Trains And The Cinema

Ever since they started to make films for entertainment, trains have been a popular inclusion. Brief research has shown me that there are 100 or more films with the bulk of the action taking place on a train, and hundreds more where a train features as part of the story. Perhaps the most well-known of these are the various film adaptations of Agatha Christie’s novel, ‘Murder On The Orient Express’, so I will not be mentioning that one here.

But I will be featuring some of the others I have seen, and how having characters trapped in the relative confines of a moving train can add tension and mystery, as well as a list of suspects for anything that happens during the journey.

Not all films featuring trains are mysteries though. Some are comedies, others are set during wars, and more recent ‘train films’ have involved futuristic scenarios, and even zombie invasions.

The Lady Vanishes. (1938)

Set in the pre-war European tensions of 1938, this film was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and stars Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave, alongside May Whitty, as ‘the lady who vanishes’. Travelling through a fictional country in Europe on a train, a young woman realises that her elderly travelling companion has vanished. She enlists the help of a young musicologist to search for the old lady, and what follows is a hugely enjoyable ‘whodunnit’ with drama and comedy combined. Despite being filmed at studios in London, causing the film to feel very ‘set-bound’ at times, that in no way spoils the enjoyment of a great film that got Hitchcock noticed by Hollywood.

The Train. (1964)

This is a WW2 French Resistance thriller, concerning Nazi plans to remove precious artworks from France to Germany, set in August 1944, and based on real events. Burt Lancaster stars as railway inspector Labiche, and gives his usual square-jawed and reliable performance. Other cast members include the excellent Paul Scofield as a German Colonel, and Jeanne Moreau as a hotel owner. Determined to sabotage the train to stop the art being stolen, Labiche uses his Resistance contacts and fellow railway workers to divert the train, much to the annoyance of the Germans. When this delaying tactic is discovered, he eventually manages to derail the train, saving the art for France.

This film has authenticity, and a lot of tension throughout. A convincing cast and a real feel of the period sets it apart too.

Von Ryan’s Express. (1965)

This is a POW escape film, set during WW2. British and American prisoners of war are due to be moved from a camp in Italy, following the Italian surrender. But a plan is hatched to take over the train, and divert it to Switzerland, a neutral country. Ryan is played by Frank Sinatra, who to be honest looks more like a singer than an Air Force officer. British interests are played by Trevor Howard, and John Leyton. Managing to overpower the German guards, the POWs wear their uniforms, and as the train travels through Italy, they work out a way to get the track switched for their train. On the way to Switzerland, they realise a second train is following them, and it becomes a race against time. At the border, it is decided that some men will get off the train and attack the German SS troops about to catch them. This sacrifice ensures the remainder will escape.

Like the previous film, this also manages to keep the tension high, and the viewer is never really sure if the POWs will pull off the escape. Although many of the characters are stereotypes, they all take it seriously, and that ensures it remains exciting right until the end.

Siver Streak. (1976)

This comedy thriller was the first pairing of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, along with a great cast including Ned Beatty and Jill Clayburgh. The setting is the train journey from Los Angeles to Chicago on a train named The Silver Streak. This film has a lot going for it. A snappy script, mistaken identity, wrong suspects, and a great finale on board the train that has now become a runaway, with nobody driving it. To say much more would spoil the fun, but if you have never seen this often madcap comedy, you will not be disappointed.

Snowpiercer. (2013)

More up to date, with a post-apocalyptic story based on a graphic novel that has an element of Steampunk added too. The only people left on Earth after a climate change catastrophe all live on a train that never stops, the Snowpiercer of the title. The train is self-powered by an ingenious device, and makes a constant loop in the wintry conditions that now dominate the planet. Societal and class structures are maintained, with working people living in poor conditions at the back, and the wealthy enjoying luxury at the front. Eventually, the low class passengers stage a revolt, working their way through the train and fighting the guards trying to stop them.

The cast list is impressive. John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, and Chris Evans as the leader of the revolutionaries. With some scenes filmed in specially constructed train carriages, location filming in snowy wastes, and elements of CGI that are not really intrusive, this is a good sci-fi action-adventure that doesn’t try to leave us with too many ends untied.

Train To Busan. (2016)

Last but not least, for my money the best zombie-horror film made so far, and set on a train where nobody can escape the zombies! Made in South Korea, the cast list will not mean much to anyone, but this is a first-rate action-horror, with a relentless pace, incredible set-pieces, and breathtaking action from the start. The story is simple enough, concerning travellers taking a train from Seoul to Busan just as a zombie outbreak begins in the capital. One zombie manages to get on board and infect someone else, and so on. Those not affected have to fight to survive, as the train speeds through the countryside. So much better than it souunds, this film really is outstandingly good.

There you have it. Six examples of films where the train is as much the star as any of the actors. There are many more similar films to discover, but I hope you will take my recommendations and watch these when you can.

Film Review: Knives Out (2019)

This film was released to stellar reviews, both from critics, and many bloggers. I didn’t much like the sound of an ‘Agatha Christie-Style’ film that wasn’t actually written by Agatha, so waited until it arrived on TV (Film 4) to watch it. I finally got around to doing that last night.

Now I have to say that I rarely turn off a film before the end. I am usually happy to give even the most disappointing film its full running time, in the hope of being proved wrong. So if I tell you now that I turned this off after 45 minutes of its 2 hours+ running time, you are already getting some idea of how this review is going to go.

Let’s examine this in detail.

Stellar cast.

Daniel Craig.
Christopher Plummer.
Jamie Lee Curtis.
Chris Evans. (Who?)
Joseph Gordon Levitt.
Toni Collette.
Michael Shannon. (Great actor)
Don Johnson.
M. Emmet Walsh.
Frank Oz.
And many more…

Written and directed by Rian Johnson. (No relative, never heard of him. Have you heard of him?)

What could go wrong?

Well the first thing that could go wrong is that Daniel Craig plays an American private detective called ‘Benoit Blanc’. Someone decided that this actor, who is from England, should play Benoit with a ‘Southern American’ (as in New Orleans) accent. That fell at the first hurdle, so completely ruined the film. In the same way that Dick Van Dyke’s ‘London’ accent completely ruined ‘Mary Poppins’.

Daniel Craig might be an accomplished actor in many roles, but accents are not his forte. And a deep-south American accent was one too far for his talents.

After that, someone gets killed, everyone else except Benoit is a suspect, and after listening to his accent for 40+ minutes, I turned off this lamentable film.

That’s it. That’s the review. It is bloody awful, and if you liked it, I must have been watching a different film.
Here’s a trailer.

If you want to see Agatha Christie done properly, watch this instead.

Some films I shouldn’t like

As well as reading no books lately, I am also at an all-time low for film watching. So here is a reblog of an old film post from 2013 that very few of you have seen previously.

beetleypete

There are certain films that a serious film fan just should not admit to liking. They should revile them, pour criticism upon them, and expose their flaws and weaknesses, all the time secretly enjoying them, in private. The following films all fall into this category, for some reason or another. Trouble is, I really like them all, and I will try to explain why.

Pretty in Pink. A 1986 American romantic drama, with High School kids fretting over relationships and Prom dances. Come on, me? It should just go into the bin, surely? But no, you would miss out on some great performances, good characterisations, and some young actors really stepping up, to lift his film out of its brat-pack roots. You even get Harry Dean Stanton, as the pouting Molly Ringwald’s dad. This hackneyed tale of poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks, falling for rich boy…

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Rita Hayworth Dances To The Bee Gees

The lovely film star Rita Hayworth was also an accomplished dancer. A clever person on You Tube has managed to include numerous clips of her dancing, to the background of one of the Bee Gees’ biggest hits. The timing is really good, and it is a joy to watch.

Thanks to my blogging friend, David Miller. He sent me this to cheer me up. And it did.
https://millerswindmill.wordpress.com/

“Sit Anywhere You Like”

In 2015, I wrote about a trip to our local cinema in Dereham. I remarked that we were the only two people in the cinema for the film. At least until it had already started, when two others came into the auditorium and sat at the back. When we bought the tickets on arrival, the lady cashier said to us, “Sit anywhere you like”. Julie took a photo of me sitting there when we were the only two people waiting for the film to start.

A cinema experience

This morning, Julie’s ‘Facebook Memories’ included that photo.

Worrying Film Censorship

As everyone who reads my blog knows, I am not a religious person. However, I believe that everyone should have a right to their own beliefs, unless those beliefs interfere with others, or cause harm to people. I know that many religious people get comfort from their faith, whatever that faith might be.

As a result, I rarely comment on religion on this blog.

But today, I feel the need to talk about something that does concern me.

On release in cinemas around the UK is a British film, ‘Lady In Heaven’. This is an historical epic written by a Shia Muslim cleric, Sheikh Yasser al-Habib of Kuwait, and it concerns the story of Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet Mohammed.

As a film fan, I confess that it is not a film that interests me that much. However, I suspected that in modern multi-cultural Britain, it could find a large audience. It was actually taken up for distribution by Cineworld, one of the largest multiplex cinema chains in this country.

So far, just a normal film release.

Then a cinema in Yorkshire was surrounded by an angry mob of local British Muslims who objected to the film being shown. The staff were threatened, and the producer of the film received death threats. Despite the presence of police officers, no arrests were made, and the banner-waving and chanting mob was allowed to continue to make their protest outside the location.

That’s the right of free speech in a democracy.

Then Cineworld decided not to show the film, in any of its cinemas in Yorkshire. Perhaps not in any of their cinemas nationwide. They issued a press release saying that they were concerned for the safety of the staff, disruption of performances, and damage to buildings. Varous people involved in making the film continue to receive death threats, and still no arrests have been made.

One of the main reasons why people who were not born in Britain were eager to come and live here is because we have a tradition of religious tolerance. But then some of them seek to undermind our tolerant society by telling others what they can and cannot watch at the cinema. And they are allowed to do this, by our own laws.

To my mind, such behaviour will only increase racial and relgious hatred. It will give ammunition to the Far Right and Neo-Nazi groups in the UK, and perhaps generate ‘revenge’ attacks against Muslim communities in this country.

Such protests causing a film not to be shown to those who want to pay to see it are not acceptable to me. They are the beginnings of a slippery slope of censorship based on political correctness and mob rule that has no place in a modern society.

With that in mind, here is the trailer for the film that they do not want you to see.

Feel free to issue me with a death threat.

Top Ten Films

Back to 2017, and a film post many of you have seen. My main interest in reblogging this is that I have recently reviewed my choices, and I find they still hold good now. New followers might like to see them.

beetleypete

When I first started this blog in 2012, Top Tens were all the rage. Most days, it seemed to me as if there was a Top Ten of everything on the blog. This ranged from the top ten cute cats, to the top ten favourite film stars, through to the top ten favourite places to go in the world, and the top ten best snack foods. Top Ten mania had hit blogging, and could not be avoided.

Not long after I started to write posts about film and cinema, the ‘Top Tenners’ came knocking on my door. They sent me links to their own top tens, and asked to know my own preferences. Who were my favourite actors? My list of best directors? The questions went on and on. The barrage was relentless, for a while. Some blogging sites were even called ‘My Top Ten’, and other variations. These Top…

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Ray Liotta Dies Aged 67

Sad news today. One of my favourite modern American actors had died suddenly, at a relatively young age.

He was the star of ‘Goodfellas’, one of my favourite films, which featured in my all-time Top Ten.

Many of his other performances were memorable too, including ‘Sin City’, the underrated ‘Narc’, the marvellous ‘Copland’, and ‘Hannibal’. He was in ‘Field of Dreams’, ‘Unlawful Entry’, ‘Phoenix’, ‘Revolver’, and many more.

He was not a ‘thespian’, far from it. But his engaging smile, good looks in his youth, and tough-guy persona often lifted a film that he was in.

I will miss him. But we will always have ‘Goodfellas’.

RIP, Ray Liotta.

Film Review: The Sisters Brothers (2018)

***No final plot spoilers***

It has been some time since I watched a western, but this one was on TV with no advertisement breaks, and the cast list appealed to me. This is an adaptation of a novel. I haven’t read the book, so will not be commenting if it is true to the original story.

1851, and the Gold Rush is in full swing on the west coast of America. A powerful and mysterious man, known only as The Commodore, sends two hired killers on a mission to find and kill a man named Warm. They are the mis-matched brothers named Eli and Charlie Sisters.

Meanwhile, The Commodore has engaged the services of a well-spoken and efficient private detective. His name is John Morris, and he is on the trail of Warm, so he can find him and hold him captive until the brothers arrive to do the dirty work. Warm has a secret chemical formula for identifying gold under water at night. The Commodore wants Eli and Charlie to torture the chemist, write down the formula, and then kill him.

So the quest begins.

We soon discover that Charlie is a quick-tempered drunkard, who is ready to cause trouble and shoot off his gun at every opportunity. By contrast, older brother Eli is a relatively gentle person, pining for his beloved schoolteacher, who he had to leave behind in their home town. Morris finds Warm and pretends to become his friend, waiting for the opportunity to detain him pending the brothers’ arrival.

But they are delayed by all kinds of obstacles. One of their horses is attacked by a bear, and while sleeping one night, Eli is bitten by a huge spider, almost dying from the poisonous bite. When they finally arrive at the rendezvous in Jacksonville, they learn that Morris and Warm have teamed up, and fled to the gold fields. In the next town, they are betrayed by a conniving female saloon-keeper, and have to shoot their way out to freedom.

When they finally catch up with the chemist and the detctive in the California gold fields, things do not turn out as the viewer might suspect.

So, back to that casting, which made me watch the film in the first place.

John C Reilly is the older brother, Eli. Always a reliable actor, and completely convincing as the ruthless killer with a warm heart inside. His brother Charlie is played by Joaquin Phoenix. I can often take or leave that actor, and in this film I didn’t think it mattered who played the brother. Being aggressive and acting drunk has been done by many before, and some have done it better.

British actor Riz Ahmed plays the chemist, Warm. Again, he does a good enough job, but I could have thought of a dozen others who would have done it just as well. Rutger Hauer, near the end of his life, has a mere cameo role as The Commodore. His longest scene is in a coffin, so his talent was rather wasted.

It turned out to be Jake Gyllenhall who stole the film for me, a close second to John C Reilly. His erudite detective was a compelling character portrayal, and I would have liked to have seen even more of him in that film.

Full marks for historical accuracy too. From the saloon interiors, the costume department, and even the weapons used by everyone totin’ a gun.

Cinematography was first rate, as the film is undoubtedly ‘photographed’. It is a film of two halves in many ways, and the second half is far superior to the first. So, stick with it, and you will be rewarded by the latter section. By the way, the soundtrack is really good!

Far from being a landmark film, but better than many I have seen in the same genre.

(The first 25 seconds of this trailer is intentionally dark)

No Thanks, Mr Spielberg

I have just been watching a feature on the BBC News, promoting the remake of the film musical ‘West Side Story’, directed by Steven Spielberg.

Being old enough to have seen the 1961 film on release in the cinema, it remained a musical I really liked, in a genre that I don’t generally gravitate to. When I heard the film was being remade for release in 2021, I really couldn’t see the point. After all, the songs and music are the same, and the story virtually unchanged. The original film is still amazing to watch, even sixty years after it was released.

So why do it? Why not just show the original in cinemas again, for a ‘new audience’?

Watching Spielberg being interviewed this morning, I got my answer.

The original film is no longer considered to be ‘representative’. In the new age of political correctness, where history has to be reworked and authenticated to satisfy the media and some minorities, it seems that Mr Spielberg did not think there were enough ‘real Puerto Ricans’ in the original version.

Of course, Natalie Wood was the lead female character, Maria, and she was a ‘white American’ actress. Rita Moreno co-starred and she was Puerto Rican. But there were not enough minority actors in the film to satisfy Mr Spielberg, so he sought to remake it to ‘rectify that fault’.

If we follow this through, then I suspect many old musicals will have to be remade, and very soon.

‘The King and I’ starred Yul Brynner, playing the King of Thailand.
How dare they not cast a Thai actor in the role?

‘Cabaret’ stars Joel Grey as the master of ceremonies in the Kit Kat club.
Come on, we know he’s not German. Get that film remade tout suite!

‘The Sound Of Music’ tried to fool us into believing that Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer were Austrians.
Why didn’t they use Austrian actors? I want to know!

‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ starred Dick Van Dyke as an English professor.
We all know he is American, and there were plenty of suitable actors available in England. Get that remake made!

I could go on, but will spare you more of my sarcasm.

It is just complete nonsense.

No thanks, Mr Spielberg. If I want to watch West Side Story again, it will be the 1961 version for me.