Monthly Archives: September 2013

A Week In Film #255: Rewinds & remakes

Firefox title screen
I remember rows and rows of Craig Thomas novels, with their ADJECTIVE+ANIMAL NAME titles and foil-embossed covers, nestled between James Herbert and Sven Hassel and Stephen King novels, lining the shelves in our local(isn) Tesco, back in the 1980s.

I remember my dad having all his books, much as he had all James Herbert’s and Stephen King’s (but not Sven Hassel’s, though all Isaac Asimov’s and Frank Herbert’s and a thousand other genre writers’).

And I remember watching this film, with my dad, when it premiered on TV. Probably ITV, I’ve a feeling there were ad breaks. I remember gasping at the persecution-of-the-Jews sub-plot, being shocked by the sudden murder of the drug dealer, I remember the opening with CLint jogging and the sudden appearance of the helicopter. I remember scowling Warren Clarke and kindly Nigel Hawthorne. I remember the submariners and their pretend weather station waving, and I remember the really, really long flight sequence, which seemed pretty boring compared to the hard-boiled escape-from-Moscow bits.

And that’s pretty much how I felt about it watching it nearly thirty years later.

The Crazies (2010) title screen
The Crazies
So-so, bigger budget remake of Romero’s 70s lo-fi not-zombie classic. Not exactly terrible, just not exactly terrific. Bit bland. And doesn’t compare well with The Walking Dead. Timothy Olyphant as the hero sheriff is moderately engaging.

Hitman title screen
Olyphant again, in a video game adaptation. Seen it before, didn’t impress; didn’t impress on second viewing either. Secret order of assassins, Interpol hot on the train, blah.

The Informers title screen
The Informers
I really liked Bret Easton Ellis’s contract-fulfilling collection of interconnected short stories released between American Psycho and Glamorama. First time I saw it I even quite liked this highly flawed film version by the bloke who did Buffalo Soldiers (which, again, I liked), even though Ellis himself reportedly didn’t.

Second viewing flags up the why-I-liked-it bits, and the why-it’s-not-really-very-good bits. I liked it because it held an interesting tone, its mood, there were some interesting character sketches, memorable set pieces. But, it’s just not the book, or the characters or vignettes or world of the book. And losing the vampires, and the humour? Sacrilege. A shame.

A Week In Film #254: Elbląg canvas

Czarny Czwartek: Janek Wiśniewski Padł title screen

Czarny Czwartek: Janek Wiśniewski Padł AKA Black Thursday: Janek Wiśniewski Fell
Very powerful 2011 Polish film harking back to the protests that seized the country in 1970 over ever-rising prices – which led to the deaths of many demonstrators and strikers as the ruling Communist Party cracked down on dissent mercilessly.

The film’s title would suggest that Janek Wiśniewski is the main character – but in fact he is just one young man cut down amongst many, and we never even ‘meet’ him until he is already dead. Janek Wiśniewski was not even his real name. Instead, we mostly focus on one family tangentially (and horrifically) caught up in events.

Interesting enough that I want to see more Antoni Krauze films and read up on 1970.

A Week In Film #253: Back to war

71: Into The Fire title screen

포화 속으로 AKA 71: Into The Fire
Another based-on-real-events movie, this time anchored in an incident during the Korean War, when a bunch of student soldiers fighting for the south held off an attack by far superior DRK forces at a school building at P’ohang Dong.

The usual stirring clichés and patriotic archetypes, decently staged battle scenes, just nothing particularly out of the ordinary. Directed and co-written by Lee Jae-Han.

A Week In Film #252: SHELVED

Savages title screen

Potentially excellent, objectively underwhelming tale of two American friends who make it big as weed magnates, but who fall foul of the big boys (led by A WOMAN omglolfml) south of the border.

Struck me as a Yankee version of Layer Cake but built around the oh-so-fashionable poly relationship of rich Californian stoner girl Blake Lively to the yin/yang bromantics Taylor Kitsch (psycho ex-Navy SEAL) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (touchy-feely philanthropist). Benicio del Toro and Salma Hayek get to be all dangerous hispanic drug gangsters and shit. John Travolta hams it up as a DEA agent. The daugther/surrogate daughter subplot is not properly exploited. There’s extreme on-screen violence. There’s unreliable narration. It looks kind of pretty. It’s directed by Oliver Stone. Next!

Drug Wars: The Camarena Story title screen

Drug Wars: The Camarena Story
TV movie based on the real life kidnapping, torture and murder of American DEA agent Enrique ‘Kike’ Camarena after he pissed off too many well-connected Mexican drug barons, this is something of a stodgy hodgepodge.

This may not entirely be the fault of director Brian Gibson (whose curate’s egg resumé includes fact-diddling-but-gripping Tina Turner biopic What’s Love Got To Do With It, Hazel O’Connor vehicle Breaking Glass and past-it rockers reunite comedy-drama Still Crazy), as he originally helmed a four hour-long mini-series. Presumably the 110 minutes trimmed from the version I saw contained all the characterisation and artistry – leaving oddly short scenes bursting with exposition and Michael Mann-style (he produced it) meaningful looks and little else.

Anyway, interesting story, interesting cast (Steven Buer, Craig T Nelson, Benicio del Toro, Treat Williams, Jose Ferrer, Tony Plana, a massively under-utilised Elizabeth Peña), somewhat flat execution (pardon the pun).

A Week In Film #251: Paid In Full

Batman Begins title screen

Batman Begins
Never did get on with this one as well as The Dark Knight, but Chris Nolan’s reboot/reimagining is still an impressive work – just too much of that ‘Massively Extended Trailer’ feel that spoiled The Departed for me, lots of canonical touchstones linked together with minor episodes that jump all over the shop.

Performance-wise difficult to fault: from Bale to Neeson to Oldman to Caine, pretty much everyone steps up. Not keen on Katie Holmes, but then her lines didn’t give her much to work with.

Lock Up title screen

Lock Up
Fairly silly big house melodrama from John Flynn, who peaked in the mid-70s with The Outfit and Rolling Thunder.

Here he pits heart-of-gold, non-violent, caught-in-the-wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time con Sylvester Stallone – currently on work furlough out of a minimum security joint and nearly at the end of his sentence – against wild-eyed, venal prison warden Donald Sutherland (seemingly on imponderably large quantities of crack), who has him transferred to his own hellish gaol with a view to breaking his spirit over some shit or other that happened years ago.

There’s some of the usual heart-warming male bonding once Sly befriends some of the less obviously evil inmates, like wide-eyed Tom Sizemore, or car-repairing Frank McRae. There’s also the REALLY OBVIOUSLY EVIL inmates, like Sonny Landham, who along with his gang is very much on top of the prison rape/murder trope quotas all such films are saddled with.

Some silly stuff happens. Sutherland delivers some silly lines even worse than Stallone. Stallone leaves prison. FIN.