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Tali-Ihantala 1944 (2007)
No real characters, no real drama
Tali-Ihantala 1944 tells the story of the climactic final battles of the Finnish-Russian Continuation war. The official, polished story, the kind you would expect some veterans organization to approve: the major events of the battle are shown in chronological order. We see the action of infantry, tanks, long range recon patrols, artillery, air force, and different levels of command. All soldiers and officers behave well and correctly, there is no bad behavior or cowardice whatsoever.
This is one of the films major problems: the clean and tidy behavior of the troops is very likely historically inaccurate and false, but it is also very bad drama. We see endless orders, discussions and briefings without any conflict or tension between the characters. And the cast is huge: most people have only one or two scenes, they come and go without anyone developing any real character (Olli Ikonen perhaps comes closest as General Major Vihma). You cannot develop much compassion to these fighting and dying men when you don't know anything about them. The dialogue is poor: people describe the tactical situation in a textbook manner, and most attempts at more casual conversation fall laughably flat. "So, you receive your baptism of fire now!"
The obvious budget limitations have been commented by other reviewers. This film is a failure, recommended for fans of T 34 and KV tanks.
Bitka na Neretvi (1969)
Battle of Neretva: a peek into a lost classic
It is sad that the most widely distributed version of this Yugoslavian war epic "Bitka na Neretvi" is the 102 minute version edited and dubbed in USA by Commonwealth United Films. This version, known as "The Battle of Neretva" has been shortened by a full hour. It looks a bit like a long trailer, offering samples of what is obviously a big scale, melodramatic giant of a film, like "The Longest Day". At times the re-editing looks like it has been made with an axe, some dialogue being cut from the middle of a sentence.
I have just seen, however, a longer Commonwealth version: 127 minutes, 25 minutes longer. This is a far superior version, professionally edited into a coherent, well flowing narrative. It seems that the 102 minute "stub" has been edited from this. I can only imagine how much deeper the characterization would be with the 40 minutes still missing from the original. The Italian and German versions are longer than this 127 minute version, and they have been released on DVD. Still, for anyone preferring an English translation, this could be the best version around. Sadly it only seems to be available on VHS.
Big Breadwinner Hog (1969)
Praise the Hog
The previous commentator needn't worry any more: all 8 episodes of Big Breadwinner Hog have been released on DVD. Tough gangster stories have been in fashion for years, and this release should please any friend of "Get Carter" and those Guy Ritchie movies. Many classic 60's shows have disappointed me, but the Hog has stood the test of time well: I consider it one of the very best 60's TV dramas.
I've never heard of the writer/producer Robin Chapman before. After seeing this and his earlier gangster saga, Spindoe, I am really impressed by his work. He manages to write violent and tough, yet theatrically literate and intelligent drama. In fact his background is in theater.
Big Breadwinner Hog (Peter Egan) ignites a gangland war in a big city, just like Spindoe before him. He is a violent mod, full of arrogance and energy. The series gives just about equal time to the desperate misadventures of the drunk ex-mercenary Ackerman (Donald Burton). On top of the criminal hierarchy sits the methodically minded sadist Lennox (Timothy West). All three give good performances (Burton may be on the verge of overacting), especially Timothy West is magnificent.
The clashes of these three personalities make for some exciting and entertaining viewing. The show is infamous for its violence, and the characters sure bleed more than in other British (or American) TV shows of the time. There is, however, dark humor as well. In fact the victim of the famous acid attack provides the comic relief in the next episode! This mixing of humor into the darkest moments should be something familiar to modern viewers.
All in all, Big Breadwinner Hog is a great show. Unfortunately it is a bit cheaply produced compared to shows like The Saint. If you can overlook such trivialities, I strongly recommend watching it. I wonder if others enjoy this as much as I did?
Before "the Hog" there was Spindoe
Recently released on DVD as a double bill with the infamously violent "Big Breadwinner Hog", its predecessor "Spindoe" is quite a tough gangster drama as well, and a convincing example of Robin Chapman's writing talents.Spindoe is actually a spin off from the academic crime buster drama "The Fellows", starring one of its top villains.
In some introductions to Spindoe he is described as a "brash Cockney gangster", but McAnally's character really isn't like that. He is an original combination of a nervous accountant/family man type and a violent criminal mastermind. In the opening scene of the series Spindoe gets out of jail. While trying to regain his old kingdom he acts as a catalyst for a gang war masterminded by the Lucifer-like boss of the North, Mackleson (great Richard Hurndall). A loyal thug (Glynn Edwards) and a private eye (Patrick Sewell) join Spindoe, offering him help that he doesn't deserve.
Unlike some thoroughly cynical gangster dramas trying to maximize toughness, there are also sympathetic and idealistic "good" people in Spindoe's world. They act as a contrast against which all the cheap and violent acts seem more shocking. This is a show with some excitingly complicated plotting, outstanding acting and dialogue. In fact most of the hard nosed characters occasionally break into long, poetic monologues. Unfortunately the production values of Spindoe aren't quite as good. It looks like one of those early b&w episodes of Callan, with far more camera crew equipment visible in the shots. The equipment shadows shaking wildly over the actors are a bit distracting at times. But that means nothing to a tough gangster drama fan.
Wet Job (1981)
An unfitting revisit to a classic series
This is a one-off "reunion" play made some 9 years after the end of the series "Callan". Edward Woodward and Russell Hunter from the original show appear, along with George Sewell as the guest star. The creator of Callan, James Mitchell, is credited as the script writer.
This production looks like a student job from some early 80's film school, with the directors 14 year old brother responsible for the music. I am not exaggerating. The production values are so poor, they are way below the average standards of 1981 British television. The script is weak and contains some embarrassingly clumsy dialogue. The original novel was written by James Mitchell, yet i suscpect he never wrote the awful screenplay for this. After all, his scripts are of a different class. The screenplay for the movie "Callan" he wrote just 7 years earlier is great. Well, maybe he wrote this sick or busy or something. The direction is clumsy and the music deserves a special mention as one of the worst soundtracks ever.
I feel sorry for the stars. Woodward and Sewell sleepwalk through the film, Hunter at least tries his best. His scenes with Woodward sometimes actually work, and they are the only reason for watching this lackluster turkey. The actors playing the new Hunter and his replacement-Meres are utterly forgettable. The original Meres is written off with a clumsy joke.
I am sorry if i sound pessimistic and dreary, I wanted to like this, but this really is an extremely poor movie. I would like to know the full story behind this failure. What on earth was going on with Mitchell? I recommend all friends of the Callan series to consider the final episode from 1972 to be the end to the saga. Skip this.
Saints and Soldiers (2003)
What should we do next?
This was such a great disappointment. We follow a group of soldiers trying to make it to their own lines in a hurry, but they sure rest a lot. Most of the time they rest, and fill the 87 minutes with card tricks and endless, hollow chatting about life back home etc. The characters seem to be outlined with just a couple of personal traits each: this guy wants smokes and performs card tricks. This guy is religious and has scruples. At times the narrative gets stuck so badly, it is actually quite comical.
Sure, technically all the gear is OK, the explosions and bullet hits look real. Modern war films are like that. But there is nothing here that hasn't been done better somewhere else. I give it two extra points for the rather honest humanist message.
A solid Yugo
I consider my taste in movies to be quite traditional (i like stuff like Lord of the Rings), yet i have completely enjoyed the two biggest Yugoslavian war films, The Battle of Neretva and this. Partizani is a big scale war adventure about Serbian partisans and Nazis exchanging blows in 1941.
A triangle drama between the rebel leader (Rod Taylor), a reluctant nazi (Adam West) and an upper class chick (Brioni Farrell) is woven into the story, but it never gets in the way of the action. And there is plenty of it, involving planes and tanks. The equipment is unfortunately wrong, but the tanks manage to look a bit Wehrmacht.
I really liked Rod Taylor in this movie, he is aged but not tired. He carries the simple warrior role with his charisma. Adam West is more wooden but adequate, and Brioni Farrell is competent and never annoying. The musical score, involving a bit of Mikis Theodorakis, is good and sentimental in an Ennio Morricone way.
This is a high class, big budget film that shouldn't disappoint any friend of war adventure. Better than mediocre Hollywood, and one of the best to ever come out of continental Europe.
Ônibus 174 (2002)
Warning, possible frustration
Bus 174 has obviously moved lots of viewers, and cannot therefore be considered a big failure. I have to warn, however, that if you expect an exciting depiction of the events of the bus 174 hijack, this film may be a bit of a disappointment. This is, in fact, a documentary about the social conditions of Brazil, reflected in the short life of the hijacker.
Especially in the first half of the film relatively little of the hijacking is shown, compared to background stuff and interviews. The footage of the drama itself is very interesting and tense, but it is repeatedly, and often, cut with very long bits about, for example, prison conditions in Brazil. Thus the tension of the dramatic kidnapping is largely lost.
I understand the need to talk about Brazilian problems. If the backgrounds of the Bus 174 incident had been shown in the beginning, and then the hijacking itself, not cut into annoyingly short bits, this film may have worked better for me.
Ying xiong (2002)
fight after fight after fight
At beginning this film seemed stunning: massive sets, rapid action. Beautiful swordfights. Then there were more swordfights. Then there was a plot twist and more swordfight...more twists...more fights...now i was sort of hoping for the story to move along. No, the same people went through even more duels which lead to...more duels. At this point i was feeling unpleasant. The characters were as one-dimensional as in hardcore porn films. The loud visual style was rapidly getting self repeative and boring. The only way for the characters to accomplish ANYTHING was...duelling with swords. I couldn't believe the same people who were putting down Matrix 2 were praising this unending cavalcade of increasingly pointless fight scenes. This is one of the most superficial films i have ever seen...sure, it has a message: "Building large nations is more important than peace". Oh yes, and "calligraphy and sworsmanship are alike". Now that you have heard these pearls of wisdom, you can forget this flick unless you like endless swordfight porn.
No laughs, either
In "No cure for cancer" Denis Leary hammers some points to his viewers: He has used all the drugs there are. He loves to smoke. He hates people who whine about having it hard. This may sound great to people who agree with him, but to me Leary seems to lack an important comedy element: jokes. For example, at one point Denis Leary tells us that he hates people who whine about having a hard childhood, and they should "shut the f*ck up". This is one of his most cited pearls of comedy. I'm not kidding. Beside the lack of jokes and ideas, what irritates me about this irritated man is the way he constantly underlines the fact that he has had a really tough life and he is really rock'n'roll. He actually sounds like some damn Bon Jovi he so much hates. By the way, did you know that Denis Leary is a LIBERTARIAN? Imagine him whining "Boo-hoo, i don't wanna pay my taxes, governments are the cause of all evil"..shut the f**k up.
Rules of Engagement (2000)
Good things first: Rules of Engagement has some great acting by Jones, Jackson, Kingsley & co and the production values are great. The conflict scene in the beginning is quite exciting. However, just like Tommy Lee Jones' character, this film tries to make a case. An extremely weak case. Rules of Engagement sets out to make a point about the overseas actions of the US military, and the treatment it gets from the public and the White House. It shows us an imaginary case of Marines getting into a situation where they have NO CHOICE but to kill 80 men, women and children. Unfortunately this example case bears no resemblance to any alleged US war crimes, like My Lai, and is therefore absolutely pointless.
Also, with the mouth of Samuel Jackson, we are told that the US soldiers are "orphans". They get no support from the government, instead the White House charges military commanders with murder when anything goes wrong. Well...judging from the news, quite the opposite is true.
This film leaves us with one burning question: what on earth was William Friedkin thinking?
A lump of nostalgia
Most nordic films are about a young boy/girl approaching adulthood in the 50's-70's. That is a commonly accepted practice and i have nothing to complain about that. The period settings give nice flashbacks, and often these films have great dialogue, good child / adult characters and interesting stories. However Kahlekuningas, despite its favorable reviews, seemed to me as a complete failure. It is a superfluous imitation of other similar films, a shapeless mess of little incidents and characters that never form a satisfying story. Miikka Enbuske in the lead tries hard to be symphatetic and brisk but ends up sounding fake and irritating. This is probably largely the directors fault. Other actors are more skilled, but their roles aren't much to talk about. Sulevi Peltola is wasted as the grandpa who is stuck in wartime memories (what a novel idea!). Is his wetting of his pants supposed to be comical or tragic? Overall Kahlekuningas is quite lame, but has a few genuinely funny moments. If you like this sort of stuff, you may want to check this out for yourself, maybe you won't be as disappointed as i was.
The Blue Max (1966)
I still don't know what to think of this film. As an air war movie it is a must see. Various plane replicas were made for this film, and the aerial sequences are some of the best i've ever seen. There is quite a lot of flying, especially in the first half of the movie. Also the scenes of trench warfare are huge in scale and very convincing. As a character drama Blue Max is a far more complex issue. It turns the typical scenario of "a lone hero against the cruel world" boldly upside down. Here Peppard's character is a bit of a bastard, he is only hungry for status and never even begins to understand the people around him or their values. A nice parody of a modern alpha male. As a contrast the other pilots and officers around him are quite likeable. I actually found myself rooting for the squadron leader and hoping that the hero gets killed in the end instead of him! So, the war scenes are excellent and the human interest stuff is morally complex and interesting. However, i wasn't completely satisfied with the film. I can't help thinking that maybe i would have enjoyed it more had the hero been a bit more likeable. As the characters start spending more time behind the lines than in the air, the film starts to drag. The love scenes with Ursula Andress, as much i tried to like them, are frankly boring. Also, from an adventure of such scale, you'd expect some sort of a climax in the end, instead we see just about half an hour of political scheming in Berlin.
Overall, Blue Max has moments of greatness and moments of boredom. A must see for war film fans, in any case.
I expected rubbish, and that´s what I got. Compared to this, Andrew McLaglen´s Wild Geese is actually pretty classy, and the original Cross of Iron definitely shines! Richard Burton can be pretty awful if needed. His version of Steiner expresses his hatred of war by staring like a madman and looking generally sick. It is also funny to see the two surviving actors from the Cross of Iron (didn´t the other one die?) playing dull, diluted versions of their former selves. The single most annoying element of the film, however, is the score by Peter "Raumpatrouille" Thomas. At his best Thomas is a genius. But here the music is irritating, gimmicky, and totally unsuitable for the film´s style. At one scene a German soldier sits in a hut with a radio, listening to some weird space-age Peter Thomas Singers. 1944, yeah. A fanatic lover of war films MAY want to check this out.
Non-Finns, be grateful you'll never see this!
There are some world-class turkey makers in Finland. Visa Mäkinen, Ben Kamras, Kemmo brothers. However, these are indie filmmakers. Of the "real" state-sponsored inner-circle auteurs Lauri Törhönen could be the most pitiful. In 1989 Törhönen & co decided to cash on the yuppie boom. Insiders shows business intrigue, drug-abuse, murder and orgies, uncovered by an honest average reporter dude. The portrayal of jet-set glamour isn't very convincing, since this film has the production values of an 80's German porn movie. The actors (mostly trained, capable people) have apparently been told to be cold and emotionless, so they appear like dead fish. Except the working-class reporter hero, who appears like an irritating moron. The Insiders has reached a cult status thanks to its cheesy 80's style and laughable dialogue. What has been noted less often, however, is the fact that in the end we see perhaps the worst car chase ever in world cinema.
The Hunted (2003)
I am quite surprised that The Hunted got such negative reviews, many find it a crude recycling of old ideas. Although it may not be an unflawed masterpiece, to me it was very exciting and even thought-provoking. One thing that may have disappointed some is the simplicity of the storyline: Jones chases Del Toro, that's about it. In the beginning an animal wounded by hunters is found and nurtured. This is a very obvious metaphor to what happens later with the deranged ex army assassin played by Del Toro. To me the films strength is in its very simple and rugged style, it delivers its points clearly without any excess sugarcoating, romances, background stories etc. Under the simplicity lies food for thought. Instead of making him a noble brother in arms, the military training and warfare have turned the assassin into an animal. Instead of showing Del Toro just as a mad ecoterrorist he actually makes some good points: "Did you see the scopes of those hunters? They were not hunting those animals, they were SWEEPING them". If you like rugged adventure with brains, check this film out. I can't quarantee you like it, because for some inexplicable reason many don't.
Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)
plug off your pc
There exists a tiny subgenre of "def-con" movies, sort of disaster movies with nuclear defense systems going haywire: Fail-Safe, Dr. Strangelove, War Games, By Dawn's Early Light....and the little-known 1970 Colossus, in which two computers supervising the missile arsenal link up and get smart. This film is often called dated, but to my eye it has stood the test of time very well. Like in Andromeda Strain (1971) all the money is in the sets, the actors are inexpensive unknowns. Unlike most old scifi-tales this one isn't about robots or space exploration, but about computers, data links and electronic surveillance. That is why the frightening Colossus scenario is actually MORE plausible today. Mostly this film is about technicians communicating with a computer; minimal "human interest"-subplot, no chases or gunfights, just the scifi scenario. That's the way i like it. I am very happy that Colossus: the Forbin project is finally available widely on VHS and DVD. Maybe now it finds its audience, it certainly deserves that. After seeing this film,interacting with your computer may feel somehow..different.
Strange Report (1968)
the strange fate of the strange report
The Strange Report is nowadays quite forgotten compared to the other ITV adventures like The Saint, Danger Man etc. Only one season was ever made. This isn't however, because the series flopped; in fact the truth is quite opposite. The Strange Report was an ambitious series, starring Anthony Quayle as a master detective utilizing top science and psychological skill instead of fists and guns. It got good reviews and was very popular in the UK. ITV got so excited, they thought they had a break at the US market and decided to film the second season in the States. As Strange as it may sound, Quayle and his female sidekick, Anneke Wills, decided they didn't feel like traveling, and the series was axed! How does the series, killed by its popularity, look now? It has a nice swinging 60's look, but it has it's problems. Kaz Garas as the male sidekick Hamlyn Gynt(?) is quite a bland character, and although Anthony Quayle does a competent job, mr. Strange isn't extremely charismatic. It is, however, a quality show, good scripts, good acting, decent production values. The Strange Report genuinely favors wit over action. Strange can talk the criminal to put down his gun instead of the usual shooting and chasing. Definitely a show worth checking out.
The Moonshine War (1970)
Weirdly entertaining Moonshine
I only rented this film because of Patrick McGoohan, but found it to be a particularly nice strange little film indeed. The Moonshine War is a simple story of a bunch of people trying to get their hands on some hidden whiskey during the last months of prohibition. And what a weird bunch they are. Richard Widmark plays a disgusting former dentist-rapist and McGoohan is at his most neurotic as a dirty G-man, with a weird growling accent. Tom Skerritt and Teri Garr can be spotted in small roles. The film is written by Elmore Leonard, from his own book. It is easy to see why Quentin Tarantino digs him. The scene where Dual (singer Lee Hazlewood) develops a liking for "that boy´s nice suit" could be straight from a Tarantino film. Just about every character in this film is greedy, selfish and freaky. Unfortunately Alan Alda is pretty bland as the central character. He is probably supposed to be likeable, but he just seems boring surrounded by the other oddballs. Alda is not the right man for the role. Also Richard Quine is not a very exciting director, and there are a couple of really awful bubblegum tunes on the soundtrack. The script and some great characters, however, make it a pleasure to watch.
The Reluctant Heroes (1971)
This is a pretty cheap and unspectacular made-for-television war adventure. Some lame "intellectual talk", long hairs and false military equipment on the North Korean side. Ralph Meeker seems drugged or something. There is, however, something to keep this thing bearable from beginning to end, if you are into war films. The plot is pretty clear and tight and there are no dead moments (well, it´s only 73 minutes). It feels just like watching an episode of an entertaining early 70´s war series. That´s not necessarily a bad way to spend some time. Don´t expect too much, though.
The Bridge at Remagen (1969)
The best war movie I've never heard about
This is a no-nonsense, gritty, thoroughly well made war film. As a recreation of war it is quite convincing, I couldn't spot anything wrong with the military equipment. The battle scenes are exciting and give a good, clear picture of the fighting instead of just chaotic shots of shooting and explosions. However, the people are never lost among the warfare. These are complex, solid characters, and the actors are good throughout. There is nothing superhuman, just individuals, very low on humanity or manners. Tired and ill-motivated Americans, desperate and scared Germans. Nothing glorious or patriotic: there is even a scene with American planes bombing refugees and Germans trying to protect them! This is not an adventure, more a depiction of an interesting situation and the people in it. However, the story flows on and there isn't a dull moment. Why this film hasn't acquired more recognition is beyond me. As a war film I think it is better than most of it's contemporaries, like "The Battle of the Bulge" or "Anzio".