Rob Pearson’s Film Picks of the Week

February 13, 2009 by  
Filed under Features

carlitos-way451 Carlito’s Way – Saturday, 10.15pm, ITV4   10:15pm Alert Me This film seems to have taken on the mantle of an ‘underappreciated classic’ – you know, the kind of underappreciated film that everyone appreciates. It’s very hard not to like Carlito’s Way. Set in 70s New York, this Greek tragedy of a story begins with Puerto Rican gangster legend Carlito (Al Pacino) dying, and then flashes back to a court hearing: he is being released from prison on a technicality, thanks to his lawyer ‘brother,’ Katowicz (Sean Penn). Back on the streets, he’s offered all kinds of bloody work, but he’s not interested: he wants to stay squeaky clean, earn some money, and then, er, buy in to a car rental business in Bermuda. Thankfully for us, there isn’t a Hertz office in sight. Unfortunately, Carlito and friends have quite a hard time avoiding trouble. This is that rare gangster film that is truly enjoyable, and never lingering in the shadow of The Godfather. It isn’t trying to be particularly epic or detailed: it’s just about one man struggling to break the shackles of his former life. Pacino is truly great here, giving a potential charicature real depth and pathos, with occasional diversions to do a bit of scenery-gnawing now and again. He enjoys guiding us along with a voiceover that would make Bogart jealous, a tidy feature of David Koepp’s spot-on script. Penn, too, is excellent, and Viggo Mortensen catches the eye in a fleeting, if memorable role. There’s plenty of action, including a brilliant final set-piece in Grand Central station, as well as a stylish pool-hall shootout. There’s plenty of parties, too, plenty of drugs, plenty of wiseguys, and a plot intricate enough to propel you ever closer to the edge of your seat. This is Pacino’s show, though, and it’s a delight to see him enjoying himself, strutting around with with shades, a black leather trenchcoat, and thoroughly questionable facial hair. In fact, the only real problem with this film is the love interest. A ballerina turned stripper could have made for a fascinating character, and things do start promisingly with the love subplot… but soon turn, well, pretty lame. This is only place where the film, rather flimsily, flops down. And, a memo: “You Are So Beautiful? playing over love scenes is outrageously cringe/vomit inducing. This film is being shown, bizarrely, on Valentine’s day, so the sin of a rubbish love interest somehow seems deadlier than usual. It’s a shame, because this is very, very nearly a wonderful film. As it is, it will always be that somewhatunderappreciated classic.


The Dirty Dozen – Sunday, 8:00pm, five  Alert Me

Yes, that’s actually the trailer for Tarantino’s upcoming film, Inglorious Basterds. He calls it his ‘world war 2 men on a mission film’. If you want to know where – like some grifting cinematic Scouser – he nicks a load of his ideas from, the Dirty Dozen is one of the best places to look. It twists the squadron-doing-a-blooming-tricky-mission formula by portioning out said mission to the titular twelve mucky reprobates, rather than a bunch of clean cut American heroes. These guys are are crooks, murderers, general miscellaneous bad guys, and they’re all kept in line by Lee Marvin (this week voted the 5th most badassiest badass in film history for his role in Point Blank). There’s some customarily languid pacing for a 60s war film, but stick around for the finale, where everything just seems to keep exploding for about 15 minutes.



Go – Monday, 9pm, Fiver, 9:00pm  Alert Me Written by lovely screenwriting man John August (Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), this sharp, Rashomon/Tarantino’ish picture of various lives and excitements in LA is snappy, witty stuff. Following a drug deal from the POV of three characters, we’re whisked around in an entertaining, dark fashion. Doug Liman (Bourne Identity) directed, but this is very much the writer’s film, so if you like it, check out his screenwriting-based blog, and maybe learn a trick or two.


True Lies – Monday, 9pm, ITV2 9:00pm Alert Me 4* A fine dose of Ahhrnold action, as the Governator’s wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) discover that her boring husband is actually a secret agent… not that his being an improbably-muscled Austrian would ever have tipped her off or anything. It’s kinda like Mr. And Mrs. Smith, blown so incredibly over the top by king-of-the-world megadirector James Cameron, and to great effect. Cameron breaks the ‘most expensive film ever’ record like Amy Winehouse breaks drug laws, and with True Lies he doesn’t do anything by halves. The action scenes deliver many great pleasures, including a downright ridiculous bit where Arnie, flying a Harrier jumpjet (of course), fires a bad guy – a bad guy who is attached to a rocket, naturally – through a skyscraper and into a helicopter filled with yet more bad guys… And it’s all topped off with the obligatory one-liner. Oh yes, even when it’s stupid (which it is, constantly, knowingly) it’s still great fun.


The Killer – Monday, 11.35pm, five 11:35pm Alert Me 4*

More stupid action, this time from Hong Kong, and directed by John Woo. He’s a bit like Woody Allen in that his ‘early ones’ are better – The Killer is preceded on Five by Woo’s recent WW2 clunker Windtalkers, but if you stay up to watch this earlier effort, you’ll be rewarded with an eminently cool flick. Indeed, if you’ve ever jumped around on the sofa in pretend slow motion while shooting pretend bullets out of your pretend pistol fingers at your pretend (or real, we can’t rule that out) mates, you owe something to this film. Chow Yun Fat shoots real bullets out of real guns (well…) all the damn time. Loads of people die, usually in slow motion. In fact, the amount of slow motion would put Garth Marenghi to shame, and the pornographic approach to this orgy of blood and death is only rivalled by the director’s other HK films. Doves flutter around. There’s even an unheard-of dollop of plot and character development for good measure, as the not-very-heroically-named Jeff accidentally blinds a lounge singer, and resolves to give up his shooty, death-inducey ways… but not before going back for one last job… Where he kills a load of people!! It’s not quite Hard Boiled (arguably Woo’s best), but there are Roman Abramovich levels of excess, and that includes excessive amounts of awesomeness. Oh, and it’s so 1980s in style that if you cut it, it would bleed shoulderpads.



Kickboxer – Tuesday, 9pm, Five US 9:00pm Alert Me 2* Made in the same year as the Killer, this is steaming pile of unmitigated rubbish, but thoroughly enjoyable all the same. There’s the usual back-of-a-napkin scribble of a revenge plotline which gives JCVD the excuse to beat up a load of bad dudes. Snakes On A Plane showed the world the power of the self-explanatory title, and with Kickboxer, you know exactly what you’re getting…


Tsotsi – Wednesday, 10pm, BBC4 10:00pm Alert Me 4* Rather harder to know what you’re getting with Tsotsi’s title. In fact, it’s kinda tricky  to even pronounce this film, let alone watch it. Tsotsi, though, is a young gangster from Soweto. He’s a bit of a git, but when he accidentally kidnaps a baby, his character slowly shines through. It’s often a tough watch, yes, but the quality stands out, and this was pretty awards-friendly back on release. This film’s director, Gavin Hood, is helming the new Wolverine movie – a decision only rivalled in strangeness by Kenneth Branagh directing the comic-book Thor film, but… oh well… fingers crossed.

brick-lane3 Brick Lane – Friday, 9pm, Channel 4 9:00pm Alert Me

I’m not sure what this film is. It’s like an awkward teenager, full of confused emotions and not-quite-there decisions. Ostensibly this is the story of Nazneen, who is arranged to marry an ‘educated’ man, and is sent to England to tie the knot. Unsurprisingly, she’s not a particularly happy bunny, and the once-lively young girl from a Bangladeshi village (shown in flashbacks that now look pretty naff compared with Slumdog) is now a mousy old maid, cooped up inside a timewarped 1970s flat in Brick Lane, and, if you’ll allow me to be incredibly reductionist: she is trapped by her circumstances, engages in some sexytime with an exciting younger chap, and comes out of the affair newly empowered. It’s Mills and Boon dressed up in important (and, importantly, foreign) new clothes. But it’s not! Is it a social-realist slice of life? A kitchen sink drama about an angry young woman? A gentle romantic comedy? How about a Brief Encounter-style love affair, or a passionate treatise on race relations in London, arranged marriage and immigration? It’s all of them, sort of, and that’s why the film never really clicks together in any kind of satisfying whole. There are some excellent performances, and some very well written characters – not least Nazneen’s husband, who would have been very easy to caricature as a loveless, stupid, overweight lump, but is instead treated with some respect and sensitivity. Nobody is treated with brevity, really – this is a film that possibly respects its characters too much, often becoming detrimental to pacing and drama. But there is an underlying warmth, honesty and heart to the film that saves it and allows it to, eventually, become truly touching. When all is said and done, you’ll be pretty satisfied… well, kind of. By Rob Pearson