The Good, The Bad and The Ugly / Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo (1966)

April 1, 2009

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This is going to be brief because I’d already posted a full 10/10 review but it has disappeared.

Last night I went to a rare-as-hen’s-teeth big screen showing of this.  There were seven people in the cinema watching it.  Seven.

Last month I saw a fight break out as people queued to get in to see Slumdog Millionaire.  The show had sold out but these people already had tickets, they were fighting just to get into the theatre first and get the best seats.

There are people I know who would be thrilled by this.  They want the best films and music and books and TV shows to be exclusive, secret, their own personal property.  I’m not of that mindset at all, I want to share The Good, The Bad and The Ugly with everyone.  I want people to develop the same love and respect and admiration and sheer exhilaration that I do for it.  I can’t tell you how excited I was for the whole day knowing that I would be seeing this that evening.

Leone’s direction of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly  is masterful.  Everything about it.  I love the patient way that the scene is set for each event, the build-up being far more important than the set-piece itself.  The extreme close-ups on the eyes of the protagonists, the silence, the tension.  This is going to sound embarrassingly pseudy but what the fuck, I believe it.  Leone’s direction here reminds me of a big cat stalking its prey.  It moves slowly and gradually, sinews tensed, eyes alert, silently, stealthily awaiting the perfect moment and then in an instant the violence is over.  In that way Leone is the opposite of Peckinpah whose violent scenes are extended as far as possible with repetitions from multiple angles and slow-motion sequences.  Where Peckinpah invites the viewer to gorge on the blood and destruction, Leone despatches it as quickly as possible.  For Leone, the act is trivial in comparison with the circumstances surrounding it- eyes filled with fear and determination, quivering hands poised to draw- and what is behind that.  Much as I love Peckinpah’s great westerns, Leone’s approach is better.

I must have seen this fifty times and (aside from some unglued make-up on Clint’s dehydrated neck and the ropey title sequence) I can’t find a flaw.  Brilliant, beautiful, brutal.  10/10

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Gran Torino (2008)

February 27, 2009

I thought this was fantastic.  I have some reservations about it, but overall the film was great.  Clint’s screen presence has changed over the years but hasn’t diminished.  This is by no means a perfect performance (though it’s much better than some of those around him) and he’s ten or fifteen years too late to be totally credible as Walt Kowalski, but he does draw out a fully rounded character with passions and humour and fears below the curmudgeonly, racist surface.  Also, he reins himself in better than in some of his previous Director/Star vehicles.  There is a greater economy in this performance than in some of his others when he didn’t have a director to chide him.

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It is a much better film than the basic premise of ‘racist war veteran meets immigrants and realises that we’re all the same beneath the skin’.  In fact, in some ways it is basically a Western where a grizzled gunfighter reluctantly protects the weak from hostile attackers.  Parts of the film are almost a machismo hand-job but the film overall is hardly the kind of Ford/Peckinpah reactionary right-wing ode to guns and violence that it threatens to develop into. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is just as much a film about a man confronting his demons and making his peace with his God.  Or about a man out of step with his times and confused, frustrated, befuddled or angry by the world around him.  Or an unlikely friendship/coming of age movie.  It is not by any measure a simple film.  I found it multi-layered, resonant and moving.  

On the down-side, some of the performances from the younger players are pretty ropey at times and some aspects are overdone (not least Kowalski’s final Christ-pose or the snare drums that accompany him taking out his rifle) but the film works better as a piece than the individual parts would suggest.  We should cherish a film-maker who is as prolific and brave as Eastwood while we still have him.  9/10


Magnum Force (1973)

December 28, 2008

Having suffered the cloying sweetness of ‘The Holiday’, I was in the mood for something a little different and today’s LoveFilm delivery ‘Magnum Force’ certainly fitted the bill on that score.  The sequel to Don Siegel’s excellent ‘Dirty Harry’ this film makes it clear that the old adage of ‘why change a winning formula’ was at the forefront of the minds of everyone involved.  The entire opening credits are played out over a close-up of a Magnum .44 and close with the gun pointing towards the screen and Harry’s iconic “do you feel lucky, punk?” speech from the first film is replayed to get the audience in the mood.  Already you’re aware that there’s not intended to be a lot of subtlety over the following couple of hours.  They may as well have put up a banner reading “turn off your brains and enjoy the action”.  That’s not a bad thing necessarily, but what made the original so compelling was the playing with the audience’s preconceptions and expectations- the movie’s intelligence, if you will.  The lowering of the audience’s expectations is a little disheartening.  Director Ted Post is no Don Siegel and knows it, he doesn’t even try.

Incidentally, the “do you feel lucky, punk?” speech was made after Harry was interrupted while eating a hot-dog from a stand opposite a bank to deal with an armed robbery that occurred across the road.  About three scenes into Magnum Force Harry is interrupted from eating a burger from a stand in an airport (for no plausible reason) to deal with a plane hijacking happening in that terminal.  My advice is that if you ever see Clint eating fast-food in public, get the hell away from him.

Okay, so the movie opens with a Union leader being found not guilty of a felony due to the ‘lack of admissible evidence’.  This is shorthand for he’s guilty AND corrupt.  His car is pulled over by a motorcycle cop- whose face isn’t shown- and the Union boss, his lawyer, his driver and his bodyguard are all shot dead at the roadside.  The next victims of the (still unmasked) vigilante cop are a swimming pool full of party guests- who he throws a bomb at and then shoots before the bomb explodes- and a pimp who appears to have stepped straight off the set of ‘I’m Gonna Git You Sucka‘.  By the way, at the editing stage they appear to have completely cut out the storyline that explains who the people at the party were.  Let’s assume they were gangsters.

At this point Harry and his new partner are recalled to the case.  Within about thirty seconds, he’s figured out that it was a traffic cop doing the killings.  His rationale is that two of the killings were done through the opened window of a parked car from point blank range and that the victims (who would hardly be the types to not pull a gun quickly in most circumstances) had their driving licences out.  No-one else in the SFPD had figured this out- they should all be demoted.  When we next see the vigilante in action again he revealed as ‘Silver Lady’ crooner David ‘Hutch’ Soul one of four rookie cops who are all about as good with a weapon as seven-time consecutive police marksman champion Dirty Harry.  Imagine that!

I have a theory about Harry Callaghan.  Coming three years after Peter Yates’ groundbreaking ‘Bullitt’, ‘Dirty Harry’ can be seen as an extension of the earlier film.  Where Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt was a good San Francisco cop who was tough and uncompromising, Eastwood’s Harry Callaghan is the same but of a more extreme nature.  Bullitt was driven by the desire to catch the bad guys but had a stable and happy relationship.  Callaghan is newly-bereaved, his methods questionable- torturing a suspect to find the location of a kidnapped girl- and his motivation (at least in the first movie) unclear.  In ‘Magnum Force’, the vigilante cops confront Harry once he’d deduced it was them (not that they could have known he had) and say “you’re either for or against us”.  He makes it clear he’s no vigilante- and so the ambiguity of the first film is sacrificed to a straight good guy/bad guys battle.  A real shame.

From here on in, it’s formulaic.  Harry’s partner is killed (you’d be safer drumming for Spinal Tap than partnering Harry), then the cops and their leader- Harry’s corrupt boss (Hal Holbrook)- are brought to justice, that is to say, killed one-by-one by Harry.  The last one is left floating away just like Scorpio was too.

It is fitting, then, that Lalo Schifrin contributes a dull and unimaginative version of his ‘Dirty Harry’ score to this dull and unimaginative version of ‘Dirty Harry’.  Being a competent, formulaic cop sequel is one thing, but cheapening the magnificent original rather than even attempting to outdo it is awful.  That turns a 5/10 film into a 2/10 film.

I’ve spent four hours of my day watching Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach in crap movies.  I should’ve watched The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and treated myself to an extra hour in bed!  Pah!