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Not Completely Mangled
What to make of this American version of Sherlock Holmes. (For those that have never heard of it, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes short stories were published from 1889-1914).
A few of the early TV series were period pieces - of note the ITV series from 1984-94 (starring Jeremy Brett), while others such as the BBC's Sherlock and 20th Century Fox's Sherlock Holmes 1939-46 (starring Basil Rathbone) were contemporary adaptations.
In this adaptation Jonny Lee Miller (an Englishman) plays Holmes and Lucy Liu plays Joan Watson. Most of the original Sherlock Holmes stories have already taken place in England and Holmes arrives in New York on a sort of sabbatical. Holmes has an arrangement with the New York Police Department to assist them with their difficult cases. Watson, hired by Holmes' father initially plays the part of therapist and eventually becomes his understudy.
OK so the Americans have adapted Sherlock Holmes, which means it has probably been completely mangled. Well not completely. Half way through series 4, the show has settled down into decent shape, good plots and fast pace. But we had to endure Sherlock Holmes attending AA meetings to solve a heroin problem, and constantly admitting he is an addict. A person with such a high intellect surely would be able to solve the problem himself. Part way through series 2, we had to endure the feminist rampage as Joan Watson took over and Sherlock dared to solve her cases. It seems they were still working out where the show was going.
Elementary doesn't have the freshness and quality of the BBC's Sherlock. Then again at three episodes a year, Sherlock is not exactly prolific. Elementary has probably settled into some sort of modified police procedural. The key thing is the flashes of brilliance Sherlock injects into solving the cases. 7/10.
Natural Born Killers (1994)
Not Recommended for the Mentally Unstable
A Roadie film with similarities to Bonnie and Clyde, following two subjects on their improbable journey as they cause mayhem, death and destruction. The film purports to send up the violence of the American society of the early 1990's and the attraction of the media to that violence, except it goes way way over the top.
Tarantinoesque in style (flashbacks, low camera angles), psychedelic (colour) and elements of Warhol (flashes of product advertisement). As Harry Callahan in the Enforcer would say: "Very stylish".
I generally avoid Tarantino (involved in the script) and underdog martyrdom. Film as an art form, some would argue, entitles it to experiment with different approaches. The problem is using excess violence to parody violence, as this film does, goes too far. It was difficult to watch in places. It has been linked to Columbine and other such events. Even one death caused by the film, invalidates the approach. It seems not everyone has the mental stability to cope with such an arty film.
Finally Robert Downey Jr (I'm a fan), gave a lacklustre performance with an unrecognisable accent. And it could be argued it took him ten years to recover from the film, until he found meaning in his life.
An Unfortunate Episode in US National and Political Affairs
JFK is based on two books On the Trail of the Assassins by Jim Garrison and Crossfire: The Plot that Killed Kennedy by Jim Marrs. JFK sets the scene by showing an historical account of Kennedy's Presidency, from the Bay of Pigs invasion, through to the Cuban missile crisis and finally Kennedy's assassination. The film then covers the background leading to the assassination including the planning of a second Cuban invasion by a group of ex-Cubans, Lee Harvey Oswald and his defection to Russia and return to the USA and his relationship to the ex-Cubans and Guy Bannister ex FBI agent and investigator. The film then follows Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), the New Orleans District Attorney who in 1966 disagreed with the Warren Commission's finding of a lone assassin, and re-opens the Kennedy assassination and attempts to convict Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones) of involvement. The film shows Garrison's attempts to reconstruct the assassination, his interviews with witnesses and his personal life. Garrison also has a meeting with a Government official (Mr X) who explains the big picture of a conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy and encourages Garrison to keep digging. Garrison uses the trial, via his summing up speech, as a vehicle to attack the findings of the Warren Commission, alleging a cover-up, including asserting that there were multiple gunmen and alleging a conspiracy of the military-industrial complex.
As a film, I found it too long, a little slow initially and the use of quick cuts and low camera angles, a little excessive. The film is notable for attracting a star studded cast, including several cameo appearances. Interestingly of all the A-list actor appearances, all but Gary Oldman are Democrat leaning.
However what cannot be overlooked is the film's statement, which is remarkable. The film attracted a lot of controversy, interestingly including from the press. The Warren Commission did make a lot of errors and while the film is an interpretation of the available facts and reasonable assumptions, with some modification for storytelling effect, it seems the true story may never be told. The film is perfectly valid in attempting to highlight the inconsistencies of the official account of Kennedy's assassination with assumptions/facts.
We now know that the CIA at the time was involved in destabilising a number of other countries leadership in the name of the cold war. Kennedy did try and remove covert activities from the CIA and transfer them to the US military. There were also many suspicious deaths of witnesses of the Kennedy assassination, probably to prevent Garrison's use in his court case. And there also was the assassination of Bobby Kennedy after he nominated for President and outlined that he would follow in his brother's footsteps.
On the balance of probabilities, it is very likely that there was a cover-up of Kennedy's assassination. To this day, the true killers have not been brought to justice. Does it matter. America won the Cold War, and even Democrat Presidents now endorse the tactics of the CIA and the Pentagon (eg the drone killings and the recent revelations by Edward Snowden about the US spying on its own citizens and other countries both presided over by Obama). So perhaps Kennedy was naive and was wrong to try and tame the CIA. It is in the least, an unfortunate episode in US national and political affairs.
Against the Dark (2009)
A virus has wiped out most of the world's population. The virus turns its victims into blood thirsty zombies and is spread by fluid contact into a cut or wound. There is no cure. The military are trying to control the virus by destroying infected areas. A team of zombie hunters are conducting a sweep of a zombie infested hospital for survivors before the facility is bombed by the military.
The movie was released direct to video and had a budget of $US7 million.
The zombie hunters led by Steven Seagal are constrained by the virus, so there is minimal physical contact during the fighting and the predominant use of guns and a long (kitana) sword (although knives are also used).
The film (horror genre) creates tension through use of dark lighting as the survivors make their way through the locked down hospital with the power threatening to fail, while under constant attack by the zombies. The hunters meanwhile are trying to find them. And the military are about to destroy the building.
The script however is the biggest problem. There is inconsistency about those infected - are they zombies, mutants or vampires. Steven Seagal's fights are constrained to a sword and shot gun by the threat of the virus, and not the usual hand to hand combat, which is fair enough. However he appears to have attempted to reduce the visibility of his weight gain by wearing a full length leather coat. The survivors never pick up a club to defend themselves and have a habit of constantly getting separated from each other as a plot technique to create additional tension. There is plenty of gore - low budget gore however.
If you ignore the script and ignore the survivors that don't know how to defend themselves and have many lucky escapes, the film does create tension and has plenty of gore. As a fan of Steven Seagal, I have given a generous 4 out of 10.
Looper is set in a mob controlled society in the not too distant future. The mob use 'loopers' to carry out death sentences by transporting the victims back in time to a pre-arranged time and place. When their usefulness is over, loopers themselves are transported back in time to be terminated by their younger selves (closing the loop). If a looper fails to complete the termination, the looper then becomes a target. A new mob leader takes over all 5 mob syndicates and orders all loopers to be terminated. This leads to an attempt by one looper to use time travel to prevent the mob leader taking over.
Overall the movie is good. There is action, suspense and good acting.
What irked me was the variable theory of time travel used. On one occasion a looper fails to close the loop and later on is killed. After being killed the looper is taken back to the point where his older self is transported back in time to be terminated. This happens again, when Bruce Willis fails to prevent his younger self falling from a fire escape and being killed. It took me a while to figure it out - what they are saying is that this is a time travel paradox and the paradox is not allowed to happen. However the movie ending had the looper die and this time the looper's older self disappeared. I am OK with the latter case (its similar to the grandfather paradox and in line with one of the theoretical solutions). In the first case, I did not find the approach particularly intuitive. The movie offers no explanation.
The second issue is the makeup and prosthetics used by Joseph Gordon-Levitt to look like Bruce Willis 30 years younger. Everyone knows what Bruce Willis looked like 30 years ago from Die Hard (well 25 years ago). Gordon-Levitt looks nothing like him. The makeup failed for me.
Some of the story elements are far fetched such as the complicated way the mob uses to dispose of people by transporting them back in time to be killed.
So what score to give it. Has a few deficiencies but Bruce Willis is in it - 7/10.
Get the Gringo (2012)
The film is a reboot of the role that Mel Gibson played in Payback. The character that Gibson plays (we never learn his name) is the typical gritty, canny, bad guy cum good guy that has been so successful in the past.
The Gibson character is chased across the Mexican border with the proceeds of a robbery inflicted upon a mob boss. He winds up in an 'open' Mexican Prison and has to use his wits to deal with the squalid conditions, the inmates that run the prison, corrupt police, and the mob henchmen that want the money back. He teams up with a 10 year old street wise kid that has a secret. He has to come up with a plan that solves all the problems.
The film is set in an actual, although closed Mexican prison.
The film would have scored higher if it was a little more believable in places, although the film was very good - fast paced, entertaining and with the unexpected always around the corner.
To enjoy the movie, though, it seems you have to be a Mel Gibson fan, as late in his career, Gibson has attracted some controversy. The movie was initially released in the UK, Russia and the Middle East (where Gibson has a few fans it seems), and based on these results and projections of a US theatrical release, Icon decided to release it to Video on Demand in the US. It is unknown how profitable the film was, but it would be a shame if movies starring Mel Gibson, of such quality are not made in the future, because they cannot achieve a blockbuster US release - which is what should have happened with this one. Mel Gibson has a few more hit movies in him I'm sure.
The Lighthorsemen (1987)
The WW1 victory by the British in the 3rd Battle of Gaza in late 1917 led to a retreat by the Ottoman Army to Jerusalem. After further battles in Jerusalem, the British were able to establish a strong front line until September 1918, when the final offensive took place.
The battle of Beersheba took place on the first day of the Battle of Gaza and consisted of a successful infantry attack on the outskirts of the town by the British XX Corps and a mounted attack on outposts to the east. The latter attacks were held up and due to concerns about water, it appeared unlikely that a combined infantry and mounted attack on Beersheba was possible that day. The Australian Chauvel, commander of the ANZAC Mounted Division, wanted to break off to water the horses, but was ordered to attack. The 4th and 12th Regiments of the 4th Light Horse attacked in 3 waves across 4 miles of open desert. The defenders in trenches, with machine gun and artillery support were caught by surprise when the Light Horse continued and failed to dismount. In addition, the attack was so swift, incorrect sighting information was given, and the Light Horse was able to successfully attack 'under the guns', and experienced very light casualties. In turn they killed or captured 2000 enemy as well as several artillery pieces and also captured 15 out of the 17 wells.
The light horse battle at Beersheba was worthy of a film and the battle scenes focusing on the light horse charge was a highlight of the film. The film also focused on intelligence that led to the Turks believing that an attack on Beersheba would only be a diversion.
The film incorrectly had Chauvel offer to attack Beersheba, when the British were faced with withdrawal due to critical water supplies.
The film tried to be realistic and portray the spirit of the Australian troops, especially as the film followed the successful ANZACS miniseries and many of the same actors were present. This was largely unsuccessful however as the acting was poor. Of note was Gerard Kennedy's now politically incorrect portrayal of 'tanned' Turkish commander Ismet Bey and a close up of Gary Sweet firing the 'recoil-less' Lee-Enfield rifle. Dean Semmler (Cinematography) was OK. Also of note was Jon Blake, who was critically injured in a car accident on the last day of filming. The accident ended his acting career.
Citizen Kane (1941)
Not that Impressive
I saw the movie on DVD and again with commentary by Roger Ebert. It is rated as the number 1 movie in the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies list.
Orson Wells, child prodigy and coming after his War of the Worlds stunt was given a free hand with this film, his first director role. So it had a lot to live up to. Failed at the box office, but later rediscovered, the film experienced a revival. The story was supposedly based on Hearst, a media Baron (although this was denied by Wells). Hearst went to some lengths to try and ban the film.
Looking at it now, it is very dated. It does make some very telling points about human nature and the newspaper business. But I cant help but feel Wells tries too hard at being ground breaking, both in choice of a controversial story and in its cinematography. While the film was ground breaking, I didn't find it was a particularly entertaining film at all.
The ANZACS mini series consists of five 90 minute episodes taking three years to make and was shown in Australia in 1985. The series tries to create the realism of the actual battle conditions, the mood of the times and the spirit of those involved. Some roles were based on actual wartime soldiers, others were added for story telling effect. The series shows the mateship and larrikinism of the Australians as they become an effective fighting force and the appalling conditions the troops experienced as World War 1 battle tactics evolved. The series stated intention was to show modern day Australians the incredible contribution of the Australians in the war who despite making up only 10 percent in numbers, at one point in 1918 held 50 percent of the front lines on the western front. The Australian effort during the first war, except for Gallipoli, having largely been forgotten over the post war years, including up to the present day. While the intent had been to show realism, the result is nevertheless a product of its times and has been described by some as having elements of a soap opera. George Miller (Mad Max, Happy Feet) is one of three directors credited in each episode of the series.
The series follows the Victorian eighth battalion, part of the First Australian Imperial Force, and which formed part of the 2nd Brigade 1st Division. The series starts with the outset of war, with many unwitting Australians keen to participate and worried about missing out. The series shows the army recruitment, followed by training and eventual deployment in the early morning of April 25 1915 (which would later become Anzac day) north of Gaba Tepe on the Aegean Peninsular (which would later become Anzac Cove). The series then covers the attack on Lone Pine, part of a coordinated campaign to take the Gallipoli Peninsula and consisting of several attacks linking up with additional landings at Suvla Bay by the British. Although Lone Pine was taken and the landings successful, the other objectives met with failure and the result was an eventual withdrawal from Gallipoli.
The 8th Battalion in 1916 then finds itself dispatched to France to join the battle in the Western front. After training and deployment to a quiet area of the Somme battlefield, they are eventually "blooded" into the Somme offensive, fighting in the Village of Pozieres, and are one of the few units to take all their objectives. The series shows the concentration of artillery fire in a one mile area as the Germans pour all their efforts into stopping the advance. The battle field was chaotic with no maps, telephone lines cut by artillery and dust and smoke presenting limited oversight by high command. The series also portrays the poor general ship at the time. The way to win the battle of opposing trench lines was through "bleeding the other side white". The side with the greater moral courage would prevail. The cost in human terms was immense. At the time the British were losing 5000 men a week across the front lines. 'There are Australians in the area' was a phrase used by some of the British to reaffirm the earlier reputation of the Australians in the Boer war of being undisciplined. General Haig wanted to reintroduce the death penalty as a court martial punishment. The series shows Sir Keith Murdoch (father of Rupert Murdoch) a journalist, as an adviser to the Australian Prime Minister. Murdoch met with General Haig and the British War Secretary and provided reports back to Australia.
The series then covers operations against the Hindenburg line and Arras which either failed or met with limited success and high casualties. The next great offensive is the Battle of Passchendaele. By this time the tactics used consisted of advancing under creeping artillery fire and met with some success, however the weather intervenes and the fighting literally becomes bogged down in mud of Ypres.
After the Russian revolution in 1917 and the surrender of Russian forces the German army is strengthened and begins the German Spring Offensive. The Australians are shown repulsing the Germans at Hazebrouck, part of the German operation Georgette. The instructions were to fight to the last man. The Australians played a key role in stopping the German advance, which was attempting to force the British to evacuate France.
Lieutenant General Monash meanwhile was given command of the Australian Corps. Alluded to but not fully shown was Keith Murdoch with Australian war historian Charles Bean, arguing for General White over Monash to Billy Hughes the Australian Prime Minister. Under the British 4th Army Commander General Rawlinson, Monash and the Australian Corps, with the support of the British 5th Tank Brigade and elements of the American 66th Brigade launched an attack on Hamel. The operation was notable for its detailed planning and use of tanks together with infantry in spite of the Americans initially refusing to let their troops be commanded by a foreigner.
The Battle of Amiens was shown, which was the opening battle of the 100 Days Offensive, which finished with breaching the Hindenburg line, ending the war. Planned and spearheaded by Monash and the Australian Corp and also involving the British 4th under Rawlinson and the Canadian Corps under Currie, this was a battle over open terrain, leaving trench warfare behind. The battle was a coordinated effort between tanks, infantry, artillery and aircraft. After the first day the allies advanced an average of 7 miles, engulfing 5 German Divisions, although the advance was slowed later as the tanks broke down and the infantry outran the artillery. The victory was a major turning point of the war and resulted in General Monash being knighted in the field by King George V, the first time this had occurred in 200 years.
The efforts of the Australians during the First World War is fascinating story and a story worth telling and generally very well told in the ANZACS.
Margin Call (2011)
Wall Street the Soap Opera
The film has a star studded cast - Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore and the Zachary Quinto, all of whom deliver fine performances.
The film is a fictionalised account of a wall street firm that figures out its risk model is wrong and the firm is massively over exposed to Mortgaged Backed Securities (MBS's), just before the rest of the market finds out they are too. The film explores the ramifications of the management decision to launch a massive liquidation of the firms position on the unsuspecting market, and thus causing the 2008 crash. Part of this is the firms reputational risk, however the film mainly deals with interplay between the staff and whether what the individuals are doing is right. All of this occurs within an environment of current and pending staff layoffs.
The film constantly poses the question - is what these guys decide to do morally correct. The film does not answer this question directly nor is the angst of the market towards the company shown or the regulatory response shown.
The film does not mention the company involved, however this is clearly Lehman Brothers (the CEO in the film is John Tuld and Lehman's CEO at the time was Richard S Fuld Jr and other similarities).
Unfortunately it never happened as depicted in the film. The film tries to create a clean cut crisis and resolution around a 24 hour period.
The financial crisis had its origins in US home prices which peaked in late 2006. The first company to get into trouble with sub prime mortgages was Nothern Rock (a UK bank) in September 2007, when it experienced a run on its funds and had to be bailed out. Bear Sterns in July 2007 announced problems with 2 of their hedge funds due to losses in sub-prime mortgages, announced a profit fall of 61% in September 2007 and eventually had to be bailed out/sold in March 2008.
Lehman's first encountered problems with its sub prime lender BNC Mortgage in August 2007, closing it and losing $25 million. Lehman's did hold considerable sub prime mortgages on its books when securitising them. It is unclear however, whether this was because they could not sell them or decide to hold them. For the March 2008 quarter, Lehman's profit was $489 million, however by June 2008 a loss of $2.8 billion was reported, due to market volatility reducing its hedges. At this time a management shakeup occurred, sidelining CEO Fuld, although he remained CEO. Ahead of the September quarter results, Korea Development Bank was reported as considering buying Lehman's, however when this was reported as not proceeding Lehman's stock fell 45% and the Dow lost 300 points on 9 September 2008. On September 10 Lehman's announced a $3.9 billion loss for the September quarter. On September 11 Lehman's stock lost another 40%. On September 15, a Monday, Lehman's announced it would file for bankruptcy and the Dow lost 500 points.
The Dow which peaked in October 2007, had fallen below 11000 points on September 15. By March 2009, the Dow had fallen to its low of about 6500 points.
So its certainly true that Lehman's triggered the Wall street crash of 2008 and the financial crisis that followed. However Lehman's did not cause the crash by bailing out out of sub prime mortgages.
So Margin Call is a film exploring the human relationships in a manufactured and simplified financial crisis. Interesting, but it doesn't explore the real issues such as the reasons for the crisis. I would much rather see a film showing what really happened at Lehman's.