Monthly Archives: November 2009

A Week In Film #055: Nights drawing in

Der Untergang
Bruno Ganz as a somewhat manic depressive megalomaniac, whilst around him director Oliver Hirschbiegel marshals many of his Das Experiment alumni to good effect.

Gangs Of New York
Scorsese loses it with this rather dull period piece – all bang and no buck. Some spectacular set pieces, but very little feeling.

Banlieue 13 Ultimatum
Luc Besson’s drive to turn the French film industry into a serious threat to Hollywood continues apace, with his passing on of the director’s hat from Pierre Morel to Patrick Alessandrin, who ramps up the action even more than in the first film. Because we know who Leito (David Belle) and Damien (Cyril Raffaelli) are, we’re pretty much straight into the (wafer-thin) plot, about five different gangs trying to step up to pole position, whilst rogue spooks do rogue spook things in the background.

The Escapist (2008)
A bit of a treat, this – like Stander I came across this by chance on ITV4 and was very pleasantly surprised. A standard prison escape trope is subverted and upturned and played about with by director Robert Wyatt, who shows thoughtfulness and skill. Brian Cox leads a decent cast (Joseph Fiennes, Seu Jorge, Steven Mackintosh, Liam Cunningham, Damian Lewis, Dominic Cooper) as lifer Frank Perry, and whilst clever (not tricksy) editing is used to good effect in unfolding the non-linear narrative, it feels like it’s being laid out like this not for the cheap thrill of a twist ending, but instead to underline the tragedy. Recommended.

Wild Hogs
Fucking horrible, horrendous stuff; bunch of dicks (Travolta, Mar’n Law’nce, Tim Allen and, oh William, William H Macy what were you thinking?) suffereing different degrees of midlife crisis go on a Harley Davidson road trip, do stupid stuff, Learn Important Lessons, etc. Totally competent.

The Dark Knight
Saw this at the cinema, but turns out me and the LLF didn’t just miss a few seconds at the beginning (we’d been pigging out on Turkish before we got to there), but pretty much the whole first scene. A first scene which is ruddy awesome – so awesome it disposes of William Fichtner like a used tissue after a particularly meaningless wank; that’s how awesome.

Anyway, a much tighter film than Batman Begins, with a good strong backbone, though the last half hour drags with the whole Harvey-Dent-becoming-Two-Face thing, and the worst child actor I’ve seen in a long time ruining the pathos. Heath Ledger really was a great Joker. The IMAX scenes really did work. I’m really surprised I liked it as much as I did. Really. And I don’t normally go for films edited like trailers (see: The Departed). Nor film scores by Hans Zimmer (but here his music does work well).

Beverly Hills Cop
The first, the best, the classic – wisecracking Detroit cop (Who Does Things His Way) relocates to upscale part of LA to find out why his friend was killed; ruffles local feathers; honks like a comedy goose; kicks some ass. Eddie Murphy is Axel Foley in even more ways than you know Sly Stallone is most definitely not, and that’s a lot.

Martin Brest’s best (Midnight Run being his only other actually really decent film); John Ashton, Judge Reinhold and Ronny Cox are a lovely supporting trio as the local fuzz; Bronson Pinchot is memorable as gallery worker Serge, Lisa Eilbacher less so as love interest Jenny. Oh, and it’s got Stephen FUCKING Berkoff as the villain!

Beverly Hills Cop II
The law of diminishing returns – crap story about a heist gang led by J├╝rgen Prochnow, Brigitte Nielsen and Dean Stockwell (sorry Ziggy), Ronny Cox gets shot, Axel comes to investigate, Tony Scott directs in CocaVision, all a bit flashy and less fun than first time around.

Back To The Future
Saw this at the cinema when it came out, and it remains as good now as it was then. Michael J Fox, Christopher Lloyd, a time travelling DeLorean, “Great Scott!!!”, 50s period stuff, a truckful of shit, skateboard, “Are you in the Navy?”, Oedipal shenanigans, Marvin Berry – stone cold classic, and witty with it.

Beverly Hills Cop III
Now I know this one gets a poor rep, and director John Landis himself wasn’t a great fan of it, but I think this one is easily better than the second. In tone it’s a bit more mature, a bit more considered – Axel’s older, after all – and the action sequences seem pitched deliberately differently to the ones in the original.

Plotwise: Axel’s boss is killed; the trail leads to an amusement park in LA, where he hooks up with Reinhold and Hector Elizondo (whose character is a replacement for Ashton’s). Chaos/destruction/hilarity ensues. The spider ride rescue is a great piece of stunt work and editing. It worked for me when I saw it at the picture palace in Aldeburgh back when it came out, it works for me now.

A Week In Film #054: Post-Paris viewings

The Usual Suspects
You know the score – one lineup, five criminals, yadda yadda yadda. Still good for a viewing, though.

You know the score – Scotch junkies, rehab, relapse, violence, betrayal, yadda yadda yadda. Still good for a viewing, though.

Casino Royale
Daniel Craig as a convincing state thug in the 007 reboot, with impressive moody prelude, excellent freerunning intro, a plot that licks along at a pace, bruising fight scenes, and the loser from Pusher as the main bad guy – win-win! Dench should have been benched, though.

James Brolin does well as the Bush baby in Oliver Stone’s least annoying film in many years.

A Week In Film #053: Post-birthday viewings

Black Hawk Down
A guilty pleasure – American troops stamping their imperial authority over Somalia (only getting their arses kicked). Ridley Scott lets his ensemble cast do their thing in a dark, dusty, well-shot Mogadishu. There’s lots of Brits like Ewan MacGregor, Ewen Bremner, Ioan Gruffudd, Hugh Dancy, Jason Isaacs, Tom Hardy, Orlando Bloom etc playing American soldiers, as well as veteran George Harris as a warlord, Australian Eric Bana as a Delta Force operator, and some decent character actors like William Fichtner, Tom Sizemore and Sam Shepard.

The Gunfighter
Ageing gunslinger Jimmy Ringo (Gregory Peck) quietly rides into town hoping to see the young son he’s never known; unfortunately there’s a posse of rednecks looking to catch up with him for killing their brother, and a whole load of hotheaded locals looking to make a name for themselves by felling a big name quickdraw. Henry King directs with deftness and efficiency.

Public Enemies
A film which had so much potential, but squandered it. Johnny Depp is decent enough as John Dillinger, but there’s little here that really holds the attention apart from maybe the two gaol breaks. Not Michael Mann’s best work.


The Way Of The Gun
Christopher McQuarrie’s follow-up to The Usual Suspects, and his directorial debut, is full of promise, but ends up unconsummated.

Benicio Del Toro and an against-type Ryan Phillippe are a pair of amoral antiheroes who, by complete chance, end up in a position to make some easy money – by kidnapping the surrogate mother bearing a rich man’s baby. From then on it’s a whole lot of guns, blood and fighting punctuated by overwritten dialogue.

The set pieces are magnificent, and the score (by Joe Kraemer) racks up the atmosphere, and there are fine performances from the leads, plus Juliette Lewis as the pregnant woman caught in the middle, and Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt as the bodyguards who didn’t guard her body well enough, and James Caan as a portly, weary problem-solver brought in to sort the whole situation out, and Dylan Kussman as the gynaecologist, but… It’s a mess and doesn’t work. The Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid hat-doffing climax is well executed.

A Week In Film #051: Getting there…

Gone Baby Gone
But for the somewhat (and transparently) trite twist, Ben Affleck’s directorial debut is a very good film. His brother Casey plays private detective Patrick, who along with his professional and personal partner Angie (Michelle Monghan) reluctantly gets involved in the hunt for a kidnapped girl from a ragged inner city neighbourhood in Boston.

Some excellent performances, interesting characters, good location shooting, and (bar the twist and everything that feeds into and out of that) some genuinely gripping scenes which surprise the viewer in their spontaneity.

The Hurt Locker
Kathryn Bigelow’s excellent portrait of bomb disposal specialists in Iraq, which avoids lazy narrative arcs and plunges instead into a detailed (if impressionistic) character study, concentrating on Sergeant James (Jeremy Renner), who in the hands of a lesser director might have ended up yer standard ‘maverick new guy’. But here we are always left questioning whether he is a fool or a prince, and never is he given a chance to mitigate with his words why he acts in the way he does. Some highly potent photography helps guide Bigelow’s story, and together with the refreshing lack (or bare minimum) of set piece scenes, helps to provide a meaty, thoughtful film in which resolution is never an option, only the striving for atonement.

We Own The Night
Dull The Departed-style mob infiltration picture, with added period/location detail (New York’s Russian community in the disco seventies). Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix don’t really gel as brothers who don’t get on, and Robert Duvall as their father seems off-key as well, which is a shame. The ending is atrocious, but the rainswept ambush scene is executed well.