Peter Masterson’s Blood Red is a fascinating film for many reasons and feels like a long lost relic that the sands of time have wrought forth unto the world of streaming and Blu Ray. Kind of like a classic, old school Hollywood historical melodrama with a bit of a Michael Cimino flavour, it tells the story of conflict and corruption in 1800’s California as an amoral Irish railroad tycoon (Dennis Hopper) tries to muscle an Italian vineyard owner (Giancarlo Giannini) out of his land to make way for development. The man refuses to sell or move which ignites a violent conflict between his hot blooded eldest son (Eric Roberts), a nasty enforcer (Burt Young) hired by Hopper to facilitate his goal by any means necessary and all the other local farmers who follow example and take up arms themselves. This isn’t a perfect film and editing feels a bit loose and unconstructed sometimes but I very much enjoyed and was swept up in the spectacle of it all, and any film with a cast this good deserves attention by default. Roberts has swagger and charisma as always, a very young Michael Madsen and Elias Koteas show up as cousins of his to assist in the ongoing skirmish, while Hopper is hammy and the only weak link in terms of acting and, as we know from his mad bomber film Ticker, he just *cannot* do anything *close* to a proper Irish accent and any attempts always take me right out of the scene in a fit of giggles. My favourite performance is from Julia Roberts, and this is the only film her and Eric have ever been in together and playing siblings no less, so it’s kind of a special thing for us fans of both. She’s terrific as his younger sister, showing true emotion and personality in a role that has barely any dialogue, but she’s present and very effective nonetheless. The film’s credits start and end with a slideshow of real black and white photos from that time period (similar to Malick’s Days Of Heaven) accompanied by a beautiful Italian song, and set up the atmosphere wonderfully. Much like this film details an important part of American history with its story, so too does this production mark a transitional period for much of its cast who were just getting started in their careers at the time and as such it’s a historical picture that is integral to both the history of the country overall and that of the Hollywood industry. Very strong film.
So what did Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale do for the Bond franchise? Well, I’m not a huge aficionado or scholar of these films like some so I tend to look at each one on its own as an action adventure piece rather than observe how it fits into the jigsaw legacy of this mammoth series, but there’s no denying that this one kind of broke several moulds before it. After the garish 90’s heyday of Pierce Brosnan (I *love* all four of those films to bits) I feel like they just wanted to bring Bond down to earth a bit, distill the aesthetic into something that cleanses too many gadgets and what have you, cast someone darker and more dangerous and blast out a new trajectory for the character. Good plan.
Casino Royale is not only a splendidly exciting film on its own but the best, most impactful and unique 007 film since 1989’s ruthless and underrated License To Kill. Daniel Craig’s James Bond is an angry warrior who fucks up just like the rest of us and is fallible, not some invincible deity in a tux that can’t get hurt, deceived, betrayed or killed without tangible consequences. An early mission sees him tasked by Judi Dench’s then immortal M to infiltrate a high stakes poker game in some swanky French locale and gain information on dangerous arms dealer and terrorist Le Chiffre, played by vicious, predatory Mads Mikkelsen in one of my favourite Bond baddie portrayals. As if he isn’t in enough over his head, he meets the beautiful but equally dangerous Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), the most unique Bond girl since… who knows when. I love that she’s a self aware human being who has her reasons for falling into bed with him instead of just being a pair of tits with a voice as seen in countless entries before. Green has sex appeal for days but what makes her special is that way her eyes smoulder with a fierce independence and unpredictability, making her one of the most fascinating characters the whole franchise has to offer. Also supporting them is the great Giancarlo Giannini as a mentor of sorts for Bond, Jeffrey Wright as CIA operative Felix, Catarina Murino, Isaach De Bankolé, Jesper Christensen, Sebastian Foucan, Tobias Menzies, Richard Sammel, Tyrone the silly fat bastard from Snatch, Russian character actress Ivana Milicevic and Virgin Atlantic CEO Richard Branson of all people, if you look real close.
In terms of scope and staging, this is a kind of unique 007 film because it shirks the standards and ducks expectations. It opens with a spectacular chase like any other in the franchise, which is a monumental sequence in terms of stunt work. But much of the film is spent in the ornate casinos of France and a lot of the action is the casual intimidation and cerebral mind games that go alongside the poker match. There’s nothing quite like Craig and Mikkelsen sat opposite one another in tuxes, Mads bleeding out of his sinister looking dead eye and Daniel smirking at him like he wants to rip his head off, while Green looks on and let’s her ulterior motives simmer on the back burner for later. Cinematographer Phil Meheux takes full advantage of these rich, lushly production designed interior shots as well as the gorgeous outdoor rim of the Mediterranean that we get to see quite a bit of. My only real complaint is a third act that feels like it barrels in from another film; that’s not to say it’s bad or doesn’t work, it’s just a tad unwieldy with the landing and threw me off in terms of tone or climax but I suppose that could have been the intention. I’ll just say that this thing ends in the last possible way you’d expect from a 007, feeling fresh, raw and off the rails in a beautiful fashion that doesn’t tread the beaten path of so many before, but blazes out its own tragic, violent conclusion that will claim a piece of Bond’s soul but add much needed spirit to this series as a whole. Great film, and my second favourite Bond of all time after Skyfall.
I’ve always loved Jaume Balegueró’s Darkness, an eerie Spanish horror film that went through some unholy distribution problems before finally being dumped out by Dimension films as a heavily edited PG-13 version circa 2004. There is, however, an unrated cut floating around out there on DVD as well, and that’s the one to buy as it is longer, darker and way more grim. Marketed as an Amityville style chiller, it’s a little more ambiguous and esoteric than simply a haunted house yarn, concerning an American family who journeys back to Spain to the childhood home of disturbed husband and father Iain ‘Ser Jorah’ Glen. Staying at his ancient childhood home in the countryside, old ghosts from the past are dug up, unfriendly locals hover about the edges of town, Glenn’s psychological symptoms get worse in that environment and his seemingly friendly father (the great Giancarlo Giannini spooks it up royally) clearly knows more than his affable manner is letting on. Anna Paquin is great as Glenn’s daughter, clearly used a lot for marketing following her X Men fame, and Lena Olin does fine work as her mom. This one doesn’t spell everything out but rather takes its time setting mood and atmosphere, and not until the third act do we have any real idea what is going on. The scares are subtle and crawl (sometimes literally) out of the woodwork when you least expect it, and the folk-horror element gets pushed nicely into the forefront later with themes of sacrifice, possession and the raw, evil potent that can seep out of a full solar eclipse. You won’t find a lot of praise or great reviews for this, hell there aren’t many reviews floating around as it is, those cunty Weinsteins messed around with yet another awesome film and somewhat buried it, but if you can find that unrated DVD, it’s a really satisfying mood piece dripping with constant unease, mounting rural dread and heaps of the titular Darkness, both visually and thematically.
Many of us get so wrapped up in the legacy of Silence Of The Lambs that we sometimes forget just how great Ridley Scott’s Hannibal is. Lambs is a wicked clinical shocker, full of psychopathic deviance and razor suspense, but Hannibal is just as good, instead coming from a place of lush, baroque opulence and velvet gilded carnage that overflows with style. They’re two very different films populated by the same characters, chief being Anthony Hopkins’ disturbed cannibalistic serial killing psychiatrist. Lecter has settled down in Italy when we find him, where one foolish police detective (Giancarlo Giannini, terrific) thinks he can lure the good doctor into a trap. Big mistake, although his efforts do gain the attention of FBI Agent Clarice Starling once again, this time played with grit and grace by Julianne Moore. Lecter is fascinated, perhaps even attracted to Starling, and it’s a treat watching them play a complex game of European cat and mouse whilst other various characters dart in and out of the tale. Ray Liotta blunders into their path as Starling’s ill fated bureau handler, a loudmouth who… doesn’t quite… keep his head screwed on tight (yes I went there). Gary Oldman shows up too, although you’d never know it was him as he’s uncredited and slathered up under a metric tonne of Chernobyl waste prosthetic makeup, playing perverted millionaire Mason Verger, who has a bone to pick with Lecter and I mean that quite literally. Hopkins had aged some since Lambs and doesn’t have quite the same unsettling virile charisma he did there, but he’s lost none of the malevolence or cunning, showing once again what a manipulative monster Hannibal can be. This film is all style, and even the frequent graphic violence, although abhorrent, is done with all the flourish and hues of a renaissance painting. The horror is somehow numb as well, or relaxed would be a better term. Lambs was all in your face with jump scares and spine shuddering yuckyness, while here the horror is rich, deep and vibrant, terrifying yet oddly aesthetic. Goes without saying that this is the closest Lecter film, in terms of style, to NBC’s masterful tv version we’ve been blessed with today, and much inspiration was no doubt culled from this gem. Beautiful, harrowing stuff.