Archive for February, 2012

Independence Day (1996)

Posted: February 19, 2012 in 1996, Action, American, Disaster, Sci-Fi

Roland Emmerich’s big budget sci-fi disaster action movie about an alien invasion of earth was the highest grossing film of 1996 and won an academy award for its special effects.  Despite this the film was met with a mixed reception upon its release and probably owes more to its advertising for its success than anything else.

Unlike most invasion films the alien’s of Independence Day don’t sneak on to Earth and hide before attempting to destroy humanity but instead choose to rock up in some pretty impressive, for want of a better word, flying saucers.  This was a conscious decision by Emmerich who came up with the idea for Independence Day whilst promoting Stargate and asked an interviewer what it would be like to wake up and find 15-mile-wide spaceships hovering over the world’s largest cities.

ID4 is very light on plot but makes up for this with impressive visual effects – in particular the scene when the White House is destroyed, a great supporting cast, and a few quotable, if not clever, one-liners.  Unfortunately by using an ensemble cast and blending so many personal stories together it suffers from not having a clearly defined star, Will Smith (playing cocky USAF Captain Steven Hiller) gets the most screen time but only slightly more than Bill Pullman (playing President Thomas J. Whitmore).  Named for the American holiday with which the invasion coincides the film displays over the top nationalistic overtones, the American soldiers being particularly gung-ho in their attitudes – launching a nuclear attack with little thought about the future consequences.  In addition to this the scene when President Whitmore addresses the pilots before the final battle and declares that the entire world will call July 4th its Independence Day positively reeks of camembert whilst the scenes of the worlds various armies when they get the news that the American’s are organising an attack seem particularly patronising… as if the world couldn’t win a battle if it weren’t for the American’s.

Despite the lack of depth to the plot, the absence of a central character, and the mass of self-propaganda for the American nation the film manages to be enjoyable throughout and remains one of those films that you can watch again and again and still enjoy.

Emmerich has said in the past he’s been interested in writing a sequel to Independence Day and in October 2011 he and co-writer Devlin confirmed that they had an idea for 2 sequels to film back to back and have expressed a desire for Will Smith to reprise his role in both.  Smith responded by saying he was interested but wanted $50 million for both films, personally I’m kind of hoping this means that a sequel won’t go ahead.

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The Untouchables (1987)

Posted: February 17, 2012 in 1987, American, Crime, Drama

Set in 1930’s Prohibition-era Chicago The Untouchables is the semi-biographical story of Bureau of Prohibition Agent Eliot Ness as he tries to take down notorious gangster Al Capone.

Naive agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) is tasked with bringing Chicago’s lawlessness under control by catching and convicting gangster Al Capone (Robert DeNiro) who controls most of the city.  Conducting his first raid on Capone’s alcohol smuggling operation with a large force from the Chicago Police Department leaves Ness a laughing-stock as the gang are expecting him thanks to the corrupt cops within the department.  Realising that he can’t trust anyone in the department, and after a chance meeting with veteran Irish-American beat cop Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery), Ness recruits his own team of  incorruptible officers starting with Malone.  Rounding out ‘The Untouchables’, as they would later be dubbed, are trainee police officer and sharpshooter George Stone (Andy Garcia) and Forensic Accountant Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith) assigned to Ness by Washington.  Led by Ness and Malone, who takes it upon himself to show Ness what it really means to be a police man on the corrupt Chicago streets, the team wage war on Capone’s organisation raiding illegal liquor shipments and warehouses.  Wallace reveals to Ness that Capone hasn’t filed a tax return for four years meaning that if they can prove he has received an income from his criminal activities they can try him for tax evasion.

The film is beautifully realised, 30’s Chicago jumps off the screen as totally believable, and from the outset the score (written by legendary Italian composer Ennio Morricone) creates a tense atmosphere that keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat.  Graphically violent (the scene of Capone with the baseball bat being a standout moment) the film subtly deals with aspects of morality, relationships, and redemption whilst keeping the story moving at a comfortable pace.

They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way! And that’s how you get Capone.

Despite Costner being the star the film is stolen by both Connery and DeNiro; the former delivering a powerhouse performance and always seeming to have the best lines and the latter packing on 30 pounds to method act Capone as an enigmatic ‘rock-star’ who basks in the attention of the media and, despite his propensity for violence and criminal activities, is adored by the public.

Taught and well written The Untouchables is a modern classic in every way.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Posted: February 9, 2012 in 2008, British, Drama, Indian, Romance

Danny Boyle’s Oscar laden drama, adapted from the novel ‘Q and A’ by Vikas Swarup, is both disturbing and endearing as it tells the story of a young Chaiwalla (an Indian tea boy) from a call centre in Mumbai as he appears on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

Jamil Malik is one question away from winning 20 million rupees on the show when he is arrested and accused of cheating, as he is tortured and questioned by the police he is forced to reveal how he knew the answers to the questions and in doing so he tells his life story.  Orphaned at a young age when his mother was killed in the Bombay Riots Jamil, his older brother Salim, and a young girl called Latika band together as they grow up on the streets of Mumbai.  The trio are taken in by Maman, a gangster who fronts an orphanage which he uses to send the children out on to the streets as beggars.  Salim discovers that Maman is blinding healthy sighted children in order to make them more profitable and saves Jamil from having this fate; the pair flee from the orphanage, Latika tries to run with them but is left behind when Salim doesn’t help her onto the train that they use to escape.  Travelling around India by train the boys hustle tourists as fake tour guides at the Taj Mahal, steal and sell shoes, and strip cars to earn enough money to survive before returning to Mumbai where Jamil seeks out Latika who he is in love with.  Jamil uncovers her whereabouts and both he and Salim go to rescue her and Salim ends up killing Maman.  Latika becomes a bone of contention between the brothers driving a wedge between them, Salim stakes a claim on her forcing Jamil to leave at gunpoint.

Jamil ends up on his own and some years later gets a job working at a call centre in Mumbai where he uses the computer system to find his lost brothers telephone number.  Meeting up on a building site he discovers that Salim has made a life for himself as a henchman for Javed, a local gangster, and is told that Latika is no longer with him.  Not believing what he’s been told Jamil follows Salim and discovers that Latika is living with Javed and is unable to leave, Jamil tells her to meet him at the train station and when she turns up she is abducted by Salim before the pair can be reunited.  Returning to the Javed’s house Jamil discovers it empty and thus decides to go on Who Wants to be a Millionaire as it is Latika’s favourite show.

Jamil’s appearance on Who Wants to be a Millionaire is not driven by the greed, as demonstrated by his indifference as to whether he wins or not, but instead by love.  Having spent most of his life trying to re-unite with Latika, the girl he loves, he’s at a dead end, he’s lost her once again and this is the only way he can think of to reach out to her.  The film is not just a rags-to-riches story but a romantic drama that deals with the themes of truth, love, and honesty whilst showing the harsh realities of growing up on the streets of Mumbai.  Slumdog demonstrates the two diverse paths that the Mumbai street urchins can take, having conned tourists to survive as a young child Jamil has managed to stay on the straight and narrow and has even got himself a legitimate job, regardless of how menial, whilst his brother has taken the alternative path and become a career criminal.   Part documentary, part fairy story, part crime drama, Slumdog Millionaire offers something for everyone and is ultimately deserving of the 8 Oscars it received.

Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

Posted: February 3, 2012 in 1939, American, Drama, Romance

Set in South America, Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur) is a showgirl traveling by boat to Panama to audition for a show.  En-route the ship docks overnight in the small port town of Barranca to take on supplies and Bonnie disembarks to explore the town.  Whilst ashore she meets a close knit group of American pilots who fly for Barranca Airways, a struggling freight business owned by ‘Dutchy’ Van Reiter (Sig Ruman) and managed by Geoff Carter (Carey Grant).  Despite his brusque manner Carter is respected by everyone and it soon becomes clear that he tries to hide his emotional damage behind his macho attitude.

When a fatal accident kills one of the pilots Bonnie is horrified at the way the other pilots deal with their grief, choosing to drink and pretending that the pilot never existed in the first place.  Howard Hawk’s Barranca is populated by ‘real’ men who drink hard liquor, chain smoke, and hide their emotions, unless that emotion is anger.  Intrigued by Geoff’s ambivalence towards her and the emotional wall he’s constructed around himself Bonnie chooses to stay on in Barranca eventually falling in love with Geoff.  Over the course of the film Geoff’s actions belie his hardened exterior and by performing small benevolent actions he redeems himself in the viewers eyes allowing them to understand the bond formed by the brotherhood of pilots and their fierce loyalty towards their charismatic leader.

Angels is the first film Grant did for Columbia after being released from his contract with Paramount and is widely regarded as one of director Howard Hawks best films – particularly for the flying sequences.  In 1983 Donald P. Bellisario created the TV show ‘Tales of the Gold Monkey’ which was inspired by Only Angels Have Wings and in turn went on to inspire the Disney cartoon ‘Talespin’.