Film Reviews

The Wild Bunch.

Oh my god…sifting through the brain in order to construct a decent film review is like wading through treacle sometimes. Maybe because even though i initially set up this part of the website out of love for film…it can also feel like a duty. Duty makes me idle….it’s like being in the army, it fills me with inertia. But also it’s hard to write an appreciation of a film that communicates something constructive to the reader.

I’m no Mark Kermode, more of a Commode Mark, – is what i write shit… ?

Anyway, Sam Peckinpah, 1969…a long winding film, one of many Western epics that Peckinpah directed.

I recall seeing it as a kid, and being a bit bored – though the opening credit sequence of kids tormenting and torturing a scorpion always stayed with me –

But i ‘d say it is a film that’s best appreciated by adults. There’s a bit of a joke with Peckinpah when it comes to violence and slow motion shoot ’em up. Monty Python did a famous pastiche called Sam Peckinpah’s Salad Days…

But there’s a lot more than just violence to this film. Wisdom. Ageing. Mortality. A sense of belonging.

The Mexican characters are portrayed with respect, not just one dimensioanl cliched expendables as was so often the case in westerns. They all speak Spanish, and not a subtitle in sight – brilliant!

William Holden, who is an actor i’ve never really appreciated, is just right as the maturing leader of the outlaws. He’s like John Wayne, but a John Wayne who’s not so concerned about his family image…

Coming at the end of the 60s this film shares what seems a common element of that time: an end to an age is portrayed with the death of folk heroes being the ultimate symbol of that end.

The Wild Bunch, Butch and Sundance, Bonnie and Clyde, – to name but three movies – all share the idea that there is no way out for those who live outside the law, outside the system, even though they are our heroes, they are the ‘goodies’.

Unlike films of previous decades the goodies depicted here do not live in fantasy but in a harsh reality where bullets maime and kill, and where the old cowboy sees the new age ushered in by the motor car and the ‘bicycle’.

In the classic of the previous decade Shane – released 1953 – the outlaw also knows his days are numbered, and he says as much to the villain…but the ending is ambiguous as to whether he lives or dies.

In The Wild Bunch there is no ambiguity, just a tragic fate, one that is set up for the bunch right at the beginning of the film. Right from the start the odds are against them, just as the scorpion is overwhelmed by ants…

but ultimately it is their sense of loyalty to their Mexican friend that draws them back into the trap…there’s no way they can escape their loyalty, their sense of honour.

Switching Channels (1989)

a fast paced, fun film, the most recent version of The Front Page which started out in the ’20s as Broadway stage play. It’s been made into a film about 4 times. It’s a newspaper office set comedy, but this late ’80s take sets it in the news dept of american TV. I thought it worked, and was funnier than the Billy Wilder version (with Mathau, Lemon and Sarandon). But if you look at Google you will see how badly Switching Channels fared at the box office, and also at the hands of critics.

But, maybe the quality of a well put togther comedy film is something so rare today that to me – in comparison -this film shone. It’s a good story, with some very witty lines, and excellent ensemble acting. that works. Burt Reynolds, Kathleen Turner and Christopher Reeves starred, but as i say the entire cast had their moments.

The film is packed from start to end with screw ball twists, slapstick, physical as well as verbal humour. e.g. there’s a slap from Turner that Burt Reynolds ducks by a milimetre, which is a master calss in timing. The camera work also shares in this clockwork timing; there is a one long scene that drifts from one newscaster to another, maybe six in total, and ends in stretcher coming into shot.

It’s a shame that satire, when it appears, is not appreciated more. Oh well, maybe people at the end of the 80s were spoilt for choice when it came to comedies- Eddie Murphy was doing a lot for example. But his best comedies were mid eighties: 48 hours, Trading Places, Beverley Hills Cop.

Comedy is a hard thing to do, and it seems to be the reviews are constantly wrong, as is the box office. I mean, Ghostbusters – the original – was a big hit comedy…really? a funny film ? It ‘s a long commercial, effects driven piece of crap…and yet it was a giant hit; i too bought my ticket, I went to the pictures to see it because hype is a wondrous thing.

Talking about wit, i think there were a lot more films embracing it back in the 60s, 50s and 40s than there are today…or were there? We are led to believe that. Billy Wilder churned out a lot; Lubitsh; Born Yesterday is seen as a classic; The Lady Eve and in fact most anything by Preston Sturges.

I watched the Lady Eve the other day. On Goggle it says it’s a film that has about the wittiest dialogue of any film. So i watched it and yes there’s some good lines in it. But the story line mucks up any logic; there’s a completely unbelieveable story twist where Henry Fonda thinks – well i won’t spoil it for you. And then Fonda’s character is so limp – i mean he’s meant to be an explorer who hunts snakes in the Amazon FFS ! But his lack of perception , his inability to heed his bodyguard’s advise, makes him into a stupid bore..no not the classic i hoped for.

To me , a witty play or film is elevated if the story has a realism, a logic that reflects what could happen in real life. The actors and script, if godd, help that illusion along.

Switching Channels did and it didn’t…There were outrageous stunts, and farcical evets, but they were carried off well by the performers.

Saint Jack (from 1979)

I had the DVD for this lying around the bedroom. i couldn’t play it for ages because i never had the right player ( it’s an american region disc).

Also, i just couldn’t be bothered to get around to watching it. But I’m glad i did. Me and eleri lying on the bed of an afternoon. we watched it together.

I loved the film.

Peter Bogdanovich directed , and plays a big role in the film also. The entire cast is superb, Ben Gazara really shows how sweet an actor he was, and could be, and his relationship with Denholm Eliot in the film is great.

A few unexpected names in the cast, amongst them Rodney Bewes and George Lazenby.

It’s a really smooth watch, with no fast editing, not much violence, but great portrait of a man in a situation.

I’m glad i sought this out.

Anotehr film i may soon seek is the Lady Eve, a screw ball comedy from the 40s, directed by Preston Struges. It’s meant to be one of the wittiest films ever….that’s what the hype says.

Gwaed Ar Y Ser (Means ‘Blood on the stars’)

welsh language horror/comedy from around 1981 – pre S4C.

A grand romp with great jokes and dialogue. It also features a naked Dafydd Iwan lying naked, painted green, in the countryside – a rare sight indeed ! This movie has the amazing Wynford Elis Owen as a detective on the track of a sick murderer of celebs.

The Pretender (1947)

Did you know Billy Wilder had a brother who also wrote and directed films ? Well i didn’t. He ‘s not as famous as his brother, probably cos his films are inferior.

But William Lee Wilder tried , and was prolific, his canon included many sci fi B movies in the 50’s.

The titular – which does not mean it had tits – film was what is now known as ‘noir’. It was great and free to access on Youtube. Albert Decker played the lead, and it was good to see him in a decent film, as the only thing i can recall seeing him in before was Dr Cyclops. Which i didn’t think was a very good movie even though it’s got a classic horror theme, and even though i am generally a fan of that era (early 40)’s horror.

Anyway, The Pretender has a really clever story which sets up a mistake identity, which could lead to an assassination. The result is that Dekker’s character gets more and more paranoid – is there poison in his food ? will he get knocke down by a car if he goes out? etc.

Dial M for Murder (not the famous one)

As i did with the Holbrook movie (below) I stumbled across another film who’s lead actor has recently left us – and i don’t mean he’s gone to the toilet!

A TV version of the famous Hitchcock effort Dial M for Murder….both films based on the original play. this time with the late Christopher Plummer in the Ray Milland role.

For some reason it’s set in 1963. so it’s set later than the Milland film, and yet not contemporary to the year of making which was around 1981. I assume this is hds something to do with the fact that the storyline involves the death penalty as well as being set in Britain. Angie Dickinson’s wife gets sentenced to hang for a murder which in reality clever Christopher has staged. (The death penalty was abolished in UK by the mid 60s). It would have been more satisfying i think to bring the period right up to the present day – i don’t think the wife dying is an essential plot detail though, having said that, her will comes into it i.e. what she leaves to her husband after her passing.

Ron Moody played the stooge set up to commit the murder of the wife – nice to see him in anything outside Oliver! – this act goes horribly wrong.

Plummer is suave, sophisticated, charming and cold. His brilliantly quick planning reflects the cleverness of the plot. You the murder he planned – to be carried out by Moody – backfires. Instead Moody is killed by his intended victim (played blandly but ably by Dickinson). The resulting improvisation on teh part of Plummer’s character shows what a dashing criminal mind is all about…but his ultimate dowfall comes from a fiendishly subtle plot device involving a latch key (not the double locking night variety that they stock in Pobl Y Cwm). Is that what’s known as a McGuffin? If so i’ll have mine large with fries and extra cheese please.

Some people online reckon this film too talky, but whattheheck it’s based on a play……and so its theatre filmed. Filmed very well i thought. Directed by Boris Sagal – he of The Omega Man fame – who i once read met his end at the touch of a helicopter blade. Dial M was one of the last things he worked on.

nothing but death to look forward to – i guess that’s why people leave all these films to posterity….they can never die. Talking about death…Ron Moody’s character’s death by scissors is far superior here than in the 1952 version. In the latter the stooge gets stabbed in the back by Grace Kelly with a pair of scissors. But i always find it unsatisfactory to watch, because a couple of inches of blade in your back would not i think kill you outright. But in the newer film there’s a slight adjustment to this scene when the stabbed man falls to ground after being stabbed and we watch – and i think hear – the body land on the scissors and can sense it going all the way in….indeed a few minutes later and Chris Plummer , who’s returned from the club to check things out, calmly declares that the blade’s been ‘driven in’. Yes ! where was that in the original? was it in the paly and cut out of the film for being too crude i wonder? or is it not in the play but added later courtey of Sagal et al…?

Plummer seemed to get busier and more successful the older he got. Even though he played the husband in Sound of Music, one of the most popular films ever made, to me his face didn’t become recognisable until well into the 70s. Often picked to play icy villainous types, i think he was a more than competent lead, as well as character actor.

Look out for ‘Remember‘ a Canadian production from about 8 years ago….it’s got the excellent Martin LAndau as well as Plummer . This film has a breathtaking last minute twist which my friend Glyn told me I’d never guess…..but i think becasue he told me that i worked extra hard i nmy mind to guess what the twist would be. Once the story and the charcters are set see if you can guess the ending? Or better still don’t….instead just sit back and enjoy….i know i didn’t and as result my enjoyment of the otehrwise brilliant movie was completely fucked…

The Creeper aka Rituals

This was a film that surprised me. One night i was lying on the sofa perusing youtube for some horror films. And i saw this Trash TV drive in double bill – that’s what they’re called. The first one on this particular bill was Funeral Parlour, it was ok but was slow, and i was able to skip parts in order to get to the irresistable denoument : PSYCHO in reverse.

The second film completely blew me away – and that inspite of the crap picture quality from this inferior copy on there. Hal Holbrook played one of a group of doctors , middle calss susccessful, on holiday out in the boondocs (somewhere like Canada or the Rockies). His role emerged to be the main one by the end, though the way there was unpredictable to say the least.

Five – or is it six ? – men go on a trip and are gradually picked off one by one by a creeping hunter , who watched their every move through the woods….Think Deliverance, but with less glamour. The characters dialogue, interaction and relationship are make this film what it is. the ensemble, all male, are convincing hikers, and the gradual decay in their communications and atrophying mentals states while conducting exhausting physical feats elevates this movie into the top realm. I’d say it is a ‘horror’ film, and yet there is no supernatural element to it….but the way it plays out the feeling of it, it so well shot, and paced, that the unknown aspect of what’s ‘out there’ becomes a monster….

and I guess part of that monster is the environment, nature.

It’s criminal that Rituals/Crepper is not well known – i’d never heard of it and i’m gonna lock up the people responsible for that! And how timely that i should stumble across this only a few weeks after the passing of Hal Holbrook. You may remember him as Father Malone in The Fog – but here he is a multi faceted hero, and puts in a performance worthy of any Oscar winner.

The Iceman Cometh

I saw a film called The Iceman Cometh. it ‘s from 1973, and is a filmed play, the play of the same written by Eugene O’Neill. I’d read about it somewhere and ordered it on a whim, well i’ve been reading a lot of plays of late – and the internet is such an easy place to get candy. Wasn’t sure if i could actually face watching it as it’s 4 hours long. but i ‘m not fussed if it’s done in one than more sitting….

I’m glad i did I watch it in sessions. Now, i used to have a friend who would never do that; he’d insist on watching all his movies in one go, it had to be free of advert breaks, with nothing to break up the film’s continuous completeness. I once went with him to the cinema and he walked out as soon as he realised that he’d missed the opening few seconds of the film…which i thought was a little unreasonable. I mean ok neither of us had actually paid for a ticket but still i was looking forward to Blue Jasmine with or without the opening seconds !

I don’t mind watching a bit at a time; stopping, then watching some more. I don’t find it mars my enjoyment of the film, though of course it depends on what the film is.

Anyway, this film Iceman is incredible. Even though it is just a film of a play, it is done very professionally. When i say filmed play i mean it has been adapted to teh screen, but the words, the words are all the same as what the play is.

What stands out is the cast. an awesome generation spanning cast:

Robert Ryan, Frederic March, Jeff Bridges , Lee Marvin (who gets top billing), Bradford Dillman, Clifton James, Moses Gunn and others. Turns out it is the last ever film that Ryan and March did, and what a swan song for the both.

This film is deep…..and the direction is simple but fluid. John Frankenheimer, an amazing director who could turn his hand to almost anything, here holds the shots for long periods to ensure that the performances are captured properly. Robert Ryan, who i think of when i think of film noir and violent B movies, proves to everyone what an amazing actor he was. His stoic resignation belies a sickness, a sickness that many if not all the characters share. They just want to get drunk so that they can forget their problems. Drink seems to be the biggest star of all in this story which is set in the one location: Harry’s Bar. The potential claustrophobia of the set is avoided somehow, or maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s present but lends itself to the power of the play. This film would not be for everyone, the dialogue is dense and coming from the mouths many different characters…but if you enjoy a challenge this movie is worth it. It’s pessimistic as hell, but asks a lot about what is life? what is ambition? What is the point?