They’re a Weird Mob (1966, Michael Powell)

I could have gone forever without knowing the Archers (Pressburger wrote the film under a pseudonym) were capable of such a piece of shit. They’re a Weird Mob is not about gangsters–specifically small time gangsters, which is what I thought–it’s about Australians, as seen by a recent Italian immigrant.

It’s really, really bad.

Oddly, the acting is fine, it’s the writing. I sat through the film blaming the writing without knowing it was Pressburger. I have no idea what happened to him. The insightful, human dialogue that defines the other Archers’ films is missing here. It’s not even a real film, it’s a travel commercial for Australia–where the men drink and the women lose… Oddly, according to what I’m reading, the film’s financial success lead to the creation of an Australian film industry (Australia makes some really good films these days, once they got rid of Weir anyway).

This film is also the last Archers’ film. Pressburger came on to sort on the screenplay issues after Powell signed to do it. John Ford made some bad films, lots of them actually (anything to do with the calvary really), but I always had the Archers on a pedestal. I had thought that Peeping Tom was Powell’s last before the 1970s, that he and Pressburger had already broken up.

I’m glad to point out that this film has no US release–ever, apparently. No VHS, no LaserDisc, no nothing. The UK doesn’t have it either. So it’s only folks in Australia that need fear seeing this film and having all their high opinions of Powell and Pressburger tarnished. It’s a really sad end to the greatest filmmaking duo. Sad….

1/4

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Michael Powell; screenplay by Emeric Pressburger, from the novel by John O’Grady; director of photography, Arthur Grant; edited by Gerald Turney-Smith; music by Alan Boustead and Lawrence Leonard; released by Z.

Starring Walter Chiari (Nino Culotta), Clare Dunne (Kay Kelly), Chips Rafferty (Harry Kelly), Alida Chelli (Giuliana), Ed Devereaux (Joe Kennedy), Slim DeGrey (Pat), John Meillon (Dennis) and Charles Little (Jimmy).


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Thieves Like Us (1974, Robert Altman)

Altman never does a film half-assed. Either it’s great or it’s shit. How one of his films can be shit is varied, but the shitty ones are always just plain… shitty. There’s no formula to figuring out how an Altman film is going to be–usually, if Altman thinks it’s shit, it’s good (M*A*S*H, The Player). Thieves Like Us is small, the big cast doesn’t occupy the running time. The main characters really are the main characters. I’ve been dreading Thieves for a few weeks now and I’m sorry I did. I probably should have checked the screenwriters. I would have felt better. Calder Willingham wrote Little Big Man, The Graduate, and Paths of Glory. I don’t know how you can get safer than him….

It’s not just the writing or the direction–Altman really likes setting a film in the 1930s, it lets him use radio programs instead of a score. That method seems very Altman-like. The cast, as they used to be in Altman films, is impeccable. Keith Carradine means little to me except his 1990s schlock work and Shelley Duvall has always just meant bad. Their romance holds the film together and it’s a wonderful little gem of a movie romance. You enjoy watching them fall in love. John Schuck and Bert Remsen are the other titular thieves and both are excellent. A pre-Cuckoo’s Nest Louise Fletcher shows up… It’s just a fantastic cast, great acting.

Of course, Thieves Like Us is not available on DVD in the US. I rented it from Nicheflix. It’s another title waiting for the rock stars at Sony to decide what to do with it (however, if they cancelled special editions of A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, how high a priority is Thieves going to be?). It’s no fair, of course, since there should be at least six good Altman films available on DVD and I doubt there are….

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Altman; screenplay by Calder Willingham, Joan Tewkesbury and Altman, based on the novel by Edward Anderson; director of photography, Jean Bouffety; edited by Lou Lombardo; produced by Jerry Bick; distributed by United Artists.

Starring Keith Carradine (Bowie), Shelley Duvall (Keechie), John Schuck (Chicamaw), Bert Remsen (T-Dub), Louise Fletcher (Mattie), Ann Latham (Lula) and Tom Skerritt (Dee Mobley).


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Volcano (1997, Mick Jackson)

I’m trying to remember why I queued Volcano. I’ve recently been on a “rediscovering the mid-to-late 1990s” kick, so that reason is possible, but I’m pretty sure it was because Anne Heche was in it and I wanted to go back to when she was going to have a great career. Heche is incredibly good and the lack of her presence in modern cinema is going on my (new, creating it right now in Excel or something) list of what’s wrong with modern film.

Volcano is from that wonderful era when CGI wasn’t as “good” as it is now, but still expensive enough to prohibit network TV from using it in excess (which is why the disaster genre is now all network mini-series). And Volcano has some terrible CGI, it has some terrible dialogue, it has some awful moments when people realize that skin color doesn’t matter and that everyone is the same….

It also has a great cast. Besides Heche, firstly, there’s Don Cheadle. This Cheadle is the pre-(semi)fame Cheadle who pops up in all Brett Ratner’s films. This Cheadle just acts and does it well, makes you like him too. It’s the wonderful 1990s Cheadle. I don’t know if he’s lost it with his notoriety, but he certainly picks a lot worse projects (his latest LA film, Crash, isn’t fit to scrub Volcano‘s toilet). Jacqueline Kim and Keith David make up the rest of the main supporting cast, playing a doctor and a cop, respectively (I think David was also a cop in Crash). David’s practically always good and Kim is–it’s just that she’s in almost no films. Gaby Hoffmann, who’s one of those child actors who shouldn’t have disappeared, show’s up as Tommy Lee Jones’s kid and occasionally spouts off terrible dialogue.

Jones is fine (this film’s still from the era when Jones couldn’t be bad), but it’s one of those roles I kept wishing David Strathairn was playing. If you’ve never seen The River Wild, you wouldn’t understand, but Strathairn as an action hero is a wonderful thing.

(I keep forgetting about City of Hope, I really need a good widescreen City of Hope).

Volcano is nicely paced–it must run around one hundred minutes and there’s about forty of setup, then an hour of disaster. I’m not so much a sucker for disaster movies–the Irwin Allen variety, with the big casts, are all right I suppose–but I do like films with a limited storytelling span, especially if they are trying to “entertain” me. I was going to say that Mick Jackson is a fine enough director and should do TV, but he already does. It’s really sad when a movie like Volcano is more interesting than 99% of films coming out today.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Mick Jackson; written by Jerome Armstrong and Billy Ray, based on a story by Armstrong; director of photography, Theo van de Sande; edited by Michael Tronick and Don Brochu; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Jackson Degovia; produced by Neal H. Mortiz and Andrew Z. Davis; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tommy Lee Jones (Mike Roark), Anne Heche (Dr. Amy Barnes), Gaby Hoffman (Kelly Roark), Don Cheadle (Emmit Reese), Jacqueline Kim (Dr. Jaye Calder), Keith David (Police Lieutenant Ed Fox), John Corbett (Norman Calder), Michael Rispoli (Gator Harris) and John Carroll Lynch (Stan Olber).


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Triple Cross (1966, Terence Young)

Looking up Triple Cross on IMDb (I look up everything on IMDb to fill out my little film-viewing record), I noticed the user comment. IMDb user comment’s are almost always terrible and, since I usually check a record after watching a film, amusing. This comment read, “Plummer’s no Connery.”

Well, obviously not. Christopher Plummer can act.

There are some comparisons to a James Bond film, of course–Plummer is constantly insubordinate and constantly bedding the ladies (though, much like the first three Connery Bond films, only three). I guess Terence Young also directed the first two Bonds as well. Triple Cross is not a Bond film simply because the supporting cast matters. You like them. You feel for them. I don’t know of a Bond film except (maybe) Goldeneye that succeeds in that regard.

Still, Triple Cross has a lot of problems. Young is a rather mediocre director and, for the first twenty minutes, I kept thinking that the British deserve not having a significant film contribution if Young is their idea of a “premier” filmmaker. Plummer is charming in the role, but there are few moments of actual depth. The most effective scene–between him and a Nazi general, played by Yul Brynner–is soon diminished–someone felt it necessary to bring Brynner back. Probably to fulfill his screen-time requirement….

Romy Schneider, who I know is famous, is good as one of Plummer’s romantic interests. There’s a lot of good acting in Triple Cross, but it’s usually for naught. I don’t know if the film is too honest in its historical portrayal or not enough. Probably the former. Films rarely suffer for taking dramatic license with history. The guy from Goldfinger, Goldfinger himself, is in it and does a good job too. World War II movies of Triple Cross‘s era peak with The Great Escape, but there are some other reasonable ones in there. They just weren’t made by Terence Young, apparently.

Still, I got the R2 DVD for like six dollars on eBay (from the UK, including shipping, which is quite a feat), so I’m happy enough. I don’t think Christopher Plummer has ever been bad and it’s nice to find a film where he’s the lead.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Terence Young; screenplay by René Hardy and William Marchant, based on a book by Frank Owen; director of photography, Henri Alekan; edited by Roger Dwyre; music by Georges Garvarentz; produced by Jacques Bertrand; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christopher Plummer (Eddie Chapman), Romy Schneider (Countess), Trevor Howard (Distinguished Civilian), Gert Fröbe (Colonel Steinhager), Claudine Auger (Paulette), Yul Brynner (Baron von Grunen), Harry Meyen (Lt. Keller), Georges Lycan (Leo), Jess Hahn (Commander Braid) and Gil Barber (Bergman).


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