Monthly Archives: December 2009

A Week In Film #059: As one year ends…

Young Sherlock Holmes
Did Nicholas Rowe do anything twixt this and his turn as a stoned toff in Lock, Stock? Anyway, a pleasant enough junior retrotech/specfic/reboot take on Conan Doyle’s detective, efficiently imagined by box office musketeers Levinson (directing), Columbus (scripting) and Spielberg (producing).

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A Week In Film #058: Crimble & custard & cutting the solstice mustard

Batman Returns
Burton overdoes the kooky gothic nonsense, which was just about forgivable in the first film, but come this, the sequel, well… Just about manages to overlook every canonical element of the Batman story, and squeezes in the Penguin and Catwoman as well as evil tycoon Max Schreck. Messy, mostly dull, not worth two hours of my life.

The Quiet American
A reasonably faithful adaptation of Graham Greene’s meditation on betrayal, loyalty and colonial wars. Michael Caine is Thomas Fowler, an amiable old British reporter bent into the ways of Indo-China, whilst dashing young American ‘advisor’ Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser) tries his best to bend Vietnam into his own idea of democracy. Do Thi Hai Yen is spellbinding as Phoung, the woman they both love.

Director-for-hire Phillip Noyce (franchise crap like Patriot Games and Clear And Present Danger as well as imaginative authored stuff such as Dead Calm and Rabbit-Proof Fence) keeps everything very tidy, coaxes good performances from everyone, and never lets the spectacle of action set-pieces overcome the meaning of the film.

The Comedians
More Greene adaptation, this time almost contemporaneous with the source material. Richard Burton is a cynical, weary hotelier trapped in Port-au-Prince during the reign of Papa Doc Duvalier and his Tonton Macoute; Liz Taylor is the diplomat’s wife with whom he is having a tawdry affair; Alec Guinness is a shady would-be arms dealer whose affability somehow inspires Brown to pick a side. Pretty decent, but with an almost predictably pale perspective. The ending is pointlessly upbeat.

The Molly Maguires
Martin Ritt’s impressive take on the industrial turmoil in the coalfields of Pennsylvania in the 1870s.

Sean Connery is powerful as a miner who leads a secret society sabotaging pits and assassinating bosses and cops when peaceful means don’t bring better conditions for the workers or their families, Richard Harris does well to give a rounded performance as the Pinkerton detective who infiltrates the Molly Maguires.

A Week In Film #057: Writing to Santa

Batman Begins
Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan pull off the Batman reboot with aplomb. Bit long, bit meandering, but plenty to commend.

3.10 To Yuma (2007)
Decent stab at remaking the 1957 Elmore Leonard adaptation, with James Mangold directing a tale not dissimilar to his own 1997 Cop Land, about an unlikely man standing up to do the right thing.

Quiet rancher Christian Bale is determined to take murderous bandit Russell Crowe to the railroad and thence to gaol, despite his own son (Logan Lerman) having no faith in him. A well-made, old fashioned kind of Western, with good supporting performances from the likes of Ben Foster, Peter Fonda, Dallas Roberts, Alan Tudyk, Gretchen Mol and Luke Wilson.

Hostage
Bruce Willis as a former big city police negotiator turned small town sheriff who finds himself embroiled in an armed kidnapping and siege. Some interesting bits (nods to Die Hard, for instance), but despite undoubted skill, French director Florent Emilio Siri, who so impressed with Nid De Guêpes, seems a little lost at sea here, certainly with the performances.

After The Sunset
Silly, not very engaging romantic comedy-thriller, with retired jewel thief Pierce Brosnan and paramour Salma Hayek pursued by FBI agent Woody Harrelson to the Bahamas.

30 Days Of Night
British music video director turned feature helmsman (his debut was the decent Hard Candy) has a crack at a vampire comic adaptation, where the action takes place in an Alaskan town just entering into its annual sunless season. An efficient ensemble cast (Josh Hartnett and Melissa George as estranged married couple forced back together by circumstances, local redneck Mark Boone Junior, Danny Huston as the lead vampire), but a meandering plot which doesn’t work the time angle very well. Nicely shot, though.

The Bourne Identity (1988)
Richard ‘Kildare’ Chamberlain and Jaclyn ‘Charlie’s Angels’ Smith in roles later played on the big screen by Matt Damon and Franka Potente in this eighties mini-series version of Robert Ludlum’s shonky spy novel. In places it works better than the Liman/Greengrass version, though overall it definitely shows its age and inferior budget, and too many of Ludlum’s crappy subplots and pointless characters survive the edit. Still, Anthony Quayle makes a fun appearance as a randy French general, and Denholm Elliott as a lush who cares for the amnesiac Bourne in the beginning.

Batman
Tim Burton’s take on the masked vigilante comic book character, though blatantly seen through the half-remembered filter of the 60s live action TV show. Jack Nicholson chews up scenery in an overpaid, puffed-up cameo, somewhat overshadowing Michael Keaton’s rather good lead. Kim Basinger gets in the way, and whilst blasphemously uncanonical, Sam Hamm’s script is fun.

Stalingrad
Joseph Vilsmaier’s fine German war film, a grim depiction of life on the Eastern Front, with a factory battle that throws back to Peckinpah’s Cross Of Iron. A strong cast includes Thomas Kretschmann (latterly known for Der Untergang, U-571, Wanted, Valkyrie, King Kong, Transsiberian etc), Dominique Horwitz, Sebastian Rudolf and Sylvester Groth.

Dead Man’s Shoes
Shane Meadows and Paddy Considine cement their creative partnership with a perfect film, a Midlands-set Western that escaped the director’s grasp when he was given too much money to play with the previous attempt.

A redemption film skillfully camouflaged as a vengeance picture, full of believable characters and genuine shocks.

A Week In Film #056: Alexis RIP

Catch A Fire
Interesting subject matter – the bombing of the Secunda refinery by ANC soldier Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke) – efficiently handled (director: Phillip Noyce; writer: Shawn Slovo). Tim Robbins does a wobbly Afrikaans accent as the cop hunting down the MK guerrillas in South Africa.

Back To The Future Part II
The dystopian future one! Hover boards FTW.

The Contract
Slight but not unwatchable thriller about a widower trying to bond with his son on a camping trip who instead is faced with a bunch of professional hitmen trying to recover an accomplice. John Cusack and Morgan Freeman on autopilot, directed by AUssie veteran Bruce Beresford (Breaker Morant, Driving Miss Daisy, Paradise Road).

Behind Enemy Lines
Navy aviator Owen Wilson is shot down by dastardly Bosnian Serbs hiding evidence of war crimes in war-torn former Yugoslavia, and is forced on the run to escape his pursuers. Not great, but watchable. Director John Moore was the prick responsible for the Omen remake, though, so watch your rage levels.

Back To The Future Part III
The cowboy past one! Steam punk FTW.

Behind Enemy Lines II: Axis Of Evil
A sequel with no connection to its predecessor, with an elite team of Navy SEALs (yawn…) parachuting into North Korea on some boring mission or other, ending up getting captured, tortured, blah blah blarrrrgh! Why did I watch this?

Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia
Very silly second sequel which follows the first sequel into exactly the same plothole minefields, only on a different continent. Still, actor Tim Matheson (the Veep in The West Wing amongst other things) directs efficiently on behalf of producer WWE (yes, as in the wrestling) Films, which in turn provides ring meat Mr Kennedy as a supporting character. In terms of plot, narcoterrorists in Colombia, blah, Navy SEALs sent down there, blah, double cross, blah blah blah… Steven Scarface Bauer and Yancey Kingpin Arias are amongst the more familiar faces.

Freedomland
Reminded me a bit of Gone, Baby, Gone – an effective little thriller which falls apart at the end with a silly twist that undermines all preceding it. Still, Samuel L Jackson is effective as a tired, asthmatic cop tasked with finding Julianne Moore’s daughter, kidnapped in the local housing projects. Joe Roth (not someone I’d heard of before) directs well, Richard Price adapts his own novel into the script.

The Good German
Steven Soderbergh has a crack at directing a The Third Man-style post-war noir, with George Clooney, Cate Blanchett and Tobey Maguire running around Berlin immediately after the war. Not bad, though with all the attention to period detail I wish someone had come up with a more convincing 40s-style title screen than the 70s telemovie one they ended up with.

Tigerland
Joel Schumacher in ‘directs quite good film’ shocker. Colin Farrell is a barrack room lawyer not making friends amongst the instructors at a ‘Nam-era Marine camp.