Monthly Archives: October 2011

A Week In Film #155: Ghosties & ghoulies

Andrzej Wajda’s excellent adaptation of the Stanisława Przybyszewska play about the last days of Georges Danton, as Maximilien Robespierre’s Great Terror directs revolution against revolutionaries.

Made in the early 1980s, Wajda turns it into a modern day parable flavoured by the Polish military government’s crackdown on Solidarność; Danton and his supporters are played by French actors (led by Gérard Depardieu), whilst Robespierre and allies are generally portrayed by Polish actors (headed by Wojciech Pszoniak).

I remember this from late night on Channel 4 or BBC2 sometime in the early nineties, nestling amongst all those Greenaway and Jarman films, yet another minor Film 4 feature, all grant money in search of an arthouse audience (remember Welcome II The Terrordome? Or The Kitchen Toto?)… Recall it having an awful lot of chubby Ian McNeice too.

But on rewatching it’s pretty good (and Ian McNeice is only it it for a few short minutes as a randy Royal). It’s all about the effects of the Franco-Prussian War on ordinary people, leading up to the Paris Commune, and its aftermath. It focuses on those working at a populist theatre, run by shamelessly money-motivated Ramborde (Timothy Spall). Young actress Severine (Ana Padrão) becomes politically aware as war and hunger come to the city, whilst becoming embroiled also in a love triangle between secret Irish republican O’ Brien (John Lynch) and British spy Grafton (Roshan Seth).

Artist-cum-director Ken McMullen pulls together a passionate picture with some interesting, witty touches, and memorable performances (including Med Hondo as Karl Marx, and South African actor and academic Jack Klaff as Gustave Paul Cluseret).

Silent Scream
David Hayman – who so memorably played notorious Scottish prisoner Jimmy Boyle in A Sense Of Freedom (the best gaolhouse drama I’ve ever seen) – here directs Iain Glen as another real life Caledonian convict, killer Larry Winters.

It’s very much an attempt to get into Winters’ head, to understand. It is a sensitive call for genuine rehabilitation. It doesn’t suggest there are easy answers.

The Silence Of The Lambs
Revisiting the Thomas Harris/Lector films. I was never much of a fan of the Jonathan Demme one, but it’s grown on me, a little. Ted Levine is thoroughly watchable as Jame Gumb. Scott Glenn’s Jack Crawford is much more of a calculating user than Dennis Farina in Manhunter.

Silly stuff like the geeks, and the HUT-HUT-HUTting SWAT guys (including Chris Isaak, FFS), do distract, though. The tedious cross-cutting misdirection in the final act is a cheap, misfiring gag as well.

Theatre Of Blood
What a way to celebrate Hallowe’en! A classic British horror film, with ham actor Vincent Price taking his revenge on theatre critics in all manner of unspeakable Shakespearean ways…

With Diana Rigg, Arthur Lowe, Jack Hawkins, Coral Browne, Harry Andrews, Joan Hickson and a stack more top talent – a sort of gentler way of approaching the Dr Phibes movies.

A Week In Film #154: Dirt, death & haberdashery

Impeccable telling of the real life ‘Snowtown murders’ in suburban South Australia, where banality and evil intersected.

Justin Kurzel directs Shaun Grant’s bleak, unflashy script with real feeling for the ridiculous, murderous escalations, resisting the ‘go big’ temptations so many succumb to, avoiding cliché, instead just letting things unfold – sometimes on screen, sometimes between scenes.

Daniel Henshall as principal psychopath John Bunting is realistically scary; Aaron Viergever convinces as second-in-command Robert Wagner; David Walker is suitably pathetic as hanger-on Mark Haydon. Lucas Pittaway as victim-turned-victimiser James Vlassakis is best of all. Blank, but never empty.

An earlier, slightly more conventional pre-Hunger Maze hunger strike film, co-written by strike survivor Laurence McKeown and ex-prisoner Brian Campbell, directed by Les Blair (GF Newman’s Law And Order).

Good cast, including Brendan Mackey (Touching The Void, Dean Lennox Kelly (early Shameless), plus a whole load of newcomers and unknowns giving their all.

Pretty In Pink
Always nice to retread some John Hughes. This one’s from his more reflective period, with working class Molly Ringwald falling for sensitive rich kid Andrew McCarthy, whilst friends Annie Potts (the older one) and Jon Cryer (the wackier one) circle round each other.

Howard Deutch directs, cinematographer Tak Fujimoto provides luxuriant purples and pinks, and there’s excellent supporting performances from Harry Dean Stanton as Molly’s dad and James Spader as a total prick.

A Week In Film #153: Occupy!

The Negotiator title screen
The Negotiator
Samuel L Jackson and Kevin Spacey are Chicago PD negotiators; a corrupt conspiracy pits them first against each other, and then puts them together.

Some nice supporting turns (Paul Guilfoyle, David Morse, Ron Rifkin, John Spencer, JT Walsh, and Paul Giamatti as an informer), but F Gary Gray (the Italian Job remake guy) doesn’t inject enough tension into it past the first act.

Manhunter title screen
Serial killer comfort food from Michael Mann.

Staten Island title screen
Staten Island
Impressive debut from James DeMonaco (who also wrote the aforementioned The Negotiator, plus the Assault On Precinct 13 remake), weaving together three threads around New York’s least sexy borough.

Ethan Hawke is a blue collar guy who desperately wants to be able to better support his growing family; Seymour Hassel is an elderly, mute neighbourhood butcher; and Vincent D’Onofrio is a local mob boss who has ideas of imperial grandeur. But this isn’t some Altman analogue – the film goes off into some genuinely odd directions, with moments of real imagination.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World title screen
Scott Pilgrim Vs The World
Edgar Wright’s first feature minus Pegg and Frost works really well – based on a comic book, dressed up like a video game, full of visual treats.

Michael Cera plays a slightly less likeable version of his usual as self-absorbed musician Scott Pilgrim, who meets the girl of his dreams Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and discovers to win her heart he must first defeat her “seven evil exes”.

Great set-pieces, Chris Evans and Jason Schwartzman are amongst the exes, and Kieran Culkin hits the spot as the best friend gently tiring of Scott’s man-boy nonsense.

A Week In Film #152: Unseasonably warm (then wet)

The Adjustment Bureau title screen
The Adjustment Bureau
The billboards and trailers made it look like it would be a bit Inception-ish, but aside from a quite nice opening act – in which David Norris (no, not the racist murderer but a failed Presidential hopeful played by Matt Damon) meets a woman by chance – it’s rather silly and forgettable.

Based on a Philip K Dick short story, it seems, and directed by George Nolfi, a Hollywood screenwriter. Make of that what you will.

Red Dragon title screen
Red Dragon
Brett Ratner’s largely needless remake of the Thomas Harris novel which had already been filmed as Manhunter.

Whilst the film does make a fair stab at a more faithful adaptation than Michael Mann, Harris is hardly a literary giant, so this fidelity seems somewhat misplaced when all it does is generate a lengthier, less punchy, more ridiculous movie.

Edward Norton and Ralph Fiennes earn their oats as Graham and Dolarhyde; but we do still have the Welsh Ham to endure.

Panic Room title screen
Panic Room
Tautness and efficiency, with David Fincher bringing David Koepp’s script to the screen.

Jared Leto, Dwight Yoakum and Forest Whitaker try to burgle a Manhattan brownstone – only what they want is inside the ‘panic room’ where householder Jodie Foster and her diabetic daughter have holed up.

A proper, old-fashioned thriller, with well-executed modern touches.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy title screen
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
First off, I really wanted to see this, I was very optimistic about it. The trailers, with that throbbing music; those languorously edited teasers; the washed-out look; and that delicious cast list… Oldman! Hardy! Strong! Hinds! John Hurt as Control! Kathy Burke as Connie Sachs!

So actually seeing it, well, it didn’t pack the punch I was hoping for. Sure, it squeezes a dense novel into ninety minutes, without dumbing down – and with all the expectations from the BBC series added on top of that.

But whilst clearly excisions needed to be made in order to fit in the main plot line, the changes and cuts actually made sometimes just do not seem to make sense. For example, Operation Testify is shifted from Czechoslovakia to Hungary (and consider how in the book Jim Prideaux was betrayed by a ‘Magyar’; and the distrust Esterhase evokes almost universally).

Another odd change is having Jerry Westerby (played here by Stephen Graham) as a Circus officer – and effectively conflating the part with that of Sam Collins.

The BBC series (for reasons of cost – something that also led it to skipping the mid-trilogy An Honourable Schoolboy) relocated the site of Ricki Tarr’s scalphunting expedition from Hong Kong to Lisbon; this big budget film for some reason moves the action to Istanbul.

Overall, a decent film, but with too many odd choices to make it flawless. And very much of a different pace than the teasers suggested.

A Week In Film #151: Builders in

Frankly awful modern day reworking of Bad Day At Black Rock, with Val Kilmer a wounded Iraq war vet who goes to visit a Mexican American comrade-in-arms out in a dusty southwestern town. Less Bad Day… and more Burt Reynolds vehicle Malone, mixed with a last season episode of The A Team.

Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, unnamed American city, serial killing nutter on the loose, David Fincher directing from Andrew Kevin Walker script, superb opening credit sequence.

Spike Lee translocates Richard Price’s novel about bottom level drug dealers in New Jersey to Brooklyn, makes you really feel for some of these working stiffs. Mehki Phifer is excellent as pit supervisor Strike, desperate to get out, Delroy Lindo terrifying as his mentor/boss Rodney. Isaiah Washington, Regina Taylor, Keith David, Harvey Keitel and John Turturro all put in top work too.

Frank Peirson’s gripping staging of the Wansee Conference, with Heydrich (Kenneth Branagh) and Eichmann (Stanley Tucci) coaxing, bullying and chiding their fellow bureaucrats and political soldiers into orchestrating the annihilation of European Jewry. No less powerful a men-round-a-table film than 12 Angry Men.

Didn’t like. Didn’t work. Tried to hard to replicate the book, but never got close to its depth or tone. Tried to fit too much texture in, ended up a mush. Some good performances, but overall a mess of nothing.

Deep Cover
I remember catching a review of this on Barry Norman-era Film 92, but have only just got round to watching it. Laurence Fishburne is an undercover cop who gets close to drug dealer Jeff Goldblum. Things get messy. Bill Duke directs. Some great touches, but not anywhere near perfect – but plenty to raise it above most narcothriller dirges.

A new Stath flick! As a cop who DOES THINGS HIS WAY! With Paddy Considine as the cop with completely contrasting outlook and method with whom he is paired! And Aidan Gillen as the whacko cop-killer! David Morrissey as a sleazy reporter! Zawe Ashton as an ex-undercover finding it hard to go straight! Mark Rylance as the Stath’s mentor, recovering from the recent death of his wife!

Basically, this had all the makings of being a really worthwhile – if not necessarily substantial – crime thriller, but somewhere along the way it falls apart. That’s not to say there is not plenty of talent involved; the mise-en-scène is in general impeccable, the photography beautiful. But the shifts in tone from almost pantomime shenanigans to deeply unsettling violence do the film no favours. Needless things like calling the Met ‘London Police’ irritate too, presumably it’s some sort of pandering to the Stateside audience.

The Bang Bang Club
Patchy, overwrought, casually offensive attempt to turn an interesting memoir about a bunch of South African photographers covering the early/mid-90s Hostel War into a mainstream movie where observers are portrayed as heroes. Ryan Phillippe, Frank Rautenbauch, Taylor Kitsch and Neels Van Jaarsveld are decent enough as the snappers.

Christopher Morahan (Paper Mask) directs a Michael Frayn farce about a punctilious, punctuality-obsessed headmaster (John Cleese) slowly disintegrating as he tries to get to a conference on time only to sabotage himself at every turn. Makes I LOL.

Four Brothers
The set-up seemed inviting – four bad boys return home to Detroit to bury their foster mother after she is killed in a convenience store robbery, only to realise that the cops’ version of wrong-place-wrong-time doesn’t hold water. The trouble is the execution is mostly by-the-numbers and tedious. Having Mark Wahlberg as your leading man doesn’t help. Not John Singleton’s best.

Shutter Island
Last up to the plate in my week of not-great-but-not-bad films is a recent Scorsese. I didn’t know anything about it, as the trailers seemed to be rather opaque, but I noticed recently that it was based on a Dennis Lehane book – him what wrote the source novels for Mystic River andGone Baby Gone – so I figured on giving it a crack.

In a nutshell: A Federal Marshal (Leonardo DiCaprio) with problems of his own investigates an inmate escape at a secure psychiatric hospital off the coast of Massachusetts in Fifties America. All is not what it seems.

Apart from an awkward piece of exposition in a cave halfway through, and the occasional sloppiness (matches to illuminate a dungeon), overall a pretty strong piece, with great mood and tone for the most part, with good performances (Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Jackie Earle Haley), just lacking something.