The three films that make up the Red Riding Trilogy (IFC), adapted by a quartet of novels by David Peace, are individually among the best films I’ve seen in 2010. Together, they are a remarkable work. They make up a saga of sorts, a fictional journey through a culture of corruption and collusion, where the reach for power leaves the innocent unprotected from the wolves, set against the very real history of terror in Yorkshire when the serial killer dubbed “The Yorkshire Ripper” was at large.
A different director takes each film and gives it a quality and style and atmosphere unique to that story: Julian Jarrold (shooting on 16mm film) evoking American cinema of the seventies like Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon with 1974, James Marsh using 35mm widescreen to create an intimate procedural with an almost suffocating atmosphere in 1980 and Anand Tucker using HD digital video for a different quality of clarity that he purposely obscures with a camera that seems to be either looking from behind or obscured by the glare in 1983. They were produced for British television with such a cinematic richness and density of detail that they played in theaters in both Britain and the United States.
While each film has a unity of style and a different protagonist unique to that story, the trilogy is unified through a single screenwriter (Tony Grisoni) and production team, an extensive cast of characters that winds through the films and the murders that continue to terrorize the populace of West Yorkshire like a plague. The films build on one another until the institutional corruption doesn’t even bother to disguise itself in 1983, creating a devastating epic that refuses to grant absolution to the viewers. It only seems like the mysteries are centered on the hunt for murderers. The brutality of the police and the scale of abuse of power is if anything more unnerving and terrifying than the mysterious killers on the loose. In this world, we take what small triumphs we can. I review the box set in my DVD for MSN here, with a more in-depth piece to follow.
It seems unfair to put something like Harry Brown (Sony), another British crime film, against something as unique as Red Riding, just by virtue of release proximity. Suffice it to say that, Michael Caine aside, this bloody revenge film is a disappointment by any measure. Caine plays a newly-widowed pensioner in a crime-ridden neighborhood who turns creaky vigilante, bringing a weary dignity to an otherwise improbable crime drama. Director Daniel Barber strains to make some commentary on crime in the low-income projects and the frustrating helplessness of men like Harry, an ex-Marine who served his country only to become the target of hooligans and wild youth, but his rampage is pure fantasy, a cathartic house-cleaning with a satchel of guns and an old soldier’s drive. By the end, it’s turned from a geriatric Death Wish into a one-dimensional Taxi Driver with only a lone well-meaning detective (a singularly unconvincing Emily Mortimer) hip to the truth and a splattery spectacle of CGI sprays of blood for flourish. Caine almost makes it worth the unpleasantness. Features commentary and deleted scenes. The Blu-ray also features the usual interactive BD-Live functions.
OSS 117: Lost in Rio (Music Box) – The insufferably smug French secret agent and arrogant cold warrior Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath (Jean Dujardin), aka OSS 1117, is back in the satirical sequel to the hilarious secret agent spoof OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, this one moved up to the swinging sixties. Dujardin adds Matt Helm swagger to Hubert’s womanizing ways and director Michel Hazanavicius jazzes up the action with era-perfect split screens and snazzy graphics. The rest of the film, which has something to do with Nazis hiding out in South America, masked wrestler bodyguards, a morally suspect CIA agent and a female Mossad operative (Dolorès Koulechov) that Hubert mistakes for a secretary, is more wacky than clever. But true to form, 117 proves himself a shamelessly reflexive bigot, chauvinist and fervent nationalist who would sort of admire the Nazis if he didn’t despise them so much as enemies of France. And when all else fails, Dujardin’s smug grin and oblivious conviction in his every knee-jerk prejudice makes the character work. Includes a behind-the-scenes featurette. In French with English subtitles.
Set in the final year of the Soviet Afghanistan conflict (before Perestroika and the break-up off the USSR), 9th Company (Well Go USA), the directorial debut of Fyodor Bondarchuk, son of the Oscar-winning director Sergei Bondarchuk (War and Peace), aspires to be the Soviet equivalent of Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and Rambo, all rolled into one, which makes the schizophrenic epic all the more frustrating. The script, based on real events (or so the credits claim), follows a platoon from basic training, where a stock company of character types bond under the grueling command of the toughest drill sergeant on the base (a veteran of Afghanistan who knows what it takes to survive), through the deployment in "mountain patrols," where they are whittled down by the Mujahideen guerillas.
This classic platoon drama stuff with a stock company of idealists and misfits and just plain Joes (or would you say Ivans in this case?) losing their innocence in a foreign war that, given the hindsight of history, they are doomed to lose. Afghanistan became the Soviet Union’s own Vietnam, yet for all the grueling drama of warfare in a foreign land for a cause that’s unclear at best, the film becomes a paean to brotherhood, loyalty and honor in a lost cause, where defeat is transformed into some romantic notion of victory. There isn’t a hint of criticism of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and there is even a faint nostalgia for the old days of the USSR (which is the most intriguing insight the film has to offer). Either despite or because of that, this grandly mounted and lengthy (over two hours) platoon drama became the most successful Russian film of 2005 and won Russia’s equivalent of the Oscar. Both the DVD and Blu-ray feature the original Russian language version with an optional English dub soundtrack, and are available in single-disc editions or two-disc versions that include a bonus DVD of supplements, including the 38-minute “Making the Movie” and half-hour “20 Years Later” featuring interviews with real 9th Company veterans.
Legends of the Canyon (Image) – Photographer Henry Diltz, whose images of Buffalo Springfield, The Doors, Crosby, Stills and Nash and Joni Mitchell helped define their image as counterculture rockers, narrates and illustrates this documentary portrait of the folk rock culture that flowered in Laurel Canyon in the sixties and seventies. The film covers the origins and influences of The Byrds, Joni Mitchell, Buffalo Springfield and The Mamas and the Papas but puts David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash at the center of the film. They provide most of the commentary on the music and culture of this creative community as well as the story of the making and unmaking of The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills and Nash (sometimes known as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young). Also contributing their remembrances of the era and the music are Joni Mitchell, Michelle Phillips, Van Dyke Parks, Danny Hutton (of Three Dog Night), Gerry Beckley (of America), Atlantic Records guru Ahmet Urtegun and managers and producers, and together they provide a rather disorganized but very interesting oral history of the time. It acknowledges the drugs and affairs and ego, but it’s ultimately it’s about the friendships and the creative atmosphere that influenced the musical culture. Archival performances from TV and film and a soundtrack of iconic music from the featured bands and performers complete the portrait. The DVD also includes bonus silent film footage of the performers shot by Deltz, extended interviews with select subjects and bonus scenes, plus a 20-page booklet featuring Diltz’s photography.
MVD has been doing a great service to the music culture with their releases of the films and documentaries of Tony Palmer, whose interests spanned from rock to classical music, folk to opera. Shot during his 1972 European tour, Leonard Cohen: Bird On A Wire (MVD) is Tony Palmer’s portrait of Cohen and his music and poetry, featuring the artist in concert, in interviews, connecting with audiences on and off stage and in transit across Britain and Europe. The film that emerged in 1974 was massively re-edited and then disappeared. Palmer has reconstructed his original version from recently uncovered materials, including the complete soundtrack, for this release. It’s a loving and respectful portrait of a modest artist, with 17 live performances and 4 poems from Cohen, and the DVD (in a paperboard digipak) includes a booklet and mini-reproductions of Cohen posters.
I review Agnes Varda’s Cinevardaphoto (Cinema Guild) in another post in my blog.
Also new this week: American indies Made for Each Other (IFC) and A Quiet Little Marriage (IFC), British indie romantic comedy French Film (IFC), Tormented (IFC) and Marmaduke (Fox).