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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
From the director of Bridget Jones' Diary comes a film about terrorism.
If you think that sounds like a recipe for cinematic gold then you must
As you'd expect from someone who made such a wretched piece of fluff, the emotions here are laid on rather thick. This isn't a film that knows a whole lot about subtlety. They might as well have just issued a box of hankies at the door.
The film begins with an exceedingly cute child having fun with his mummy. He's so damn cute and so damn lovable that you know he's not going to make it through the film alive. And then when you realise that the film is called Incendiary, you know he's going to get blown into a million little pieces.
Now having your son die in a terrorist attack is bad enough, but the film decides to make it several degrees worse. First of all, the mother in this film is no longer that enamoured with her husband. Therefore their relationship is rather loveless. However, not to fear, a sleazy journalist played by Ewan McGregor pops up. And no sooner have they exchanged a few words than they're exchanging bodily fluids on the young mother's sofa. Crikey. And as they're humping and pumping, they have a football game on the television. And at this game are the woman's husband and young son. And would you believe it, as they're doing the dirty, the stadium goes ka-boom and it's goodbye husband and son.
After this you'd kind of think that the woman would suffer some pretty serious psychosexual problems. But this doesn't stop the woman from having sex with the head of the anti-terrorist unit (the woman's husband was in bomb disposal, so this guy was a work colleague). And this guy seems really nice. He just wants to look after her. Nevermind that he's dull as ditchwater and that he loves caravans. He's just a good, honest guy. Well, or so you'd think. I guess the woman should have noted the fact that the man has a beard, and as we all know, men with beards always have something to hide. Why else would they cover themselves in facial shrubbery? You see, the man knew that the terrorist attack was going to happen and did nothing to stop it. Oh, that's pretty bad, isn't it? You were cheating on your husband as he went up in flames and now you've slept with the man who could have stopped it from happening. Maybe those psychosexual problems will finally kick in.
If this all sounds far-fetched, it's because it is. But the film isn't finished with the nonsense. The woman strikes up a friendship with the young son of one of the bombers. Okay, this has potential for bonding and mutual healing. But no, there's a sequence where the two of them are at Waterloo train station. The kid is still unaware that his daddy was one of the bombers he thinks he's just gone away and as he's waiting for the woman to buy tickets, he sees newspapers with his dad's face plastered all over them. Needless to say he's a bit upset and begins behaving a little erratically. He then runs away. The police see this and because he's Asian and has a backpack, they take chase. The woman chases as well, and they all end up on an empty train platform. Every party shouts a lot, and as the boy reaches into his jacket, the police prepare to shoot. But as a marksman pulls the trigger, the woman steps into his sights and gets shot in the head by mistake. Holy Jean Charles de Menezes, Batman, the police screwed up again!
But don't fear. The woman only gets grazed by a bullet so everything is hunky-dory.
Amongst all this ridiculous melodrama there are a few good scenes. The best one is when the mother seriously begins to lose the plot and thinks that her son has come back. She spends all her time in the flat playing with him. She then leaves to get some food and the spell is broken when she actually has some real human interaction. When she rushes back her son is no longer there and she's devastated.
However, this scene leads directly to another one of the film's maudlin flights of fancy. In response to the tragedy, a barrage balloon for every victim hangs in the sky with a picture of the victim on it. This to me sounds like an awful idea. Could you imagine that? You're just trying to get over the ordeal and you look out of the window and see your little Billy grinning from the sky. Yeah, nice one.
And so the woman realises that her son is really dead and decides to visit his barrage balloon. And to do so she has to stand on a tall roof and teeter on the edge. Will she kill herself or not? Now the barrage balloons I hated, but we now have another one of the film's few decent sequences. We see the boy and the father talking about the Great Fire of London. The boy asks what they did back then, and the father says that everyone had a cup of tea. We then have a voice-over where the woman says that many people have tried to destroy this city but no one has succeeded. Every time someone tries to knock it down, we rebuild. And that's what she's got to do with her life. She's got to rebuild it. The film didn't deserve to generate any emotion, but a love of my home city meant that for once I actually felt something in this preposterous movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If there's one thing America loves, it's a sequel. It's more American
than apple pie and anal sex. And so therefore, despite Apollo Creed's
statement to Rocky in the first film that there wouldn't be a rematch,
and contrary to Rocky's assertion that he didn't want one, you knew it
had to happen.
Although to be fair, Rocky does do his best to avoid getting back in the ring. He tries to capitalise on his fame and make some money through advertising. Cue some amusing scenes where the mumbling, illiterate Rocky tries and fails to read writing from dummy cards as he attempts to sell crappy 70s cologne.
After this failure to crack the entertainment world, Rocky decides he can make it as an office worker...even though he has no qualifications, no experience and no brains. He just wants a job where he can sit down and no longer be pounded repeatedly in the face. It's not much to ask. But unfortunately Rocky gets turned down by every employer, who are no doubt not only horrified by Rocky's lack of credentials but by his hideous light blue suit as well.
But the early scenes where Rocky thinks he'll be living a life of plenty are very funny. We see Rocky spending money on horrible gold watches, a hideous jacket with a tiger on the back, a dog collar that he puts around his wrist and a car that he can't drive. And he then buys a house, mumbling like an idiot all the way through the showing. 'I like this mailbox. These numbers almost add up to nine. I like that. That's a good omen.' Ah, Rocky. Dumber than a bag of hammers.
But the gender issues exhibited in the film are another source of laughs. Adrian is appalled at the idea of Rocky getting back in the ring, so Rocky comes out with this nugget: 'I never asked you to stop being a woman, so please don't ask me to stop being a man.' Me man. Me club. Me beat. You woman. You wash dishes.
But what's up with these damn women? This Adrian bird tries to domesticate Rocky. She tries to protect him and she encourages him to get a decent job. But Rocky fails and makes a fool of himself. Damn Adrian has castrated him! Not long ago Rocky was standing toe to toe with the champion of the world. The next thing you know he's collecting spit buckets. And worse than that, he's meant to be happy about it. But eventually Rocky breaks. He realises that he was meant to fight. That's what he does best.
But what about Apollo's motivation for getting back in the ring? Well, his problems are different. People berate him for his performance against Rocky. And one person sends him the following letter: 'You call yourself the champ? You're a fake. The fight was a fake. Go kill yourself.' I don't know about you, but I personally think that's the best letter in the history of the world.
One of the funniest scenes in the film is right at the beginning. Apollo berates Rocky from a wheelchair at the hospital. Okay, it doesn't sound so great on paper. But when you consider the fact that every other word from Apollo's lips is 'chump', it suddenly achieves greatness.
But even at this early point in the film, Mickey knows the score. He knows Rocky needs to fight. But the road to Rocky's epiphany is mighty long. We even have to suffer through a pregnancy scare which saps Rocky's motivation. Rather than train he sits with his wife and reads poetry. And schmuck that I am, I found Rocky's writing rather sweet. Goddammit, the first film is a fairy tale and this one is a soap opera.
But eventually the inconsiderate Adrian wakes from her coma and tells Rocky to win. It's an incredibly hokey moment, but that's what Rocky is all about. Therefore, if you're anything like me, you end up grinning like a loon and almost start clapping in your seat.
Apparently, in order to beat Apollo, Rocky needs to get speed. But not just regular speed. He needs demon speed. That's the speed he needs. Greasy fast speed. And in order to do this he needs to chase a chicken (?!?). Cue Mickey berating him when he can't catch it and yelps of joy when he finally does. It's here that you can see reality floating away into the distance. But it's bliss.
The fight here is even further removed from reality than the first film. The boxers pummel each other constantly and there's no sign of them guarding or trying to defend themselves. But on the plus side, Apollo calls Rocky 'chump' after knocking him to the mat, so it's all good.
The silliest part of the fight is when Rocky and Apollo stand toe to toe in the final round and just tiredly begin punching each other in the face. One after the other they tiredly throw and land head shots, and yet they still take it. But then Rocky begins hitting Creed in the gut, so hard by the way, that he's almost lifted from his feet, and then finally the Italian Stallion floors the champion. However, Rocky goes down too. From here it's a race for both characters to get to their feet. It's something that I've never seen in boxing, and to be honest it stretches the final shred of credibility that the film has, but nevertheless it's a great moment when Rocky stands up and wins. It just goes to show that when you ignore the advice of your wife, you can achieve great things.
The final scenes in United 93 have to be some of the most harrowing in
cinema. What you witness is a frantic desire to live conflict with an
insane desire to die. People become animals rational thought gives
way to instinct and barbarism, resulting in tragedy.
One of the most despairing images in this magnificent film has to be that of the passengers desperately pushing and driving one of their number towards the cockpit. The guy they're manoeuvring is a pilot of single engine planes and represents their one small hope of making it out of this alive. Knowing full well what happened to the passengers of United 93, the desperation is gut wrenching. You know they're not going to make it and that these are the death throes of those on board.
The agony of the final moments is amplified by the way that the pilot briefly manages to get his hands on the controls. Whether this happened in real life, no one knows, but it perfectly illustrates the conflict that occurred and the conflict that is happening now. Both sides desperately want to be in the driving seat but all the time things are spiralling out of control. In the end, everyone loses and nothing is gained.
Something else I like about the final moments is the disturbing catharsis when the passengers overwhelm the hijackers. This is probably the last time in the 'war on terror' where things will be black and white. The hijackers are wrong and deserve the brutal response of their captives. After this, though, everything becomes hazy and muddy. The tragedy gets twisted and it becomes the fuel for political greed.
But in that moment where the first hijacker gets overwhelmed and killed, there's a feeling of joy and exaltation that is primal. You're put in the position of the passengers and you feel the excitement they must have felt maybe we can get out of this; maybe we can regain control. But it's a mass delusion. There's no turning back now. Things will never be the same.
But what's also great about the film is that there's no flag waving. This film isn't a call to arms. It isn't a rallying cry. Instead it's a grimly realistic depiction of the chaos that ensues when barbarism overwhelms normality. When something this audacious and unexpected occurs, all the controls that keep the world in check go flying out the window.
Some of the loons out there who want to believe in ridiculous conspiracy theories will point out that the response to the tragedy was too patchy and that communication couldn't be that bad. They've obviously never had a job. Sometimes it's hard enough to communicate clearly with someone downstairs in the same office as you, let alone in an office hundreds of miles away. Plus communication between governmental departments and agencies is notoriously poor. Therefore I can well believe that the response would be so impotent.
But the tale that unfolds in air traffic control centres and at NORAD is just as engrossing as the one in the plane. Like the passengers in United 93, they're wrestling with the enormity of the situation. No one can quite believe that this is happening and the sheer scale of the attack is beyond their comprehension. As a consequence people continually try and come to more realistic conclusions.
A clear, fast response also isn't helped by inaccurate information. When a plane hits the first tower, it's said that a small civil aircraft hit it. And then NORAD are told that American Airlines 11 is heading for Washington when it's actually hit the World Trade Centre. Yes technology is better these days, but we still don't live in a world where we have accurate information available at our fingertips the very second it happens. And it's galling to know that even the government has to get its updates from CNN.
A chilling moment that occurs in the film is when air traffic control are trying to communicate with American Airlines 11. The plane is over New York and they're desperately trying to talk to the pilot. But then the plane disappears off the screen. But even though we know it's hit the tower you can still understand the confusion. Even though the flight has disappeared, who can imagine such a thing?
Things only start to become clear when the second plane nears Manhattan. And then it's too late. People watching the smoking tower see the second plane crash into the other building. The attack is almost over before people can understand what's going on.
And the only reason that the fourth plane didn't hit the Capitol Building is because United 93 was delayed. Sure some imbeciles can question why the passengers of that flight didn't take the plane sooner, but they didn't know what was going on. When you don't know what's going on, you're powerless. But once they hear about the other flights, they decide to act. And the one bright spot in that miserable day is that these passengers fought back and prevented further loss of life.
But I really can't overstress how great this film is. There are no attempts to demonise. There are no attempts to play for false emotion. You're just dropped in this hellish situation and expected to deal with it. It just feels real.
And very often it feels painfully real. The build-up constantly had me on edge. The tension is palpable. And then there's the heartbreak of people phoning home and the desperation of the attack on the cockpit. Paul Greengrass has fashioned a masterpiece here. He's made a film that is visceral and heartbreaking and that makes no concessions to the audience. It's one of the greatest films of the last few years.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Dark Knight is an improvement on Batman Begins, but it's not the
giant leap that people would have you believe. It has too many flaws.
The final sequence, for example, is a gigantic mess. Every attempt is
made to ensure that it's exciting, but the editing is all over the
place and sometimes its not even clear what's going on.
Then there's Two-Face. What a dull creation he is. Basically his girlfriend gets killed and he goes a bit nuts and then he goes on a killing spree. Sounds kind of interesting, doesn't it? It's not. The stuff with Harvey Dent previous to this is enjoyable, but Two-Face himself sucks a lot of the life out of the film. And that's probably because it's over too quickly. All Two-Face gets to do is whine, toss his little coin and then fall out of a building. It's over in a flash and you're left wondering why create this villain at all if you're going to do so little with him.
And the make-up and CGI for his disfigured face is awful. The film goes to such lengths to create a realistic environment for these fantastical characters that the cartoony effects stick out like a sore thumb. I can remember reading somewhere that Nolan thought that a realistically scarred face would look too horrific, but he could have at least gone for something that didn't look like it was on an anatomy page in Encarta.
And I was also distracted by Batman's cowl. It has a very weird shape, like Bale's head is the teat on the end of a condom, albeit it a black condom with bat ears. It's nowhere near as good as Keaton's costume in Batman Returns.
But what did I like about the film? Well, pretty much everything else. It's mind-numbingly predictable to point to Heath Ledger's performance as the highlight, but it's most certainly true. His Joker makes Nicholson's look like a slightly eccentric, rather cuddly uncle. Ledger blows him out of the water.
The best thing about Ledger's Joker is that there's no reasoning with him. He just wants to play his games and have a laugh. However, he has a very strange sense of fun. Fun for him is playing with the Batman and turning Gotham's citizens into criminals. He's a guy that gets nothing out of money or sex. Therefore it's impossible to squeeze him.
The only problem with this is that it weakens Batman's character. You go through a whole film to establish how strong he is and suddenly you cut his testes off. In this film he's remarkably impotent. And it also must be pointed out that the Joker is smart to a ridiculous degree. His plans are incredibly complicated and they all go off like clockwork.
But that being said, the character is still enormous fun. One of my favourite Joker moments has to be the pencil trick. Yep, that pencil really did disappear. And what about poor Brian the fake Batman? Not only does he get to star in his own video, but he also gets to smash into the Mayor's window. Nice.
But it's also the small moments that make Ledger's performance great. I like it when he arrives at Bruce Wayne's party, looking for Harvey Dent. He begins interrogating the guests and grabs a bald guy by the head, asking him if he's seen the DA. The guy doesn't respond and the Joker widens his eyes and goes, 'No.' It's a great bit of acting. And I also loved it when he applauds Gordon's promotion.
The rest of the cast don't get to have anywhere near as much fun, but they all do a good job. Bale is solid as always, as is Caine, Freeman and Oldman, and Maggie Gyllenhaal is a massive improvement over Katie Holmes. But better than all of these is Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent. He's cocky but believably decent as the incorruptible DA, and like Bruce Wayne you're seduced by him. But while you feel that the film is building up to something special with his tragedy as Two-Face, it never happens. Suddenly the script lets Eckhart down and his fall provides zero emotion. There's just not enough time invested in it. It could have been a whole film in itself.
Fortunately, though, there are many wonderful distractions to ensure that you don't dwell too hard on this disappointment. The action, for instance, is superb. And once again Nolan excels with a wonderful car chase.
However, my favourite bit in the whole film is a very small moment. Right after the Joker escapes from police custody we briefly see him hanging his body out of a squad car. There's no sound and the music is no more than a hum, but it's incredibly cinematic and says more about the character than almost anything else could. This is what makes the Joker's life worth living; running rings around other people and playing games with them.
And Nolan must also be commended for some of the film's subtext. The Joker's videos kind of resemble the sorts of things Al Qaeda would make and the whole film asks how far would you go to try and re-establish control. Do you destroy everything you believe in just so that things can be the way they used to be? Of course this is the crisis that America faces where civil liberties are eroded in order to try and make the country 'safer'. The Dark Knight just takes it to an extreme.
So while Nolan must be commended for the ambition of the project and for most of the film's execution, it's by no means the instant masterpiece it's been touted as. Yes it's the best Batman film that's been made, but it's not even close to being the best film of all time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When you've spent so long watching the ridiculous (but glorious)
excesses of Rocky III and Rocky IV, you kind of forget how down to
earth the original film is. To be sure it can't exactly be called
gritty, as it's something of a grown-up fairytale, but at least it has
its feet somewhere near the real world.
The film starts with Rocky fighting in some fleapit. He doesn't really seem to care. He's not trying. But then near the end, his opponent, the fabulously named Spider Rico, headbutts him. This gives him the eye of the tiger and he knocks the guy out. When he's motivated, Rocky has it in him to achieve great things.
But how do you summon that will when your life is so pitiful? Rocky lives in a nasty apartment ('It stinks!'), works as a small-time heavy for a local crook, trains at a run down gym, walks the cold, miserable streets of Philadelphia and awkwardly tries to woo the shy Adrian at the local pet store. It's not much of an existence.
One of the best scenes is when Mickey comes crawling to Rocky at the Italian Stallion's apartment asking to train him. Previously Mickey has considered Rocky nothing more than a bum and has even thrown all his stuff out of his locker. But with the World Heavyweight Champion Apollo Creed picking Rocky as his next opponent in a gimmick New Year's bout, Mickey tries to get a piece of the action. He spends lots of time selling himself, telling Rocky about his experiences years ago as a boxer. He even shows Rocky pictures. But all the time Rocky can't even look at him, and when Mickey is showing him his photo, he plays darts. It's quite a cruel scene, although you can understand Rocky's anger. Like he says, he needed Mick's help ten years ago.
But the scene gets even crueller. As Mickey is talking, Rocky goes to the toilet. Mickey speaks to the door and mentions that he's 76-years-old. We realise that this is his last chance at a title fight. But with Rocky still in the toilet, Mickey goes to leave the apartment. But as he's doing so, apparently thinking he's already gone, Rocky emerges from the loo. However, seeing that Mickey is still there, he turns around and walks back in. It's a real punch in the balls and we finally see how vulnerable Mickey is. And then when Mickey is walking down the stairs Rocky rants and raves about how his apartment stinks. It's actually an excellent piece of acting from Stallone and it's the one time that Rocky acts like a heel even when he's trying to collect money as a heavy he's still pretty nice. But Rocky can't be mean for long and chases after Mick to presumably say sorry and ask him to be in his corner filmed in a long shot, there's an excellent detail when Rocky finally catches up to the trainer; before Rocky embraces him, Mickey backs away like he's frightened. Despite how loud he is, he's still only a frail old man.
Another fabulous scene is the one at the ice rink. Yes it's goofy, but that's part of Rocky's charm. He's a lovable innocent, always talking and always dispensing incoherent advice. He even says that he and Adrian make a fine couple, what with him being dumb and her being shy as Rocky puts it, they fill gaps; they make up for each other's shortcomings. And their scenes are always sweet and well performed.
There's only one scene where things turn a bit queasy and that's the scene where Rocky takes Adrian back to his place. Rocky shows off his muscles by stripping down to a wifebeater vest and Adrian mentions that she's never been alone in a man's apartment before. You kind of feel scared for the poor girl, what with this horny beefcake relentlessly coming onto her. The lovable Rocky suddenly seems a pit pushy and predatory. But eventually everything works out. However, in a later scene, the tables are turned. Rocky's training for his title fight and Adrian wants some sweet loving. She keeps on pestering the guy, determined to ruin his chances of performing well in his fight. I mean, as Mickey says, 'Women weaken legs.' Therefore Rocky has to briefly push her away she can make up for her barren years after the fight.
The fight itself is what you'd expect from a Rocky film: enjoyable but silly. Sure it doesn't descend into the cartoon brutality of the later films, but you still have men pounding each other mercilessly for 15 rounds (boxers were real men in the 70s none of this 12 rounds nonsense). But even though it can't compare to the fights in Raging Bull or subsequent boxing films, the ending is hard to beat. Rocky manages to stand toe to toe with the champion and not humiliate himself, and by refusing to stay down when he gets knocked to the floor in the 14th round, he finally proves his self-worth. Yeah he doesn't win the fight but he regains his self-respect, which is a major victory in itself.
And the ending with Rocky and Adrian embracing, and with the image paused at the greatest moment of Rocky's life, sweeps you off your feet and puts a massive smile on your face. Yes the Rocky films would subsequently go off into la-la land and any notion of reality would be smashed in the face, but at that moment the love of a good woman and the restoration of a man's spirit is a bigger victory than winning a boxing title. Of course Rocky didn't deserve to triumph over Taxi Driver at the Oscars, but I don't begrudge him his victory too much. Rocky is an underdog tale that wins you over with hard work and good old-fashioned working class charm.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
On the brink of death an aged gangster bemoans the state of America. He
sees that corporations are taking over and that the little man is being
cut out. 'Where's the pride of ownership?' he wails. Damn soulless,
faceless McDonald's are everywhere.
This might seem like quite an honourable concern. It sounds like the old man is grieving over the homogenisation of the modern world. But in reality the old man is only upset because it's nearly impossible to shake down large corporations. Shop owners are meant to be vulnerable and powerless. They're meant to pay him a cut of their earnings. But multinationals are far more powerful than the old man will ever be. It's impossible for him to get a piece of the action.
When the old man dies, Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) decides to take over his operations. But while the old man had reached the limit of his ingenuity and had become a relic, Frank sees where the business has to go. He has to become like the large corporations. He can't just sell random junk. That would earn him peanuts. Instead he decides to create a brand.
The heroin that Frank sells is called Blue Magic. It's purer than anything that's on the streets and it's cheaper too. And Frank can do this because he cuts out the middleman. He's both supplier and distributor. He's taken a leaf out of the corporation's book.
Another way that Frank is like the corporations is that he's highly protective of his brand. One drug dealer takes Blue Magic and cuts it up in order to try and make more money. But this reflects badly on the brand. It's no longer Blue Magic. Frank even says that his customers have a guarantee of quality when they buy his product. It's like he's talking about coffee rather than heroin.
What's notable is that like a good businessman, Frank does his best to stay as anonymous as possible. Occasionally he has to lay down the law and make a scene to get everyone in line, but otherwise he doesn't want to draw undue attention to himself. He just wants to blend in. However, he does have a moment of weakness. His wife buys him an expensive fur coat and hat. In a second he goes from anonymous-looking businessman to black gangster. And wearing this outlandish outfit to a boxing match, and getting the best seats in the house, he alerts himself to the cops previously he flew under the radar. Suddenly he has the attention of both Detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) and some bent cops led by Detective Trupo (Josh Brolin). And then on his wedding day, Trupo tries to shake down Frank for money. Frank's indulgence has cost him. It's exposed him and made him vulnerable. Therefore he burns the hat and coat while his bride sobs.
All of these details and all of these parallels between gangsters and corporations make American Gangster an interesting film, but it never really takes flight. In fact, visually it's surprisingly bland for a Ridley Scott film. He captures the grime and squalor of 70s Harlem well enough, but with his usual widescreen frame jettisoned, it feels more like television. The film is solid but unspectacular.
Of course, that's probably intentional. The film doesn't want to showboat. It wants to be a more gritty, realistic depiction of the drug trade. It doesn't want to have the glamour of The Godfather or Goodfellas. But this is still cinema and there's nothing that's really going to take your breath away.
Instead the film's pleasures are smaller. There's a nice scene where the wealthy Lucas family are sitting down to a sumptuous Thanksgiving meal and thanking god for all they have while junkies shoot up we even see a child crying over a parent who has overdosed. This is the product that Frank pedals: misery. He makes himself fat over other people's weakness and stupidity.
But although this criticism is well made, you do occasionally feel that the film makes the mistake of liking Frank Lucas a little too much. Even though Scorsese's gangster films are more cinematic and therefore more seductive, Scorsese always stays objective he knows these people are scum; therefore he just turns on the camera and lets them hang themselves. Scott, though, seems a little seduced. At the end, as Lucas cooperates with Richie, we see him laughing and smiling. Is the film trying to show us that deep down he's a decent guy? And there's also a heavy focus on police corruption in the film. Don't get me wrong. Corrupt police are just as bad as criminals such as Lucas. But you kind of get the feeling that the film is saying they're worse. Fact is, they're the same. The film shows that they all feed off one another. But although we get that one moment where we see junkies shooting up during Thanksgiving, the film soft pedals the misery Frank brought to the streets. He was a scumbag and instead he's made to look like a ruthless businessman who really had a decent heart underneath it all.
Another weakness is the familiarity of Richie's story the cop who catches Lucas. His character has all the familiar beats a failed marriage, a desire to be the one straight cop in the bad town, and the struggle to crack the ring. None of his scenes are bad, but you're constantly reminded of better movies such as The French Connection. And that's the problem with the whole film. As you watch it you're constantly reminded of better movies. The Godfather, Goodfellas and The French Connection all pop in your head and you realise that American Gangster can't hold a candle to any of them.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When it came out, Match Point was touted as a return to form for Woody
Allen. It was meant to be one of his best films. Instead it's something
of a disappointment, mostly because the two main stars perform so
badly. Time after time amateurish acting spoils a possibly good scene.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Scarlett Johansson are completely out of their
The worst scenes occur towards the end when the fiendish Meyers concocts a plan to kill his lover. They spend ages talking and arguing, and over and over again Scarlett, who's pregnant, tries to get Myers to leave his wife. But all Scarlett does is walk around, drinking and popping pills as she shrilly berates her beau, and Myers just tugs his hair and shouts. It's like a school play the quality of acting is that poor.
But you have to wonder what Meyers sees in the woman. Yes she's physically attractive, but her character is spoiled, selfish and whiny. Therefore I celebrated her murder at the hands of Meyers like he'd won Wimbledon. She really did deserve to be put out of her misery, screeching like a harridan at every moment and falling for Meyers' lies.
I was just annoyed that Meyers didn't kill his wife as well, as she was just as bad, if not worse, than Scarlett. Played by Emily Mortimer she's a silly little rich girl who gets besotted by the handsome ex-tennis pro and is then arranging his life for him within a few minutes. She introduces him to her rich father, gets him a good job and tells him she wants a child. Meyers' life is being taken away from him. It's no longer his own.
But although at first Mortimer seems nice, she turns out to be just as manipulative as Scarlett and Meyers. There's one scene where she's talking with her friends about the holiday they're all going on, and then she mentions that she once gave Meyers an ancient Greek fertility charm and put it under his pillow for two months but that she still isn't pregnant. It's a subtle humiliation, one with a smile. And earlier Mortimer makes fun of Meyers when he orders modestly at a restaurant and then jokingly refers to his poor upbringing. She's not meant to be making fun, but she is. And then even earlier she condescendingly says that her father is proud of the way he dragged himself up against the odds, meaning that they're indirectly calling him gutter-trash. Therefore you can't blame Meyers for seeking solace in someone else's arms.
But unfortunately Meyers' misery is everlasting. He kills Scarlett and gets away with the crime, but as if this emotional torment isn't enough, he finally has a child with his wife and there's talk of having another. He's buried himself even deeper in his own private hell. An escape is even less likely, tied as he is to the money and comfort of his torpid lifestyle.
And of course its ironic that this good luck of getting away with the crime means that Meyers has plunged himself even deeper into his misery. Consequently you know that the opening and ending adage that its better to be lucky than good is complete baloney. Being lucky has done nothing for this person. It's just made his existence even more painful and depressing.
With all these themes running through the film and with all this meat to chew on, you'd think the film would be a pleasurable experience. But like I mentioned at the beginning, the poor acting spoils things. Apart from Meyers and Johansson, who are consistently disappointing, there are also the two cops at the end. They never convince. Although some of the blame should also be apportioned to the writing. The dialogue between the detectives is consistently hokey and there's even a moment where one of them sits up in his bed and proclaims to himself that he knows who did it. The corniness of it is overwhelming. I can't believe anyone in real life does that.
Allen is much better at writing the idle banter of the rich. The characters here have nothing to contribute to the world. They're all selfish. They're all scum. And in a lot of scenes there's an upper class desperation that rings true. But because the acting from the two leads is so bad it's hard to get swept away by the film. I certainly don't need to like characters in order to enjoy a movie, but they need to be able to convince me that they exist in some alternate reality. Here, though, I was consistently pulled out of the film.
An example of this is during the murder sequence. Meyers is skulking away in a stairwell and he hears a couple approaching. Fearing exposure, he hides in a corner. But watch his face. He suddenly pulls an incredibly camp expression. In that moment he looks like Kenneth Williams.
And then you have the first encounter between Scarlett and Meyers. Scarlett's attempt at being sexy is to just pout and stare. There's little else going on behind the eyes. She fails to inhabit the skin of a character. Instead she just seems to be going through the motions.
But even though Allen is crippled by his actors, he still manages to make the film reasonably enjoyable. It's nowhere near his best but it's certainly not among his worst. And there's also the novelty value of Allen filming in London. He has a bit of a tourist's eye and the characters live lifestyles that often seem beyond them even if you do have loads of money, how much would it cost to have an apartment overlooking Parliament? but it's good to see Allen try and stretch himself. He doesn't quite succeed, but with Meyers and Johansson cast in the central roles, I guess luck wasn't quite with him.
Troy Duffy is an idiot. Just watch Overnight. In it he bullies film
executives, record producers, band members and friends. But even worse
than this, he thinks he's some sort of genius. He thinks he's a great
musician and filmmaker.
Validating Duffy's delusion is the fact that Miramax buys his script for The Boondock Saints. Thinking he's the next Tarantino, they give him $300,000 for the script, they hand him the reigns to direct the movie (with a $15m budget), they allow him to produce the soundtrack with his band, he gets to approve casting and is allowed final cut, and the final part of the deal is that Miramax will buy his bar (prior to getting into film, he's a bartender and bouncer). It's a great deal. It's an amazing deal. It's a deal that's out of this world. Only a moron could screw it up.
Well, Troy Duffy is that moron. Given this great deal, he proceeds to abuse and alienate everyone around him. So much so that a film that initially starts out as a loving document to his talents ends up being a character assassination.
One of the first things we hear from Duffy's lips is that friendship is the most important thing in the world to him. Therefore one could assume that, despite the rough edges, he's an honourable guy. Nothing could be further from the truth. In one ball-shriving scene he refuses to pay his friends who had operated for a long time as the managers of his band. He says they don't deserve any money. His friends then point out all the time they spent managing the band all the effort they put into it. Duffy then changes his mind and says that they do deserve the money. But at the same time he says he's still not going to give it to them. This he says to people who are in financial problems because of him. People who have broken their back for him.
But this actually isn't the first record deal that the band receives. Earlier on Maverick Records sign them up sight unseen. But just when you're slapping your head at the stupidity of Madonna's label, Duffy messes up and annoys them. He then rants and raves and says the label is scared. He says they're scared of how good the brood are. What the hell? If Duffy is right then he's saying that the label are scared of making lots of money? Yeah, makes perfect sense.
But eventually the band get signed to Atlantic Records, which leads to the argument over money with the former band managers (who, incidentally, are the makers of this documentary). The moment when the band is signing their contract and receiving their money in cash is pathetic. They're like dogs begging for scraps.
But thankfully the album has a happy ending. They only sell 690 copies after being in stores for six months.
And yet earlier in the film, when they're recording, Duffy wonders why his fellow band members haven't been coming up to him and shaking his hand for securing the deal. He even says that the album isn't a group effort. He says it's all down to him without him, there's nothing. So surely that means that the album's failure is his and his alone? Maybe his fellow band members should line up and take turns punching him in the face.
But Duffy's film fares just as well as his album. It's dumped in five theatres for one week and makes $25,000. It's pathetic even for him.
However, I'm sure Duffy would have lots of explanations for this. You see, after getting a great deal with Miramax, he proceeds to alienate them to such an extent with his bitching and moaning that they pull out. Therefore the film is financed independently. Of course this doesn't concern Duffy, who says that when the film is made and Miramax want back in, they can pay their way back in. But when it comes to selling the film, nobody wants a part of it. Most of the time I'd be appalled that a filmmaker could be blacklisted and that the industry would conspire against him, but here it makes me happy. Duffy is man who was given a great chance to prove himself. All he had to do was shut his mouth and get on with things. Instead he acted like a child and tried to throw his weight around. Hell, at one point, before he's even shot a foot of film or recorded one note of his album, he says that he's gone straight from a bartender and surpassed everyone he's already right at the top. Only an idiot could think that way don't you have to have produced something first to be at the top? Therefore the film's awful distribution deal had me grinning like a loon.
I'm also kind of amused by the way the makers of the documentary try and screw Duffy over. In one scene we see Duffy bemoan his ability to find a decent girl he just wants to find a nice girl he can settle down with. We then cut to some sleazy footage of a drunk Duffy getting girls to show him their breasts. The film never tries to be objective and is all the more entertaining for it.
Unfortunately, though, there is a black cloud that hangs over me. The Boondock Saints became a cult hit. There are many people who love it. But just when I feel low I remember that Duffy isn't a profit participant in the cable and DVD sales he just got a lump sum of money. Therefore Duffy doesn't make a cent out of the film's success in the home market. How brilliant is that?
I Am Legend suffered because the vampires from the novel were turned
into badly rendered CGI zombie-type things. The Omega Man, on the other
hand, suffers because the vampires are turned into albino Luddites.
Yeah, that's right. Albino Luddites.
Maybe the image of white-faced, sunglass wearing monks sounds scary on paper, but on film it's somewhat humorous. Oh no, please spare me from the pasty-faced hoodies. Oh how they terrify me. But it also doesn't help that these so-called psychopaths (Heston's words) act like the Keystone Cops.
The Family, as they're called, first appear after Robert Neville (Heston) struggles to get home before nightfall. There he is parking his car when a hooded individual throws a lighted torch at him and drops down into his car. But no sooner do these clowns manage to mount a dirty sneak attack than they're being riddled with machine gun fire. They're incompetent.
The best example of The Family's incompetence is during the sequence when they try to burn Neville at Dodger Stadium. Somehow he gets free and escapes via motorbike. Cue The Family trying to stop him and then being blinded by flares and smoke bombs. It burns! It burns! But the scene where Heston is going to be burnt at the stake is a good example of the heavy-handed Christian imagery that permeates the film. You see, germ warfare wipes out mankind during a conflict between China and Russia. All that's left are Heston (the last man on Earth), the albino Luddites who are infected and dying, and infected humans who appear normal but will eventually become albino Luddites. So therefore The Family takes it upon itself to burn Neville for mankind's sins. He'll sacrifice himself for a purer world, one free of the evils of technology. But would you believe it, even though he's tied to a cross like Jesus, he gets free.
Then there's the film's final image. At the end, the head of The Family spears Neville and he slowly dies in a fountain, soaking in his own blood. And he dies while in the crucifixion pose. Neville is the world's saviour. With the vaccination he makes, he promises to resurrect mankind, thus making him a divine figure.
In one scene an infected but still normally functioning girl even asks Neville whether he's god. He laughs it off. But to all intents and purposes, he is. He's the one who has the power over life and death. He chooses who lives and who doesn't. He's both saviour and destroyer, much like the Christian god of the Old Testament.
But although it's nice that all of this stuff is included in the film, it doesn't rescue it from mediocrity. Sure it has some good ideas, but a lot of the film is uninspired or just poorly made.
The opening sequence, for instance, which sees Neville driving around a deserted city is rendered laughable by the ridiculously cheery music. Here we have the end of the world and it's...jazzy. There's no threat. There's no feeling of despair or doom. It just indicates that this is going to be a jaunty, run of the mill 70s B-movie adventure. The score dates the film horribly.
And then in the opening there's a moment when Neville gets himself a new car. He goes into a dealership, and after removing the calendar that taunts him with the promise of female flesh, we see the rotting skeleton of someone who worked in this place. It should be a jarring moment. It should be scary. But the film merrily goes on about its way, reassuring us that this is just going to be a bit of fluff.
The only real moment of terror in the film is the existential terror Neville feels when he suddenly hears every payphone ringing as he wanders the lonely streets. This is the sort of thing I wish the film would focus on Neville is losing his mind and he's hearing things that aren't there. But although there are a few nice little details in the film, the feeling of desperation and isolation is immediately lost when The Family turn up so quickly. Plus they're far too human. Yeah they're a bit mad, talking like religious zealots, but you see worse on the Tube.
Also detracting from the feeling of dread are the infected people who haven't gone mad yet. They pretty quickly relieve Neville of his loneliness. And the scene where Neville first encounters another normal person is unintentionally amusing. Neville walks around a clothes shop full of mannequins and then begins to hear something. When he turns around a new mannequin has arrived there's a black girl with a large afro pretending to be still. I guess if it were done right it could be quite creepy, but instead with the girl not being very good at keeping still it looks like the end of every Police Squad episode.
Another disappointing element is Neville's relationship with The Family. When he kills three of them he talks of an 'end game' and of them losing three pawns. Therefore you get the feeling that the whole thing is a game to Neville The Family might be trying to kill him, but he needs them in order to remain functional; even though they attack his house every night and even though he has a huge machine gun on the roof, to kill the whole Family would finally render his life pointless and aimless. But although all of this is there, it soon gives way to goofy action scenes and a tedious love story no sooner have Chuck and the black girl escaped a deadly Luddite attack than they're rolling on the floor with Heston joking that he might have forgotten how to make love. Interesting plot elements continually and repeatedly make way for the familiar action/adventure beats.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is an action masterpiece. There's not one bit
of fat on its bones. There's not one wasted moment. It flows exactly
like an adventure movie should it continually moves forward,
breathlessly driving you towards the conclusion; it's incredible fun.
The reason why the film works so well is because the script is so tight. The exposition is clear and well delivered, meaning that you know precisely what's at stake, small character details are set up early on and paid off later and the dialogue is incredibly pithy. It's a masterclass in film writing.
However, this would mean nothing if all the other elements didn't come together. Thankfully they do. Spielberg's direction is superb, Harrison Ford is perfect as the hero, Karen Allen is wonderful as the heroine and the music is out of this world. Plus the action is kick ass.
My favourite action scene is the fight with Pat Roach by the plane. Quite unusually for a film hero, Indy doesn't mind fighting dirty. He kicks Roach in the balls, he throws sand in his face and he even bites him. Indy doesn't have to win a fight fairly. And it's also unusual for a film hero to be so vulnerable. We rarely see anyone get a scratch or put in any real jeopardy. But here Indy gets his arse handed to him. The only reason he survives is because he's so wily after getting beaten and bruised for a while he leads Roach into getting chopped up by the plane's rotor blades.
My second favourite action sequence is when Indy chases after the Ark and recovers it by hijacking a Nazi truck. After the CGI mess of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it's great to see old-fashioned stunts. It's a much better way of letting you get absorbed by the action even though you know it's a film, you know someone actually had to do this, making everything much more impressive to watch. The best stunt is when Indy is thrown through the front window and has to pull himself along the bottom of the truck. He manages to do this and then hooks his whip under the bottom so that he's dragged along the ground. He then manages to get back on the truck and back in the cabin. It's a joy to behold and allows you to immerse yourself in the action.
Another great thing about the sequence is that once again we're shown Indy's vulnerability. As he's driving he gets shot in the arm. And then later a guy punches him in his injured arm and throws him out of the truck. Therefore when Indy comes back and beats the crap out of this guy, it's doubly satisfying, because not only is the guy a damn Nazi, but he also had the audacity to try and injure our hero. And the blood and guts reminds me of how gritty the film is. Not only do we have Indy getting shot in the arm and then having the wound beaten, but earlier on a guy gets shot in the face lots of blood pours down from the hole in his skull. Oh, and he's also on fire. Excellent.
But as well as this there's also stuff that is just plain over the top. The melting faces for instance and Belloq's head exploding. This scared the hell out of me as a kid and I'm still amazed that stuff like this was included in a 'kids' film.
However, the scene that terrified me the most as a kid was the scene where Marion gets mugged by skeletons and we then see a large snake oozing from a skull's mouth. I was so traumatised I refused to watch the film for years. But now the vague horror element is another reason I adore the movie. It sets it apart from almost every action/adventure film that came before it and nothing else has managed to better it, even subsequent Indiana Jones films.
But watching the film now it's quite unusual to note that Indy doesn't kill any of the three main villains. They're all killed by the Ark. Indy instead just closes his eyes and lets 'god' do the rest. It's a strange ending but one that works perfectly. Indy isn't a killing machine. He's someone trying to do the right thing. And at the end he's rewarded by, well, not having his face melted off.
Another reason why Raiders stands out is because of its heroine. She's one of the best in modern cinema a tough woman who constantly shows her toughness without having to resort to ridiculous feats of physicality. We don't see her pummel men who are twice her size, but we do see her out smart them and drink them under the table. As well as this she has great chemistry with Indy. For instance, there's the marvellous scene where she tries to look after our injured hero and he cries like a girl every time she touches him. He then points out a few places where it doesn't hurt, which she kisses. It's a lovely scene. And I also like the bit of slapstick humour earlier where Indy gets a mirror smashed in his face when Marion turns it over.
This leads me to another reason why Raiders is brilliant. It's very funny. You have a monkey giving a Nazi salute, Indy nonchalantly shooting a swordsman, Sallah's cowardly reactions at the Well of Souls and the Gestapo man plunging his hand in the snow after he gets it burnt while trying to grab an extremely hot bronze medallion. The humour is great.
And on top of all of this cinematic goodness the humour, the action, the adventure you have one of the best opening sequences in film. It's a bravura piece of film-making everything clicks perfectly.
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