Tuesday, 23 September 2014

That's Rogertainment! Rogisode 7:
The Wild Geese

The death of director Andrew V McLaglen last month prompted me to make his first collaboration with Roger Moore my next foray into the wild, weird world of Rogertainment. McLaglen and Moore would become firm friends, going on to make two more films together over the next couple of years: North Sea Hijack (1979) and The Sea Wolves (1980), but 1978's The Wild Geese would be the film for which McLaglen was most fondly remembered.

Like an irony-free Expendables movie, The Wild Geese sees Richards Burton and Harris assembling a creaky team of near-arthritic ex-soldiers tasked with quietly dropping into the middle of an African warzone and extracting an imprisoned leader before their Ovaltine gets cold. The mission is outlined in five ruthlessly efficient minutes at the film's opening, and the next hour concerns the recruitment and training of the coffin-dodging killing machines.
Don't be fooled: these geese could turn wild at any moment

It's all good, Boys' Own fun and there are some great lines: next time I see a pensioner lying down I fully intend to bellow "ONYOURFEETYOUFACKIN'ABORTION!" like Regimental Sergeant Major Sandy Young. But then, as I've discovered with a lot of Rodge's films, the second half is a let-down. Like the cast, the operation experiences more than a few wrinkles, but it's a long and arduous slog to the interminable climax. And for a film set in Africa and shot in South Africa during apartheid its race politics are clumsy at best, amounting to a two-minute dialogue between Hardy Kr├╝ger's racist white South African and Winston Ntshona's black president, which goes something like:

I hate you because you're black

But if we could all just get along everything would be great

Hey that's right, good idea, you're all right you are

To hammer home this message of peace and multiracial harmony, the Wild Geese later mow down an almost inexhaustible supply of black bad guys who leap from the bushes screaming unintelligibly.
See? Wild as fuck, these geese

The cast are good value though, and it's always fun to spot the army of Bond alumni working on British films of the 1970s. Keep an eye out for Glyn Baker as Esposito - here he's working with the contemporary 007; nine years later he'd play 002 in the pre-title sequence of The Living Daylights alongside Timothy Dalton.

In terms of Rogertainment, The Wild Geese is a sadly disappointing affair. Despite Moore's prominence on the film's poster (you can only imagine the months of negotiations that must have gone on to result in that bizarre arrangement of the stars' faces and names), the film really belongs to Burton and Harris. Rodge's character, gloriously introduced by Burton's as "Shawn Fynn, very good looking", is meant to be crucial to the mission but proves largely irrelevant, unless you need someone to spray an army of extras with machine gun fire while chewing on an improbably large stogie.
Moore's first scene sees him attempting to emulate his old chum Michael Caine with a Get Carteresque turn wherein he forces the nephew of a mob boss to eat a bag of heroin, but he isn't nearly menacing enough to pull it off and does nothing else memorable in the remaining running time. Having tried to set Fynn up as a proper bastard not to be fucked with, McLaglen just lets Rodge go back to being a charming chap with a shooter for the rest of the film, the director no doubt preoccupied with keeping Burton and Harris away from the booze cabinet for as long as possible. McLaglen would make the same mistake with Moore in North Sea Hijack, trying to convince us he's more demonic than delightful; a future Rogisode will determine whether the duo complete their miscasting hat-trick with The Sea Wolves.

So it's hard to recommend The Wild Geese either as a standalone film or an example of the finest work of The Greatest Living Englishman. Rodge isn't in it enough, has too little to do and doesn't even do that very well, so it's a mere two Rogers on the Rodgometer.
I know there's good in him though, I can feel it, so I will continue my quest to seek out his greatness. He can't hide it forever.

A big fat Roger to Chris and Gilly Laverty for the Blu-ray. There's more Rogertainment here, but I warn you, it's not pretty.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

20,000 Days On Earth

For anyone in the mood for an imaginary day in the crazy life of Nic Cage, this could have been Christmas. Imagine someone of Cage's special brand of specialness attempting to summarise his fears, his needs, his passions and his philosophy on life in the space of a hundred-minute autobiopic; cinema would never have been the same again. Alas, accurate spelling gets in the way once more, damn it, and the subject of 20,000 Days On Earth isn't Nic Cage but Nick Cave, a singer-songwriter who may - like his near-namesake - boast a forehead the size of a tectonic plate, but therein the similarities end.
That said, this probably is Christmas for Cavers, or Cavehards, or Cavemen, or whatever Cave's fans call themselves. It's a semi-fictionalised, semi-serious semi-documentary made by Nick Cave, about Nick Cave, for Nick Cave, and if anyone else likes it then that's a bonus for Nick Cave. The film concerns the growling Australian cogitating on the passage of time as he hits his 20,000th day on Earth, but rather than watching him shopping for denture tablets and watching Lorraine, we're instead invited into Cave's mind-cave: a place where he opens up to a shrink, chats to the spirits of previous collaborators like Kylie Minogue and Ray Winstone, records demos with his band, performs a gig and watches Scarface with his kids, all in the space of 24 hours.

It's an interesting way to present an investigation of an artist: neither objective documentary nor complete work of fiction, its form negates the detachment from its subject that the film you'd expect demands, and instead you're swept up in the crashing, clashing waves of Cave's need to be accepted and loved and his need to do his own thing. With the help of directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, he lays out his narcissism, his paranoia, his fear of mortality and his belief in the immortality of art, sprays a lovely glossy sheen over the lot of it and presents it as another performance, leaving you none the wiser as to just who or what Nick Cave is. You suspect that's exactly what he's aiming for.

There's more than a little pretentious philosophising, and the very nature of the film makes you wonder whether Cave is looking deep into his psyche or just staring up his own arsehole, but there's enough here to entertain the casual viewer. Fans will love it and haters gonna hate, but Cave comes across as a sardonic, passionate performer with an outlook on life many will recognise as similar to their own. I don't know if it's art and I don't know if I like it, but I haven't seen anything remotely similar before, and that's as good a recommendation as any. Still kind of wish it was about Nic Cage though.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Ten educational title suggestions
for the next Bourne film

There's a new Bourne film on the cards from Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon, which is great news if you like the Bourne films I suppose. Let's be honest, it can't be any worse than The Bourne Legacy.

Obviously the most important consideration is what they're going to call it, and I don't know about you but I've always felt the Bourne films' titles to be a bit simplistic. So I've raided my Oxford Junior Illustrated Dictionary to come up with ten suggestions designed to a) be relevant to the plot, and b) teach everyone a new word. Let's vocabulate!

In which Bourne attempts to sell his unique skills to two competing buyers who, between them, force him to lower his price.

In which it is revealed that Aaron Cross was grown from within Jason Bourne.

In which Bourne, in hiding, makes a living as a botanist bemoaning the fact that he only has spores of one kind. Possibly not the most thrilling Bourne film.

In which Bourne canters about with a long face, eating hay.

In which Bourne must stop enemy agents from stealing the relics of long-dead saints from his local church.

In which Bourne masquerades as a European who makes a fortune in India.

In which Bourne, stranded miles from civilisation, kills an enemy agent and is forced to eat his raw flesh to survive.

In which Bourne attempts to answer the question of why God permits the manifestation of evil.

In which the key to proving Bourne's innocence depends on the forensic examination of microscopic slivers of wood.

Jeremy Renner stars in this vapid and unsophisticated Bourne film.
Oh no hang on that was The Bourne Legacy.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Richard Kiel

"                                          "
- Jaws, The Spy Who Loved Me / Moonraker

The Guest

In an ideal world, none of us would be spending this week talking about Scottish independence, royal babies or new-fangled technowatches, because all of those things are just silly. Instead we should all be talking about The Guest, a film which is equally as silly as all those things - like, REALLY silly - but is also totally, 100% aware of it. I mean, that bag of inbred cells that's currently fourth in line to the throne has literally no clue how silly it is. None whatsoever.

Arriving from nowhere and probably, due to its low marketing budget and lack of big names, heading back there in a matter of days, The Guest is a tremendous, bonkers and deliriously retro thriller that's the perfect antidote to the pompous pish that's hogging screen space at cinemas in this arid swathe of the movie calendar. It's absolute rubbish, but it's the most gloriously entertaining rubbish I've seen for an achingly long time.
Mysterious stranger and former soldier David rocks up at the home of his deceased warbuddy, swiftly inveigling himself into the lives of mom, dad, bullied younger brother and hormone-soaked sister, and the fact that they more or less take him in without question gives you some idea of how seriously to take this film. It's as if nobody in the family has ever seen a movie about a mysterious stranger, or indeed any movie at all, ever. After a first act that takes a little too long to say not much, things move from mundane to mental, not least as the film's brakes fail and it barrels wildly towards its ludicrously stylised climax.

It's hard to judge how far horror hacks Simon Barrett (writing) and Adam Wingard (directing) intend The Guest to be deliberately funny: it's not a comedy by any stretch, but it's packed full of more cheese than a Frenchman's fridge, and given the right circumstances - say, a Friday night in a packed cinema after a few beers - it nails a tone that renders it insanely joyous. The mood is defiantly '80s, bolstered by a terrific synth score that sounds like the b-sides of everything on the Drive soundtrack and a wodge of cheerfully ironic slo-mo sequences (two words: laundry basket). Nods to the likes of Commando and The Terminator abound, and it's that audience - the one that's been disappointed by the failure of the Expendables films to recapture a schlocky, Cannon-era '80s spirit - that will invite The Guest into their hearts. There's a latticework of plot holes and a disappointing attempt to explain exactly what the chuff is going on, but if it's a worthy chin-stroker you're after then you're in the wrong film. I'm sure Night Moves is still on somewhere.
Star Dan Stevens, thus far famous for appearing in some TV show or other and for manually relieving the sexual frustrations of our transatlantic cousins, cements his rep as a name to watch. Apparently the result of a genetic experiment to crossbreed Bradley Cooper and Daniel Craig, he's not yet as good as either, but have patience. If his agent hasn't already had a phone call from a breathless Barbara Broccoli, I'll be amazed; he's the epicentre of The Guest's mirthquake and has presence to burn.

Distributors Icon can't hope to slay the box office with The Guest, but the film is destined to find its true purpose in the home entertainment market. Until then, it is incumbent upon you all to seek it out at your nearest picture house before it disappears, so that come next week - if there's any justice in the world - all of us are talking about it.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Two Days, One Night and the
BBFC's spoiler-happy guidelines

*** WARNING ***
Contains spoilers for Two Days, One Night

I went to see the Dardennes brothers' tremendous Two Days, One Night with the great unwashed of the Curzon Soho last week. It's riveting stuff: as a woman swallowing every last morsel of pride in order to beg her colleagues for her job back, Marion Cotillard makes you work as hard as she does for results.

As a foreign language arthouse film, Two Days, One Night arguably attracts a certain type of audience: one who, at the very least, has gone to the trouble of finding out the thrust of the story in order to decide whether or not to see it. So it's fair to suggest that most people watching the film in a cinema know that it concerns Cotillard's character, Sandra, struggling to get her job back by pleading with her workmates to convince them to forego their bonus.

What, then, does that audience think when the words "suicide attempt" appear on screen as a warning about the film's content, alongside the BBFC's '15' certificate, mere seconds before it starts? I can't speak for everyone, but my own thoughts went something along the lines of: "Oh right, so at some point things will get so bad that Sandra will try to kill herself. I'll just sit here with that information stored away, waiting for it to happen, shall I? THANKS A RUDDY BUNCH, THE BBFC."
Also it turns out her husband was dead all along

Maybe I'm overreacting, but to me this seems like a counterproductive measure by our friends at 3 Soho Square. Of course it's important to protect sensitive viewers from potentially upsetting material, but is the 15 certificate alone not enough to warn audiences of "adult themes"?

The BBFC's new Classification Guidelines, which are the result of a lengthy public consultation, have the following to say about suicide:
"Portrayals of potentially dangerous behaviour (especially relating to hanging, suicide and self-harm) which children and young people may potentially copy, will be cut if a higher classification is not appropriate."
In the case of Two Days, One Night, that higher classification was deemed appropriate and the film was passed uncut with a 15 certificate. Some time ago the BBFC introduced BBFCinsight, a feature on their website which goes into detail about why a given film was passed with a given certificate, and so if you want to know precisely why Two Days, One Night is a 15 you can find out here. Now I have no problem with this, and in fact have used BBFCinsight a few times to answer the concerns of friends who want to take their kids to the cinema but don't want them to be subjected to, for example, domestic abuse, animal cruelty or Shia Labeouf.

But with that information available online, is it also necessary to summarise it in cinemas on the black card when it reveals crucial plot details? The "suicide attempt" warning also appears in the summary at the top of Two Days, One Night's BBFC page, making it even easier to have your experience spoiled:
I contacted the BBFC to question the wisdom of their decision, and was told that
"the specific details of the event - i.e. exactly who the suicide attempt concerned, where it occurred in the film and other details - are not mentioned."
But let's be honest: an audience who knows what Two Days, One Night is about doesn't have to make a herculean leap of reasoning to infer that it's probably the character undergoing an emotionally turbulent 48 hours who will, at some point, give up in the most final way. What's more, the suicide isn't attempted for a good hour or so, so no matter how successful or not Sandra is in persuading her colleagues to give up their bonus so she can earn a living, we spend two-thirds of the running time waiting for her to hit rock bottom. The emotional impact of the journey we're on, which is at the heart of the film's success, is lessened by the knowledge of what's to come.

The BBFC are very keen to trumpet BBFCinsight, and even commissioned this cheery video to promote it:

You'll notice the video posits that we already live "in a world overloaded with information", and that BBFCinsight exists "so that you can get the lowdown, then sit down, relax and enjoy the film." I'd be tempted to argue that, in the case of Two Days, One Night, the BBFC have overloaded the audience with more unnecessary information, and have in fact negatively affected our capacity to relax and enjoy the film.

I don't want to appear insensitive towards the issues the BBFC are attempting to address here, and I'm not for a moment suggesting that the mass enjoyment of a film is more important than the prevention of even one suicide. But I'd be fascinated to know exactly how many people, after arranging a trip out to the cinema, buying their tickets and popcorn and taking their seats, made the decision to get up and leave with seconds to go before the film starts based entirely on the information given on the black card. I'd hazard a guess that it's approximately zero, while the muttering that immediately followed the certificate's appearance in the Curzon Soho last week suggests that the number of people browned off by the appearance of an unavoidable plot spoiler is significantly higher.
The BBFC have an unenviable job trying to get the balance right when classifying films, and I'm not about to tear them a new one on the basis of one film. I'm not criticising Two Days, One Night's classification, nor the BBFC's explanation for it, but I would hope that they carefully consider whether revealing that information to an audience unable to avoid it is the best course of action when it has the potential to diminish the cinematic experience.