June 6th: Monky Business

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123. The Name of the Rose (Jean-Jacques Annaud, 1986)

Sean Connery gave his flagging career a shot in the arm with his performance as Franciscan monk and man of reason William of Baskerville, investigating a series of grisly deaths at a remote abbey. The murder mystery takes place against a tableau of ugly and deformed characters where only the young and unsullied retain their beauty. There’s plenty to enjoy in this, Connery enjoying his role as a proto-Sherlock Holmes, a grotesque parlour of characters to suspect and several sub-plots of interest including an interesting ideological struggle between the Franciscan monks and the envoy from Rome. The film is laced with period details, as I understand Umberto Eco’s novel is and it provides an exciting glimpse at what might have been. Brilliantly, Connery’s accent remains steadfastly Scottish throughout.

June 5th: Mr Majestic

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122. Bronson (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2009)

You would be forgiven for thinking that this is a film for Danny Dyer fans. You know one, we all do. They don’t manage whole sentences particularly well, they struggle with concepts like ‘art’, intelligence and not getting smashed on Stella every Friday and Saturday and they also think that films about sport associated violence are what our indigenous cinema should be all about. You might think that Bronson would have something in common with this crop of films. But you’d be wrong. Danish film-maker Nicolas Winding Refn is, on this evidence, a film-maker to watch. He’s taken a story which isn’t especially interesting and made something fascinating from it. The title character, Charles Bronson, is a violent criminal and regarded as one of Britain’s most dangerous prisoners. His story isn’t particularly cinematic he goes to prison for armed robbery and aside from one short period of release – that’s where he stays. Refn uses an inventive method of presenting the story as if Bronson’s life is partially a play, a story through which he can achieve the fame and notoriety. It is filmed with patience, elegance and a sense of composition that is all too rare in our cross-cut frenzied times. In short, this is a film you shouldn’t judge by the poster.

June 3rd: Terminator Poor.

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121. Terminator Salvation (McG, 2009)

The war against the machines is in full effect in McG’s big summer addition to the franchise created by James Cameron back in the 80s. This film takes place somewhere between Judgement Day itself and the flash-forwards seen in Cameron’s two films. The story revolves around John Connor’s meeting with Marcus Wright a strange new warrior joining the resistance and the arrival of Kyle Reese, John’s father.

There’s a lot that should be going for Terminator Salvation. Christian Bale is a bone fide star now thanks to the cape/cowl films, Sam Worthington is on the cusp of stardom with several huge films in the pipeline and frankly it can’t be any worse than the witless parody of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. What a shame then that these attributes are wasted. The tone of the whole film is deadly serious, to a fault. Everything proceeds as if you are watching a series of military decisions being made by angry men. Bale gives a performance that would best be described as ‘one-note’. That note is raspy and angry. He’s outdone by Michael Ironside who essentially reprises his role from Starship Troopers, but without the irony. I was thankful then that Sam Worthington managed to prove that the hype is not empty, I’d confidently predict that he’s going to be around for a long time to come. Unfortunately even he can’t save this film from its po-faced ambitions.

I’m mindful that the first film wasn’t particularly funny, but that was an 18 certificate low budget horror film from an unknown director and it managed a few sly black humoured jokes. Terminator Salvation manages one or two quips but strives to acknowledge the audience mainly by reprising the famous lines used in the series, ‘I’ll be back’ and ‘Come with me if you want to live’ etc. They’re dropped like clangers though. They feel awkwardly shoehorned in. On the whole the script is functional, as if the film-maker had prepared a tick-list of things that needed to be included and slowly, methodically went about including them.

The script is matched in its functionality by the cinematography. I’ve read about the special treatment that the film underwent in order to achieve a specific look. The result is grey, very grey. A bit like looking at a moving scrapyard in bleaching sunlight.

It was disappointing to see that the representation of gender has actually regressed in the time since the first two films. Sarah Connor is an icon of cinema and her voice in this film is the only reminder of the strong female role that Linda Hamilton had to get her teeth into. Bryce Dallas Howard and Moon Bloodgood are probably fine actresses. But you won’t know from watching this. They’re just arm candy for the big tough men.

I’m not going to mention the plot-holes in any depth because I’d be here all day but I will ask anyone who has watched the film to give me an answer because I’ve wracked my brain trying to figure it out since I watched it. Why are the machines capturing humans and putting them into some form of camp? I’d assumed that there’d be some form of answer in the story of the film but there isn’t. Or at least I couldn’t figure it out. It makes some kind of thin allusion to the Nazi concentration camps but the machines would surely just kill everyone on the spot if they wanted to wipe out humanity. Answers please if anyone has them.

By the end of the film there seems to be a complete shortage of ideas so we are treated to a showdown in a factory, in-keeping with the previous films and using many similar weapons and events. This whole section feels like a poorly thought out remake, riddled with plot-holes and containing nothing innovative.

I’m afraid that Terminator Salvation fails on its most basic mandate, to entertain. I thought it was a dull and grey. There are some good moments and some especially good sound effects but it drowns in a morass of relatively dull and uninspired action and story. McG even manages the cardinal sin of framing a shot so that one of the Terminator robots looks like a shiny Jim Henson muppet when walking. Poor form.

June 2nd: Staying a second night.

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120. Hostel: Part II (Eli Roth, 2007)

Way back at the beginning of the year I watched and reviewed Hostel and to my surprise I really liked it. The reviews had me believe it was an ignorant and spiteful film. I found it to be quite the opposite. Hostel: Part II continues in much the same blackly comic and intelligent way. Referencing Eastern European myths, such as Countess Báthory, and repeatedly playing on American fears of travelling it also manages an astute bit of commentary on gender politics and capitalism. It’s smart, sick and witty and full of very attractive women.

May 28th: Southern Hospitality

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119. The Beguiled (Don Siegel, 1971)

Don Siegel directed five films starring Clint Eastwood and this is perhaps their least known collaboration and apparently Siegel’s favourite of his own films. Eastwood is Union soldier Cpl John McBurney. He is taken in to a Confederate girls’ school when he is found wounded. During his stay the repressed feelings of the students and teachers are exploited by McBurney and a web of lies and deceit grows. This is an oddly creepy thriller with gothic overtones and is held together by Eastwood’s distasteful soldier, a man who repeatedly lies until there is no way of trusting anything that he says. It seems an odd role for Clint, he is completely hateful from start to finish manipulating everyone he meets. It’s all shot in Siegel’s trademark rough’n’ready style and infused with sense of physical and moral decay. An intriguing and intelligent film and one that shows the man Clint in a very different light, as a tortoise owner myself I turned against him when he mistreated the turtle.

Note: The Beguiled is listed in the Neon book 1000 Essential Movies on Video under Clint Eastwood Movies.

May 28th: Knockabout Comedy

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118. The Hammer (Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, 2007)

Comedian Adam Carolla is Jerry Ferro, carpenter and part time boxing coach. Waking up on his 40th birthday he starts to contemplate how he has failed to achieve much in his life. He exacerbates things by getting sacked and losing his girlfriend. Then he gets a second chance – he is picked to tryout for the US Olympic boxing team where he unleashes his wickedly powerful left hand. Carolla has a brilliant lazy wit, delivering sharp put-downs and one-liners with timing and ease. The story is a fairly typical coming-of-age/realise your dreams affair but Carolla’s presence makes it all work, and it works pretty well.