Not the 365 – Movie Round Up

13 Hours – The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016) Amazon Prime

On the whole, director Michael Bay is much maligned by proper film critics for his OTT productions, his objectifying of women, his use of offensive racial stereotypes as comedic relief;  extreme patriotism, juvenile humor, excessive product placement and (horror) oversaturation of gold and teal colour grading. I can’t argue with that but also none of that applies to this 13 Hours movie. A true story, the movie covers the attack on an American compound in Benghazi and  follows six members of the Annex Security Team who fought to defend it, after several waves of attacks by militants on September 11th 2012, the anniversary of the 9/11 attack on America, and during a visit by the US Ambassador to Libya. James Badge Dale, John Krasinski and Maz Martini are the main stars but there’s plenty of back up by Toby Stevens, Dominic Fumusa et al. There’s a goodly amount of build up and scene setting, the back stories of the main characters are given some love, and the action is superbly filmed, as you’d expect from Bay. There is controversy attached as the film portrays the CIA chief in charge of the security team telling them to ‘stand down’ when the poop hits the fan, and eventually they just go to help anyway. That was disputed by the real (unnamed) CIA chief but corroborated by members of the team and others. Also the Libyans were not exactly happy with the portrayal of their people, yet the movie does show the help the team get from the 17th Feb Martyrs Group.

Fraggle Rating ~ Another Rorkes Drift moment in US recent history, it’s told and acted well and we liked this as much as The Outpost from my last review.

The Meg (2018) It’s on Prime for rent but we have the bluray.

Due to the ongoing problems Phil is having with his eyes, we’ve moved the sofa nearer to the TV screen, so he has had to recalibrate the 11 speakers in the room in order to have the optimum sound for where you sit to watch the movie. Why am I telling you this? because after all the fannying on he then has to sit and listen to one of his familiar movies that has a dolby ATMOS soundtrack. Unfortunately he’s loaned them to a work pal and hasn’t seen him for 4 months to get them back. So when it came to Phil’s choice for Thursday movie night, he pulled out The Meg, starring Jason Statham which has a great ATMOS soundtrack. Directed by John Turteltaub and with a supporting cast including the wonderfully named Li Bingbing, Rainne Wilson, Ruby Rose and Winston Chao this is a pretty far fetched story about a pre-historic ginormicus shark called a megaladon. Set on an underwater research facility, Mano One, funded by billionaire Jack Morris (Wilson) and run by Dr. Minway Zhang (Chao) and his daughter Suyin (Bingbing). Statham plays Jonas Taylor a rescue diver who retired after an unpleasant experience where he lost 2 men. Because his ex-wife Lori (Jessica MacNamee) is the pilot of the downed sub, he is persuaded to join the Mano One as one of their subs has been bashed about by the meg and is in need of rescue, which only he can do. After that it’s lots of rescues, a burgeoning romance between Jonas and Suyin, a cute kid, Suyin’s daughter (Sophia Cai as Meiying), hostility from the onboard Doctor Heller (Robert Taylor) who blames Jonas for the previous disaster, a sad death or two, and a happy ending.

Fraggle rating ~ Yes it’s a ridiculous story, but it’s fun, and a different kind of rôle for Statham who usually martial arts his way around the screen, he’s actually really good in this, but sadly there’s only one scene where he has his shirt off. Critics bashed it mostly, but who cares about them, it made a shed load of money because it’s a great popcorn movie, and I’ll definitely be watching it’s sequel which is in the works, and will be directed by Ben Wheatley.

The Ice Road (2019) Netflix

If you see Liam Neeson headlining a movie you can be pretty sure there will be a fair amount of action, and The Ice Road is no exception, though more of a spectacle type of action than Neeson fighting his way through a plot. Well he is 69 yrs old, we can give him a break. Directed by Jonathon Hensley it is a bog standard story of corporate greed versus the little guy worker bees, but set in a diamond mine in Manitoba, which are accessed via ice roads. Neeson, plays Mike, a trucker and has a brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas), an Iraq war veteran soldier and excellent mechanic who suffers from PTSD & aphasia. They are fired from the hauling company they work for when Mike decks a bloke for calling Gurty a retard. When what appears to be a methane explosion happens at the diamond Mine, Ice Road truckers are needed to deliver well heads from Winnipeg up to the mine to free some trapped miners. Unfortunately it’s the just about the end of the season where the ice is safe enough to travel on and most of the truckers have gone home. Jim Goldenrod, another ice road trucker,(Lawrence Fishburn) agrees to run a rescue mission, and employs Mike & Gurty, he also gets another driver out of jail, Tantoo, a Native American girl (Amber Midthunder) whose brother is trapped in the mine along with the 25 others. They team up and set off with 3 wellheads in 3 different trucks, and an accompanying insurance risk assessment dude, Varnay (Benjamin Walker). They’ve got 30 hours before the miners run out of air. It becomes a very eventful journey, and I’ll say no more than that because that would spoil it for you.

Fraggle Rating ~ Not well liked by the critics, but Phil and I enjoyed it. I used to see the odd episodes on TV of the real Ice Road Truckers and it always fascinated me, so the movie gave me the same sort of feels, but with added drama. The script was a bit hokey in places admittedly and the baddie a bit unlikely, but the trucks are great and it was filmed on actual ice roads in Manitoba so the scenery was authentic. Not much in the way of backstories, and the action scenes are not ground~breaking, but on the whole it’s a serviceable action film for a Saturday night in.

The Foreigner (2017) Netflix

I’d always thought of Jackie Chan as a comedic martial arts guy from the couple of movies I’ve seen in the past, but the trailer for this movie didn’t look martial arty and had a plot dealing with a (hopefully fictional) new branch of the IRA, the ‘Authentic IRA’. Directed by Martin Campbell, it stars Chan playing Ngoc Minh Quan, a Nung Chinese man who runs a restaurant in London, but is also a former Vietnam War special forces operator. His daughter is killed by a bomb at the beginning of the movie, and the plot revolves around Quan finding out who killed her. Pierce Brosnan plays Liam Hennesey, a Sinn Féin politician in the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland who was also in the Provisional IRA in his former years. I am stopping there as I don’t want to do spoilers, it’s worth going in without knowing too much. I will say there is a fair bit of martial art stuff from Chan, and a bit of McGuyver thrown in, but no comedy. I was letting Neeson off his action chops being 69, but Chan is 67 and he is still kicking ass, though hurting after it too. Chan definitely does not lack the gravitas to pull off the rôle of a broken hearted father, which surprised us, he is very good in this. Phil and I were complementing Pierce Brosnan on his authentic sounding Irish accent, then I found out he was born in Drogheda, County Louth in Ireland! 🙄 The supporting cast give good performances, Orla Brady as Hennesey’s Missis, Michael McElhatton as Hennesey’s head of security, (loved him as Roose Bolton in GOT) Ray Frearon escapes his mechanic’s job in Coronation Street to become Commander Richard Bromley, head of the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command.

Fraggle rating: top notch! A twisty, bracing, political action thriller!!

Monday Movies

Continuing our foray into Scottish (inaccurate) history movies, this week we chose to watch Rob Roy (1995) directed by Michael Caton Jones, and starring Liam Neeson, Jessica Lange, Tim Roth and John Hurt.

It’s another oldie so spoilers abound!

The plot goes something like this:-

We start in 1713, and Robert Roy MacGregor (Neeson) is chief of the Clan MacGregor. In order to feed his people he works as a protector of cattle for the gentry, but is barely making it, so he decides to get a loan from the Marquess of Montrose (John Hurt) to buy some more cattle and trade them at a profit. Montrose has a relative staying with him, the aristocrat Archibald Cunningham, who is broke, effeminate, and a master swordsman (played by Tim Roth to perfection). Archie learns about the loan from Montrose’s assistant Killearn (Brian Cox doing seedy rather well) and they divise a plan to steal the money. Roy has been promised a credit note for the sum, and leaves his loyal man Alan MacDonald (Eric Stoltz) to wait for it from Killearn. Killearn gives him the £1000 in cash instead, and then Archie lays in wait for him on his journey back to Roy, ambushes, kills and drowns him and takes the money to split with Killearn.

Roy goes to see Montrose to request an extension whilst he finds MacDonald and retrieves the money, but Montrose has other ideas. He has a rival in John Campbell 2nd Duke of Argyll (Andrew Keir) and wants Roy to falsely testify that Argyll is a Jacobite. Roy refuses so Montrose decides to imprison him and seize his land to repay the debt, but Roy escapes.

Montrose declares Roy an outlaw, and tells Archie to capture him and bring him back ‘broken but not dead’. Roy hightails it into the hills leaving his wife Mary (Lange) to look after the homestead. Archie and his redcoat militia head straight there, burn the house down, kill all the cattle, and Archie rapes Mary whilst Killearn looks on. I was yelling at the telly during this scene, it was devastating.

Roy’s younger brother Alasdair arrives just as Archie and his men leave after falling asleep whilst on watch, and Mary makes him promise not to tell Roy about the rape as she knows Archie did it to incense him and goad him into looking for him. When Roy comes back he tells his clan they will get revenge for the damage by hitting Montrose where it hurts- in the pocket, by stealing his cattle and rents.

In the meantime, one of Montrose’s maids, Betty has fallen for Archie and got pregnant by him. He rejects her, Killearn sacks her, so she turns up at the MacGregors and tells Mary of hearing Archie and Killearn plot the robbery. A bit later on Betty hangs herself. Roy abducts and imprisons Killearn, wanting to make a case against Archie. Mary asks to have a few moments with him alone and she tells him he’ll be spared if he testifies against Archie. However, Killearn taunts her about the rape and also realises she’s pregnant so threatens to tell Roy that Archie is the father if Mary doesn’t let him go. Mary is mightily peed off by now and stabs Killearn in the neck (big cheer went up from the sofa at that point!) and Alasdair finishes him off and drowns him.

Again Montrose sends Archie off to capture Roy as he’s fed up with the cattle and rent thefts, so Archie goes on the rampage burning the clan’s homes. Roy doesn’t take the bait, but his hothead brother takes a potshot at Archie, sadly missing him but killing one of his militia. This gives away their hiding place so Roy and his men make a run for it into the hills. The redcoats shoot Alasdair and Roy carries him up the hill. Before he dies Alasdair tells Roy of the rape. Roy is then captured and dragged roughly to see Montrose. In front of Montrose Roy accuses Archie of murder, rape and robbery, which Archie doesn’t deny. Montrose doesn’t care about that though as he’s now got Roy’s land and wants to keep it, so orders him to be hanged from a nearby bridge. Roy grabs the rope, wraps it round Archie’s neck and jumps off the bridge with the rope (very James Bond if you’ve seen the latest trailer!) He escapes down the river as Montrose arders the rope to be cut to stop Archie being strangled to death, and Roy is pursued by redcoats. In a rather revolting scene he pulls the innards out of a dead cattley beasty thing and hides inside it.

Mary meanwhile goes off to visit Argyll, and tells him all of what’s been going on and exposing Montrose’s plan to frame him. Argyll grants the family asylum on his land. Roy arrives there, and whilst initially upset by Mary keeping the rape & pregnancy from him, he soon comes round and will accept the child as his own. Argyll arranges a dual between Roy and Archie, though having seen Archie’s skill with a sword doesn’t hold out much hope for Roy.

Argyll makes a wager with Montrose, that if Roy wins, his debt will be written off, and if he dies, Argyll will cover the debt.

Now comes the best bit of the movie for me. The dual is held in Montrose’s hall. Big, lumbering Roy with a heavy broadsword, and neat, lithe Archie with a rapier. They vow to ‘give no quarter’ i.e a fight to the death. Possibly the best dual I’ve ever seen. There’s no background music, just the sound of the ringing of the swords. Archy struts around and then leaps into a burst of action with feline grace and injures Roy, and does this again and again, whilst Roy gets worn down. Eventually he falls to his knees, seemingly defeated, and Archy rests the blade against his throat. As Archie looks to Montrose for permission to finish Roy off, Roy grabs the point of Archie’s blade with his left hand, his own blade with his right hand, stands up and slices him open from shoulder to waist just about. (More cheers from the sofa!). Roy is free of debt, with his honour intact, and goes home to Mary.

A visually stunning movie, filmed entirely in Scotland, the cinematograpy by Karl Walter Lindenlaub is so well done. Apparently the rain and the midges were a problem during the shooting, but that’s Scotland for you!

Although the movie goes from 1713 to 1722, it doesn’t include the Jacobite uprising of 1719, which real Rob Roy took part in, and Archibald Cunningham is a fictional character, so the dual and rape didn’t really happen, but it made for a compelling movie. The loan from Montrose and patronage of Argyll was true, as was the burning down of the home he had with Mary and his outlawship.

Mixed reaction from critics, my favourite guy Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote “This is a splendid, rousing historical adventure, an example of what can happen when the best direction, acting, writing and technical credits are brought to bear on what might look like shopworn material.” He also said the film’s outline could have led to “yet another tired” historical epic, but he found that the director was able to produce “intense character studies”. He thought Tim Roth’s performance was “crucial” to the film’s success and thought that the climactic sword fight at the end was “one of the great action sequences in movie history”.

Some wee woman called Rita Kempley of The Washington Post compared the movie negatively to both Death Wish and First Blood (REALLY????) she didn’t like the violence and wrote “Frankly, Rob Roy is about as bright as one of his cows. He doesn’t even recognize that his obsession with honor will lead to the destruction of his clan.” 

I wholeheartedly agree with Ebert though, it’s the relationships between the characters that make a movie, and these were well done. For me, Jessica Lange and Tim Roth stole the show, Lange was luminous, feisty and stoic and convyed so much with her eyes, a wonderful performance. Roth was perfect, and the only person out of the whole movie to be nominated for an Oscar (for best supporting actor) which he didn’t get, but also nominated for a BAFTA, which he did get. Phil thought John Hurt was brilliant (when is he ever not?). Neeson was good, for sure, but this movie belongs to the supports.

I’d give it 5 stars, but apparently stars are for fridge/freezers 🤣🤣 so I’ll leave it at bloody brilliant! 😀