Posts tagged “Review

The Tree of Life (2011) Revisited


The Tree of Life (2011)I’ve been struggling to get The Tree of Life (2011) off the shelf again, wanting to revisit this more recent Terrence Malick film which I heard being talked about at the time, even recommended that I watch it whilst at art-school. I got hold of the film and really didn’t understand it. Making connections with Kubrick‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) which today  seem unfounded really, having seen more of the directors work I have a far better understand of what is going on here. There aren’t half as many dinosaur sequences that I first remembered, although that could be a short on its own.

As the title suggests its all about life, from birth to death and how we cope and live with that life in between. Focusing on the life of one Texan family, I’m particular a father son relationship that is rocky at best, son Jack (Hunter McCracken) and father known simply as Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt) an authoritarian figure in his and his families life. A father who wants his sons to be strong, able to defend they’re self’s, before understanding what effect he is having on them. Whilst almost passive mother Mrs. O’Brien (Jessica Chastain) almost watches on, as she too is feeling a strain on their marriage, parenthood as we see is not easy for the father. More maternal instincts are needed.

I think what got me last time were the lingering wandering shots of nature which are commonplace in a Malick film, work as part of a child’s perspective before we leave the known for the unknown wonders that made life on earth possible. Everything is crisp and clear. The sound advice at the beginning of the film was to increase the volume which I actually followed, able to pick up more on the whispering monologues, the lingering thoughts. To the ripples in the streams and the wind that blows by, our senses are awakened.

Coming back down to earth from the heavens we are also seeing the long-term effects of this childhood on Jack now an adult (Sean Penn) who for once isn’t shouting at the top of his voice with poetical passion. Instead he is wandering around aimlessly. His part could easily have been filmed over 10 days as we see little of him to be honest. When we do he’s in a lift or in a far off barren landscape trapped with only his thoughts and memories, that become more clear at the end of the film.

The plot itself is quite loose, and with confusion too, as a brother dies at the start, aged 19, who we see much younger drown in a pool. That’s the only real issue and a few bad cuts. It’s visually flawless, left open to interpretation how adult Jack comes to terms with his fractured childhood and the memories that play out in suburban Texas. Both at home and with friends shaping who he is today which changes over the duration of the film in the brief time that we have with him. Interspersed with incredible visuals that you can get lost in. This was indeed a well deserved revisit that fits far better into my understanding and appreciation of one of the few auteurs working in Hollywood today.

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Hombre (1967) Revisited


I originally saw Hombre (1967) with a cynical view of the western, the overuse of the Apache nation in the genre, showing that it wasn’t fresh, becoming tired.That thought was blown away when I began to read more about the film and what it was trying to say. I was trying to understand the genre without really reading about it. Meaning a revisit was in order.

Even with a hangover I still could concentrate and pick up and pull a part the ideas that are explored in the revisionist western that sees a John Russell a white man who was brought up by the Apache’s on a reservation, developing a very different outlook on the white society that he should be part of. He cares little for the white man’s way of life, seeing only bigotry, racism and violence towards his adoptive people who have brought him up with a different set of values.

Reluctantly see he shaves off his black Apache hair to reveal the classic Paul Newman look as he returns to the home where he was once rescued as a boy. Now left in his name he has to confront his white past. In a town of people who all have problems of their own. A young married couple Doris and Billy Dee (Margaret Blye and Peter Lazer) who have long since left the honeymoon period of the marriage to see the reality of living together. It’s not what they were expecting. Jessie (Diane Cilento), a woman who is world weary of the men she has loved and lost, developing a perspective on life that shocks other women around her. Whilst an eastern couple Favor and Audra Favor (Fredric March and Barbara Rush) as civilised as they appear , their view of the Native Americans is the strongest.

All these people are placed into a clever reworking of John Ford‘s Stagecoach (1939) moving us from not just the journey and the stops in between to throw in another kind of danger. Not just from Grimes (Richard Boone) who creates the situation. We  have a clash of moralities’ between white and white Apache’s. It’s no coincidence that this was made during the civil rights movement, loosing the African American struggle for the right for equality in America for the social injustice of the 1800’s that saw an entire race brought to it’s knees, rounded up and penned into reservations. A way of life that has/was all but disappeared. These band of characters who are thrown together have to work together in terrible conditions against men with guns.

However these guns are really the least of their worries, a war of ideals is being waged between two sides of the same race. The barrier is not their language but their perception when Favor’s money is stolen the passengers true colours begin to emerge. Especially between Favor and Hombre who both used to live on the same Apache reservation. The image of eating a dog is mentioned a few times, a very strong image that is hard to forget. For westerners to see such an act can be seen as barbaric. Yet to a hungry person the dog becomes the only way to survive. The values and ideas we place on each other can prevent us from coexisting in peace. A very human trait which still exists today. How we view one another determines how we interact with them, the culture and our own history.

Hombre is in fact a very strong social commentary made during the civil rights movement. A second viewing was what the doctor ordered to really understand this film. With steely-eyed Newman able to drive home the injustice with a few words and gestures. It doesn’t matter where you come from, its how you get on with others that matters. Another stand-out performance comes from Diane Cilento who acts almost as Hombre’s unwanted conscience, trying to communicate with him. All this goes on in the open landscape, a group of passengers joined together by their own short-comings and inability to accept the other.

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Ace in the Hole (1951)


Ace in thr Hole (1951)I knew Ace in the Hole (1951) wasn’t Billy Wilder’s finest film and for reasons I will go into as I discuss the film. Coming off the back of the very successful Sunset Boulevard (1950) which is considered a classic was a highly charged film-noir which really sizzled in the writing and acting. A satire of the Hollywood system how it creates stars, only to dump them when their popularity wanes. You can’t help but see Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in her deluded state descended preparing for her close-up as her mental state peaks. Taking has-been screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) down with her in a honey trap that promised great things for him. Anyway enough about getting ready for close-up and more about getting back to New York for down and out writer Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) who won’t accept that he’s failed as a journalist, big ideas of big stories, made up to sell papers has again and again back-fired on him. None of the big papers want to know him. He tries his luck in a paper in Albuquerque, ran be an editor who wants to up-hold the truth, reporting the small stories in life. Gives this once big player a job after being promised great things. Surrounded by small town people who are happy with they’re lot.

On the face of it we have another Joe Gillis here in the world of journalism, wanting to make his way back up to the top. Even with Douglas in the role, giving one of his best performances as a man driven by desire to succeed, falls into a nasty trap of being too cynical for the audience to really swallow and enjoy. After spending a year at the paper he was expecting to be back on top. Not staring opposite a cross-stitch of  “Tell the truth” a pillar of good respectable journalism, which drives him to distraction. His news is about sensation, increases circulation and the big scoops which make him successful.

When he’s sent out of a routine story which has become the norm for him. With an eager young colleague in tow they come across a petrol (gas) station where the owner has been trapped inside a n Native American cave, buried under the rubbles from rotten supports. This is too good to pass up, jumping on this now “human” story, making it his own, an exclusive scoop. When all those around him want to get him out fast. Even the poor guy Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) wants to get out. Everyone outside is slowly wrapped around his finger as he orchestrates a media sensation, drawing thousands of people to this once quiet spot in New Mexico. The idea of getting him out quick is soon dashed with the sherif bribed with hopes of re-election in sight.

All this for one man to get back to the city, to deliver the stories he was meant to write. A man trapped by circumstance and his ego that leads to his destruction. A role made for Douglas who personally is a vain man who never really plays a good or a bad-guy, you never know what you’re getting when he’s on-screen. Which works here more than I have seen before. The subject matter so soon after Wilder’s earlier film of a writer not a winning formula every time, as he shows us the outsiders view of America. This is too much even today we have just had the Leveson enquiry wrap up this year in the UK that was in response to phone-hacking, journalists in the city never seem to learn. Any and all efforts go into getting a story.

Tatum is a personification of that need for a story that could have lasted a few days, stretched out into this circus he created. A modern day attraction for the average person to flock and stare at. It’s sickening today to have cars slowing down past car-accidents on the motorway for a picture or for a video. Our need to escape the everyday has not changed, it’s grown stronger for some to see what we have in the media. To see this first hand is too good to pass-up. If only this was made with more heart and humour, not the focusing solely on the writer. The Minosa family is in there somewhere but not delved into enough. There are also hints of being a western however slim they maybe too, with the New Mexico setting and the Native American imagery. There is a complete disregard for the sacredness of the land, treated as an attraction for tourists, a people now little more than a figment in the countries history. It’s not really touched on, yet you can see it in the imagery of the head-dresses worn by children, iconography that has become mass-produced souvenirs.

I’m glad to say that Wilder was back on form when it came around to the P.O.W. caper Stalag 17 (1953). Maybe the gap in production gave Wilder time to reflect and rediscover his strengths which kept him going through the decade. Ace in the Hole is by no means his worst film, I have yet to see that for myself. I won’t even guess which one that maybe, only after viewing it will I know. This was more a stumble from a great height to produce a poor copy of a better film. What makes it watchable is Douglas’s performance, one of sheer passion a man neither black or white and definitely a personification of the big city journalist.

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The Missouri Breaks (1976) Revisited


I’ve still got a long list of films that I have to revisit, not really giving them the attention respect they may deserve. Passing judgement on them too quickly or not understanding them. The Missouri Breaks (1976) I found to be flawed just over two years ago, focusing on the killings at the end of the film, It just didn’t work for me. The second time around with an understanding of westerns from that period I went into this film with more of an open mind, one that I hoped would expand my appreciation (or even produce one) of this film which is only remembered because it stars to heavy-weight actors Jack Nicholson and the unpredictable Marlon Brando who really shows he does’ really care about the role, just having a good time as infamous regulator (assassin) Lee Clayton who is as eccentric as we imagine Brando has become. Who by the late 1960’s was seen as unemployable, only Francis Ford Coppola dared take a chance with him, and it paid. Only ever having larger than life mysterious parts during the decade. Whereas Nicholsona man who could do no wrong creatively, working with everyone of the time practically.

Arthur Penn who before directed Little Big Man (1970) a spoof of the genre takes on a darker view of the genre. The frontiers of America have almost been tamed law is strengthening all the time, making it harder for bandits to have success. Something that has yet to properly reach this part of the county for Tom Logan (Nicholson) and his men who are in the business of horse rustling. The premise is pretty straight-forward, he and his men want to steal horses and sell them on.

It’s not your straight-forward western, having more of an off-beat feel, the comedy between the men in a love-hate relationship. Whilst over the civilised part of the country self-proclaimed law-man David Braxton (John McLiam) who rants nearly as much as Peter Finch‘s Howard Beale in Network (1976) having seen and done it all in the west, he believes he knows best. Carrying out justice from the beginning with a hanging of one of Logan’s friends. Something that horrifies Braxton’s daughter Jane (Kathleen Lloyd) a woman who was really meant for the civilised East.

The rustling of sheep is main threat to John McLaim who has already lost 7% per annum of his stock that year, yes he’s that accurate. Hiring renowned regulator (in other words assassin) to track down the rustlers who are operating in the area. Brando is in his element, just being himself which at times alienated me, flipping from one persona to another. He’s not trying to live up to his reputation, he’s just having fun with this character which in this film doesn’t fit. Again larger than life unlike Logan who feels threatened by men who are killing his friends unjustly, unlawfully and unfairly, there is away about dealing out justice and this just isn’t right. He can see everything around him slip away.

It’s the dynamic between the two leads which doesn’t really work for me as they play their odd game of cat and mouse. Clayton is a cunning character who knows he’s good at killing, a skill we see time and again to grisly effect. It’s still that last encounter as the men are killed one by one in quick succession, you don’t have time to really take it in, to know they are dead as the next one falls. He is indeed a fast worker. Then it’s the comeuppance the final kill that was not even worked up to, it just happens, its cowardly, not of the west, there is no honour in the kill, calculated too wait until Clayton is asleep. Maybe I’m reading the film wrong, that scene lacks the build-up, its all done before we know whats happened.

So I’m still sitting on the side same side of the fence I was a few years back. It’s a different kind of western, modern in the respect that all murders aren’t as we see them in the west, they are devious and cold, not these staged show-downs that we are used to. That is what it’s about which doesn’t sit with me.

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Last Action Hero (1993)


LLast Action Hero (1993)et me start by saying I wasn’t going to write about Last Action Hero (1993) however I just can’t shake loose some of the ideas that it explore, if only for entertainment value this is one of those films. A boy Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien) whose whole life is the big screen and the escapism that it allows him to engage in on a nightly basis. His favourite is one of ours at the time Arnold Schwarzenegger in his take on the Dirty Harry part Jack Slater, as we see from the beginning the third instalment of the series. The invincible rebel cop who is armed with guns in too many places. Causing thousands of dollars worth of damage. Sound familiar, spoofing the action cop genre, with Arnie in the titular role.

The lone viewer Danny adores the character, knowing the films back to front, he knows the conventions of Hollywood cinema too which come in handy later on. When his projectionist friend Frank (Art Carney) invites him to an exclusive preview showing of the new Jack Slater film he is given a golden ticket that was originally a gift from Harry Houdini. Its power is not yet known or even tested. in the hands of excited Danny its full potential is unlocked. A gateway into the film, the fourth wall is now open to him, and closed behind him.

Becoming a part of the fabric of the film. The characters unaware of the automatically reloaded guns, the gorgeous women who occupy Hollywood’s view of Los Angeles. This world is a complete film with its own reality and laws that govern it, the actors who portray them are unaware they are simply a performance, the now expands to the new element in the film, Danny who throws the completed film into chaos  From here on-in Danny teams up with Jack to solve the drug ring that is the plot of the scripted film. The villain of the film and deadly assassin Benedict (Charles Dance) is curious to know who this new element in the film is, how he knows so much. The voyeur becomes the watched that takes his experience to inform and direct the films progress.

Leading the deadly stereotypical British villain to unlock the power that the boy has, the potential of the ticket to survive in the real world. Having secured the ticket as the action progresses he understand how to use the ticket to unlock “baddies” from other film, to have the power of their on-screen character in the real world. Moving from the projected world which projected into audiences, our desires, dreams of the characters who come alive every time we watch them on the big screen. They have a life on in our own consciousness, empowered further with Houndini’s ticket become a reality.

This is a fascinating idea that holds up more than the film, even when Arnie’s character comes into contact with the man himself at the premiere of his own film, the cage he otherwise trapped in. His new lease of life is a culture shock to him, learning his limitations of as fictional character. It’s both fascinating and complex to see character confined to film come alive outside of their own framework. To imagine our favourite characters from over a century of film come off the screen, having a life beyond the film set, the special effects and the script, etc that brought them to life step out having another one. The actor may be long dead or still alive, there’s a clash when the two meet, and ultimately the new person is only as rounded as the on-screen performance given by the actor, which determine their life-span.

The film it self for me is particularly throw-away, a typical nineties action comedy that plays on the conventions of film. You could easily remake this film with another set of actors, even moving the action from a film projection to digital, allowing a film character to leak into the internet, the travel around Youtube, finding other clips of films. The possibilities are endless.

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Mr. Turner (2014)


Mr Turner (2014)I’ve been keeping an eye out for this little film about the life of the painter J.M.W. Turner brought to the screen by Mike Leigh a pet project Mr.Turner (2014) that has been in the works for a few years with Timothy Spall already cast in the role of the cockney hobgoblin of a painter whose performance delighted me the other night. His years of character roles have allowed him to breathe real life into a man I knew little about. Partly because I’m not a painter and his work has never been an influence to my own. Always being in awe however at the scenes he created for generation of the British public to enjoy and love. Opening up a whole new world for us to explore.

Set in the later life of Turner the romantic landscape painter who has lead the life that all artists want to lead, one of pure creation of work, being immersed in his practice and everything else practically falling away. Here we find the man very close to his father William Turner (Paul Jesson) who is a long devoted assistant, living well into old age, after a life of a barber. The relationship at times goes beyond that of father and son to two men who have a deep love and respect for one another. Turner sr. is by far the closet male relationship he has, having an effect on him as the film progresses past his own death.

Also focusing heavily on his relationships with the women in his life, from his estranged daughters and ex-wife who be-grudgingly is part of his life, if only for their daughters sakes, having only but contempt for Turner who cares little for them all. Being merely courteous to the ladies, thinking little of them otherwise. It seems that Turner is a man who has many strands to his life which he hides projects to everyone he meets. Personas and identities that allow him to have the life he wants to lead. Spall gives a comic performance that is subtle and clever in the guise of an edwardian language which is eloquent for the cockney painter who otherwise grunts to great comic effect. Who needs words when  a grunt can express your emotions.

He has none of the airs or graces that his fellow painters have that we meet throughout the film, that even put shame to my own art-history. I will surely be researching them in the coming days. It’s the relationship between John Constable (James Fleet) and Benjamin Robert Haydon (Martin Savage) that we see on-screen. Seen not so much as rivals but as lesser artists who he respects to a point. To be rivals in the art-world can become quite an un-healthy mind-set, which we see with Haydon who fights the Royal Academy for the respect he believes he deserves. Whilst Turner treats him as he sees him, helping him to a point, knowing that anymore he would not shake him loose. His contemporary painters see him as very much a genus, who respect him also, whilst seen as an outsider who comes and goes, which he seems to like, just being very much himself, come and going as he pleases.

An important aspect in the film is the other women besides the non-existent family we have the house keeper/assistant Hannah Danby (Dorothy Atkinson) a relationship that is built up creatively by the director more for entertainment, to find a sexual relationship that is not seedy but quietly consensual, that builds up to become a quite fire that burns within her. Whilst over in Margate, the spiritual home of Turner we have Mrs Booth (Marion Bailey) who becomes Mrs. Turner that lasts for the rest of the film.

The look of the film is not trying to find the locations of the paintings, instead it creates the atmosphere of them, grand operas of romanticism, the looseness of the painting. Which is far better than going for a “this is where he was inspired for this one” Instead placing us in the moment where inspiration struck for him, cutting then to see them being painted. Brought to life by two years of painting tuition by Spall which adds another valuable layer to his performance. If you’re going to play a painter, learn to paint, more likely than not you’ll be seen painting. Its expected of you. It’s a very physical act that we are given, not these carefully made strokes of the brush, more violent and visceral, spitting, blowing powder onto the canvas. The biography of Turner is very much brought alive, not just in Spall but the world he inhabits which is rich and at the same time quiet and contemplative. I found myself wanting to clap after a singing recital finished, I was that relaxed by it all. All this is what Mike Leigh has created for us to enjoy, to discover Turner and the world he inhabited.

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Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) Revisited


Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)I first watched Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) when I discovered Sam Peckinpah properly at art-school, like most of the western films I have reviewed. Another which I had not fully understood apart from Pat Garrett (James Coburn) is given the badge of sheriff with one main objective in mind, to bring in Billy the Kid (Kris Kristofferson). Along with a very quiet and aloof Bob Dylan as aspiring bandit Alias who also provided the melancholic soundtrack which really struck a chord in a few scenes. Which has really made sense this time around as a cast of new and old actors, two generations of men and women are in the old west, a west that is fading in the 1880’s which reflects the state of the western genre, as actors from the golden age are retiring or dying, making way for fresh talent to make it’s own mark.

The older generation lead by James Coburn who wasn’t really that old at the time of film, in his mid forties, it was only a matter of hair and make-up, along with his years of experience that allowed him to take on this iconic role of America’s gunfighter past. Whilst Kristofferson a young country singer turned actor represented the new blood that was ready to take over the reigns. It was for Peckinpah to see the baton was passed on with a real sense of loss, the passage of time marked between one generation, a new way of thinking, a generation outmoded and outdated. Having to only think about surviving and trying not to die.

At the heart of this however is a friendship between two men who once rode together, building up a reputation of fear, death and gunfire, creating legends wherever they went. Part of the fabric of the west before it was tamed, fenced off and regulated to ensure its prosperity as a nation. These two men were a dying breed. Throughout we see friends of both men fall before the gun, in timely Peckinpah violence, allowing us to see how dangerous it really was, not quite glorified, using fake blood that wasn’t far off tomato ketchup, the action is more real than the blood that leaves the dying man.

My focus was on the older members of the cast from Slim Pickens, Jack Elam and Katy Jurado who had all made their mark on the genre as character actors creating more depth around the leads they supported for years before. All meeting horrible ends, each having their moment. I still get a little choked up when Sheriff Baker (Slim Pickens) goes off to the river to die, joined by his wife Mrs Baker (Jurado) who watched him drift off to the next world. Two very different figures who have met age head on, accepting their mortality, accompanied by Dylan’s Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door that only plays for a moment, being both an obvious choice and spiritual, paying respect to the dying who made their mark on the land.

Whilst the younger men are showing their age, the skill with the gun, is something to show off, cocky to an extent that they don’t respect the older gunfighter who have the upper hand still whilst they are still around. Brought down by Garrett who reluctantly sees the job through, his duty to the men who elected him during the age of the cattle baron. He may have the upper hand which ultimately costs him more than his life, a friend who he rode with for years. To ask anyone to kill a friend is a terrible and impossible thing to ask of anyone. Made hard still by the pressure of responsibility and age which bears down on him. A conflicted man, unlike the less complicated Billy (William H. Bonneythe Kid who as much as he respects his friend still has a confidence only the young can carry.

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is a landmark film in that is marks the beginning of the end really of the classic genre, the older man are hanging up their gun belts and seeking the easier life. Whilst the younger more violent driven genre which is rewriting the past, becoming more honest. Peckinpah as I have said before loves this genre, coming into it at a point when it’s worn out, needing to be regenerated to carry on, making the end of something that was once glorious. Which all his westerns deal with, never positive, full of death and despair. Violence a trademark of the director is very much their, with an absence more so of the slow-motion which is held restrained for stable scenes, to mark the passage of time, something that is growing ever more between the past and the present for him.

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Fury (2014)


Fury (2014)I first heard about Fury (2014) from all the on location antics that came courtesy of Shia LaBeouf who was having a bit of a break down. If you watch closely you can see which tooth he pulled out that he believed would help him get more into character. Before Brad Pitt had to step in and tell him to not take things too seriously, which if I’m honest is more in character for Pitt’s character Don “Wardaddy” Collier who finds inner strength to carry on and keep his men alive in a tank that has seen its fair share of WWII, from Africa to most of war-torn Europe. His team are all that’s left of his platoon, you can see how close they are in and out of Fury the tank that has for better or worse kept these brave solider alive.

Noted already for its realism, taking first hand advice from tank veteran Bill Betts acting advisor on the film, who helped ensure a high level of realism, a bar since raised after Saving Private Ryan (1998) which throws the audience into a relentless volley of bullets as soon as the soldiers land at the begin of the Normandy landings, its sheer hell for what feels like forever. Beefed up in Nazi Germany where we find a tired tank crew who are changed men, trigger happy in the face of the enemy who remain for the most part nameless. The best way for the enemy of the War genre, this way their death is more satisfying.

It’s not about sides here, it’s about the humanity of the solider, the human cost of war, whatever the side, being driven to the limit by the enemy to carry on regardless. There is little left of the human soul of a peaceful man on either side, tired, fed up wanting to go home, held back by an enemy who doesn’t know the meaning of the word surrender. Throw into that a fresh-faced typist Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) unaware of what war is beyond the desk he was once sat behind. Now in at the deep end, needing to grow up and fast. We follow him on his journey as he is the new member of a solid team who are ready for action and at the same time sick of the sight of Germans, known only as krauts. With colourful language that really adds to a war numbed team. Gone are the fun days of Telly Savalas roaming around in the tank taking shreds out of the enemy, we have filthy teams who are pretty much past caring, carry out their orders then let rip, release however they can. All this is new to Norman who is forced to kill his first German, seen as a right of passage, essential part of fighting the enemy. Something that is long behind most of the men around him. Norman’s journey continues in the next town where he meets a young German girl who he sleeps with, is this a form of relieve, a right of passage into man-hood? It’s not explained, left open to interpretation, he forms an attachment that will probably haunt him for the rest of his life. The real lesson is that everyone suffers in war, you just need to learn to accept that fact to move on to the next campaign.

What makes this film work is the time in the tank, the confined dirty squalid environment where these men rise to the challenge, somehow getting out by the skin of their teeth to see another day. All these come to a head with the final showdown that last what seems like forever, with he tank taking out of action they have one final battle, it’s all or nothing for these men who invite the German’s into a bloodbath the likes I have never seen before, becoming cows for the slaughter in a wash of bullets and anything that can be fired. Leaning heavily into overkill literally. The excitement is tiring for the audience who see day turn into a fire of blood the likes I have not seen before, not even something that Peckinpah wouldn’t even dare choreograph for The Cross of Iron (1977).  Going off into the deep end from realism into all out theatrics. This is where the realism of war ends blurring into Hollywood fantasy, the heroes are clearly defined here. Before it was a game of survival turning into a trigger happy orgy.

Still at the heart of this is a young man who is just starting out, finding his place in the war and life, understanding what it is to be a man, in a world at war. Surrounded by others who are just as s***-scared as him, having learnt to cope with it or go mad from all the horrors they have encountered. That is what I will take away from a film that doesn’t glorify war, seeing it as necessary evil to rid evil bringing out the worst in both sides of conflict.

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Bugsy (1991)


Bugsy (1991)Don’t mistaken Bugsy (1991) with the all singing all dancing Bugsy Malone (1976) which may have taken the title from the infamous gangster. The is however a rare chance to see the usually not seen Warren Beatty on-screen, known for being very particular in the roles he takes. Working intermittently since making it as part of the American New Wave in the 1960’s. Here we see him take on a role that I first thought would suit a younger actor, yet the more I saw of Ben (Bugsy) Siegel he gets away with it, already in his early fifties this is very much a mature gangster, usually a genre that is the exclusive of the younger man, seeing only the older men who have been playing the right cards in the business.

Taking place during the WWII period of Hollywood, yet never really touches the film industry after the idealistic gangster who is already feared by his enemies visits his friend in the business George Raft (Joe Mantegna) who has made a small success. Not the usual line of work for a member of the mob, wanting to keep a low profile. Still enjoying the lavish lifestyle that goes with being in that part of the world. All this attract Bugsy (don’t call him that or you may end up with more than a bloody nose) who throws money around to get what he wants. Money is no object, practically lined with dollar bills. Even getting the girl, he wants, a film extra Virginia Hill (Annette Bening) whose morals are questionable.

You can see why Beatty chooses his roles carefully, he puts so much effort into his performances, developing little quirks that flesh him out, from the wild temper to the tongue twister he repeats, with n particular reason. He really does his homework to create a flawed individual who as powerful and successful that he was, was also his own down fall. As we follow him from getting his own schemes off the ground. Ideas of killing the Italian leader Mussolini that were just crazy, all his friends knew he was mad, trying to control him the best they could. More so for old friend Meyer Lansky (Ben Kingsley) who still loves the liability that Bugsy has become.

It’s his final idea that is something I knew very little about, having a last impact on American culture, the transformation of the Nevada desert into a 24/7 land where gambling and entertainment become part of the culture. All built on the dirty money that came from the mob. When you think about it’s not so mad. Part of the American dream to have it all at your finger-tips, to win big whenever. Part of the hedonistic culture we have today, began with the Flamingo Hotel that has come along way since its construction which takes up a good half of the film, an idea that seemed mad back then, but today is unthinkable, fuelled by the then newly completed Hoover dam. The men around him who fund this incredible venture see things spiral out of control, even when Bugsy is arrested briefly. The curtains are slowly closing on Bugsy’s life, a decline he was too blind to see.

Bugsy is a slick film that takes you into the darker side of Hollywood’s history, much like Chinatown (1974) and LA Confidential 1997) spending more time with the crime than the glitz and glamour. We still had the madness that goes with that world, the people who lived among it all. A semi-film noir in colour, heavily stylised, making use of the lighting wherever possible in this dirty underworld populated with powerful and very flawed people.

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Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) Revisited


A few years ago I reviewed Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) not really understanding what was really going on in this early neo-western. With my ever-growing knowledge of the genre I was hungry to re-watch this short but ever so sweet and tense western that gets to the point and scratches it like a rash until it bleeds allowing the truth to come out of the town that John J Macreedy (Spencer Tracy), the first stranger to step off a train into this tumble weed of a town that has stood still.

From the first moment that Macreedy steps off the train he is met with cold opposition from nearly everyone he meets. All he wants to do is find a Japanese man named Komoko. Is he investigating him for a crime, the strangers purpose is not fully explained until the last act, We and the town are left guess who this guy is, what does he want? We are all on tenterhooks as to what is going on.

A town led by Rene Smith (Robert Ryan) who is hot on the tail of a man who won’t b budged in his search for a man we soon learnt no longer lives out on adobe flats. Smith is a cold calculated man who has everyone under his thumb, able to incite fear in them, reminding them of four years ago, the last time that they saw Komoko who we are told was taken to a relocation centre in the aftermath of Pearl Harbour. 4 years on there is still a strong hatred for the enemy who they have been fighting for four years. Mostly in the form of Smith’s resentment for not being accepted into the forces. Feeding out into the town taking the form of fear that pits the strong against the weak.

The weak don’t stay down for long, with the local doctor Velie (Walter Brennan) who has had enough of the strangle hold on this old western town that has been lost to the ravages of time. Kept alive by a few, some of the old ways never die. It seems that the silent and weak won’t take anymore. Glad to see someone shake things up for them and boy does Tracy shake things up, even a veteran with only one arm can still stand his ground in this masculine world that seems to be lost in the wake of the recent horrors abroad.

We have all the regulars of the west transported to not so distant period in modern history, with as shirt, jeans and that classic hat we are back in the west, out in the middle of nowhere, a perfect place for the truth to be hidden. Made at a time when the fear of communism was at a high, livelihoods in Hollywood on the line in the “witch hunt”. The atmosphere of fear to speak up or stay quiet was at its height. Changing the themes to fears of Japanese Americans, fearing they were once the country’s enemy.

 You can feel the tension in the classic western, with tight acting from all of the cast, a broad spectrum of character to represent the nation in a state of fear, The truth is a powerful weapon in the hands of both the weak and strong. Its how we handle it is what matters, making for a film that is on fire as we wait to see who will crack under the pressure of a stranger just wanting to do the right thing.

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