Sunday, 26 August 2012

The Dish (2000)

When I heard the sad news on 25th August that Neil Armstrong had died, I immediately thought that I had to watch The Dish again.  Set in 1969, this is the very uplifting story of the largest radio telescope in the southern hemisphere, (which happens to be in the middle of sheep paddock in Parkes - a small town in Australia), and the people who are involved in bringing the live pictures of Neil and Buzz taking their first steps on the moon to the world.  I absolutely love this film, it is heart-warming, uplifting and cracks me up every time I see it.  The cast are all superb; Sam Neill is Cliff Buxton (the director of the dish), and it is down to him, his colleagues Mitch (Kevin Harrington) and Glenn (Tom Long), as well as NASA representative Al (Patrick Warburton) to make sure they stay in contact with Apollo 11.  The film works so well because of the Australian sense of humour, particularly from the Mayor of Parkes (Roy Billing) and the Prime Minister (Billie Brown) who are both wonderful; and the cultural differences between the Australians and the visiting Americans.  A truly wonderful film that always brings a smile to my face and a lump to my throat as we see some of the effort that went into bringing us pictures of the greatest moment in modern history, culminating in perhaps the most famous phrase of modern history.

That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.

Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Die Another Day (2002)

So, it’s happened. There are Skyfall posters in my local multiplex; which can only mean one thing: Blogalongabond will soon be over. :-(  But not to worry, there are two cool films and an unknown quantity before we finish. However, I must first clear the hurdle of Die Another Day. I think of all the 007 films, this was the one I was really not looking forward to seeing; I do not have great memories of the film, despite the fact that afterwards my girlfriend and I told our friends we were engaged! Overall I remembered it as a real mess of a film.

But against all the odds, I enjoyed it more than I expected. If it were sitting an Ordinary Wizarding Level exam, it would have passed by Exceeding Expectations. Excellent action (as usual with the later Bonds), another excellent score from David Arnold, a very different take on Bond in the first half of the film, and quite a novel way of hiding the main villain from 007. Of course we should start at the beginning, and immediately we see something wrong; a CG bullet being shot out through the iconic gun barrel! I’m sorry; was this released in gimmick-D vision? (see also 007 kicking a fencing foil at the camera later on!). What follows is spectacular, and though perhaps not as enjoyable as the pre-credit sequences of TWINE or TND, never-the-less pretty fantastic. The surfing looks great, and the music over it is very funky, and then we’re into a hovercraft chase. I love how dirty the whole sequence looks, as well as Bonds grit and brutality. Though how did Bond know that there was a waterfall on the other side of that gate?

I think that the credits are some of the best in the whole series; the torture going on in the background as part of the story rather than just having plot-associated images works really well. Of course there are some of these images as well and I think the ice/sunburst graphics are really smart; and then when the scorpion tails pop up along with the music it all comes together nicely. It’s just a shame the song sucks so hard; part of the torture I guess!

The first half of the film is certainly edgier and more intriguing than a lot in the series; what mental state is 007 really in? Does M really think he’s useless now? Is Jinx actually the first woman he’s picked up for random casual sex rather than someone involved in the investigation? Or is it just more blatant here? Who the hell is Graves? And how cool does 007 look with a big beard?

                                              Brozza fairly rocks the Jeff Lebowski look.

Everything is going well, until Bond and Graves have their fencing match. Despite it being choreographed by the legendary Bob Anderson, I find the whole sequence silly, and for me it marks the turning point in the film. From now on we just see the usual Bond tropes; gadgets, pointless henchmen (“I’m Mr Kill!” That’s lovely dear, now let me kill you with some lasers which are here for no reason), and illogical sequences. Then when Bond para-surfs (real thing?) through some Ice-Age quality digital icebergs, accompanied by some inexcusably poor super-imposition (not seen since Roger Moore went skiing), the film loses all credibility.

Speaking of gadgets, it’s nice to see a few old favourites hidden away in Q's man-cave; the crocodile from Octopussy, a Rosa Kleb style shoe, little Nellie and the jetpack from Thunderball. Mercifully John Cleese doesn’t reprise his Mr Bean from TWINE, and is starting to turn into a half decent Q “Better than looking cleverer than you are!”. I’m almost a bit disappointed he doesn’t make the transition to the Daniel Craig era, but not quite.

Shifting to some of the other peripheral characters, I think they’re all pretty good. Toby Stephens’ Gustav Graves is brilliantly arrogant and sneering, and due to some questionable gene therapy science, I’d completely forgotten that he was actually Colonel Moon from the film’s opening. I also thought that Rosamund Pike was appropriately frosty as Miranda Frost; she was suitably inconspicuous until we realised where her allegiance really was. Then she turns up wearing her pyjamas to fight Jinx at the end! Ah Jinx. Stunning as she is, with clear references to Ursula Andress with her appearance in the film, she’s not that great a character. OK, so she makes her way into the gene therapy clinic in Cuba, kills the Doctor, and blows the place up; but more often than not she is just a damsel in distress who needs rescuing by Bond.

                                                                  It's only a model!

Anything more to say? I don’t think so. Promising opening gambit, which ultimately falls flat and gets stuck in a mire of silly directorial choices and some shocking special effects. There are a few nice quick camera moves (scooting over the ice to the Aston Martin as it approaches Clark Kent’s Fortress of Solitude); but for every nice touch there’s a pointless slo-mo bit of Jinx being threatened by lasers. By no means as awful as I remember, yet certainly Brosnan’s worst 007 outing. Perhaps this is why Brozza doesn’t get to Die Another Day, and Broccoli & Wilson look to my hometown for the new super-spy.

Order of Preference so far:

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Die Hard 4.0 (2007)

Having watched Die Hard 2 last night, ITV4 in their wisdom clearly didn't deem Die Hard 3 worth showing, and went straight onto number 4! I think it was ITV4 anyway.  I didn't mind too much, as much as I can't remember what happened in number 3 (apart from starring Sam L Jackson, and at some point him and Willis have to solve a puzzle with 2 different sizes of jug and have to end up with 3 litres of water in one of them, or something!), I've never seen Die Hard 4.0.  I'd heard good things about it though, so I was all set to be entertained. And entertained I was.

Rather than being restricted to an office building or an airport, the film follows a more mobile storyline; McClane has to bring in a young computer nerd, one of many throughout the country who could be in danger, and it turns out that he could help prevent some cyber-terrorists from crippling the country and taking it back to the Dark Ages.  Cue lots of gunfights, crashing cars into airborne helicopters, fast driving and the occasional less than sensible decision; but above all lots of Bruce Willis being badass.  Now, I will be the first to say that I've never considered myself to be a Bruce Willis fan, I always thought he was better in films where he wasn't the only main character (Pulp Fiction, Sin City or 12 Monkeys), but with the three Die Hard films I've seen recently I've come to the conclusion that actually he's quite good in these roles.

Underworld director Len Wiseman, has done a pretty good job of recreating what was so good about the first Die Hard, McClane getting under people's feet, generally being a constant thorn in the baddies' side, and being completely gung-ho; as well as some tremendous set pieces of course.  Though the car falling down the lift shaft did have more than a little "The Lost World T-rex's pushing a van over the edge of a cliff" about it!  Overall Die Hard 4.0 was very enjoyable, perhaps not quite as good as the first film (well, there's no Alan Rickman), but close.  I'll have to see if I can track down Die Hard 3 soon, surely it must be on telly at some point.


We’re starting to race towards the end of August,and I realise that I’ve not written anything this month yet. Between watching lots of Olympics, a weekend away walking in Crianlarich (West Coast of Scotland) and my folks coming to stay, I have had little time to blog. Well that’s my excuse anyway. I’ve no idea how I’ll cope when I become a Dad for the first time in December!

It is almost the second anniversary of FilmsrRuss. Yes I’m almost into the terrible twos! So I hope I don’t get all cranky and stroppy, and hopefully normal service will resume soon. It’ll have to; Die Hard 2 last night, Die Hard 4.0 tonight (clearly ITV4 doesn’t think it’s worth showing Die Hard with a Vengeance!), Bridge on the River Kwai at the moment, and I must watch Die Another Day for Blogalongabond tomorrow! So I have to get busy.

This is Russ for FilmsRruss; we're done here.

Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

I thought Bridge on the River Kwai was very entertaining; a very British British film highlighting that it is the seemingly insignificant nuances of culture and integrity that are even more important when in an impossible situation. A tremendous performance from Alec Guinness, wonderfully shot, and a far more involved plot than I assumed. I liked the way that we initially sympathise with Guinness' character, but by the climax of the film we are firmly on the side of the British soldiers who are trying to destroy the bridge. Guinness' hubris is perhaps understandable but bizarrely at odds with what the Allies as a whole are trying to achieve.

As I said, the quality of acting is top drawer and the style and scope is epic. My only minor issue was that the climax wasn't quite climactic enough! I felt that the final act could have had more impact given the investment we had in the characters, but this is really a small failing in an otherwise excellent film

Friday, 24 August 2012

Die Hard 2 (1990)

Whereas the first Die Hard really grabbed hold of you and wouldn't let go, as well as creating icons in terms of heroes and villains, Die Hard 2 isn't really bothered about engaging the viewer at all. Once again John McClane is in the wrong place at the wrong time, an airport this time, but has trouble convincing the airport security that things are about to go horribly wrong. But however charismatic Bruce Willis is, his mettle is only measured by the bad guy he's up against, and William Sadler's Col. Stuart is not even a tenth as convincing as Alan Rickman in the first film. He's predictable, boring, and completely un-menacing.

I was annoyed by too many silly parts in the film (SWAT team not wearing body armour, McClane out on the runway one second then back in the control room 10 seconds later), that I just couldn't get on board with it. I also felt the pacing was all over the place, jumping from the excitement of a plane crashing into the runway then back to McClane bitching to airport security again. Certainly the plane crashes were filmed well and looked suitably spectacular, but this is definitely the poorer cousin of the first film. The only other thing worth saying is that Die Hard 2 features the appearance of a very Robert Patrick; who dies quite easily.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Brave (2012)

Let’s not beat about the bush here, Brave looks fantastic. I think I spent the first 10 minutes admiring how amazing Merida’s hair was. Clearly all the characters still looked like animated people, but the world in which they lived could easily have been real. The stone circle, the forests, the mountain landscapes all looked phenomenal.

Though there are plenty of funny moments (the three younger brothers notwithstanding) there aren’t as many LOLs as Monsters Inc or Finding Nemo for example. Rather Brave focusses on the teenage growing pains of Princess Merida and her desperation to live her own life and not be forced into being the Princess that her Mum wants her to be. Though I did really enjoy the film, I wonder if the story was really the best they could have come up with; a couple of times in the second half of the film I found myself asking “Why?”, and though it wasn’t boring, it wasn’t excellent.

The voice actors however, are all excellent. I was worried having seen the trailers that the Scottish accents were going to sound horrendous, despite most of them being Scottish actors (Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connelly, Robbie Coltrane and Kevin McKidd to name a few); but they were all great; as of course were the non-Scottish actors such Emma Thompson and Julie Walters.

Overall a very enjoyable film, not perhaps Pixar’s finest hour (you still have to go far to beat the enjoyment of Monster’s Inc in my opinion, or the genius of Wall-E), but certainly their most luxuriant.