Farewell, 2016.

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May the Force be with you.

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The Eagle Has Landed (1976)

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What’s weird watching this again today is the realisation that it’s now longer since this was made (40 years…) than it was between the end of WW2 (or the Emergency, as the Irish like to call it – still not lifted, BTW) and this going into production. Northern Irish writer Jack Higgins (aka Harry Patterson) had quite a run back in the day but this was really the peak attraction – a fictitious attempt to kidnap Winston Churchill, “for a negotiated peace,” as one-eyed Nazi Radl (Robert Duvall) puts it. He deploys IRA ‘soldier’ lecturer Liam Devlin (Donald Sutherland with the requisite eye-watering Oirish accent) and he turns up at the home of sleeper agent Jean Marsh in Norfolk and attempts to put the plan into action … With Michael Caine as anti-Nazi Kurt Steiner (an homage to Cross of Iron, vielleicht?) leading the mission this is really quite an unlikely mouthwatering actioner, but there you go. Caine had been offered the role of Devlin but didn’t want to be associated with the IRA, ditto Richard Harris. Adapted by Tom Mankiewicz, crisply shot by the great Anthony B. Richmond, and scored by Lalo Schifrin, this was the last film helmed by the marvellous John Sturges but Mankiewicz said Sturges didn’t bother making it properly and that editor Anne V. Coates rescued it in post-production. Great fun.

The 33 (2015)

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The story of the Chilean miners at the Copiapo mine who spent 69 days underground in 2010 following a workplace accident always puzzled me because it had so much traction:  where were all the international journalists when hundreds of thousands of Chileans – no more than the Argentinians – were ‘disappeared’ over a few decades???? Torture under military juntas/fascist regimes unwittingly/silently supported by the Liberal West isn’t sexy, I suppose. I digress. So there was a wall collapse and a bunch of men paid the price for the owners’ shortcuts in maintenance – plus ca change in the world of work. And Antonio Banderas spends, oh, two hours, giving rousing speeches, because that’s what you do when you’re shut in with your lovely colleagues. Admittedly I am both claustrophobic and agoraphobic and the idea that I’d even have to have lunch with colleagues makes me gag. I’m probably allergic to this as well. Written by Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten and Michael Thomas, and directed by Patricia Riggen. With Juliette Binoche, James Brolin, Gabriel Byrne and Lou Diamond Phillips. Watch Missing instead.

Moana (2016)

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The quest is an ancient and very potent narrative form so it was bound to inform another Disney outing, this time the vastly pleasurable story of a little girl (Auli’i Cravalho) on a South Seas island who is chosen to fulfill an ancient prophecy and be the wayfinder for her people. She’s the daughter of the island’s chief so she already has enough on her plate and by the time she’s a teenager the island’s problems are becoming hers to solve. The early parts are fast and funny, a montage of the passage of time in which she is shown to be picked out by the sea and be part of its estimable powers. She eventually takes off with the blessing of her crazy dying grandmother – with a chicken on board. She encounters the troublesome demi-god Maui (voiced by The Rock aka Dwayne Johnson) and they have adventures that are vividly realised involving coconut pirates, fire-breathing creatures and the curse of the Heart as they both help each other to achieved their intended destinies. The songs (co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame) are passable but not really memorable and there are some longeurs but these are swiftly turned upside down (often literally) by inventive, graphic animations, both CG and traditional drawings, and a real sense of girl power. Water, eh? Who knew it could be so inspiring?! Written by Jared Bush and co-directed by Ron Clements and John Muscker. Pretty wonderful.

Everyone Says I Love You (1996)

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Woody Allen’s musical comedy is a delightful collage of Thirties movie genres – romance, screwball, ghost, crime, all told by the daughter DJ (Natasha Lyonne) of perpetually unlucky in love writer Joe (Allen) and his ex-wife Steffi (Goldie Hawn), who now lives in Upper East Side splendour with liberal lawyer Alan Alda, his engaged daughter Skylar (Drew Barrymore) and their right-wing son Scott (Lukas Haas) and 14 year old twins (Natalie Portman and Gaby Hoffman),  plus his ancient dad whose Alzheimer’s means he has to be supervised by their wicked Bavarian housekeeper. They have posh people problems ie none at all and when DJ pushes her father into a relationship with an unhappily married art historian patient Von (Julia Roberts) of her friend’s mother, a psychoanalyst, we get to see the sights in Venice where Joe affects a knowledge of Tintoretto to get into her good books. Everyone gets to sing (whether they can or not), there’s a dance routine in a maternity ward, a robbery involving one of Steffi’s pet criminals who breaks up Skylar’s relationship with Edward Norton, and it all culminates in a Duck Soup ball in Paris on Christmas Eve with Steffi and Joe recreating their romance from many years ago with a high-wire romantic dance by the Seine. Simply wonderful, nutty fun with a to-die-for soundtrack put together by Dick Hyman.

From Russia with Love (1963)

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It seems like an opportune time to revisit Cold War cinema, since winter is coming round again in the political world, as they (sort of) say in Game of Thrones. Guns, gals, trains, violence, it all seems like simpler times in this tale of James Bond (Sean Connery) going after a cryptography machine before SPECTRE gets hold of it. Naturally SPECTRE want revenge for Bond killing Dr No. Do keep up. There’s high jinks in Istanbul, murder on the Orient Express and sexy time with Daniela Bianchi who makes for a very convincing conflicted action heroine and a great title song sung by Matt Monro. Every inch of tension is squeezed out of Fleming’s second novel, adapted by Johanna Harwood and written by Richard Maibaum and superbly directed by Terence Young (himself not totally unfamiliar with the world of action, serving as a tank commander in WW2). Lotte Lenya is unforgettable as the sadistic Lesbian killer with those kinky shoes. It was edited by Peter Hunt, who went on to direct many afficionados’ fave, OHMSS. This was the second in the series, when Bond was great.

 

Zootropolis (2016)

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Aka Zootopia. I cannot say I’m a fan of the latterday PC/even feelings have feelings/self-empowerment jag that characterises feature animations. But this Disney outing is kind of cute. Ginnifer Goodwin plays Judy the bunny rabbit who goes to the big city of anthropomorphised animals and gets stuck being a traffic cop until she gets to help solve a robbery. Her ambitions are complicated by departmental shenanigans and the wily con artist fox Nick (Jason Bateman) she works with and who takes her back to her childhood:  they are a most unlikely double act who have to get to the bottom of a conspiracy involving predators that goes to the top of the forces of law and order… There are some good jokes (I especially liked The Godfather ones) and terrific action sequences as Judy realises she is the patsy in a horrible Darwinian plot. Nicely done.

Truth (2015)

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Quite why the story behind Dan Rather’s enforced retirement escaped me somewhat continues to elude me even after watching this. It’s about how his producer Mary Mapes went after Dubya’s dubious National Guard record, a few years after failing to get it done in 2000 when her mother died and Dubya wound up winning the Presidency by 537 votes from Al Gore. The authenticity of the documents and their source were queried by conservative websites so 60 Minutes – the gold standard for investigative television reporting  – was put in the spotlight. Casting Redford as Rather causes two things to happen:  you keep remembering he’s not him; and you recall him in All the President’s Men, the gold standard in films about political coverups. Blanchett is fine as Mapes, I don’t know her so it’s the performance that creates the frisson, not a bad impression. Her backstory is that her father beat her when she asked questions – so she does it for a living. Depth psychology.  Rather was forced to make an on-air apology and the entire team was subjected to an investigation. Mapes was fired, the team was told to resign. Rather subsequently took his case to an appeals court because he knew he had been sidelined to appease the Bush White House. He lost. (This took place after Bush was re-elected.) Mapes won the Peabody for her report on Abu Ghraib. She hasn’t worked in TV since. All of this happened when CBS’s parent company Viacom was looking for preferential regulatory treatment from the Republican Party. The truth of the story was lost in translation as it was intended when the critics started querying fonts and not the burden of proof. As to this in terms of narrative? Well, it probably doesn’t work for the same reason the original story didn’t work: they didn’t really work it out as well as they needed before committing it to celluloid. Written and directed by James Vanderbilt, who adapted Mapes’ book about the unholy episode.

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Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

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It hasn’t taken the death of Debbie Reynolds for me to watch this again;  it’s a regular viewing choice for me and has been for a very long time. It’s the ultimate film about Hollywood moviemaking and let’s pretend and the transition from silents to talkies; it’s the greatest ever musical; it’s a film to grow up with and grow old with, with comedy and romance and great song and dance routines and that number, in the rain; it is a heaven-sent ode to joy. Goodbye, Debbie.