Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Even More Of What You Fancy

Over the last five or sixth months either Film4, one of the ITV channels, or perhaps even a combination of the two, peppered their schedules with films like Avalanche Express, Bear Island, and The Cassandra Crossing. As films go they aren’t particularly remarkable and certainly won’t ever be inducted into some movie pantheon or other. Made by journeyman directors who weren’t out to make any kind of artistic statement, they had some big names in the cast and were pretty decent stripped down thrillers, which makes a change from a lot of the bloated nonsense we get nowadays.

Watching these films again reminded me of seeing them on their initial release, back at the tail–end of the 1970s when audiences didn’t give a damn about budgets or box–office takings and certainly weren’t subjected to all this current day hullabaloo and tiresome hype. Instead they simply pitched up at one of the local cinemas with precious little fanfare and proved to be just the sort of movies that helped while away a Saturday afternoon. Even if they would be amongst the many titles destined to fall between the cracks of memory, when it came to providing some decent entertainment for a couple of hours, those films did all right, then and now.

Being reacquainted with them for the first time in more than thirty years, it reminded me of the challenge set last year by Stephen Gallagher to list the films that I’ll happily watch from beginning to end any number of times. Back then I came up with 31 titles most, as I said, weren’t all award winners overflowing with artistic merit but were the movies that I enjoy watching again and again, whether late at night or on a rainy weekend afternoon, with or without a shallow tub of vanilla ice cream and a clear plastic container of warm orange squash to add to the viewing pleasure.

I knew there were always more. And since New Year another 30 titles that have seen me through the years proved to be indispensable during the particularly crippling bouts of insomnia or the many empty hours of a Sunday when there was nothing to catch up with on iPlayer. One film in particular (which is eighteenth on this new list if you’re interested) stayed in or close to the DVD player and I watched it three nights in a row as part of the triple bills when sleep steadfastly refused to beckon.

Once again the titles are in alphabetical order. For one movie, because I vastly prefer the director’s cut, I’ve listed it under that extended version’s title, which puts it at the end rather than near the beginning. This time around the images have simply been numbered so there’s no chance of reading the file names in the browser window, which means you either know them or you don’t. Or you could make an educated guess. Either way, they are:


At 12:33 pm, Blogger OrganisedPauper said...

Pretty telling that it's only the old films and Studio Ghibli I recognise.

At 11:12 am, Blogger Stephen Gallagher said...

Amazing how much information you can unconsciously infer from lighting and haircuts. I think I get 21. At least 3 of my certainties were knocked out because they didn't fit the alphabetical ordering so if/when you publish the details my actual score will probably drop by half.

The one that's got me intrigued is Michael Caine in a Transit van. Alphabetically it could be HARRY BROWN, but my first thought was that stylewise it looks like it's from around the time of THE BLACK WINDMILL... a film that seems to be nobody's real favourite, but still has a certain something.

At 4:53 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...


I think I’m reaching the point (if I’m not there already) where I only recognise old films as films, rather than some extended showreel for the latest piece of kit or a nasty visual abomination by some “visionary director” that chokes the story to death moments after the opening titles have left the screen or a woefully miscast star vehicle that does nobody any favours, which is pretty much what everything made today falls under.

Those thrillers from the 1970s I mentioned may not look much to today’s audience but it was nice to see something that relied on the story rather than green screen and irrelevant, overblown CGI so they made use of the budget and what was at hand. I saw that BBC3 showed the four Indiana Jones movies over the weekend. The first one is great and then they go rapidly downhill.

I remember when Raiders came out they made a big deal in the press talking about how, for the rooftop scenes supposed to be set in Cairo (but filmed in Tunisia), the crew had to go around removing all the television aerials so they won’t be in shot. Now I guess they’d just to a digital fix in post, but having to actually physically do something on the day, and overcome obstacles like that, makes it more worthwhile. The repeat of the profile on David Lean last week showed the difference between a great filmmaker and the idiots today who are sadly allowed near a camera.


Funny you should mention The Black Windmill because that has been shown a few times recently and I caught up with it again after all these years – although the first time I saw it was on the television. I remember being really startled by the final gunfight in the windmill (with the dripping blood that referenced Rio Bravo) and the great John Vernon being shot in the groin – the bright red bullet wounds standing out against his black trousers.

Nobody really brings it up when they talk about Michael Caine films, but it’s a good little thriller from Don Seigel. Around the same time John Huston made The Mackintosh Man, and that too won’t go down as a classic but was just as enjoyable, even if Paul Newman was just as wrong for the role as he was in Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain.

As for the still of Michael Caine in a Transit van, it’s not from Harry Brown because a couple of Gs follow immediately afterwards, but, coincidentally, it was made pretty much halfway between The Black Windmill in 1974 and 2009’s Harry Brown. And it shares a link with one of the films that precedes it on the list. Again, it’s not one of his top–tier films but it’s an enjoyable thriller that gets the job done.

At 12:15 am, Blogger Stephen Gallagher said...

I think I've got it now... though I doubt I'd have landed on it without help.

Some people mock Caine for the lousy films on his CV, while forgetting that if you set the lousy ones aside, those remaining outclass the achievement of almost any other leading man in movie history.

At 6:22 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Starting with Zulu in the 1960s, you can pick at least four or five great films from each successive decade that will certainly stand the test of time. Admittedly in the 1990s there are less to choose from but, come the turn of the century he’s gone from being a star back to being a great character actor, which is not a bad thing. In recent years his performances in Last Orders, The Quiet American, The Prestige, Harry Brown, and especially Is Anybody There? have just been astonishing. For anyone who says he just plays the same role, you only have to point them towards three of his films, all released in 1986: Hannah and Her Sisters, the Alan Alda comedy Sweet Liberty and Mona Lisa to prove them wrong.

The thing with Michael Caine is that he’s happy to admit that he made some films for the money, which is not a bad thing. Look at Steven Soderbergh’s career as a director, doing one for the studio so he can get the money for a more personal project. Even if the end results aren’t always up to snuff – and some, like The Swarm or Jaws: The Revenge, which every critic cites, are quite poor – nobody sets out to make a lousy movie. It’s just that sometimes all the ingredients simply don’t come together. Even if a film is not that great, I’ll still find myself watching it for Caine’s performance. I really can’t stand Mike Myers but I’ll watch Austin Powers in Goldmember for Caine’s scenes. The only other actor I tend to do that with is Gene Hackman, and it’s a shame he decided to retire from movies.

At 1:58 am, Blogger Good Dog said...

And before I go, the 30 titles are:

Alien 3 (Restored Workprint Version)
The Bourne Identity
A Canterbury Tale
The Day of the Jackal
The Dam Busters
The Dirty Dozen
The Duellists
The Eagle Has Landed
The Fourth Protocol
A Good Year
The Guns of Navarone
Ice Cold in Alex
LA Confidential
Layer Cake
Live and Let Die
Lost in Translation
A Matter of Life and Death
Miami Vice
Midnight Run
My Neighbour Totoro
Robin Hood
Shaun of the Dead
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
To Catch a Thief
Untitled (The “Bootleg Cut” of Almost Famous)
Withnail and I


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