Monthly Archives: December 2008

A Week In Film #007: Crimble & custard

1408 title screen
A frankly awful horror flick. The words “based on a Stephen King short story” should have been a clue. It’s about a hack writer haunted by the death of his daughter who writes those ’10 most haunted houses’ type books, who is lured to a New York hotel room which seems to kill its guests. As the LLF said, “Samuel L Jackson has been in some shit films, but John Cusack, what were you thinking?”

The Ipcress File title screen
The Ipcress File
Entertainingly dark and dense take on Len Deighton’s grammar school secret agent ‘Harry Palmer’ and his attempts to staunch a brain drain. Not the anti-Bond it’s sometimes proclaimed to be, but more satisfying for its banality and austere locations. Michael Caine’s performance is good. Sidney J Furie’s direction is good also.

Funeral In Berlin title screen
Funeral In Berlin
More Harry Palmer silliness, but this time focused around Cod War Germany and defection mania. Oscar Homolka is fun as an affable KGB bigwig. Guy Hamilton directs effectively but without any showiness.

Billion Dollar Brain title screen
Billion Dollar Brain
Ken Russell takes the reins of the Harry Palmer franchise for a witty, silly adventure taking in nutty Texan anti-communist crusaders, Vietnam war satire and the dominance of Kennedy era technocrats. In silly fur hats and snowy Finnish locales. “Boom boom!”

A Week In Film #006: Wet wintry nights

Gorky Park title screen
Gorky Park
Boring, slow adaptation of the Martin Cruz Smith potboiler, with William Hurt as Moscow cop Arkady Renko. A shame, seeing as it’s written by Dennis Potter and directed by Michael Apted (usually bankers), with Lee Marvin, Michael Elphick and others adding oomph to the screen.

Crimewave title screen
Awesome, comic book-style shenanigans with Sam Raimi directing from a Coen Bros script. The LLF thought it was boring, but I found it as entertaining as I remembered it being on first seeing it nearly 20 years ago. Bruce Campbell, Bryon James and Paul L Smith are all superb.

The Quick And The Dead title screen
The Quick And The Dead
More Sam Raimi, more comic book-style photography and framing, this time laid over Western tropes, with Sharon Stone a woman-with-no-name entering a shoot-out contest in a frontier town.

The Sound Of Music title screen
The Sound Of Music
The hills are alive with the sound of music, etc. One for the LLF. Nice tunes, nasty Nazis.

In Cold Blood title screen
In Cold Blood
Excellent late 60s treatment of the Truman Capote proto-new journalism book, as recommended by the LLF. Two bottom-feeding hoodlums commit incompetent, heinous crime, and are caught. Robert Blake (the short chap from Electra Glide In Blue) is good. Writer-director Richard Brooks approaches the material with imagination and creativity.

A Week In Film #005: Adventing your frustration

The Silence Of The Lambs title screen
The Silence Of The Lambs
Anthony Hopkins hamming it up, Jodie Foster doing the wet eyed thing whilst hunting down a poodle-loving serial killer.

Hannibal title screen
Anthony Hopkins turns the ham up to eleven. At least Ridley Scott has a sense of humour about it all. Julianne Moore is a refreshing change from La Foster. Gary Oldman and Ray Liotta are enjoyablly camp, and there’s that fellow who was the obnoxious state governor in Oz too.

Hannibal Rising title screen
Hannibal Rising
Impressively bad Hannibal Lecter prequel, with a previously hidden element of Bushido and all that. The wartime Lituanian stuff is mildly diverting, and there’s a sort of a 51st State reunion.

The Mighty Quinn title screen
The Mighty Quinn
Breezy but inconsequential lightweight stuff about a caribbean island police chief (Denzel Washington) investigating a murder in which his best friend is prime suspect. Plays up the Lilt advert stereotypes.

American History X title screen
American History X
Overdone American skinhead melodrama. Edwards Norton and Furlong are watchable, but it’s much less good than I’d been led to believe. That fat scientologist friend of Jason Lee is an extraordinarily unlikeable rocks-for-brains nazi.

Le Samouraï title screen
Le Samouraï
Alain Delon as an existentialist French hitman-for-hire, who (let’s face it) fucks up big time. Blatantly ripped off for Leon and Ghost Dog.

Blow Out title screen
Blow Out
Brian De Palma melds Blow Up to The Conversation by way of The Parallax View, JFK conspiracies and Chappaquiddick tittle tattle. Nancy Allen is hugely enjoyable. Travolta is wooden. John Lithgow is a very scary bad guy.

Devil In A Blue Dress title screen
Devil In A Blue Dress
Denzel Washington as reluctant gumshoe Easy Rawlins in postwar South Central LA. No Chinatown, but good.

Ricochet title screen
Astonishingly bad (but breezy) thriller with Denzel Washington a hero cop turned pariah DA, framed by psycho bad chap John Lithgow.

A Week In Film #004: Fading out

Manhunter title screen
Michael Mann’s take on Thomas Harris’ serial killer porn Red Dragon, a novel which introduced the world to Hannibal Lecter (or Lecktor here, played with great menace by Brian Cox).

William Petersen is brooding and driven as troubled FBI profiler Will Graham. Dennis Farina is gruff and driven as his former boss, Jack Crawford. Tom Noonan is terrifying yet pathetic and gawky as the killer they are hunting, the ‘Tooth Fairy’ (though he sees himself as the ‘Red Dragon’, after a William Blake painting). Kim Greist manages to flesh out Graham’s underwritten wife, Molly. And Stephen Lang is on-the-money as sleazy tabloid hack Freddie Lounds, who gets a little too exclusive in his coverage for his own liking.

I think it works well as a film. It has moments of quiet and stillness, but mostly it hacks on at a pace, which suits the ‘race to identify the killer before he strikes again’ arc. It is shot with thought, which some beautiful framing and movement. Imagination has gone into the lighting and editing. And I think the soundtrack works well (though the LLF disagrees profoundly on this).

Red Dragon title screen
Red Dragon
Brett Ratner’s slightly pointless rehash of the same material covered in Manhunter. Well, not that pointless; it puts more effort into explaining more about who Francis Dolarhyde – the Red Dragon (played here by Ralph Fiennes) – is than its predecessor (as the LLF pointed out). It also reveals in its prologue exactly why Will Graham left the Bureau in the first place, thanks to his original encounter with Dr Lecter.

But it feels less of a whole. It feels perfunctory. It feels overworked, and artless. It feels like a film, without provoking in its audience any suspension of disbelief or immersion into fantasy. The pace is off, and it all feels like an excuse for Anthony Hopkins to ham it up again. And for a movie based around a murder hunt, it all feels a little un-urgent.

Edward Norton doesn’t really match William Petersen’s performance as Will Graham; he’s not bad, he just doesn’t seem to carry off a sense of empathetic understanding as did Petersen. Harvey Keitel serves up a paycheque performance as Crawford.

Fatherland title screen
I’m rereading Robert Harris’ alternate history novel Fatherland at the moment, which reminded me of an HBO telemovie of the book which I had seen years ago. I remembered it being rather good.

I remembered wrong. Rutger Hauer is sort of okay as weary Kripo investigator Xavier March, investigating suspicious deaths of various ageing Nazi bigwigs in a 60s Berlin readying itself for the 75th birthday of its victorious Führer. But Miranda Richardson as a young American journalist? Iffy digital matte renditions of Speer’s finally realised ‘world capital’ Berlin? The plot reduced to a straightforward police procedural, stripped of most of its specfic interest and uncomfortable ambiguities?

I think not. I’ll put it down to false memory syndrome. (FFS, I even gave it an 8/10 on IMDb :O ).

The Wild Bunch title screen
The Wild Bunch
Peckinpah’s classic end days Western. Unfortunately the copy I watched stopped about an hour before the end 😦

A Week In Film #003: November’s End

The People Under The Stairs
Wes Craven, child abuse, anti-capitalism, a scary old house, crazy people, near-zombies, gimp masks, firearms, killer hounds… Great stuff.

The Last Seduction title screen
The Last Seduction
Linda Fiorentino was robbed! John Dahl’s nasty, sexy, funny neo-noir, with LF stitching up crappy husband Bill Pullman over a ‘onetime’ coke deal, and then bewitching confused smalltown pilgrim Peter Berg. JT Walsh is aces as a venal attorney we only ever encounter over the phone, too.

Ordinary Decent Criminal title screen
Ordinary Decent Criminal
Thaddeus O’ Sullivan’s oddly-cast analogue of Dublin robber Martin Cahill (as the LLF pointed out, couldn’t they find any Irish actors? Even an early-in-his-career Colin Farrell sounds like he’s doing an accent). It’s breezy and fun, though. And Linda Fiorentino’s in it also.