Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright, George Clooney, Chris Cooper, Alexander Siddig, Amanda Peet, Mazhar Munir, Tim Blake Nelson & Christopher Plummer.
Written & Directed by Stephen Gaghan.
In the Middle East, two unemployed youths are drawn into a circle of Muslim extremists, while a energy analyst is sent to apply for a contract with Arab royalty and is met with tragedy. In the United States, a CIA operative becomes obsessed with finding a missile sold in an arms deal, and a morally corrupted attorney investigates the merger of two massive oil corporations. Gaghan, the Oscar-winning writer of Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, has again chosen heavy material for his second film as director, this time concentrating on the global influence of Big Oil. Loosely based on former CIA officer Robert Baer’s memoir, this complex, serpentine tale of interconnected lives and events is a masterpiece of subtle storytelling, weaving its tapestry deliberately and gaining momentum at every turn. Accompanied by a haunting, minimalist score from Alexandre Desplat, Syriana is a rare bird in the fickle environment of Hollywood, demanding strict attention from its audience. Wright and Clooney (in an Oscar-winning role) are simply magnificent amid a cluster of excellent performances, and Gaghan demonstrates again that he is a writer of enormous talent.
Music & Lyrics (2007)
Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore, Brad Garrett, Kristen Johnston and Campbell Scott.
Written & Directed by Mark Lawrence.
Alex Fletcher (Grant) is a former pop idol from the 1980s now reduced to singing for his middle-aged fans at embarrassing venues. When he is given the chance to resurrect his career by writing a hit song for a young Britney-style pop princess, he teams up with kooky Sophie (Barrymore), a former English Lit major who displays a natural talent for lyrics and melody. As the two proceed in their venture, love blossoms…of course. This insightful, honest comedy is highly entertaining and features the kind of genuine laughs that are conspicuously absent from most Hollywood comedies. Grant and Barrymore have chemistry to spare and are wonderful foils for each other, receiving solid support from TV actors Johnston and Garrett. OK, the more macho among us may consider this your typical “chick flick”, but this macho man was totally captivated by Music & Lyrics. The film never felt contrived and delivered some truly catchy tunes that had this reviewer singing the next day in the shower (much to the chagrin of my partner).
Dawn Of The Dead (2004)
Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Michael Kelly & Mekhi Phifer.
Written by James Gunn & Scott Frank.
Directed by Zack Snyder.
Ana (Polley) awakes one morning to a living hell. Her husband is trying to kill her after being bitten by their next door neighbour, and outside on the streets, civilisation is collapsing. This is all thanks to some unknown phenomenon that is turning people into ravenous zombies – but these ain’t your typical shuffling kind of zombie, these suckers can run! She eventually teams up with cop Kenneth (Rhames) and a bunch of other survivors who take refuge in a shopping mall. This electric horror film is a remake of the George A Romero classic of the same name from 1978. Yet, all the two films really share in common are their titles and major set-piece (the shopping mall). It lacks the social commentary of Romero’s film, but stands proudly alongside it as a definitive ‘re-imagining’. The film is redundant and obvious at times, and even crosses the line on one occasion, but for this genre, it delivers exactly what its intended audience craves – a decent story, a good pace and a bucketload of gore.
(Wadrick Jones is a freelance writer for GritFX and will post weekly thirty second film reviews on this blog.)