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Movie roundup 2020, #12

Oops, a couple of Hollywood films sneaked in – even worse, one is a new Disney film. (Old Disney films are allowed, by the way.) To be fair, I’d assumed the film was Irish, given the mega-selling property from which it was adapted is Irish – but apparently not. The other is by the nearest thing Hollywood has to an actual auteur, although I’ve always found his films unconvincing. Otherwise, your usual international mixture.

Artemis Fowl, Kenneth Branagh (2020, USA). Nope, didn’t get it. Fairy land is real and lies deep in the earth, but they have magic – so why do they need high tech? Which they have, much higher than us poor surface folk. The title character is the eleven-year-old son of a man who shares the same name, and apparently both are criminal geniuses. So we are told. But not shown. Then there was something about fairies and dwarfs and trolls and a powerful weapon that wasn’t a weapon, and none of it made the slightest bit of fucking sense, and it was clear Branagh had reached for the visuals in every scene, but it wasn’t enough to give the material any kind of sense or character. I’ve heard mixed reports about the books, but everyone has said the film is bad. Hard to disagree.

Dragon Fist, Lo Wei (1979, China). Very early Jackie Chan film in which he is a student of a kung fu master who is killed in a grudge match, then Chan later stumbles across the killer, whose clan is in conflict with a nasty evil clan, and discovers the killer has reformed so much so he even cut off one of his legs. It’s a bit silly, yes, and the showdown where the villain’s brainiac henchman explains his plan is even sillier. But there are some excellent fights, and the generally strong story line keeps things simple. One for fans, I think, though.

Dragons Forever, Sammo Hung & Corey Yuen (1988, China). Jackie Chan plays a lawyer hired to prevent a fishery from closing down a chemical plant after complaints of pollution, except the chemical plant is really a drugs plant and Chan falls in love with the environmentalist helping the fishery… A film mostly notable for being very 1980s, until you realise that Chan’s associates, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, have an entire comedic routine going on between the two of them that nearly derails the film. Also, Chan’s climactic fight with Benny Urquidez has to be one of his best, if not the most physical the two ever performed – and, to my mind, better than the one in Wheels on Meals. A must for Chan fans.

The Kinsman, Doris Ariole (2018, Nigeria). Nollywood is the third biggest cinema on the planet after Indian (Bollywood + Tollywood + Kollywood, etc) cinema and Hollywood, but its output is not easy to find. In some respects, this is a good thing – most Nollywood films are really, really bad. But occasionally it throws up some gems. While “gem” may be far too strong a word for The Kinsman, I did enjoy it, for all its clichéd story and amateur performances. Widow and nubile daughter return to Lagos, and presume on an acquaintance of her late husband to, first, get the daughter a job, and, second, match-make between the two. But the acquaintance, Mr B, is more than double the age of the daughter, and reluctant to get romantic. Add in a pair of female sidekicks, one of whom is deaf and uses sign language throughout, and you have a rom com that ended up more interesting than the usual fare. I enjoyed it, and I didn’t expect to.

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, Kundan Shah (1983, India). There are not many Bollywood films inspired by Michelangelo Antonioni movies – in fact, this might be the only one. Two unlucky owners of a photographic studio/shop find themselves embroiled in a corruption conspiracy when they accidentally photograph a wealthy developer murdering a corrupt municipal commissioner. But this is Bollywood, so a lot of the film is an extended joke on keeping the commissioner’s corpse out of the hands of the bad guys. It’s all very Bollywood and very 1980s, with pantomime villains and luckless heroes. The end sequence, in which the heroes and villains take over a theatre production of the Mahabharata is considered a classic of Bollywood comedy, and rightly so. It’s brilliantly done, and it’s worth seeing the film for it alone.

The Legend of Rita, Volker Schöndorff (2000, Germany). Of all the nations on this planet, Germany has probably interrogated the violence of its recent past the most. Admittedly, it did significant damage to Europe during the 1930s and 1940s, but it has taken responsibility for those crimes in an intelligent and moral way. Which is more than can be said for other European nation. One of the consequences of the position Germany found itself in after WWII resulted in a forty-year campaign of terrorism, which Germany has addressed many times in film. (This is not to say Germany is a complete paragon – it has yet to address the quiet rehabilitation of Nazis which took place in the years following WWII.) The Legend of Rita is based on a true story of a terrorist who escaped to East Germany and was protected by the Stasi. But it all came to an end after reunification…

Gantz, Shinsuke Sato (2011, Japan). Two young men are hit by a subway train and awake to find themselves in an apartment with a giant black ball, which tells them they must kill aliens to earn points. The film is then structured as their encounters with various aliens. But they also have their own lives to navigate – and while I’ve seen reviews of this film complain about the characters development, it strikes me as overly harsh given the situation itself is never really explained. True, Gantz drags quite a lot in places – in far too many encounters, the characters seem completely clueless and stand around waiting to be killed, when the film has already shown what needs to be done. But it’s a neat idea and it’s handled well, and if there are any problems, it’s in the pacing.

Four Weddings and a Funeral, Mike Newell (1994, UK). This is on the 1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die list and while I’d definitely seen it many years before, I didn’t have a date against it. So when it popped up on Amazon Prime, I decided to watch it. I’d forgotten how much I despise Hooray Henries, and their collaborationists, such as Richard Curtis. Hugh Grant’s character is clearly living off overdrafts – the minimum spend for Andie MacDowell’s wedding present is £1000 and he asks what is available for £50. The cars he drives are cheap clunkers. But he has rich friends. And he is posh as fuck. This is all as representative of 1990s UK as Downton Abbey is of the UK at any time. True, John Hanna’s reading of Auden’s ‘Funeral Blues’ still moves, but that’s due to the poem, not the film or actor. I fucking despise “chocolate box England” movies, and Four Weddings and a Funeral was among the first of them. Burn it, burn it to hell.

A Hidden Life, Terrence Malick (2019, USA). If you make a film in which a person is arrested and condemned to death for not doing what his country and society want him to do… who is the villain? Given that this film is set in Austria during the late 1940s, a sensible person would say: the Nazis. Except Malick doesn’t show the Nazis doing anything bad. True, there’s no such thing as a good Nazi – but if you don’t make their evil explicit, then you’re helping rehabilitate them And we know people are stupid enough in this day and age to defend the Nazis. While those sort of people are unlikely to watch a Malick film, anything involving Nazis should not be morally neutral. Three hours of fucking dull ambiguity does no one any favours. There is, it must be said, some lovely photography in A Hidden Life. There is also a lot that is unconvincing. And the most unconvincing thing is Malick’s commitment to his premise. Still, this is hardly surprising – Malick’s films have generally been visually strong but intellectually weak. A Hidden Life feels like Malick’s attempt to make The White Ribbon, while completely missing the point of Haneke’s film…