Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.

All you need is love...

Firstly, a guide to 80s action movies:

'tis good for a giggle.

In today's post: two reviews, a defence of so called "buddy-movie-love", an attack on what makes good so called "violence", a discussion of my so called "favourite movies list", a requiem for my so called "scary" film studies coursework and the usual so called "paragraphs" about QT. this, I realise, is a window into how I write, and an apology for the fact I haven't written for a week. Instead of 7 small posts, here's one big one. Because that's such a mess, I'm going to use a few headings to sort things out. Starting with...


I watched the Guns of Navarone this afternoon. And loved it. I know I have all these delicate film-buff notions about how old films are as good as new ones, but we all know that isn't true. Some old films are up to modern standards, but many, many others (while great for their time) now seem unforgivably tame and stagy compared.

Smell the roses. This film is brilliant. It delivers everything you could ask for from a rip-roaring old-school yarn, and more. Heroics, derring-do – and some things which I didn’t expect, which just carried it above my expectations. Things like a lot of moral muddiness – our heroes err on the side of anti for most of the film – and more nastiness than I’d expect in an old-style, “tame” film.

In this slightly morally-skewed state, it also comes up with a brilliant stance on War itself. As I’ve pointed out before, few war films are actually about character or plot. They like to pretend they are, but believe me, they all have an agenda. Usually, it’s a blend of: “war is hell”, “war is crazy” and “war is amazing”.

Here it’s pitched perfectly in the middle. On the one hand, the orchestra keeps playing Rule Britannia - this film is all about our daring lads risking all for King and Country. A crack commando team are sent behind enemy lines to disable some big guns so three evacution ships can pass through unhindered. Yay! At the same time, Gregory Peck comes out with a dour statement that:

"The only way to win a war is to be just as nasty as the enemy. The one thing that worries me is we're liable to wake up one morning, and find we're even nastier than they are."

And by the end of the film, you could make a fairly stinging assessment of whether our heroes managed anything like it…

I bet Hollywood must secretly be pleased for Hitler. After all, World War Two gave them a bunch of unredeemable villains for every occasion. Indiana Jones? James Bond? Of course, the Brits and Americans are fighting on the side of civilisation and goodness. They don't murder innocent civilians and torture captives! Franklin comments that Miller was able to blow up a building without damaging the orphanage next door. No one bats an eye if Nazis start being inhuman – not even the Political Correctness brigade can defend them.

And that’s what is so wonderful about this film. It addresses all of this without bashing you over the head with it. These Nazis are some of the most dislikeable I’ve seen for a while. The moment that ice-blonde one comes into the room, you know exactly what his hobbies are. But as the deathtoll of nameless security guards mounts, you have to start feeling sorry for them, especially after a German officer shows the same strength in resisting interrogation and death threats as our heroes have moments before.

And how much more heroic are our heroes? The Zulu-style stirring narration which opens the movie praises the concept of a few brave men who are willing to risk their lives to save the many. But at times it goes a step further. They are attempting what the Anglo Saxons would count as a “great deed”, but while they are willing to risk their own lives in the attempt, Gregory Peck’s character demonstrates he’s willing to risk other people’s lives as well. And herein lies the conflict, especially when David Niven comes out with a beautiful “why are we doing this?” when faced with losing something far more important than all those strangers they’re trying to rescue. He says it in a way I’ve never seen in a war film before. But why shouldn’t he say it? It’s true…

All this goes on in the background though – ignore it, if you like, and just focus on what’s going on. The message is there because it’s part of the plot, not to make you rethink your politics. Its effects on the characters and their relationships is the most important thing here. And there are some truly, truly great scenes

One moment which deserves a mention for being truly chilling is when the aforementioned blonde Nazi rolls his gun along the a man’s injured leg with captives standing by. Just that. It’s a silent threat, and a very nasty one. It lives perfectly in old-fashioned expectations of how much you can show, while allowing your imagination to run as far as you’ll let it. THIS IS THE DEFINITION OF "VIOLENT". It’s not necessarily about your inventiveness, or how much claret you’re willing to spill (Saw 2, take note) – it’s all about buildup and atmosphere. This has both.

But the success of any buddy movie (and that’s basically what this is) rests on the way characters interact. All present and correct here! They make an amazing team.

Gregory Peck is great in his role as pseudo-leader of the posse, who conveniently speaks both Greek and German. Sometimes, he does look pretty Greek. And he's scarily convincing as a German too. In fact, the only one he doesn't pull off is being English (his character was in the book, but he refused to even attempt it for the film.) As in Jaws, he was so good that I didn't notice that he was playing what (on reflection) is a very overdone, clich̩d character Рthe leader under pressure. He brings something new to the clich̩.

But the norm is being bucked at every corner. Take Stanley Baker’s knifer who’s lost his nerve. In any other film, he would have redeemed himself. Here, he just fades away. Brilliant!

Of course, my favourite character was David Niven’s Very English Captain Miller, the explosives expert who can’t function without his Very English cup of tea. I say “of course”, because it’s probably painfully obvious to a lot of people why this is so. It certainly would be to my sister, who cried “Oh, THAT’S why you like it!” as soon as Mr White asked “who’s a tough guy?”.*

Just to clear things up, I have never thought in any way to ever even assume, imply, hint, hope, believe or suggest Messrs White and Orange are in love with each other. Ever. Whatever my sister says. Or my livejournal communities list.

My sister does have this funny idea about me and what I like in films…can’t imagine where she got it from…

Mind you, as for Gregory Peck’s assertion that the real plot is:

"David Niven really loves Anthony Quayle and Gregory Peck loves Anthony Quinn. Tony Quayle breaks a leg and is sent off to hospital. Tony Quinn falls in love with Irene Papas, and Niven and Peck catch each other on the rebound and live happily ever after."

…I can only say yes, definitely. Can you even doubt it? As I must have already made abundantly clear, I LOVE BUDDY MOVIES. And according to Simon Pegg, the mark of a good buddy pairing is that they’re “secretly in love with one another.” My sister interprets this as me being a closet slash fan, but she’s wrong. For the uninitiated into the sticky world of fandom, this is the wikipedia definition of slash if you're easily disturbed, and this is the fanfic symposium definition in case you're feeling more open minded. I don’t really believe in it. I’m not for a moment claiming any of these people aren’t straight (not that I’d have a problem if they weren’t); I’m just a fan of that undying, platonic buddy-love which completely transcends sexuality. It has all the fun of true love, without the tedium of angsty “relationship problems” and most of the cloying dialogue. The “secretly” is the best part: we know, they know, and they don’t feel the need to be demonstrative about it: they just get on with it. Perhaps it’s just an extension of the sort of normal romances that interest me – I like them subtle and ultimately unrequited. If you’re still clueless as to what I’m going on about, see virtually any of my favourite films…especially BC+SK (when it was described by Paul Newman as “a love story”, he wasn’t talking about Etta…), Freebie and the Bean (tagline: “It’s also a love story”), Hot Fuzz (OK, they’re deliberately playing this up as part of their action-movie-mockery, but that doesn’t stop it being sweet) and this, blatantly the worst of the lot, which should be watched if merely for an easily misinterpreted use of the word “care”.

Did I just rank this as a “FAVOURITE FILM”?!

Erm…it usually takes a while for things to settle onto my increasingly illogical favourite films list. A list of “favourite films” is such an irrational thing that mine is governed by crazy rules to keep me sane. How can anyone claim to love Zulu more than Res Dogs? Or vice versa? Once you’ve established you like them both, putting them in an order is ridiculous. What do they have in common?! Which is why my list is covered in little anomalies, such as Twelve Monkey’s presence. Is it better than Tideland and Brazil? No. Do I like it more than Tideland and Brazil? No. Why is it on the list, and they aren’t? No idea. See how weirdly the list works? Keeping it subconsciously, deliberately wrong spares me from attempts to make it “right”, which I’m sure you’re already aware is pretty impossible.

Rififi, Run Lola Run, Brazil, Tideland, Unbreakable, Freebie and the Bean, Hot Fuzz (did I hear someone scream buddylove?), Dodgeball…why are these not on the list? I adore them, they’re amazing. L.A. Confidential spent near on four years in limbo before being promoted. The Godfather needed about 45 seconds, but then again I had already had a few years to get used to the idea I was going to like it. So how long will it take this one? Well, folks…it’s taken about three days.

When you watch a film, you get sucked in by the world. The colours and atmosphere and music pick you up, and spit you out the other side. Whenever I see something I adore, it’s like being brainwashed. I keep remembering a sensation in the back of my mind, feeling ripples but forgetting what made the splash. I’ll feel wonderful, then try to work out why, and in a few minutes remember…it was just because I saw {insert film here}. That’s always a bit of a let down. I got it for all the others, and I’m getting it for this. A buddy-movie about moral panic in the face of insurmountable odds? Add a sepia tone and you’ve got my perfect movie. As it stands, I loved this film more than any I have seen for a long time. And at the end of the day, love is what its all about…

…you know, it’s a pity Robin Hood’s got Maid Marian hanging about in the wings, because…y’know…Will Scarlet...

(*Yeh, I’m not feeling very good about that…My parents had already basically said it was ok for little-miss-aged-15 to see it, that’s not why I feel bad. It’s because she commented:

“This is only the 2nd 18 I’ve seen all the way through!”
“Oh, which was the other one?”
Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.”

That was what we watched the last time we watched a film together…I’m corrupting the young! Of course I feel terrible, especially as she didn’t think it was very good at the end of it all. But it’s no fun to watch on your own, and nothing beats the experience of watching it with someone who’s never seen it before. My sister’s squeal of “ew, ear!” made the whole thing worthwhile. Is that cruel of me?

Now I know you must be heartily sick of MONSEUR QT. “But you don’t even like half his films!” I hear you cry. But I have this irrational affection for him personally. If he decided to make a sweeping romantic triumph about a WW2 nurse in Africa (just compounding all the worst elements into my nightmare film here…The English Patient was never going to succeed with me…), he’d make it in such a way I’d want to see it. His soundbites and quotes are often aligned with my personal beliefs, and I respect and understand what he’s trying to do cinematically even if I don’t always appreciate them as entertainment.

I’ve now seen Kill Bill vol. 2, but can’t be bothered to lavish a whole post on it, mostly because I have very little to say. Except it was miles better than Kill Bill vol. 1. And I feel gloriously vindicated.

Back when I was doing my FILM STUDIES COURSEWORK, I commented that the centre of my scene was a lengthy unbroken shot of a young girl trapped in a cupboard. I wanted to keep the camera on her as long as the audience could endure watching her panic, without moving or breaking away. And then we would cut to her friend taking an agonisingly long time to find her. Now as it happens it didn’t turn out that way – I couldn’t keep my friends’ attention for anywhere near long enough to shoot what I had in mind.

At the time I was quite hurt by this – the whole idea behind my short was this one moment. But now it doesn’t matter. Because QT’s done it, and he’s proved me right. I know now how amazing my sequence (which is already fairly good) would have been with it in. Without giving too much away, it’s in the Kill Bill graveyard scene. He uses exactly my shot, and leaves it for several minutes of black-and-white panic. Now as it happens, I was going to colour my shot black-and-red, and my heroine was facing the other direction (and the torch was a good idea, I hadn’t thought of that), but that’s not the point. The point is, I’m basking in reflected pride and the knowledge that with a scene like that, it would have lifted it from creepy into terrifying.

I’ll tell you candidly, I’ve been having trouble sleeping on account of that scene, and that shot particularly. Do I care? Hell no! Because if I’d got my shot as originally envisaged, I’d have been having the same trouble over my own film. Wouldn’t that have been great? Thank you, Quents, for proving me right…

And while we’re on the topic, I know the consensus is that directors acting is a bad thing (even though he’s one of my favourite things in PF), but he’s really good as McKenas Cole in Alias. Even if I did smirk when he got the grey masking tape out. He plays this bad guy, but basically plays him as himself (a bit on the dweeby side…), which is great.

And finally, to briefly return to the original points of the post…he could make me interested in watching his wall dry. Even were Michael Madsen and Tim Roth not already attached to his newest film (Res Dogs spoiler – who reckons there’s going to be some karmic revenge taken for the last time they were on screen together? Anyone? It’s just the type of thing he’d do…), I’m now as excited as they come for “Inglorious Bastards”. What’s it about? Well people keep mentioning the spaghetti westerns, and the Dirty Dozen – Sergio Leone in occupied France. Sounds like a sort of…World War Two buddy movie to me…)


PS - I was right about Saw II. It was almost good, at times. But it roundly ditched terror for yuck, and gave us a cast of characters nobody could care about. It would have been more interesting if Jigsaw's intent had been less...bloody. If the game hadn't been based around seeing to what extreme lengths people would go to survive, but forcing them to work together. That would have resulted in more character coordination, and a more interesting film. A bit more puzzle solving. The joy of Saw I was that it was basically all buildup, with a fantastic payoff. Like I said above, buildup not blood is how to create true horror or violence. But having traded a single room for a whole house, and two guys for eight, naturally they won't have as much time for terror.

Like the first one, I liked the aesthetics. And there were lots of little touches I liked - the cop's game was bewy clever indeed; I liked the fact that they didn't get anywhere near saved in the house itself, and left some things unanswered (like the meaning of "over the rainbow".I actually worked it out this morning - you'd have to use the numbers in the order the colours are in the rainbow. Ding!) and there was some interestingly fast paced zippy direction at the start (though it soon became annoying, and it distracted from the terror in the yucky bits. Which were very yucky, I looked away for most of them. But it just didn't get under my skin in the same way that even the bloodless Tideland did.)

But that didn't make up for the many, many things I disliked. I spotted the connection between the characters immediately. I knew what was going to happen to Obi. And I spotted the twist, which was illogical in the extreme and 50% lame.

It was a good sequel though. Here, we return to the bathroom, and see some more of Lawrence, Adam, Zip - even Amanda - from the first film. I loved this - it was something they easily could have forgotten, and didn't. Now if only the rest had been as compelling....and the girl who played Amanda looked just like the blonde from Dead Ringers (current events comedy show). It's hard to remain worried when you keep expecting her to purr "Hello, I'm Fiona Bruce..."

Final verdict: it wasn't scary. It wasn't clever. It didn't even leave as much room for great acting. But it did have some extreme scenes of people in variously nasty situations. Meh.

I did notice something interesting though. The Saw movies will not kill their children. Isn't that funny? If you kill a child, or a dog, or a helpless Drew Barrymore in the first ten minutes of your film, you cross the line. The moment you demonstrate you'll do it, the audience know that nobody is safe, putting them permenantly on edge. A plea when you make Saw 11: do it, then we'll know you're serious.

Oh, and that guy I spent the whole film thinking "Gee, he looks like Mark Wahlburg". That's Donnie Wahlburg, his older brother. My deepest sympathies.


Anonymous said...

Just admit it...

Copyright 2009 Cinecism. All rights reserved.
Free WordPress Themes Presented by EZwpthemes.
Bloggerized by Miss Dothy