Sunday, 22 March 2009


I am not a huge fan of boxing although I admit I can be seduced into watching the big name fights. My problem is that I feel guilty that I am entertained by a sport that depends on one person inflicting b rain damage on another. On the other hand I am a great fan of boxing movies.The undoubted drama of the ring has lent itself to some good and even great films, Edward Dmytrk's THE SET UP, Mark Robson's THE HARDER THEY FALL, Robert Wise's SOMEBODY UP THERE LOVES ME, Ralph Nelson's REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT, Mark Robson's CHAMPION and Martin Scorsese's RAGING BULL to name a few. Most, if not all these films, portray the corruption of the fight game or the personal price payed by the fighters. To this honourable tradition we can now add Clint Eastwood's MILLION DOLLAR BABY. The film centres on the ambitions of a wannabe woman fighter (superbly played by Hilary Swank) and her almost reluctant trainer played by director Clint Eastwood - looking grizzled enough to have had a life in the ring. The film switches moods abruptly two thirds of the way through and becomes something entirely different to what I expected. It is a powerful, heartbreakingly thoughful film beautifully directed by Eastwood (who has undeniably become on of the very finest of American directors. With a great performance by Morgan Freeman. One of the best American films of recent years. Rating *****

Saturday, 14 March 2009

3.10 TO YUMA (2007)

Recently, after viewing his film IDENTITY, I consigned James Mangold to a box labelled "Interesting". Presented with potentially terrific material like COPLAND or WALK THE LINE, this director seems to deliver disappointingly routine movies fuelled by a few good performances (given the undeniably talented actors he has worked with this is hardly surprising). His remake of Delmer Daves classic 1957 3.10 TO YUMA is another case of seemingly director proof material but this time the result isn't just routine it is downright bloody awful. The script for the original was stripped down to the essential and Daves was a good enough director to trust the dramatic thrust of his material without the needless totally unnecessary embellishments that sink the new version. Everything that the original signalled by shorthand is laboured here over and over and then underlined to make sure we didn't miss the point. The big climax of the movie defies description and must win a prize for one of the most OTT put on film with the character played by Russell Crowe acting so illologically that it beggars belief. The final scene seems to be trying to make some rather obvious point about redemption but then totally scuppers the meaning with a joke involving the character's horse. Christian Bale's character is such a pain in the arse that I kept hoping somebody would shoot him (unfortunately this happened far too late to lift my rapidly sinking spirits) and Russell Crowe (an actor I quite like) turns in the worst performance I've seen him give. Of the supporting cast only Peter Fonda seems to make anything of his role - an embittered Pinkerton Detective. If you decide to see it then try to see the original as well...Delmar Daves, Glenn Ford and Van Heflin win hands down. Rating *

Wednesday, 4 March 2009


Back in the Sixties I saw A DOUBLE TOUR on the BBC and really enjoyed it. I've wanted to see it again ever since. If I knew it was by Claude Chabrol I must have forgotten because this would have made me want to see it even more. Nobody dissects the French bourgoisie like Chabrol. Seeing it again after all these years held a couple of surprises. It was indeed directed by Chabrol and it did not star Maurice Ronet (as I've always been convinced it did) and, surprisingly, I had no recollection of ever having seen it before! But, despite this, I still enjoyed it. The movie forms a sort of unofficial trilogy with two other Chabrol films - THE CHAMPAGNE MURDERS and TEN DAYS WONDER. A rich family, a chateau, family secrets and hidden passions bubbling beneath the surface and...of course...murder. This is early Chabrol and it is not very difficult to pick out the murderer (anybody who walks like that has to be a suspect!) but then the murder (which when we see it in flashback is very well done) has never been the the thing for M.Claude who is more interested in the disintegration of those caught up in the crime as it eats away at the belly of society. The star is Jean-Paul Belmondo, fresh from BREATHLESS, and a bit over the top. Rating ***


In the advertising for Bryan Singer's films it is mentioned that the screenplay is "unashamedly old school" which sounds almost like an apology for a film that the powers that be feel is rather lacking in the qualities that make box-office hits for the MTV generation. But VALKYRIE needs no apologies; it is solid film-making by a director who has confidence in a strong story and, perhaps more importantly, his own ability to tell it without unnecessary technical flashes. To complain that all the characters talk with undisguised American or English acting is like complaining that actors in, say, Pasolini's CANTERBURY TALES, spoke Italian rather than middle-english. Despite the fact that we know that the July plot to kill Adolph Hitler failed and the war in Europe dragged on for another ten months, VALKYRIE succeeds superbly in maintaining suspense. Personally, while being aware of the basic details of Graf von Stauffenberg's laudable attempt to blast Der Fuhrer from the face of the war torn planet (the attempt featured in the flawed but fascinating Anatole Litvak movie THE NIGHT OF THE GENERAL) but I had no idea of the scale of the "Valkyrie" operation and how close the anti-Hitler faction came to taking over Berlin and the entire nazi goverment. Of course, this is a commercial film with a big, if somewhat short (sorry, couldn't resist it) and it needs a hero, so Von Stauffenberg is show as somewhat whiter than white. True, he was a man of religious faith and far from an enthusiastic nazi - however the question always lingers as to whether he and his fellow conspirators would have been so eager to remove Hitler if Germany had been winning.

But no matter, they tried and died and deserve credit for it. Performances throughout are fine with Tom Cruise acquitting himself well enough along with Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp, Tom Wilkinson, Kenneth Branagh and an unreconigzable Eddy Izzard. Rating ***

Monday, 2 March 2009


If, at the end of the end of the year, I compile a "Ten Best List", I guarantee that this concert movie, directed by Danny Clinch, will be on it. Now, as my friends know, I am a huge fan of Country singer Willie Nelson but this film goes far beyond my admiration for the artist. On the same day I watched a DVD of the LAST OF THE BREED concert featuring Nelson alongside Merle Haggard and Ray Price and, while excellent, it in no way impressed me as a piece of film=making. Despite its rather unimaginative (but entirely accurate) title, Clinch has produced a film as exciting as the music it depicts and the concert it records. Although Wynton Marsalis is a world renowned jazz trumpeter, I was only familiar with his recordings of the Haydn Trumpet Concertos. Here Marsalis and Nelson collaborate on a dozen or so renditions of songs that range from classic blues, standards like "Stardust" and "Georgia on my Mind" to Nelson compositions such as "Night-Life". The interpretations are far from standard and every performance is a gem with the mutual admiration of the musicians evident not only from the music itself but also from the interviews. Give yourself a real treat, it doesn't come much better than this. Rating *****