Monthly Archives: June 2011

A Week In Film #137: LA, Cleveland, Boston – all Greek to me

Jason And The Argonauts
Directed by British journeyman Don Chaffey and starring Todd Armstrong in the titular role, but remembered more for the stop-motion animation by Ray Harryhausen – and for good reason! Properly definitive work, including the creaky giant bronze statue Talos, the flying Harpies, and of course the seven killer skeletons at the end… “Kill them! Kill! Kill! Kill them all!”

Okay, so in some respects it doesn’t look ‘realistic’, but FFS! Killer skeletons ARE NOT REAL, and the whole thing is based on ancient myths and legends, and it is a movie for kids and families. For these reasons – plus it doesn’t pretend the gods are not directing much of the action (take heed, Troy), and it has some great character actors in supporting roles (Nigel Green as a non-roid-ragey Hercules, for instance), and it has a superlative Bernard Herrmann score – this is a stone cold classic.

Hollywood Homicide
Bloody awful procedural following the two-contrasting-cops-thrown-together formula, this time with Harrison Ford as a cynical veteran detective with a sideline in real estate thrown together with Josh Hartnett, a young buck who isn’t really into policework, teaches yoga and dreams of becoming an actor. Some rappers get killed. Their boss did it. Boring, and a waste of money on all levels. Director Ron Shelton should have stuck to his sports comedy-dramas.

Kill The Irishman
Before director Jonathan Hensleigh and lead actor Ray Stevenson came together on this Irish-American mob picture, they shared a connection through different movie reboots of Marvel Comics’ Punisher character – Hensleigh directed 2004’s The Punisher (the one with Thomas Jane), whilst Stevenson starred in Lexi Alexander’s Punisher: War Zone four years later.

Here they complement each other well, with Stevenson playing real-life Cleveland underworld figure Danny Greene whilst Hensleigh rattles through plenty of based-on-real-events episodes with competence and occasional flair. Overall it’s less satisfying than it could be, with whole narrative avenues ignored: Greene’s long career as an FBI informer, the there-but-for-the-grace-of-god Irish cop played by Val Kilmer, Greene’s sudden paleness with Italian mobster John Nardi (Vincent D’Onofrio)… But it’s not really pretending to be that deep, so it can be forgiven the hokey “be a good kid” ending.

The Town
Ben Affleck is shaping up to be a pretty decent director. Here he pulls together an efficient crime caper, like his debut Gone Baby Gone also set in Boston (though this time its Charlestown not Dorchester).

Affleck and his best mate (Jeremy Renner) and a couple of other friends are a crew who specialise in taking down scores on armoured cars and banks. It’s something of a class thing – Charlestown has something of the white ghetto about it, and armed robbery has become like a local industry. The boys’ success brings them to the attention of cops and the Feds, and puts the gang under pressure, something intensified when they realise a witness may be able to identify them.

It’s not the most original film, it’s not the most original heist flick, but it is refreshingly lean, and well-put together. Imagine Heat but several degrees less pretentious, and with a touch of class consciousness. Plus it’s based around the Irish-American mob, so doesn’t rely on all those overcooked Italian mob tropes. Pete Postlethwaite is good in a cameo as a neighbourhood godfather, Rebecca Hall as the witness. Renner, as ever, is excellent. And the action sequences are very well put together.

A Week In Film #136: First Father

Blade Runner: The Final Cut
Got me the five disc ‘Final Cut’ box set, and very nice it is too (though not as impressive on the extras front as the ‘Alien Quadrilogy’)…

Exiled: A Law & Order Movie
Firstly, Mike Logan (Chris Noth) was a great character in the early series of Law & Order, and secondly the premise – Logan, still stuck out on Staten Island after twatting some rich bloke in front of the press and itching to return to the Manhattan homicide trenches – is a rock solid start for any gritty crime drama.

But it’s all done wrong. It’s just a sub-standard ninety minute telemovie; none of the L&O language remains – the CHUH-CHUNGS, the title cards, the split between investigation and prosecution. Even what could be a delicious twist is fumbled. And the music is terrible. What a wasted opportunity.

Aliens: Special Edition
The LLF’s choice – can’t go wrong with Cameron’s space marines.

Raising Cain
It’s worrying when even Scott at Cinema de Merde – my go-to guy when I’m having trouble getting into a Brian De Palma flick – has nothing to say about a BDP film. This is a real mess – it starts off promisingly (if very messily); John Lithgow seems to be a nice guy who’s taken time off work to be a full-time dad whilst his wife returns to her career, but soon shows a dark side. Getting from there to the climax is a painfully long and if we’re honest rather dull journey.

The Ghost Writer
Child rapist Polanski directs accent abuser Ewan MacGregor in a breezy adaptation of tree killer Robert Harris’ novel. MacGregor plays a hack writer specialising in churning out ghosted autobiographies who is contracted at the last minute to polish up the turd that is a Blair-like PM’s memoirs in time for the presses to roll. He quickly discovers that all is not as it seems, and becomes embroiled in history as his subject, played with oily aplomb by Pierce Brosnan, faces a war crimes scandal.

Begins promisingly, swiftly descends into shit, and the twist is both facile and telegraphed. Olivia Williams is good as Brosnan’s wife, who is made of sterner stuff. Due to Polanski’s noncery, the scenes set in New England had to be filmed in northern Germany, and Berlin is drafted in (unconvincingly) to represent London.

A Week In Film #135: Newbies

Shooting Dogs
Hmmm, this one got me conflicted. On the one hand it’s one of those White Man’s Burden films, about the horrors of the Rwandan Genocide but from the perspective of Hugh Dancy, a ‘why can’t they all just get along?’-type young British white man on a gap year teaching placement. Hence everything is explained to him in ways he understands (ie superficially: good guys & bad guys, savagery vs civilisation, that sort of thing). Oh, and his mentor at his school is also white and British, John Hurt as a missionary priest. Throw into the mix a bunch of paper-thin Rwandan characters known only through their devotion in church services, their crush on our white hero, their cheerful demeanour in adversity etc, and you have your basic Beyond Rangoon-type nonsense. So far, so fingers-down-the-throat distasteful.

But then the film demonstrates an interesting self-reflexivity, and pointedly refers to this cultural chauvinism. Our white ‘heroes’ abandon their script fodder black hosts, they make an already bad situation worse, they stick together in a racially exclusive clique whilst decrying the ‘primitive’ ethnic conflict of the Rwandans.

I don’t mean to say that this is a great film, it’s not (especially not when one considers the fumbled ending, with fake redemption injected in). Politically, historically, it has nothing to say, and despite its attempts to comment on the colonial attitudes on show, it remains a colonially-minded film – but it is far better than initially it seems it will be, and even has moments of emotional depth.

The Star Chamber
This Peter Hyams film starts promisingly – an idealistic Los Angeles judge, Michael Douglas, finds himself increasingly hamstrung by the law, forced to throw out (seemingly) damning evidence against (seemingly) guilty defendants, forced to leave heinous crimes unpunished. Slowly he gets drawn into a parallel system, designed to catch the dirt that falls down the cracks of the legal system – so far, so Magnum Force.

It begins well, with a peerless prologue, two undercover cops giving chase to a suspect through hilly down-at-heel LA streets, strong Steadicam-type work, lots of gritty worm’s eye shots, dust kicked up, genuine stumbles, all adding up to a kinetic, believable, exciting sequence. Tonally there’s hints of Norman Jewison’s …And Justice For All, then a bit of Michael Douglas’ later thriller with David Fincher, The Game, and obviously there’s plenty of Dirty Harry Callahan influence in there. It works hard to sell itself as being a film of its time, brimming with conservative rage over apparent judicial impotence, fury at ‘Miranda’ this, ‘illegal search’ that and the rest – at least that’s the set up, and it works well, up to a point.

But by the time the story really gets going (and let’s face it, the direction the plot goes is not difficult to divine), it all goes south; the set-up, which was developed so well earlier on, is dumped, and a potentially strong twist is sacrificed in favour of something altogether less challenging. Still, Hyams shows improvement in the tension stakes since Busting.

Red Planet
Pretty damn dull ‘mankind’s last hope’ flick with a crew of astronauts from an over-polluted Earth sent out to terraform Mars only for the mission to go tits up.

I was prepared to enjoy it, but it didn’t excite me at all. I mean, Sunshine is flawed, but utterly absorbing and skin-tinglingly moving in parts; and Mission To Mars is hokum, but with vim and excitement – whereas this is just pedestrian. With Carrie-Anne Moss, Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore,Simon Baker and Benjamin Bragg.

A Week In Film #134: Anniversary

The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid
Feature debut of Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers etc), a bloody, muddy, unromantic, unrighteous Western, telling the story of a famous James-Younger robbery-gone-bad.

Very witty, with fabulous scenes both of noise and calm, Cliff Robertson on top form as charismatic gang leader Cole Younger, whilst Robert Duvall is a psychopathic fruitcake of a Jesse James, and great supporting actors like Donald Moffat, Robert H Harris and Jack Manning.

Freebie And The Bean
Thoroughly enjoyable early buddy cop movie, with James Caan and Alan Arkin teamed up as San Francisco detectives trying to keep a mob boss alive long enough to arrest him.

Despite some unpleasant attitudes and language (of its time, etc), it’s a very fresh-feeling movie, with action sequences that could give today’s a run for their money, and some excellent photography – all hail Richard Rush.

The best thing is the rapport between Caan and Arkin, though. Masterclass stuff.

Alien: The Director’s Cut
Not sure the Director’s Cut has anything to add. Nor have I.

Busting
Another 1974 buddy cop film, this time set in LA, this time with Elliott Gould and Robert Blake. A bit pedestrian in comparison, and whilst the jaded, cynical tone is interesting, it lacks the humour of Freebie. Still, director Peter Hyams made a successful return to the genre a decade later with the Gregory Hines/Billy Crystal vehicle Running Scared, which got the balance spot-on.