Monthly Archives: October 2009

A Week In Film #050: Taking a breather

Class Action title screenClass Action
Gene Hackman as a rumpled crusading lawyer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as his high-flying but father’s-approval-seeking corporate attorney daughter; they cross swords over a case. Not great shakes, but watchable; Michael Apted directs with his usual aptitude. I prefer The Verdict.

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A Week In Film #049: Slowing down

LA Takedown title screen

LA Takedown
Michael Mann’s 1989 TV movie dress rehearsal for his 1995 blockbuster Heat. All the elements from that are already in place, from the ballet between two similar men either side of the law, through entire scenes blocked out in exactly the same manner, to dialogue that is barely changed.

Whilst the actors in this version are clearly not as proficient as those in Heat, what is particularly interesting is how those big name stars ape the cadences and mannerisms of their minnow-like predecessors.

I don’t go with the contrarians’ view that this is the better film of the two, but there is a very strong TVM here, and it’s worth watching.

Chopper
Aussie comedian Eric Bana puts in an excellent performance as the lead in this unapologetically stylised version of the life of borderline psycho standover man Mark ‘Chopper’ Read. Andrew Dominik’s direction is outstanding, and there are fine supporting performances from stalwart Oz actors like Vince Colosimo (outstanding as Neville Bartos), Daniel Wyllie and Simon Lyndon, several of whom put in similarly memorable turns in historical crime drama series Underbelly (the second series of which features Chopper, played this time by Renato Fabretti).

The Long Good Friday
Classic British gangster flick, eschewing flashiness for rawness, glamorously muscled male models for cauliflower-eared, thick-necked lumps.

Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Derek Thompson, PH Moriarty, Dave King and Eddie Constantine are amongst the numerous actors who help keep things tight; the other big character in the film is the old East End of London, being torn down to make way for gleaming steel-and-glass palaces of conspicuous wealth and naked power. The actor with perhaps the biggest name at the time, Paul Freeman, is disposed of early on, but remains a presence throughout.

Direction is by John Mackenzie, whose work I’ve been belatedly getting into – A Sense Of Freedom being the best of his I’ve come across.

The History Boys
Written by Alan Bennett, with some schoolboys studying for their Oxbridge interviews, set in the 1980s, they learn about themselves, etc. Alright, but I can’t quite see why it was thought of so highly. Sorry, Andy.

A Week In Film #048: Science fiction and political faction

Death Machine title screen

Death Machine
Quite fun, witty SF comedy-horror from Stephen Norrington pre-Blade, about a dastardly corporation and its attempts to build an ultimate soldier. Thrown in the blender: Robocop, Total Recall, Die Hard, Alien, Aliens, Hardware, Terminator and much more. Brad Dourif is splendid as a B-movie creepy scientist, the rest of the cast do fine too, there’s the odd familiar face like Tony from Die Hard (Andreas Wisniewski), and a brief appearance of Rachel Weisz.

Riverworld title screen

Riverworld
Tedious and dull TV movie based on Philip José Farmer’s alternative world SF novels, which could have been interesting but isn’t. Notable only for featuring Emily Lloyd’s return to acting, which is not an edifying experience.

Beautiful Creatures title screen

Beautiful Creatures
Very watchable darkly comic thriller about two women, Susan Lynch and Rachel Weisz, thrown together by violent men. Bill Eagle directs creatively, and whilst there are hackneyed moments (and the final reel slips into lazy clichés), for the most part it’s a satisfying experience in which the obvious does not always happen, for which screenwriter Simon Donald should be applauded. Good to see meaty roles for perennial bit part players like Iain Glen, Alex Norton and Maurice Roëves.

Defence Of The Realm title screen

Defence Of The Realm
One of my favourite films, a grimy, sordid little story about war, lies, deceit, friendship, spies, reporters… Ech, I wrote about it ages back, don’t be making me do it all over again. Just know that Gabriel Byrne is more believable as a hack than John Simm is in State Of Play.

A Sense Of Freedom title screen

A Sense Of Freedom
Simply the most powerful film I’ve seen about prison. Plenty of the standard tropes are in play, but the thing that really impresses is how it gets across the feeling of confinement. David Hayman is awesome as Scottish gangster Jimmy Boyle. John Mackenzie directs (and it’s even better than The Long Good Friday). Find it and watch it.

Omagh title screen

Omagh
Powerful drama-documentary-style faction from writers Paul Greengrass and Guy Hibbert and director Peter Travis about the Real IRA bombing of a Northern Irish town.

Much in the vein of Jimmy McGovern’s Hillsborough, in that it frames the bombing and the aftermath around the experience of one man (here Gerard McSorley as Michael Gallagher), but also close in tone to McGovern’s Sunday and Greengrass’ Bloody Sunday.

Veronica Guerin title screen

Veronica Guerin
Fucking awful, mawkish version of an interesting story – that of an Irish journalist investigating Dublin’s underworld who was shot dead. It’s directed by Joel Schumacher, who adds every shade of begorrahism he can lay his hands on. If he could have had a dancing troupe of leprechauns playing penny whistles, he would have stuck them in too. Offensively bourgeois into the bargain.

Hidden Agenda title screen

Hidden Agenda
Talking of Maurice Roëves (we were, honestly, just scroll up a bit), here he convinces as a British army intelligence officer (much in the mould of Robert Nairac) who is caught between conflicting political concerns in this flawed Ken Loach take on shoot-to-kill in Northern Ireland.

There’s interesting bits in here, but the use of American characters as an in is shameless, and the trademark Loach improvised political discussion jars immensely, and was done to much greater effect in Land And Freedom. There’s a distastefully uncritical implicit support for the provo brand of militant Irish republicanism. The final scenes in Dublin retain a visceral power, though.

Inglourious Basterds title screen

Inglourious Basterds
Tarantino’s homage to Euro war flicks, with Brad Pitt leading a merry band of bloodthirsty Jewish American commandos on the rampage behind Nazi lines. I don’t think the film holds up as a whole, but I like that Tarantino steadfastly refuses to stick to a single schtick, and is willing to explore different techniques and genres. I very much like his use of long scenes.

A Week In Film #047: Getting spooked

Philby Burgess & Maclean

Philby, Burgess And Maclean
Pretty decent 1977 TVM, with Anthony Bate (Lacon from Tinker, Tailor) as Philby, here the mastermind of the Cambridge spy ring. Derek Jacobi sets the bar for Guy Burgess flamboyancy, Michael Culver is understated as Donald Maclean. Obviously there is no Anthony Blunt, as this was made in 1977 and he hadn’t been publicly unmasked yet.

Blunt: The Fourth Man title screen

Blunt: The Fourth Man
This time round Anthony Blunt is the top spook, engineering the escape of Maclean, and getting stitched up by Burgess’s decision to leg it too. Ian Richardson is impressive in the title role, Anthony Hopkins is a hammy Burgess, Michael Williams a nervy, backboneless Goronwy Rees. Philby is nowhere to be seen.

A Question Of Attribution title screen

A Question Of Attribution
Probably the best of the Cambridge spy ring films, with a less literal interpretation of the facts – writer Alan Bennett plays a little loose with the chronology for a start – but dramatically it is most satisfying.

James Fox plays Blunt, resisting over years the attempts of various MI5 interrogators to debrief him, whilst enjoying his work as Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures. David Calder is excellent as the sly, self-deprecating but very patient suburban spook sent out to rattle his cage. The scenes between Blunt and the Queen (Prunella Scales) are very enjoyable.

Mona Lisa title screen

Mona Lisa
Bob Hoskins as a recently released con given a bit of driving work by slimy crime boss Michael Caine; Cathy Tyson opens his eyes. A fine film.