Monthly Archives: April 2010

A Week In Film #076: Back in the saddle

Matchstick Men
Ridley Scott does a grifter flick, with Nic Cage as a tic-ridden confidence man working with protegé Sam Rockwell who discovers he has a teenage daughter.

Quite watchable, but unfortunately it builds towards a twist climax which is wholly foreseeable to anyone with a passing familiarity to long con films. A shame, because it’s well-crafted.

Le Convoyeur
A very good French number about a mysterious loner (Albert Dupontel) who begins work as a security guard for a shabby armoured car company, directed by Nicolas Boukhrief.

Beautifully, lyrically shot and paced, with nothing spelled out unnecessarily, and many plot points simply implied, which suggests the film makers actually trust their audience.

The Informers
I really enjoyed Bret Easton Ellis’ anthology of interconnected short stories. It was a stopgap book released in the long publishing hiatus between American Psycho and Glamorama, but featured tales that predated all bar his debut novel Less Than Zero.

After the stodgy sub-Brat Pack film adaptation of that, Easton Ellis’ novels seemed to enjoy ever-improving screen versions: Mary Harmon’s take on American Psycho diverged from the text, but proved witty and enjoyable; Roger Avery’s Rules Of Attraction captured much of the essence of his sophomore effort, which focused on unlikeable, overprivileged brats at college in New England.

So it would seem that things were looking up with The Informers – not only had Hollywood seemingly ‘got’ Easton Ellis at last, but there were excellent people on board, with the author contributing to the script, and Buffalo Soldiers director Gregor Jordan on board to helm it.

Except it’s shit, confused, wastes onscreen talent like Brad Renfro, Mickey Rourke and Billy Bob Thornton, strips out some of the most important and memorable elements from the book, and fails to bring things together in a coherent narrative or towards a satisfying climax.

Framom Främsta Linjen
More Finnish war movie business, and this time we’re hanging with a unit from a Swedish-speaking regiment during the Continuation War.

Directed mostly with efficiency by former actor Åke Lindman (the stalwart sergeant in the 1955 classic Tuntematon Sotilas), there are strong performances from Tobias Zilliacus as a respected frontline officer, Harry Järv, and Ilkka Heiskanen as Swedish commander Marttinen. Things do get confused in the last third, though, and the apparently documentary inserts with surviving veterans of the events presented (shades of Tae Guk Gi) that occasionally intrude detract from the drama. On the other hand the still photographs taken by the real Järv help pull things together.

Assassin(s)
Mathieu Kassovitz’s follow-up to La Haine looks at alienation from a different angle. He himself plays a low expectation-having motherfucker, a low-rent thief who hooks up with Michel Serrault, an ageing hitman looking for a protegé to pass on his skills to. Similarly twentysomething Kassovitz only ever hangs with young delinquent teenager Mehdi Benoufa. There’s lots of sitting around watching TV or playing video games, lessons unlearned, impatience, incompetence, lies, arrogance, stupidity.

Not great, and I’m not sure it’s even really that good, but at least Kassovitz tries some creatively interesting choices along the way, and declines to turn it into either a La Haine sequel or into anything transparently polemical. The midpoint features a fine example of the filmmaker’s feint – a real sucker punch. It is a pity that Kassovitz never quite manages to keep the steam up.

A Week In Film #074: No more war

MR 73
Daniel Auteuil is a washed-up Marseilles cop looking for redemption in this downbeat Olivier Marchal policier. Most efficient.

Le Pacte Des Loups
Somewhat silly and unsatisfying period French action thriller about a killer wolf terrorising the countryside in the 18th century. Christophe Gans directs, Samuel Le Bihan and Mark Damascos are the experts drafted in to hunt down the Beast of Gévaudan, Vincent Cassel is a shady local aristo and Monica Bellucci is the mysterious courtesan. Some anachronistic martial arts scenes don’t really make up for the poor storytelling.

A Week In Film #073: More war

Zvezda
A pretty decent lost patrol war flick by Nikolai Lebedev set during Operation Bagration, when the Red Army drove back the Germans from Belarus and across Poland towards the end of WW2.

A small band of Soviet reconnaissance scouts slips behind enemy lines to examine plans for a counter-offensive; naturally it’s an ethnically-diverse bunch, each with their own special skill, too. The mildly romantic sub-plot with the young radio operator seems rather redundant, though.

Katyń
Andrzej Wajda’s somewhat disappointing picture about the massacre of thousands of Polish officers in the forest at Katyń. Muddled, with extravagant attention spent on costumes and set dressing but less so on emotion or narrative.

L’Armée Des Ombres
Jean-Pierre Melville’s brooding, dark, almost entirely flash-bang-wallopless tale of wartime French resistance under German occupation and Vichy capitulation.

Lino Ventura is very good as Gerbier, the apparently mild-mannered engineer heading up a Gaullist cell. Taking in arrest, escape, killing and capture once more, the story moves along at a plodding pace, but the film is greater for that, because it gives the audience time to consider what they are seeing, the moral choices, the real-feeling decisions that must be made. The scenes in London – when Gerbier goes to consult with France Libré headquarters – are the least convincing; the film does best when it is ambling nervously through claustrophobic Marseilles alleyways and motoring desperately across roads through open countryside. Sound very atmospheric sound design, too.

Romanzo Criminale
Super-slick, but not particularly enjoyable, Italian crime drama about a bunch of suburban hoods who decide to take over the Rome underworld in the 70s.

What could have been masterful, weaving in the Strategy of Tension/Year of Lead, bent politicians and corrupt cops, the Italian parastate and the Italian extended family, fascist terrorism and red terror, masonic conspiracy and Mafia crime rings, is instead an uninspiring mess. It’s Guy Ritchie directs from a Jake Arnott story, with traditional Italian film industry values prevailing – yes, really that bad. Plus there’s a very unpleasant streak of misogyny running through its length. Oh, and some appalling editing, poor shot selection, wipes that obscure everything that’s happening, superfluous scenes, framing which excludes vital visual elements, a dulled sense of pacing… And whilst my Italian is nothing to boast about, even I can detect wooden delivery and woeful dialogue.

A shame, because there is so much rich material to mine here. Director Michele Placido clearly has skills of some description, it’s just baffling why he doesn’t exercise them competently or artistically. Pierfrancesco Favino is pretty good as angry gang leader Lebanese, though (in keeping with the rest of the charactisations) it’s never really clear why he is so angry.

Barbarians At The Gate
The exciting world of leveraged buy-outs in this witty HBO film about the Nabisco LBO, with James Garner. Mildly diverting.