Monthly Archives: August 2011

A Week In Film #146: Settling in

The Inbetweeners Movie
Talk about nostalgia – popular British sitcom hits creative brick wall so sends cast on holiday to a sunny European beach.

It’s moderately funny, especially if you like (the first two seasons of) the TV show, but it’s standard three act story arc, complete with happy ending and all the loose ends tied up, is unsatisfyingly satisfying, especially given how the series is about, well, thoroughly average, ordinary, mundane teenagers, and not about remarkable or heroic people. Still, it was nice to get out to the cinema for the first time in ages.

Wolfen
The first film we watched in our new hovel! Not seen this for many, many years, and it met the expectations of my favourable if faint memories.

Based on a Whitley Strieber (remember him? The chap who swore blind he’d been abducted by aliens) novel, you have to remember that this is not a werewolf picture… But there’s certainly something lupine lurking around pre-gentrification South Bronx.

Albert Finney and Gregory Hines make an excellent odd couple pair of detectives trying to figure out what the hell is going on. Diane Venora (she who was Vincent’s wife in Heat) has a fairly meaty early role, and Tom Noonan (later the Tooth Fairy in Manhunter, before a quick turn of his own in Heat) has a nice cameo. Edward James Olmos is a mysterious AIM-style American Indian. Documentarian Michael Wadleigh directs with great skill, squeezing all sorts of frights out of what could have been schlock horror. Recommended.

A Week In Film #145: Moving days

Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull
Good grief. Last Crusade seemed self-indulgent, but this heap of crap makes Temple Of Doom look good.

44 Minutes: The North Hollywood Shoot-Out
Crisp torn-from-the-headlines TV movie with a decent cast – Ron Livingston, Michael Madsen and Mario Van Peebles.

Andrew Bryniarski (who played the lead in The Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special) and Oleg Taktarov (from 15 Minutes) are a pair of heavily armed, pill-popping bank robbers who take down one score too many and end up in an extended firefight with the LAPD. Very competently directed by Yves Simoneau.

Van Helsing
Steampunked-up twist on Dracula, with a dash of The League Of Extraordinary Gentleman, with Hugh Jackman in the titular role, Kate Beckinsale as barely fleshed out female counterpoint, Richard Roxburgh as the toothy bad guy.

In theory, great; in reality, fucking awful.

A Week In Film #144: Boxing up

The Eagle
Disappointing Romans-in-Britain potboiler from Touching The Void director Kevin MacDonald based on Rosemary Sutcliff’s tale of the Ninth Legion going missing up north.

Channing Tatum is the young centurion who hopes to avenge the shame of his father’s defeat, Jamie Bell his Brigantian slave. Mostly a bit dull, but the tension racks up when they come into contact with a tribe of Picts.

Man Behind The Sun
Exploitation picture about the Japanese Unit 731’s biological weapons testing programme, with grim tests being carried out on live prisoners.

Some proper gag-in-the-mouth moments.

A Week In Film #143: Riot grrrners

Tears Of The Sun
Much as I once bought underachieving period cop noir Mulholland Falls instead of a similarly monickered David Lynch film, somehow I confused this crappy gun ho Bruce Willis auctioneer for Japanese war torture exploitation picture Hēi Tài Yáng 731. Oh how I laughed.

Brooklyn’s Finest
Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) tries for an Altman-type converging threads police flick, doesn’t really work though. Three very different New York cops (Ethan Hawke, Richard Gere, Don Cheadle) suffer very different breakdowns.

Solomon Kane
Dire comic book adaptation, with James Purefoy as a puritan avenger, or something. A shame, as I rather enjoyed director Michael J Bassett’s debut Deathwatch, and his follow-up Wilderness seemed diverting too.

A Week In Film #142: Crime & punishment

State Of Grace

More Irish-American gangster business – this time it’s Sean Penn returning to his old Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood and welcomed back into the local gang by best buddy Gary Oldman. There’s a twist, which is pretty obvious pretty early on.

Ed Harris convinces as a gang boss with ideas bigger than either his abilities or reach; Phil Joanou directs with a bit of class, and an eye for his locations.

Bonded By Blood

Okay, so it’s another take on the ‘Essex Boys’ Range Rover murders in Rettendon. It’s an interesting story. But, it’s also another Turbo Terry Stone production. He also appears to have been responsible for casting it. And, despite it purporting to be be based on ex-Raquel’s bouncer Bernard O’ Mahoney’s books, it squarely blames Steele and Whomes for killing Tate, Tucker and Rolfe – which is bizarre.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s just say this is very much the inferior of Rise Of The Footsoldier and Essex Boys. It really is that bad. Tamer Hassan can turn in good performances, but he needs discipline. Director Sacha Bennett does not supply that here. Vincent Regan doesn’t do much better. Turbo Terry (obviously) gives himself a lead role (again), but frankly he is no worse than you would expect. On the plus column you have Neil Maskell, Johnny Palmiero and Dave Legeno, but none really have the space to do much. Kierston Wareing gives the nearest thing to a good performance in the whole film, trying her best with a character barely given two dimensions in the script.

Mystic River

…And yet another Irish-American gangster-themed flick, this time with Clint Eastwood in the directing chair. The first film I’ve seen in ages which gave me goosebumps whilst watching.

Based on a novel by Dennis Lehane – whose similarly Massachussetts-set crime novel Gone Baby Gone was also turned into a rather decent film – it is a well-built, well-paced, well-acted work. Tim Robbins, Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon are three Bostonians who grew up together as kids, but who drifted apart in later years. A tragedy brings them back together – Robbins the troubled loner, Penn the former hoodlum, Bacon the police detective.

There’s a twist which (as in Gone Baby Gone) is both quickly spotted and almost wholly incidental to the effective running of the show; this isn’t a whodunnit, but a character piece. And one without a particularly or optimistic ending.

No Escape

Martin Campbell in his pre-Bond days, when he was knocking out ridiculous yarns for hire. This time, in a manner reminiscent of the Christopher Lambert silliness Fortress, we have an inhumane prison system in the near future.

Ray Liotta plays an American special ops soldier who cracked during the USA’s occupation of Libya(!), shot his commanding officer, and ended up in chokey. After escaping a couple of times he is dumped onto Absolom, an island where the worst of the worst are left to rot. It’s a place where inmates end up either with the Mad Max-style feral, brutal and cannibalistic ‘Outsiders’, or with the more sensitive, cooperative ‘Insiders, who have carved out a semblance of civilisation in a besieged enclave on the coast.

It is very silly, not in the least bit original, but it is watchable. British character actor Stuart Wilson (the doctor in Hot Fuzz) has a plum job as Marek, the scenery-chewing bad guy leading the Outsiders – think lots of witty one-liners shortly before or after killing someone in a particularly nasty way.

Also features dependable like Lance Henriksen and Ernie Hudson, plus decent turns from Kevins Dillon and J O’ Connor; some quirky performances from Jack Shepard and Don Henderson; and frankly one of the hammiest turns in I’ve seen from Ian McNeice.

Ironclad

Hmmm – a 2011 film about an introspective Knight Templar returned home from protecting Christendom against Muslim hordes, now forced to fight against a treacherous ruler and his heathen allies. Can’t think of any marketing problems there.

Basically old-fashioned period war drama (plus associated romantic sub-plots) meets contemporary shaky-cam violent auctioneer, with lots of steals (eg The Magnificent Seven/Shichinin No Samurai). James Purefoy is the troubled warrior monk, Paul Giamatti is, implausibly, King John. For some reason this film about the siege of Rochester castle during the English First Barons’ War includes woad-wearing, pagan Vikings assisting ol’ Lackland, a noblewoman in a battle bodice, highly flammable live pigs, and Jason Flemyng as a rogue swordsman who gets the horn every time he gets in a scuffle.

It thinks it’s a medieval Bourne Supremacy, but instead it’s a film which has Paul Giamatti as an English king, and which paid money to Jason Flemyng for acting. Creatively done battle scenes though.

GI Joe: The Rise Of Cobra

I was warned, but did I listen?

‘GI Joe’ was the original American ‘Action Man’ doll, which led to a range of minature soldier dolls of the same name, which in the UK were renamed ‘Action Force’. This you would know if you were a child of the 1980s, when ‘Action Force’ crowbarred itself into half the pages of Battle comic in a sweetheart merchandising deal. On the face of it, that should have made me angry. Very, very angry. However, the stories, artwork and universe around the characters were all so excellently rendered that it didn’t really matter. The way that the switch from Baron Ironblood and the Red Shadows to Cobra as the lead villains was handled was a masterclass.

Anyway, I digress. Palitoy lost the UK licence which was picked up by Hasbro, who dumped the UK canon in favour of the American pie version cooked up Stateside, Marvel got the rights to comic strips, cue Flint etc, yadda yadda yadda, bag o’ shite ipso facto Bob’s your auntie hey presto! Welcome to the 21st century, here’s a shit film.

Lots of money spent on very unconvincing CGI, a dull MANIAC THREATENS WORLD plot, ridiculous numbers of otherwise decent actors apparently with very big mortgages, and given this is a movie about a range of toys clearly aimed at children a strangely profanity-and-violence laden script. Go figure.

AWFUL.

Jonah Hex

I was warned, but did I listen?

‘Jonah Hex’ is a DC comics (yes, I am aware of the tautology) character about a brought-back-from-the-dead bounty hunter roaming the American frontiers of the late nineteenth century, with a troubled past as a Confederate soldier. Jonah Hex is a very bad film. Josh Brolin does his best in the title role, but it is a very bad film. Following in Kenneth Branagh’s Wild Wild West boots as a dastardly, anachronistic weapons-toting villain is John Malkovich.

The Thing

The LLF wanted to watch a horror film. Or a science fiction film. But nothing too scary. Or gory. Or old. Or black and white. I picked this, because in times of need John Carpenter delivers. The thought of the remake/prequel scares me, not in a good way.