Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Conan the Barbarian: Review

August 26, 2011

Much more by accident than design, I ended up going to see Conan the Barbarian. Given how rubbish the trailer had looked, I had decided not to, but there you go. The new Conan is Jason Momoa, who played Khal Drogo in the amazing Game of Thrones TV show. There’s no doubt that he’s a big guy, and was perfect as an uncivilised warrior chief in Game of Thrones. However, let’s face it: when it comes to muscles, he looks puny beside Arnie’s Conan. So right from the off, I thought they had made a mistake with the choice. Conan is supposed to be a thief as well as a skilled warrior. I thought they’d have been better going for someone who looked strong and swift but wasn’t particularly pumped up. Because if you go for someone who’s pumped up, you’re never going to match Arnie. And they didn’t, and so I spent a lot of the film thinking that this new guy could never knock a horse or a camel unconscious with a single punch. Plus the movie was already bound to suffer from the lack of James Earl Jones.

The story itself has undergone significant alteration, not always for the better. Conan’s father is around much more (which is good because it’s Ron Pearlman). There are no giant snakes (bad). The main baddie is now given a different and personal motivation for the pursuit of power, as well as an evil witch daughter. No need. To be fair, the start and middle of the film were better than I had expected from the trailer, but the end was dire, and dragged on for too long and was deeply unsatisfactory. This is also a misogynistic film with a great deal of unnecessary female toplessness. And the music was nowhere near as good as the original. Generally speaking, this was an inferior product. Even taking away the comparisons with the original, the disappointing ending meant it sucked. Not even worth going to see on a crazy Tuesday at the Movie House.

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Transformers 3

August 11, 2011

Transformers was great. Transformers two basically rubbish. How was Transformers 3?

Plotline: Involved the idea that the US went to the moon because of Transformer technology spotted there. Sillier than Transformers, but much better than the annoying Transformers 2.

New Robots: Nothing spectacular really.

New Megan Fox: A much worse actress (seriously; this is possible) and possibly with an even weirder looking face.

Optimus Prime: Much less of a wuss than before – more like a robotic Arnie in Commando.

Ending: Derivative, but, again, miles better than Transformers 2.

Verdict: Don’t bother making Transformers 4, unless you can use Shia going to seem fun again like Pirates 4 did.

Would You Like to Know More?

August 2, 2010

Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Snazzy jacket, Mike.

Sky Marshal Anoke from Starship Troopers 3

I’m sure our friend here would agree.

Who is copying whom?

V and the Untouchables

May 5, 2010

Shame I don't know how to photoshop Costner into a giant lizard. Might suit him.

The Untouchables is a superb movie, featuring a deservedly Oscar-winning performance from Sean Connery, though it is probably not Connery’s best work. Perhaps Connery’s most-quoted line after those from James Bond is from The Untouchables, where he talks about the Chicago way.

But there was another line from that film that often gets quoted, when Connery confronts a knife-wielder intruder with a sawn-off shotgun, mocking him for bringing a knife to a gunfight.

The Untouchables included Brian De Palma’s hommage to one of the greatest scenes in cinema history, from Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. A mother is shot by troops massacring demonstrators on the Odessa Steps, and her baby’s carriage careers out of control down the steps amidst the violence.

De Palma’s scene referencing Eisenstein can also be seen below, albeit dubbed into a foreign language.

What, then, has all this got to do with the new version of V? Tonight’s episode included several references to The Untouchables; the first was Erica telling the other members of her fledgling resistance group that Anna is fighting dirty, and that if they want to win this war they can’t bring knives to a gunfight. And the second was Erica telling Jack, the priest, that having recruited Hollis, of whom more shortly, she had done a deal with the devil, and broken every oath that she had sworn to protect, referencing the following words of Costner’s Elliott Ness as he pressurises a judge during Capone’s trial.

I have foresworn myself. I have broken every law I have sworn to uphold, I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right!

If you’re going to steal reference, steal from pay hommage to the best.

My favourite character when I first saw V: The Final Battle was Ham Tyler, played by Michael Ironside. I now realise that Ham’s politics, as reflected in his activities in Vietnam and Latin America, make him well dodgy. Despite that, he’s still my favourite character. Not only was he charismatic, mysterious, tough and capable, he also had an ongoing feud with Donovan, reflecting Donovan’s time as a cameraman in Latin America recording the effects of Ham’s work with the forces of reaction. And Donovan was a bit of a wuss, and his son annoys me. Ham was definitely the man you’d rather have along side you if your planet was invaded by alien lizards in disguise, and you wanted to get a little payback. And so to Hollis. Hollis is clearly the new Ham Tyler. And much needed he is too. I just hope that the current character – an ex-SAS (Australian SAS from the sound of his accent) member turned mercenary – retains some of the edginess that Ironside portrayed so well as Tyler. Added to which, I have to say that I have found the other members so far to be somewhat wet, and a bit of remorseless violence from the resistence would go down a treat. Speaking of which, Scyfy or whatever they are calling themselves now, should be ashamed of themselves for the blatant cuts in the fight scene that opened this episode.

Overall, V is bubbling along nicely. The scale of the alien conspiracy is being slowly revealed, the resistance is growing, there is an inter-species pregnancy that has been well handled so far, and Anna just got very nasty (in several senses, although one of those may have been cut too). Added to that, they are referencing a classic gangster movie, and calling to mind two of the three best baldy hard men actors of all time (Bruce Willis of course being also in the top three) in the same episode. Excellent. Shame they couldn’t shoehorn Lee Marvin, the hardest of hard men actors, in as well. My previous V post ended with the music from the original. I’m going to top that with the opening and closing music from The Untouchables for this one.

Zombie Nazis: Fun for all the Family.

January 23, 2010

Zombie movies. I have to confess I was never the biggest fan (I know Bruce Campbell mainly from the TV show Burn Notice for example), but I saw the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead and loved it. I soon discovered that rather than boring gore-fests for misfit teenagers, zombie movies were in fact sophisticated pieces of social criticism, tackling issues such as racism, prejudice, consumerism, and class conflict (even if some people would just prefer the zombies without the message). So I now enjoy a zombie movie, especially 28 Days Later, even though I’ve never gone back and watched the old classics.

All of which is a roundabout way of bringing us to Dead Snow, the story of the fate of a group of young Norwegians who come into conflict with a bunch of zombie Nazis left over from World War II. This is an excellent movie, and more than lives up to the hype. Witty and inventive, it also more than meets the viewer’s expectations for gore and gruesome deaths. But surely, in a zombie movie involving Nazis there must also be some of that biting social criticism, referring to the dangers of the electoral rise of the ultra-right across many countries in Europe over the last decade or so? Well, no. Not really. It’s just fun. And well worth seeing. Although obviously, what the film really needed was a T-34 appearing to remind the Nazis and the audience just who really did the heavy lifting in the defeat of Nazism.

Quelle Surprise

November 26, 2009

Freak.

Red Dawn Once More

August 10, 2009

It’s been a while since I put up a film post. And this isn’t going to be a review, though I’m hoping to do one soon. Anyway, I have to confess I’m somewhat startled by the news that Cold War paranoia/teen movie Red Dawn is being remade. And starring Tom Cruise’s son no less. I remember enjoying this film when I was a child – the thought of urinating into a car’s water tank was a particularly stiking one for my class at school – and then as I got older, the sight of communist boots on American soil provoked ‘if only’ reveries. So I’d be quite interested to see how the remake plans to deal with the communist menace rampant once more.

Alas, I am to be disappointed. It turns out that the main invaders will be the Chinese, later assisted by the Russians. So while there may well be some hint of fighting communism, clearly this will be more of a straightforward great power struggle. However, I’ll probably watch it at some point anyway. Let’s hope the planned remake of Robocop proves more satisfactory.

Robert Mc Namara dies

July 6, 2009

RobertMcNamara

Apologies for the big gap again. Work is crazy. I’ve just read that at the age of 93 Robert McNamara has died. Given that he was the US Secretary of Defence during the Cuban Missile Crisis and was responsible for a great deal of the death and destruction wrought on the people of Vietnam, it might be expected that I would be unaffected by his death. However, I find myself feeling that his death is a loss. The reason for that is simple: in 2004 (I think) I went to see The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara and found myself both fascinated and impressed by McNamara as a man.

McNamara was a brilliant young man, and was headhunted by the US military during World War II. His job in effect was to provide statistical analysis of the effectiveness of bombing, and to apply his mathmatical skills to improve their efficiency. He talked interestingly in the film about the moral questions involved in improving the efficiency of bombing civilians in large cities. After the war, he worked for Ford, helping make it more successful and rising to become its President (the first non-Ford to hold the job) before joining Kennedy’s Cabinet as Defence Secretary. As with another President in whom a lot of progressive people place great hopes, Kennedy was keen on the use of US military power where he thought it could win, and McNamara was brought in to reshape the military. The result was a massive expansion of the US nuclear arsenal, and a Soviet response – in other words, McNamara and Kennedy were fundamental to the emergence of the arms race. Both also bear a great deal of responsibility for nearly bringing about nuclear war over the Cuban missile crisis. And as already noted, the extrance of the US into Vietnam was their idea too.

McNamara’s technocratic approach which had served him well during World War II proved to be his achilles heel when it came to Vietnam. While McNamara wheeled out statistics showing that the US was winning the war on every available numerical measure, he completely missed the point that the will of the Vietnamese people could not be broken, unlike the will of the teenage conscripts sent to Vietnam and that of a sceptical public opinion at home. As Defence Secretary until 1968, he had a huge amount of blood on his hands, despite his later claims that he saw early that the war was not being won, and that he opposed some of the more callous and brutal strategies desired by the military. McNamara afterwards served as President of the World Bank, when it was associated in many minds – including those of rabid anti-communists – with more progressive ideals than it is today, and he is associated with efforts to combat river blindness. In his retirement, he worked for various causes he was interested in.

The Fog of War – like McNamara’s 1995 memoir In Retropsect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam (which I haven’t read) – is of course an attempt by McNamara to justify himself, and to rewrite history. The most obvious example of this in the film is an event where he meets (if I remember correctly and I might not) a minister from Vietnam at the same time he was Defence Minister. The Vietnamese tells him that all they wanted was their independence but that the Americans wouldn’t let them have it. McNamara goes on a bit about China and Communism, then eventually says we would have let you had your independence. This is clearly untrue. There was no chance of the US happily letting the South Vietnamese state be overthrown by its people and an independent socialist Vietnam emerging. Anti-communism was too strong, not least within Kennedy’s government and its successor. They hoped to replicate the war in Korea, or perhaps be more successful.

Nevertheless, despite all the problems with the film, it clearly showed McNamara as someone with a good deal of humanity, especially in his later years. Despite it all, he did not strike me as being the same as his counterparts in the recent Bush regime. A complicated man, who worked to undo some of the damage he wrought and achieve progress in other areas, he was worthy of respect, if not perhaps admiration.

ADDS: BBC Obituary

The Ironies of History

June 6, 2009

Back last November, I posted up a review of the film The Baader-Meinhof Complex on Cedar Lounge Revolution. An excellent film it was too, and I think it will be on Sky Movies soon for anyone who has Sky Movies and hasn’t see it. The film recreated the shooting of a student protestor, Benno Ohnesorg, by a policeman in west Berlin during protests against a visit by the Shah. For many students in the Extra-Parliamentary Opposition, this was the moment that the repressive nature of the state was finally revealed, and it radicalised many, and contributed to the dynamic that led to the emergence of the Red Army Faction. And now it transpires that the policeman who shot the student, Karl-Heinz Kurras (who was twice acquitted of manslaughter), was a member of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, the ruling party of the GDR, and was working for the Stasi as an agent in west Berlin.

While some have claimed that this means the GDR was responsible, the director of the Federal government’s Stasi archives, points out that not only is there no evidence that the Stasi ordered the shooting, but that the Stasi cut contacts with Kurras afterwards. Presumably this was for fear of a revelation that he was an agent raising military tensions on the front line of the Cold War. While there will be those who construct a conspiracy theory around this revelation, it seems to me unlikely that this was anything more than what the Stasti called it – an “unlucky accident”.

Herr Kurras had a simple response when contacted by the press about these revelations

“And what if I did work for them? What does it matter? It doesn’t change anything.”

I admire his bluntness, and I’m inclined to agree.

Gomorrah: Life in A Sporanos Society

November 3, 2008

Italy again. A few weeks ago I saw the film Gomorrah, a study of the extent to which the Neapolitan equivalent of the Mafia, the Camorra, literally poisons and controls the lives of those who live in that region. It is based on the book of the same name written by Roberto Saviano, an extremely brave author who has been living under constant police protection since October 2006 as a result of his writing the book and cooperating with legal efforts against the Camorra. Saviano has recently gone almost completely to ground, partly because a small group of 6 to 10 Camorra members that has been killing almost one person a week for six months has been discussing killing him. He now plans to leave Italy in the search for a normal life led by someone in their late 20s. The film of the book won the Grand Prix at Cannes.

I have to say that I didn’t find the film all that great. It tells a number of stories that reflect how the Camorra affects the lives of various groups within Neapolitan society – those who produce clothes for high fashion, petty criminals, drug users, the ultra-violent Camorra members themselves and their families, and the victims and beneficiaries of the incredibly lucrative trade in the disposal of toxic waste, mostly from the north and centre of the country. Each of these stories is interesting in and of itself, and acts as a window into the impact of the Camorra on society, but I didn’t think they were properly tied together, and they left me feeling slightly unsatisfied.

The bare figures given at the end of the film in many ways struck me more powerfully than the film itself. 4,000 deaths in a thirty year period; the Camorra investing in legal business around the globe, including in the project to replace the Twin Towers. The movie website (linked above) contains further details. Italian organised crime’s estimated turnover of 158 billion Euros per year dwarfs that of Fiat at 58 billion Euro, and makes it a hugely significant player in the Italian economy. Nor should we forget the proof that Italian prime ministers have effectively been mafiosi, and that many current politicians are deeply tainted by their links to organised crime, not least Silvio Berlusconi, who has abused his control of Parliament to pass laws protecting himself from prosecution. The political element was one that was missing from the film, possibly reflecting the fact that the Camorra has seemingly been less interested historically in political power than its equivalents.

One of the main themes of the film, and the one aspect of the Camorra’s activities that have attracted the most international attention, is waste disposal. Attempts to reform the collection of rubbish in Naples resulted in violence from the Camorra, and the rubbish lying uncollected for months. Eventually, the army was sent in to ensure the rubbish was collected. If the illegal waste dumped by the clans was piled high, it would be 14,600 metres high, and almost three hectares wide – Mount Everest is “only” 8,850 metres high. As well as poisoning farming land and the water table, the toxic waste secreted on farmland and in the most unlikely places is responsible for exponential growth in tumours among the population. Illegal waste is poisoning the people of Naples, and often its poorest and most vulnerable such as small farmers who give over their land for waste disposal for a pittance – 100 Euro per shipment according to the film.

The film does a good job of showing the lengths the Camorra goes to to win contracts, and how it employs sophisticated, educated middlemen to interact with the businessmen who know full well what the situation is but turn a blind eye to it. In other words, large elements of so-called respectable society are firmly in bed with organised crime, placed there by the profit motive that is the bottom line of capitalism, and also hatred of progressive politics that would challenge their domination of society. The attacks on the old PCI by the mafia began shortly after the Second World War, and the rhetoric of Berlusconi and his cronies against the judiciary probing the links between organised crime and politicians as Communists shows that this mentality is alive and well. As long as the violence and suffering is restricted largely to the working class and away from the industrial centres of central and northern Italy, then few voices are raised in protest among the Italian right. This is a stinging indictment of the Italian elite. In fact, it is not too far of a stretch to suggest that for much of the last 50 years, Italy has been a mafia state; and that with Berlusconi in power in alliance with the extreme right and hostile to the judiciary, the gains of the early 1990s are being reversed, and that organised crime is becoming more entrenched and dominant.

We all know that there was only one regime in Italian history that successfully tackled the mafia, and none of us advocate that a democratic state in the early 21st century adopts the tactics of Mussolini. Nevertheless the political will must be found to tackle this level of corruption that has perverted the Italian body politic, and is destroying the lives of so many. How can that will be found? Difficult to see. We cannot look to the leading political elements, and there no longer exists a serious political alternative. There have been elements of a popular revolt, but with the government at war with the judiciary which is the most dedicated element against organised crime for political reasons, there seems little hope of that feeling finding an institutional outlet. It will require a change in political leadership, and in the business culture of Italy, to even make a start like the serious pursuit of laws like the US RICO statutes. Citizens must themselves try and steer clear of activities such as drugs and counterfeit goods that fund organised crime. It is hard to see how such a top to bottom change is likely to come soon.

The themes here – corruption of the body politic, violence and organised crime, fake goods – are not unfamiliar to Irish readers. I don’t want to suggest that Irish society and politics are as corrupt as that of Italy, though sometimes I do wonder. And I certainly don’t want to be seen to be adopting a Jim Cusack the paramilitaries are everywhere, super-rich, and are about to overthrow the state line. I don’t believe that is true, not even in Northern Ireland, where some of them are in government. Nevertheless, when we can see illegal fuel, fake dvds, perfume, washing powder, and other counterfeit goods sold all over the place, as well as smuggled drink and cigarettes sold by paramilitaries in every working class housing estate in NI, we have to acknowledge that there is a danger here of organised crime taking a serious grip, and the blind eye turned to it for political advantage could corrupt the whole legal and political edifice (Pete Baker has been working hard to document this over at Sluggerotoole for several years, as has Newton Emerson in his Irish News columns). Even the dumping of rubbish illegally can be seen in Ireland, with waste from the Republic regularly dumped in NI, and fish kills often the result of toxic waste poured into rivers. The links between big business and the political elite in the Republic need no elaboration. We on the Left must find ways to fight this corruption. As Italy shows us, the main political losers of a corrupt society are the Left. I certainly plan to read Saviano’s book.