Category Archives: Film Review

Youth Without Youth (2007)

Imagine Christopher Nolan or Baz Luhrmann or Roland Emmerich or any other director unwilling to retreat from the staid comfort of big-budget blockbuster filmmaking, and imagine they break their mold for a moment and make a tiny, heartfelt, indie-feel flick with no explosions or battles or tidal waves. Good. Now imagine they do that a second time, and a third, and imagine they do it so many more times that that becomes their new thing, and a return to blockbusters would seem odd. Basically, that’s what Francis Ford Coppola did.

This is by no means a bad thing! Interesting, though, that the guy behind The Godfather and Apocalypse Now would eventually be making movies so subtle that you missed their release entirely. Youth Without Youth is one of those, or at least it was for me, despite an interesting premise and noticeable names beside the Starring and Directed By credits. The film came and went without much hubbub.

Tim Roth plays Dominic, an aging Romanian linguist who has spent his entire life pursuing the origin of all language and “the origin of human consciousness”, denoted at one point in the film as the all-enviable “inarticulate moment”. Despairing at the inevitable failure of his quest, Dominic means to commit suicide when he is suddenly struck by lightning. As his wounds heal Dominic finds that he has grown inexplicably younger, and as World War II dawns it seems Dominic has an opportunity to relive his life and complete his goal.

Sounds ambitious, no? But didn’t we just get through establishing this as a small, blip-like effort from an otherwise giant of Hollywood? Is it big or is it small? We must decide quickly.

We really mustn’t though, or we can’t, or couldn’t if we wanted to. Youth Without Youth is a highly strange movie, not one that entirely makes sense, not one that’s even entirely likable on first pass. It is, however, uniquely both a grand-scale global epic and an intimate and thought-provoking character study. On the one hand Youth Without Youth spans a century and captures much of the fear and frustration holding Europe hostage before and during and after the war; it’s been reported that Coppola filmed over 170 hours of footage for the film, ultimately distilled into a mere 2. For those absent mathematical inclinations, that’s 168 hours of film gone straight to the landfill. That’s massive.

On the other hand, the entire film really is just one guy. There are other characters, yes, but Tim Roth carries Youth Without Youth on his back. I wasn’t paying attention to whether he appeared in every single frame of the film, by my recollection is that he very nearly did. Regardless, through the frequent use of mirrors and actual walking talking doppelgängers, there are plenty of frames in which Tim Roth appears twice or three times. The film should more than satisfy any obsessive Tim Roth stalkers, at least until Coppola gets around to Youth Without Youth 2: The Other 168 Hours.

Thankfully Roth really is a great actor, and not one who gets as many starring roles as he should. Enigmatic doesn’t begin to describe his Dominic, and in the end he’s the only thing that makes Youth Without Youth work. You could easily write this film off as pretentious crap, but that kind of thing doesn’t really concern me. It’s interesting enough to watch Coppola craft something in this way on a decidedly smaller stage than anything he made in his Godfather heyday, and ruminations on “what it all meant” are like a bonus round. If a glimpse into a what a truly honest filmmaker looks like is what makes you sit down to Youth Without Youth, then I’d say that’s good enough for now. At least until Youth Without 2th.

Lucy (2014)

Lucy is a pretty ambitious girl. Granted, her ambition only comes after massive quantities of a powerful superdrug allow her the use of previously uncharted regions of her brain, which in turn morphs her not only into the smartest kid in school but into the most powerful being in the history of the universe. Her quest to use 100% of her brain’s capacity and thus unlock the secrets of life sends her on a mission around the globe – and beyond.

So that’s the plot of Lucy, but don’t worry if it’s still a little unclear – Morgan Freeman is here to explain everything with some hand-holding exposition throughout the first acts of the movie. Still iffy? Never fear. A feature-length biology lesson ensues, emphasis heavy on the first part of “science-fiction” while largely disregarding the second part.

I’ll say that Lucy is a hell of a lot better than the trailers make it look. There’s a good filmmaker somewhere inside Luc Besson and Lucy is a more grounded, “realistic” kind of sci-fi flick than the gonzo Fifth Element, which of course isn’t saying very much about realism. The believability factor hovers around 5% when Lucy herself crosses 20% brain capacity, but someone in the peanut gallery at the Morgan Freeman lecture already said that we’re just simply hypothesizing here, so roll with it. The hypothesizing has fun parts, and Besson has a nearly-sure hand for long and exciting stretches.

The problems are probably inherent to the story, then. For instance: how can the stakes go higher as the movie progresses if Lucy has more and more control of her world? Okay, she’s dying at an accelerated rate, and okay, there’s a policeman along for the ride in order to highlight the fact that there is danger here. But a mid-film car chase (which happens to be pretty thrilling and inventive as far as car chases go) still lacks a major something in the believability department. There is no chance that Lucy will lose control of the car, and thus instead of engaging in the chase and flinching every time the car veers narrowly we’re really just waiting for the chase to end.

We also don’t see enough (or any at all) of the actual Lucy, i.e. the pre-superhuman person, i.e. the character that we could actually feel for. Zombie computer-brain Lucy, we got. Johansson pretty much nails the role, but it would have been nice to have something a little more relatable to latch on to at the very beginning of the film.

And what else is there to say? The stakes, again, are basement-low by the ersatz climax of Lucy. Choi Min-sik, South Korean actor known primarily for Oldboy, is in the villain role here and is his usual spellbinding self – but unless you’re a massive fan of his (like I am) or a Luc Besson completist (those exist?) or a bored teen looking for a Transcendence-level sci-fi flick, Lucy just doesn’t have a whole lot else to say. That may be a bit harsh, but given the galaxy-sized ambition of both Lucy the film and of Lucy herself, there’s certainly a whole lot of territory left to conquer.

A Most Wanted Man (2014)

There’s no doubt that the late Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of the most gifted American actors of our generation. The Oscar winner for Capote was equally at home playing lovable rogues and despicable villains, taking increasingly challenging roles as his career went on. One of his final complete roles was that of Günther Bachmann in Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man, and Hoffman is his usual dedicated self as the Hamburg-based anti-terrorism agent.

Unfortunately A Most Wanted Man is a colossally slow and unexciting film, for the most part. Hoffman is superbly sluggish as the unhappy and overworked Bachmann; Grigori Dobrygin is likewise effective, if a bit underwritten, in the part of the illegal migrant Issa Karpov; Willem Dafoe seems present simply to be a famous face; and Rachel McAdams, beautiful though she is, remains utterly unconvincing as a foreigner. The plot of the film revolves around Bachmann’s maneuvering of the players involved in the appearance of the young Karpov in Hamburg, as Bachmann’s colleagues suspect him to be a credible threat to national security.

The film starts on a promising note. The first shot is nearly brilliant, telling a simple story without giving away any details at all. Again, Hoffman is thoroughly great – one reviewer noted a resemblance between Bachmann and a hungover panda, a sentiment which could not be more on the mark. There is a long shot midway through the film of Bachmann walking from a helicopter pad into a building, and the effort the guy takes just to keep his pants from falling down tells so much about his character. He can’t manage to keep himself dressed, and yet he’s pretty damn good at protecting his city from terrorists.

So the fault I find with A Most Wanted Man isn’t at all with Hoffman. He’s expected to do what Daniel Day-Lewis did for Lincoln, another long politically-driven film devoid of anything remotely resembling an action sequence. The problem is that Anton Corbijn is a far cry from Steven Spielberg, and A Most Wanted Man really drags for long stretches at a time. The opening scenes are set to quick string riffs you’d find in a Bourne movie, and the stage is set for that spy action chase scene…which never happens. I’m all for a movie that can carry itself without a fight scene, but the pace has to support such a thing by finding “action” elsewhere.

The film also falls to multiple spy-movie cliches, including the obligatory “Do you ever ask yourself why it is we do what we do?” question posed by the main character. Do you ever ask yourself why every spy movie feels the need to delve into this life-from-the-shadows routine? The reply, which could have turned the cliche on its head, ends up being even more of a cliche: “To make the world a safer place. Isn’t that enough?” The characters then repeat this near the climax of the film, because, you know, someone thought that was poignant.

Ultimately, in spite of a fantastic turn from the indomitable Hoffman, the sense of urgency just isn’t present in A Most Wanted Man. Perhaps if the film had been titled A Somewhat Wanted Man or You Should Really Only See This for Philip Seymour Hoffman, at least there’d be some truth in advertising to fall back on.

Torremolinos 73 (2003)

When flailing door-to-door encyclopedia salesman Alfredo learns his position is being terminated, he and his wife Carmen are willing to do pretty much anything to keep their meager income from petering out completely. Carmen wants desperately to have a baby and Alfredo basically just wants to keep his wife (and his landlady) happy. The solution? Take up an offer to produce “educational” tapes detailing the reproductive habits of Spanish couples.

Needless to say, hilarity ensues. Thankfully, the hilarity of Torremolinos 73 isn’t your run-of-the-mill oh-no-someone-found-our-sex-tape shenanigans. The romps that the couple film become increasingly elaborate, the landlady is paid but mortified, Carmen becomes a sex symbol throughout Scandinavia – and Alfredo? Alfredo becomes infatuated with cinema. He’s filming his incredibly beautiful sexy wife in every skimpy uniform imaginable and it’s the filming aspect of it that fascinates him.

Javier Cámara and Candela Peña are fantastic as the two leads, which aren’t overly complex characters but are still more layered than any to be found in a typical American comedy. The 1973 setting of the film also gives Torremolinos 73 some unexpected flair. All in all, the overall aesthetic and comedic arc of the movie are quite obviously more important to director Pablo Berger than the quick (and often cheap) laughs.

The funniest parts stem from Alfredo’s fascination with Ingmar Bergman as his own cinematic techniques become increasingly mature. Picture a softcore porno flick filmed with as much care as The Seventh Seal – complete with a young Mads Mikkelsen in the black-garbed role of Death himself – and you’ll have an idea of what Alfredo’s directorial debut looks like.

Torremolinos 73 is small and simple and enjoyable, outlandish enough in the premise alone without ever needing to rise to the absurd heights it easily could. As stated elsewhere, the Netflix offerings for modern foreign films can be hit-or-miss; while Torremolinos 73 isn’t breaking any new ground or even good for a true bust-up laugh, it’ll definitely put a smile on your face.

Half Moon Street (1986)

Half Moon Street is one of those movies that just doesn’t have a whole lot to say, despite the tendency to delve into “timely” issues throughout the first act. Sorta-kinda based on the Paul Theroux novel Doctor Slaughter, the film stars Sigourney Weaver as an American expatriate with a bright future. Soon, Weaver’s Lauren Slaughter becomes involved with a high-price escort service and a British diplomat played by Michael Caine.

Let’s get this out of the way and state that Half Moon Street is pretty boring. Wikipedia marks the film an “erotic thriller”; it is neither. In fact, the most thrilling parts end up losing all of their magic during the absurdly expository finale, which presents itself as a twist ending but doesn’t begin to pack the punch that it hopes to. The “eroticism”, I suppose, is relative to the viewer, and I certainly understand if some people find a big-haired mid-80s Weaver lecturing airily on Anglo-Arab foreign policy a total turn-on.

Back to the “thriller” part: the opening of the film shows an unidentified figure leafing through videotapes of Londoners, a short scene which is called upon later when Lauren receives a videotape in her mail. We are consistently shown the inside of Lauren’s apartment and shown outings with her male callers from a distance, and very often the camera pans lazily off into an empty part of the room. Increasingly, though, these shots become more and more foreboding. A shot from behind a bush on a golf course not only gives the clear impression that someone is watching Lauren, but that we are in the shoes of the voyeur. We again see the unidentified figure recording Lauren, taping her conversations with Caine’s character, and the longer this goes on without an answer the more interesting it gets.

But again, the ending pretty much blows it. It’s political espionage, of course, and they’re just trying to kill Caine’s character and his reputation (and they make a specific point of stating that they’ll kill both, which seems unnecessary…if you kill the man’s reputation, do you really need to actually kill the man?). The mysterious portions of Half Moon Street are better off left that way, because once they’re solved the entire thing is an utter letdown.

Unless you’re in for a few interesting cameos (Vincent Lindon!) or the impossible sexiness of Weaver’s baggy trench coat and Caine’s baggy mustache, Half Moon Street is one you can skip.

Nighthawks (1981)

Oh man! If you’re looking for a New York cop movie that absolutely screams “1980s”, you’ve found it in Nighthawks. The hair! The outfits! The slap bass-laden soundtrack! The lack of anything resembling actual police protocol! The Billy Dee Williams! The hair!

Sylvester Stallone stars as macho cop DaSilva, who spends his nights catching the bad guys “his own way”. He’s smart, say his superiors, but he’s got an authority problem. Shocking, says anyone watching the movie. Absolutely shocking. When famed and feared foreign terrorist Wulfgar makes landfall in the United States with a mind to kill UN delegates in NYC, it’s DaSilva (of course) who somehow gets put on the case.

Frankly, Rutger Hauer as Wulfgar is the only thing that saves Nighthawks from being 100% trash, and in fact his portions of the film are really pretty great. He’s having an absolute blast with the role, a perfectly evil-looking actor in a perfectly evil character, and his scenes seem totally at odds with the stupid “detective work” scenes (note that quoted term is used lightly). When Hauer’s Wulfgar takes hostages on the Roosevelt Island Tramway and parades around the car amidst the startled passengers, telling them in a menacing tone to “Back up against the window!” as he brandishes his gun, he’s sure to add to one man in particular, “I like your hat!”

Considering Blade Runner came a year later and The Hitcher followed in 1986, Rutger Hauer was basically the best villain of the 1980s. The way he slithers through a locked door in the final scene of Nighthawks is nothing short of terrifying.

Frustrating, then, that the police work that ultimately brings him down seems devised by an adolescent. The procedure of catching the terrorist quite literally consists of agreeing to the ludicrous claim that the killer “is known to frequent night clubs” – as if shooting the shit with the mass murderer in between tequila shots were a common occurrence – and then happening upon the one club in the entirety of New York City in which Wulfgar happens to be jamming out.

Meanwhile, there’s also a half-assed romance subplot for your viewing pleasure. An imminent terrorist threat in the heart of NYC is a big deal, but DaSilva’s gotta think about his own needs, too.

Once you accept the horrendous script and learn to kind of gloss over the macho bullshit at the precinct, Nighthawks is certainly enjoyable enough as a mindless action movie. There’s probably a reason Bruce Malmuth only directed a few other projects, though, and the directing here would be forgettable if it wasn’t so glaringly bad. Now scroll back up and bask in that glorious lion’s mane – if anyone on the crew deserved to use Nighthawks as a platform to fame and fortune, it’s the hair stylist.

Flame and Citron (2008)

Once you resist the temptations of masterpieces like Crocodile Dundee II and BoJack Horseman, Netflix tends to have a pretty sizable catalogue of foreign films for your viewing pleasure. Flame and Citron, while relatively well-known in Denmark (as Flammen & Citronen), passed without much notice in the States and elsewhere upon its release in 2008. Thure Lindhardt and Mads Mikkelsen star as Danish Resistance fighters Bent Faurschou-Hviid (“Flame”) and Jørgen Haagen Schmith (“Citron”), rogue assassins of Nazi officers who increasingly take matters into their own hands as WWII progresses.

Lindhardt is the real find here, as is director Ole Christian Madsen, while Mikkelsen will be much more familiar to American audiences from his roles in the ongoing Hannibal series and as the Bond villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. At the start of the film both men just want to serve their country by ridding it of evil men, and though Mikkelsen’s Citron certainly transforms throughout the film from a timid tagalong to a ruthless assassin, it’s Lindhardt’s Flame who goes on the real journey. “There is no just or unjust any longer,” the pair agree. “There is only war.” Flame embodies this sentiment completely – but interestingly, he does so in part by wrestling with it and ultimately defying it.

There are more than a few weak scenes throughout Flame and Citron, such as the seemingly obligatory meeting between protagonist Flame and the chief antagonist, SS Head Hoffmann, in which the latter seethes cliches like “We are the same, you and I” in snakelike tones. While the majority of the film – especially the very last scenes – feel authentic and true-to-life, moments like this feel much more like fabricated movie drama.

That ending, though, hits home in a very particular way. It’s obvious that Flame and Citron took many cues from Army of Shadows and other similarly-set WWII yarns, but there are deeper connections with more broad and classic tales of men at war – I’ll go so far as to relate Flame and Citron to Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, at risk of reading too much into things. Like Coriolanus, Flame is filled to the brim with passion about his conduct in wartime, the conduct of the men and women around him, burning with rage at the way the structures of such a time demand he act in unnatural ways. Further solidifying the comparison is the depiction of Coriolanus in Ralph Fiennes’s 2011 adaptation, in which the great warrior is last seen being tossed into the back of a truck like so many pounds of lifeless meat.

Both Flame and Citron meet the exact same demise. For all of their battling on physical and emotional and moral fronts, for the sheer scale of their cause and the colossal sacrifices they both made in order to see that cause achieved, both men end up dead and lumped into the back of a truck. Nazi officers jump into the truck bed and sit smiling with the dead bodies as others laugh and photograph the posed corpses. Can such a dark ending be the central message of a WWII film made within the last decade? What goes on after these bodies are buried?

The answer, one may take away from Flame’s final soliloquy, is that it all goes on. There is no doubt that Flame and Citron ends depressingly for the men and their families. But the flame, the fire of resistance that these men stoked in each other and in men like them, is still lit.

Locke (2013)

The past few years have seen no shortage of films structured entirely around a sole character. 2009 had Moon, 2010 had 127 Hours and Buried, and the past year alone had two Oscar nominees in Gravity and All Is Lost. Each of these films hangs entirely on the neck of one actor or actress, usually with some help from the voices of unseen characters or a well-placed flashback. Gravity was helped along by the simple fact that it has what may be the greatest special effects of any space movie ever. Also: George Clooney.

Locke doesn’t have George Clooney. In fact, Locke doesn’t have the set-up that you might come to expect from a one-man show: no outer space VFX or otherwise stark settings, no survival story in a desert or on a boat or six feet under. All Locke has is a car, a bluetooth phone, and Tom Hardy in the central role of construction foreman Ivan Locke. Despite (or because of) the bare-bones constituency at work here, Locke is still easily as engaging as any of the aforementioned predecessors.

When Ivan Locke gets in the car and takes off on a two-hour drive to London, he has a list of calls to make and things to accomplish along the way. These items include breaking the news to his wife that he cheated on her and is en route to the birth of his child by another woman; fielding distressed calls from said woman as she endures complications in labor; training an underqualified drunk to complete the gargantuan tasks his foreman position requires while he absconds; and explaining his sudden absence to his children, his boss, his boss’s bosses, and pretty much everyone else he happens to know. His singular goal, you may have guessed, is to not have all of this go to shit.

Importantly, Locke himself is an extremely well-drawn character. Writer and director Steven Knight sits behind the camera for the first time with Locke, but his writing credentials include Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things. While Ivan could have easily just been a regular nobody in a car enduring the consequences of his mistake, we’re instead treated to a man who preaches precision, practicality, logic, reason. He’s an intelligent and levelheaded worker well aware of his own faults in the situation – the question is whether his mantra of exactness will create an exit to his predicament or force him deeper into the hole.

By portraying Ivan’s work life and his family life as two very distinct parts of the same character, Knight and Hardy answer that question twice. Yes, he loses his job – but the project he abandoned still has legs due to his careful steering of the players involved after his departure earlier in the evening. The proper trucks will enter the proper gates and pour the proper amount of the proper kind of concrete into the proper place, and all will be well.

A family and a home are a tad more complicated. Again, Ivan is a man who consistently speaks (and thinks) in the most accurate terms possible – he corrects his employee at the mention of 200 trucks (“218 trucks”) and his boss at the mention of his position of the past ten years (“nine years”). Later, as his wife comes to terms with the fact that Ivan has been unfaithful to her, she can only find one response to his insistence that it only happened one time: “The difference between once and never is everything.” Ivan, trapped in his ways, can only concede the point with silence.

Steven Knight is a writer to watch after Locke, as the details are more carefully attended to in this tight screenplay than any other in recent memory. Even Ivan’s last name “Locke” and his work associations with cement and concrete play into the themes of being steadfast, solid, immovable in the face of tough odds. It goes without saying that Tom Hardy more than pulls his weight in this film, and he continues to be an absolute force in the acting world – I’ll look forward to everything he does next, and to rewatching Locke in the future.

La moustache (2005)

“How would you feel if I shaved off my mustache?” So begins Emmanuel Carrère’s 2005 film La moustache, a dark and heartbreaking investigation of madness and identity. Marc has worn his upper-lip rag for the past 15 years, as his wife points out, so it might be a little strange if he shaves it off. But shave he does, whimsically, excitedly – and yet no one notices, not his wife nor his friends. In fact, as Marc’s wife tells him in a state of confusion, he has never had a mustache at all in the past 15 years…

Watching La moustache descend from that point onwards is not a task that will result in immediate satisfaction (it may, however, result in an immediate WTF). Marc says that surely their friends will vouch for his facial hair…leading Marc’s wife to inform him that the friends of whom he speaks are also nonexistent. Marc references his parents…and Marc’s wife slowly and cautiously reminds him that his father has been dead for years. Marc soon runs off to Hong Kong to get away from the crumbling world around him.

My interpretation leans much more to the abstract side, as I suspect most interpretations must. You could argue easily enough that a portion (or two, or three) of the fractured film is a dream or a hallucination on Marc’s part, or that the entire thing is imagined. You could just as easily argue that Marc is eminently sane and that an elaborate ruse à la The Game has been constructed by his wife, friends, parents, whoever. It’s respectable that Carrère (who first wrote La moustache as a novel) was able to build something very obviously open to warring readings, but the film as a whole begs a more involved interpretation; it nearly demands you come up with a theory and stick to it, otherwise La mustache just sits uncomfortably like an undigested meal.

While the whole movie is perplexing, the Hong Kong Star Ferry sequence is possibly the most eyebrow-raising: Marc is shown going back and forth on the ferry, arriving, departing, paying for his ticket, moving through the turnstiles, facing one way, facing the next, over and over. Is this a part of his actual existence, or at the very least a representation of how lonely he is? If so, the first chunk of the film could act as a construct wherein Marc has a loving wife, friends, a home, a life. Changing one element of this carefully constructed fantasy (i.e. shaving his mustache off) forces the entire house of cards down. Systems resist change by their very nature, and Marc’s fantasy is upset by a simple lack of hair on his face. He tries to hold onto this – going so far as to dig through the trash to retrieve the remnants of his mustache – but the change is irreparable.

Marc writes a postcard to his wife from Hong Kong, stating that he does not trust his own eyes but only what he sees through the eyes of his wife. At the end of the film, when Marc’s wife is inexplicably present in Hong Kong as if none of the previous conundrums had occurred, Marc disposes of the postcard that he never mailed. Perhaps he has found a new way to make his fantasy work by imagining his wife with him in Hong Kong, and he discards the postcard upon the realization that the original fantasy clashes with the new one.

This could very well be a weak interpretation of the first 95% of the film, but I think it’s one that lends the last 5% a particular beauty. Fully-bearded Hong Kong Marc asks his wife “How would you feel if I shaved off my mustache?”, and when he does it this time around she smiles, compliments him on the change, and invites him into bed. His efforts at change within such a lonely existence were met with impossible resistance over the course of the first acts of the film, obstacles that he alone had to endure and overcome. His pain, his conflicted sense of self, the overpowering sense that no one in the entire world is on his side – all of it seems to melt away when his wife recognizes the change that he has enacted.

Your reading may be very different. The fact remains that La moustache is a weird little movie, and one that will undoubtedly get you thinking. Vincent Lindon is fantastic as Marc, and his performance is one of the few indelible elements in a story about transformation of the self.

The Sand Pebbles (1966)

Continuing our mini-retrospective on actor and director Richard Attenborough, one notices that Netflix only musters seven films with his name in the credits – three of which he directed, three of which he acted in, and one of which is a documentary. Shouldn’t there be more of a selection for a guy who acted in nearly 80 different projects and directed twelve feature films, one of which won a Best Picture Oscar? Shouldn’t he have at least half of the Netflix catalogue awarded to William Shatner? Anyway.

Robert Wise’s The Sand Pebbles is an interesting one to be included in that hors d’oeuvre-sized offering, and it’s a film in which Attenborough shines. Steve McQueen takes the spotlight, as Steve McQueen is wont to do from time to time, but Attenborough’s character serves as a perfect compliment to the protagonist. McQueen’s Jake Holman and Attenborough’s Frenchy Burgoyne are aboard a U.S. gunboat (The San Pablo, though pronounced by some as Sand Pebbles) in the heart of China in 1926. It’s a time of revolution and both men get wrapped up in local and national affairs during their long tour.

Attenborough has said Pebbles was the longest shoot he ever worked on, including the epic Gandhi, and that the cast and crew spent 8 months in Taipei filming. Wise spent a full four years bringing the project to fruition, and the time spent and the care taken is evident in the epic sweep of the final product.

The film is sluggishly slow in most places. McQueen’s Jake cultivates a relationship with the engine of the ship (in the picture above he’s just said “Hello, Engine. I’m Jake Holman”) while Attenborough’s Frenchy cultivates a relationship with a local Chinese woman. The characters couldn’t be more unlike each other, but they build a mutual respect and even loyalty as their tour progresses. Also, Attenborough sports one hell of a handlebar mustache.

The Sand Pebbles takes its time, but is worth watching to see McQueen and Attenborough in two of their most distinctive roles.