era that’s yet to be much reflected upon in movies – few other retro-gazing character pieces have been as modestly such. With its lingo-heavy screenplay (“I got mad love for you, shorty. That’s on the real.”) and white b-boy lead, this could have been more agonizing than every highschool bus-trip with the class posse of Tupac-reciting douchebags combined, but writer/director Jonathan Levine takes his characters in some unexpected directions. Add to that that The Wackness is worth it for Kingsley’s perfectly-pitched performance alone; of its cast (Juno’s It-Girl-to-be Olivia Thirlby and Mary Kate Olsen included – yes, you read that right), only an aloof Famke Janssen is given short shrift.
Playing like Ghosts… of the Civil Dead if realised with a gallows poetry to rival the fertile lyricism of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Hunger, the full-length directorial debut from video artist and sculptor Steve McQueen, is a near-unrivalled forerunner for film of the year. Providing not only a detail of the final weeks in the life of Irish Republican hunger striker Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender, whose spectral frame beggars belief), but also an even-handed mosaic of the day-to-day in The Maze prison that played home to a number of IRA inmates, McQueen’s harrowing film is narrative cinema as pure art, his frames making mini masterpieces of even the no-wash protestors’ gag-inducing, shit-smeared walls. At the centre of Hunger is one of the classic scenes of 2008: a 23-minute ideological tête-à-tête between a pre-starvation Sands and his Catholic priest (Liam Cunningham), 17½ crackling minutes of which unfold in a single, unfaltering take. Its unflinching commitment to brutality and squalor can make for unsettling viewing, but there’s a graceful humanity at its plaintive core that makes Hunger a film of rare resonance and beauty.
Keep up to date with all things film-related at Gerard’s fantastic blog, Celluloid Tongue.