Monthly Archives: December 2012

A Week In Film #216: Working through the chaff till the New Year

Massacre In Rome title screen

Massacre In Rome
Sober reconstruction of the Ardeatine massacre, in which German and Salo Republic authorities executed hundreds of Italian civilians in retaliation for a partisan attack. Richard Burton plays a SiPo chief charged with making it happen, and George P Cosmatos directs with methodological, even plodding, efficiency.

Return From The River Kwai title screen

Return From The River Kwai
War-movie-by-numbers, with some suspiciously non-malnourished PoWs trying to escape from Japanese custody. Just really not very good at all.

Love, Honour And Obey title screen

Love, Honour And Obey
I wanted to revisit the late-90s Brit gangster/Primrose Hill Set body of work. It really is was bad as we thought. Jonny Lee Miller, Jude Law, Ray Winstone and half the cast of Operation Good Guys ponce around semi-improvising transgressively violent skits for no point whatever.

I.D. title screen

I.D.
Previously I saw this as a slightly clumsy early attempt at a football hooligan film; but on reflection that’s just the background scenery – it’s about the betrayals and mixed loyalties of a professional liar, the undercover cop John (Reece Dinsdale). Post-Mark Kennedy/Stone, this is a lot clearer, and it helps make for a better film. A solidly made film from Phil Davis.

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A Week In Film #215: Ho ho ho

Run! Bitch Run! title screen

Run! Bitch Run!
Damn. Just awful. Sure, it’s an homage to exploitation movies; but it’s just not very good. Some catholic school girls trying to proselytise knock at the wrong door in a bad part of town, and some horrible things happen. Badly written, acted, directed, edited. Helmsman Joseph Guzman’s next effort was Nude Nuns With Big Guns, so I guess he plans on finessing this formula. Be afraid.

TITLEthewalker

The Walker
Low key Paul Schrader film about a middle aged gay man (Woody Harrelson) whose job it is to accompany the wives of the rich and famous to social engagements and generally be a bit witty. Then someone dies; it gets a bit dangerous. A conspiracy movie where all the conspiring is well in the background and instead the focus is on the relationships of those only tangentially connected to it. Not a masterpiece, but engaging, and with some decent parts for women actors, including Lauren Bacall, Lily Tomlin and Kristin Scott Thomas.

The Sting title screen

The Sting
Revenge, the Long Con, Redford & Newman, the rags, Robert Shaw getting done up like a kipper – George Roy Hill works damn hard to replay the pleasures of Butch & Sundance with another period partnership flick.

Moon title screen

Moon
Essentially just Sam Rockwell out there on his own, as a lone dude stuck on a moon base mining rocks for The Corporation. Shenanigans ensue. Rather enjoyable first feature from Duncan Jones, evoking stuff like Dark Star, Alien/Aliens, Silent Running and even Capricorn One.

The Little Drummer Girl title screen

The Little Drummer Girl
Less naff than I thought it would be, and in some respects far better than the novel (much shorter for a start), which was not le Carré’s finest. Diane Keaton is a liberal/radical chic American actress recruited to a convoluted Israeli intelligence operation aimed at ensnaring a major Palestinian player. There’s bombs and stuff. Yorgo Voyagis, Eli Danker and Klaus Kinski all work well with what they’ve got.

The Squeeze title screen

The Squeeze
1970s London gangster business from Michael Apted, with a somewhat miscast Stacy Keach as an alkie ex-cop caught up in a tiger kidnap plot. Of all people Freddie Starr(!) is his devoted spar, and there’s good heavies in David Hemmings, Alan Ford and Stewart Harwood working for scary Irish crime boss Stephen Boyd. Edward Fox is the straight guy having the screws tightened, Carol White (from Poor Cow) the collaterally damaged woman connecting him to Keach.

The Front Line title screen

고지전 AKA The Front Line
Diverting Korean War film, with a rag-tag bunch of ROK soldiers constantly losing and retaking a hill. There’s a strong strain of WAR IS HELL (naturally), and a mystery subplot which keeps things interesting in amongst the familiar tropes. The first Jang Hun film I’ve seen; on this evidence, someone worth a watch.

A Week In Film #214: LEAK

Dreams Of A Life title screen

Dreams Of A Life
Very powerful documentary by Carol Morley, reconstructing the life of a woman, Joyce Vincent, whose corpse was found in her London bedsit three years after she died, through the memories of her friends.

The Alcohol Years title screen

The Alcohol Years
Another one from Carol Morley – this time tracing back her own biography as a perpetually-boozed up, risk-taking young woman in early 1980s Manchester, again through the impressions and recollections of those who knew her. Much less narcissistic than that sounds.

Spivs title screen

Spivs
Colin Teague follows up Shooters, his afore-mentioned 2002 better-than-average London gangster potboiler (co-directed with Glenn Durfort), with this little tale about a conman and his crew.

A familiar tale: tired old confidence man Jack (Ken Stott), his protégé Steve (Nick Moran) and impetuous new assistant Jenny (Kate Ashfield) attempt to take the wrong people for a ride. Heavy shit goes down with some heavy hoods. But executed efficiently. A little pat at times, and the tone jumps about a bit, but good for what it is.

Hell Is A City title screen

Hell Is A City
Noirish, kitchen sink crime drama from 1960, with Manc cop Inspector Martineau (Stanley Baker) taking on violent escaped blagger Don Starling (John Crawford). Excellent kind of proto-Sweeney.

Hell Drivers title screen

Hell Drivers
More hell for Stanley Baker, this time as an ex-con who ends up working for a bent haulage company, with memorable early appearances from Patrick McGoohan, Sean Connery, Jill Ireland, Gordon Jackson and David McCallum. Herbert Lom does a nice turn as a heart-in-the-right-place pal, and Peggy Cummins makes a grand femme fatale.

A Week In Film #213: War is (still) hell

Age Of Heroes title screen
Age Of Heroes
Unabsorbing attempt to revive the Where Eagles Dare-style mission-based war actioner, directed by Adrian The Crew Vittoria.
Sean Bean leads a small Commando unit behind enemy lines in occupied Norway to snatch new radar specs. Danny Dyer joins a team including Stephen Walters (the energetic little neo-nazi in The 51st State) and Aksel Hennie (from Max Manus). Proficient enough but with no narrative heart and nothing for the viewer to engage with emotionally.

The Last Drop title screen
The Last Drop
More of the above, though with the ambition ratcheted up several levels higher. This time directed by Colin Teague, who co-helmed Shooters – from which Louis Dempsey and Andrew Howard reappear in small parts.
Basically a secret mission by some glider borne British troops to recover some Nazi gold stashed in the Dutch countryside during Market Garden. Meanwhile some renegade Germans are after same. Meanwhile some dastardly SS are after same. Meanwhile some advancing Americans are after same (though don’t realise it).

Interesting cast brings together a bunch of people seemingly acting in a comedy (Steve Speirs, Rafe Spall), others mugging their nuts off (Michael Madsen, Laurence Fox, Billy Zane), yet others having a fair crack at being either enigmatic or charismatic (David Ginola, Alex Skardsgard). Karel Roden is excellent, but possibly doesn’t understand what’s going on. Nick Moran, unusually, is one of the best things in it, as a slightly spivvish private who spots an angle. Jack Dee does well in a tiny, straight cameo.

Script should have been pruned back to the bone, more scenes needed to be either much closer in or much further out, there’s no focus – with our attention constantly flitting between four or five different groups of people – and the CGI is rather ropey. Having said that, at least they had a crack.

Into The White title screen
Into The White
A twist on the Hell In The Pacific/Enemy Mine set-up – opposing fighters end up trapped in a hostile environment, are forced to work together, and come to learn something about themselves and each other. This time we have 150% more value, as a pair of British fliers are cooped up in a Norwegian hunting lodge with three Luftwaffe dudes after they shoot each other down.
Some nice performances from Florian Lukas, Stig Henrik Hoff, David Kross and Lachlan Niebor, though Rupert Grint has a few howlers as a Scouse air gunner. Petter Naess keeps it all moving nicely despite the constrictions of the location, but ultimately he can’t really take it anywhere, The interruption at the end definitely jolts it nicely out of the comfort zone though.

The Mechanic title screen
The Mechanic
It’s The Stath! As a top level hit man who takes on the son of his mentor Donald Sutherland, Ben Foster from 3.10 To Yuma, on as his apprentice when aforementioned patriarch is killed.
Thoroughly perfunctory action thriller – you know where it’s going all the time – but watchable dross nonetheless. Simon West directs.

Smokin' Aces 2: Assassins' Ball title screen
Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassins’ Ball
Pointless, tedious, straight-to-DVD prequel to Joe Carnahan’s swishy, fun crime actioner, this time steered by PJ Pesce (no, me neither). An FBI team must protect a Bureau analyst (Tom Berenger) from sundry assassins when a contract is put on his head for reasons unknown.
Our hit(wo)men: femme fatale Ariella Martinez (Martha Higareda), Vinnie Jones as ‘The Surgeon’, Tommy Flanagan as master-of-disguise Lazlo Soot, and Nazi redneck family the Tremors. Some unpleasant bits of female flesh for the sake of it. Lots of tedious gunplay. Very little of interest. Oh, some exploding dwarfs. Stealing the final reel from The Usual Suspects (and using an ersatz TUS score over it) really does not do the film any favours.

Walking Tall (2004) title screen
Walking Tall (2004)
Somewhat pointless remake of the based-on-true-events 1973 flick of the same name, only relocated from Tennessee to Washington state, with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in the lead as the Buford Pusser character.
Much less enjoyable than say, Road House,, but covering essentially the same ground as it (or of any episode of The A-Team taken at random). That said, the big fella is likeable enough, there’s Johnny Knoxville as his childhood buddy, and Neal McDonough as the local pant villain. Director Kevin Bray apparently made his bones with pop promos for the likes of Celine Dion.

The Divide title screen
The Divide
Impressively depressing post-apocalyptic survival movie from Xavier Gens, who also did Hitman, which I hated.
Explosions of some kind or other level New York, but nine people manage to make it to the basement of their building and lock the door shut. Soon societal norms break down. Allegiances shift. What each is prepared to do changes. Heroism is not on the menu.
Michael Biehn, Lauren German, Courtney B Vance, Milo Ventimiglia, Michael Eklund, Rosanna Arquette, Ashton Holmes and Iván González all put in strong performances. Much better than I though tit would be going in. Nothing is explained.

A Week In Film #212: Colder

Killshot title screen

Killshot
Ultimately unfulfilling Elmore Leonard adaptation from Shakespeare In Love director John Madden. Mob hit man Blackbird (Mickey Rourke) teams up with psycho dimestore cowboy Joseph Gordon-Levitt, together they cause grief to separated husband and wife Thomas Jane and Diane Lane. That’s about it. Some decent enough performances, just all tries too hard to be a bit quirky.

Shooters (2002) title screen

Shooters
Firstly the bad: just what is the accent of J (Andrew Howard) supposed to be? Who thought ex-This Life lawyer Jason Hughes should put on a mockney voice and don an Oldman-in-Leon wig as mid-level dealer Charlie?

Now the middling: bloke (Gilly: Louis Dempsey) leaves prison and wants to turn straight, but is sucked straight back into the game by mate, J. Being a gangster is mostly dull, stupid and unprofitable. Only a few big guys make any money out of gangsterism (Max: Adrian Dunbar, and Jackie Junior: Gerard Butler). Successful crime lords live in modernist palaces and edge towards minimalism. Henchmen say little or nothing.

And finally, the good: despite the voiceover shtick, it plays out well. The ending is strong and dare I say it, pretty powerful (though maybe I took my eye off the ball to not see it coming). The script, from leads Howard and Dempsey, plus Harry Brown scribbler Gary Young, is well above average for a low budget British crime film. The relationship between J and Gilly is complex and interesting. Despite occasional lapses into overused tropes (abandoned warehouse lairs, waterside apartments, etc), some excellently-realised scenes.

Going Off Big Time title screen

Going Off Big Time
Neil Fitzmaurice (Ray Von from Phoenix Nights) writes and stars as an ordinary Liverpudlian bloke forced by happenstance into criminality. Standard tropes throughout, some recycling of urban legends, a moderately interesting framing device (royally fucked up by Sarah Alexander being so hammy), and some likeable performances. Nothing special, but neither is it lamentable. Directed by Jim Doyle.

The Great Escape title screen

The Great Escape
Classic wartime prison camp breakout picture from John Sturges. Not a foot wrong throughout.

Dogs Of War title screen

The Dogs Of War
John Irvin’s first big picture after helping the intricate mini-series of John Le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and a very competent staging of Frederick Forsyth’s mercenary novel it is too.

The original book is nine-tenths about detailed explanations of arms buying, logistics and transportation; thankfully Irvin condenses all of that down and concentrates instead on how fucked up our main merc, Jamie Shannon (Christopher Walken) is.

Once we get to the actual coup attempt, it’s all rather ordinary – lots of grown men running around in the dark making bang-bang – but you do get a sense of the rush these killers-for-hire are searching for, especially when it’s over so quickly, and then followed by the quiet, the corpse-strewn battlefield, the flies and the hum and the steam from the bodies left out in the sun.

The politics of it all are brushed aside, obviously – though there’s a strain of ‘hey, we might do the dirty work, but we’re simply honest professionals; it’s the pricks that hire us who are the real bad guys’ self-justification to it that like the casual racism throughout is rather contemptible.

Charlie Valentine title screen

Charlie Valentine
Tedious take on the ‘ageing mobster tries to reconnect with son’ story, which inexplicably seemed to attract awards and big names to its cast. Former stunt coordinator Jesse Johnson directs, with Raymond J Barry as the titular hit man and Michael Weatherly (the joker from NCIS) as the fruit of his loins. Everyone seems out of his depth here, clutching at film clichés instead of finding true character motivation, except Steven Bauer, who plays a sleazy mob-connected club owner, Tom Berenger as Valentine’s parole officer, and Keith David (briefly) as an elderly confederate. Dull, hackneyed, doesn’t go anywhere interesting.

Black Sheep title screen

Black Sheep
On paper a great idea – a low(ish) budget New Zealand splatstick comedy, in the vein of Peter Jackson’s early work, in which a an ‘ovinephobic’ former farm boy, Henry (Nathan Meister), is forced to face his fears when the genetic experimentation of his dickhead older brother Angus (Peter Feeney) turns a flock of grass-munching woolgrowers into vicious killers with a taste for human flesh.

In reality, though, it’s slow-going, and not neither very funny or scary. Too much of it is played out in shadows, which obscures the action; the big set piece An American Werewolf In London-inspired ‘becoming’ scene is placed right at the end of the film (after we’ve already seen loads of partial transformations); and there’s never really any point to anything.

Plus we lose one of the most interesting characters (Tammy Davis’ farmhand Tucker) near the start, and the whole eco-activists (whose actions set off the whole thing, à la 28 Days Later) angle is weak. Overall a decent enough debut from writer-director Jonathan King (no, not that one), just far less good than it could have been.

Zeppelin title screen

Zeppelin
Old-fashioned wartime adventure from Belgian director Étienne Périer, following up his English-language Alistair Maclean spy novel adaptation from the year before, When Eight Bells Toll, with this tale of a First World War officer (Michael York) sent on a dangerous espionage mission. Dirigible airships feature large. Pretty gripping fluff, with obligatory romantic subplot (though one played imaginatively).