Monthly Archives: July 2014

A Week In Film #298: New and old

Cleanskin title screen
An ambitious if not flawlessly executed low budget British spook flick set against a post-7/7 backdrop.

Sean Bean plays a dour, troubled intelligence officer, a sort of working class Bond for whom brute force trumps calm analysis, on the trail of a cell of suicide bombers in London. Tom Burke – the young techie in the original State Of Play – is the less experienced agent assigned to assist him.

The second narrative track, which follows the radicalisation of British Muslim Ash (Abhin Galeya), feels a little clumsy, a little hackneyed, and definitely over-simplified (it’s all because his university girlfriend drank too much and was a bit promiscuous!); but the tone is strong nevertheless.

James Fox, Charlotte Rampling and Peter Polycarpou all offer strong support. Overall it feels like a nearly-picture (a bit like Blitz or Welcome To The Punch) rather than a was-never-going-to-make-the-grade one (The Sweeney). Writer/director Hadi Hajaig – a new one on me – shows commendable vision, and aims big, even if ultimately he misses the target several times.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial title screen
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Stone cold classic, invented the trick-or-treating version of Hallowe’en for the UK, introduced Dungeons And Dragons to the world, featured one of the best kid casts ever, and unrepentantly manipulated the emotions of audiences. But seriously, Spielberg, fuck off with the digital ‘corrections’!

A Week In Film #297: With a bang

How To Train Your Dragon title screen
How To Train Your Dragon
Such an uninviting title, and yet such a decent flick – a DreamWorks CGI animated feature about a crap young viking who ends up working with the dragons which bedevil his community rather than trying to kill them.

Outland title screen
Whilst it may lack the whole-world polish of, say, Alien or Blade Runner, or the zip of Total Recall, this Peter Hyams SF retooling of High Noon still has a lot going for it.

For a start, Sean Connery as the space cop uncovering suspicious deaths at a moon-of-Jupiter mining station – he proper immerses himself in the role, vulnerabilities and all. Frances Sternhagen as the wry medical officer brings to mind a more cynical Doc Velie from Bad Day At Black Rock, whilst Peter Boyle as the creepy site manager more than earns his pay cheque for what amounts to not much screen time. Reliable Hyams collaborator James Sikking is, as ever, very good.

Sure, the effects may not match the standards we expect today, but in a way the in-camera look is no less ‘real’ looking than glossy CGI, and proves a far better fit for the lo-fi, grimy look and feel of the film.

Apollo 13 title screen
Apollo 13
Ron Howard turns NASA fubar into a stirring tale of survival through perseverance. Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton all good as the astronauts lost in space; Gary Sinise and Ed Harris are excellent leading the cast of geeks on the ground trying to get them home safely.

The Hit title screen
The Hit
For some reason I’d never actually seen this pre-Hollywood (and, indeed, pre-Launderette) Stephen Frears feature, though was aware of what it was about – 70s gangster Terence Stamp turns Queen’s evidence against his violent cockney confederates before disappearing to Spain into witness protection, only for his ex-boss to send out a pair of assassins to rub him out a decade later.

What I hadn’t been prepared for was just how beautifully photographed and framed it was – so many wonderful at-height shots, composition that really works with the not always picturesque Spanish vistas – or how against much the script would resist heading into the expected direction.

Stamp – excellent, obviously; John Hurt and Tim Roth as the hit men, both very good; Bill Hunter is a great surprise popping up unexpectedly; and Laura del Sol really manages to steal the movie back from the edge of testosterone gangster bollocks.

Zodiac title screen
David Fincher tackles the exploits of 1970s serial killer Zodiac through the prism of both the SFPD cops on his trail, and the San Francisco journalists covering the story – predominantly Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) who becomes increasingly obsessed with the case.

A very professionally put together film, with some very professional performances (Mark Ruffalo, Elias Koteas, Philip Baker Hall et al), can’t mask the truth that this is an unsolved series of murders, and so there can be no closure, and the shocks and scares along the way might well be false or true, meaning they ring hollow. That said, there is a very effective All The President’s Men vibe of low level terror throughout the film.

A Week In Film #296: Hi-Di-Hi

Fracture title screen
My kind of thing – a middling crime thriller, with smarty-pants uxoricide Anthony Hopkins doing his best to outwit smug LA public prosecutor Ryan Gosling, whose meal ticket to an expensive private law firm has just come through. Yes, it’s all a bit Columbo, but, I like Columbo. Very competent stuff from director Gregory Hoblit, though would have been nice to see Cliff Curtis’s cop with more to do.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire title screen
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Impressive first sequel in the near future dystopian teen death match fantasy franchise, which recaps all that happened in the series starter, offers a bit of variation, and sets us up nicely for some rampant revolution in the next instalment.

If anything Francis Lawrence has done an even better job than Gary Ross. The cast – Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland plus new additions including Sam Claflin, Jeffrey Wright and Philip Seymour Hoffman all work well.

A Week In Film #295: DRY (again)

The Samaritan title screen
The Samaritan
Conman Samuel L Jackson comes out of prison after serving a long sentence for killing his best friend and colleague; he is forced into working a con for his victim’s son. Actually quite watchable, with twists and turns that go beyond the usual ones you expect from yet another long con film. Ruth Negga (from Misfits and Irish crime drama Love/Hate) is tremendous as a troubled woman, Luke Kirby is deliciously unlikeable as the man putting the screws on Jackson. Oh, and Tom Wilkinson too.

The Fifth Estate title screen
The Fifth Estate
Mildly absorbing look at the birth of Wikileaks by way of the David Leigh/Luke Harding book and Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s own insider’s account. Basically it turns out Julian Assange is a bullshitting dickhead. What a revelation! In my head Assage now speaks with the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch attempting an Australian accent. David Thewlis as Nick Davies elicits a silent chuckle, too. Never heard of director Bill Condon before.

Scarface title screen
Scarface (1983)
“Say hello to my l’il frien’,” etc – Oliver Stone and Brian De Palma were in no way off their collective nut on yayo during the making of this ultra-violent paean to a Cuban gangster-turned-kingpin, with nods to classic Cagney flicks, Greek tragedy and bad disco.

Conan The Barbarian (1982) title screen
Conan The Barbarian (1982)
Driven forward by Basil Poledouris’ impeccable score, John Milius’ impressive Howard adaptation is – so states the orthodoxy – an ode to fascism. Personally all I see is oiled-up bodybuilders and athletes prancing around in loincloths waving swords and suchlike. Perhaps I have a subtextual blindspot. Entirely possible, seeing as it was only this viewing that I noticed the MASSIVE GREAT KUROSAWA STEAL.

Still love it, though – Arnie, Sondahl Bergman, Gerry Lopez, Mako and of course James Earl Jones and his henchmen Sven-Ole Thorsen and Ben Davidson, the immensely silly and overwrought set pieces, the nonsensical ‘Riddle of Steel’, and the way it sets up a series that never comes. Basically enough there to make be think that there could be an awesome Slaíne franchise if somebody got their shit together!

Charlie title screen
Malcolm Needs here delivers an unsuccessful attempt at tackling the underworld folklore surrounding Charlie Richardson and his south London torture gang. It could have been very good, judging by the talking heads prologue – but quickly it settles into gangster clichés, needless narration and mediocrely staged scenes.

A shame; but it does at least look into the Gordon Winter/BOSS episode.