52 Weeks, 52 Years, 52 Pops: McLintock! (#1)

Year: 1963
Director: Andrew V. McLaglen
Stars: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Stefanie Powers

Since it’s my first new year since beginning my blog, I’ve decided to embrace the opportunity to start a review series. In an entirely unoriginal development, I’ve gone for the simple gimmick of a new year every week. This means that every Tuesday (hopefully) I’ll put up a new review from a consecutive year, beginning 51 years ago in 1963 and finishing up with 2014 in the last week of the year. I’m going to aim for the pattern of film, album, film, book, because I like patterns.

It was originally quite a shock to me to realise that going back 52 years only got me to the early ‘60s; I had got the idea in my head that this was going to give me the opportunity to look a little farther back than I usually do, but 1963 is entirely within my usual realm. In fact if anything it will have the opposite effect by making me read more modern books than I’ve been acquainting myself with recently.

Before having a look around to see if any of 1963’s cinematic offerings particularly caught my eye, I thought I ought to look in my mobile DVD collection just to check if there was anything suitable there, and I was surprised to be offered a solution: McLintock! (their exclamation, certainly not mine). I bought this on a whim some time last year, almost entirely because, as the sticker still on the front reminded me, it only cost 25p (making it one of the cheapest films in my collection). Surely anything could live up to that?

MV5BMTc4OTYwODIwM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNDU3MDk4__V1__SX640_SY720_It says a lot about my enjoyment of this film that I only watched it yesterday and I’ve forgotten most of it today. McLintock(!) is a “comedy western”; the tale of the titular rancher GW (Wayne), battling his recently-returned estranged wife Katherine (O’Hara) for the custody of his also-recently-returned daughter (Powers), while daughter Becky falls in love with Dev (Patrick Wayne), son of McLintock(!)’s recently-hired widow cook Louise (Yvonne de Carlo). GW, apparently of a belligerent personality, also gets himself involved in scuffles between the government and the local Comanche Indians, generally not afraid to get in the way of a fist (or swing his own). In the end for some reason McLintock(!) delivers his wife a public paddling, which not only did she apparently deserve for not liking him, but seems to have been successful in making her like him again.

It’s safe to say I wasn’t particularly impressed by this film, and I’m a little disappointed that it’s destined to be the beginning of my maiden series of reviews. Aside from the mostly boring plot, the picture quality was barely VHS standard while a nice manageable 90 minute film (according to the DVD case) for some reason kept running for over 2 hours (I’ve made it clear before I don’t like it when boxes lie to me). It marks my first ever John Wayne film, and maybe it’s not a good example but I won’t be rushing back in a hurry. To be fair I’ve never really gotten on all that well with (true) Westerns, and a film like this only goes to reaffirm that belief. I’ll keep trying, but I don’t have high hopes.

My rating: 5/10

Film Pop: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Year: 2013
Director:  Peter Jackson
Stars:  Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice) et al.

Yesterday for my birthday I was treated to a trip to the cinema to see The Desolation of Smaug, the second part of the big budget Hobbit trilogy.  Having only managed to catch 2012’s An Unexpected Journey a little over a month ago, I was well prepared for this two-and-a-half-hour journey into epicdom.

Following a Bree-based flashback, the film opens with Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Bilbo (Freeman), Thorin and the dwarves (Armitage et al.) fleeing from the goblin hordes before sheltering in the house of dwarf-hating shape-shifting smaugposterbear-man Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt).  Fortunately Beorn’s hate of dwarves is surpassed by his hate of orcs, so he protects the party and advises them that the only route they can take on their quest is through Mirkwood, the forest of the dwarf-hating elves (I’m sensing a pattern here).  Before entering Gandalf heads off on one of his characteristic mysterious quests, promising to meet up afterwards (pull the other one, wizard).  In the forest the elves, captained by the ever-popular Legolas (Orlando Bloom), help rescue the troupe from giant spiders but soon lock up the dwarves in their forest fortress.  Bilbo, by virtue of being able to turn invisible (some sort of magic, I suspect), evades capture as always and cunningly engineers everyone’s escape by floating them downriver in empty barrels, despite the combined efforts of elf and orc.  This is in fact the best sequence of the film, as we get to see the bloodbath everyone loves mixed with some beautifully choreographed scenes only made possible by dwarves in barrels.  They float to the mouth of a lake, and are smuggled into conveniently-named Laketown by the unpopular Bard (Luke Evans).  After winning over the  town, the dwarves make the journey to the Lonely Mountain minus the wounded Kili (Aidan Turner), caught in a love triangle between Legolas and she-Elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), his loyal brother Fili (Dean O’Gormann) and Bofur (James Nesbitt), who drank too much and overslept.  Thorin, driven by Boromir-esque greed, brings the others into the mountain to reclaim the Arkenstone from the great dragon Smaug (Cumberbatch), while Laketown is ambushed by orcs and Gandalf confronts the Necromancer (also Cumberbatch) in a duel he can never win and ends up trapped (sound familiar?).  The picture ends with Smaug heading off to wreak havoc on Laketown, just like Bard warned.

Of course as the middle film of a trilogy there are no real conclusions of any sort, but there’s enough action to stand the movie mostly on its own and the character development, notably absent in the first film, is admirable in the second.  Perhaps this is a vote in favour of stretching the novel into three movies, as it would be nowhere near enough time to devote to more than a couple of characters were this not the case.  This is seen particularly in the case of young dwarf Kili, and, unlike for example Frodo and Galadriel, Legolas’s reappearance is actually worthwhile.  The introduction of Lilly (another TV actress) as Tauriel, a character not really seen in the book, surprisingly adds a welcome softer element to a film that might otherwise have been too action packed (i.e. the previous film).  It still retains the moments of humour, mostly provided by Stephen Hunter’s Bombur and Stephen Fry’s Master of Laketown.

This Guy.

Overall it’s fair to say that it’s pretty pointless watching this film if you haven’t seen An Unexpected Journey and don’t plan to see next year’s conclusion, There and Back Again.  In fact, it’s a bit pointless reviewing the film at all because if you’re interested in the series you’re obligated to watch it and if you’re not then it’s a waste of (quite a lot of) your time.  But I think it’s a promising improvement on the first film, and I think the average Tolkien-lover will find The Desolation of Smaug very enjoyable, which I can definitely say I did.

My Rating:  8/10

Film Pop: Goldfinger

Year: 1964
Director: Guy Hamilton
Stars: Sean Connery,  Gert Fröbe, Honor Blackman

Perhaps similarly to my Doctor Who experiences, my Bond history is firmly centred around recent times.  I’ve watched all the Craigs, most of the Brosnans, and nothing before that.  I now own all but about five or six of the back catalogue, and having returned from a brief Christmas shopping trip with Goldfinger and Moonraker I felt that the time was right to immediately change this fact.  I settled on the former, as my girlfriend assured me that her home state of Kentucky would be central.

After the iconic Bond opening with the timeless Shirley Bassey number played over the top, the film settled in to show Secret Agent James Bond (Connery), in his third official film outing, tasked by MI6 to follow the machinations of the ominously-named Auric Goldfinger (Fröbe), a gold-exporting Englishman with a suspicious foreign accent.  Goldfinger is smuggling his gold out of the country, Bond discovers, by coating his car in the precious metal and driving it to Switzerland before taking the opportunity to speak indiscreetly yet inconclusively about his grand scheme, “Operation Grand Slam”.  Bond is captured but bluffs his way out of death before being flown with the rest of Goldfinger’s entourage to Fort Knox (in Kentucky), where Grand Slam will take place.  It transpires that Goldfinger’s aim is not to rob the largest gold reserve in the world of its shiny bricks but to detonate a nuclear device, making them radioactive for several decades and thus driving up the price of gold (of which he owns quite a lot) tenfold.  Of course in the end Bond prevails either thanks to or despite the input of Pussy Galore (Blackman), Goldfinger’s exotic plane-flying henchwoman who never seems to decide her allegiance, and certainly no thanks to Oddjob, a mute man-mountain with a killer hat.

One thing I found very noticeable about Goldfinger was the soundtrack, and I don’t usually notice a soundtrack.  As I’ve mentioned, I was of course already well-acquainted with the main theme but I was highly impressed with the way variations on the same melody kept popping up throughout the story, always sounding just right whatever the scene required.  Other than that nothing was particularly remarkable other than the inherent excitement of James Bond, but the charm of the enduring legacy is more than enough to keep my interest when a stand-alone film might have lost it.

Overall it’s definitely fair to say I enjoyed the film.  Of course the acting wasn’t the best (Connery’s accent), and the plot was a little weak in places, but it’s always fun to watch one of those iconic films that are known across countries and generations and quoted all the time (“No Mr. Bond.  I expect you to die” a personal highlight).  I’m certainly inspired to delve deeper into the Bond experience, although I do worry that I’ve set the bar a little too high.  I’d like to close with a pun about being shaken or stirred, but I like to think I’m better than that.

My Rating:  24 carat gold.

My sincerest apologies.  7.5/10.

Film Pop: The Hurt Locker

Year: 2008
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Stars: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty

So for my first review of an Oscar Best Picture winner destiny has placed in my lap The Hurt Locker, Katherine Bigelow’s critically-acclaimed Iraqi War drama. The film depicts the endeavours of an elite bomb disposal unit, led by notorious loose cannon Sergeant First Class William James (Renner). He is appointed to the role following *SPOILERS* the death of the team’s original leader in the film’s opening scene. Over the course of the movie, featuring a few gunfights and a few bomb detonations, Sergeant James gradually wins the trust of his unit (Mackie, Geraghty et al) despite a number of disagreements between his repeated efforts to get everyone killed and their ultimate aim of not getting killed. This is where I’d usually give a brief rundown of the plot of the film, but this film was essentially devoid of plot, deciding rather to follow a simple pattern:

Squad receives tipoff regarding IED → James dons suit and goes to investigate → tense standoff with suspicious-looking Middle-Eastern man → James does something outlandish and life-endangering → James successfully defuses bomb → repeat.

It may be telling that the part of this movie I most enjoyed was the (all too brief) encounter with the British soldiers, including Ralph Fiennes’ reprisal of his role of “English Guy stuck in Desert”. Maybe a film like this doesn’t appeal to me as a Brit nearly as much as to the Americans at the Academy who I get the impression are much more connected to their military. We barely seem to care about our own troops, so why would I be interested in the slow (boring) tale of a “maverick” American bomb disposal technician? On the other hand, my American girlfriend didn’t seem to enjoy the film any more than I did. Maybe it was because the plot was boring and the cast was boring (take a bow, Jeremy Renner).

Still, somebody somewhere must have liked the film, and I don’t begrudge them that; it was certainly well-made and some of the explosion scenes are close to breath-taking (although perhaps a big screen would have pushed this up a notch). I’m sure it’s a good film for someone who likes this kind of thing, but I’m also sure (this being my second viewing to be absolutely certain) that I’m not one of these people. It’s just that seeing essentially the same scene over and over doesn’t get me all that excited, however well-shot and “tense” the scene may be.

The movie ends with James, who used to be so excited by the thrill of war, coming home and realising that it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be and he’d rather be at home with his wife and young child. If he’d been willing to listen to me, I could have told him this at the beginning of the movie and saved us all a yawn-inducing two hours and six minutes.

My rating: 5/10