Network (1976)

February 26, 2009

I’m really in two minds about this.  It’s great- but not as great as I’d hoped.  The direction, cinematography and performances are all great.  What holds me back from loving this is the script- and I can see myself getting tied up in knots about this.  For a film from over thirty years ago, the film is remarkably prescient.  I don’t think that ratings chasing, dumbing down, callous corporate politics or exploitation were new concepts in 1976 by any means- but the exploitation of a mental breakdown, on-screen deaths or murderous political activitism would all follow in the years that followed Network.  I just feel that the way that these things unfold here is unrealistic- even when they have, in essence, come to pass.  This is the apex of melodrama.  And do ordinary people really decide upon a murder so calmly and certainly.

The other thing about the script which irked me was that every character in every scene no matter how animated or sullen or overwrought or in control or even psychotically deranged spoke in exactly the same polished and seamless voice.  They all had a fantastic range of vocabulary, never stumbling or searching for the right phrase or capable of being misinterpreted as if they all had thesauruses (thesaurii?) to hand.  Life isn’t like that and so real-life drama shouldn’t be like that.  It’s just a bug-bear of mine.  The dialogue is great and quotable, it is beautifully delivered and sticks in the memory but it’s never that easy to find the right… erm… you know, the right means of delivering an emotional message… articulating, that’s it- it’s never that easy articulating your thoughts off the cuff.

Aside from those gripes, this is first-rate movie making.  Peter Finch gives a great performance as the deranged Harry Beale (like the Fool in Shakespeare’s King Lear), William Holden is more understated but no less effective in the role which holds the whole piece together, Faye Dunaway delivers her usual performance of the era (usually very good, never excellent) and Ned Beatty with just one powerful scene in the whole film is mind-blowing.

Notwithstanding my reservations about the script (and it does make important comments about exploitation, dumbing-down and spoon-feeding) this is still a fine movie.  7/10 and I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.



Damien: Omen II (1978)

December 29, 2008

Whoo-hoo!  An overblown horror sequel, I haven’t watched one of these since I started recording my thoughts on here.  I love and hate these in equal measure because they tend to be entertainingly and depressingly mindless.  Again in equal measure.

All of the ingredients are in place- a Hollywood great in a lead role (in this case William Holden), an over-the-top musical score by Jerry Goldsmith and a ludicrous plot which touches only occasionally on plausibility and is designed to facilitate increasingly garish and lurid deaths- the Omen series seems to specialise in decapitations.

Okay, on with the ludicrous plot.  Damien- the devil’s son- has killed everyone who came to suspect his true identity and is being raised by his wealthy uncle.  In the first film a black dog appeared whenever someone was about to die, I think the dog must’ve already had filming commitments for another movie as that most pivotal of roles has now been taken by a crow.  It works like this- a scene looks normal, the crow appears accompanied by bombastic music, someone who suspects Damien’s true identity dies.  In fact, one bloke dies just for trying to stop one of Damien’s acolytes (a bloke off Falcon Crest) from restricting the supply of foods to starving nations.

The deaths are the reason that people go to see these things and they range from the sublime (a Doctor finds that Damien has the cell structure of a jackal and takes a lift pressing to go down but the lift takes the doctor to the top floor and then plummets causing the Doctor to be chopped in half as he lies on the floor) to the ridiculous (A reporter in a fabulous red coat tries to warn Damien’s adopted parents after seeing his face in a painting by a thirteenth century prophet- she is blinded by the crow in a fantastically unrealistic scene and staggers in front of a huge juggernaut which she seemingly can’t hear and which doesn’t stop after turning her into roadkill).

My favourite, though, is the opening scene where Rumpole and the bloke who Michael Caine chases down by the slagheaps in Get Carter are crushed by a falling roof after seeing a painting of the devil that supposedly looks like Damien.  It doesn’t really: DamienPainting.  See?

The best part of the film is when a growing number of people learn of Damien’s secret identity.  William Holden is already having serious doubts- I expect being told that your adopted son has the same cell structure as a jackal would do that to you- and an employee of Holden’s gets hold of Rumpole’s evidence (dug out of the collapsed archaeological site) and rushes to tell him.  Holden refuses to listen but his son Mark- Damien’s closest friend- overhears and is convinced.  Damien’s adopted mother is told by Holden what has gone on but doesn’t believe it.

Now that there are at least three possible candidates for the morgue, the pressure is really cranking up – it’s like eviction night in the Big Brother house. Who will get offed first?  And how?  The deaths have been increasingly elaborate and exciting, can it get any better than being bisected on an elevator floor?  No.  Of course it can’t.  It was silly to even hope for it.

Mark goes out for a walk in the snow and is followed by Damien (and an ominous orchestra).  They argue when Mark refuses to join the devil’s gang and then the music stops while Damien tortures him by looking at him till his ears hurt and he falls down dead.  A-ha I was right, they blew the budget on the lift scene as there are no special effects at all- not even music- just a kid clasping his hands to his ears and then falling over.  Wank.  Total wank.

Anyway, they all have to go now that they know- William Holden goes to visit his employee wearing a Burberry scarf and together they look at the thirteenth century painting which has been loaded onto a train.  As he waits outside, the employee is crushed between a runaway train and a stationary one.  William has seen the painting and seen the dead man.  He knows that Damien is the son of the devil and rushes back to meet his wife and Damien at the museum where the knives that Gregory Peck tried to kill Damien with in the original are held.  Now I’d have fucking legged it sharpish but that’s why William Holden is a matinee idol and I’m a movie freak- he’s got king-sized balls and he doesn’t sweat killing Beelzebub in front of the devil’s adopted mother. But stabs him dead first with the sarcastic words “there are your daggers”.  She’d make a good James Bond.  if she wasn’t in league with the devil- who also happens to be her son.  Anyway, in gratitude Damien burns her and the museum to the ground.  So now that everyone bar Damien is dead, the evidence is destroyed and the weapons that can kill him are gone up in flames the film ends.  Good.

It’s preposterous and it’s supposed to be but it’s just not unsettling and it’s supposed to be.  Accomplishing both- as the original did- would be an 8/10.  Getting it half-right nets it a 4/10.

Ashanti (1979)

December 26, 2008

Michael Caine will star in any film that pays irrespective of its merit, I think we’d all accept that.  But do we have to watch?  Ashanti is a by-numbers chase movie set in Africa and with a number of big name cameo parts.   The director (Richard Fleischer) had long since proved that he can handle ‘big’ movies with big names- especially with ‘The Vikings’- but he must’ve been too busy applying sun-tan lotion to notice that the highly-paid stars he’d flown in at great expense (Omar Sharif, William Holden, Rex Harrison, Peter Ustinov) were barely doing more than reciting the banal script.  The lowest-point came with the once-great Holden mentioning casually to Caine (after being shot whilst in control of a helicopter because Caine didn’t fire first) that he should jump before they crash and Caine responding by looking out of the window with a bare modicum of interest.

He jumped eventually and survived.  What a shame.  The film could have been over in half an hour.  Nothing redeems this film.  Nothing.  0/10.