Where Eagles Dare: in WWII a team of Britain’s top agents – accompanied by an American – stage a raid on an ‘impenetrable’ Nazi fortress, but it’s never that simple. For an oldé movie (1968), this has more explosions than you could shake a stick of dynamite at, no vehicle is left uncrashed / unflipped, and the plot, in parts, is almost as hard to follow as Inception – it’s one of the few times where there’s a little too much of the good stuff. The action is great, and very well-directed – cable car stunts in particular are gripping, and Eastwood makes for a total bad-ass quiffed gun-slinging all-American action hero. Between the big set-pieces the pace can drag, and at over 2.5 hours it feels a little overlong. The acting is pretty solid for the genre, and the huge story, grand spectacle, and big names (Burton, Eastwood, Pitt…) really pull you through the laggy parts. This is a classic in every sense of the word: big actors, brilliant OST, gripping spy/espionage plot, stunning locations, a ton of stabbing, shooting and cleavage… even down to the corny stuff like rear projected driving background. Where Eagles Dare is decades ahead of its time; it’s the ‘turned up to 11′ kind of action movie that you rarely saw again until the 1980s. Over 40 years later, it’s still exciting to watch – they really don’t make ’em like this anymore – big, timeless international, studio picture.
Mystic River: drama/mystery that follows three childhood friends in Boston from a day that changed all of their lives forever. Acting-wise, this is an absolute powerhouse of a roster with too many big names to do justice; Penn‘s passion and attitude are outstanding – a career-defining role for him, Bacon‘s awesome at staying cool and reserved, Fishbourne‘s flawless as a badass cop, Robbins is great at portraying a man on the edge, and hell, even the bit-part boyfriend’s hyper believable… everyone involved is outstanding. Technically, the film’s a masterpiece. Every shot is picturesque, the detail’s all there, the camerawork is spot-on, the direction is simple but effective and the lighting in particular adds a whole other dimension to the film – most noticeable with Robbins, who’s progressively lit to look more crooked and bizarre as the film goes on. The final product is haunting, atmospheric and unbelievably gripping as it builds up to the finale. On paper, this is as depressing a story as any other Eastwood film of late – but with a cast this strong, great pacing and simple storytelling this a proper tour de force – and while it is quite bleak, that’s where all of the mystery and drama comes from. in a nutshell, this is simply a great film.
800 Bullets: When you see the phrase “tribute to Spaghetti Western“ splattered all over the box you’re kind of expecting a good old-fashioned cowboy flick, not the story of some washed up stunt guys waiting for the day when Spain will once again be the set of Western movies!! Parts of it are trippy, like some of the midnight movies (Black/White/Red credits especially). There’s the most gratuitous boobs & sex I’ve seen in a long time – you always expected in b-movies but it just feels out of place here. The ending totally doesn’t match the tone of the film. On the up side it’s very Spanish, with emotions flying all over the place and a few familiar names and faces. There’s a handful of classic and iconic Western camera shots scattered throughout, and in general the film looks great – from the landscapes to the costumes. By the end, you could divide 800 Bullets up into the following: 40% banal story focusing on main stuntman’s family; 40% ‘what keeps punters interested’; 20% love letter to old westerns and stunt guys. Overall, it just feels like a pretty bad idea, dragged out for far too long. For stories about washed up stunt men, stick to The Fall and for Spaghetti Western tributes this should do the trick.
Gran Torino: Clint Eastwood’s acting swan song, where he cast himself as a lonely raging Polish bigot that spoke like the new batman and spent the whole film pointing guns and swearing at ethnics. He was happy to put differences aside for some beer though! The heavy handed racism makes the film hard to watch at times, and feels pretty excessive – not unlike Crash. The more times you see a frail pensioner stand off against gangs the less realistic the film felt. It’s great to see his relationship grow with his new friends but it takes a long time to kick in and the last scene, although epic, is pretty contrived – the film’s essentially an urban / modern Western. It’s a simple and powerful story, but it is full of stock characters and trundles along at a snail’s pace. His acting’s spot on, but overall the film’s missing some depth. As a comparison, it doesn’t have much on Mystic River.