Say Hello to My Little Monthly Update for January 2018

Let’s start the new year with a bang…

Say hello to my little friend


#1 Bright (2017)
#2 The Narrow Margin (1952)
#3 My Life as a Courgette (2016), aka Ma vie de Courgette
#4 The 400 Blows (1959), aka Les Quatre Cents Coups
#5 The Purge (2013)
#6 The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
#7 The Love Punch (2013)
#8 The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (2012)
#9 The Man from Earth: Holocene (2017)
#10 La La Land (2016)
#11 Zatoichi on the Road (1963), aka Zatôichi kenka-tabi
#12 The Boss Baby 3D (2017)
#13 Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (2017), aka Gojira: Kaijū Wakusei
#14 Scarface (1983)
#15 King Arthur: Legend of the Sword 3D (2017)
La La Land

Scarface

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  • 15 new films this month gets 2018 off to a strong start. It’s equal to the 2017 average of 14.5, which bodes well for another good year.
  • It’s ahead of the January average (previously 11.2, now 11.5), though ranks joint third of all Januarys: it’s the same tally as last year, only slightly behind 2015’s 16, but 2016 retains the all-time best January with 20.
  • The Boss Baby was the first film I watched from 2017’s 50 Unseen. Did not expect that!
  • This month’s Blindspot film: on the rare occasion I watch a film from the nouvelle vague I always expect to find it irritating and pretentious, but there are some I’ve liked — Breathless, for example. Now joining that list is another of the movement’s best-known texts, François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows.
  • This month’s WDYMYHS film: Al Pacino stars in Brian De Palma’s ’80s epic about a Cuban immigrant who’s a whizz at designing winter neckwear, ScarfAce.



The 32nd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
There were quite a few films I really liked this month (by the time the reviews are in, four will receive full marks), but when I sat down to consider this award there was a clear victor for me. I can’t quite believe it’s taken me this long to get round to it (I first noticed it when it was getting raves at festival screenings in the latter half of 2016), and I’m not sure which stage of backlash we’re on at this point (so I don’t know if I’m currently ‘meant’ to like it or not), but I loved La La Land.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
There was nothing I’d consider an outright stinker this month (yes, I enjoyed The Boss Baby and King Arthur), so it falls to what I consider the most disappointing, basically. I’m afraid that has to be The Man from Earth: Holocene. After spending so long waiting for it (I supported the Kickstarter campaign back in 2014), the end result didn’t live up to the original. Perhaps it never could have, but here we are.

Worst Title Translation from French of the Month
The French title of François Truffaut’s debut film, Les Quatre Cents Coups, does indeed literally translate into English as The 400 Blows, but that’s not really what it means. It’s a (slight) abbreviation of a French idiom, faire les quatre cents coups, which has a meaning equivalent to “to raise hell”. So in English, The 400 Blows sounds like a pretty meaningless title once you’ve seen the film; something like Raising Hell, on the other hand…

Worst Title Translation from Japanese of the Month
The fifth film in Japan’s long-running samurai series is called Zatôichi kenka-tabi in its original language, which translates as Zatoichi’s Fighting Journey. Suggests some action, doesn’t it? Instead, in English it’s known as Zatoichi on the Road, which is both less exciting and also thoroughly generic — it could be the title of pretty much any Zatoichi movie. (Not that Fighting Journey is that much more specific, to be honest.)

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
A clear victor this month (it had five times as many hits as the post in second place), and for the first time in a quarter of a year it’s actually a film review too: The Man from Earth: Holocene.



I didn’t bother to furnish my Rewatchathon with an introductory post this year because the concept remains fundamentally the same as 2017 (that intro is here). However, because reaching 52 felt like a bit of a scramble towards the end, I’ve lowered my sights ever so slightly to 50. It’s a rounder number anyhow.

First off the block, then…

#1 Dunkirk (2017)
#2 Die Hard (1988)
#3 The Man from Earth (2007)
#4 Die Hard 2 (1990)

That’s a bang-on-target start — a lot better than last year, when I only rewatched one film in January.

Believe it or not, Die Hard and Die Hard 2 are the only Die Hard movies I’ve ever seen. I’ve been meaning to get to Die Hard with a Vengeance for absolutely ages, but for a while have also been wanting to rewatch the first two first. Well, that’s done now, so hopefully #3 will follow soon. And then #4 and #5? Perhaps. I mean, I watched Die Hard 2 for the first time in 2008 and I’m only now watching With a Vengeance, so maybe I won’t see the fifth one until 2038…


The MCU is back, in black.

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Die Hard (1988)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #23

Twelve terrorists. One cop.
The odds are against John McClane…
That’s just the way he likes it.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 132 minutes
BBFC: 18 (1988) | 15 (2007)
MPAA: R

Original Release: 15th July 1988
UK Release: 3rd February 1989
First Seen: DVD, 2003

Stars
Bruce Willis (Twelve Monkeys, The Sixth Sense)
Alan Rickman (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Sense and Sensibility)
Reginald VelJohnson (Turner & Hooch, Die Hard 2)
Bonnie Bedelia (Die Hard 2, Presumed Innocent)

Director
John McTiernan (Predator, The Hunt for Red October)

Screenwriters
Jeb Stuart (Another 48 Hrs., The Fugitive)
Steven E. de Souza (The Running Man, Beverly Hills Cop III)

Based on
Nothing Lasts Forever, a novel by Roderick Thorp.

The Story
While off-duty cop John McClane is visiting his estranged wife at her office Christmas party, a gang of terrorists enter the building and take the guests hostage. McClane avoids capture, making him their only hope of rescue…

Our Hero
One of New York’s finest unfortunately caught in the wrong place at the wrong time… or, as it turns out, the right place at the right time. They’re currently working on an “origin story” movie for cop John McClane, which is daft because Die Hard is his origin story — he may’ve become an action hero in later movies (I wouldn’t know, I still haven’t got beyond the second), but here McClane is just an ordinary cop. Well, a very committed ordinary cop, anyway.

Our Villain
Smart, witty, and thoroughly ruthless, Alan Rickman’s big-screen debut is a flawless turn that defined thriller villains (British-accented terrorists with a secret plan) for at least the next half-decade. No one does it better, though.

Best Supporting Character
McClane’s only real friend, Sgt. Al Powell is a beat cop on the outside who just happens to pick up his signal. Fortunately, he’s much smarter and more helpful than a team of FBI agents. Well, aren’t we all?

Memorable Quote
Hans Gruber: “Do you really think you have a chance against us, Mr. Cowboy?”
John McClane: “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.”

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
See above.

Memorable Scene
As Gruber lectures the collected hostages on how the terrorists have planned for every eventuality, a nearby elevator door pings open. One of the hostages screams, Gruber and co rush over, to find one of their compatriots dead with a message scrawled on his sweatshirt: “Now I have a machine gun, ho-ho-ho.”

Truly Special Effect
When the bomb in the elevator shaft blows out the side of the building, the effect was accomplished by collecting virtually every camera flashbulb of a particularly powerful type and wiring them to the outside of the actual building to simulate the flash, then superimposing a shot of an actual explosive blowing a hole in an all-black miniature of the building.

Making of
The filmmakers struggled to find a way for McClane and Gruber to meet prior to the movie’s climax. The scene in which they do, where Gruber pretends to be one of the hostages, was dreamt up after it was discovered Alan Rickman could do a good American accent.

Previously on…
Die Hard is adapted from a novel, which is a sequel to one called The Detective, which was filmed in 1968 starring Frank Sinatra as the lead cop (called Joe Leland rather than John McClane). When production began on Die Hard, Fox were obligated to offer the lead to Sinatra. Fortunately for them, he turned it down.

Next time…
Lightning struck twice for unlucky John McClane when he got embroiled in another Christmastime terrorist incident in Die Hard 2, aka Die Harder; then Gruber’s brother sought revenge in trilogy-forming Die Hard with a Vengeance. Years later, someone realised there was money to be made, leading to poorly-received cash-in sequels Live Free or Die Hard, aka Die Hard 4.0, and A Good Day to Die Hard. A sixth is in development.

Awards
4 Oscar nominations (Editing, Sound, Sound Effects Editing, Visual Effects — or, to put it another way: Sound, Effects, Editing, Sound Effects Editing)

What the Critics Said
“From its trailer, Die Hard looks like a typical action movie of the ’80s: a sweaty, bare-chested, all-American hero battles swarthy, heavily accented terrorist villains, accompanied by lots of high-tech explosions, vast sheets of breaking glass and enough sophisticated weaponry to account for the Pentagon’s budget overrun. As directed by John McTiernan, it turns out to be something more — the archetypical action movie of the ’80s, the perfection of the form. Sleekly engineered, impeccably staged and shrewdly dosed with humor and sentiment, Die Hard has everything but a personality.” — Dave Kehr, Chicago Tribune

Score: 92%

What the Public Say
“Vulnerable but witty, McClane is a very well realised action hero who has set precedence as far as similar roles are concerned. […] Unlike Schwarzenegger and Stallone, Willis’ McClane is not the archetypal heroic figure that is invincible and untouchable. He gets his butt handed to him regularly and often finds himself panicking with frequent looks of nervousness and even fear.” — Billy’s Film Reviews

Verdict

The action movie to end all action movies… or, y’know, spawn endless sequels and rip-offs. But Die Hard really did perfect the mix: a capable but not superhuman hero, a genuinely threatening but enjoyable-to-watch villain, plenty of thrills and tension, but also humour and eminently quotable dialogue. And it’s set at Christmas (though originally released in July — what?!), which makes it ideal for seasonal counter-programming. What more could you ask for?

Prepare thyself… for #24.

Alan Rickman, 1946—2016

I rarely break from reviewing on this blog, but I think I can afford such a courtesy to Alan Rickman.

In part this is because, after I heard the news, I realised he’s been a constant presence throughout my film-loving life. I adored Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves as a kid, when the American accents didn’t matter and it was a glossy big-budget extravaganza. I watched it a few years ago, and it no longer looks glossy, big budget, or particularly extravaganza-y, but Alan Rickman shines as arguably the best Sheriff of Nottingham ever to grace the screen.

Then there’s the role that has obviously defined him for a generation: Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series. I’m sure casting the Potter films must’ve been a tricky business, but Rickman as Snape was one of those choices where you just think, “well, obviously.” A pretty one-dimensional character to begin with (The Mean Teacher), Snape has a significant and complicated role as the series goes on, and is probably the most nuanced character in it by the end. Having an actor of Rickman’s ability involved was obviously beneficial.

And as I got older still, there was Die Hard. His film debut at age 42, and the film that will always define him for many, but (again) it’s a magnificent performance, a definitive villain. Pretty much every action-thriller villain for the next, what, decade? more? is really a rip-off of Hans Gruber, however all portrayed by whichever British actor was currently available.

Those are just three keystones in a sea (mixed metaphor much) of fantastic movies and excellent performances that have been scattered throughout my viewing life: the Spock-ish thespian in Galaxy Quest; the punk-y angel in Dogma; the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy film (another spot of perfect casting); the adulterous(?) husband in one of Love Actually’s strongest yet most divisive stories. Several of these films are to come on my 100 Favourites; several more were in contention; and, in every case, a significant reason for their presence was Alan Rickman’s performance.

And if you ever forget that life isn’t fair, remember this:

So we've lost 69-year-olds Bowie, Lemmy (ok 70-year-old) and now Alan Rickman – but Donald Trump is still with us.

Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

2015 #55
Antoine Fuqua | 107 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Olympus Has FallenThe first of Summer 2013’s “Die Hard in the White House” movies, Olympus Has Fallen casts Gerard Butler as the top Secret Service agent who’s also super chummy with President Aaron Eckhart and his kid (Finley Jacobsen). However, after Something Goes Wrong™, Butler is moved to a desk job… but then, when the White House is attacked by terrorists, he’s the only good guy left standing inside. You know the rest, even if you haven’t seen White House Down.

The remarkable thing, watching both movies, is just how many plot beats are so similar. Even when they’re not exactly the same, they’re functionally identical. For example, a plane shoots up Washington merely as a distraction to get the President sent to the White House’s bunker; in White House Down, an explosion at the Capitol is staged merely as a distraction to get the President sent to the White House’s bunker. Both films feature a kid sneaking around the building; a former-Secret-Service traitor-in-their-midst; major characters, including the Speaker of the House, managing the crisis remotely… At least the villains are different: White House Down was based on the Middle East conflict, the villains being Americans wanting it to continue; Olympus Has Fallen is based on the Korean conflict, with nasty foreign villains. Maybe that’s why America liked this better: foreign bogeymen rather than unpatriotic Americans. To be frank, the latter is more interesting.

The real problem with Olympus Has Fallen is that it’s just as daftly OTT as White House Down, but with none of the self-awareness. There are slow-motion shots of characters screaming “no” as someone dies; bullet-torn American flags are tossed to the ground… It’s just as clichéd, but without the knowing wink that makes the other one fun. Foreign bogeymenIn fact, it takes itself very seriously indeed — Fuqua even puts characters’ names and jobs up on screen, as well as timecodes and locations, as if it’s a dramatisation of a real event. Obviously we all know it isn’t, making it feel incredibly odd. The CGI is just as bad as White House Down’s, though the exterior White House stuff looks more real than the obviously-greenscreen locales of the other film. Strikingly, this cost less than half as much ($70m vs. $150m).

On the bright side, the battle on the White House lawn is a good sequence. It’s played as straight as the rest of the film, but on this occasion it works. That said, it’s still just a big shoot-out, of which equally-strong examples can be found in many other action films. White House Down may come up a little short in the exceptionally-memorable sequences stakes too, but at least things like the car chase around the White House lawn — complete with the President firing a rocket launcher! — are trying a bit harder to be original.

Most of the time, the po-faced-ness would render this no more than an adequate and semi-forgettable actioner. By direct comparison to White House Down and all its irreverent fun, This. Is. AMERICA!however, Olympus Has Fallen looks like a far lesser movie. It’s a shame it made it out of the gate first, and that some viewers are not blessed with enough of a sense of humour, because their comparative success has left some quarters with the impression this is the better movie and White House Down is just a clone. Hopefully that’s a wrong we can eventually right.

3 out of 5

Sequel London Has Fallen is out in October.

White House Down (2013)

2015 #51
Roland Emmerich | 126 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

White House DownUS Capitol policeman Channing Tatum is visiting the White House, trying and failing both to impress his estranged daughter and get a job in the Secret Service, when terrorists attack and try to take President Jamie Foxx hostage. Tatum rescues him from some of them, but with the rest occupying the building the stage is set for “Die Hard in the White House”.

White House Down is less known for that pithy (but accurate) summary than it is for being released the same summer as Olympus Has Fallen, which has virtually the same plot. This had the misfortune of coming second, meaning it took less at the US box office and was dismissed by some critics, too. That said, others — particularly over here, apparently — assert it’s the better of the two. I think where your opinion is likely to land is most succinctly summed up in Film4’s review by Rebecca Davis: “Whether or not you enjoy this film depends entirely on whether you judge it to be po-faced or parody. If you believe it’s the former, you’ll probably hate it. If you believe it’s the latter, you’ll have an absolute blast.” That’s bang on, and I definitely judge it to be a parody. To clarify, not an out-and-out Airplane-style parody, but very much a self-aware retro-styled tongue-in-cheek Action Movie.

I can’t help but feel that most of the movie’s critics didn’t get in on the joke, but I’m really not sure how they missed it. Perhaps they have to watch so much poorly-made crap that they can’t spot when something’s been done deliberately. But White House Down is so gloriously, unashamedly cheesy that it has to be deliberate, and it’s so much fun because of it. It’s certainly not original, nor particularly clever, but a healthy awareness of the inherent ludicrousness of the very concept (and of all the clichés of the genre) keep it entertaining throughout. And based on everything I’ve read, it probably does a better job of being a Die Hard movie than the last couple of real ones have.

It's not a Die Hard movie, honestIf there’s a downside, it’s that this $150 million movie looks like it was made for closer to $15. There’s an overabundance of digital sets, ‘exteriors’ obviously shot on incorrectly-lit soundstages, and terrible CGI. Goodness only knows where all that money went — the actors’ salaries? Tatum and Foxx are good, but I’m not sure they’re worth that much. And here’s a good a time as any to say that this year I’ve become a bit of a Channing Tatum convert. I’d written him off because, to be honest, he looks a bit of a lug and I still think he’s woefully miscast as Gambit in the forthcoming X-Men spin-off. He’s brilliant in this and 21 Jump Street, though, showing a real likeability and flair for comedy. Someone should really team him up with the equally comically adept Dwayne Johnson.

Anyway, White House Down: it may be derivative and look practically direct-to-DVD cheap, but get yourself in the right frame of mind and it’s a ton of fun. It’s a shame the po-faced Olympus Has Fallen was a bigger hit (in the US — worldwide, White House Down won) and is getting sequelised, because I’d far rather see a second adventure for this President/protector pairing.

4 out of 5

Tomorrow, my review of Olympus Has Fallen.

Lethal Weapon (1987)

2009 #8
Richard Donner | 110 mins | download | 18 / R

Lethal WeaponLethal Weapon comes from another era — an era in which R-rated films were still allowed to be blockbusters. One only needs to look at the classifications attached to the most recent instalments of formerly-R-rated ’80s franchises — primarily, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Die Hard 4.0, both PG-13 — to see how things have changed. Of course, maybe they have just cause: Watchmen, the first proper R-rated blockbuster for a while, has been labelled a box office disappointment (because that’s what $150m worldwide in two weeks is these days).

I digress. Though, my mind frequently wandered during Lethal Weapon — often to Die Hard. This may predate the Bruce Willis franchise by several years, but it’s a testament to the fame of that film’s Christmas setting that my first thought was they’d ripped it off (Lethal Weapon, like Die Hard, begins with a classic Christmas song over an urban setting). And my next thought was, did they not have a costume budget? The film opens with a young girl, lazing provocatively with one tit out… at first, before Donner makes sure to show them both off thoroughly before she hurls herself from a building; and then we find Danny Glover’s Murtaugh in the bath and Mel Gibson’s Riggs wandering around showing his arse off. Nudity is fine in its place, of course, but here it’s so gratuitous that it sets a low tone — to be fair, one the film does little to belie.

More seriously then: the plot is full of holes with great gaps in its logic, especially as it heads towards the climax. There’s also no mystery — the investigation is just an excuse to string together action set pieces and comedic buddy scenes, neither of which are much cop, and most of the story is conveyed in a couple of info-dumps that supporting characters volunteer for no definite reason. The dialogue and performances are appalling — “may I remind you of some stuff you already know, that’s convenient exposition for the audience, thoroughly explaining the troubles of the main character and the scene you just saw”. I’ve seen better episodes of Murder, She Wrote. Their motivation makes about as much sense too — “tell me the truth!” “But they’ll kill my daughter!” “We can protect her!” “No you can’t!” “Tell me!” “Oh OK then.”

The villains aren’t just poorly drawn, they’re barely sketched at all. There’s an early scene where we see how Hard they are, then they just turn up in time for the climax and do little more than get chased around and die explosively, and in the wrong order to boot. At the very end, our heroes capture the one remaining bad guy… and then have a fight. Why? Because they do. And then all the police turn up and just watch this punch-up going on. It’s the thinnest excuse for a final fight ever put on film, and consequently the least tense — none of those officers are going to let the villain kill Riggs, and even if he did beat or kill him he’s not going to escape. There is literally no point to it. It’s appalling writing, and dire filmmaking to have left it in.

Oh, and Murtaugh smashes a car into his own front room for no reason.

Lethal Weapon probably wants to be a lot better than it is. Was it supposed to be a drama about these two cops with any old investigation plot stuck on, or a standard action-thriller with too much time spent on character? At best, it falls somewhere between the two — they’re not real characters (i.e. it wouldn’t pass as a drama if you cut out the thriller), each being made up of several stock Action-Thriller Hero traits; but nor is the plot the main focus, what with it being rather generic and not especially interesting or at all complex. The leads’ repartee and bonding is more interesting than the actual plot, and is surely the explanation for the film’s enduring popularity and three sequels, though to be honest I didn’t get it.

I’d always thought Lethal Weapon must be alright — after all, as I said, it’s had an enduring popularity and was written by Shane Black, who went on to both write and direct the thoroughly wonderful (and underrated) Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (with Robert Downey Jr being fantastic a good few years before his popularity resurgence in Iron Man) — but having seen it, I struggle to see why people like it to any significant degree.

2 out of 5

ITV1 are showing Lethal Weapon tonight at 10:15pm.
Lethal Weapon is on Watch tonight, Tuesday 23rd September 2014, at 10pm.