Monthly Archives: December 2013

A Week In Film #268: Antacids & regret

Taffin title screen
Taffin
Film version of a pulpy paperback by Lyndon Mallet I remember from my father’s bookshelves, about a philosophical debt collector who becomes embroiled in foiling a dodgy development deal in picturesque County Wicklow.

Unlike the book, which has Mark Taffin as something of an ugly brute, here the protagonist is portrayed somewhat more prettily by Pierce Brosnan. Also filling up our screen are Patrick Bergin as his brother, Alison Doody (her from Last Crusade) as his free-spirited squeeze, and Ray McNally as his former mentor. Oh, and a pre-Father Ted team-up of Frank Kelly and Dermot Morgan!

Perfunctory direction by Francis Megahy (who did Sewers Of Gold plus a load of TV work but not much more of note than that) belies a decent story which would lend itself to a more faithful remake.

Death Before Dishonor title screen
Death Before Dishonor
One of those films I have been vaguely aware of for a long time – lurid airbrush art worked poster staring out of 1980s VHS club ads throughout the 1980s – but which I have only just actually seen. So thanks for that, Netflix.

As it turns out, it’s an astonishingly dull, unrelentingly gung ho actioner set in the Middle East against a backdrop of assassinations, embassy bombings and hostage takings.

In this world good, honest US Marines (represented here by stalwart Gunnery Sergeant Burns (Fred Dryer) and his elderly mentor Colonel Halloran (Brian Keith)) find their ham fists tied behind their backs by weak-kneed liberals like US Ambassador to the Arab state of Jemal (played by Paul Winfield – the seen-it-all-before cop from The Terminator). Confusingly it’s Winfield who says things like “we don’t negotiate with terrorists”, all whilst in the real world of this 1987 lemon Colonel Oliver North was putting together gun-running deals between drug-peddling Central American death squads, whacked-out jihadi guerrillas and the Iranian theocracy.

Meanwhile, we have a checklist of stupidity to work through: gobsmackingly offensive cultural portrayals
Despicable and duplicitous Palestinian fighters are played either by African Americans – as with Rockne Tarkington in the lead bad guy role, which the Washington Post noted at the time was “a black actor playing a racist’s perception of an Arab, an extraordinarily ugly irony in an ugly film” – or by Israeli actors. Jemal’s leaders are identikit Arab, complete with primary school nativity tea towel headdresses. There’s even a cackling German leftist terrorist woman (bizarrely named Maude Winter), all tight black jeans, pixie cut and sado-sexual lesbian overtones.

The only characters given any hint of depth are the weary-but-experienced Mossad agents who reveal themselves in the final reel – which also provides possibly the only truthful insight of the film; outperforming the meat-headed, lead-footed Yankees on the ground, they show themselves to have been following the machinations of the villains from the very beginning. But even though they are implied good guys, even the Mossad are a bit too swarthy for this film, and so relegated to providing generic support to the more fashionably caucasian Gunny (as are his African- and Italian-American underlings, obviously).

There’s absolutely nothing to recommend about this film.

Mad Max Renegade title screen
Mad Max Renegade
Short fan film located between the original movie and The Road Warrior, with former Main Force Patrol cop Max Rockatansky now gone rogue – along with his Pursuit Special. But when a report of highway banditry comes over the radio, he is forced to act…

Paul Miller’s short matches the first film’s style and tone effectively, but is nothing amazing. And Liam Fountain makes for a rather paunchy Max!

Chicken Run title screen
Chicken Run
Aardman’s poultry- based Great Escape pastiche. Fun moments, but dramatically weak.

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A Week In Film #267: Chestnuts roasting

Burn After Reading title screen
Burn After Reading
A lesser, later Coen Bros flick, with Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton and a notably angry John Malkovich joining the boys and Frances McDormand in a screwballish ersatz spy adventure. So-so, and with the best thing being the minor inserts featuring David Rasche and JK Simmons.

Father Christmas title screen
Father Christmas
I love Raymond Briggs’ books (mostly). Of the film adaptations, the only one I really like is When The Wind Blows. This one is a so-so screen version of a so-so pair of books. The kid loved it though.

A Week In Film #266: In the festive mood

The Muppet Christmas Carol title screen
The Muppet Christmas Carol
Michael Caine as Ebenezer – yay! But Jim Henson is dead by this point, so Steve Whitmire plays Kermit – not so yay!

Still, Brian Henson does a pretty decent job of keeping everything suitably chaotic whilst also heartwarming and broadly in line with the original source material.

Inglourious Basterds title screen
Inglourious Basterds
Tarantino does exploitation war movie revenge action – and confounds the expectations of exactly what that might mean by patching it together out of long, hyper-extended scenes that rumble on a whole lot slower than you’d imagine possible in a 21st century mainstream blockbuster.

Ultimately unsatisfying, but admirable for its refusal to paint-by-numbers. Some strong performances out of Mélanie Laurent and Christoph Waltz.

War, Inc. title screen
War, Inc.
The sort-of sequel to Grosse Point Blank, this time with John Cusack a jaded, burned out assassin-for-hire in a near-future, Idiocracy-style corporate-run dystopia, where Halliburton-type companies run privatised invasion/occupation shake-and-bake operations across the Middle East.

Seemed to have been panned when it came out, but for me its broadness was a big strength – this was not fine satire, but something closer in tone to American Dreamz. Cusack does weary and fucked up well; Marisa Tomei is decent as the journalist who acts as his foil; Hilary Duff as an over sexualised local pop star, Joan Cusack as a demented PA; and Dan Aykroyd as the boss. Really don’t see anything here that didn’t work for me, except maybe Ben Kingsley over hamming the pudding. A decent feature film calling card from documentarist Joshua Seftel.

A Week In Film #265: Mediocrity

The Siege title screen
The Siege
Mildly thought-provoking, pre-9/11 who-are-the-real-terrorists potboiler, with Denzel Washington the FBI investigator trying to track down the jihadi bombers holding Brooklyn to ransom. Bruce Willis is the military man warning of the whirlwind about to be reaped, Annette Bening the CIA spook, Tony Shalhoub the convenient Arab American sidekick.

Edward Zwick orchestrates it all with the subtlety of a man undertaking embroidery whilst wearing boxing gloves.

Confidence title screen
Confidence
Standard grifters-attempt-long-con tropes, with Edward Burns leading the team; Paul Giamatti, Brian Van Holt, Rachel Weisz and Franky G complete the crew. Dustin Hoffman plays a caricature crime boss. James Foley makes it all look fairly gritty, but it’s hardly breaking new or interesting ground, and it says very little about not very much.

A Week In Film #264: Don’t cross the streams

Jägarna 2 title screen
Jägarna 2 AKA False Trail
Rolf Lassgård – Kurt Wallander in the original Swedish adaptations – is a Stockholm cop dragged back to his redneck home town to investigate the disappearance of a young woman. A latter-day sequel, various plot points from the earlier film work well to provide a depth of back story that other similar films lack. An efficient procedural/thriller from Kjell Sundvall, and in Peter Stomare Lassgård has a strong foil to play against.

The Aristocrats title screen
The Aristocrats
Rude joke gets reworked and dissected by an endless cast of comedians.