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Violent, visionary, intelligent sci-fi of the type they don't seem to make anymore
Watched this as a kid and was totally engrossed in the game, really wanted to play Rollerball for real although I'm a lousy skater (maybe I could have ridden one of the motorbikes?). Reputedly the cast and crew actually did play Rollerball (presumably with penalties, substitutions and time limits rather than the ultimate no holds barred version we see at the end?) in between takes and really got into it. I wonder if there's any film of that? In the 70s 2000AD magazine had a comic strip 'inspired' by Rollerball where the players wore jetpacks which is about the only way you could make the game more exciting.
What makes it special though is that it's not just a glorification of a brutal futuristic sport but a study of the role of the individual in a civilized society. Thomas Mann would recognise the concept although he probably wouldn't have included motorbikes in it. The future is depicted as a quasi-benign dictatorship as Plato always advocated. We have no wars, no crime, no poverty, corporations run the show and conflicts are confined to the boardroom and stock exchange. People are free within the system as long as they don't question the established order. Some have described it as fascist but actually it strikes me as more communistic, the individual sublimated for the sake of the greater good. However mankind never changes so an outlet is needed for aggression and populist entertainment. Hence we have Rollerball. Problem is in a society which values conformity Jonathan E has become an individualistic superstar and that threatens the whole nature of society.
Great performance from James Caan and equally great from John Houseman who isn't exactly the villain, it's very subtle on his part, you can't really be sure who's right or wrong in all this (noticeably Houseman's character doesn't want Jonathan to have an 'accident'). Also like Shame Rimmer as the team manager, the obedient corporate stooge who tells it as it is but still cares about his team, trying to prevent an injured Jonathan E from going back out to probable death during the final game (the New York manager noticeably succeeding in doing the same for one of his players). Fantastic music too, the classical influence contrasting with the sheer brutality of the game. And it is still shocking after all these years, the scene where the injured player slides down the rink leaving a bloody trail behind him still makes you cringe. You're so happy that Jonathan spares the final New York player and then goes on to score the final point, to him it's still all about the game rather than the violence.
No offence to Star Wars but it rather killed the more thoughtful sci-fi we had in the 1970s, Silent Running, Dark Star, Logan's Run, THX 1138, Westworld, Solaris, The Omega Man etc.
The only bad thing is Jonathan's trip to the the computer bank in Geneva which is utterly baffling.
X: The Unknown (1956)
Interesting British b-movie which reflects the concerns of its' age
Apparently this was supposed to be the fourth instalment of the Quatermass series and you can definitely see the influence here, British location, American scientist character in order to give it some transatlantic appeal, bumptious military types, disbelieving bureaucrats (Dr Beeching?) and young and handsome earnest assistants. This time however the threat does not come from outer space but in a neat twist from inner space, a prehistoric creature that feeds on radioactive energy and has now emerged as the development of nuclear power/weaponry has finally provided it with enough food source to return to the surface. A great concept which unfortunately the special effects can never live up to, I envisioned something more akin to Morbius' creature of the 'Id' from The Forbidden Planet.
Speaking of which this must have been quite shocking in its' day, the sight of the creature's victims melting away must have been truly disturbing to a 50s audience. They also kill the kid which must have been taboo at the time. One thing that stuck in my craw a little was the nurse who was rendered mute after witnessing her lover's death, I half expected someone to exclaim 'Well of course she's hysterical, she's only a woman'.
Underpinning this all is an early form of environmentalism, atomic energy had been sold to the masses as the great white hope but now people were beginning to have second thoughts as the grieving father's rant against the scientist illustrates. That the creature resembles an oil slick may also be a metaphor of sorts.
The ending is somewhat underwhelming, the creatures defeat depending on a tyre getting out of a rut and you wonder if there wasn't supposed to be another scene before the titles run but all the same it's an interesting and entertaining film.
Magic Mike (2012)
A surprisingly fun male version of 'Striptease'.
Watched this largely out of curiosity, male strippers not really my thing (to say the least) but I don't disapprove, if guy/gay girls can have Spearmint Rhino then straight girls/gay men can have male strippers. That being so I guess a film dealing with the subject would be treading on some pretty thin material. Glad to say I was actually mistaken and this has a pretty good story and some excellent performances in between all the rippling six-packs and thrusting pelvises. You wonder nowadays could mainstream Hollywood make a similar film about female strippers and their motivations without being branded as sexist?
A few criticisms, there seems to be a lack of gay characters, couldn't there have been at least one homosexual couple amongst the strippers? Also couldn't we have had a bit more depth to some of the clients? I would have liked a gay special night and some older ladies in the audience. It would have been a funny scene for one of their mothers to be spotted amongst the screaming fans.
Ultimately it is a very traditional story of the man who thinks he has it all (money, casual threesomes with sexy bimbos who can't even remember one another's names, getting paid to work out all the time and have everyone fawning over you nightly). But eventually he sees the pitfalls, that it's shallow, the perils of drugs and that it is essentially a younger man's game and that you have a very limited shelf life as a career. I wouldn't call it a moral film exactly but it certainly is a film with a moral.
End of Watch (2012)
Best buddy cop movie since Colors!
Still not as good as 'Heat' but that's not a buddy movie (in fact it's more or less an adversarial film). Lot's of very good stuff here, we have one of the most accurate and honest depictions of everyday police culture that we shall ever see, the conversations between the various characters are totally believable and naturalistic and if they sometimes stray close to cliché that's only because the stuff men talk about between one another at work tend to be clichéd, they're blue collar working guys rather than philosophers. They both come across as extremely tough men but likable and professional (as opposed to Woody Harrelson's LAPD bashing in 'Rampart'). Their wives/girlfriends are refreshingly true to life, perhaps starting off as 'Badge Bunnies' but then becoming real people and you feel for their loss. Their superiors are well portrayed too, neither pen pushers out to further their own careers or just one of the boys, falling somewhere in between. The 'other team'(as Simon Pegg would put it) of Hauser and the 'Boot' are well rounded and even though you barely get to know them the sight of her beaten and him surviving a knife in the eye is still extremely shocking. Interesting to contrast this with Colors which was essentially a gang movie to now the creeping infiltration of Mexican organised crime into American society.
One thing I did wonder about was 'Xena and Gabby', the female 'partners'(?) on their shift, was there supposed to be some sort of history between Xena and the foul mouthed Latino gangbanger?
Good action scenes realistically staged. If I was to have one complaint we never see them do enough paperwork or deal with the myriad of trivial yet time consuming calls which make up a police officer's real workload. We hear that they stand for 2 hours on the crime scene but get no sense of the time spent.
Clever ending scene when we find out one of our heroes actually survived but I would like to have had a better final shot, maybe a zoom in on the fallen officer's LAPD badge followed by a pull out to reveal it on the side of a cruiser going on a call?
Les femmes de l'ombre (2008)
Had the potential to be great but just fell short
Always been fascinated by the world of SOE ever since growing up watching Secret Army as a kid. This is one of the best films I've ever seen on the subject, much better than Charlotte Gray or TV series like 'Wish Me Luck' which were distinctly mediocre.
Was actually unaware that this was a French language film although this doesn't detract from the action at all. It also made sense that French speakers would practice their language exclusively before returning to their homeland so that they don't accidentally lapse into English by mistake or speak British accented French. I would very much have liked to have seen more detail in terms of the commando training which has always been one of the more fascinating aspects of the story (they all seem to be mysteriously parachute qualified virtually instantly?). The story isn't bad although you wonder that they would give such priority to killing a single SS Colonel even if he was given Rommel's ear by the 3rd of June 1944 it would be too late for them to do anything about it.
From a military perspective it isn't bad although everyone falls into the shoot from the hip tradition. When the Colonel is giving his briefing I kept expecting the interviewing officers to ask him if the geologist couldn't have been the diversion, intended to draw German forces away from Calais. You also wonder that the French officer tells him the truth about the Mulberry harbours rather than try to buy time by bluffing, saying they're for protecting the landing craft from underwater attack or something?
Obviously there's a lot of torture here but it's never gratuitous, you still feel for the captured religious agent who cannot bare to kill herself as she's supposed to and breaks under extreme pain as anyone would.
The ending despite the Allied victory is downbeat and maudlin, you'd have liked the sole survivor to have a big family and name her kids after her fallen comrades but things don't always work out that way (presumably she lost her baby due to the torture and may not have been able to have any more?). Her looking through the photos and coming across her friend who has been tortured to death is heartrending although couldn't she have come up with a less drastic 'diversion' at the railway station?. What's perhaps even more interesting is the fate of the young French collaborator who switches sides and becomes the hero of the Resistance, we last see him capturing the SS Colonel's assistant (and what happens to him? Shot as a war criminal or recruited by the West to help in the Cold War?).
All told a good film but I'd have liked a little more
War Horse (2011)
The Great War spelled out through the experiences of an animal
Watched this in an open air screening of this film in Histon, Cambridgeshire. Pretty damn wonderful and people actually stood up and clapped at the end. I was always cynical about the depiction of the UK (and Europe in general) before 1914, the Edwardian age was not a time of prosperity and tolerance but of creeping nationalist extremism, colonial exploitation and grinding poverty for the working classes(although it pales in comparison with the Victorian era, the European's a potato famine, neglect of the poor etc). It's a nice touch that the landlord's son turns out to be a good decent man on the battlefield, not that his father is actually a villain, he's just a ruthless capitalist. I would have loved a scene where we have a flashback to the Boer War and we find that one man stopped to help his wounded fellow soldiers and the other walked over them to take the enemy position and saved countless lives in the long term.
The depiction of British society pre-1914 was interesting, it was by no means a golden age and whilst it was horrific the Great War would sweep away many of the inequalities of Edwardian society. Tom Hiddleston as the cavalry officer who takes care of Joey is great, appearing for all the world like the stereotypical upper class villain but actually extremely heroic, the scene where we witness the end of an era as the cavalry versus machine guns is heartrending, you're so glad his friend with the soft cap survives. The tale of the 2 brothers is awfully conflicting, you can only think it would have been better if they had been killed/wounded in action rather than shot as deserters together (all credit to Steven Spielberg for the masterful shot with the windmill sails obscuring their execution). Interesting how we have the gradual evolution of the war from Napoleonic style cavalry charges (their end signified by the sabre plunged into the ground in 1914) to the mechanized hell of tanks, mud and artillery we see by 1918, Joey jumping the tank and the scene with him being caught in the barbed wire showing that humanity still prevails in the most extreme of circumstances. Not that this film shy's away from the horror of the Great War, the sequences where the troops are enveloped by gas or take out a machine gun nest with grenades, shooting the enemy soldiers manning it, shows the brutal reality of trench combat, kill or be killed, walk past the dead or dying for the sake of the greater good. I'm surprised they missed a scene where they bayonet someone? By the time we get to 1918 your heart is in your mouth, seeing the snowflakes and knowing that the war will end at 11am 11th November 1918 and just praying that the characters will live to see the Armstice.
The ending cannot fail to raise a tear, Johnny comes marching home to his mother and father's arms with his warhorse as silent witness is a scene which is always great (Celia Emrie magnificent as ever). Just wish the belligerent goose was there to see it all. The real tragedy of it all is the little French girl and her grandfather, you hope that they will both survive the war but he does and she doesn't, it really brought a tear to my eye, you so wanted her and the hero to get together and live happily ever after but they don't, the Great War robbed so many of their loved ones whether deserving or not, it's as though Heidi were killed in the Franco-Prussian War. I would also liked to have known what happened to the German private who took care of Joey and his companion during their wartime service.
All told a wonderful film and one that bears repeated viewing.
The Expendables 3 (2014)
Should definitely finish it here
I thought this was a passable way to spend a couple of hours but really I think Sly Stallone has very much run out of ideas at this point. The new team was a good concept but was so poorly fleshed out that they were practically indistinguishable from one another except for the Lady Jaye character who is undeniably hot (and remains refreshingly unraped or even threatened with it by the end of the story which must be unique for an attractive female character captured in an action film). Harrison Ford is good in his role, what Jack Ryan would look like today if he'd stuck to the part. Mel Gibson was also surprisingly fun as the bad guy although you'd think that people as tech-savvy as the new team would have thought to check him for a GPS tracker? The sequence in the back of the van was actually very well done and quite affecting, the realpolitik behind the mercenary business. Also finishing him off by simply shooting him seemed a bit anti-climatic. Very, very disappointing that Robert Davi, one of my favourite character actors was given so little screen time, even less than Jet Li. A few nice refs to other films, Schwarzeneger yelling 'Get to the chopper', his iconic line from Predator and 'I lied' from Commando. Wesley Snipes genuinely appealing and funny with his tax evasion line. You wonder that Jason Statham's character would mind retiring if it meant being able to play house with Charisma Carpenter (who is sorely missed here)? Would it have killed them to have some actual memorable bad guys and not just endless waves for indistinguishable cannon fodder?
But somehow we've just seen it all before (especially the endless shootouts in grey and crumbling former Soviet bloc buildings) and it doesn't hang together. Sly should definitely end it here although I wouldn't mind seeing his proposed all female version 'The Expendabelles' with action stars like Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hamilton, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Eliza Dushku.
The Dead Pool (1988)
Life in the old dog yet but they were right to end things here
So, Dirty Harry's final adventure and a great deal has changed since 1971. But some things haven't and Callahan's 44. Magnum is still the best solution to a surprising number of problems.
Every Dirty Harry film deals with some hot topic and this is no exception, here we have the power of the media and the influence of violence in entertainment on real life. Addressing of course all the criticism of the violence in Dirty Harry films and in an interesting sidebar featuring the murder of a female film critic just like a certain disparager of the first Dirty Harry film.
Good partner this time around and we're all happy that he survived, one of only 3 out of 7 to do so (remarkable that we'd never got to San Francisco's Chinatown before?). This means that the survivors are in the first and last of the series. The gym scene is genuinely funny. Harry gets a likable and believable love interest and unlike his previous girlfriends there may actually be a long term future for them, maybe he won't have to be 'God's lonely man' any more? Remarkable cast in hindsight with an almost unrecognisable Jim Carrey (here listed as 'James') and a remarkable extended cameo from then practically unknown 'Guns and Roses'.
Bad stuff? Liam Neeson's accent is HILARIOUSLY bad, I mean Keanu Reeves in Dracula bad. The plot is unnecessarily convoluted, the villain forgettable and the remote control car pursuit an interesting idea that never really comes off.
As suggested by the ending of Sudden Impact Harry seems to have changed his mind since Magnum Force about the benefits of vigilantism, shooting an unarmed and fleeing Mafia assassin in the back and killing the villain in the end with his harpoon when he knows that the man's pistol is out of bullets.
So what happens to our boy in the end? He's certainly eligible for retirement so I like to think he marries his reporter girlfriend, starts a family and maybe does some PI work on the side.
Sudden Impact (1983)
The Dirty Harry series beginning to run out of steam
Probably a much more in-depth Dirty Harry film with a lack moral clarity. Once again we have a villain(?) who looks like an angel (much like 'choir boy' Scorpio in Dirty Harry, David Soul's vigilante cop in Magnum Force and 'Bobby' in The Enforcer). But she's a female rape victim killing those who were never brought to justice for their crime against her and they're an array of utterly disgusting grotesques.
In some ways this almost doesn't feel like a Dirty Harry film, he's practically a peripheral character and the action shifts from his normal hunting ground of San Francisco to a small tourist town on the coast. We also have an atypical firearm for him, dumping his venerable S&W 44. Magnum for a thudding great 44. Magnum Automag (because obviously his previous handgun just didn't hold enough bullets?).
Some great stuff here, Harry's arrival as the avenging angel at the end is truly marvellous and here we get the famous 'Make my day' line which whilst synonymous with Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood you don't normally associate with this film.
Unfortunately plenty of bad stuff. The Mafia hood's constant attempts to kill Harry get tired fast and we never know why the contract is called off (funny while the wedding scene is). It beggars belief that the gang of junkies who attack Harry in his car don't have guns and the Horace and Meathead subplot really doesn't work.
The ending is ambiguous, contrary to his actions in Magnum Force Harry let's the vigilante away with it in the end. Perhaps because she is acting for personal revenge rather than from ideological conviction? Do we want to hand out the death penalty for rape? Sure the police chief covered things up but do we ever know if the girls made any allegations?
Still watchable but they should have left it here.
The Enforcer (1976)
Good but they should have left the series here
Each Dirty Harry film has its' own topic in the overall arc. The original dealt with the ineffectiveness of the police with the restrictions placed on them in an increasingly liberal society. Magnum Force, arguably the better film asked you where was the line, what was justifiable in terms of defending society from criminals? Sudden Impact also dealt with vigilantism plus sex crimes whilst The Dead Pool centered on the power and irresponsibility of the media and entertainment industry. The Enforcer? Homegrown terrorism and women's lib, both very important topics in the 1970s (the Revolutionary People's Strike Force very clearly based on Patty Hearst's kidnappers, the Symbolise Liberation Army).
Some very good stuff here, Tyne Daly is terrific and it's little wonder she got Cagney and Lacey off the strength of this (just as David Soul and Robert Urich got their own cop series as a result of their Dirty Harry performances). The patronising way all the other cops treat her is both outrageous and hilarious. If you're filming in San Francisco you must surely film a scene on Alcatraz at some point (although weirdly Harry never does seem to end up on the Golden Gate bridge)and it works terrifically well.
Sad to say goodbye to John Mitchum who was so good as Harry's pasta loving pal in the previous two films. Best role ever however for Albert Popwell who is terrific as Mustapha (is he the same character Harry shot outside the bank in Dirty Harry?), especially love his outrage that Harry is going to tell everyone he's an informer but his parting remark to Harry is to be sure to wipe the PRSF out (to which Harry readily agrees "Count on it")!
Bad points? Such a cliché that the PRSF is really only out for money, American cinema seems to have a real problem with accepting the fact that terrorists act out of their beliefs (however insane and odious). You'd also think that if they terrorists wanted to steal the gas company employee's uniforms they'd find a less bloody way to kill them?The lead villain has great potential but it's never really expanded upon which is a shame.
The final scene is great, rightly condemning the authorities habit of paying ransoms rather than tackling the terrorists.
So, all told a step down from its' predecessors but still very good.