Monthly Archives: February 2010

A Week In Film #067: Warming up

Executive Action
Early (1973) JFK assassination conspiracy flick directed by David Miller from a script by Dalton Trumbo, Donald Freed and Mark Lane. Burt Lancaster is convincing as a driven spook pulling together a murderous conspiracy. Notable for its coldness, its unflashy production.

Seven Days In May
A dark, taut, scary Cold War political thriller from John Frankenheimer, about a populist hawk general (Burt Lancaster) challenging a weakened president (Fredric March) embarking on disarmament treaties with the Soviets. Kirk Douglas is the Marine colonel who sees what’s afoot and doesn’t like it.

Who Dares Wins
Silly, posturing, politically facile, thoroughly reactionary yet strangely watchable action film acting as a recruiting sergeant for the SAS, and an election advert for Thatcherism. Real-life reservist Lewis Collins is the soldier sent undercover amongst the pacifists (who, naturally, are secretly terrorists intent on murder and mayhem – as well as bad theatre); Roy Budd provides stirring score. Directed by TV man Ian Sharp, who later shot second unit action sequences for the likes of Goldeneye.

Fairly absorbing dramatisation of the talks between the ANC and Afrikaaner intermediaries of the Nationalist Party held in Britain which helped lead to the dismantling of Apartheid. Directed by Pete Travis, who returns to the drama-doc style of his Omagh following the Hollywood bombast of his previous feature, Vantage Point. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Thabo Mbeki, William Hurt as Will Esterhuyse, John Kani as Oliver Tambo, Timothy West as PW Botha; but best of all are Mark Strong as a security policeman, and Jonny Lee Miller as Michael Young, the gold mining company man who set it all up.

Dead Bolt Dead
I heard about this after trawling IMDb for interesting-sounding films, and then discovered it lurking on LoveFilm’s inventory; the planets were in alignment, so clearly I had to give it a spin. Sadly, it’s a piece of crap. Under-written, juvenile stuff about gangsters and hitmen with rubbish ‘Tarantinoesque’ (ie scripted by someone who thinks of themselves as ‘influenced by Tarantino’, only without anything of note to say themself) speeches.

Featuring Neil Stuke (the Ben Chaplin replacement from Game On, James Laurenson (the government Energy Minister from State Of Play) and some people I didn’t recognise, directed by James Rogan, written by Paul de Villiers. Some of the camerawork is impressive, though, and there’s some low-tech ‘bullet time’ type business; this came out in 1999, so it may well predate The Matrix; in which case, kudos for the creativity.

Vantage Point
What starts off as a quite interesting experiment by Brit TV director Pete Travis in his first feature sadly descends into straight-faced farce in the final reel. Plotwise it’s about an attempt on the life of the US President during a trip to Spain, but with the focus (initially) on a previously wounded Secret Service agent (Dennis Quaid) returning to duty.

To keep things interesting, the audience is treated to multiple versions of the assassination attempt from the perspective of different people in different places with different priorities, starting off with a TV crew led by Sigourney Weaver. It’s not as playful as, say, Brian De Palma’s Snake Eyes, which was worked around the same premise of multiple vantage points over the same event, but by the end it is as fanciful as it, which doesn’t bode well for someone lacking De Palma’s wit.

A shame that it doesn’t work better, because there is clearly talent at work here – but there are (at least) two films bolted together

The Lady Vanishes (1938)
Hitchcock directs this taut Sidney Gilliat/Frank Launder production about the disappearance of an elderly Englishwoman on a train travelling through Central Europe in the immediate pre-war period. Lots of Hitch’s things are already in place – quick banter, interesting women characters, the cinematic exploration of ever-so-stagey locations – and it’s a lot of fun. May Whitty is the missing spinster, Margaret Lockwood the young woman determined to find her.

Green For Danger
Alastair Sim is great as the British Columbo-style detective investigating deaths at a wartime hospital in the Home Counties in this adaptation of Christianna Brand’s novel. Another wonderfulfilm from the Sidney Gilliat/Frank Launder team.

Death Proof
Tarantino’s half of the Grindhouse double-bill, a pleasantly unpleasant tale-in-two-parts of feisty young women who come into the sights of psychopathic misogynist Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell). First time around, it’s goodnight Vienna for the gals; but in the return match, Mike finds his match in a group of off-duty film crew, including Xena/Hercules stuntwoman Zoë Bell, playing herself. A Lot more enjoyable – and witty – than I suspected it might be.

Extraordinary Renditon
A more provocative and thoughtful look at America’s TWAT era policy of illegal abductions and outsourced torture. This time it’s a British lecturer (Omar Berdouni) who is swept up off the street in London by unknown thugs, before a spell in a shipping container, then a midnight flight to an unnamed Arab or North African country, where he is interrogated by a secret policeman (Andy Serkis) about never-specified thought-crimes. Ania Sowinski is the girlfriend trying (and failing) to help him come to terms with it all after he returns, battered, bloody, angry, confused. Jim Threapleton’s directorial debut, and very promising it is.

A Week In Film #066: Be My Valentine

When We Were Kings
I’d watched some cheap documentary about boxing on Yesterday, so thought I’d dig this out. Sterling documentary by Leon Gast – with great music – about the 1974 ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ between Ali and Frazier. A great blend of contemporary and modern day interviews, archive footage and peerless editing.

Michael Mann, a director famed for his warm, sensitive, characterful films, tackles Muhammed Ali, as impersonated by Will Smith. Watchable, but no more.

A Week In Film #065: ‘Er Indoors’ Birthday

Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World
Napoleonic naval war movie, with captain Russell Crowe and ship’s surgeon Paul Bettany friends with different outlooks on life. Peter Weir directs, well.

District 9
South African SF action comedy by Neill Blomkamp about crap aliens corralled into shanty towns, all Apartheid allegory and that. The mock documentary stuff at the beginning is funny, and the little eviction scenes are fantastic, but after the first half-hour it just descends into a rather boring extended chase scene that doesn’t end.

A Week In Film #064: MephPanic

Doug Liman’s fun feature about the interconnected stories of a bunch of young people centred on a drug deal and a rave. Sarah Polley, a pre-scientology Katie Holmes, Grange Hill alumnus Desmond Askew, plus Taye Diggs, Nathan Bexton, William Fichtner as a very odd cop, Timothy Olyphant as an angry dealer, Jay Action Mohr and Scott Wolf as daytime soap actors… Fine stuff.

Relatively efficient, but not greatly inspiring, melodrama built around the kidnapping of an Egyptian-American (Omar Metwally) during the War on Terror, told in parallel to the story of a CIA analyst (Jake Gyllenhaal) in a strategic North African posting, forced to deal with the aftermath of a bombing. Reece Witherspoon is the soccer mom trying to find out what’s happened to her husband. A bit too Missing-meets-Syriana to work well, given the strength of what’s being cribbed.

Mesrine: L’Instinct De Mort
Jean-François Richet and Abdel Raouf Dafri do well with their two-part feature about the French robber/killer Jacques Mesrine. The first part seems more coherent, and has the likes of Gérard Depardieu in support. Vincent Cassel is excellent in the lead.

Mesrine: L’Ennemi Public No. 1
In part two, Mesrine starts believing his hype a bit too much, and seeing himself as a sort of political activist. Impressively staged, though.

Phone Booth
The LLF told me it was one of the worst films she’d ever seen, but I quite enjoyed it. Colin Farrell is a ratlike but charismatic publicist trapped in a Manhattan telephone kiosk by some nut (Kiefer Sutherland) with a sniper rifle trained on him. One of Joel Schumacher’s better efforts.

Fa Yeung Nin Wa
Wong Kar-Wai’s In The Mood For Love has two neighbours (Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung) finding companionship in the other in 60s Hong Kong whilst each’s spouse is absent. Beautifully shot, engaging.