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Film: May 2011’s Films

Far later than intended, we have the May round-up posts, where I write a little about all the media I consumed throughout the month (June’s will hopefully go up next week, but haven’t been worked on at all yet). This month started with television and now we’re looking at the films I watched.

Yep, there are actually people here this month.

Image sources: Orange, Dignam, Farquaad, Charlie, Harry, Liam, Rita, Lionel, Cecilia, Valeri and John.

I watched films this month, hooray! In April I managed to not watch any films at all, so this a step up. I decided that on my days off I could watch a film in place of my morning TV episode, seeing as time’s not as much of a factor as it is on a work day. Not necessarily every day as I don’t have quite that many unwatched films, but it’s still a good time for me to watch a film if I have one. I’ve also made the effort to update the draft of this post every time I watch a film rather than try to assemble it all from memory at the end of the month, and this new way worked much better. Here’s what I watched:

May 3rd - Reservoir Dogs (DVD)

For some reason Reservoir Dogs was a big gap in my Quentin Tarantino viewing, having started with Pulp Fiction and never taking that step backwards. It really is a very good film and it’s easy to see how this launched the director to the status he has now. It’s very Tarantino, opening with a discussion between all the cast about the meaning of Madonna’s Like a Virgin, focused mostly on the aftermath of a bungled robbery but jumping back and forth to different points in the story, it’s very violent and has plenty of dark humour. There were some good performances in it, especially from Tim Roth, and it’s a great film.

A quote:

Mr. Pink -Tagged a couple of cops. Did you kill anybody?

Mr. White – A few cops.

Mr. Pink – No real people?

Mr. White – Just cops.

May 4th - The Departed (DVD)

This wasn’t a new film so I failed one of this month’s goals by watching it, but it is the first time I’ve watched it on DVD. That’s sort of new, right? I wanted to watch it again anyway because it’s truly excellent. The plot – an ongoing struggle between the police and a criminal empire, an undercover cop trying to secure arrests, a corrupt cop trying to undermine the police, each mole trying to identify the other – makes for a tense, twisting experience. The whole cast is great but Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg are all particularly good here.

It’s based on a Hong Kong film, Infernal Affairs, which I keep meaning to watch, though if The Departed follows the original plot closely then a lot of the surprise will be lost.

A quote:

Frank Costello: “When I was your age they would say we could become cops, or criminals. Today, what I’m saying to you is this: when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?”

May 4th - Shrek Forever After (DVD)

This wasn’t my choice, but the whole family was watching it so I joined in. It’s still just okay, relying too much on technically anachronistic music and pop culture references (especially Flintstones-level jokes about fantasy equivalents of modern things). The plot bothers me more than it should. Shrek suddenly hates his life (even saying at one point that he was never truly comfortable with his family) and wishes them out of existence, finding himself in an alternate timeline where he has to secure Fiona’s loving kiss before the end of the day in order to fix things.

There’s no mention of Lord Farquaad and why he never sent anybody to rescue Fiona (which was already his plan in Shrek before the ogre took over). There are lots of ogres in this timeline but in the original version there has only ever been the two. In the original timeline were they all exterminated? If so then it means that by trying to restore the original timeline Shrek is condemning them all to death to restore his own family (bringing his children and Fiona’s mother back into existence at the cost of all those ogres). Yes, I’m overthinking it.

It also does that incredibly annoying thing where one character tries to explain something but does it in such a stupid way that he isn’t believed. What he needs to say is something like, “I made a deal with Rumplestiltskin and he tricked me, creating the current mess we’re in, and now I only have the rest of the day to restore things or have them stay this way forever.” What he says is:

“Okay, I know you don’t remember me, but we got married. And at the birthday party with some pigs and a puppet, the villagers and this boy kept saying “Do the roar, do the roar!” Then I punched the cake that the pigs ate, and the next thing I knew, my donkey fell in your waffle hole.”

I appreciate that they want Fiona to be sceptical and make Shrek struggle to win her over, but there are better ways to do it than making him babble incoherently.

May 8th - The Italian Job (DVD)

The 1969 version with Michael Caine. It’s one of those classic films that is so well known that some elements – the Mini Coopers, that quote – are familiar to most people even if they’ve never seen the film, as was the case with me. I had seen the 2003 remake but didn’t think much of it (and can barely remember it now), which possibly led to my not being too enthusiastic about seeing the original. In fact I only watched it because I was given it as a birthday gift last year and had it sitting on my desk.

As is usually the case there’s a reason the film is considered a classic, namely that it’s very good. It’s a great caper film about a group of British criminals (and some of them really are very, very English) going to Italy to steal some gold in broad daylight from under the noses of the Mafia. There’s a real sense of fun to it, making it feel more like a holiday than the dangerous situation it really is, but it helps make it entertaining rather than simply undermining the tension.

The team involved is large enough that most are sketched very thinly, so for most of the film it’s primarily Caine and Noël Coward, and towards the end it essentially just stars the three Mini Coopers (in a chase sequence that isn’t particularly tense but is still fun to watch). The ending, apparently decided upon after much deliberation over how to finish the film, really amused me and isn’t the kind of thing you see very often. There’s some great dialogue in it as well, to the point that I’m going to include two quotes to finish this off:

(Talking to his tailor)

Charlie: I tell you something, Adrian, when I went in that was all the go.

Adrian: What did you do, life?

(Retrieving  his car from a garage, claiming he’s spent time in India shooting tigers for a bounty)

Garage Manager: You must have shot an awful lot of tigers, sir.

Charlie: Yes, I used a machine gun.

May 9th - The Ipcress File (DVD)

Another Michael Caine film, part of a five-film box set (which doesn’t include The Italian Job). It’s a spy drama that sees Caine investigating some unusual behaviour from several British scientists, and it says on the back of the case that this is the film that ‘turned Michael Caine into a superstar’. The spy lifestyle presented in the film is very different from that of the James Bond films that were popular at the time, and apparently that was intentional, the crew deliberately seeking to present an alternative to Bond’s stylish adventures.

It took a long time for the film to hold my interest, almost a whole hour in fact. There was the occasional moment of good dialogue but the plot wasn’t hooking me in, and it was only in the final forty-five minutes that I could honestly say I was properly entertained and wanted to say what was going to happen.  As with The Italian Job there were a few moments of extreme Englishness, and I’ll finish with a quote of one of them:

Major Dalby: The Americans have put a tail on Palmer.

Colonel Ross: How very tiresome of them.

May 10th - The Eagle Has Landed (DVD)

Another Michael Caine film from the five-in-one DVD set. I knew it was about a Nazi plot to kidnap Winston Churchill from an English village, but I’d assumed Caine and his team were Allied forces trying to stop it, rather than the Nazi team infiltrating the village. In spite of that they’re really not portrayed as bad men, just soldiers doing a job they don’t expect to succeed.

I thought The Eagle Has Landed was a very good film. With ‘at least half’ of it being based on historical fact (as explained by an opening text dump) it isn’t hard to predict the mission’s success, but the film still tells a good story and there are some surprises along the way. Caine is great as the honourable leader of the infiltration team, as are Donald Sutherland as the charming Irishman assisting them and Robert Duvall as the Nazi higher-up who authorises the mission.

A quote:

Colonel Kurt Steiner: Mr. Devlin, you are an extraordinary man.
Liam Devlin: Col. Steiner, you’re an extraordinary judge of character.

The team masquerade as Polish while infiltrating the village, and I have just enough familiarity with the language to recognise bits and pieces. While pretending to be engaged in training manoeuvres they were shouting ‘szybko’, which I recognised as meaning ‘faster’. That’s pretty much the first actual use I’ve had for the language since I started learning it.

May 11th - Educating Rita (DVD)

The fourth Michael Caine film I watched this month and the third from the DVD set. It’s a great film. Caine is excellent as the disillusioned teacher who is reawakened by Julie Walters’ Rita, only to begin to worry he’s destroying her uniqueness in order to get her through the educational system, and Walters is equally brilliant as Rita, unsatisfied with her life and determined to find herself before she’s forever stuck in a rut.

There are lots of good lines in the film as it’s very well written, but there’s a reason I’m picking this one:

Rita’s Father: Say, Denny. Denny, I’m sorry for you, lad. If she was a wife of mine I’d drown her.

Rita: If I was a wife of yours I’d drown meself.

I’m guessing it’s based off a similar snippet that is said to have taken place between Nancy Astor and Winston Churchill:

Nancy Astor: “If you were my husband I’d poison your tea.”

Winston Churchill: “Madam, if you were my wife I’d drink it.”

I don’t know if it’s true though, and a quick Google search has multiple variants (Astor mentioning Churchill by name, tea instead of coffee, arsenic in place of poison, and so on), but whatever the source it’s a great comeback and it was nice to be reminded of it.

May 18th - The King's Speech (DVD)

As this released in January in the UK it means I’ve now watched a bonafide 2011 film, the first of the year. To be honest I had very little interest in seeing it and only did so because a family member bought the DVD and there were no obstacles to my watching it. Several members of my family are big fans of the royal family and love reading about their predecessors, but it’s not a passion I share. I would happily see the British monarchy officially abolished and all status and privilege revoked, and I did my best to avoid the media barrage of the recent royal wedding (aided by it being on a work day, meaning I spent almost the entire time sleeping or working).

So a film about a previous king overcoming his speech impediment really isn’t something pitched at me, but it’s not a bad film. Despite being a true story it follows very predictable beats for any kind of mentor movie – the sufferer who has tried everything and lost hope, the unconventional tutor who is able to make headway, the strained relationship, and ultimately the big test that will demonstrate the success or failure of the lessons.

The time period it’s set in is definitely an interesting one. The royal family, having not long changed their name from the German Saxe-Coburg, now faced the prospect of Britain again going to war with Germany, a country with which they actually had close ties. It also saw the abdication of Edward VIII, renouncing the throne (and his position as head of the Church of England) so that he could marry his divorcee lover. The titular speech that George has to give is the one that followed the declaration of war against Germany, where the king needed to rally the people and be the strength of the nation (or at least that’s how it is treated, I can’t imagine I would ever look for strength from Queen Elizabeth II, or indeed Charles or William when they eventually become monarch).

So yes, it’s a good film, and Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth are very good as the two main stars, even if I’m not a big fan of this sort of inspirational, overcoming-adversity kind of film. A quote:

Lionel Logue: Surely a prince’s brain knows what its mouth is doing?

King George VI: You’re not well acquainted with princes, are you?

May 19th - Atonement (DVD)

At its core Atonement could be taken for another love story about two people kept apart by extraordinary circumstances, in this case the Second World War (meaning chronologically the bulk of the story takes places almost immediately after The King’s Speech and shortly before The Eagle Has Landed), but it really is more than that. In some respects it becomes a war film but there’s no fighting, focusing instead on the horrors of war both from a soldier’s perspective and that of a nurse back home, the things that are happening while the couple are kept apart, waiting for that day when they can resume the relationship that was so tragically interrupted.

The film plays around with time slightly, usually showing events from the perspective of one character and then jumping back to show them from somebody else’s, but it’s still told in a linear fashion. There’s one point where the camera follows McAvoy’s character around a beach, tracking along and around things for about five minutes without a cut, which was very impressive to see, not least because there were lots of people involved (though not much dialogue). The ending of the film is a powerful one and really earns the film its title. I really enjoyed it.

Robbie Turner: Dearest Cecilia, the story can resume. The one I had been planning on that evening walk. I can become again the man who once crossed the surrey park at dusk, in my best suit, swaggering on the promise of life. The man who, with the clarity of passion, made love to you in the library. The story can resume. I will return. Find you, love you, marry you and live without shame.

May 24th - The Fourth Protocol (DVD)

The fourth of the Michael Caine box set, about a Russian attempt to set off a hand-delivered nuclear weapon in the UK (violating the fourth protocol of an agreement between the rival nations). Caine’s an MI5 agent trying to stop the plot, Pierce Brosnan’s the KGB agent trying to carry it out.

The film didn’t really hold my interest, though there was some tension as the film approached its climax. I’m just not a big fan of spy thrillers in general. It’s based on a book of the same name by Frederick Forsyth which I haven’t read, but I have read another book of his, The Veteran, a collection of short stories that was really good. I don’t think I’d like his spy stories as much though. I forgot to even note down a quote for this one.

May 25th - Without a Clue (DVD)

I think I’ve seen this before but it was so long ago that I didn’t remember any of it. It’s a Sherlock Holmes film that has Holmes (played by Michael Caine) as a buffoon, an actor hired by the brilliant Dr. Watson (Ben Kingsley) so that his medical career wouldn’t be harmed by knowledge of his exploits. The extraordinary success of their detective work has turned Holmes into a celebrity and left Watson somewhat resentful at being treated as the sidekick, but by this point the legend of Sherlock Holmes has become too well established for Watson to go it alone.

It’s a fun film and it’s definitely refreshing to have the Holmes character portrayed as something other than a master detective, even if it just means all those qualities are transferred to Watson instead.

That’s the final of the five films in the Michael Caine box set, and overall it was a decent selection. I didn’t get on with the two spy films but The Fourth Protocol wasn’t actually bad (it just didn’t hook me) and The Ipcress File was interesting from the perspective of it being the film that started Caine’s career. The other three films really were good though and it was good to have this collection of performances from across the years.

Sherlock Holmes: What am I looking for?

John Watson: Footprints.

Sherlock Holmes: Right. Have I found any yet?

John Watson: No, not yet.

Sherlock Holmes: Right. Let me know when I do.


May Verdict

QualityReservoir Dogs, The Departed, The Italian Job, The Eagle Has Landed, Educating Rita and Atonement were all very good, The King’s Speech and Without a Clue were both good films, and the other three were okay.

Quantity – I had fifteen days off in the month and watched eleven films, which is pretty darn good (especially compared to the zero I managed last month).

Timeliness – As I mentioned above The King’s Speech is an actual 2011 release, the first I’ve watched this year. Shrek Forever After is from 2010 but everything else is somewhat less timely, releasing between 1965 and 2007.

Newness – I’d only seen three of these films before, which isn’t bad.

Goals – After last month’s terrible showing where I watched no films at all I said that “simply watching a single film in May will be a step up from this month”, which I can consider Achieved. That wasn’t a real goal though and April’s goals all carried over for May, which were:

  1. “I should be watching more films [than March’s five]”Achieved
  2. “watching some newer releases”Achieved
  3. “only watching things I’ve not seen before”Failed
  4. “see any film at the cinema” – Failed

I’m beginning to think I might not see any films at the cinema at all this year. Travel there is a little awkward and I just don’t have much enthusiasm for the cinema experience. I guess there will be the standard family trip to the new Harry Potter film, but other than that it’s looking like I’ll just wait for DVD/TV showings.

For June then I’d like to watch a similar amount of films as I have a similar amount of days off, but if I’m not feeling like watching a film then I’m not going to force it. Goals two, three and four are all fair ones that shouldn’t be too tricky, so we’ll see how I get on.


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