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2011.32: Cross Of Iron (1977) *** July 20, 2011

Posted by ghostof82 in : Film General , add a comment

Dir. Sam Peckinpah, 132 mins, Blu-ray rental

Sam Peckinpah’s Cross Of Iron harks back from a time when War films were in transition- the sanitized ‘boys own’ adventures of John Wayne and other all-American heroes etc of the forties and fifties were giving way, in the Vietnam era, to a more cynical and realistic portrayal of war. Coppola’s nightmarish Apocalypse Now was only a few years away, and Platoon etc were to follow soon after. So it’s inevitable, perhaps, that Cross Of Iron now seems somewhat dated in it’s depiction of war- the battle scenes, full of slow-motion ballets of stuntmen falling through the air infront of explosions, bring to mind weekly episodes of the A-Team. But there’s more to Cross Of Iron than the dated battle sequences.

Centrally, the marvellous performances of James Coburn -whose craggy, lined face alone tells many a tale- as the cynical hero Steiner, and Maximilian Schell as his Captain, the aristocrat Stransky who will do anything to get awarded the Cross of Iron of the title, are where the true excellence of the film lies. The performances are both subtle and grotesque. Steiner is a brave soldier who is haunted by the pointlessness of the war, wheras Stransky wants to return home a hero despite being a coward. Fabricating a false story of heroism following a battle in which he hid in his bunker, Stransky’s only block to getting his cherished Iron Cross is Steiner, who knows the truth and threatens to testify. The main thrust of the story is how Stransky and his aide betray Steiner and his men, leaving them isolated in enemy territory following a Russian advance, and how Steiner’s small group of survivors struggle to get back to German territory and have revenge on their betrayers.

Ably supported by a fine cast that includes James Mason and David Warner, Cross Of Iron is a fine example of how excellent casting can strengthen a movie. James Coburn is simply magnificent, a wiry, craggy everyman hero the likes of which we simply don’t see in movies anymore. Meanwhile there’s a sly magic twinkling in treacherous Schell’s eyes in his every scene, and his mad panic everytime he thinks his precious skin is in danger is, frankly, hilarious.

I haven’t seen Cross Of Iron in many years, but this blu-ray looks absolutely marvellous and really surprised me. This is everything that HD should represent for catalogue titles that have languished in poor VHS/DVD hell. The image is finely detailed and clear of marks and blemishes, sound quality is clear and authentic to it’s source, and extras plentiful and interesting. A great disc and something fans of the film will no doubt cherish.  

2011.31: Drive Angry (2011) ** July 18, 2011

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Dir. Patrick Lussier, 104 mins, DVD rental

So silly it’s almost fun. As far as Nicholas Cage movies go (a truly scary genre all it’s own) it wasn’t as awful as some. The plot is as daft as it comes- Cage breaks out of Hell and returns to Earth after his daughter is killed by a Satanist cult that next intends to sacrifice Cage’s infant grand-daughter to the Devil to bring Hell on Earth or some such nonsense. Just why it’s Cages grand-daughter in particular that is to be sacrificed is never answered - heck, the question is never asked- but grandad Cage is a mean motherf–ker that cannot be stopped, his Terminator lineage cued by his mean sunglasses. He’s indestructible and can drive and shoot like a badass. Basically it’s Ghost Rider on four wheels.

Cage is on autopilot here, practically phoning the performance in from another planet as usual. Does his expression change even once during the entire film? You know a film is in trouble when Cage looks bored.  I’ve finally figured out he’d be the perfect actor for Judge Dredd (as long as he kept the helmet on throughout, naturally). At least Amber Heard, in a part no doubt written with Megan Fox in mind, can act better than Megan Fox. She fairs well in an undemanding role but deserves a better movie than this one.

In a Grindhouse/Planet Terror kind of way the film is what it is- it’s probably not fair to criticise it for being exactly what it intends to be; i.e. noisy and stupid with lots of explosions and stunts and gunfights. The film was shot in 3D and there’s quite a few shots that are just plain irritating in 2D. I suspect this was made with an eye to it being a franchise but I believe it’s box-office may have mercifully nixed that intention. 

2011.30: The New York Ripper (1982) ** July 17, 2011

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Dir. Lucio Fulci, 93 mins, Blu-Ray Rental

Ah, the return of dear old Fulci- having watched three of his horror ‘classics’ a few months ago I approached this with some due caution. Ripper has some notoriety due to its ‘video nasty/banned’ status here in the UK over the years, and remains subject to some 40 seconds of cuts even in this ‘restored’ version. Truth be told, this is no doubt due to that same notoriety, as I doubt that any fully uncut version would risk the mental or emotional health of any viewer. The film is just too dated and daft for that, and is in many ways far tamer than many of the gore-fests released nowadays. So it’s likely going to be forever marred by it’s past history with the censors here in the UK (there’s a story that it was viewed with such revulsion when submitted for certificate that it was sent straight back out of the country with police escort).

So having never seen this film before, it was subject to some curiosity on my part. Set in the wonderfully sleazy New York of Taxi Driver and other 70’s flicks as opposed to the cleaned-up Disneyland the city has since become, the film has lovely location shooting that elevates it above the other Fulci films I have seen. The interiors, I believe, were all shot in Italy and the transitions from sequences shot in New York are seamless… really, you’d never tell. Indeed the film has a great ‘look’ in HD and, visually, seems far more accomplished than Fulci’s horror films. The make-up/gore effects are very good and far more realistic and successful than those I remember from the horror films. Photography is generally great and the lighting is clever and even stylish at times. Use of the widescreen frame is also well-handled. Detail in HD is excellent, with a filmic grain and a gritty, almost documentary-like tone throughout- I doubt the film has ever looked this good and fans must be in heaven, cuts aside, with this Blu-ray. 

Alas, like Fulci’s horror films, the film is let down by wooden acting, awful dialogue and hilarious dubbing, and many deficiencies of logic and plot. Things that when described to people would sound horrific and frightening, are just plain silly in execution, just like with those horror films. Indeed it has a bizarre, dreamy state that many fans seem to praise the horrors for. The identity of the ripper is a mystery more by how amateurly the film is scripted/acted than by design, although that made the film kind of fun right to the end. Really, it could have been almost anybody!

The film’s preoccupation with sex and perversion is something that may put off the viewer more than the gore, and I suspect it’s there that the reasons for its notoriety here in the UK lie. There’s lots of nude bodies, simulated sex, masturbation, stabbings, blood, corpses on mortuary slabs, I guess it was prime candidate for the video-nasty label it was given. It seems to me that the film is purely an exploitation vehicle, an excuse to show as many breasts and bloody murders as possible, and its this very OTT-feel that undermines it. And yet that’s also part of its charm, I guess, in that its so very much a product of it’s time, and has an amateur enthusiasm and innocence to it which is bizarre considering its subject matter. I’d actually go so far as saying its the best Fulci film I’ve yet seen. 

The Pointlessness Of Multiplexes July 4, 2011

Posted by ghostof82 in : Film General , 2 comments

I’m gutted. The one film I was really looking forward to this year - and intending on a rare trip to the cinema to see- was Terrance Mallick’s The Tree Of Life. Already it’s UK release has suffered delay due to it’s entry at Cannes last month, but now with a firm release date of 8th July (and guess what, I’m even on leave that day, synchronicity rules!) I figured I’d finally get to see it. Except I won’t, as it’s getting such a limited release over here the nearest cinema to me showing it is some 60 miles away at Nottingham.

Now, I suppose some will shrug and say, well, 60 miles isn’t all that bad. But you know, I’ve got three multiplexes within 8 miles of my door, each with 10 screens. And not one of them intends to show The Tree Of Life. So whats the point of all those screens? To show garbage like Transformers 4: Dark Side Of The Yawn in four screens at the same cinema (that’s three 3D showings with a 2D showing as well)? Or fascinating films like The Hangover 2, Bad Teacher, Bridesmaids, Green Lantern 3D, Kung Fu Panda 2

Whats the point of all those screens if they are just spent on the usual tosh that signifies modern film-making? Okay, I guess The Tree Of Life is pretty much an arthouse movie of limited appeal (even though it stars Brad Pitt and is directed by one of the greatest living directors today), but really, it’s not even worth one screen spared for one evening showing? No wonder people like me don’t bother with cinemas anymore, they aren’t interested in me, or the films I want to see. Now I suppose there are arguments that Tree Of Life isn’t expected to set the box-office alight, that there isn’t much of a demand for arthouse films or showings of old classics- but how do they know if they never show them, or how do cinemas expect to encourage such demand? The days of ABC and Odeon cinemas having just three screens are pretty much ancient history, we are in an era of ten-screen multiplexes. There should be more choice, not the same crap showing on four screens. 

So I guess I wait a few months for the Blu-ray release. Way to go cinema chains, outstanding way to compete with the home theatre crowd. Maybe the film will get one Tuesday-night showing between now and then (The New World  managed that, a few years ago), if I manage to keep an eye for it I might catch it. I guess I should have expected more of the same really.

As if the high ticket prices wasn’t enough, or the hordes of mobile-phone-addicted chatty morons enough to contend with, or dodgy projection quality, you have to hope against hope that they even show the films you want to see. So that’s the pointlessness of multiplexes. What a sad state of affairs. Still, I guess the price of the cinema tickets for my wife and I will pretty much pay for the Blu-ray, so I’m making a saving at least… and I guess that disc won’t be far off…

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