Two good films, but both acquired tastes.

DREDD 3D *** (out of five)

Dredd, the second big-screen adaptation of the long-running British comic strip, is an unbelievably beautiful technical accomplishment that is also ugly, grim and horrendously violent; as a fifty million dollar movie – the most expensive independent British film ever made – it is astonishingly bleak, and completely uncompromising, which probably contributed to its very luck-luster financial performance in the United States.

Fans of the original comic should be very happy with the tone of the film, which doesn’t water down the source’s incredibly dark world-view in the slightest, maintaing title character Judge Dredd’s nihilistic and brutally thorough approach to maintaining the public good. Wearing his trademark helmut throughout the entire film, Karl Urban’s Dredd is a perfect movie version of the character, down to perfectly simulating the character’s strange, inverse-U-shaped downward grimace.

Mega-City One, Dredd’s hood, is swiftly set up at the beginning with some business-like voiceover and a good little action scene, establishing Dredd’s bona fides as a badass. From there we jump into the plot proper, which sees Dredd guiding psychic rookie Judge Anderson (the beautiful and enigmatic Olivia Thirlby) through her day of assessment; investigating a triple murder at 200-story City Block “Peach Trees”, the two become trapped within, and must deal with hordes of violent scumbags working for the evil drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey, from Game of Thrones).

The contained nature of the storyline – once they’re in the Block, they stay in the Block – limits the story, but rather than get stuck in the running and shooting groove, screenwriter Alex Garland’s script is composed of ever more strange and surreal set-pieces allowing for directer Pete Travis to compose some of the most spectacularly grotesque 3D images yet put to film, many involving bright red droplets of blood.

Overall, Dredd is tonally one-note, and that note is grim, nihilistic, super-stylized, violent and humorless. But it’s a spectacular technical feat, hugely loyal to its source, and a highly specific piece of work: an extremely expensive arthouse action flick for the die-hard crowd.

SAVAGES *** (out of five)

Oliver Stone, like all of us, is getting older, and perhaps mellower. Outside of the opening scene – which is very violent – Stone’s Savages is a sun-lit, almost rosy affair – his love letter to the joys of marijuana and California, sun, sand and surf. Based on a novel, Savages has a unique love affair at its heart: a three-way live-in situation between Ophelia (Blake Lively), Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Chon and Ben grow the world’s greatest weed, and have become wealthy entrepreneurs in the process, Ben using his share to fund good works in poor countries. The three share a gorgeous house on Laguna Beach, growing pot, smoking pot, and having all sorts of beautifully-photographed, vaguely kinky sex.

Into such an idyllic existence conflict and drama must come, and in this case, it comes in the shape of a Mexican cartel wanting to muscle in on Chon and Ben’s turf, fronted by the ruthless Lado (Benicio Del Toro) and ultimately leading to kingpin Elena (Salma Hayek).

Stone loves visuals and sound – particularly music – sometimes at the expense of storytelling – and that’s definitely the case here. Savages veers way off course in its second act, becoming confusing and vague – indeed, stoned. But it all comes good in the end. This is Oliver Stone’s movie about the glories of pot. If you like pot, you’ll probably love it. If you’re indifferent… well, there you go. Dude.

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