Monthly Archives: April 2013

A Week In Film #233: Breaking the back

Neprijatelj title screen

Neprijatelj AKA The Enemy
Atmospheric psychological horror film set on the Serb-Muslim frontline in the early days of the pre-Dayton ceasefire, with a battle-weary Bosnian Serb mine-clearing team having to deal with strange goings on.

Director Dejan Zecevic gets strong performances out of his cast, and he ratchets up the terror with great economy – this is a haunted house picture with no bells or whistles…

The Long Kiss Goodnight title screen

The Long Kiss Goodnight
By no means perfect, but silly and enjoyable, with great rapport between Geena Davis as the amnesiac ex-assassin-turned all-American apple pie suburban mom, and Samuel L Jackson as the down-at-heel gumshoe she hires to try and make sense of her forgotten past.

The whole conspiracy thing is very silly, but that doesn’t matter – we just want to see explosions, asskickings and a few well-delivered Shane Black bons mots. It’s almost enough to make you forget this is a Renny Harlin film.

Devil's Playground title screen

Devil’s Playground
A promising low budget British zombie horror flick, but ultimately a wasted opportunity.

Screenwriter Bart Ruspoli and Mark McQueen borrow freely from the likes of 28 Days Later and Dawn Of The Dead (right down to policemen attempting to escape in a hellcopter), which in itself isn’t a bad thing – but slowing things down as they do in too many scenes here is.

An interesting cast – Danny Dyer has top billing, though it’s essentially a bit part; Craig Fairbrass battles valiantly in the lead role as an unlikeable private security goon seeking redemption; MyAnna Buring is – as always – a pure professional, even in such an underwritten role as here. Oh, and Colin Salmon gets to look stern and swear as a corporate arsehole, whilst Sean Pertwee does his semi-comedy copper turn.

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A Week In Film #285: Le Flix

Street Thief title screen
Street Thief
Decent addition to the fake documentary thriller, with an indie filmmaker (Frank Zieger as Rob Rodgers) trailing a professional commercial burglar, Kaspar Karr (played by actual director Malik Bader), as he prepares and executes big (but not too big) scores – until things go very quiet. Just enough tension and unexpected moments to keep you interested, without breaking the docu-feel.

Cropsey title screen
Cropsey
On the other hand, this is a genuine documentary – about how Staten Island failed its mentally ill citizens and indigent children, and how this may be connected to the urban legend surrounding a boogeyman called ‘Cropsey’ and a series of child disappearances – feels like a fake doc. Very confusing. Interesting topic, though.

The Jeffrey Dahmer Files title screen
The Jeffrey Dahmer Files
Sober look at Milwaukee serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, mostly via people who had known him.

A Week In Film #232: Waiting to move

Dead Man title screen

Dead Man
Jim Jarmusch’s ‘psychedelic Western’, with Johnny Depp as the accountant from Ohio who ends up at the very edge of the West in a hellish frontier town called Machine with no money, no job and no friends. It’s not long before he becomes an accidental outlaw, and the object of ever-increasing bounties on his head thanks to a wronged local boss, fearsomely played by Robert Mitchum.

However, help is at hand in the form of gnomic Native American known as Nobody (Gary Farmer). Cue shootouts, chases, conversations and some rather odd moments – and all in black and white. Recommended.

The Last Run title screen

The Last Run
Dull, tedious chase movie with no tension, despite George C Scott’s immense presence. Director Richard Fleischer seems to suck the life out of this ‘one last job’ movie about a getaway driver in his Autumn years.

The Return Of The Musketeers title screen

The Return Of The Musketeers
Lester and his lead actors do it all ver again, twenty years later. It was to be the death of Kinnear, and unhinged though I may sound, new addition Thomas C Howell (Soul Man, FFS) is the best thing about it, as Athos’ exasperated son. Frankly, it’s risible.

Intermission title screen

Intermission
Interlocking-lives black comedy, with a wealth of made-it-big-in-America Irish talent (Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy, Colm Meaney, Bryan F O’Byrne) returning to the Emerald Isle for this enjoyable piece of silliness, ably assisted by some well-known Scottish actors (Kelly McDonald, Shirley Henderson).

One of theatre director John Crowley’s few forays into movie work, and I’d judge it – like his subsequent thoughtful Bulger killer analogue film, Boy A – a success. Both were written by Mark O’Rowe, who also did Perrier’s Bounty, which I also rated.

Juice title screen

Juice
Spike Lee’s longtime cinematographer Ernest Dickerson is modestly successful with his directorial debut, a hood film that never quite escapes the cliches, but keeps you interested throughout.

Four young chaps in Harlem – Khalil Kain, Tupac Shakur, Omar Epps and Huggy Hopkins – hang out and get up to minor bits of mischief. Then things escalate, and before you know it, it’s all got out of control. Never really gets you believing, but some proficient performances and one excellent one, from Epps.

A Week In Film #231: BOOKFAIR

End Of Watch title screen

End Of Watch
‘The Colors for the twenty-first century,’ my mate Mike said. TBF it is, rather – and that’s not an insult. Great central relationship between Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña as two LA cops, cruising around and winding each other up. Err – that’s basically it. The crime’s in the background, mostly (though obviously it all comes to the fore in the end).

Definitely the best of David Ayer’s three directing efforts, probably the best of his writing gigs.

The Three Musketeers title screen

The Three Musketeers
Fun, silly, knockabout nonsense, with a young Michael York teaming up with Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain and Frank Finlay (plus Roy Kinnear as poor old Planchet) for some chandelier-swinging and sword-waggling. Richard Lester’s idiosyncratic direction works well here…

The Four Musketeers title screen

The Four Musketeers
…though less well here – which is odd seeing as it was all done at the same time and only subsequently reedited into two separate films at the behest of the Salkinds. Despite a much darker tone, it just feels too much like some offcuts from the first movie, with the same visual tics, the same peculiarly overdone ADR, the same gags.

A Week In Film #230: NOTICE

The Survivors title screen

The Survivors
A complete change of tone for director Michael Ritchie after Prime Cut – here pairing neurotic junior executive Robin Williams with dour gas station owner Walter Matthau after events leave each of them jobless. They end up at a snowy militia-style survivalist camp with an assassin on their heels.

It’s odd, and thinking back, the plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but there is still much to enjoy in terms of performances.

The Terrorists title screen

The Terrorists AKA Ransom
Very seventies action-thriller, with Sean Connery displaying once more his endless capacity for accents, here as a Scandinavian detective (the film actually calls the country all this takes place in ‘Scandinavia’) tasked with containing a terrorist hostage-taking outrage.

It’s pretty creaky, but still better than Die Hard 2. Caspar Wrede (who did the One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich adaptation) keeps things moving along, but plot wise it is rather slight, and there is but perfunctory attention paid to making the action in any way believable. Still, good turns by John Quentin as the terrorist mastermind, and Ian McShane as his cohort. Plus an early appearance by Chris ‘Burnside’ Ellison!

And The Band Played On title screen

And The Band Played On
I’d long thought HBO’s TV movie about the early fight to identify and combat Aids was a compelling work, but this time round it rang more hollow. Still some excellent performances, and memorable sequences, though, including Matthew Modine, Alan Alda, Richard Gere, Saul Rubinek, Ian McKellen, BD Wong, Donal Logue, Lily Tomlin et al. Roger Spottiswoode directs effectively.

Grabbers title screen

Grabbers
Great fun – Whisky Galore! meets Tremors by way of Hamish Macbeth in this low budget comedy/horror creature feature. Richard Coyle is an amiable if alcoholic Garda on a windswept and remote Irish island, which is unaccountably invaded by huge, tentacle and murderous bloodsucking beasties. Backed up by straight-laced mainland cop Ruth Bradley (the Lady Macbeth-like sister from Love/Hate) and big-eared English scientist Russell Tovey he must battle the monsters, with are allergic to booze…

Director Jon Wright keeps things tense, but also allows humour to infuse everything, and his cast – including wonderful character actors like Bronagh Gallagher, David Pearse, Pascal Scott and Louis Dempsey – to get on and have fun. Hopefully we shall see more from him, and from first-time screenwriter Kevin Lehane.

Street Kings 2: Motor City title screen

Street Kings 2: Motor City
By-the-numbers straight-to-DVD sequel to David Ayer’s original bent LA cop drama, with essentially none of the same creative talent on board. Uniformly mediocre – at best – with the exception of Ray Liotta, who is excellent, and seemingly performing in a completely different film to everyone else. He plays opposite Shawn Hatosy, which reminds one of Edward Burns trying to outperform De Niro in 15 Minutes. That’s not a compliment.

A Week In Film #229: FOOLS RUSH OUT

I Went Down title screen title screen

I Went Down
Rather decent Irish crime drama/comedy/road movie, with unlucky young romantic Git (Peter McDonald) teamed up with veteran low-level hood Bunny (Brendan Gleeson) to find Frank Grogan (Peter Caffrey), the errant ex-associate of crime boss Tom French (Tony Doyle).

It’s basically the same story as Midnight Run, and pitched in the same zone of funny/serious. Works well, Gleeson is as ever a treat, and the older chaps like Caffrey and Doyle keep the younger lads on their toes. Paddy Breathnach directs a Conor McPherson script.

Se7en title screen

Se7en
Seven deadly sins, serial killer, rain, Nine Inch Nails, etc.

Zero Dark Thirty title screen

Zero Dark Thirty
A thoroughly effective if immensely manipulative action-thriller, which no doubt has a lot less to do with the truth that the inter titles might suggest. Kathryn Bigelow is a very talented technician.

Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle and others all give good performances, but still you wish you’d dabbed a bit of Vick’s around your nostrils first.

Argo title screen

Argo
Another based-on-true-events job, but with a bit more humour, and from Ben Affleck, who did so well with Gone Baby Gone and The Town.

It’s all very well done, up to a point, but in prepping audiences for the movie, the trailers and publicity basically drain all the drama from the film. I mean, that’s it. There’s no real surprises. And the semi-comic pursuit by the Revolutionary Guards at the airport, well…

Prime Cut title screen

Prime Cut
Very curious 1972 gangster flick written by Robert Dillon and directed by Michael Ritchie, with Lee Marvin a veteran enforcer sent by the Chicago mob down to Kansas to collect overdue payments from creepy meatpacking boss Gene Hackman. Sissy Spacek rounds out the main cast.

At the heart of the film is a plot about sex trafficking, and Marvin plays as Marvin does; but there is an affecting tenderness, an unspoken intelligence that goes further than the pure animal cunning and persistence of his character in, say, Point Blank. The film, whilst looking superficially like a standard exploitationer, actually seems to have some interesting things to say about the relationship between men and women.

A bit of a slow burn, but worth an hour and a half of anyone’s time.

Sus title screen

Sus
Three-hander set in a police interview room on the night of Margaret Thatcher’s election as Prime Minister in May 1979. Written as a stage play that year by Barry Keeffe (The Long Good Friday) – and it shows, and that’s not a negative – but just as powerful today, in this 2010 screen version directed by Robert Heath, demonstrating that the themes have not gone away…

And what are the themes? Young black British man Delroy (Clint Dyer) finds himself in a room with two white police detectives (Ralph Brown, Rafe Spall) who accuse him – over time – of murdering his wife. He is at every step, every stage, treated only as an ‘other’, and every quality in him that in a white man would be held as a positive is considered with suspicion – articulacy, intelligence, compassion.

Fuzz title screen

Fuzz
Fascinating cultural tie capsule – a proto-Hill Street Blues-style police procedural-cum-action comedy, about the Boston’s fictional 87th Precinct, its various oddball detectives and their collective caseload.

Based on Ed McBain’s books, it’s a strongly-cast ensemble, with a central trio of Burt Reynolds, Jack Weston and Tom Skerritt, plus Dan Frazer as the perpetually stressed Lieutenant, Burt Remsen as a grizzled Desk Sergeant, and Raquel Welch as a recently reassigned undercover working a rape case. Okay, so the rape investigation plot thread is not – certainly for our time – is not sensitively handled; and if we are honest, the whole film hums with casual sexism.

As soon as the perspective shifts away from the cops, though – like to the gang of hoods assassinating city bureaucrats and politicians in pursuit of a big blackmail payoff – the pace drops and it feels a lot more generic. But overall it’s a decent flick, which fizzes with sharp wit and fast dialogue and enjoyable bit parts (like the two decorators).

Total Recall (2012) title screen

Total Recall (2012)
Somewhat dull, over-realised remake of Verhoeven’s Philip K Dick short story-inspired camp SF classic, which sucks the fun out of its predecessor, yet adds nothing other than ropey CGI. And Colin Farrell.