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The Pathfinders (1972)
Good Lancaster series.
Pathdinders is a very good TV series from the 1970s which I found in my local library as a 12 part DVD. I'd never heard of the series before (I was only 5 years of age in 1972) yet it is surprising that this has never been re-shown on TV down the years. Incredible.
Sadly, the producers only seem to have had use of one Lancaster during filming as that's all you ever see. But the reconstuction of the pathfinding raids over Germany is first class. Of course, some episodes are totally unrealistic, like the one where three of the crew go on the run in Germany - it turns a little bit into a sort of Keystone Cops episode, with the Germans made out to be utterly stupid and naive.
Very good, however.
Stones, Jones and Thorogood
I watched this film once and thought it was good. I watched it a second time, with the Director's Commentary activated on the DVD, and it became sublime. Simple as that.
Stephen Woolley has done some useful previous stuff as a producer - Michael Collins, etc. - and Stoned, his first offering as director, is just as good.
As Woolley explains, Stoned is heavily influenced by the great, off-beat American exiled director, Joseph Losey. The essence of this film, Stoned, is similar to that of The Servant, the Losey film where a servant (Dirk Bogarde) takes up a post in the house of his master (James Fox) and, slowly, the roles are reversed. The servant becomes the master and vice versa. This is what happens in Stoned, where the builder, Frank Thorogood, seems to take over Brian Jones's life.
Losey's masterpiece, The Servant (1963), is set in a London world facing social upheaval and the end of the old class system. It's also set in Chelsea, just where the Rolling Stones started out, in 1963 also. But, when you listen to the Director's Commentary on Stoned, you get some amazing explanations of the brilliant camera-work and cinematography which I had completely missed.
For instance, when Brian Jones is in Cheltenham, confronted by the father of a schoolgirl he's made pregnant, there are little touches from Losey, like the convex mirror, and a distorted and disturbed Brian Jones.
Stoned has some brilliant vintage-style photography, such as the trip to Morocco preceding Jones's sacking from the Stones. Then it's back to 'Pooh Corner' (as Tom Keylock, the Stones' manager describes Jones's Elizabethan country manor house in Hartfield, East Sussex). Jones lives in A A Milne's old house, the home of Christopher Robbin and Winnie the Pooh.
Stephen Woolley draws on another Losey film, The Accident (1967), also set in a country house with certain class divisions evident. You could even draw on The Go Between (Losey, 1970), with Tom Keylock (in a superb performance by David Morrissey - a sort of Harry Palmer crossed with Mike from the Young Ones).
A fascinating film. Make sure you take advantage of the Director's Commentary on the DVD.
One More Kiss (1999)
An Eric Rohmer style film.
I liked this film because of the fantastic outside, location shooting, mainly of Berwick-upon-Tweed. It is similar to the way Eric Rohmer would film somewhere like Le Mans in his film le Beau Marriage (1982).
Indeed, the dour, granite buildings seem to sum up the awful plight of Sarah (played very ably by Valerie Edmond). She returns to her father's house, right behind the sea wall and the beach in Berwick, which, of course, is not even in Scotland. It's one of those border towns between Scotland and England, the scene of many violent fights to the death over the years. Perhaps there's some symbolism in there somewhere.
James Cosmo is very good as Frank, Sarah's father. Worth watching.
This is a brilliant drama-documentary featuring outstanding performances from Jim Broadbent (as Lord Longford), Samantha Morton (as the infamous Myra Hindley) and Andy Serkis (as the sinister Ian Brady).
Jim Broadbent excellently portrays the honest yet diffident, protector of lost causes, Lord Longford, making incredible railway pilgramages to various prisons throughout the land to see various monsters now in jail. He lives down in Etchingham, on the beautiful Tunbridge Wells Hastings railway line, yet never learned to drive. You can imagine what a trek it would be to Carlisle, up near Scotland.
If you like this, you'll like The Last Hangman (also 2006), about the sick executioner, Pierrepoint. Also, This is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper (1999).
James Dean (2001)
A brilliant performance from James Franco as James Dean.
In this late-night TV movie, James Franco delivers a stunning, totally convincing portrait of the late James Dean. His physical resemblance is uncanny and his acting is spot-on, not just with the James Dean style of acting but also the awkward, shy and stooped body language off-screen and the confused persona.
The whole early 1950s era is brilliantly re-created (vehicles, drinks, bars, TV and film of the time) with superb location shooting and a re-enactment of the Hollywood of the time.
Dean is portrayed as an awkward child from a difficult background, with his mother dying when he was nine years old and all of the upheaval that followed (moving to Indiana, for example). He discovers his love of reckless motorcycle driving in the cornfields, something that would later cost him his life.
For me, this was one of those surprise films which was rather short - about 90 minutes - yet which I just hoped would go on for another hour or more. It was that brilliant. James Franco is a star.
Joanne Frogatt is due an Oscar
This is yet another gripping and fascinating real-life dramatisation featuring the formidable and sensational acting talent that is Joanne Frogatt. The ITV drama department are have again surpassed themselves.
Frogatt plays Joanne Lees, the girlfriend of Peter Falconio, the missing English backpacker, assumed murdered by a stranger while on a camping holiday in the Australian outback. Frogatt is simply expert at this type of role, something she did equally brilliantly in Danielle Cable: Eyetwitness back in 2003, from the same writer, Kate Brooke.
Joanne Lees underwent a terrifying ordeal at the hands of a maniac who duped the couple into stopping their VW camper van ('combi' in Australian vernacular) in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. Falconio was apparently murdered (though no body has ever been found) and Lees was subjected to a brutal attempted abduction and who knows what else had she not valliantly managed to escape.
The director, Tony Tilse, does an adequate job in the photography and so on. At one point, the couple set off into the sunset and the arid and scorching Australian outback, their van disappearing into its vastness in a huge landscape shot - totally flat, red, and with just a few scrubs and bushes for company. That symbolises very well the deep chasm into which the two of them are about to fall.
Anyway, Lees eventually undergoes media assassination for not being appropriately traumatised enough (at least in public) and at one point even becomes the main suspect. Enter Bryan Brown, that Michael Caine of Australian actors going back to Breaker Morant in 1980. He does a fine job of persuading Joanne Lees to act as witness in the trial, successfully persuading her to return from Brighton in the United Kingdom.
Joanne Frogatt is master at the close-up; particularly that of the traumatised and vulnerable person caught in an unimaginable situation. Every little nuance of eye and mouth is just spot-on. Joanne Frogatt is, simply, the only decent actress EVER to come out of Coronation Street, that famous British 'soap'.
She really deserves an Oscar for her performance here. Actually, as she's still only about 27 years old, I would put money on her winning an Oscar within 10 years, assuming she moves onto Hollywood movies.
From Total Football to Total Rubbish
This film about the great footballer Zinedine Zidane is an absolute disappointment. Not so much total football as total rubbish.
I expected a sort of documentary about Zidane, one of the greatest footballers ever. Perhaps a few interviews, a look at his background in Marseille, the Algerian ancestry. It could have made for a fascinating film, combining great football with a cultural look at modern France.
Perhaps throw in a few shots of some of his greatest, most skillful moments from a few of his matches - the great artistry against Man Utd in the European Cup quarter final a few years ago.
Instead, what do we get? A facile, banal 90 minutes of shots of Zidane as he runs around the pitch. There is lots of 'realist' sound recordings, boots on grass, breathing, etc. 90 minutes of utterly boring concentration on one man, Zidane, in one of his less effective performances. In fact, he had a bad match altogether. Who wants 90 minutes of that? You might as well have 90 minutes of Leonardo da Vinci cooking.
The directors Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno obviously have no understanding of football programming at all. Ever wondered why football highlights programmes only show edited highlights of games? It's because about 95 per cent of almost any match is boring.
The directors are rubbish at editing, pure and simple. In their pathetic, pompous interview in the Special Features section of the DVD, they are interviewed about their reasons for making the film and they respond as if they have produced a work of high art.
It is high rubbish, that's all. A waste of money to rent and a total disappointment. I'd rather watch a film about the Bernabau stadium, to be honest.
Veronica Guerin (2003)
Cate Blanchett is an acting sensation
Cate Blanchett is simply outstanding as Veronica Guerin, the heroic investigative journalist who strove to lay bare the evil trade in hard drugs in 1990s Dublin.
In fact, knowing nothing at all about Blanchett, I assumed that she must be an Irish actress. Her Dublin accent is so authentic that it could hardly be otherwise. Yet, it turns out, she is Australian. How can she be such a brilliant actress? Joel Schumacher has produced some great films in the past - my personal favourite is Falling Down - and this film displays some of his favourite themes: urban deprivation and squalor. The scenes of the pathetic drug addicts, many teenagers, in some of Dublin's worse slums, is enough to turn anyone against the drug barons.
However, I think it's their fault, as well. Nobody forces anyone to take drugs and these cretins, in a way, deserve what they get. You might as well blame someone for going down the pub and getting drunk. Blame the landlord.
A great film.
Le beau mariage (1982)
Eric Rohmer is alright.
I never really understood the acclaim for Eric Rohmer yet this is a nice little film with some fascinating Loire scenery and townscapes and the beautiful Beatrice Romand. What more can you ask for?
My DVD was free with the Independent newspaper (London), so I can't complain. It even had a little 7 minute interview 'Special Feature' with Eric Rohmer, who explains one or two things (like his admiration for tourist-style films of towns like Le Mans and Ballon).
There are amazing shots of Le Mans and its spectacular cathedral and also its tiny cobbled streets - the typical France that we all know and love. Romand is shown with her friend walking around these historic, somewhat claustrophobic streets, visiting the art gallery where she works and stuff like that.
The contrast between Sabine, in her tinny little vintage Renault car with its cumbersome gear changer, and her latest bloke is amusing, rattling along some very attractive rural French roads.
World Trade Center (2006)
Dull TV movie
I can only award this film 3 out of 10 because it's dull and too much like a TV movie. It's just the Towering Inferno under rubble.
It's not even really about 9/11, but just about a policeman who gets caught under a load of rubble while out on duty. Then there's the predictable housewives and stuff at home, waiting for news of their loved ones. Distressing, of course, yet not really what you would expect from an Oliver Stone film about those momentous events of 9/11, 2001.
Nicholas Cage is mainly shown under a heap of rubble, totally immobile, his face looking straight into the camera in agony.
I'd rather have had a full-on Oliver Stone conspiracy movie about the alternative version of what happened on the day.
Don't bother renting this film.
Ken Loach, anglophobe
We all know that Ken Loach is left wing but this film is a bit over the top.
I normally admire Loach'es work - one of my favourite films is his Truffaut homage, Kes - yet Wind that Shakes the Barley is just a bit too anti-British. Okay, the Black and Tans must have been horrific, but what about the Republicans? It's just that we only see one side of the story in this film, just totally biased.
Black and Tans are shown pillaging the villages around Cork, wanton destruction and the like. It is just too one-sided, like a Tom and Jerry cartoon.
Otherwise, the filming is fantastic, full of lush, green countryside, just like in Devon. The acting is superb, too.
Worth watching, but not as good as Neil Jordan's Michael Collins. Too rural by half (not even any action in Cork city).
Walk on Water (2004)
A brilliant Israeli thriller
This is a gripping and fascinating Israeli film from director Eytan Fox about a cold-blooded Mossad assassin, Eyal (Lior Ashkenazi), and his total transformation. It features some splendid location filming, including a very modern Tel Aviv, along with Istanbul and Berlin.
The film opens with a chilling assassination of an Hamas commander out for the day in Istanbul with his family. Eyal poses as a fellow tourist yet dispatches the Hamas man with a Bulgarian style, 'accidental' injection while passing him by the docks (a bit like the infamous one on London in the 1970s).
The assassin has a troubled personal life, his wife committing suicide when he arrives back. But this is when the film gets interesting; Eyal's commander in Mossad is Menachem (Gideon Shemer), and he now sends him on a special mission to locate an aged former German war criminal, Alfred Himmelman (Ernest Lenart), which basically involves posing as a tourist guide to a brother and sister, the latter now living on a kibbutz.
The kibbutz is the antithesis of Eyal's normal life communal living, a sort of watered down socialism, not-to-mention awful Israeli folk music and dancing. Also, the grandson of the war criminal is a total leftie and homosexual, seducing the odd Arab along the way. You can imagine how the tough-guy, Bruce Springsteen listening hard man reacts to that.
For me, the best part of this excellent film is when Eyal, attending the birthday party of the war criminal's son in Berlin, is confronted with the man he is supposed to 'terminate', Himmelmann. In a gripping, chilling scene reminiscent of Marathon Man, the ancient war criminal is brought into the party, accompanied by a drip. You want to shoot him there and then, but, alas, Eyal has 'moved on'.
The script is brilliant, and the main protagonist undergoes the classic transformation, in the end becoming great friends with Axel and marrying his sister.
Well worth watching.
Grange Hill version of Taxi Driver
On the 'special features' section of the DVD, the director, Franc Roddam, rightly regrets the cheapness of the opening credits, just cheap old block yellow lettered credits, a bit like Taxi Driver. And that is the film for me, another mythical and legendary yet over-rated film about an anti-hero who goes crazy.
This film is legend, pure and simple. I've obviously heard of it yet, for some reason, took 28 years to get around to watching it. Quadrophenia is in the same mythical realm of legendary films as Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, The Exorcist, and so forth. It's one of those films that is part of the folklore, although in this instance purely in England (not even Scotland or Wales).
Quadrophenia is totally English; music by The Who, the infantile Mods versus Rockers debate, all down by the seaside at Brighton (where I lived for a year in 1991-92).
Jimmy is just a confused, childish 19 year old (played very ably by Phil Daniels), who gets a bit too obsessed with the whole Mod thing. For some reasons, they throw in this big drug thing, where Jimmy and his mates keep taking tablets. Were Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey that obsessed in their mid-thirties by the time they wrote this film really so childish? Quadrophenia is an interesting social commentary, however, a sort of musical version of the Blue Lamp, or even Hell Drivers, with the scooters a sort of teenage version of the lorries driven by Stanley Baker.
Just about worth watching for the nostalgia and the outside shots of Brighton.
Ring of Bright Water (1969)
Fantastic wildlife, brilliant scenery, wonderful music
This is a lovely little film by Jack Couffer and Bill Travers (not-to-mention the delightful Virginia McKenna as the blond, animal-loving love interest) about a bloke who leaves London to go and live with his otter in the remote Scottish Highlands.
There are some delightful shots of late-1960s London, all red buses, Fitzrovia and suchlike, showing the commotion and pollution that drives Graham Merrill (Bill Travers) to seek solitude and nature in the Highlands, like a latter-day Emerson or Thoreau. The naturalism in both the cinematography and theme is superb. So relaxing.
The music, by Frank Cordell, is equally brilliant, reminding me a bit of the signature tune to Robinson Crusoe, that black and white version from the 1960s/70s (which they used to show on BBC2 after school).
They must have some animal trainer in this film because the otter, known as Midge, behaves beautifully, as does his friend the cocker spaniel. The scenery is a delight, all white sandy beaches and dark green hill-sides. Brilliant.
Great Expectations (1974)
Good adaptation of the Dickens classic
I got this film a tiny price in the Silver Classics series from Woolworths, at £2.79 cheaper than the local video shop (even if it were available, which is unlikely) and it surprised me.
Michael York as superb as the adult Pip, as is Joss Ackland as the humble Joe Gargery and Anthony Quayle as Jaggers, the rather cynical London lawyer. James Mason is good as the well-meaning convict, Abel Magwitch.
There don't appear to be any outside shots - all studio work - which is a shame, but the sets are brilliantly done, particularly the Blue Ball inn back by Romney and the marshes, and the stage coach office with its sign for 'Newhaven, Dartmouth, Plymouth'.
Of course, Sarah Miles has always been a remarkable beauty and she doesn't fail here either as Estella, boxed up in Satis House.
Overall, I would prefer the famous David Lean version, but this is still well worth watching.
The Queen (2006)
Great acting, good story.
This is a sensational, outstanding film from director Stephen Frears, the man who brought us The Deal (2003), also featuring Michael Sheen as Tony Blair. Queen is all about one week in the life of HM the Queen and Tony Blair, shortly after he came to power in 1997.
Sheen is quite simply outstanding in this film, spot-on as Blair in his early days as Prime Minister. His uncanny resemblance to Tony Blair should keep him in work for life. We see him anointed as Prime Minister by Helen Mirren, with his idiot, fruitcake wife Cherie Blair giggling in the background like a schoolgirl. The mannerisms, the gait, the speech are Blair personified.
Later on, in his early dealings with the public and the media, Sheen is perfect with Blair's silly, meaningless, distracting moving of his arms and hands every time he speaks, as if it somehow contributes to communication.
Likewise, Helen Mirren has delivered possibly her finest ever performance. There are a lot of close-up, intimate shots of Mirren's face, at point-blank focus, capturing the inner self of the Queen. A lot of the action takes place up at Balmoral, in the Scottish highlands, and there are some spectacular shots of the dramatic landscape.
There are many, many fine performances in this film, particularly James Cromwell as an unremittingly grumpy Prince Philip, and Mark Bazeley as the media/PR guru and professional northerner (and Burnley man) Alistair Campbell, the man who writes the speeches (he coins "People's Princess) and runs the media side of things. A sort of Rasputin of communications.
One of the themes of the film is how the media and newspapers in particular work; there are lots of front pages, reviewed, seemingly dictating how the funeral of the moron, bimbo-extraordinaire Diana should be staged.
There is a lot of hunting in the highlands, lots of Land Rovers. It's quite charming how the Queen prefers an old banger of a car over a new one and you learn more about her such as when she was a mechanic in the British Army during the war.
I'm not quite sure of the significance of the hunting and stag motifs. The Queen comes face to face with a stag and later on covers up her disquiet when she learns it has been shot. Something to do with crowns and stalking, probably.
When, in 20 years time (if the world still exists), they come to make the film of how Blair took Britain to war, Michael Sheen can draw on Hitler for added authenticity
Jamie's School Dinners (2005)
Jamie Oliver is Okay
I never used to like Jamie Oliver - too young and too trendy, lots of trendy little catchphrases like 'Pukker'.
His Naked Chef series was okay, but - when watching any television cookery programme - I never take the slightest interest in actually cooking his recipes or anything at home. Does anyone? Does anyone actually write down what these TV chefs do and try it themselves? Don't the chefs themselves just make it up as they go along? I never understand the obsession with food, either. There are simply too many TV cookery programmes on these days. And none will ever reach the standard - in cooking and flamboyance/charisma - of the great Keith Floyd.
However, Jamie Oliver has done a great job in promoting healthy eating in schools. Brilliant.
In the Kidbrooke Comprehensive edition, Oliver has to produce meals for about 500 pupils for 37p each. That's about £185 for a day's lunch at school. That's about £36,000 a year for the school canteen budget (assuming about 13 weeks of the school being closed down for holidays). That's PATHETIC. It should be DOUBLED immediately. Pay the headmistress less, perhaps. Or the over-paid teachers.
I don't blame the regular canteen staff. They seem happy and genuinely work hard producing their junk food. They just need to learn to cook properly, not just settle for being re-heaters.
Oliver produces some nice, herby tomato ciabatta bread, or something and it all looks very appetising. Then he goes off to his 15 restaurant, somewhere in trendy Shoreditch, I imagine.
The Last Hangman (2005)
A horrible life for all concerned
This is a grim yet utterly riveting film about the infamous executioner and hangman, Albert Pierrepoint. Timothy Spall delivers a compelling and outstanding performance and a surprisingly complex executioner, in surely his finest ever performance. The delightful and enchanting Juliet Stevenson is perfect as Pierrepoint's wife, Annie.
Like his earlier Danielle Cable: Eyewitness (2003), the Granada TV director Adrian Shergold has surpassed himself in his favourite genre of crime. This offering was filmed at Ealing Studios, of all places.
Pierrepoint is a fruit and veg delivery man in the humble, northern English streets of Rochdale, normally, except when he gets the call to go and hang someone, usually in London or HMP Strangeways in Manchester. He is unsurpassed as a technician of death, perfectly estimating the length of rope, etc., depending on the height and build of the person to be executed. You could call him the L S Lowry of killers, an ordinary man with a certain skill when it comes to looking at and handling other people.
He begins as a sort of trainee - who would be the instructor is this line of work? - yet sees each of his peers fade once confronted with the absolute horror of their new job, leaving him the consummate professional, always on hand when the Home Office needs a job done. For Pierrepoint, it is a vocation.
Pierrepoint always takes a deep professional pride in his work, seeing the condemned person as deserving of dignity and respect in death, no matter what their deeds in life. This creates a strange paradox, as he is forced to be clinical and brutal in helping that person to their end. However, given his professional expertise, that end is much quicker and more comfortable than other executioners and methods.
So, after 13 years in the job - merely half way through his career, which saw him hang an incredible 608 people (including the innocent Timothy Evans, and also Ruth Ellis, amongst others) - Pierrepoint is called upon to be the official British hangman at the Nuremberg Tribunals in the aftermath of World War Two. This is where he has to dispatch truly monstrous and evil people; extermination camp guards and the like. This is also where, for me, the film steps up a level.
In Nuremberg, Pierrepoint has to dispatch up to ten war criminals a day. It is a massive job on a scale for which he did not go prepared.
The British army have constructed a scaffold above ground unlike the usual discreet prison cell and trap-door gallows and the guilty are to go by the couple, side-by-side. And this is all to take place in one enormous, cavernous and very apt, if you excuse the pun aircraft hanger. The British have created a vast cathedral of hanging, the scaffold as its pulpit and Pierrepoint as its archbishop of retribution.
Nevertheless, Pierrepoint performs his dreadful task with professional brilliance, at great pains to insist on the dignity of the guilty once dead; he is horrified when some are expected to be disposed of without even a wooden coffin: 'No, that's not right', exclaims Spall, the epitome of northern disdain.
For me, the shot of the film the true emblematic, classy shot that shows the difference between Pierrepoint and everyone else, not least his assistant (a military attaché) sitting beside him as they relax with a cigarette after yet another execution takes place in this hanger, the cathedral of execution, the height of Pierrepoint's career.
In a close shot, Pierrepoint and his military assistant sit at either end of a table, enjoying a smoke. The military man attempts a philosophical discussion of the magnitude of what they've done. Pierrepoint has no comprehension at all, separated as he is from his assistant by the contents of the rest of the screen the scaffold in the background, deserted after a day's work.
Pierrepoint was a lonely man yet had a typically northern showman's instinct; with his friend Tish, they perform a Flanagan and Allen style musical medley in the pub. Tish is his only friend in the world, probably more so than his wife.
The most touching scene of the film is at the end when Pierrepoint has to execute James 'Tish' Corbitt (he never knew his true name until then).
Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)
Good Luck to the modern media
This is a dull yet watchable film about the final days of the Senator McCarthy communist witch-hunts of the 1950s. David Straithairn is outstanding as the dour, chain-smoking manic depressive TV presenter Edward R Murrow, a legendary journalist who had reported from London during the early days of World War II and who became the famous 'anchor' on CBS television.
Murrow finally decides he's had enough of McCarthy and his paranoid crusade against non-existent enemies within given added impetus by the sacking by the Air Force of a private and goes on the offensive. It is a make-or-break, career defining moment for him.
The archive shots of McCarthy in the Senate are uncannily reminiscent of the Stalinist show-trials of the 1930s innocent people like the black cloakroom attendant hounded and persecuted by the fanatical McCarthy.
Good Night and Good Luck is surely the only film that is shot entirely indoors. The claustrophobia is unrelenting, enhanced by the black and white film and the film studio setting, a place of darkness and quiet. It is like a TV station version of Downfall, the film about Hitler's final days in the bunker, with Murrow a vampire of the microphone, shrouded by cigarette fumes. He is a nocturnal agitator, a ghost of some faded liberal, pre-Cold War past who is about to hit McCarthy.
It is the mission of these TV station journalists to confront the over-whelming force of McCarthyite censorship, from their defiant bunker, to rejuvenate American journalism. That is the theme of the film - the challenge of free speech over fear.
Murrow is not above reproach, of course, specialising in fake interviews and product placement. He cashes in on his obsessive smoking, kowtowing to the Kent cigarette company.
The film features various editorial meetings, with Fred Friendly (George Clooney), Sig Mickelson (the ever-reliable Jeff Daniels) and Joe Wershba (Robert Downey Jnr) deliberating over the magnitude of their quest. However, for me, it lacks the gravity and dramatic impact of similar scenes in All the Presidents Men.
Of course, the film is also a clear warning on the situation today in America. There is now a docile, compliant and corporate-controlled media which blindly and slavishly peddles Bush's line on the phoney War on Terror, etc., thereby aiding the war machine that is American industry. There is no real journalism left, certainly not on TV.
Murrow's massive, over-powering speech at the beginning and end, bookmarks and encapsulates the entire theme of the film: the conflict between entertainment and ideas; the commercial imperatives of running a corporate-funded TV station; and the responsibility the TV journalist has towards his audience. It is a true 'Iron Curtain' speech like the famous Winston Churchill speech in Fulton, Missouri, in 1946 when he prophecies the Cold War.
Murrow considers the conflict between journalistic integrity and the commercial dynamics of a TV station the corporate advertisers who avoid controversy like the plague. And the extreme political pressure from government and military sources that is inevitably brought to bear on the people that run such an awesomely powerful medium.
Jimmy Saville is even Weirder...
Anyone who hasn't seen Louis Theroux in his Weird Weekends series is in for a massive treat. I've just been through two four-hour DVDs from the video shop and it's a delight from start to finish. The weirdest thing was the episode with Jimmy Saville, who really is weird. That's Weird with a capital W.
Louis Theroux is such a charming, disarming sort of guy that you can't help but love him. He has this naïve, simplistic manner and way of asking questions, like a five year old set free into a world of adults, none more so than the Swingers episode. And the South Africa episode and the Survivalists episode and so on.
My favourite is the Gangsta Rap Weird Weekend where Louis tries to become mean and nasty, a ghetto gangsta rapper; somehow, it just doesn't fit, although it's great fun doing his best to be angry, thinking up rap songs on the cuff. He explains how, in the shower, he thought up some lyrics for his rap debut: 'Jiggle, Jiggle, I like you more than a little do you maybe want to fiddle?' Can a gangsta rappa drive a Fiat? We get loads of questions like that.
In the weekend with the Hamiltons, Louis stumbles upon the bizarre rape allegations arrest of Neil and Christine Hamilton, a major scoop for the show as Louis lands up filming the Hamiltons being filmed by the press and TV. He becomes news himself in his role as a documentary reporter/journalist.
I'm not sure about Jimmy Saville. I think he is definitely too weird even for Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends series.
Swimming Pool (2003)
What a stupid role for Charles Dance
Charles Dance is a fine actor and can play a certain type of character (the urbane, aloof and sophisticated English gentleman) effortlessly, but why this film? Did he do it just for the money? Dance is only in the film for about 1 minute at the beginning (as the rich publisher of Charlotte Rampling's crime novels). Why bother? Does it improve the CV?
Anyway, he provides the rural French villa for Rampling to visit, find seclusion and write her next novel. It comes complete with a very large garden and a large, lavish and dazzling blue outdoor swimming pool complete with paved surrounds. This is where Julie (Ludivine Sagnier) comes in!
Rampling settles in very nicely, gets down to work until... Julie arrives. Julie is just awesome... she even sunbathes topless!
The rest of the film is a tedious duel between Rampling and Julie, just lots of bickering and a clash of generation and lifestyles. Until the film takes a more drastic turn of events later on.
This film is worth it for the erotic atmosphere, which is basically Ludivine Sagnier!
Est - Ouest (1999)
The Day of the Swimmer
East West is a fantastic, beautiful film: part-love story, part-historical drama and part-Cold War thriller. It has elements of Frederick Forsyth, John le Carre and Boris Pasternak but surpasses them all by reaching the heightened realms of George Orwell. It really is that good.
Alexei (Oleg Menshikov) and the beautiful, sensational Marie (Sandrine Bonnaire) are a married couple in France who naively believe the Soviet Union to be a socialist/communist paradise. They promptly pack their backs and emigrate, arriving in Odessa with their son to settle down and start a new life. But they realise almost immediately, however, their dreadful mistake: they have entered not socialist heaven but an Orwellian nightmare of totalitarianism, brutality and deprivation from which there appears no escape.
At this point, the film really takes off, becoming an awesome, intoxicating blend of Dr Zhivago, Spy Who Came in From the Cold, 1984 and Day of the Jackal. Only, it surpasses them all.
Perhaps it is the Russian contribution that makes the difference, turning this film into a masterpiece: Sergei Bodrov and Rustam Ibragimbekov providing a simply brilliant script. The acting is superb and the plot is riveting, even depending on the outcome of a swimming trial and the chance to travel to the West and defect.
The location filming is sublime and the Odessa depicted on screen has all of the faded charm of classical buildings and dachas decayed by years of communist neglect and overcrowding. It is just so realistic.
Sandrine has a bit of fun along the way, going to communist dances and concerts, enjoying a love affair with Sergei Bodrov Jnr, the master-swimmer, but, ultimately, is betrayed and undergoes severe torture and brainwashing, like something out of Arthur Koestler. That is before the denouement, however, which has all of the drama and pace of a John le Carre novel.
Small Island, Big Revolution, Giant Leader.
This film is a fantastic, hypnotic encounter with the legendary Marxist, world agitator and bete noire to America, Fidel Castro. It features left-wing warrior Oliver Stone's trademark flash cutting and controversial storytelling, alongside a simply stunning musical score from Alberto Iglesias. Prepare for the Buena Vista Social Club (2001) on revolutionary acid.
The beginning of Commandante yet another Oliver Stone masterpiece is similar to the beginning of his epic JFK (1991): lots of archive footage of Castro and Cuba, only this time intercut with masses of frenzied crowds drunk on revolutionary fervour, all shouting 'Fidel, Fidel', hailing their great man who is still there in this film, forty years later. Incredible.
There is both 1960s and modern footage of Havana featuring giant murals of 'Che' Guevara, Fidel ('VIVA FIDEL CASTRO') and a total absence of any corporate, Western advertising whatsoever. There is a lot of poverty, but also a series of impromptu meetings between Castro (and Stone) and various Cubans in the streets. Propaganda or planned? The movie harks back to the original revolution in 1959 and Castro's initial pro-Western peoples revolution, hailing (in English) 'representative democracy' and 'social justice'. Of course, the American corporations and political elite could never countenance any notion of true democracy just ninety miles from their corrupt lands and so the story unfolds of how various presidents tried to invade the island and destroy their path.
Fidel himself at 80 is surprisingly fit and optimistic, always in his olive green military fatigues. He appears to be a genuine messiah, despite the paradox of religion and atheistic communism in this island paradise. He wears his customary beard, is polite and genuinely sincere. Castro and Oliver Stone in a remarkably frank and candid series of interviews go on to discuss everything from politics, film, women and nationalism. Castro admires Sophia Loren, Charlie Chaplin, Khruschev, Gorbachev, Depardieu and a host of others. He has watched Titanic and Gladiator but hates Nixon who he considers the originator of the American hatred of his island yet feels sorry for Kennedy for being assassinated.
Could George W Bush even consider for one second walking the streets of his capital city? No, he would be strung up as a corrupt war criminal and stooge to all of the corporate giants that have been banished from Cuba (Texaco, Gulfoil, McDonalds, etc.).
In the original 1960s footage Castro is hailed by crowds of literally one million people. He is a strange combo of Dr Caligari, Karl Marx and the Pope.
Diarios de motocicleta (2004)
The discovery of pity in South America
This is a fascinating Road (and River) movie about the legendary Latin American revolutionary and visionary Ernesto 'Che' Guevara de la Serna (Gael Garcia Bernal). It is directed by the great Brazilian director Walter Salles.
Although initially very slow and lamentably sullied by a dreadful, diabolical translation featuring such American vulgarities as 'asshole', 'motherfucker' and other anachronisms which surely have no basis in the Spanish spoken in South America in 1952 the film develops slowly into an intriguing, thoughtful observation into the mind of a young man who sees the unfairness and desperation of those at the bottom of the class and capitalist system.
Che and his friend Alberto Granados (Rodrigo de la Serna) meet a whole variety of people as they cross the entire continent, journeying north, initially on an old Norton 500 motorcycle. This breaks down in the end a metaphor for the advancement of mechanisation and its limits? and the two continue on foot, walking and hitching wherever possible.
Here, they get down to the nitty-gritty of real, peasant people, the tiny natives of Chile and Peru, mostly high up in the mountains of the Andes in some spectacular, stunning cinematography. There are numerous migrant workers along the way each discarded by the big corporations the moment their usefulness is at an end and lots of mist-shrouded mountain tops.
Thankfully, the voice-over, italicised subtitles of Che's diaries in contrast to the dreadful dialogue reveal a sensitive and thoughtful person, all delivered with a certain literary style. He talks about the people, the inequalities and the epic landscapes.
They visit some of the awesome sights of the great Inca empire, high up among the Gods, and Che wonders how such a noble people can reach such a desperate state of suppression, slaves in their own lands.
When they reach Valparaiso, they see one of the great cities of Chile; similarly Cuzco, the former capital of Peru, before the Spanish created La Paz.
The film recalls Werner Herzog and his filming in similar locations. You half expect to see Ray Mears appear in the jungle, providing the two with survival advice, which they need.
The Statement (2003)
Norman Jewison, the Peter Mayle (A Year in Provence) of political thrillers...
On the cover of the DVD it says Michael Caine produces a great performance, 'one of our greatest character actors' (Nuts magazine, no less). Are they joking? He was rubbish.
Caine is awful and shows just how wooden an actor he really is. He can't even do a French accent. The film is full of some fairly decent British actors Frank Finlay, Alan Bates, Tilda Swinton, Charlotte Rampling (the only French-speaking one, presumably) yet it comes over like a shoddy made-for-TV daytime movie. Statement is surely the Howard's Way of 'political thrillers'. Perhaps Norman Jewison is Peter Mayle (A Year in Provence) to the Emile Zola that is Frederick Forsyth.
The entire cast seem to be simply enjoying making a film in France (each different part of the country amateurishly captioned) and let down by a dreadful script. Presumably, Norman Jewison never studied The Day of the Jackal, where Frederick Forsyth and Kenneth Ross (screenwriter) show how it is done, and all on a small budget.
Indeed, you could have done a lot more with this film, Mitterrand playing the de Gaulle character, as a powerful leader hiding a hidden Vichy past. This is something touch on in the excellent recent film Le Promeneur du champ de Mars (2005).
The funny thing is, you actually start empathasing for Pierre Brossard (Michael Caine), the Klaus Barbie-style war criminal of southern, Vichy France, and hope that he escapes whenever he nearly gets caught. Even his killing of the assassin at the beginning of the film is genuinely self-defence, and Brossard seems genuinely full of remorse and religious guilt for his war-time crimes.
The other factor is the amateurish political corruption plotting, where we never know who the real people are chasing Brossard are they Mossad-style vengers or agents of powerful political figures, successful but tainted by their war-time activities in Vichy France.