Monthly Archives: May 2012

A Week In Film #185: Steam’s up

Route Irish
Ken Loach/Paul Laverty hand wringing about an ex-soldier who probes the death of a Scouse pal contracting in Iraq.

It didn’t quite gel together despite some nice hard man emoting by NotBobby Womack (the thinking man’s Stath?).

Loach’s improv workshop process landed us with stilted interactions (and not of the realistic type) once again, and we even had a Liverpudlian non-professional actor screeching “calm down mate” when things started to get fruity.

Some nice touches though – the golf line, the not giving us a path of heroic revenge (massively signposted though it was), Womack’s performance. A semi-decent part for Geoff Bell as well (he’s like Frank Harper, gives excellent screen flavour when appropriately deployed).

Oh, and thanks Ken for letting us know that (I) war is, mmmkay, bad; (ii) Iraq is full of culture and sensitive people; (iii) ex-SAS dudes keep a copy of The SAS Survival Handbook under their beds.

Stormy Monday
The first theatrical feature from Mike Figgis, and it’s an assured British take on American crime noir. Well, whilst it’s set in Newcastle, there’s yanks all over the shop, and conveniently it takes place against a backdrop of ‘America Week’.

Sean Bean is a no-cash-in-his-pocket wandering loner, who gets a job as a cleaner at a club run by shady Sting. He befriends gangster’s moll Melanie Griffith, and discovers a plot involving American hood Tommy Lee Jones. Some Poles play avant-garde jazz.

Not outstanding, but certainly diverting.

The Way Back
A multinational band of gulag escapees flees Siberia and heads for the Himalayas on foot.

Frankly it’s a tedious bore. Oooh, it’s a bit cold! Oooh, it’s a bit hot! Oooh, I’m so thirsty! Oooh, we’ve not got any food! Etc.

Peter Weir directs, but it’s basically a bunch of beautifully photographed National Geographic vistas (well, they did stump up the cash for the film) linked together by Scenes Of Moderate Peril that feature a bunch of not-quite-familiar actors, like Jim Sturgess (Martin McGartland in tout drama Fifty Dead Men Walking).

Oh, plus Colin Farrell, who gurns in a mortgage performance as a rotten-toothed, badly tattooed common crim – until his agent phones him up halfway through with a better deal. At least Ed Harris lasts the length of it (and it is long – two and a quarter hours). Ed appears to have had authentic despair sandblasted into his face in readiness for the role. At least that shows commitment.

Definitely the scenic route. Feel free to bring a packed lunch.

A Week In Film #184: More new shizz & some old hat

Fifty Dead Men Walking
In terms of photography and technique, very competent. In terms of content, bloody awful. A ‘based on a true story’ Troubles flick, lionising petty criminal-turned Special Branch informer Martin McGartland, who infiltrated the IRA. Even McGartland said he didn’t like it. Jim Sturgess at least is committed to the character. Ben Kingsley is as bad here as the agent handler as he was in a similar role in The Assignment. Canadian director Kari Skogland seriously mangles the historical context.

Tonari No Totoro AKA My Neighbour Totoro
More Ghibli, not as good as Ponyo, something about ghosts or something, as a family moves to the country to be near the mother who is in hospital I think? To be honest I haven’t paid much attention to it.

Mad bomber threatens passenger vessel – no, it’s not Speed: Cruise Control, it’s a grungy seventies British disaster flick. Lots of pluses here – directed by Dick Lester, there’s Roy Kinnear as a perennially chipper entertainments officer, and Richard Harris is the bomb disposal squad chief parachuted in to defuse the bomb.

Obviously it’s not perfect, but it’s got grit and character. Even Anthony Hopkins is bearable, as an icy cold Special Branch man leading the onshore investigation.

The Whistle Blower
There’s a rather decent, unhistrionic thriller in here; unfortunately the execution is not quite right. We have Nigel Havers as an unfulfilled language specialist at GCHQ, and Michael Caine as his quietly proud but stentorian dad, an ex-RAF pilot. There’s a background of Cambridge Ring/George Blake spying causing all sorts of paranoia, some borrowed-from-The Ipcress File thrills, and Barry Foster as a suspicious contemporary of Caine who reappears after years away.

Worth a watch, though. Penned towards the end of a long screenwriting career by Julian Bond (also responsible for Trial By Combat, 1976’s odd Magnum Force-meets-Ivanhoe movie), and directed by fellow stalwart of British television, Simon Langton (who was responsible for Smiley’s People).

A Week In Film #182: New shizz

Despicable Me
Computer animated high jinks from Universal/Illumination, with Steve Carell voicing a supervillain who find his softer side whilst looking after a trio of orphaned sisters.

Not quite up to the standards of Pixar, DreamWorks or Fox/Blue Sky, but diverting nonetheless. The suspicious similarity of Gru to Leo Baxendale‘s Grimly Feendish is distracting.

Gake No Ue No Ponyo AKA Ponyo
My first exposure to Studio Ghibli from start to finish – and a real favourite of the Wee Man (if we get through a day without watching at least the first half-hour it’s unusual).

Adventurous goldfish girl Brunhilde runs/swims away from her father, undersea wizard Fujimoto, and befriends human boy Sōsuke. Along the way there’s big storms, lots of eco-comment, and an excellently rubbish bunch of parents. Properly magical.

Not Pixar’s finest, but still decent enough. Lightning McQueen is a young tyro of a race car who is determined to take on the mantle of retiring veteran Strip Weathers; however, hubris gets in his way, and en route to the final race of the season which will decide the leaderboard, he finds himself stuck in a hick backwater, à la Doc Hollywood et al.

At first eager to break loose of this dust-and-tumbleweed backwater, he eventually comes to appreciate the small town values, learns valuable lessons about friendship, realises the important things in life yadda-yadda-yadda, you can guess the rest.

Not even Owen Wilson playing our impetuous lead can help it rise above competent mediocrity.