Tag Archives: Serpico

A Week In Film #461: Strong out the gate

Good Burger
Silly but overall inoffensive Kenan & Kel vehicle, with the pair of buffoons working a summer job at a local fast food restaurant facing ruin when a huge new Mondo Burger outlet opens across the road…

The Day Of The Jackal title screen
The Day Of The Jackal
Fred Zinnemann adapts Frederick Forsyth’s rollicking based-on-real-events thriller with real verve, and keeps the tension running throughout. Edward Fox is ice-cold as the English hitman hired by right-wing OAS goons to assassinate De Gaulle following his treacherous withdrawal from Algeria.

The Mask
Silly early Jim Carrey star vehicle, adapted from a Dark Horse comic about a mask that turns its wearer looney tunes. With Cameron Diaz, Peter Greene, and some other people. Not really sure I could précis the plot. Directed by Chuck Russell.

Sicario title screen
Watched Denis Villeneuve’s Traffik-esque tale of the war against drugs fought on the US-Mexico border as a bit of a warm-up before Blade Runner 2049. Can’t make up my mind whether it really is fascist cheerleading, or a particularly bleak and pessimistic parable, or just very cynical. I think probably the middle one, though the tripling down on the ending suggests something of a wobble in intent. Some great set pieces, though – Arizona, border crossing, post-bar, tunnels, Mexican road – and some strong performances (Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin). Superb score by Jóhann Jóhannsson too.

Serpico title screen
Sidney Lumet, Al Pacino and a pre-gentrification city of New York in perfect harmony.

Jawbone title screen
Starring, written and produced by Johnny Harris – though director Thomas Q Napper deserves a shout too – this is a fine drama about a has-been, coulda-been boxer who has a chance of redemption. It’s not ‘the British Rocky, and no less great for that. Superb supporting performances from Michael Smiley, Ian McShane and even Ray Winstone.


Sunshine title screen

Danny Boyle does Alien/2001 mash-up, and I like it a lot. I think the final act works a lot better than many of the critics suggested. And wonderful sound design, too.

The Colditz Story title screen

The Colditz Story
Ages since I’ve seen it, and even though the familiarity of the tropes lessens their impact in what must have been if not their originator then at least one of their earliest recyclers.

Guy Hamilton directs with his customary efficiency, with a cast of solid screen artists like John Mills, Bryan Forbes, Christopher Rhodes and Eric Portman.

Serpico title screen

Sidney Lumet, Al Pacino as NYPD detective Frank Serpico, and a shitload of period corruption (municipal, managerial, police and city)… What’s not to enjoy?

Prince Of The City title screen

Prince Of The City
I’m surprised I’d never heard of, let alone seen, this Sidney Lumet tale before. It revisits the themes of his far better received Serpico, with Treat Williams as a member of the NYPD’s Special Investigations Unit – the so-called ‘Princes of the City’ – who decides to go undercover for a special commission probing police corruption. Based on a true story, etc.

It’s long, it’s talky, and Williams is not Pacino – but it is riveting stuff nonetheless. It’s a man looking for redemption before he even admits he has sinned, with a huge long arc of the story holding out for a proper Greek tragedy payoff. Not a twist – an entirely foreseeable, inevitable outcome. And it’s dramatic for its slow burn.

Freelance title screen

Early starring role for Ian McShane, predating his turn in Villain. Here he’s a discreet conman who happens to witness a beating in the street. He wrestles with his conscience over whether to report what he saw to the police – but before he has a chance to do anything, his fate is sealed by the gangsters behind the (ultimately fatal) attack.

This leads to an extended game of cat and mouse during which it is by no means certain our fraudster will survive. Strong if low-key crime drama from director Francis Megahy, who later directed McShane in Sewers Of Gold.

Sitting Target ttile screen

Sitting Target
How is this not better known? One of the finest slices of seventies Brit gangster film I’ve seen. Oliver Reed is a violent convict who discovers his wife is pregnant and leaving him – so he determines to break out of prison and kill her. Ian McShane is his more measured oppo (but clearly a psychopath – look at those eyes!), Freddie Jones the banged up gang boss who organises the breakout, Edward Woodward the detective trying to protect the wife.

Jill St John is excellent with her part: let’s face it, this is not feminist cinema, so the nuances she puts into her character are inspired.

Director Douglas Hickox puts together a visual feast – so many innovative little touches – and keeps the pace going at such a lick, it really is a wonder this film is not more feted, even though it is ‘just’ genre filler for double bills. He next made Theatre Of Blood, which certainly found an audience with its wicked black humour, yet this film is easily the equal of better-known crime flicks of equivalent ‘masculine’ themes like Villain or McVicar.

The only real downside for me were some particularly unconvincing process shots during the otherwise white-knuckle car chase through the streets of Battersea and Clapham Junction. Couple of good twists, too.

Overview title screen

Awesome – I mean, properly awesome – little documentary giving voice to those few (astronauts, essentially) who have seen the Earth from beyond Earth, and their sense of what it all means. A bit of a dry run for the forthcoming feature length film Continuum.

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
I was preparing myself for a Twilight-style teen romance epic, but it was better than I had dared ope for. Dystopian near future world, Handmaiden’s Tale-type thing, where twelve conquered lands must pay annual tribute to their patron nation ‘The Capitol’ with two teenagers for a televised fight-to-the-death. Only one can live. Jennifer Lawrence is suitably unmaiden-in-distressly as District 12’s Katniss Everdeen. I’m now looking forward to the next instalments of the trilogy.

Saxon title screen

Starts off promisingly, but tapers off quickly and just gets a bit boring. Sean Harris returns to his old estate after doing crime for a particularly brutal crime. He needs money fast, but wants to change his ways. Meanwhile the council tries to empty ‘The Saxon’ of its residents with a posse of thuggish ‘bailiffs’. Odd things happen. A crossbow is involved, Hair is cut.

Basically it’s a Western Noir set in a dystopian urban Britain – and when it sticks to that, it’s very watchable. Unfortunately it drifts off into too much talking and exposition and back story. Still, impressive first feature work from writer/director Greg Loftin – just trim back all the unnecessary scenes and dialogue next time.

A Week In Film #037: Overloaded

Monsters, Inc.
Rather fine Pixar/Disney animated feature about a pair of misfit monsters (Billy Crystal & John Goodman) on a quest.

The First Great Train Robbery title screen

The First Great Train Robbery
Another favourite, with Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and Lesley Ann Warren as a team of Victorian crooks planning the ultimate heist. Michael Crichton directs this adaptation of his own book with brio, and there’s Jerry Goldsmith’s best score ever.

The Transporter title screen

The Transporter
The Stath as an ex-special forces type turned courier-for-hire who breaks his own rules and gets involved with some seriously bad people. Not cerebral, but thoroughly entertaining. The oil slick fight is superb. Co-directors Corey Yuen and Louis Leterrier keep things moving at a decent lick, and there’s engaging support from Shu Qi and François Berléand.

Alien title screen

Haunted house in space, Sigourney Weaver, xenomorph, etc. Classic stuff.

Aliens title screen

Marines in space, Sigourney Weaver, xenomorphs, etc. Classic stuff.

Alien 3 title screen

Alien 3
Convicts in space, Sigourney Weaver, xenomorphs, etc. Flawed stuff.

Alien Resurrection title screen

Alien Resurrection
Pirates in space, Sigourney Weaver, xenomorphs, etc. Fucking awful stuff. Joss Whedon bow your head in shame. I paid to see this at the picture palace, too. Not impressed.

44 Minutes: The North Hollywood Shoot-Out title screen

44 Minutes: The North Hollywood Shoot-Out
Very slick, very well made TVM about a real-life bank heist, with Michael Madsen leading a solid cast. Better than most big screen efforts.

The Rules Of Attraction title screen

The Rules Of Attraction
Roger Avery’s Bret Easton Ellis college novel adaptation, very unpleasant, very good. The dude from Dawson’s Creek is in it.

Banlieue13 title screen

Banlieue 13
Trés bon silliness set in a near future dystopia where les banlieues are used as a prison to keep les sans culottes in their place. David Belle as the ghetto idealist and Cyril Raffaelli as the cop he teams up with are a good pairing, and the action sequences show off their respective disciplines (parkour & martial arts) to the fullest effect. Pierre Morel directs with skill from Luc Besson’s paper-thin script, and it looks amazing.

Hot Fuzz
Enjoyable cop-based retread of the Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright/Nick Frost relationship, with almost too many familiar faces.

Sunshine title screen

I really liked this Danny Boyle/Alex Garland SF number, about a space mission to save the Earth, but it seems I’m in a minority. I like the way it slowly unfolds, I like the tension, I like the unlikeableness of many of the characters, I like the sound design and the visual structure, I like the cast.

The Dark Crystal
Very disappointing Muppet-based sword-and-sorcery nonsense. Nowhere near Labyrinth in quality.

Layer Cake
Matthew Vaughn handles his material with confidence first time out the traps as a director in an adaptation of a novel about a nameless coke dealer and the scrapes he gets into. From this he somehow manages to make a well-polished and engaging little picture in which older character actors are given a chance to shine – Colm Meaney, Kenneth Cranham, George Harris, Michael Gambon. Oh, and it’s blatantly Daniel Craig’s 007 calling card.

The Killer Elite
Dull, uninspiring lesser Peckinpah, with James Caan and Robert Duvall as a pair of US proxy spooks who end up on opposite sides. There’s no energy in it, and the fight scenes are amongst the worst I’ve ever seen. An interesting premise wasted.

Heat title screen

Michael Mann does cops and robbers in LA with Pacino and De Niro, and Andy McNab choreographing the mesmerising post-heist shoot-out.

Serpico title screen

Al Pacino as the cop who wouldn’t be bought, but could be shot. One of Sidney Lumet’s best pictures, and Pacino’s too, and with no happy ending. A classic New York film.

Nid De Guêpes title screen

Nid De Guêpes
Florent Emilio Siri takes Assault On Precinct 13 as his starting point and turns in a film far more stylish than anything Hollywood has produced in a long time. Four groups collide on an industrial estate outside Strasbourg on Bastille Day – a gang of burglars, a group of security guards, a multinational anti-terrorist team, and a massive and heavily armed band of Albanian bandits. If you’ve not seen it, and you like action pictures, seek it out. A strong cast includes Samy Naceri, Benoît Magimel, Nadia Farès, Pascal Greggory, Sami Bouajila, Anisia Uzeyman, Richard Sammel, Valerio Mastandrea and Martial Odone.

Porky's Revenge title screen

Porky’s Revenge
Third film in a franchise that lasted at least two films beyond its natural life. I have nothing of note to say, a bit like the film itself.

Thunderheart title screen

Michael Apted directs Val Kilmer in a barely-fictionalised account of the US war with modern American Indian society, based on the Pine Ridge siege. Think of it as a superior version of Mississippi Burning, in which the FBI aren’t whitewashed into heroes.