Category Archives: D

Mr Holly On…Dog Soldiers (2002)

If Dog Soldiers was a mammal, it would be a vampire bat – scary, hairy, full of blood, and yet you cannot take your eyes off of it. It is arguably one of the most gratuitously violent, and under-certified films on the U.K. market (The Untouchables 1987)) also springs to mind as Both are rated Fifteen). Perhaps the British Board of Film Classification should have granted this film an Eighteen certificate, like their Irish counterparts.

The story begins with a military training exercise set in the wilderness that is the Scottish Highlands (despite actually being filmed in Norway). What seems to be a staged combat scenario between Army Infantry and Special Ops, is disrupted by a furry third party.

After a hair-raising initial contact, Sean Pertwee (Love, Honour and Obey (2000)) leads a team of survivors to take refuge in a seemingly vacant cottage. It is here that the rest of the pieces fall in to place. A midst a hail of gunfire and drool, the characters are well-developed to a degree not usually seen in traditional horror-fests.

The film incorporates a wonderfully written and typically British script, but does include certain slang terms (“claret”, “brew” and “bone”) which could alienate potential viewers across the pond. Between consistent references to folklore and football however, a natural British feel emerges. A montage of well-deployed camera angles and overcast lighting is used throughout, adding to the feeling of tension. The opportunism of the characters during scenes of confrontation is refreshing in films of this type. For instance, the use of boiling water and aerosols as weapons would please even the most critical “if that was me…” viewer.

On the negative side, the werewolves appear more The Littlest Hobo (1979) than Lycanthrope and seem to have more hair than Chewbacca’s hairbrush.  Also, the performances of a couple of the cast seem more wooden than the endless supply of planks used throughout the siege scenario. On a shoestring budget of around £3 million however, this is to be expected.

The film also incorporates a dark comedic backbone throughout, portrayed through one-liners, small talk and petty insults. This black humour, coupled with colloquialisms also add to the sense that this is a film produced for a predominantly British audience. Along with 28 Days Later (2002), The Descent (2005) and Creep (2004), Dog Soldiers proves to be a refreshing addition to the British horror movie industry. All in all, a fun watch.

Performance of the film – This film was never going to win Oscars for acting, despite convincing performances from Pertwee and Mckidd ( Trainspotting (1996)). Pertwee sneaks it by a whisker.

Quote of the film – Despite a plethora of one liners, Emma Cleasby’s “It’s that time of the month” stands out.

Fact of the Film – Alongside his diverse acting career, Kevin Mckidd has provided the voice for ‘Soap MacTavish’ in the hugely popular computer games franchise Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

Soundtrack/Score – No real soundtrack, but a catchy score from Mark Thomas had us humming for a while.


Some cheesy one-liners, but a very dogged effort. A good horror film – rarer than a steak tartar. 82/100.

(Last watched 6 hours ago. Reviewed by Mr  Holly and Fuzzy.)

Dead of Night (1945) – Ealing does Horror…

Automatonophobics may want to avoid this 1945 horror anthology.  Four supernatural stories build towards the tale Dead of Night is justly famous for – the murderous relationship between a ventriloquist and his dummy.

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Do I Not Like That (1994) & Mike Bassett: England Manager (2001) – The Impossible Job…

Football caught me at an impressionable age – I was twelve when England lost on penalties to Germany at Italia ’90.  Before the tournament, I’d never kicked a ball or even thought about football.  I was into Fighting Fantasy gamebooks and writing – football existed on a different wavelength to me.

The moment that caught me forever was not the shootout defeat, or Paul Gascoigne’s famous tears, or arch-goalhanger Gary Lineker’s two nerveless penalties against Cameroon in the quarters.  It was David Platt’s late, late hooked volley in the last-minute against mighty Belgium that sold me on the nerve-shredding wonders of football.

I’d never watched football, I’d never been abroad before, and those glowing images coming out of Turin on that fateful night against Germany looked so romantic, with a soundtrack of Pavarotti, that they looked like signals from a distant planet.

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The Departed (2006): Scorsese Returns to the Mean Streets, but Gimme Shelter from Jack!

The Departed opens as all Martin Scorsese movies will open, when you die and watch them on that big silver screen in the sky.

The Rolling Stones are on the soundtrack, Scorsese is back on the mean streets with his steadicam, waltzing around his characters in soda shops and chop shops, while the infernal Irish mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) dispenses his hard-won philosophy to the audience.

Nicholson isn’t the first name that springs to mind when you think of Scorsese collaborators, but the style and language of these opening frames are so seductive and reassuring that you instantly recognize it as Scorsese’s territory.  It’s a pulse raising opening, and instantly recalls the early scenes of Goodfellas.
As much as we all admire Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, the eccentric ambition of Gangs of New York and the glossy Aviator, I think when it comes down to it, when we sit down in a darkened room to watch a new Scorsese movie, we all want the same thing. We want to be transformed and transported for a few hours; we want to feel special again, the way we all felt when we first watched Goodfellas.

There’s been a notable backlash against Goodfellas recently.  However, for sheer headrush of eclectic soundtrack, awesome performances, audacious editing and persuasive directing, it takes a lot of beating as cinema as sensation, as an experience.

And The Departed starts with something similar – a young lad seduced by the larger-than-life characters of his neighborhood’s underworld, and the drama that will unfold from his relationship with these criminals.Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) meets Costello at an early age – clearly daunted by this dangerous man as he collects his protection money from a soda shop owner. He still pays a visit on the big man’s suggestions, and is taken into the family.  Next thing, we see Sullivan as a fully grown Matt Damon, a police officer working towards promotion in the Special Investigations Unit.

At this point, we only suspect Sullivan is on Costello’s pay roll, and is actually working for the crime boss as a mole.  Meanwhile, Billy Costigan’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) superiors in the Police force have another role in mind, being a young man from a poor background, whose family has a history of crime. Because of his family’s criminal ties, Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) considers him a perfect undercover police officer – a few months in jail to make it look good, and nobody’s going to ask any questions.

The rest of the film follows the two men – unknown to each other – as they gradually infiltrate their respective organizations. Both are intimately familiar with Costello, one trying to protect him, the other trying to gather enough evidence to send him down.Fans of the original Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs won’t need telling, as the storyline is fairly faithful to the original.

Some eyebrows were raised about Scorsese’s decision to remake such an esteemed Asian classic, but those people seemed to forget the director has done remakes previously.  His Cape Fear fleshed out the respected original potboiler, adding many extra layers of sexuality, infidelity and ambiguity to the sweaty plotline.

In The Departed, Scorsese remains faithful to the original while also building in his own nuances – influence of religion being one of them – and fleshing out his characters in a tough Boston environment.

His grip on the material is as tight as it’s ever been; there’s a lot of information being presented in this movie, and Scorsese is able to keep it simple, often with just a few choice cuts to show us all we need to know.

Double cross stories can be confusing at the best of times, and it’s testament to Scorsese’s mastery of the medium that you’re never puzzled about who’s doing what, when or where, and what their motivation is.

Scorsese is also assisted by a fantastic cast – Nicholson, Damon, DiCaprio, Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, Ray Winston – all making the most (in one case, too much) of their allotted time on screen.

Like Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson, Scorsese knows how to change with the times, and build his team with the best of what’s available. He also knows how to build a team around his star player. For years, Scorsese’s “Captain” was De Niro, who was central to everything he did – Mean StreetsRaging Bull, King of Comedy, etc. There were many other great actors in those movies, but it was De Niro at the center holding it all together.

When that collaboration tailed off in the Nineties, presumably because De Niro became a parody of himself, Scorsese found himself a new Captain – Leonardo DiCaprio.
DiCaprio, building on his early promise of  What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and Romeo and Juliet, survived the early heartthrob image and matured into one of today’s best actors. DiCaprio, I think, is one of the most naturally gifted actors  – at first, you think, “Oh look! It’s Leonardo”, but then his onscreen presence is so effortless that you forget his acting; once that happens, he just draws you into the character.

Scorsese has collaborated with DiCaprio on a number of occasions now, and his Billy Costigan in The Departedis another fine performance, and he anchors the film. With his lanky frame and dark rimmed eyes, you can feel the pressure Costigan is under as he tries to do his job and stay alive at the same time.

Matt Damon as Sullivan is also very good – but then Matt Damon usually is. Damon, once again, uses his boyish good looks to his advantage, and, like he did in The Talented Mr Ripley, uses them as a disguise for a dark amoral soul. There’s something queasy watching Damon in these roles where he uses his brilliant smile and easy-going charm to manipulate the people him.

Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin and Ray Winston make the most of relatively small roles, but standout in supporting cast is Mark Wahlberg’s Staff Sergeant Dingham, an uptight and offensive senior policeman with a rather unfortunate way of dealing with people.

I’ve always had trouble accepting Wahlberg as an actor, with his plain, unremarkable face and strangely effeminate, lispy voice.Here he plays nicely against type as the aggressive, foul mouthed Dingham, who grabs up most of the film’s laughs and also turns out to the the story’s retributive force.

Then there’s Jack Nicholson. He seemed an odd choice for the role of a gangster at first, because despite the number of villains he’s played in the past, there always seems to be something essentially benevolent about Nicholson’s performances.
Like many of the male actors that came to prominence during the 70’s, like Pacino, Hoffman, De Niro and Voight, their careers can be roughly cut into two sections – the Seventies, and Everything Else.
Neither section suggests Jack Nicholson, or Jack, as he later became known is a particularly convincing gangster type – I absolutely loathed him in Prizzi’s Honor, too.
He starts off well in the role of Frank Costello, his best moments lurking in the shadows, frightening and fascinating, repellent and attractive, preying on the people around him.

Then about halfway through the movie, he suddenly turns into The Joker. Here’s Jack playing with a severed hand, and here he is pulling silly faces and funny accents, and look! Jack’s waving a rubber cock around! The performance goes from a controlled portrayal of a dangerous, larger-than-life character, to  a larger-than-life, dangerously uncontrolled performance.

Dangerous, because in such a gripping, assured effort from Scorsese, surrounded by excellent performances, the big exploding charisma in the center of it that is “Jack!” unbalances the whole thing, and makes it distractingly comic when the tension should be really biting.

So – imagine. Scorsese’s got his new team Captain DiCaprio playing his socks off in the middle of the director’s long awaited return to the mean streets. Imagine if it was his old team captain De Niro in the Costello role? That could have been something….

Deep Water (2006) – One Middle Aged Chancer Against the Sea…

“God and his Son played at the heart of the Cosmos.. they played a lovely game that consisted of transforming apes into gods. It was a fun game, and all the while they played, they followed a simple rule: the apes were not allowed to know about the existence of the gods…”Donald Crowhurst

The old one about truth being stranger than fiction is rarely more applicable than in the story of Donald Crowhurst, a bumbling English businessman who decided to enter a non-stop round the world boat race, only to find disaster, disgrace and insanity.

It is the Sixties, and sailor Francis Chichester has just completed the first single-handed journey around the world, and returns to a hero’s welcome. The Sunday Times, who had sponsored Chichester’s endeavour, decide the next step is to organise a non-stop race, offering a 5000 pound reward.

The prestigious event and tidy prize fund attracted a number of experienced adventurers and sailors – and Donald Crowhurst. We are introduced to Crowhurst early as he makes his preparations to depart on the journey from Teignmouth, Devon.

The film makes excellent use of documentary footage, and although these early moments are in black and white, vividly capture the slipshod and comically disorganised nature of Crowhurst’s departure. He is clearly a worried man – he gambled everything he had on building his boat, a trimiran called “Teignmouth Electron”, and time was running out. Contestants needed to leave between June 1st and 31st October, in order to pass the dangerous Southern Ocean in summer.

Crowhurst left on last day, in a boat he’d never sailed before, packed with gadgets designed to make his journey safer, but weren’t hooked up properly because of his rushed preparations. A weekend sailor at best, his journey would take him through the Atlantic, around the Cape of Africa, across the Southern Ocean, rounding the horn of South America, before heading back up the Atlantic and home.

Interviews with Crowhurst’s widow and son are eerily intercut with footage of them watching him making his last minute preparations and his departure; she tells of her misgivings about the adventure, and that concern is all too evident in her eyes on the old news reel.

Crowhurst and his Teignmouth Electron got into trouble almost as soon as he left the harbour; the reported positions of the other competitors were way ahead of him, and he soon realised that his options were dire – he could return home to disgrace and financial ruin, or press on and probably drown in the fierce Southern Ocean in a boat that was barely seaworthy.

However, Crowhurst was an inventive man, and soon came up with third option – I won’t go into too much detail, because it turns into one of the most unusual stories I’ve heard – but suffice to say it starts with a decision to keep a second fake log book, and by the end, it is not surprising that Crowhurst felt the cosmos was conspiring against him.

There was also a camera onboard Crowhurst’s trimiran, and with some of the other competitors, and the images captured are beautiful, haunting echoes from the past, showing men in complete isolation against heavy seas. The documentary as a whole successfully distills an atmosphere of high adventure, in an era where man had visited the moon, and there was little else to explore – yet these men at sea were virtually untraceable apart from their radio signals, long before satellites and GPS.

The film spends some time telling the stories of the other competitors, in particular Bernard Moitessier, an enigmatic frenchman who finds himself out on the ocean. The main focus of the documentary is Crowhurst, and delves into his dwindling psychological state, assisted by his own despairing diary entries and spooky film footage of a man clearly losing his mind.

“Deep Water” moves at the narrative pace of a feature film, and the real-life twists will be best appreciated by those with little or no knowledge of the story; however, it seems as though it suffered the same fate as Crowhurst’s real life adventure – up until I saw it on Channel 4, I’d never heard about it, and thought it the strangest tale never told, and this film seems to have disappeared from people’s radar amid more celebrated feature length docs such as “Touching the Void” and “Grizzly Man”.

Fully decked out for a re-discovery, then – just be warned, it’s probably best not to watch it late at night by yourself, because the film is strange, creepy and rather unsettling.

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