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  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,236MI6 Agent

    NORTHWEST FRONTIER (1959)

    I think someone reviewed this before...

    Kenneth More plays a stiff lipped English officer who is tasked with rescuing and transporting an orphaned Maharajah boy to the nearest safe city during a Muslim revolt in the Punjab. The movie variously attempted to approach ethical, political and social themes with little success. It is basically a western on wheels set in the last days of the British Raj. Lauren Bacall provides some romantic interest and Herbert Lom scowls as the villain of the piece. Like Stagecoach, the scenario draws together a disparate group of travellers marshalled by an inventive and resourceful leader. Moments of suspense enliven the proceedings. The film is at its best during tense forays outside of the train carriage, including an investigation of a gruesome massacre, the repair of a broken railway sleeper and reactivating a damaged water pumping station. Geoffrey Unsworth photographs in gaudy colour. Filmed in India and Spain by J. Lee Thompson, Northwest Frontier received a nomination for film of the year from BAFTA. Even more surprising was the citation for its screenplay, which is the film’s major flaw, failing to pull all the story’s elements into a coherent whole. Fairly enjoyable if dated entertainment.

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,199Chief of Staff

    Oppenheimer (2023)

    Long.







    More detailed thoughts -

    Too long.

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,668MI6 Agent

    So, just like the atomic bomb itself, these things take time? 😀

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,929MI6 Agent

    I think I'm OK with the atomic bomb content in Twin Peaks The Return: episode 8 Gotta Light? dont really need to see Nolan's version

    and those other 55 minutes are pretty swell too.

  • Number24Number24 NorwayPosts: 21,763MI6 Agent


    I expressed pretty much this view in my review, but I wasted too many words. In short - my review was too long.

  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 6,142MI6 Agent
    edited August 2023

    THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980)


    It’s always a pleasure to revisit this cult classic as the brothers reform their R&B band to raise money to save the orphanage where they grew up. The music is outstanding and several legends lend support along with cameos including John Candy, Twiggy and Steven Spielberg. Carnage follows as the brothers manage to piss off the police force, an ex-fiancée, a country and western band, a group of Nazi sympathisers and lots of others. The whole thing is as mad as a box of frogs but it works and is marvellous entertainment.

    A timeless classic.

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • Shady TreeShady Tree London, UKPosts: 2,966MI6 Agent
    edited August 2023

    TALK TO ME (2023)

    Spoilers

    In this disturbing Australian horror film directors Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou ration the jump scares in favour of exploring psychological themes of transgression, guilt and bereavement.

    The draw of the film is an implied parallel between familiar tropes - cases of possession by the conjured spirits of the evil dead - and the dangers of recreational drug use by college-aged kids: a group of teens aquire an artefact with ouija properties - the porcelain-covered, severed hand of a deceased satanist - and take turns to use it to invite spirits to inhabit their souls for a few seconds at a time, thrilling to the rush of the wild experience and videoing the results on their cell phones. It's no surprise to the audience when the evil spirits take horrific advantage of the teens' reckless partying and their personal vulnerabilities. Though this concept is hardly original in the genre, it's novel to see it played out in an indie idiom and with a cast of Z Gen characters who see their illicit experience as a social media opportunity (minus the meta dimensions of something like the playful 'Scream' franchise).

    Indeed, it soon becomes clear that this isn't just a cliched scream-fest of a movie. Go see it if you enjoy some dark thoughtfulness in your horror films.

    Critics and material I don't need. I haven't changed my act in 53 years.
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,929MI6 Agent
    edited August 2023

    coolhand says

    THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980)

    _______________________________________________

    one of my faves! you have excellent taste. When this came out, me and my schoolchums lined up to see it almost as many times as we saw Star Wars

    the Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles sequences in particular are magnificent, I always like when the camera cuts to the exterior of Ray's music shop and we see hundreds of people dancing, some of them on the elevated train track. city streets should always be like that, itd be a better world.

    I also like to watch for all the surreal elements. when the car drives over the unfinished onramp then drops, the camera cuts to a car dropping from hundreds of feet above! surely the drop was twenty or thirty feet at most. The films full of irrational shots like that, only noticed upon repeated viewings. How does not one of the pursuing police cars overtake the BluesMobile on that long drive back to Chicago?

    Aykroyd has said the BluesMobile is meant to be his version of ChittyChittyBangBang, it doesnt just have cap shacks cap brakes and cap suspension, its magical!

    and yes this was one of many small parts John Candy got in his friends' films before John Hughes made him a leading man. I was a John Candy fan since I first saw him in SCTV in 1977 (dressed in a toga, talking like Curly Howard). Aykroyd and Belushi and Harold Ramis all revered the big guy and knew he'd make their films funnier.

    also check out Belushi doing his own stuntwork when he takes that fall down the stairs while wedged in a childrens desk. Lets see Tom Cruise do that stunt!

  • TonyDPTonyDP Inside the MonolithPosts: 4,280MI6 Agent

    @caractacus potts, the surreal elements in The Blues Brothers are easily explained: they were on a mission from God 😀

    It's one of my favorites as well

  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 6,142MI6 Agent

    Glad to see the love for TBB - orange whips for everyone 😁

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,236MI6 Agent

    THE PREMATURE BURIAL (1962)

    Roger Corman resuscitates [!!!] another Edgar Allan Poe story but with less success than his Vincent Price classics The Fall of the House of Usher and The Pit and The Pendulum. Ray Milland is the rich man obsessed with being buried alive, convinced he suffers from catalepsy. Hazel Court plays his blushing and concerned bride. A gloomy affair which appears to take place entirely at night and never leaves the confines of the family mansion, cemetery and mist ridden moorland. The success or otherwise of the piece depends entirely on how much you believe two eminent doctors can fail to detect the signs of the living in the supposed dead. It doesn’t help that Milland’s hero / victim turns into a homicidal maniac and removes from the audience all sympathy for his plight. A good performance from the aging star and more bloody shocks than most Hammer products of the early sixties tend to keep one interested, but only vaguely. A minor outing for Corman and probably the least vital of the director’s ‘Poe Cycle’ where better was still to come.  

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,236MI6 Agent

    PENDULUM (1969)

    George Peppard is an interesting actor. His career never quite seemed to take off. Following a television apprenticeship in the late 1950s, he landed the romantic lead opposite Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which should have led to great things. A series of roles as a blue-eyed, blonde, all-American style hero of westerns and war films followed, including a trio of outstanding blockbusters in The Victors, The Blue Max and Operation Crossbow. Soap opera fare like The Carpetbaggers solidified his image as a hard as nails, amoral bastard of a star, and that isn’t far wrong. Peppard’s on screen ability to remain cool, callous and aloof throughout incident and impact is probably only bettered by Steve McQueen. He fell rapidly from grace following Tobruk – another war film – and the actor himself regarded his 1960s output as financially worthwhile but shorn of any quality. He genuinely considered himself to be an actor, not a star, hence he began to choose odd assignments, such as The Ground Star Conspiracy, The Executioner and this one, Pendulum, where his character seems to drift inexorably into McQueen and Eastwood territory, that of Bullitt or Coogan’s Bluff, perhaps even the nastiness of Sinatra’s Joe Leland in The Detective.

    Peppard plays Frank Matthews, a decorated Washington police captain, whose sees his last arrest and conviction overturned on a technicality. Paul Sanderson is a killer and rapist and ace manipulator, but Matthews sees through the façade. Following the youngster’s release, Matthews’ adulterous wife and lover are murdered and suspicion falls on him. Naturally, he calls on the same lawyer who defended Paul Sanderson – but can they prove Matthews’ innocence?

    A noirish thriller with exploitation elements, director George Schaefer – who did most of his work on TV – holds our attention and intriguingly regularly draws his camera to Peppard’s stoic, blue-eyed countenance, an expression that betrays nothing, hence we are never certain Matthews is innocent. He certainly has motive, chasing the philandering Jean Seberg around the city. But he’s equally guilty of succumbing to his wife’s passions, as we witness their awkward, lustful tryst while a coffee pot brews. All is clearly not roses in the Matthews’ household. Nor is it a welcome home for Robert Lyons’ murderer, whose skittish mother Madeleine Sherwood has drug and alcohol problems. There is something seedy and unpleasant about the world this particular cop inhabits, the people he associates with, including high ranking officials who find it easier to apportion blame than uphold law and order. It is never clear whether Matthews really did torture his suspect, but the movie insinuates that if he did it may just have been worthwhile, which is a mindset Harry Callaghan displays in Don Siegel’s seminal Dirty Harry. Pendulum predates that film by three years.

    It is an efficient procedural, let down only by a delirious climax that owes more to Bonnie and Clyde’s bloodletting than any decent conclusion should. I enjoyed it. Peppard and the support cast offer enough nuances to increase the effectiveness of a work-a-day script. There’s a jazzy little music score from Walter Scharf. The lead actor himself, of course, achieved lasting popularity as the cigar chomping Hannibal Smith in television’s cheerfully ridiculous The A Team.   

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,236MI6 Agent

    THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1964)

    The eighth and final entry into the famous Roger Corman ‘Poe-Cycle’ is the second filmed in England at Shepperton Studios. Unlike the totally studio bound Masque of the Red Death, The Tomb of Ligeia also makes remarkable use of the Norfolk countryside, in particular the ruins of Castle Acre Priory. The surprisingly literal script from Robert Towne only touches on Edgar Allen Poe’s main concern: ‘The boundaries which divide life from death are at best shadowy and vague’ – a statement that itself is shadowy and vague. However, what Towne and by extension Corman do is weave a series of dramatic and sometimes demonic dreamscapes within the landscape of a psychological horror. Where Hitchcock used birds to represent a latent unseen evil, Towne and Corman utilise a marauding untameable black cat, a witch’s signal. The darn thing springs up everywhere, sometimes to mislead, sometimes to challenge, sometimes as a primed assassin. The heroine’s fear of this bundle of fur seems ridiculous – it is only a cat after all – but this needs to be tempered by the admission that it isn’t the cat Rowena is frightened off, but what the cat represents: the dark side of her husband’s life, the malevolent existence he holds within himself, the mesmeric power he wields yet also fails to combat.

    Black is an important colour in the film. Rowena wears a stunning black riding outfit when we first meet her, off set by a crimson waistcoat. As she tumbles onto the aspidistras lain on a tombstone, her clothing matches their red blooms and black stalks. A dead fox is less rust-red than coiled black. The grey walls of an abandoned abbey take on a charcoal shadow. Verden Fell clothes himself in black velvet, wears black sunglasses and claims to live only at night, the blackest time. Most tellingly, Verden’s dead wife Ligeia is blessed with a mountain of raven hair.

    The other teasing factor is the window to the soul: people’s eyes. At Ligeia’s contested burial, the cat leaps onto the casket, and her eyes spring open. ‘Nor lie in death forever’ her epitaph claims. Has she been buried alive? we ask. As the story progresses and the atmosphere deepens, so Corman concentrates more and more on people’s eyes. Verden’s are constantly hidden. “Eyes do not readily surrender the mystery they hold,” he says, inspecting a waxwork of an Egyptian effigy. He demonstrates mesmerism by using his eyes as the focus of the hypnotic. On his return from a honeymoon, he immediately covers his eyes on entering the abbey, thus returning his being back into the unholy state we first encountered him. At the climax, Verden’s gaze is glazed and his eyes can no longer interpret what is before him, only what he wishes or believes he is witnessing. This is a man on the verge and then dipping into insanity: “The night always fell,” he explains, “and with it the madness returned.” Donning the sunglasses reinforces the latent evil within. The black cat attacks people’s eyes, as if trying to extinguish light, pitching its victims into a world of demented darkness.

    If the film teeters on the edge of cinematic madness itself, that is only to be expected. Vincent Price is superb as the weary, but intense Verden Fell, a man who is clearly indulging in a form of mental necrophilia  He’s given great support by Elizabeth Shepherd, who elicits our sympathies. These two make an intense pair of lovers. We sense immediately their undignified attraction, solidified by a scene where Corman frames them with a wrought iron portal window, glass gone, cobwebs hanging, dark and dingy. An exceedingly strange and chilling picture for a love scene. This romance – and the film for the most part is a romantic one – is never going to end well.

    Good support is provided by Oliver Johnston’s shifty butler Kendrick, John Westbrook’s lawyer and Derek Francis’ blustering Baron. Arthur Grant’s cinematography is lush. Ken Jones offers a music score that hints at several classical works. It is recorded by the London Sinfonia, so there’s genuine class there. If the trademark Corman-Poe climatic inferno comes as no surprise, and is something of a let-down, all that came before, the mysteries, the eyes, the nights, those bizarre drowsy dreamscapes, the sense of impending disaster looming, is a touch of real class and demonstrates what can be achieved on so little a budget if the script is sound, the direction snappy and the performances strident.  

    A persuasive, beautifully filmed psychological horror of much purling tension.      

  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 6,142MI6 Agent

    UNCHARTED (2022)

    The lost gold of Magellan is hunted by various groups of people. Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg lead the good guys and Antonio Banderas takes charge of the villains. Taking inspiration from the Indiana Jones and National Treasure franchises this is a happy go lucky, fast moving action flick which although is hardly original ticks most of the right boxes if you’re after a family popcorn movie. Some of the CGI and green screen is off kilter but it doesn’t distract from an enjoyable family movie. The epilogue sets up a possible sequel.

    Despite the climax taking place in the Philippines none of it was actually filmed here. In fact the film was banned from being shown in cinemas here and Vietnam due to the map shown that includes the nine-dash line in the disputed South China Sea that China claims is their maritime territory. The Magellan Shrine is actually only a 5 minute ride away from my house on Mactan Island. This marks the spot where Magellan fell at the hands of the great Philippine warrior Lapu-Lapu in 1521.

    A nice family movie - don’t expect too much and you will enjoy it.

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,199Chief of Staff


    One Spy Too Many (1966)

     

    Opening Channel D….

    The Man From U.N.C.L.E. film No 3, made by joining together a two part edition of the regular TV show. If I remember correctly, this was shown as a cinema film outside the USA.

    I won’t bore you with the plot, which is no different from other U.N.C.L.E. plots (world domination, blah blah). Rip Torn made a good villain. There were a couple of interesting moments which would turn up in later Bond films (eg Napoleon Solo fighting a musclebound henchman in a gym, both using equipment such as weights, similar to a scene in NSNA). And our own Teru Shimada (Mr Osato in YOLT) turns up as a prospective assassination victim.

    I’ve bought two boxes of U.N.C.L.E. dvds so might post comments on another episode later.

  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 6,142MI6 Agent

    I loved those UNCLE movies at the cinema during the 60’s, the slow motion opening scenes during the titles were particularly good and the music was terrific. I went though the complete series a few years ago and enjoyed most of it apart from when they went too silly to try and compete with the popular Batman series of the time.

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,929MI6 Agent

    more UNCLE reviews!

    I'm sure we had a dedicated thread round her somewhere...

    when you say you "bought two boxes of U.N.C.L.E. dvds", are they both the movies? or did you also get some of TV series?

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,199Chief of Staff

    One box with 5 movies, and one with Season 1 of the series. I've only watched two TV episodes (in glorious b&w!) and one film so far- I'm using U.N.C.L.E as a breather between episodes of Star Trek (Original Series) which I also bought recently.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,236MI6 Agent

    TRUE GRIT (2010)

    There seems little point in remaking classic films and Joel & Ethan Cohen’s revitalisation of True Grit is no exception. I don’t exactly know what they expected or wanted to achieve. For the record, John Wayne gave one of his very best performances as the grumpy yet courageous U.S. Marshall Reuben ‘Rooster’ Cogburn in Henry Hathaway’s marvellous eclectic original adaptation. He was aided by a good script that played to his and the supporting cast’s strengths, some superb photography from Lucian Ballard, a more than decent heroic score from Elmer Bernstein and a crackerjack of a role for Kim Darby as the spirited teenager Mattie Ross, out to avenge the death of her father.

    The ingredients worked well together, matching the elder statesman of the western with two younger up-and-coming stars and a rabble of nasties led by Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper. There is something majestic about the 1969 version, the wide open Colorado spaces and the huge imposing performance offered by Wayne. Amazing to think producer Hal Wallis wanted to cast Elvis Presley as the hapless Texas Ranger LeBeouf, a part which just might have finally made an actor of the King of Rock n Roll. We got Glen Campbell instead because Col Tom Parker demanded Presley be top billed. I mean, seriously, that circus promoter was a clown all-round…

    Thing is, the Cohen’s remake doesn’t veer too far from the 1968 Charles Portis novel, but then neither did the Hathaway version, so what’s the real point? I watched True Grit 2010 for a second time the other night and all I kept thinking was how much more enjoyable the Wayne - Hathaway version was. Sure, Wayne plays a cantankerous old sod, but at least he’s got a sympathetic personality. Jeff Bridges is merely cantankerous. Matt Damon gives one of his most uncomfortable looking performances, and not just because of the moustache he hides behind, mostly because of the awkward ‘love scenes’ with young Hailee Steinfeld. There is something wholly uncomfortable about that pairing; Damon simply looks too old. In 1969 Glen Campbell still appeared mightily youthful. Ditto Kim Darby, who despite a meowing vocal delivery at least convinced as a teenager. Steinfeld is too modern a heroine by half. She acts about thirty – because she’s being directed that way – and that removes the fairy tale aspect of the original movie, the idea of a waif being saved from the wolves by a tough old woodsman.

    Don’t get me wrong, True Grit 2010 is a good movie. Periodically – post Unforgiven and Dances With Wolves – a good western comes along and we can all go ‘ahh’ and remember what it used to be like watching them in the fifties, or in my case on TV in the seventies, probably on Saturday Night At The Movies. Yet there is nothing new here. No new nuances, no reinterpretation of character, not even a change in the action highlights – I mean, come on, you can’t beat John Wayne with the reins in his teeth and rifle in his hand charging at a gang of horse thieves for excitement, so why try? The Cohen’s, for all their skill, are simply copying everything we already saw before. The ending for this one is sorrowful too as it deals with regret, demise and death, which I suppose fits neatly into our less optimistic era. Hathaway and his writer Marguerite Roberts allowed us a joyous coda of reconciliation, understanding and new horizons, and perhaps a little orphan-to-father-figure love. There was something upbeat and enthralling in 1969 which is totally missing in the admittedly polished 21st Century offering.

    I’m not sure I’ll watch this again. I prefer the 1969 version immeasurably. Both films have faults, but I think it is telling that while the Motion Picture Academy garnered this film with ten Oscar nominations, it didn’t present it with a single winner. It is a good film, but it isn’t that good, and it doesn’t have a masterful leading player in John Wayne or a director in Henry Hathaway who both understood the western genre and what was required by its central figures.

          

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,236MI6 Agent

    CROSSFIRE HURRICANE (2012)

    Halfway through Brett Morgan’s absorbing documentary about the Rolling Stones c.1964 -1980 the director shifts attention to the opening bars and reels of Jumping Jack Flash, utilising Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s groundbreaking video of the band in war paint make up lip-synching and prancing among a darkened recording studio. I mention this because it comes immediately after the section concerning the Redlands drug bust and Jagger and Richards few hours behind prison bars. The band had been wallowing in an LSD fuelled uninspired musical mud pit when suddenly, bolstered rather than chastened, they embarked on one of the most sustained and artistically satisfying periods of musicianship any rock n roll band has ever provided. There is something devastatingly bitter, angry and murderous about Jumping Jack Flash. This is a band resurrected through adversity. This is a statement song. The blues will reign, perhaps not in the Mississippi fashions of old, but in a brash, vicious, no convicts, no compromise, white man’s blues – songs about injustice, about sex, about political times, of death, rape, murder, religion, antiestablishment cries from the heart and the head, that demanded its audience sit up, stand up and listen. The video is three and half minutes of threatening, violent conduct, where the war paint is a statement of intent, where the music thunders and billows and warns and incites. If ever a slice of 1960s pop culture deserves to be memorialised it is Jumping Jack Flash, Lindsay-Hogg and the Rolling Stones. You can have your Hard Day’s Night’s all you want, but there is a startling, panicked, menacing vitriol to this fledgling pop-promo that demands attention. If there has ever been a more potent calling card for the disenfranchised youth than this three minutes of heavy combustible blues, I don’t know where it is. And in the sphere of Crossfire Hurricane, these few minutes are important as a crossing point between the Rolling Stones failing to be accepted and embracing their unacceptability. Becoming genuine rebels – in music, fashion, behaviour, drugs, tax havens, etc – came to define the band more and more through the late sixties and early seventies, exemplified by the extensive footage from the Altamont free concert, a west coast Woodstock that went fatally wrong.

    Early on, Mick Jagger is asked what drives young people to like the Rolling Stones’ music, and he suggest it is a point of freedom, a disenchantment with the previous generation, the people in control. So when he impersonates the devil and demands ‘sympathy, courtesy and taste’ he’s really impersonating those older generations that had it too good – the people who killed the Kennedys, launched the Blitzkrieg and murdered Jesus Christ – the goddamn establishment. Keith Richards suggests that the purest essence of his and Jagger’s songwriting is Midnight Rambler, a mini opera about a serial killer. There’s something dark inhabiting the surrounds of these well-educated London lads of the early sixties. I was struck by how nasty and unforgiving Paint It Black sounds compared to a live rendition of All Down The Line, which morphs into virtually a party anthem compared to the bleakness of the former. Hard to imagine the same two scribes penned the tunes.

    Morgan has mountains of film to access and he barely touches the surface of his subject. Good use is made of concert footage and historic interviews, some very familiar. Not much is made of the newer interviews. There’s an undercurrent of narcissism to this documentary, navel gazing in the extreme. I suppose after fifty [now sixty] years the band’s survivors can chortle about the past with whimsical nostalgia, but we don’t learn anything very deep or revealing. It rehashes much of what one might have seen or read about. The Rolling Stones may be the World’s Greatest Rock n Roll Band, but no one’s made a decent documentary about them in the way the Beatles got Anthology. It is almost as if they want to remain partly hidden, partly basking at their own reflected glories.

    Still, entertaining and worth it for the classic songs and concert footage.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,236MI6 Agent
    edited August 2023

    KES (1969)

    A KESTREL FOR A KNAVE by Barry Hines (1968)

    A modern classic [is late 1960s modern?] concerning a young boy in a northern pit town of England who adopts a wild kestrel as a pet, trains it and discovers something of himself in the process, only to learn his talents come to nothing when confronted by the hardship of real life. Barry Hines was a northern lad himself and utilised true tales both experienced and told to provide a semblance of grit and genuine character into the incidents, locations and persons of his short, eminently readable novel.

    Billy Casper is a fourteen year old set to leave school and go straight down the pit. His talent for rearing animals goes completely unrecognised by his drunk louche of a mother and his bullying brother. Only a kindly English teacher notices the boy’s husbandry skills. Everyone else, from his family to his friends, school masters to students, reckon he’s a no-good, no-hope nuisance. To a person they are self-obsesses, indulgent intimidating menaces. It’s no wonder young Billy has been in trouble with the law. He wants to make a go of it, works a job so his mum can go drinking and tries to keep just the right side of the law. His sense of justice – or misjustice – manifests itself in language and actions that provoke rather than placate. Nobody talks to Billy, so he immerses himself in the animal kingdom, but not in some softcore Disneyfied version, no he picks out a wild hawk, suffers the birds scratches and bites, perseveres and rears it into a trained display hunter.

    If anything, the business with the kestrel gets in the way of the narrative. Hines uses the wild freedom of the hawk and its environment as a metaphor for Billy Casper himself, dangerous, untamed but trained, wild, hungry, silent, fast, evasive, seeking reward and reassurance. Billy, despite his upbringing, supplies these facets of life to his kestrel, yet nobody does so for Billy, whose  life is one of no hope and little joy. When asked to explain his time with his hawk, whom he names Kes, we get a sense of his breathlessness overtaking him, that joy suddenly appears from behind the coal pits and coke piles.

    Hines is careful not to make Billy an overly sympathetic character; yes, we empathise, but he is no angel and in a way this endears him to us more. The one-note attitudes of his mother and brother build a picture of a controlling, uncared environment which these days would probably constitute child abuse. There’s a tremendously affecting sequence where he writes ‘A Tall Story’ about a night at the pictures and a chip supper with his dad and mum, a story achingly told as it isn’t such tall tale at all. Later we discover his last memory of his father was following a night at the local cinema, now a derelict husk on the edge of town. It’s as if his life has descended into black tatters along with the fortunes of the Palace Cinema.

    A potent novel which addresses the poor state of the British education system of the time as well as the decay of the family unit. While it is set in a northern English working class landscape, and the dialect attests to this, it might just as well have been set anywhere as its message rings through even as Billy Casper evades the calls of his mother and the fists of his brother. It isn’t Billy and his ilk who need to learn, but everyone else around them who need to notice the individual and the talent they possess, to nurture and encourage it like a kestrel feeding from the lure, trained and toughened and understood.

    An exceptionally important novel which brought the curtain down on the ‘kitchen sink’ era of British literature. Ken Loach’s adaptation the following year did the same for the ‘kitchen sink’ movie. So it is worth considering the movie alongside the novel, not to see which is better, but to see how they differ.

    Loach and his fellow writers Tony Garnett and Hines himself, open out the story to allow a more sympathetic view of Billy’s homelife. We see his brother Jud’s uninspired days at the pit, his nights at the working man’s club where his mum flaunts her new boyfriend. We hear her complain that neither of her sons will come to anything. There’s an air of nothingness pervading the Casper’s house and the town they live in, of greyness and toil. While it is still clear Freddie Fletcher’s imposing Jud bullies his younger brother, Lynne Perrie’s Mother is a more rounded character, battling her eldest son, a man who waits impatiently for an unworthy inheritance.

    While the Casper’s may garner a little more of our attention, the schoolroom antics – which grip in the novel – are less successful and occupy the vast majority of the film, as the director forsakes the magical scenes of the kestrel for the drudgery of the playing field and assembly hall. This might be seen as a critique on the education system, but the film is looking far beyond that into the repetitive non-aspirational lives of generations of northern pit workers – and by extension any working class generations – and it is only the free flying kestrel who draws Billy and hence the audience into the world outside the pit, the club, the betting shop and the hand-to-mouth existence.

    The film climaxes better than the novel, although with less nuance. In terms of an artistic piece as opposed to a socio-political work, the film is well photographed, well adapted and scripted, has a charming music score and a series of believable performances that interpret Hines’ page-worthy characters excellently. Despite the good points, or perhaps because of them, it feels very dated and less relevant than some of its forebears in the ‘kitchen sink’ oeuvre. David Bradley’s Billy Casper is a slight presence who holds our attention, but Billy doesn’t have the bearing or pivotal heart-change of Burton’s Jimmy Porter or Finney’s Arthur Seaton. He’s even more of a dreamer than his namesake Billy Liar and you wonder if he doesn’t bring disaster upon himself in a similar rose-tinted, self-indulgent fashion. Where the novel made us understand why Billy Casper is as he is, the film misses this point altogether and tries to make villains of what are equally damaged and desperate individuals, his mother and brother.

    It's a decent lick, I suppose. I wonder if Kes might have looked better and resonated more in monochrome, those black satanic mills and hills, houses and schools looking more wretched in gloomy black and white, while the open fields would blaze in glorious sunlight.

    Ah, well.

    You can read a lot of good professional reviews of both book and film on Wikipedia and the like.    

  • Shady TreeShady Tree London, UKPosts: 2,966MI6 Agent
    edited August 2023

    I've been looking back this week at the great Gene Hackman's roles in two of my favourite movies of his.


    SCARECROW (1973)

    Jerry Schatzberg's low-budget film about a pair of drifters who decide to travel together yields showcase performances from Hackman and Al Pacino. Hackman's character Max is an ex-con determined to start up a carwash business in Pittsburgh, while Pacino's character Lion is aiming to make contact with his only child, the boy whose mother he'd abandoned in Detroit while she was still pregnant.

    The friendship which develops between the two men is the focus of the movie. Lion tries to teach the pugnacious Max that, when they get in a fix, laughter is always a better way through than brawling; and Max is there for Lion when Lion suffers traumatic experiences towards the end.

    It's great to see the young Pacino giving an expansive, often comedic performance here, in between his first two 'Godfather' movies, while Hackman tops the bill with his complete, naturalistic immersion in the Max character, a rough diamond on the road. In a standout scene Hackman acts on Lion's maxim, defusing a tense situation in a bar by doing a spontaneous striptease, with 'The Stripper' playing on the jukebox, much to the consternation and then the delight of the grizzled old coots occupying the bar room.

    Pacino's story doesn't end in an entirely satisfying way - his hammy Long John Silver skit is somewhat out of place - but Hackman's final scene, an offhand little sketch in itself, is worth the price of admission alone - or the price of an imported DVD!

    I much prefer this film to 'Midnight Cowboy' - to which in some ways it's similar. Also, it owes something to 'Of Mice and Men'.


    ThE FRENCH CONNECTION 2 (1975)

    Director John Frankenheimer makes a creditable go of following in the footsteps of William Friedkin, whose 'The French Connection' (1971) is indisputably a groundbreaking masterpiece. 2's unflinching focus is on Hackman's established character 'Popeye' Doyle, an abrasive, tough street cop, and his continuing obsession with nailing 'Frog One', Fernando Rey's drugs kingpin, Charnier.

    Frankenheimer tries a 'fish out of water' approach by taking Doyle away from NYC and setting the whole movie in Marseille, Charnier's home turf. The notion of letting Doyle loose in a foreign jurisdiction doesn't bear much scrutiny plot-wise, and some of the initial humour centred on the brash American abroad is rather dated; but Hackman's performance is, again, immersive, naturalistic and utterly committed - riveting stuff - and he's well teamed with Bernard Fresson as the lead French cop on whom he's foisted. Some of the shots of Hackman moving around Marseille were apparently captured through secret filming rather than staged, giving the location work a documentary feel. And, apparently, local organised crime syndicates were keen to act as technical advisors on the movie, meaning that the drug factory processes as depicted on screen are pretty authentic.

    'Two' wasn't as commercially successful as 1, despite its continuation of 1's central conflict and its gritty, exciting action sequences. I guess 2's relatively modest box office returns may have had something to do with its unconventional structure, which mainstream audiences would have found challenging: the best part of an hour of screen time is devoted to the bad guys pumping Doyle full of heroin, and with Doyle's cold-turkey withdrawal back in the custody of French police. Frankenheimer really takes time to explore this part of the story, suspending the rest of the plot while Hackman does a masterclass job of inhabiting Doyle's illness and suffering. Time is then spent on Doyle's recovery - but he's at it with a vengeance once the hunt for Charnier is back on.

    Wisely, Frankenheimer decided not to try to emulate the spectacular car chase which Friedkin had pulled off in 1. Instead he has Doyle pursue Charnier on foot in Marseille, in a brilliantly edited sequence which works well as the movie's climax. Doyle slogs it through the harbour as Charnier makes off in a boat; Popeye finally manages to gun the kingpin down from the harbour as the target stands on deck - the movie ending suddenly, and memorably, on the moment of 'Frog One''s death.

    Frankenheimer would deliver 'French Connection'-level car chases late in his career, in Nice and Paris, for 'Ronin' (1998) - a much less satisfying film overall than his 'The French Connection 2', I'd say. (In 'Ronin' it's car-on-car action while in the original 'French Connection', of course, it's a case of car-pursuing-metro train.)

    Composer Don Ellis, who'd scored 1 for Friedkin, is back for 2, underlining with ominous horns Doyle's dark obsession and adding excitement to the chases with pacey, jazz-infused music, seventies style.

    Critics and material I don't need. I haven't changed my act in 53 years.
  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,236MI6 Agent

    Thanks @Shady Tree two very balanced reviews

  • Shady TreeShady Tree London, UKPosts: 2,966MI6 Agent
    edited August 2023

    RONIN (1998)

    Thanks, guys.

    @Gymkata Sure, 'Ronin' is a polished, entertaining and spectacular thriller of its vintage, and it boasts an impressive cast (no fewer than three principal Bond villains among them: Michel Lonsdale, Sean Bean and Jonathan Pryce). But the reasons why I personally prefer FC #2 to 'Ronin' in Frankenheimer's ouevre are Hackman's outstanding performance - Robert DeNiro and Jean Reno, while not exactly phoning it in, do seem to be playing it more by numbers as the leads in 'Ronin' - and because Frankenheimer had the opportunity in the 70s to do all-but-on-the-fly location work, giving FC #2 a gritty, New Wave-inflected authenticity which makes it more engaging to me.

    A useful comparison would be the bar scenes in the two movies. The Montmartre bar in 'Ronin' is, and feels like, a studio set, whereas the bar in Marseille where Popeye gets drunk with the barman and tries his luck with a couple of girls is genuine and all the actors are improvising. In 'Ronin' there is moderate tension because every character in the Montmartre bar appears to have a covert agenda - including the barmaid, Natascha McElhone. It's all to do with the plot, with efficiently graduated suspense. But when Hackman and the French barman leave the Marseille bar in FC #2, drunkenly singing a popular song together in the street, it's totally character-driven: the filmmakers didn't even have the rights to the song - the producer had to pay this off subsequently and Frankenheimer got into trouble. I love that!

    'Ronin' has many punchy moments. The most disturbing is probably when the ice skater played by Katarina Witt is assassinated on the rink in the middle of a perfectly executed routine. This is supposed to emphasise how ruthless the competing bad guys are. Yet more affecting, for me, is Cathleen Nesbitt's part as the mannered, elderly heroin addict in FC #2. It's quite something how Ms Nesbitt, a grand theatrical actress of the 30s and 40s, was prepared to use her severely rheumatoid hands to make special, and intimate, her creepy scene with Hackman at Doyle's lowest point in the movie, drugged up and out of it.

    'Ronin' goes for what was, at the time, a hard-edged topicality by including in its mix a group obviously meant to be the Real IRA. Yet Hollywood mores prevail. Pryce's Seamus is the expendably villainous face of this group whereas McElhone's Deidre is potentially redeemable because she's personally attractive and DeNiro's character is meant to have some kind of chemistry with her. At least Popeye Doyle was upfront as a card-carrying incarnation of reactionary, red-blooded toxicity.

    Critics and material I don't need. I haven't changed my act in 53 years.
  • Shady TreeShady Tree London, UKPosts: 2,966MI6 Agent

    Oh, there's no question it's a good movie. We'll have to agree to disagree on the question of exactly *how* good it is :-)

    Critics and material I don't need. I haven't changed my act in 53 years.
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,199Chief of Staff

    Opening Channel D....


    The Karate Killers (1967)

     

    Messrs Solo and Kuryakin fly to the four corners of the studio in search of a formula developed to desalinise sea water which actually extracts the gold content from it. Along the way they meet innocent bystanders in the U.N.C.L.E. tradition including future Bond villains Curd Jurgens and Telly Savalas (with an outrageous Italian accent) who is playing a Count (!), plus a hell of a lot of rear projection and stock footage but the film is stolen by Herbert Lom as the villain.

    Not a lot of karate, though (one scene towards the end).


    (If someone could give me a link to the U.N.C.L.E. thread I'll copy & paste this to there)

  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,929MI6 Agent
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,199Chief of Staff

    Thank you, cp.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,236MI6 Agent
    edited September 2023

    THE COMPANY YOU KEEP (2012)

    Almost forty years on from All The President’s Men, Robert Redford as producer, star and director churns out an altogether less interesting political thriller that holds together with very little string and a lot of hope. A long and very assured cast go through their very assured motions not doing very much. Redford seems too old to play the lead part, or perhaps he just seems too old to have an eleven year old daughter, or maybe he’s simply too old, period. The movie is based on a book based on the activities of the true life Weather Underground Organisation, a terror group who carried out a series of bombings in the USA during the late 1970s. I think I would have been more interested in a documentary about the group’s actual activities and political leanings than this throw-away movie that wants to address those issues but ends up being all about self-sacrifice and American family values. The suggestion Redford can convince Julie Christie’s old flame, a die in the wall left wing militant, to do the decent thing just by sleeping with her offers no hope to women of standing anywhere.

    Ugh. Horrible.

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