I highly recommend that you check out Joe, starring Nicolas Cage (my review here), or Guardians of the Galaxy (my review here), both of which are well worth seeing while they still remain in cinemas. Elsewhere, the Expendables 3 is about to transplant some of Terry Crews’ pectoral sweat glands onto where your tear ducts used to be, so brace yourself for August 14th. I also turned 20 last week. Here are some films I watched.
Iron Sky: Director’s Cut (2012) – 2/5
Director: Timo Vuorensola
Cast: Udo Kier, Julia Dietze, Christopher Kirby, Götz Otto
Upon Hitler’s death in 1945, a separatist group of scientifically advanced Nazis fled to their gigantic secret space- base on the dark side of the Moon. Cut to the modern day and they’re still up there like a bunch of hardcore Vietcong that don’t know the war is over. Not only are the SS still plotting world domination, they have developed new super-serums that will eradicate non-Aryans by turning them white. When an African American clothing model travels to Earth’s natural satellite as part of a political campaign for Sarah Palin’s re-election (yes, really), the Nazis capture him and test out their latest weapon. Thereupon, an already ridiculous premise becomes an unbearably silly and unscrupulously racist goof-off.
Cramming in a spoof for every piece of Nazi-themed popular culture out there, from Dr Strangelove’s glove to Moonraker to the Downfall rant, Iron Sky straddles the line between unfunny and offensive as gracefully as a tightrope walker after ten pints and a leg amputation. High-end production qualities and a symphonic industrial score mark it above SYFY channel cheese, but it’s not much different to watching all of Rammstein’s music videos with most of the raunchy bits removed.
Down Terrace (2009) – 3/5
Director: Ben Wheatley
Cast: Robert Hill, Robin Hill, Julia Deakin, Michael Smiley
Depressive black comedy about a family of cynical gangsters. Father and son Bill and Karl (Robert and Robin Hill, also father and son) are grassed up for selling gear by an unknown – but very close – member of their criminal syndicate. Behaving as would Macbeth’s mentally deficient offspring, the pair return home to stew on the recent betrayal and bicker with one another, seemingly the only manner of communication available to them. Suspicions are guided by the pair’s sociopathic wife/mother, Maggie (a dour Julia Deakin, of Spaced fame), who has a tendency to put a cube of something that isn’t sugar into the tea of unwelcome guests. Down Terrace is so kitchen sink that it wouldn’t come as a surprise were someone to be drowned in one; helmsman Ben Wheatley (Sightseers, A Field in England) is the king of bleak reality dramas and doesn’t shy away from depicting nonchalant murder in the ugliest and most matter of fact ways. Morbidity and comedy often go hand in hand, and it’s hard not to laugh at a botched murder attempt during which the assailant has an asthma attack. Down Terrace isn’t Wheatley’s best feature – then again, it was also his first.
Apologies for the shakiness of the clip below.
White Dog (1982) – 4/5
Director: Samuel Fuller
Cast: Kristy McNichol, Paul Winfield, Burl Ives
Forget about teaching an old dog new tricks; is it possible to un-teach a new dog trained by hicks? That is the question faced by canine experts Keys (Paul Winfield) and Carruthers (Burl Ives) when desperate actress Julie Sawyer (Kristy McNichol) drags her colossal albino German Shepherd to their Hollywood training facility. Having picked him up injured and astray, Julie quickly realises that her newfound friend has been purposely conditioned into a killing machine. Saving her from rapist home-invaders warms her to him, but attacking co-stars on set and returning home blood soaked from all night prowls forces her to take action. As the weathered lion tamer Keys informs her, Julie is in possession of a ‘white dog’, a canine specifically trained from a pup by a racist white man to attack and kill black people on sight. A black man himself, Keys sets a target of five weeks in which to cure the dog’s sick mind of its prejudices.
White Dog is a terrifying experience, yet surprisingly majestic for a film of its controversially exploitative nature. As daunting as the German Shepherd can be, his snarling rage can turn to bashful affection at the drop of a dog treat; B-movie directing legend Samuel Fuller captures both sides of the graceful beast’s nature with stylistic attentiveness, portraying without words the torment the dog has experienced at the hands of men, the only consciously evil presence in the film. Ennio Morricone’s deliberately unsettling soundtrack enhances White Dog’s primal terror, in particular during a near encounter between the dog and a small black child frolicking just out of sight around the corner, a moment which will put your heart into your mouth and keep it there until the films tragic, intelligent resolution. Fuller’s cast are all good at what they do, but the core of the film is in the tactful examination of racial politics as told through the balletic performance of the titular white dog.
The Thin Red Line (1998) – 5/5
Director: Terrence Malick
Cast: Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Jim Caviezel, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Miranda Otto
The Thin Red line is a dramatised account of the Guadalcanal WWII campaign, following a squad of American soldiers from 1st Battalion C Company battling to take Mount Austen from its Japanese defenders. Along with combat veterans Apocalypse Now (Vietnam), The Longest Day (WWII), The Deer Hunter (Vietnam), Paths of Glory (WWI) and Tropic Thunder (I hasten to add that I’m joking about that one), The Thin Red Line deserves the highest cinemilitary medal available, plus the Silver Screen Heart. Knowing Malick and the gallant characters we journey with in the film, such petty honours would be rejected. This film is about the constant battle between the forces of ‘the land and the sea’, of light and the ever present evil that denies it to shine. ‘Who does these things?’, begs Jim Cavaziel’s peaceable narrator – one of the films many – as he looks on with the chilling thousand yard stare shared by so many of his compatriots. The Thin Red Line has many stars, some big and some that were soon to be, but the harsh realities of combat bring them all to the same level; John Cusack, John C. Reilly, Adrien Brody, Sean Penn, Jared Leto, Woody Harrelson – in war, they are all of the same face and fear.
Hans Zimmer’s majestic soundtrack makes the film that bit more sacred. Whereas Vietnam-movie-by-numbers Platoon had its moribund ‘Adagio for Strings’ score that clawed at your constantly tested humanity like a malnourished pet tiger (‘Are you crying at the inherent cruelty of man yet? Well you should be!’), Zimmer feeds Malick’s action with an undulating symphony of war that goes barely noticed until it reaches the very peak of its emotion. Zimmer’s musical choices project most effortlessly during the restorative, poetic flashbacks used to alleviate the over-the-shoulder onslaught of C company’s advance. These nature-bathed intermissions would be described as ‘a bit too Malicky’ were they not lensed by Malick himself, but he did take the device too far with A New World and Tree of Life.
No description is capable of painting the soul-shattering collision of beauty and despair found within The Thin Red Line. Rather like what one who (thankfully) hasn’t seen war might imagine, you really do have to –clichés to hell – be there, man.
A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman (2012) – 2/5
Directors: Bill Jones and Jeff Simpson
Cast: Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, John Cleese, Cameron Diaz
Hashed together from the loony efforts of fourteen ker-azy independent animation houses, the bewildering A Liar’s Autobiography recounts the life and times of deceased Monty Python comic Graham Chapman. Narrative progression, as it is, proves as actively incoherent as the 30-year-old tape recorded ramblings of the cartoon’s gin-ridden subject, with an interminable focus placed on ‘the naughty bits’. Home county warmth, genius wit and a fiery lust for young flesh all come through in Chapman’s irreverent assessment of the formative experiences that made him a household name and friend to the stars, yet the erratic animation sequences vary as wildly in quality as the sketches from the final season of Flying Circus. Some chapters, best being the joyfully existential Colin Bomber Harris vs Colin Bomber Harris non sequitur, lend A Liar’s Autobiography a frantic, Gilliam-ish kinetic energy, but the disparate sequences don’t mix well and there are more than a few eye-searing abomin(anim)ations.