Film Review – One Night in Turin

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One Night in Turin is a fantastically visceral documentary recalling the??violence and bile that surrounded England’s progress through the Italia ’90 World Cup.

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Director James Erskine portrays 90s Britain creaking under the last years of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher‘s Conservative regime. There is chronic under-funding of schools and hospitals, the threatened introduction of??the ‘poll tax’ that led to destructive rioting in London’s Trafalgar Square, not to mention the hooliganism amongst English fans that has led to a ban of English clubs playing abroad. Add to that??a??hostile tabloid press baying for blood, and the threat of a paramiltary Italian police force. This??is the backdrop as England manager Bobby Robson tries to salvage his, and his country’s reputation, to make??a play for the ultimate??trophy in international football.
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Less an in-depth documentary, the film eschews ‘talking heads’ style interviews for archive news footage of the time, lending a feeling of emotional immediacy. Erskine steers away from getting bogged down in statistics, instead offering fast-cutting, adrenaline-inducing highlights of critical play and goals to keep us updated on the significance of match results. TV news footage of rioting by fans is given a similar treatment,??and close-up inserts blend??well with genuine footage.
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Amongst the drama there is also great humour, and the footage naturally looks dated by the fashion of the time. One shot of a supporter on the street provoked mild amusement, but the small audience I was with were in tears of laughter as the camera zoomed out to reveal his best mate decked out in a hat and shirt which could only be worn on the football terraces. It was stunning to see footballing icons such as Peter Shilton,??Gary Lineker, John Barnes and Paul Gascoigne at the peak of their game. The latter had a reputation of a fiery temper, but we’re reminded of our warmth to his fragility and humour, as he acts up during training and TV interviews.
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As if recalling??Gordon and Parreno’s??Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait,??a shot follows winger Chris Waddle as he runs to take, and miss his penalty kick that conceded the match to the West Germans, who are sportsmanlike to a fault in forgoing victory celebrations to console the vanquished footballer. The most??familiar scene to English fans is brought extra poignancy through the use of a lipreader, revealing Robson’s??paternal words??of??comfort to Gascoigne, in tears, as England lost their grasp on a place in the final.
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The soundtrack inevitably recalls heady anthems of the day from Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses, Joy Division, The Farm, New Order and of course, Nessun Dorma, the theme for the BBC’s coverage of the tournament that??has come??to represent the passions and hopes of English fans, ultimately crushed in a cruel penalty shoot-out.
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Erskine has??produced a work that??is so much more than the stock football DVDs that adorn the??living rooms??of Britain. Alternately shocking and amazing, it’s an invitation to feel the pain all over again, but also a??solidarity in defeat, and that’s the binding nature of the film.??Ten years ago? It feels like yesterday.
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One Night in Turin is on limited general release now, and is available on Blu-ray and DVD from 31 May.

Will The A-Team bring their A-game?

After Warner Bros??? risible big-screen remake of 80s TV hit The Dukes of Hazzard, I was cautiously optimistic when Fox had chosen to resurrect Saturday tea-time favourite, The A-Team.

With a theme-tune guaranteed to displace any annoying??song you might find stuck in your head, the series followed the exploits of an underground, ex-military team for hire, AWOL having escaped ???a maximum security prison for a crime they didn???t commit???.

The not so deep-structure of the TV episodes went something like this:

Small-time bad guys cause trouble in downtown LA, or plan an armed uprising in the desert regions of California, threatening to disturb the suburban peace. The A-Team arrive in a pimped, black van with a red stripe down the side, have a chat with the victims of said bad guys before disappearing into a surprisingly well-equipped barn for a rousing musical-montage of welding stuff together into some kind of super-weapon. ??

Bad guys always try to drive towards said weapon/armoured bus/potato gun (yes, really) which results in their vehicles having multiple rollovers before the drivers crawl out of the wreckage like they???ve just had a minor prang in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Bad guys are arrested and suburban householder thanks the A-Team for saving the valley. And scene. It???s basically a western, and they???re the outlaw posse who ride in like The Magnificant Seven.

The better part of the comedy was in the odd-couple relationship between street-talking, black muscleman Sgt Bosco ‘B.A.’ Baracus (played by wrestler, Mr T) and the maniacal, skinny white aviator, Capt ???Howling Mad??? Murdock (Dwight Schultz), who would regularly wind B.A. up, earning the ???fool??? moniker we have come to love. B.A.???s morbid fear of flight was regularly exploited for laughs as he was unwillingly anaesthetised on many occasions to enable the ???fools??? to get him on the plane.

Slick ladies man, Lt Templeton ???Faceman??? Peck (Dirk Benedict, also of the 70s Battlestar Galactica) lent a dapper cool to the team, while silver-haired leader, John ‘Hannibal’ Smith (the late George Peppard of Breakfast at Tiffany???s, The Blue Max) brought a bit of silver-screen authority to proceedings, eyes twinkling as the latest ruffians were dispatched to his catchphrase, ???I love it when a plan comes together???.

So what of the movie then?

From the two trailers that have been issued, it begins to look good. There???s a moody exposition as we see the court-martial proceedings that sentence ???Alpha-team??? for the ???crime they didn???t commit???, now during the Iraq war rather than Vietnam. So far, so current.

Then we are introduced to the new team. Hannibal is now played by a greyed-up Liam Neeson, Yup, I???ll go with that. Bradley Cooper, the buff stalwart of rom-coms (Valentine???s Day, He???s Just Not That Into You) moves into action to play the Faceman. Showing comedy under fire while being restrained in a bathrobe, he is the eyecandy for the ladies and possibly, some gents too.

A more vocally expressive B.A. is embodied by former Ultimate Fighting Championship holder, Quinton ???Rampage??? Jackson, bringing the required muscle and van-loving expertise to the mix. The most inspired piece of casting must be Sharlto Copley as Murdock, a character surely in the grip of the strangest form of post-traumatic stress disorder. Copley suddenly came to worldwide attention in last year???s District 9, effectively carrying that film on his shoulders. From what can be seen, he positively channels the Murdoch-mania that Schultz made his own in the original series.

There are though, a couple of shots where the silliness goes too far, even if they do “specialise in the ridiculous”. The team steal a transport plane and a tank that is inside, is used as an escape pod just before the plane is targeted and destroyed by an air-to-air missile. So while I???m willing my 8 year old self to accept that they will survive the impact of a parachuting tank hitting Earth, the unforgiveable happens. Faceman takes to the gun turret and in an orgy of CGI ejaculation, starts shooting pursuing planes in mid-air. No. You hear me director Joe Carnahan? No. The original was daft, but it knew it???s limits. If I want a computer game I???ll buy an Xbox.

It gets worse. In an abseiling-down-an-office-skyscraper-to-blow-out-the-window-and-parachute-someone-out-scene, the descending parachute is then hooked on the landing skid of Murdock???s helicopter, and flown away. Why can???t Hollywood directors keep their hands out of the tricks box? It ruins the movie.

So it remains to be seen whether the rest holds up. Let???s hope we don???t all get taken in like suckas, ???cause I ain???t putting up with no jibber jabber.

See the trailer at the official A-Team website

Film Review – Robin Hood

As much as I like director Ridley Scott‘s work, I did ask myself whether I might be suffering from sword and sandal fatigue when I saw the trailers for his latest work, Robin Hood. We’ve had Scott’s own genre invigorating Gladiator, the so-so Kingdom of Heaven and Troy. Recently there’s been Clash of the Titans and soon, Prince of Persia. So does two hours of romping through the mud wearing chainmail and leather cut the olde English mustard?

The answer is, just about. It’s Gladiator with less gore, a bit more Sunday afternoon viewing, with the battlefield antics and drink-and-be-merry village set-pieces to tick the standard medieval boxes.

Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is an archer serving in the company of King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston), returning from The Crusades and laying siege to one more French castle before returning to England. A French cook serving soup on the battlements of said castle (this is how serious the French are about food, that it is served in the midst of a bloody battle), finds his way to a crossbow and makes a kebab out of le grand ros beouf, King Richard. Sacre bleu indeed.

Later, the King of France is plotting to stir up discontent in England by planting the Vadar-like Godfrey (Mark Strong) into the court of the newly crowned King John, intent on inciting rebellion in the north with recommendations of raising employee National Insurance contributions, or possibly tax. England will tear herself apart through civil war, and the the French king can sail the Channel and march in under the Fleur-de-Lis to conquer a new land. They hadn’t counted on that Australian fella being around though.

Much has been made of Crowe’s wandering accent, and it is true that it ends up drowning in the Irish Sea via Newcastle, rather than the Midlands where they were aiming for. Why didn’t they just say to Crowe, “you know that actor Sean Bean? Just copy him, that’s close enough”? It’s really not that much of a problem as Crowe’s fantastic growling voice gives the requisite amount of conviction to overrule any geographical uncertainty.

The one problem I had was that the film doesn’t have the rousing, oratory qualities of Gladiator, nor does it effectively employ the role of the underdog as that film did. Robin doesn’t have much to lose so the tension does seem to be lacking somewhat. British folk singer Billy Bragg unofficially advised Crowe on the contemporary politics of the ‘Charter of the Forest‘, an act of law that said each man had the right to forage in the countryside under the entitlement of common land. This would have been the fight worth seeing rather than the international politics of kings, which while relevant, isn’t the meat we wanted on the roast. The final battle on the beach is impressive though, cheekily invoking a reverse of the D-Day landings of Saving Private Ryan.

Cate Blanchett puts in a good, but underused turn as Lady Marion Loxley, there to add a little Katherine Hepburn style romantic friction. Alas, it does little to inform us of Robin’s character, other than that he’s that gruff, growling bloke who’s good at leading a charge into battle on horseback. Perhaps more of the Robin Hood myth will be picked up in a possible sequel, but I wouldn’t hold out for it.

John Mathieson BSC, having previously shot this period for both Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven, provides a reliably authentic cinematography of muted browns and greens, representing an unromanticised English countryside. Composer Marc Streitenfeld now out from under the wings of his mentor, Hans Zimmer, provides a score that borrows the latter’s choppy strings from the new Batman franchise, and also a phrase a little too close to Gladiator for comfort. I also think that the romantic Celtic dance for Robin and Marion sounded too much like James Horner’s Irish-inflected score for Titanic. A film of this stature should really have it’s own distinctive musical signature.

Robin Hood is likeable, but instead of stirring English hearts to revolution, it gets stuck in the mud of one too many battle scenes at the expense of characterisation.

TV Review – Lennon Naked

In contrast to the nostalgic tone of Sam Taylor-Wood’s Lennon biopic, Nowhere Boy, BBC Films’ Lennon Naked is a refreshingly unflattering portrait of the musician, at his most narcissistic and petulant.

Christopher Eccelston (Amelia, G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra) depicts John Lennon during the years 1967 to 1971, when the creative energy at the heart of The Beatles was starting to wane, and Lennon was to begin his own creative pursuits.

At a BAFTA screening, Eccleston said, “I wasn’t a fan. He was deeply flawed as a human being, and in making this film I found that I loved him more but also thought much less of him”

The film opens with an obvious tribute to Gilbert Taylor’s black and white cinematography from A Hard Day’s Night. We see Lennon and manager Brian Epstein (Rory Kinnear, last seen in Quantum of Solace) take a car to a press-organised reunion with Lennon’s long-absent father, who wishes a reconciliation with his son. Writer Robert Jones’ dialogue successfully emulates the caustic wit that Lennon was known for, as Epstein is repeatedly taunted about his sexuality, and everyone else feels the sharp side of Lennon’s tongue.

Eccleston does a good job with the accent, but more importantly finds the attitude of the man. Occasionally though, perhaps due to the actor’s aquiline features, I unfortunately caught glimpses of another famous Liverpudlian, Lily Savage (sorry Chris, I couldn’t help it). The other Beatles fare less well, save perhaps Ringo. George’s accent barely registers as recognisable, and Andrew Scott as McCartney veers into an odd, disconcerting nasal bass. I hope that doesn’t conjure images of a Hofner inserted into a nostril, but it might possibly have sounded more convincing.

The film makes an intriguing psychological sketch. Eccleston envisaged Lennon as someone who “would throw a hand grenade into his life to shake it up” and Lennon’s bitterness comes through as he seeks to recreate himself without remorse for those in the firing line, be it his wife, his father or the brotherhood of The Beatles. It is seemingly not good enough that he destroys the world for himself, he has to destroy it so that no-one else can have it either. “The Beatles is my band, I created it!” he retorts when told that McCartney has publicly ended the band.

Naoko Mori portrays a suitably mysterious Yoko Ono, who many Beatles fans blamed for taking Lennon away from them, but is sympathetically portrayed as someone who inspires Lennon???s new identity as an artist. The film makes the focus of Lennon???s torment his father, but credit to Jones and director Ed Coulthard, the blame lands on both pairs of shoulders.

Fans will spot references in the form of Lennon lyrics dropped into dialogue. The Hard Day’s Night intro and an image of a naked Lennon curling up in a foetal position around Ono are also subtle additions. Despite a few minor flaws with bootleg Beatles, it???s an accomplished and necessary addition to the growing Lennon filmography.

Lennon Naked screens on BBC4 this June.