A Week In Film #001: Birthday week

These past seven days I have watched…

Rescue Dawn title screen
Rescue Dawn
An MIA flick set in the early days of the American segment of the Vietnam War, based around Dieter Dengler, a downed US combat pilot. It appears to take great liberties with the facts, in much the same way as Christian Bale does with his German-American accent…

Too Late The Hero title screen
Too Late The Hero
This has long been one of my favourite war films, simply because it’s so bleak. It’s got Michael Caine, Ronald Fraser, Cliff Robertson, Denholm Elliott and loads of other familiar faces, as well as lashings of Aldrich violence. It’s kind of a cheap precursor to The Thin Red Line, and less pretentious to boot. In war there are no heroes, only survivors would appear to be the message.

52 Pick-Up title screen
52 Pick-Up
Roy Scheider is a businessman who fights back against blackmailers! Dirty, torrid, quite good.

The Year Of Living Dangerously title screen
The Year Of Living Dangerously
One of that cycle of films in the late 70s/early 80s set in the exotic third world, where our identification is with some Western journalist or tourist or whatnot (see also Under Fire, Salvador, Beyond Rangoon, The Killing Fields etc). This one has naïve, uncouth Aussie radio hack Mel Gibson coming to Indonesia on the eve of the coup against the Sukarno regime. It’s so-so, but watchable.

MASH title screen
MASH
Robert Altman’s episodic, ensemble-based, overlapping dialogue-infused Korean War film. Apparently it’s a satire on the Vietnam War, but can’t say it works that way for me.

Gia title screen
Gia
A very good HBO TV movie biopic about early supermodel – and early celebrity AIDS victim – Gia Marie Carangi, who’s played brilliantly by a young, pre-superstardom Angelina Jolie.

I’d never heard of it till the LLF mentioned it in positive terms. Well, I say positive terms, it’s pretty unremittingly grim. Mercedes Ruehl is very good as her mother, too (Gia’s, not the LLF’s).

Death At A Funeral title screen
Death At A Funeral
Or Sterben Für Anfänger if you happened to have acquired the German version. I didn’t realise these sorts of films got made in Britain anymore – basically it’s a drawing room farce, complete with fucking vicar. A family of dysfunctional, mostly unlikable upper middle class idiots gathers together at the funeral of its patriarch; ‘hilarity ensues’ (or doesn’t).

I watched it because Andy Nyman – the magician/actor who turned up in Charlie Brooker’s Big Brother-meets-Dawn Of The Dead mini-series Dead Set as the obnoxious television producer – was in it. He is pretty enjoyable in it (in the sort of part that Nick Frost might otherwise snag); as is Peter Dinklage as the blackmailing dwarf. Keeley Hawes is in it, but doesn’t get much to do. Matthew Macfadyen is too, doe-eyed as usual. Alan Tudyk gets the chance to essentially reprise Steve the Pirate from Dodgeball, only with an English accent. It was directed by Muppet man Frank Oz. It would have been improved no end with song ping-pong ball-eyed puppets.

Catch-22 title screen
Catch-22
Mike Nichols’ excellent take on the Joseph Heller novel, which was somehow less successful than 1970′s other big Nam analogue, MASH, despite being more dramatic, more satirical, more laugh-out funny and more dark. Go figure.

Alan Arkin is great as Yossarian, the World War 2 bomb aimer with a healthy desire to be nowhere near the fighting. The performances are uniformly excellent. There’s a gory bit with a man and a propeller blade, which my dad spoiled for me before I got the chance to see it, in much the same way as he spoiled Don’t Look Now for me with his explanation of the whole red-coated stalker shenanigans.

Ilsa, She-Wolf Of The SS title screen
Ilsa, She Wolf Of The SS
Nazi sexploitation gubbins (I blame Nigel). And that torture chamber isn’t big enough to swing a whip! (The LLF was not impressed when I told her about watching it :( ).

Boogie Nights title screen
Boogie Nights
Paul Thomas Anderson’s rise-and-fall fairy tale of a John Holmesian porn star Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) in seventies and eighties San Fernando Valley. Well shot, at times touching or funny, with some good performances, but ultimately it just doesn’t really click for me.

Cross Of Iron title screen
Cross Of Iron
Another favourite war film – James Coburn as a weary German sergeant on the Eastern Front, saddled with an incompetent, glory-hunting officer. One of Peckinpah’s best, on technical, artistic and moral grounds. Features one of the greatest opening and closing credit sequences in the history of film, too.

The Cook The Thief His Wife & Her Lover title screen
The Cook The Thief His Wife & Her Lover
Peter Greenaway trained as a painter, yadda yadda yadda, painterly direction, blah blah blah, making a statement about greed/Thatcherism/whatever the fuck else, etc etc etc. Bit boring, but to the teenaged Bristle, HELEN MIRREN WITH HER NORKS OUT! The Comic Strip’s Eat The Rich covered much the same thematic territory, but was funnier and less up its own arse. Ooh, there’s an early appearance by Alex Kingston in there too!

The Boys In Company C title screen
The Boys In Company C
One of my two favourite Craig Wasson Vietnam War films (the other being Go Tell The Spartans).

It’s a low budget first run for Full Metal Jacket – we follow a platoon of young draftees through training and then in-country combat; stuff happens (comedic and tragic), the war is never won, the end. Lee Ermey is in there, rehearsing his FMJ lines nigh on ten years early. Stan Shaw (the boxer who takes the fall in Snake Eyes) is in the mix, and very impressive he is too.

Guns At Batasi title screen
Guns At Batasi
A mid-fifties take on post-imperial Africa, with a small group of British soldiers trapped on their base as independence leads to uprising and revolution.

Dickie Attenborough is impressive as a tightly-wound, old school RSM (all Brylcreemed ‘tache and barking), Mia Farrow appears to have walked on set from a different film.

Played title screen
Played
An oddity: apparently shot as an experimental short, this gangster/revenge flick somehow squeezes in more than a dozen big and well-known actors into its cast, and ended up as a full-length festival feature. At times it comes over too Guy Ritchie (and yes, it does has Vinnie Jones there, as a bent copper who CAN’T STOP SHOUTING); it’s at its best when it slows down and lets its actors act.

Writer/producer Mick Rossi (as in Mike Rossi of Slaughter And The Dogs fame?) is also the main character, a thief named Ray; he’s both kind of good, but also kind of jarring, with an accent that drifts around in the middle of the Atlantic like a torpedoed merchant seaman (he’s meant to be a south London villain). But it’s definitely more I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead than Rollin’ With The Nines.

Again, I watched it because it’s got Andy Nyman in it – as a liability of a snout. He’s good in the role, unfortunately the role doesn’t really suit the tone of the film.

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