This review was originally printed as part of Hollywood.com's Comic-Con 2012 coverage
A reimagining of the 2000 AD label comic book that inspired Judge Dredd the 1994 Sylvester Stallone action flick that took sci-fi wackiness to new heights Dredd scales back on the futuristic elements and puts an emphasis on the brutality in store for the Judge's criminal victims. In this not-so-distant world a Judge has the power to decide your fate right upon capture — and usually the sentence involves some type of ammunition being fired into the offender's skull. Dredd is a grimy smoldering relentless 90 minutes that manages to inject its in-your-face fight scenes with an unexpected bit of humanity. Shocking considering the buckets of blood spilled during Judge Dredd's warpath which begins from his very first appearance.
This time around Dredd is played by Karl Urban a chiseled beast of a dude who balances the machismo with a healthy dose of one-liner comedy. A great central hero. To investigate a series of murders connected to one of Mega City 1's most notorious crime figureheads Dredd is partnered with an exact opposite: Cassandra (Olivia Thirlby) a new recruit who makes up for her lack of killer instinct with a mutant psychic power. She may not have the throat-ripping capabilities of Dredd but once this girl gets in a baddie's head it's over. Dredd is wary of his new sidekick potential — even more so when the challenge they face reveals itself. Cooped up at the top of a 120+ story building is Ma-Ma (Lena Hedley) whose operation will soon put a new drug — dubbed "Slo-Mo" — in the hands of every Mega City 1 citizen. To stop her Dredd and Cassandra must slay her goons as they ascend the skyscraper. Simple premise lots of bloodshed.
Unlike this year's The Raid which took a similar approach to the non-stop antics of a martial arts film Dredd opts for the slow burn approach. Director Pete Travis (Vantage Point) wants us to take a big whiff of every musky apartment in Ma-Ma's "Peach Trees" tower; he wants us to feel every drip of sweat that trickles down Dredd's stubble while the law enforcer waits patiently to attack; he wants us to feel the complete stop of time when the Slo-Mo drug kicks in and even droplets of suddy bath water hang in the air from a splash; and he wants us to feel like we're in the front seat of a Gallagher show when Dredd fires an explosive bullet into the mouth of a henchman and watches the head explode into bits (all in clear and crisp 3D). Dredd is near-fetishistic in its approach to gore – I found myself mouth agape making audible "EEEEEEEEAAAAH" sounds throughout the film — but plays well to the lead character's ferocious nature.
The hyper-style doesn't end with Dredd's unique array of finishing moves either; Cassandra's telepathy is a weapon of the senses that Travis mines for every flashy montage sequence he can squeeze out of it. In one sequence Cassandra uncovers an important clue by subjecting one of Ma-Ma's assailants to mental torture a terrifying whirlwind of imagery of saturated nightmares (if you've ever watched Saw after scarfing down an undercooked burrito you know what I mean). Travis amps "MTV editing" in these sequences an assault to the senses that's just as purposefully grating as the gritty fight sequences.
What makes the whole thing worth watching are the film's two leads. Urban has the thankless task of playing Dredd under the Judge's signature mask — someone obviously forgot to tell the police force of the future that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Urban makes up for it with a spectrum of snarls and a voice that sends chills down the spine. He also knows his way around comedy timing (as evidenced by his equally-impressive performance as Bones in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek) delivering kitschy zingers that click with Dredd's rough and tough world. The yin to his yang Cassandra could have been another helpless female costar who steps in with magical powers when the time is right but Thirlby is the real heart and soul of Dredd breathing compassion into a dimly lit situation and reflecting the grey morality of the entire Judge program. Why are people cool with cops coming in and blowing them away when they see fit? Why is that the new definition of heroism? The script by Alex Garland (28 Days Later Never Let Me Go) is smart to ask those questions and Cassandra is the perfect proxy. Thirlby as adorable as she is plays the gal fierce a sensible kind of Judge that can live side by side with Dredd.
There are a lot of people who won't be able to stomach Dredd partly for the level of violence partly for the consistency and pace of how that violence is unleashed. The small scale and singular location of the action don't allow Dredd to keep the surprises coming. After awhile watching human heads splatter like water balloons becomes taxing and unenjoyable (which some psychologists may say should have been the case in the first place). Hedley does a decent job of making her psychotic Ma-Ma into a wicked villain who deserves her due but without a fleshed out cause and bigger picture implications it's hard to care. Her squad of faceless men are more like punching bags then characters. But over-the-top mayhem has its place and when accompanied by a badass like Dredd and a pumping electronica score it's hard not to cheer when the Judge lays down the gruesome law. Dredd isn't a great film but it's a great Comic-Con film — one worth catching at midnight and screaming your lungs out all in good absurd fun.
The irresistibly named Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is a wide-eyed--accentuate the positive--cheerleader of a school teacher with an attitude that says “I want to be your friend.” She is endlessly Happy Go Lucky and even several encounters with those who don’t share her optimistic outlook can’t seem to knock her down. The film doesn’t have a traditional plotline but rather is a series of recurring scenes from her life. After her bike is stolen she decides to take driving lessons from an increasingly frustrated instructor (Eddie Marsan). Their frequent episodes grow more intense each time as the lessons tend to bring out the pent-up anger of the man trying to teach Poppy how to make a left turn. She also takes Flamenco lessons from a loopy Spanish dance instructor (Karina Fernandez) gets romantically involved in an intense relationship with a social worker (Samuel Roukin) spends time with her best pal and roommate Zoe (Alexis Zegerman) who provides a soothing counterpoint to Poppy’s non-stop cheerfulness and tries to deal with problems involving her sisters (Kate O'Flynn and Caroline Martin) and brother-in-law (Oliver Maltman).
Leigh is known for an improvisational style of filmmaking spending months working everything out with his actors in rehearsal and then letting them do the scenes with only an outline of what it will be. In this environment actors have to be top notch and indeed Leigh has elicited a few Oscar-nominated performances in the past including Brenda Blethyn in Secrets & Lies and Imelda Staunton in his last film Vera Drake. Add Sally Hawkins to the top tier of actors in Leigh films. She is in nearly every scene and the film lives or dies on her inherent appeal. We are with this irrepressible life force from the very first moment she hits the screen with her rather garish but colorful outfits and unflappable demeanor. Hawkins is a breath of fresh air a real discovery. Also getting lots of screen time is Eddie Marsan as the driving instructor who goes ballistic. His slow simmering rage is fascinating to watch as the dynamic of the student/teacher relationship goes into unexpected--and uncomfortable--territory. Fernanez provides most of the film’s comic relief as the demanding flamenco instructor and her scenes with Hawkins are the film’s highlight. Leigh is a director known for exploring the lives of British working class. His unique films focus generally on those poor blokes and birds just trying to get by and live a life of dignity despite England’s class system. As one of his film titles suggests Mike Leigh characters have High Hopes. But Happy Go Lucky is perhaps his lightest and certainly most optimistic film yet. By focusing an entire feature on a central character who exudes happiness and goodwill toward her fellow man he turns a light also on the problems and hang-ups of people who bounce their woes off her in this oddly segmented film. Leigh’s improv filmmaking techniques work well here but seem less structured and disciplined than usual. The film is too long for its own good and many scenes wear out their welcome halfway in. Still it’s good to have a craftsman with the kind of singular voice Leigh has still able to make movies his way because in this instance at least that has produced the gift of Sally Hawkins.
Here is the complete list of winners:
Best Motion Picture - Drama
The Aviator WINNER!
Million Dollar Baby
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama
Scarlett Johansson, A Love Song For Bobby Long
Nicole Kidman, Birth
Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake
Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby WINNER!
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. 2
Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama
Javier Bardem, The Sea Inside
Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda
Johnny Depp, Finding Neverland
Leonardo Dicaprio, The Aviator WINNER!
Liam Neeson, Kinsey
Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Phantom of the Opera
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Annette Bening, Being Julia WINNER!
Ashley Judd, De-Lovely
Emmy Rossum, The Phantom of the Opera
Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Renee Zellweger, Bridget Jones: the Edge of Reason
Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture -Musical or Comedy
Jim Carrey, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Jamie Foxx, Ray WINNER!
Paul Giamatti, Sideways
Kevin Kline, De-Lovely
Kevin Spacey, Beyond the Sea
Best Director - Motion Picture
Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby WINNER!
Marc Forster, Finding Neverland
Mike Nichols, Closer
Alexander Payne, Sideways
Martin Scorsese, The Aviator
Best Foreign Language Film
The Chorus (Les Choristes), (France)
House of Flying Daggers, (China)
The Motorcycle Diaries, (Brazil)
The Sea Inside, (Spain) WINNER!
A Very Long Engagement, (France)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Cate Blanchet, The Aviator
Laura Linney, Kinsey
Virginia Madsen, Sideways
Natalie Portman, Closer WINNER!
Meryl Streep, The Manchurian Candidate
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
David Carradine, Kill Bill Vol. 2
Thomas Haden Church, Sideways
Jamie Foxx, Collateral
Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby
Clive Owen, Closer WINNER!
Best Screenplay - Motion Picture
Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
John Logan, The Aviator
David Magee, Finding Neverland
Patrick Marber, Closer
Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor, Sideways WINNER!
Best Original Score - Motion Picture
Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, Finding Neverland
Rolfe Kent, Sideways
Howard Shore, The Aviator WINNER!
Hans Zimmer, Spanglish
Best Original Song - Motion Picture
"Accidentally In Love" -- Shrek 2
Music & Lyrics By: Adam Duritz, Dan Vickery, David Immergluck, Matthew Malley & David Bryson
"Believe" - The Polar Express
Music & Lyrics By: Glen Ballard & Alan Silvestri
"Learn To Be Lonely" - The Phantom of the Opera
Music By: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics By: Charles Hart
"Million Voices" - Hotel Rwanda
Music By: Wyclef Jean, Jerry "Wonder" Duplessis, Andrea Guerra
Lyrics By: Wyclef Jean
"Old Habits Die Hard" - Alfie
Music & Lyrics By: Mick Jagger & David A. Stewart WINNER!
Best Television Series - Drama
Nip/Tuck (FX) WINNER!
The Sopranos (HBO)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Drama
Edie Falco, The Sopranos
Jennifer Garner, Alias
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit WINNER!
Christine Lahti, Jack & Bobby
Joely Richardson, Nip/Tuck
Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Drama
Michael Chiklis, The Shield
Denis Leary, Rescue Me
Julian Mcmahon, Nip/Tuck
Ian McShane, Deadwood WINNER!
James Spader, Boston Legal
Best Television Series - Musical or Comedy
Arrested Development (Fox)
Desperate Housewives (ABC) WINNER!
Sex and the City (HBO)
Will & Grace (NBC)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy
Marcia Cross, Desperate Housewives
Teri Hatcher, Desperate Housewives WINNER!
Felicity Huffman, Desperate Housewives
Debra Messing, Will & Grace
Sarah Jessica Parker, Sex And The City
Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy
Jason Bateman, Arrested Development WINNER!
Zach Braff, Scrubs
Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm
Matt Leblanc, Joey
Tony Shalhoub, Monk
Charlie Sheen, Two And A Half Men
Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made For Television
American Family - Journey of Dreams (PBS)
Iron Jawed Angels (HBO)
The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (HBO) WINNER!
The Lion in Winter (Showtime)
Something the Lord Made (HBO)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television
Glenn Close, The Lion in Winter WINNER!
Blythe Danner, Back When We Were Grown Ups
Julianna Margulies, The Grid
Miranda Richardson, The Lost Prince
Hilary Swank, Iron Jawed Angels
Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or A Motion Picture Made for Television
Mos Def, Something the Lord Made
Jamie Foxx, Redemption
William H. Macy, The Wool Cap
Geoffrey Rush, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers WINNER!
Patrick Stewart, The Lion in Winter
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Drea De Matteo, The Sopranos
Anjelica Huston, Iron Jawed Angels WINNER!
Nicolette Sheridan, Desperate Housewives
Charlize Theron, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers
Emily Watson, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Sean Hayes, Will & Grace
Michael Imperioli, The Sopranos
Jeremy Piven, Entourage
Oliver Platt, Huff
William Shatner, Boston Legal WINNER!
In the sci-fi thriller 28 Days Later a psychological rage-inducing virus is unleashed the type of vile horror-movie germ that infects its victims within 20 seconds and causes them to violently spew out contagious pathogens. The bug is set free when a group of animal activists free some infected chimps from a primate research facility in London. Twenty-eight days later Jim (Cillian Murphy) a bike courier wakes up from a coma and finds himself in the deserted intensive care unit of a hospital. He eventually stumbles on to the street and from old newspaper clippings littering the streets of London realizes the foggy metropolis has been evacuated. Jim eventually hooks up with another "survivor " Selina (Naomi Harris) who brings him up to speed on what has happened: All of Britain has been contaminated and they have no way of knowing if the disease has spread worldwide. Their only salvation comes in the form of a taped broadcast message by a group of Manchester soldiers saying they have the answer to infection and invite any survivors to join them at their blockade. After a harrowing hike to the barricade and dodging attacks form rage-infected lunatics the duo thinks they have found salvation. But this armed force is not there to offer deliverance--they are a militia of out-of-control megalomaniacs ready to jump-start human civilization.
Murphy and Harris the two lead actors in the film are relatively unknown yet are capable of carrying the pic and both give strong performances that complement each other. Murphy's character Jim for example first awakens in the hospital lost and confused--but by the end of the film he emerges as a leader a champion. This change however isn't triggered by any one incident and we never feel blindsided by his heroic transformation. Harris's character Selina on the other hand starts off hardened and pessimistic but gradually lets her guard down. Alone her only goal was survival. But when she hooks up with Jim her aspirations change not only because of the friendship they develop but because he is able to make her see that surviving simply isn't enough that as humans beings they also need freedom and happiness. And although Selina develops a somewhat softer side in the film she is never a helpless victim waiting to be rescued by the film's male protagonist. Another important character in the film is Hannah played by Megan Burns. Hannah is a young girl that Jim and Selina scoop up in their northbound trek to the military blockade. Burns who made her feature debut in the 2001 period drama Liam is an excellent addition to the cast and her character adds a touching and personal element to the gruesome storyline.
Director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) delivers a post-apocalyptic horror film an homage of sorts to George Romero's Night of the Living Dead in which an army of dead bodies comes to life and terrorizes a group of friends trapped inside a farmhouse. Although 28 Days Later--from The Beach author Alex Garland's debut screenplay--tells a different tale the grainy shaky camera work is very derivative of the 1968 cult pic. Shot entirely on digital video the film has a gritty appearance that makes it look and feel like a shocking documentary rather than a sci-fi feature. Boyle also uses low light levels and strobe effects to conceal the movie's cheesy low-tech special effects--specifically the flock of red contact lens wearing zombies. But despite its cost-cutting optical effects this contemporary horror has the power to shock and frighten because the protagonist's most dangerous adversaries not only come in the form of frightening flesh-eaters but militiamen in fatigues. 28 Days Later's most striking sequences however are the warily calm opening scenes in which Jim wanders through the streets of London--crossing Westminster Bridge and reading the bulletin board at Piccadilly Circus--without a body in sight. Blocking off the busy streets of such a compact bustling city had to be Boyle's most ambitious undertaking in the film's production.