Monday, 15 August 2011

"Home of the bizarre rant" (That was the week that was 8 August - 14 August)

This week I have been mostly watching... films from the 1970s. I finished off my '70s Classics' box set, and was inspired to watch another couple of enduring movies from that decade. It seems like Hollywood filmmakers had much more leeway to take chances in the '70s - it seems incredible that brilliant, adventurous sprawling epics like The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, as well as controversial films like The Exorcist would be backed by the major Hollywood studios. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure there was an awful lot of poor quality films made in the 70s, and I still like quite a few of the (rather less adventurous and controversial) films which Hollywood makes today. I just mean that back then, directors like Coppola, Scorsese and Altman were given a lot of financial backing and almost given a free rein to do whatever they saw fit, which resulted in some very interesting films being made.

Anyway, on with this week's reviews.

Dirty Harry (1971)

I was inspired to rewatch this film after seeing it feature in David Fincher's Zodiac, which I enjoyed so much last week. There certainly are some echoes of the real life Zodiac case in the plot of this film. This can be seen in the film's setting (San Francisco), in the name of the killer in Dirty Harry (Scorpio) and in the way in which the killer writes to the San Francisco Chronicle, holding the city to ransom unless his demands are met. However, whereas the cops in Zodiac are constrained by having to actually prove that their suspects are guilty, old Dirty Harry is pretty much able to run amok in his pursuit of his suspect without fear of reprisal. To be fair, I liked Dirty Harry - it's well paced, the action scenes are exciting and Clint Eastwood is one cold blooded devil. Still, it's not half as good as the Simpsons' parody of it. "Hey, I'm trying to eat lunch here!" (

Rating: 7/10

Deliverance (1972)

John Boorman's early '70s thriller sees four city types head out to the Appalachian mountains for a magical weekend of canoeing, shooting and non- consensual buggery. Their crew consists of posturing wildman Lewis (Burt Reynolds), chubby, insurance selling irritant Bobby (Ned Beatty), cautious, resourceful Ed (Jon Voight) and guitar playing sweetheart Drew (Ronnie Cox). The group plan to sample the wilderness before it is flooded forever by a newly constructed hydroelectric dam, but they are soon forced into a battle for survival against the elements and a number of crazy, gun-toting mountain men. I've seen a number of films made after Deliverance which feature similar themes of affluent outsiders making ill fated trips to the wilderness, but few of them can compare with the original. Jon Voight is particularly good as an initially timid and calm man who finds strength within himself to fight for survival, but I also enjoyed Burt Reynolds' performance as the unpredictable Lewis. I originally watched Deliverance about ten years ago, and while I remembered the most graphic and gruesome scenes, I had forgotten that the denouement to the film, in which the survivors return home to their families, and attempt to cover up what happened out on the river. Anyway, it's a pretty darn good movie.

Rating: 8/10

All The President's Men (1976)

In which Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffmann ARE Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the crusading journalists whose investigation into a break in at Democrat headquarters leads them onto a trail of corruption which goes all the way up to old Tricky Dick himself. The film succeeds in breaking down the conspiracy into its constituent parts, and effectively shows the painstaking work which was necessary to successfully prove that the senior members of the Republican party were carrying out a dirty tricks campaign against their political enemies. However, I do have some reservations about this film - there is little sense that Woodward and Bernstein are ever really under any personal threat in carrying out their investigation until the very end of the movie, which makes it a little less dramatic than it could have been. The film also ends frustratingly early - Woodward and Bernstein are able to prove that one of Nixon's closest advisors is intimately linked to the Watergate affair, but we never see the endgame for the president himself.

Rating: 7/10

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

This David Fincher movie came between two films which I love unreservedly - Zodiac and The Social Network, but for me it's not a patch on either of those two movies. The film isn't entirely without it's charms, though. Brad Pitt plays the titular character, a man who is born a child sized old man, and experiences the aging process in reverse as he gets older. The story is largely set in New Orleans, from around 1918 until the present day, though  The CGI effects used in the film to demonstrate Mr Button's journey are quite remarkable, and really help the viewer buy in to a rather outlandish premise. Unfortunately, the plot of the movie is rather dull, with Benjamin Button himself a rather bland, passive character who doesn't leave much of an impression. On the other hand, some of the people who Benjamin encounters are much more interesting, including Cate Blanchett's ambitious dancer and particularly Tilda Swinton's character, a prim and proper Englishwoman who seeks escape from her loveless marriage. At almost three hours, the film rather outstays its welcome, but on the whole I don't regret watching it. David Fincher's next project is an adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - I wonder if it will continue the trend established by his previous few efforts of great film - mediocre film - great film - mediocre film; we shall have to wait and see.

Rating: 6/10

Severance (2006)

A film which was billed as a cross between The Office and Deliverance, this horror-comedy isn't particularly funny or scary. The plot sees a group of broadly drawn stereotypes of office workers heading out into the woods in Serbia for a fun filled weekend of team building. The motley crew includes a pompous boss (Tim McInnerny), an attractive American (Laura Horris), a corporate yes man (Andy Nyman) and a laddish stoner (Mark Kermode's favourite actor, Danny Dyer). Unfortunately, the script for the film is generally poor and laughs are few and far between. The fright sequences lack suspense, and the the majority of the supposedly horrifying aspects of the movie are derived from rather OTT gore and torture scenes. There is some attempt at satire, with office drones who work for a multinational weapons company faced with the end products of their labours, but for me, the whole thing doesn't come off at all.

Rating: 3/10

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006)

This is a very unusual movie indeed, but a film which I enjoyed far more than I expected. It tells the strange tale of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (played by Ben Whishaw), a boy brought up in an orphanage in the poorest section of 19th century Paris, who has the gift of an extraordinarily powerful sense of smell. He is able to escape his humble origins as the apprentice to an Italian perfume maker (Dustin Hoffmann in a rather hammy turn), but despite discovering a genius for formulating perfumes, his true interests lie in rather darker areas. His true nature is awakened after he inadvertently kills a beautiful young woman on the streets of Paris; this leads to Grenouille becoming obsessed with recapturing her scent. His travels take him to the perfume capital of France in Provence, where he perfects his craft as a perfume maker. He develops a process which enable him to store the scents of beautiful women and begins a killing spree in search of the most powerful scent of all... The film is beautifully shot, with vivid colours and images used to represent the various scents picked up by Grenouille's sensitive nose. The story (based on a novel by Patrick Suskind) is highly original and captivating, and I was intrigued by the central character despite his terrible crimes. Perfume was a notorious flop at the box office when it first came out, but it is definitely a movie which is worth seeking out.

Rating: 8/10

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