Review # 162
Director – John Huston
Cast – Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Max von Sydwo, Pele, Maurice Roëves, Tim Pigott-Smith, Julian Curry
There is a lot of cross over between sports films and POW films. Sports films invariably feature an under dog team who are disadvantaged in some way (Remember the Titans, We Are Marshall, Bad News Bears) playing the arrogant douche-bag team. And of course, POW films inevitably pit the good ol’ Allies against “The Huns” or “The Japs”. To combine the two was either a stroke of genius or an awful idea. The problem with Victory! is that it isn’t sure which of those options got decided on. It’s luke warm, and thus will be spat out, as the saying goes.
Plot-wise, a German officer (Max von Sydow) decides to challenge the prisoners under his watch to a game of soccer, POW’s vs. guards. Once the German higher-ups hear about this they decide it will be a great propaganda move, and decide to allow Colby (Michael Caine) to round up the best soccer players held as captives in Europe, and form a team to play the German national team in Paris. Meanwhile, Hatch (Sylvester Stallone) plans an escape to occur during the halftime of the game, aided by the local Resistance.
The movie is of two minds – there is the rather carefree, fun sports movie firstly. This is the movie that Michael Caine heads. It is interesting, fun, and a touch cheeky. Stallone heads the other side – the side that deals with the Resistance, escaping POW’s, and dangerous escapes. These topics (and the associated tones) don’t necessarily clash… but somehow they found a way. To make it worse the team decides halfway through the game to not even escape, rendering half of the movie pointless. Then to top it all off we have a ridiculous ending that is vague, un-earned, and that panders embarrassingly badly to Stallone. It has to be seen to be believed. My jaw literally dropped.
Plus the DVD print was awful. (Which brings to mind the famous joke “The portions were awful, and so small.)
Now that I’ve bitched about the ending, I must admit that the beginning had me along for the ride. We see Caine training his team, and Pele showing off his bicycle kick. Max von Sydow has a great role as the kindly but firm German head-of-camp, and the interplay between he and Caine is nice. Stallone has a subplot about his awful soccer skills that mostly works, but it would have worked better if Stallone had been content to let the movie be an ensemble piece, too. Really, the whole movie would have worked better. You can practically hear him off-screen, getting himself more screen time. But come on… did he really need a romantic interest here? Did he need to save the game in slow motion?
On the other hand you have to admire him though. We never saw Schwarzenegger trying to go so far out of his comfort zone. I’ve always admires Stallone for that… he knew what he did well, but didn’t mind trying out something new once in a while. Let’s see Chuck Norris lose 40 pounds to work with a director like John Huston. No siree, bob!
Victory! is a movie that more or less fails, despite a decent first half and a surprisingly kinetic soccer game at the end. There are quite a few British actors in the background who would become standby’s of UK film; people like Tim Piggot-Smith and Maurice Roëves. Julian Curry even makes an appearance, and it’s great to see the actor known mostly for the excellent Rumpole of the Bailey series get some work.
But unfortunately the movie can’t find the right tone, miscasts Stallone horribly, and hands us a ludicrous ending. So much for that!
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The Exorcist: Extended Director’s Cut Review
Review # 141
Director – William Friedkin
Cast – Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Jason Millers, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, William O’Malley
– followed by Excorcist II: The Heretic
I am not a horror movie fan in general, and don’t expect to become one any time soon. I have a sneaking suspicion this is the result of all the torture porn out there, which isn’t true horror, in my opinion anyway. I just don’t like horror movies that rely on gore and/or jump moments for their effect. The horror movies I do like tend to inspire not so much horror per se, but a slow and rising feeling of dread. Movies where the tension just builds up and builds up, not to be released in a “jump” moment, but in an inevitable series of events, the climax that the movie has been building too.
The Exorcist is a movie like that. It hasn’t aged well in some ways, as in todays desensitized culture the shock elements are perhaps not as shocking as they once were. But The Exorcist is still unnerving, chilling, and even moving. This is good, as those are the more important elements of the movie anyway. The story is really at the forefront here, and that’s how you make a good horror movie, or any movie for that matter, regardless of genre.
We follow actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), whose young daughter Regan (Linda Blair) is starting to behave oddly. After countless doctors fail to come to a diagnosis, and as Regan is acting worse and worse, she feels she has no choice but to turn to a priest for an exorcism. She finds Father Karras (Jason Miller), a priest who privately feels himself to be losing his faith in God. He manages to convince the church that an exorcism is required, at which point Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) is brought in to lead it.
This movie of course has stirred up quite a bit of controversy in its time, mainly of course for the disturbing and hideous transformation of sweet 12-year-old Regan into a possessed blasphemer and, well… cross fetishist, but the scenes detailing her experiences with the medical community are almost as bad. Perhaps it is because this torture seems to come from a more real and concrete world. It is to the movie’s credit that by the end of the movie we fully believe that the demons and exorcism are just as real. The director apparently had a lot of experience with making documentaries. Perhaps the sense of realism that is palpable throughout the movie stems from that. Strange though it may seem, the most important thing in horror movie is that sense of realism. Without it, no strange and gruesome events would ever be really scary.
The Exorcist is a drama with scary bits, and works beautifully that way. It puts story above scares. While the shock factor may not work quite as well to a modern viewer, it makes up for it with an engaging story and excellent acting. Highly recommended (to those who can stomach this kinda thing).
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Robin Hood REVIEW
Director – Ridley Scott
Cast – Russel Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max Von Sydow, William Hurt, Mark Strong, Danny Huston, Oscar Isaac
Robin Hood is a traditional Hollywood figure, whose story is regularly adapted into feature films, from Errol Flynn’s classic The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) to Kevin Costner’s The Prince of Thieves (1991). Most versions tend to keep to the same rough story, but Ridley Scott wanted to, as the buzzword goes, reboot the story, and take it a different route. When the movie was first announced, rumors said that the story would feature Russel Crowe as both Robin Hood and the antagonist, the Sheriff of Nottingham. Apparently this was changed, as the story now is about Robin Hood (or Robin Longstride as he’s known here) before he is outlawed. Essentially this movie is Robin Hood, Batman Begins style.
Now many people had a problem with this revisionist style. I personally did not, and I actually really liked it. In fact the beginning sequence, with Robin and the English army (led by Richard the Lionheart) attacking a French castle, was quite exhilarating in a messy, grimy sort of way. What got me about the movie was its draggy, dreary, and unfocused feeling. As the movie progresses many plot points of the movie are not presented clearly, and motivations for some characters are muddy. In other words, we see people doing things, then doing other things, without a clear explanation for why they changed their mind or even their allegiance.
The movie does start off well, very well in fact. Russel Crowe looks perfectly at home in a medieval time period, and the supporting cast is decent to very good. William Hurt has always been a capable actor, and Oscar Isaacs as an oily but still surprisingly sympathetic Prince John performs very well also. Cate Blanchett is tough and hardened as Marion, and Mark Strong is a perfect villain. The problem is that most of these characters aren’t utilized very well. This could be because of the size of the supporting cast and the attention each character receives. The characters are stretched too thin, as each fights for more screen time. This merely results in everyone receiving less screen time, and thus, less development.
The second half of the movie features Robin Hood presenting to King John a charter which would guarantee every Englishman rights and freedoms (an obvious nod to the Magna Carta, which the actual King John was forced to sign by his knights years later.) Personally I found this a bit ridiculous, especially as right after this Robin apparently coins the phrase “An Englishmen’s home is his castle.” Why didn’t they have him inventing tea and crumpets and whistling ‘Rule Britannia” while looking over the plans for London Bridge while they’re at it? It felt like Scott was pandering to his audience here, as he was with the final battle also. Rarely have I seen a more clichéd collection of stereotypical battle sequences.
What I truly don’t understand is how Ridley Scott, the director of such good (even great) and unique films as Alien, Blade Runner, Matchstick Men, even Gladiator, can turn out a purely mediocre, and in some ways formulaic, film like this. Has he lost his touch? Does he rely on Russel Crowe too much? This is their 5th movie together, after all…
Robin Hood is a capable enough medieval movie, and starts of well, but soon loses points with its lack of clarity and its dreariness. The cast performs admirably, but cannot fight the directors seeming tiredness. This could have been quite good, but unfortunately barely rises above an average action flick. Then again, it’s better than Prince of Thieves.
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