This post represents the end of an era, if a short-lived one: ‘What I Watched Last Night’ is no more. Archivists can still trawl through the annals of Movie Quibble’s WIWLN section, but from this day forth it’s ‘What I Watched Last Week’ all the way. The main reason for this is that, when you watch a shit load of films, it’s difficult choosing which one you’re going to blog about in full. Rather than single one out, every film I see that isn’t a re-watch or a new and separately reviewed release will get a few lines written about it in WIWLW. A second reason for the change is that I encountered a blog that is actually called What I Watch Last Night which has been around way longer, so I’m moving on to greener (as in green with envy) pastures. Anyway, enjoy.
Broken Arrow (1996)
Director: John woo
Cast: Christian Slater, John Travolta
This film has already been discussed in the final WIWLN post, but for completion’s sake it has been included on the list. Rather than backtrack over freshly trodden ground and be forced to think about this awful film yet again, let’s just slap a quote in from that review instead: ‘Broken Arrow is a terrible, hackneyed, half-arsed nukes ‘n’ planes pile of piss.’ Boom.
Director: Lindsay Anderson
Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Christine Noonan
As demonstrated in If… and subsequently A Clockwork Orange, Malcolm McDowell depicts troubled youth to such a scarily credible degree that one can’t help but wonder about the particularities of his own childhood. Nevertheless, If… remains largely a fun diatribe against the daily regime of an all-boys boarding school. With each precisely measured scene director Lindsay Anderon hits the satirical bullseye, lampooning banal and self-obsessed history professors and sexually repressed campus counsellors (‘What kind of thoughts, my son?’, whimpers the on-site priest as he fidgets in his chair) with biting glee. The temptingly fragile hierarchic atmosphere amongst the adolescents is mocked most of all, and in a boldly manic finish Anderson proves that all you need is a bottle of vodka, a rifle and a bandolier of bullets to shake the system right up.
Payback (1999) Director: Brian Helgeland Cast: Mel Gibson, Maria Bello, David Paymer, Lucy Liu
Mel Gibson is anti-hero Porter, a brooding degenerate that gets shot in the back by one of his buddies for 70 grand. He isn’t having it, though. Taking a spell of R&R (that’s rest and robbery, not rest and recovery) on the streets of New York, Porter regains his confidence by pickpocketing yuppies and dining ‘n ‘dashing after a slap-up Ribeye; if he knew wasn’t paying anyway then he should have gone for a T-Bone, but ho-hum. Once he finds his mercurial mojo, he’s ready for payback.
There’s a long line of Judi (plural of Judas?) to cross off the list so Porter starts off with she who is closest to (literally inside of) home: his wife. She soon dies of a heroin overdose, but by ripping out the nose ring of the braided punk that dealt her the dope he learns who is truly responsible for his attempted murder. There’s a Serpico-esque, French Connection-y feel to the gritty, relentless and surprisingly brutal travels of Porter; the grey haze of immorality and the innumerable dankly lit alleyways are forever closing in on him down the road to hell. Gibson was a prescient piece of casting for the role of Porter: as an alcoholic chain-smoker, he gives off hints of domestic rage and anti-semitism that come extremely naturally to him. There are also some crackling one-liner in Payback. The best involves Gibson and his dominatrix friend, Lucy Liu, just after they’ve done in some poor sod in his own bedroom; she raises her eyebrows and proposes, ‘I’ve got a few minutes…’ ‘Yeah?’, comes Gibson’s gruff acknowledgement, ‘So go boil an egg.’ Phew! Talk about your hard-boiled criminal.
Black Narcissus (1947)
Directors: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Cast: Deborah Kerr, David Farrar, Kathleen Byron
Like If…, Black Narcissus is another tale of institutional horror and deep-rooted repression, though this time those conditions are largely self inflicted. A gaggle of religious ladies that wear far out hats and enough bling to make Flava Flav melt decide to establish a nunnery in the Himalayas. Led by Sister Superior Clodadgh (Deborah Kerr), they settle down and fall-in with the colourful locals, whom they educate in exchange for trinkets and fresh produce.
Black Narcissus is sublimely made, but despite the inspired visuals the messages leave rather a bad taste in the brain; self-righteous whites infiltrate a less scientifically developed culture by hooking them on filthy literary manuscripts and discount penicillin before dropping the H-bomb of Catholicism on their unsuspecting pagan heads before anyone even has time to build a God-shelter. On top of this, the mountainous nun house has its own things going on; it used to be a Kama Sutra den used by the local royalty to play with their unwilling harem. The locale’s history seeps off the naughty wall paintings and into the sub-conscious of the new inhabitants, who find themselves overcome by carnal desire for their distinguished male visitors. Jack Cardiff, who visualised the startlingly effective cinematography, and artist Alfred Junge, creator of the stunning backdrops that stood in for Himalayan mountains on the Pinewood backlot, both won Oscars for their contributions to this visually remarkable film, but a lustfully deranged performance from Kathleen Byron as the disillusioned Sister Ruth is the show stealer.
Director: Philip G. Atwell
Cast: Jason Statham, Jet Li, Nadine Velasquez, Luis Guzmán, Devon Aoki
Nobody is harder than Jason Slab-of-ham, especially so when he’s a member of the CIA/FBI/OneOfThose and half of a Miami-based crime busting duo that eats Triads for breakfast. He and his Chinese partner’s racial banter is put to a sudden stop when a masked villain slays the latter and his family just before Pile-Of-Bacon pulls up to their house for dinner.
Three years on and Heap-of-meat is still haunted by the death of his friend and the ghostlike disappearance of the killer. Out of nowhere, Jet Li goes to a nightclub and turns the faces of a bunch of gambling gangsters into red holes using shotgun slugs and, being the workaholic that he is, Plate-Of-Black-Pudding is the first on the scene. Using a deplorable evidence montage, a-la-CSI, which chops together glimpses of the current carnage with the aftermath of the massacre three years ago (footage which we saw less than four minutes previously), our detective deduces that Jumbo Jet must be the very same murderer – now, ‘it’s war!’ There then follows an hour and twenty minutes of shaky camera to disguise the shoddy stunts and more oriental cliché than you could pack into a thousand fortune cookies. There are also tits and a twist involving surgical facial reconstruction that almost – very almost – makes you want to rewind to see if you’ve missed something or if the plot is truly as dire as it seems to be. Stake-and-eggs is quite fun, though.
Seven Samurai (1954)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima
Choosing a single picture to represent Akira Kurosawa’s internationally recognised masterpiece was damn tricky; every cinematic second of the three hours plus classic is iconic. Kurosawa’s sweeping tale of against-the-odds heroism is even better than it’s cracked up to be, and it has evidently had a huge influence on the filmic tropes in genres like Kung-Fu, Western and especially the historical epic. When a town of rice farmers can no longer stand the relentless pillaging by the bandits in the surrounding hillsides, they put together what little yen they have left to hire some ronin (masterless samurai) for the protection of their crop. The villagers round up a rag-tag crew of seven disparate samurai warriors, each one committing to ridding the village of its oppressors for their own personal reasons – mostly pity, since the pay isn’t up to much. Said samurai then pool their courage and fighting experience to implement an ingenious stratagem to defend the village and kill all forty bandits during a massive days-long siege.
Toshiro Mifune, Kurosawa’s leading man in sixteen films including Throne of Blood and Yojimbo, is far and away the most enigmatic actor in this formidable cast; he shouts, screams and prances about wearing thirty pound armour like a man possessed. Only positive things can be said about Seven Samurai. Even if there were minor complaints, which there aren’t, the film has become so crystallised in cinematic history that it has ascended to a level of critical impunity matched by very few other films – Citizen Kane and The Godfather are the only real contenders. Seven Samurai is a classic, and it’s no wonder it’s the most acclaimed foreign film of all time.
Paths of Glory (1957) Director: Stanley Kubrick Cast: Kirk Douglas, Joe Turkel, Christiane Kubrick, George Macready
Considered as Stanley Kubrick’s first film of ‘genius’, Paths of Glory is an anti-war film (the first of four the great man would go on to direct, the other three being Dr Strangelove, Barry Lyndon and Full Metal Jacket) set amongst the trenches of the French during WWI. Commanded by a hideously scarred, moustache-twirling general (George Macready) who treats the lives of his men like plastic soldiers, an infantry battalion tries and miserably fails to take the impossible-to-capture German occupied ‘Anthill’. In a monstrous take on the decimations of old, three men from the unit are randomly chosen for the firing range as punishment for the unsuccessful attack. Col. Dax (Kirk Douglas) is rightfully incensed and, as the brains to his Spartacus’ brawn, takes to the legal arena of the courtroom in an attempt to untangle the barbedwire of bureaucracy that has led to this unpardonable ‘mockery of human justice’.
Kirk Douglas gives a performance full of rage, pride and vitality and, this being one of his most famous roles, it’s an excellent introduction to an actor that was born to be a leading man. Paths of Glory? More like Chin of Glory! Kubrick’s bleakly humorous philosophies run rife throughout the film, via both the highly relatable script (no mean feat, considering this film came out in 1957) and the outstanding depiction of the sheer terror of battle in his then ground-breaking tracking shots through the trenches. Paths of Glory is mesmerising and moving, but no scene is more powerful than the last, which sees Kubrick’s future wife sing a folk song through streams of tears as a troupe of doomed soldiers hum along, accepting their impending deaths and the futility of any man’s attempt to ebb the tides of war.
The Vikings (1958) Director: Richard Fleischer Cast: Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine, Janet Leigh
Aside from some barbarically tasty shooting locations, plus some costume and set designs worthy of Valhalla itself, The Vikings has little to offer, a disappointment ‘mead’ all the more ‘bitter’ by the fact that Kirk Douglas, so excellent in 1957’s Paths of Glory, is not very good in a film that came out less than a year later. The Vikings’ acting is hammy, the plot is fatty and the action is up the wazoo. The familiar story is that of the unwitting reunion of the long lost brothers. A slave (Tony Curtis) and a one-eyed chieftain (Kirk Douglas) find that they are biologically related but, rather than making peace and going out raiding and killing as Vikings ought to, they covet and fight over the same woman (Janet Leigh) until the film’s end. The whole film is basically a feast, as a bunch of horny (because they have spiked hats and drink from cups made out of animals’ head attachments) Vikings led by a Ragnarok the rapist get progressively ‘hammered’ and shout loudly. Movie Quibble has heard good things about The History Channel’s current show, ‘Vikings’, which is a much safer bet if you’re in the mood for historically (sort of?) accurate violence. It doesn’t norse about.
The Fisher King (1991)
Director: Terry Gilliam
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams, Mercedes Ruehl, Amanda Plummer
Terry Gilliam’s twisted, kaleidoscopic fantasies are reined in for The Fisher King, with the events unfurling not in magical lands but taking place firmly within the city limits of New York. This doesn’t stop him from recalling the mythical terrors of films such as Baron Munchausen and Jabberwocky or the dystopian pessimism of Twelve Monkeys and Brazil, though. The Fisher King dives into the deepest recesses of the human mind to bring you a story of unlikely friendship and redemption that feels unusually heartfelt from the master of the unhappy ending. That it’s different in tone is no complaint; on the contrary, its emotion is very well judged and believable, and the characters are so charming that a line like, ‘I’ve got a hard-on for you the size of Florida’ surpasses ‘You had me at hello’ as the romantic declaration of the century. Robin Williams as a schizoid tramp is absolutely on fire, while Jeff Bridges does actually get set alight.
Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
Directors: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Cast: George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Geoffrey Rush, Billy Bob Thornton
Teeth-whitening addict Miles Massey (George Clooney) wears the undisputed crown of L.A’s top divorce lawyer. He has it all, he’s seen in all, he’s done it all, and is happily floating aboard the raft of his profession towards the river of retirement. That is until Marilyn Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones) turns up to bring on his mid-life crisis with her improbably ravishing features and soul-destroying hunger for ‘independence’ (massive amounts of money). When he foils Marilyn’s gold-digging prospects, she hits back by marrying – and very quickly divorcing – an oil tycoon (Billy Box of Thorntons) to defy Miles’ infamous ‘Massey pre-nup’. Turbulent romance ensues. A predictably witty script and some clever sight gags (the finest coming in the form of a waiting room magazine entitled ‘Living Without Intestines’) can’t hide the fact that this is by far the Coen Brothers’ slightest and least memorable contribution to the world of film. Intolerable cruelty is perfectly tolerable, though it is recognised as the least best of the Coens’ canon, so be kind to yourself and watch The Big Lebowski or Fargo (film, not TV series) or Burn After Reading instead.
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey
Martin Scorsese’s most divisive film attracted a vitriolic and hilariously hypocritical response from the extreme divisions of Christianity, but it’s surprisingly faithful to scripture considering its commitment not to the bible but to the philosophical writings of Nikos Kazantzakis. The Last Temptation of Christ deals with the grand metaphysical possibilities and base desires that would trouble an earthly man born of a deity. The film tackles these concepts admirably as it tracks the life of the messiah from early adulthood to eventual death, but it is far from Scorsese’s finest work. And as for the cast – miscast much?
Harvey Keitel, with his wonky accent, is more Walken-ite than Israelite as Judas Iscariot, and every time Willem Dafoe’s Jesus smiles his gap-toothed grin you can hear the soul of a devout Catholic quiver and die. Bizarrely, David Bowie pops up as Pontius Pilate – if only he’d played Judas, then this joke could have been made: The Man Who Sold the World? More like The Man who Sold the Man Who Saved the World! As it is, this is the best Movie Quibble has got: Let’s Dance? Let’s Crucify, is more like what it is! HAHA. There shan’t be a rating out of five for this film as this writer is not qualified because the F****NG TV RECORDER DECIDED TO NOT TAPE THE LAST FIVE MINUTES so the IMDb synopsis was consulted instead. In writing this it has become clear that one could easily have found it online. Then again, it was three in the morning and there was no one around to turn the water into beer, which had run out some time beforehand.
The Longest Day (1962)
Directors: Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki, Gerd Oswald, Darryl F. Zanuck
Cast: John Wayne, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Henry Fonda, Irina Demick, Robert Wagner, Werner Hinz
At three hours long, this should be re-titled The Longest WWII Film Ever. That said, it is also the best. The Longest Day was a huge hit in its time, and not just because of the talented English speaking cast; thanks to its accurate and (relatively) unbiased, unsentimental depiction of the D-Day landings from the POV of the English, French, Americans and the Germans, the film had mass appeal. Having separate native directors and screen writers from the respective nations must have helped matters too, as did the comprehensive list of military authorities that were consulted during its production.
The scintillating tension that precedes the Omaha beach attack is almost unbearable, an effect enhanced by marvellous acting across all fronts and the foreboding use of Beethoven’s fifth over the rollicking, gung-ho score. The Longest Day strikes a perfect balance between drama, espionage (the French Resistance actually do something cool) and guns-blazing mayhem, maintaining a level of humour without ever sacrificing reverence for what those soldiers went through on the 6th of June, 1944. There are rag doll explosions and massively ambitious set pieces to make you whoop and cheer, and stellar turns from Richard Burton, John Wayne and Heinze Reincke’s demented Luftwaffe pilot cement the fun. The Longest Day is another example of a film beyond reproach; it is magnificent, and sets a standard by which all other war films should be judged. Eat your Hanks out, Saving Private Ryan.