Zulu & Zulu Dawn – This Means War! week

Okay October is over so I’ll try to watch some non-horror movies.

Zulu and Zulu Dawn are currently available on instant Netflix.

Zulu

 

Zulu (1964) – Not rated

Based on a real-life battle, this action epic follows a group of British soldiers stationed in South Africa who must defend their tiny outpost against an attack by an overwhelming force of Zulu warriors.

Zulu is an absolute classic. It is the best film ever made about a besieged force, the more so because most of it is basically true (personalities were changed and a few facts). While this was directed by Cy Endfield, Zulu was a labor of love for Stanley Baker.

The Zulus in the film had never seen a motion picture, much less been in one. After filming, the natives were given the animals used in the film as apartheid prevented them from being paid as much as white men. Cast and crew were under strict orders not to fraternize with the natives as relations carried a penalty of seven years hard labor. The role of Cetshwayo is played by his great grandson, Chief Buthelezi.

Zulu, along with Alfie, helped propel Michael Caine to stardom. Here Caine plays Lt. Bromhead, second in command to Stanley Baker’s Lt. Chard. Both leads here are impressive as officers stretched to their limits. Even so, Nigel Green shows them up in every scene as Colour-Sgt. Bourne. Other standouts are Patrick Magee as a beleaguered surgeon and Jack Hawkins as a missionary.

The first act introduces us to the Zulu forces and the small garrison at Rorke’s Drift. I liked that they didn’t try to dramatize the battle at Isandhlwana but rather had word show up from some of the cavalry retreating past Rorke’s Drift.

People Listen: Yes, that is Richard Burton’s wonderful voice doing the narration.

Zulu Dawn

 

Zulu Dawn (1979) – Rated PG

Douglas Hickox helms this authentically staged epic dramatizing the clash between thousands of Zulu warriors and a considerably smaller number of British soldiers stationed in Natal, South Africa, in 1879.”

It was a very good idea to follow up Zulu with a prequel to set the stage as it were, especially since the events following Zulu are rather a foregone conclusion as a modern army moves into action to subdue a native people. Zulu Dawn details some of the pre-war negotiations between Lord Chelmsford and King Cetshwayo and builds up to the encounter at Isandhlwana which takes up the third act.

Zulu Dawn stars Peter O’Toole as Lord Chelmsford (the British General Custer as it were) and Burt Lancaster as Col. Durnford. The movie has a fine supporting cast including Sir John Mills, Denholm Elliott, Nigel Davenport, Simon Ward, and Freddie Jones. A young Bob Hoskins steals all of his scenes as C.S.M. Williams.

Unfortunately the storytelling in Zulu Dawn is rather flat. I can really only recommend this to people interested in the subject matter. For a military movie, there is essentially no action until the third act. The battle at Isandhlwana is well-filmed but just doesn’t have the intensity of Zulu.

If both of these movies fascinated you, I highly recommend the book, The Washing of the Spears, which details the rise and fall of the Zulu nation.

 

Jaws: The Revenge – Shark week

With this being 4th of July week and all the tar balls from the BP spill scaring people away from the beaches, I thought I would spend the week covering other reasons to scare you away from the beaches. This is Shark week. Jaws: The Revenge aka Jaws 4 is currently available on instant Netflix.

AVOID: Jaws: The Revenge (1987) – Rated PG-13.

“After another deadly shark attack, Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gary) decides she has had enough of New Englands Amity Island and moves to the Caribbean to join her son, Michael (Lance Guest), and his family. But a great white shark has followed her there, hungry for more lives. Michael Caine, Karen Young and Mario Van Peebles co-star; Joseph Sargent directs this third sequel to Steven Spielbergs original Jaws.”

“Dad died of a heart attack!” – “No. He died from fear. The fear of it killed him.”

Minor Spoilers: There really is no good way to describe Jaws the Revenge without revealing some of what happened in the previous installments.

Okay let me sum up for a moment here while being as spoiler-free as I can. In Jaws, a giant great white (~25 feet) shark attacks the residents of Amity Island including Sheriff Brody and kids Sean and Mike. In Jaws 2, a giant great white (~25 feet) shark attacks the residents of Amity Island including Sheriff Brody and kids Sean and Mike.

This causes Sean to wisely move to a landlocked state even though Mike apparently emerges brain-damaged from the two separate ordeals and works at a water park in Florida. Sean, suffering temporary insanity, visits Mike and the pair (and the park) are promptly attacked by *surprise* a great white shark (~35 feet this time).

Surviving this too Sean learns the incorrect lesson that a shark can attack anywhere (even though none attacked him while he was landlocked) and moves back to take up the job of Sheriff of Amity Island. Mike sensibly moves to the landlocked Bahamas where one could not possibly encounter a shark – oh wait!

Apparently our latest shark finally uncovers DNA evidence that his family was basically murdered by the Brody family. This is the only reason I can figure for the decades long delay for revenge. This evidence causes our shark to lay a trap for and kill Sean (not really a spoiler – it is the opening scene). It apparently knew when he would be the only one on duty. No I am not kidding.

Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gary), mother to Mike and Sean, vows never to go near water again and moves to the Bahamas with Mike. What? She then begins to sense that the new shark caught a later flight and is now in the Bahamas. Of course she does not tell anyone because then they would think she was crazy.

Meanwhile Mike who obviously is insane (runs in the family?) survives an attack by a barracuda oops I mean a great white shark and, not wanting to worry his mother, says nothing about it.

Lorraine Gary is a good actress but did not get much movie work. It is perhaps fitting then that her final performance (to date anyway) was the only movie in which she received top-billing. Not counting flashbacks, she is the only one to appear in three of the Jaws movies.

The characters of Mike and Sean Brody appear in all four movies but are played by several actors each. Lance Guest becomes the fourth actor to play Mike Brody. I feel like saying he is okay but he is no Dennis Quaid (Mike #3).

For my wife Jaws the Revenge was proof of her adage that Michael Caine will do anything. He used to be pretty indiscriminate about his role choices but lately he has hooked up with Christopher Nolan (one of my favorite directors) for all of his pictures and did a superb star turn in Harry Brown.

Here Caine plays island pilot Hoagie Newcombe as somewhat of a rogue. This allows him to mug his way through the film though he is quite watchable as always.In a bit of poetic punishment, Caine could not accept his Hannah and Her Two Sisters Oscar because he was busy filming this drek.

When asked about this blot on his career, he stated “I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.”

Mario Van Peebles rounds out our lead cast as Jake, partner to Mike and perhaps a bit more sane since he had not decided to work in the ocean after having been attacked by four previous great white sharks.

This travesty was written by Michael de Guzman. Apparently Carl Gottlieb must have said I can write a story about a shark attacking a water park but a shark waiting decades to take personal revenge – well that is just silly.

Here is a hint: if you are asked to write the fourth film in a franchise then perhaps you should watch the first three films so you do not end up contradicting them.

This film is so unbelievably bad that it is very enjoyable for the cheese. However that is not a valid reason to recommend this. In fact you should avoid this. But it is hysterically funny how many leaps in logic you have to make for this to resemble any kind of sense.

Do not even get me started on how a shark can roar. The head of my younger daughter would have exploded if she saw that scene.

Trivia: The older unidentified woman who is in the Brody living room is Mrs. Kintner (Lee Fierro), whose son Alex was a victim in Jaws.

People Watch: Melvin Van Peebles, father of Mario, appears here as Mr. Witherspoon.

Zulu – Help! We are Surrounded week

This is Help! We are Surrounded week. Zulu is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Zulu (1964) – NR – Not rated.

“Based on a real-life battle, Zulu follows a group of British soldiers (led by Michael Caine, in his first starring role) stationed in South Africa who must defend their tiny outpost against an attack by an overwhelming force of Zulu warriors. Outnumbered 40 to 1, the stoic British soldiers are still ready to fight to the finish. Richard Burton narrates this epic war film shot on location in Natal.”

The army does not like more than one disaster in a day.” – “Looks bad in the newspapers and upsets civilians at their breakfast.”

“If 1200 people could not hold a defensive position this morning, what chance have we with a hundred?”

Okay I have written before of my hatred for the phrase “Inspired by a true story” but actually telling a true story can be riveting. Zulu is a prime example about an incident that is tailor-made for a movie.

Zulu opens with a wonderful narration. Richard Burton (who does not appear in the film) reading a dispatch account of the massacre at Isandhlwana where the main British force was almost completely wiped out. The film then segues to the camp of Cetewayo, chieftain of the Zulus, leading a mass marriage ceremony.

A father and daughter missionary couple (Jack Hawkins and Ulla Jacobsson) observing the ceremony flee the kraal when word of the massacre arrives and that the next target is Rorkes Drift, the sparsely populated aid station. This allows us a glimpse at Zulu life before we settle in to the main portion of the story, the incredible defense of Rorke’s Drift.

Cy Endfield directed, co-wrote and co-produced this epic but this was as much Stanley Bakers film as Endfields. Stanley Baker produced and starred in Zulu as well as obtaining the financing for it. He also maintained a lot of creative control throughout.

Baker plays Lt. John Chard, the commanding officer and does so brilliantly. This is probably his best role. Stanley Baker did a great job of playing rough and tumble characters with his rather severe looks. In what was perhaps a teeny tiny error, he turned down the part of James Bond in Dr. No though his grit and no-nonsense attitude would have worked well as witnessed by Daniel Craig in Casino Royale.

Michael Caine puts in an incredible performance as the second-in-command Lt. Gonville Bromhead. Zulu is often mentioned as the debut of Michael Caine but he had been in bit parts in many films before this – this is just his first big role. After Zulu and Alfie (1966), he rocketed to stardom and to this day, at age 77, still puts in brilliant performances (Harry Brown) and is a favorite of director Christopher Nolan.

While Caine and Baker put in career-worthy performances in Zulu, they are blown away by Nigel Green as Colour-Sergeant Bourne. After Zulu and his role as Hercules in Jason and the Argonauts, Green got much better, often quite juicy roles. Ironically Green was born in South Africa.

The score by John Barry is very rousing, quite epic in scope. There are also actual Zulu chants featured on the soundtrack.

The details in Zulu are amazing. Most of the more than 700 Zulu extras were descendants of those in the original battle. Although it seems cliche now, Baker had to show them a Gene Autry film to explain what a movie was.

Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Chief of the Zulus played Cetewayo, an ancestor of his. A princess and historian of the Zulu tribe drew the battle in the sand – this sequence is used in the film with Ardendorff drawing the formation.

Zulu was filmed in Royal Natal National Park.

Zulu and Apartheid: Because Baker was prevented from paying the Zulus as much as whites, he gifted the Zulu tribe with all the animals that had been purchased for the film (horses and cattle). When Baker passed away in 1976, Chief Buthelezi sent flowers with a note naming Baker as “the most decent white man I have ever met”.

I highly recommend Zulu as a wonderful siege film that does not demonize the other side. If you want to see more on the Zulu wars, Zulu Dawn details the massacre at Isandhlwana and stars Bob Hoskins, Peter Otoole, and Burt Lancaster.

Shaka Zulu is an excellent miniseries about the rise of the Zulu nation. This is not to be confused with Shaka Zulu: The Last Great Warrior which stars David Hasselhof. I am not dissing the Hof – I just have not seen The Last Great Warrior.

If you have the time to read books, The Washing of the Spears is a fascinating account of the Zulu wars.

People Watch: Look for veteran genre actor Patrick Magee as Surgeon Reynolds. He appears in The Skull, The Masque of the Red Death, Dementia 13, A Clockwork Orange, Asylum and Tales from the Crypt.

Harry Brown – Actionfest week

This past weekend I spent at ActionFest. Instead of instant Netflix films this week, I will be talking about the films I saw. Harry Brown was one of those films.

WATCH: Harry Brown (2009) – Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, drug use and sexual content.

“When a crew of drug-dealing gang members takes the life of his only friend, Leonard (David Bradley), retired Marine and widower Harry Brown (Michael Caine) decides to take the law into his own hands. Helmed by first-time feature director Daniel Barber, this gritty vigilante thriller set in England also stars Emily Mortimer, Iain Glen, Jack OConnell, Chris Wilson, Raza Jaffrey and Liam Cunningham.”

“It is not Northern Ireland Harry.” – “No it is not. Those people were fighting for something; a cause. To them out there this is just entertainment.”

Wow. It is hard to believe that this is the first feature film from Daniel Barber. This film is not only quite good but shows no sign of amateurism. This bleak portrait of modern England is very impressive.

According to imdb, the only other thing Daniel Barber had done was a short film The Tonto Woman. This was an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard story. Tonto Woman was such a good initial effort that it was nominated for a Best Short Film Oscar. The winner that year was Le Mozart des Pickpockets.

Michael Caine headlines as the eponymous Harry Brown. He is in almost every scene of the film. He has to sell not only being a downtrodden pensioner but also has to be believable as a reluctant man of action.

There are bound to be comparisons between Harry Brown and the early Michael Caine classic, Get Carter (1971). In Get Carter, Caine *surprise* played the eponymous Carter. Carter was an icy gangster seeking revenge for the murder of his brother.

Harry Brown and Jack Carter are quite different characters and Michael Caine plays both of them brilliantly. His portrayal of Harry Brown is a complex marvel. Caine is almost heart-breaking as a man who has nothing left.

Emily Mortimer is simply astonishing as a bleeding-heart Detective Inspector. I was so thankful that they did not go the obvious Death Wish/The Brave One route with her character. She shows a marvelous range from professionalism and grit to vulnerability and bewilderment.

Most of the other characters are incidental or catalysts though the casting of the uncaring youth is quite well done.

Netflix calls this “a gritty vigilante thriller” and while that certainly is the overall frame, this film is not really about that. This film is far more of a drama than an action film (the climax notwithstanding).

Daniel Barber injects a lot of social commentary into the film and his portrayal of the low-rent flats, drug situation and young hoods is very scary. The overall tone of the film is very depressing.  Unlike Paul Kersey in Death Wish, Harry does not really find empowerment in acts of violence.

I highly recommend that you put this excellent movie in your Netflix queue. Daniel Barber is definitely a director to watch for.

People Watch: Iain Glen has a brief role here as S.I. Childs. He was Richard the Lion-Heart in the underrated Kingdom of Heaven (see the much longer Directors Cut – not the chopped to incomprehensibility theatrical version) and Dr. Isaacs in Resident Evil Apocalypse & Extinction.

Get Carter – The Expendables week

In tribute to the incredible cast Sylvester Stallone has lined up for his latest film, this is The Expendables week. Today our expendable is Mickey Rourke. Get Carter is currently available on instant Netflix.

PASS: Get Carter (2000) – Rated R for violence, language, some sexuality and drug content.

“When his brother is killed in an accident, cold-blooded gun for hire Jack Carter (Sylvester Stallone) returns home to make peace with his past. But when evidence of foul play surfaces, Carters mission becomes one of retribution rather than redemption. Miranda Richardson, Rachel Leigh Cook, Mickey Rourke and Michael Caine (who starred in the original production) lead the supporting cast in this remake of the classic 1971 crime thriller.”

“Hello Mr. Davis. My name is Jack Carter and you do not want to know me.”

Stephen Kay directed this updated remake of Get Carter. He tries so hard here to make this film stylish but it comes across as too jarring. there is a scene of Carter tailing someone. It is shot as if it is an action movie chase when all he is doing is following another car.

There are a few nice flourishes. When Carter disposes of an airline ticket, there is a sound of an airplane landing on the soundtrack. There is a good scene where we cut from the pre-violence straight to the aftermath.

Unfortunately most of the flourishes are laughably heavy-handed. Shortly after his world is rocked, they change the camera angle on Carter -yep you guessed it – upside down. Stephen Kay loves odd camera angles, close-ups which should be wide shots and wide shots that should be close-ups.

One of the missed opportunities was a scene at an incredibly beautiful golf course. You do not notice how beautiful until the scene is almost over. Pretty much every action sequence is a blown opportunity except the climactic one which is a nice payoff.

For all his other flaws, Stephen Kay assembled a rather impressive cast here.

Mr. Expendable, Sylvester Stallone, is just fine as the tough guy Jack Carter. His glum persona fits the role well and he can sell tough pretty well too.

If you find yourself missing Michael Caine from the original, do not worry as he is here too. Unfortunately he is not in much of the movie. It is basically an extended cameo as an homage to the original film.

Our chosen Expendable for the day is Mickey Rourke. Of course he plays a heavy here. Alan “Nightcrawler” Cumming has a delightful time as an internet tycoon.

Miranda Richardson plays the widow Gloria. She has been a favorite of mine since her hilarious turn as Queen Elizabeth in the second Black Adder series (currently available on instant Netflix).

Backing her up on the distaff side are Rachel Leigh Cook as her daughter and Rhona Mitra as a woman of mystery, Geraldine. Gretchen Mol can be glimpsed briefly as Audrey.

In spite of the cast, you cannot help but wonder how it would have looked if someone else had directed it. Unless you are a die hard fan on the cast, just give this one a pass. It is not bad but it could have been so much better.

People Watch: Early on in the film, we hear the unmistakable voice of Tom Sizemore (albeit briefly). Frank Stallone has a cameo as does the director Stephen Kay.

The Fourth Protocol – Weapons of Mass Destruction week

This is Weapons of Mass Destruction week. The Fourth Protocol is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Fourth Protocol

PASS: The Fourth Protocol (1987) – Rated R.

“In an effort to shatter NATO alliances, Russian spy Valeri Petrofsky (Pierce Brosnan) plots to explode a nuclear bomb in Britain and blame the act on America. It is up to British agent John Preston (Michael Caine) to foil the plan, despite the skepticism of his superiors. Based on the book by best-selling author Frederick Forsyth, this well-crafted espionage thriller also stars Joanna Cassidy as a second Russian agent.”

“He is armed with a bomb.” – “How big a bomb?” – “Atomic bomb.”

Director John MacKenzie does a capable job here. Unfortunately that is the best that can be said. This is a typical by-the-numbers Cold War spy thriller. There is no particular flair or artistry involved.

Author Frederick Forsyth helped write the screenplay from his novel. The script is very literate but there is very little life or passion in it. It is strange that with so much attention to detail, the antagonists assemble the atomic bomb with their bare hands, including handling the radioactive material.

Gasp! John Preston (Michael Caine) is a rogue agent who does not play by the rules! In one scene he notably stares at a countdown timer as it reaches 007. He is a little past his prime here but always enjoyable.

Pierce Brosnan (post-Remington Steele, pre-James Bond) is our primary antagonist. He drives a  motorcycle with the tag C700 OBL (yet another 007 reference). Joanna Cassidy is his cover “wife”.

Ian Richardson is the only standout in a good cast. He is simply superb in his brief screen-time as Sir Nigel Irvine. While I have not reviewed them yet, his starring role in The House of Cards trilogy is extremely highly recommended.

The rest of the cast is quite good as well though they seem somewhat wasted. Julian Glover is the priggish boss, Brian Harcourt-Smith, who refuses to believe any evidence simply because he hates John Preston. Michael Gough plays outgoing boss, Sir Bernard Hemmings (so we have both of the recent Alfreds, faithful butler to Batman). Ned Beatty plays Borisov.

None of the action is exciting. A car does a 180 degree screech to a halt so Preston can grab a train. A van hits two other cars to pull out of a traffic jam. Ho hum.

There is nothing wrong with this thriller (well other than that it is not very thrilling) but there is nothing special about it either. In spite of the good cast, I cannot really recommend this.

People Watch: Matt (Max Headroom) Frewer has a small part here as Tom McWhirter. He puts quite the twang into his voice. Frederick Forsyth cameos as a radio newsreader.

The Swarm – Nature Gone Wild! week

This is Nature Gone Wild! week. The Swarm is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Swarm

AVOID: The Swarm – NR – Not rated. The theatrical version was rated PG and this version adds more content but as near as I could tell not more objectionable material.

“Entomologist Brad Crane (Michael Caine) and his crack team of scientists attempt to intervene when swarms of voracious killer bees begin attacking a number of cities in Texas, and an army general (Richard Widmark) threatens to use military firepower against this force of nature. This doomsday epic buzzes with an all-star cast, including Katharine Ross, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Havilland, Fred MacMurray and Henry Fonda.”

“I never dreamed it would turn out to be the bees. They’ve always been our friend.”

“We have been invaded, by an enemy far more lethal than any human force.”

“Until we have destroyed the African bee. Or it has destroyed us.”

As you may have noticed I have rated this AVOID as any sane person should. However I must admit to having enjoyed the stupidity of this film immensely. This is a great big slice of 70s cheese and boy does it stink.

The plot holes practically define the film so this must be Swiss cheese. Right off the bat the military discovers Dr. Crane in the middle of the command center of a semi-secret military base. He has been following the bees and claims he just walked right in after everyone was killed off.

Later Dr. Crane needs some specimens of the swarm which is somewhat odd since he is right there in the base where the swarm killed everyone. Are you telling me the base was wiped out and then the bees carried away their dead?

Later still Jud Hawkins (Slim Pickens) arrives and threatens to shut off the water to the base if he doesn’t get to see his son. Rather than detain him, General Slater figures that they’d better do what he says. What?!? Of course I’m glad they did because one of the most hilarious scenes in the film is Slim Pickens crying over the Hefty bag his son is in.

Crane has one bee to work with. Seriously one bee and they have a room full of body-bagged soldiers. Did anyone read the script before they filmed this?

As they’re playing back the surveillance tapes, you can clearly hear the swarm. Dr. Crane asks, ‘what’s that?’ so I tell him it’s the swarm obviously – where did you get your PhD? in a box of crackerjack?

Three boys go out hunting for the bees. They find them just out of town swarming everywhere. There is no mistaking them but one of the boys needs to use his binoculars to see what is filling the whole screen.

Still later Crane figures out that the bees showed up at the base less than 30 seconds after the base tested a siren. Earlier they indicated that the swarm was traveling at 7 miles an hour. Alright I’ll let you do the math but that pretty much means the bees had to be on the base already.

Crane sees three clouds of bees – all three are headed in completely different directions and Crane says the bees are headed straight for Marysville. That’s okay though because while the bees have no problem wiping out an underground military base, they seem to have difficulty getting into buildings.

They take the survivors of Marysville and pack them all on a train. I’d tell you what happens next but I have to stop with the ridiculous plot now before I get into spoilers. I imagine you  can guess though.

The cast is absolutely first rate even if they don’t put in good performances. Michael Caine headlines the scientists and really chews up the scenery. Henry Fonda and Richard Chamberlain appear as scientists. The townspeople are played by Fred MacMurray (his last film), Olivia de Havilland, Ben Johnson, and Slim Pickens. The military is represented by Richard Widmark, Katharine Ross, and Bradford Dillman.

The theatrical version was 116 minutes – this is the extended version and runs a whopping 155 minutes. The extra time is not kind to this film – it makes it seem to go on forever. Netflix has also brought this in a nice widescreen ratio so you can properly appreciate this disaster.

Unless you have a taste for truly terrible movies, avoid this movie. Please note: while this film worked fine on my computer, it was glitchy on my Roku box about 37 minutes in. Inexplicably this movie was actually nominated for an Oscar for Best Costume Design.

People Watch: Jose Ferrer appears briefly as Dr. Andrews and Cameron Mitchell plays General Thompson.