Phil’s choice for the Thursday retro movie this week is Soldier (1998), a sci-fi action movie, directed by Paul Anderson and written by David Webb Peoples. David Webb Peoples? that’s a weird name but he’s a good writer having also done the mighty Blade Runner, and our recently reviewed Unforgiven. It stars Kurt Russell as Sergeant Todd, who has been trained since birth to be a super-soldier, highly disciplined and dedicated to the military. He and the rest of his squad were picked as babies in 1996 and trained rigorously to be impassive, unemotional, fearless and ruthless killers, at the beck and call of the Army.
It is now 2036 and the squad are now 40 years old, with Todd being the best soldier of the 1996 intake, and a battle hardened veteran. Then along comes Colonel Mekum (Jason Issacs) with a new squad of soldiers, this time genetically modified to be better than the old ones, and with a higher level of aggression. Captain Church (Gary Busey) wants to test the new ones against the old ones, and of course the new ones out perform the old. One of the new ones, Caine 607 (Jason Scott Lee) easily defeats 2 of the older soldiers while high up on a climbing chain rope thingy but Sgt Todd manages to gouge out one of his eyes before Caine knocks him off to join the other dead oldies on the floor. Of course he’s not really dead as he landed on one of his men so was just unconscious for a bit. Mekum orders the 3 to be sent on a waste-transport ship to Arcadia 234, a wasteland of a planet where interplanetary junk is dumped, and Mekum also declares the old squad obsolete, and reassigns them to menial tasks.
On Arcadia Todd finds a group of people who had crash landed there on the way to another planet, and as they were all believed to be dead, there’s been no rescue mission to save them, so they’ve made a colony out of dumped garbage and lived there for 3 years. Todd is taken in by Mace (Sean Pertwee) and his wife Sandra (a luminous Connie Nielson) who have a mute son Nathan ( played by twins Jared & Taylor Thorne) who Todd bonds with. Todd has problems adapting to civvy life, and has feelings he doesn’t understand for Sandra, and unfortunately a few incidents i.e Todd is surprised and tries to kill the surpriser, or acts inappropriately to the colony, result in them asking him to leave.
In the meantime, Mekum has decided that Arcadia will be an excellent training ground for his new super-soldiers, and being as it’s supposedly uninhabited, anyone they do come across can be seen as hostiles and eliminated.
That’s it for spoilers, I’ve set the scene and you can guess the rest, or watch the movie. We really enjoyed this one much more than expected for an older sci-fi movie. Kurt Russell was amazing, and you can see what a challenge this part was for an actor. He was in 85% of the scenes, but only spoke 104 words throughout the whole movie, but the emotional turmoil, the aggression, the sadness all came through in his eyes, he knocked this one out of the park. The scenery was so well done, lots of junk and dystopian scenery and the cinematographer David Tattersall must have had a blast. The critics were so-so about it back then, Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly :- “any cliché you can dream up for a futuristic action movie, any familiar big-budget epic you can think to rip off, Soldier has gotten there first.” Lisa Alspector of the Chicago Reader :- called Russell’s performance ‘persuasive‘ and said “this appealing formulaic action adventure displays a lot of conviction in its not-too-flashy action scenes and a little levity in the gradual socialization of Russell’s character.” Am agreeing with that Lisa!
Trivia Factoid:- David Peoples, as mentioned, wrote the script for Blade Runner, and Soldier is supposed to be a spin off sidequel as it’s in the same fictional universe. Russell’s character is shown to have fought in the battles of the Shoulder of Orion and Tannhäuser Gate, which Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) refers to in his dying speech to Decker. There is also a Spinner (flying cars used in Blade Runner) amongst the detritus on the planet, and several references to elements found in Philip K Dick’s novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’, which Blade Runner is based on.
Fraggle Rating :- Better than expected, with Kurt Russell Bloody Brilliant.
My choice for Saturday night was the latest Netflix offering, Enola Holmes (2020). Based on the first of a series of books by Nancy Springer, it focuses on the teenage sister of Sherlock Holmes, who is already a famous detective.
Directed by Harry Bradbeer and produced by Millie Bobby Brown who also stars as Enola. Set in Victorian England, Enola has grown up with only her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) for companionship. Eudoria teaches her daughter, chess, ju-jitsu, chemistry and has her read every book in the library of their home, Ferndell Hall, and to play word games with cyphers. On Enola’s 16th birthday, she wakes up to find her mother has disappeared, leaving her only a cryptic message in a birthday gift. Her brothers Sherlock, (Henry Caville) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) – who owns the hall and is Enola’s legal guardian turn up, and whilst Sherlock is sympathetic to Enola, Mycroft insists she should be sent off to boarding school. That’s the ending of spoilers (just about) but the movie involves Enola escaping to London to search for her mother, along the way meeting another escapee, the young Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) who joins her in travelling to London.
This was such a fun movie and Millie Bobby Brown aced the part of Enola. England looked beautiful and some of our stately homes were used to great effect, Ferndell Hall’s exterior was Benthall Hall in Shropshire where the gardeners allowed the garden to get really overgrown and let the production team drape overgrown vines all over it, the interior was filmed in a medieval manor house, West Horsley Place in Surry where Michael Carlin the production designer said they were given free rein in the house, spending weeks bringing the Holmes matriarch’s world to life. Hatfield House was used for Lord Tewkesbury’s ancestral home Basilweather House, where we meet The Dowager, Tewkesbury’s Brexiteer grandmother played wonderfully by Frances De La Tour.
Greenwich Naval College is used for Enola’s introduction to London where the production crew built shop facades on a huge set in Greenwich to achieve the vibe of a bustling city. Standing in for the gritty East End, is a series of outbuildings in Luton Hoo, and the scene of an excellent fight between Enola and Linthorn (Burn Gorman) a bowler hatted henchman trying to kill the Viscount, but I won’t say who he belongs to as it would be a spoiler.
The movie is set amidst the womens suffrage movement of 1884. The fight for women’s right to vote causes division in the country as those who are rooted in tradition clash with new thinkers, and this is pertinant to the plot.
Another one to really enjoy, the photography and cinematography a complete joy to behold. The costume department did themselves proud too. Fans of Sherlock Holmes, Downton Abbey, The Crown etc will love it! The music score didn’t get in the way of the story and everyone acted well and looked like they were having a blast.
The critics mostly loved it, John Defore of The Hollywood Reporter :- “It successfully imagines a place for its heroine in Holmes’ world, then convinces young viewers that Enola needn’t be constrained by that world’s borders.” and Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post :- “Enola Holmes offers brisk and exuberant escape from the heaviness of modern times, with its leading actress lending her own appealing touches to the journey. When the game is afoot, she’s more than capable, not just of keeping up, but winning the day.” Though Mick LaSalle of San Francisco Chronicle wrote “A bright young actress, a movie-star actor and a potentially interesting concept gets smothered in 128 minutes of colorful, empty nonsense.” Phil and I thoroughly enjoyed this particular piece of empty nonsense and will look forward to the sequel(s) of which there’s bound to be, as there are 6 books written!
Trivia factoid. :- The Conan Doyle Estate filed a lawsuit against Netflix over the film, claiming it violates copyright by depicting Sherlock Holmes as having emotions, an aspect of the character which they argue does not fall under the public domain as he was only described as having emotions in stories published between 1923 to 1927, and the copyright for the stories published in that period still belong to the estate. 🙄 🙄 🙄. get a grip people of the CDE!!
Fraggle Rating :- Great fun, Millie Bobby Brown is Bloody Brilliant.