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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The Hunter (1980)

January 7, 2009

I love Steve McQueen.  I think that he’s just about my favourite actor ever.  McQueen understood the truth of the saying ‘less is more’ than anyone I’ve ever seen.  And so I’ve avoided seeing this for years.  Knowing that he made it whilst becoming ill, I didn’t want to see him diminished.

McQueen himself knew that he was aging fast and needed a new direction, his coveted project ‘An Enemy of the People’ shows that much (another film I’ve yet to see, but one that I’m intrigued to) but this film shows the way his career would’ve gone and it isn’t pretty.

‘The Hunter’ is a poor movie.  As with many films based on someone’s life story it is episodic and a little too much care is paid to not hurting anyone’s feelings.  The only real villain is a 2-D psychopath who gets as little screen time as is logistically possible.  And so we end up with what seems like a few episodes of ‘The Fall Guy’ strung together to justify some pretty decent stunt work.  It ends in about the most cloying way imaginable.  The soundtrack is laughable.  It looks like a TV movie- I’ve never heard of the director, perhaps that’s what his day job is.  In fact, you could run the film for an hour opening with Eli Wallach and the parents of the kid Bernardo and the only thing you would miss is seeing McQueen fight one of the biggest men you’ve ever seen and get distracted by a train set (kids toys are a constant presence in the film, they were McQueen’s own- as were a couple of the cars).  The film is most notable for a great chase with McQueen in a combine harvester chasing a Trans Am through a cornfield and an even better foot chase ending with McQueen hanging off a the side of a subway train.

Aside from those two set-pieces, the production values are pretty poor and no-one seems to care at all how the movie turns out, but that kind of saves it too.  McQueen is having such a good time sending himself up (his character ‘Papa’ Thorson is a terrible driver who freely admits that he’s “getting too old for this shit”) that the charm of his performance saves the movie.  He is out of shape and struggles during the action scenes but doesn’t get a corset on like William Shatner, he just shows the character as he would have been.

As I said earlier, this shows the way McQueen’s career would have gone.  He couldn’t get serious dramatic work and would’ve ended up parodying himself.  To do this once shows self-awareness and a lack of bullshit- to keep doing it is to become Sylvester Stallone.

Anyway, a poor movie saved by some decent stunts, solid work from Eli Wallach and LeVar Burton and a charming performance by my all-time favourite actor. 5/10


The Holiday (2006)

December 27, 2008

My wife Laura is a wonderful girl (she hasn’t and won’t, in her own Beauvoirian terms, become a woman).  She is funny, intelligent, profound and erudite but (aside from her two favourite films ‘Billy Liar’ and ‘Carry On Camping’) she generally has horrible taste in films with a particular leaning towards Rom-Coms.  And that results in me having some degree of expertise in the field.  Which is a shame for ‘The Holiday’ because it means that I’ve seen it various times under various names before.  The only surprise is a delightful turn by Eli Wallach as nonagenarian screenwriter Arthur Abbott.  Whether it is delightful in its own right or I’m being kind because it is wonderful to see one last hurrah from a screen great I don’t know or care, I loved it.

The storyline- such as it is- involves four heartbroken people finding love at Christmas.  Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet on the rebound from bad relationships house-swap for two weeks and find love with regular visitors of one-another’s.  Cameron meets Jude Law in snowbound (but, oddly, never snowing) England and Kate finds love with Jack Black in sun-kissed Los Angeles (where she wears winter clothes throughout).

Oh, why am I bothering- it’s crap.  It requires a lobotomy, not a suspension of disbelief.  The key players have no discernible chemistry and their characters are as two-dimensional as they are vapid.  Jude Law gets the plum role as the seeming playboy who is actually the widowed father of two young girls- yes, that is as interesting as it gets.  In the best supporting role Rufus Sewell gets to re-enact Hugh Grant’s character from ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ (told you that I was an expert) and once again raise the question of how a man can be that good-looking despite have such wonky eyes.

Anyway, I’m going to give this 2/10 (both points for the presence of Eli Wallach) and the memory that I could see a film with more wit, charisma, cuteness, more realism and yet more fantasy by watching the decidedly average ‘Love Actually’.