22 July

I recently watched 22 July, a Netflix original directed by Paul Greengrass and now on Netflix in the UK. It recounts the events of summer 2011 when right-wing extremist, Anders Behring Breivik detonated a bomb outside the Norwegian government buildings in Oslo, killing eight people. He then made his way to Utøya island, where a youth camp was under way. There, he massacred a further 69 people, mostly teenagers.

Viljar and his brother Torje flee the attack.

The film doesn’t shrink from the unpleasant details of what happened but, even having seen the trailer, it’s still shocking to witness. Due to problems getting emergency response teams out to Utøya quickly, Breivik got a full 90 minutes to roam about, shouting at “the Marxist elite” and picking off whomever he encountered.

Actual damage caused by the Oslo bombing.

In addition to those killed, Breivik also injured over 200 people in Oslo and another 110 on Utøya. It was the deadliest act of aggression on Norwegian soil since World War II.

When interrogated, Breivik claimed to be a member of the Knights Templar and that his “operation” was the first stage in a military coup d’état, intended to rid Norway and Europe of Islam and multiculturalism. The morning of his attacks, he had published a rambling 1500-page manifesto online, detailing his vision for transforming Europe, presumably in his own image.

The real Breivik (left) and Anders Danielsen Lie (right) who plays him in the movie.

When he was eventually confronted by police, Breivik calmly laid down his weapons and surrendered. Anders Danielsen Lie plays Breivik. Although Lie may not physically resemble the real-life murderer, he does infuse his depiction with a chilling air of narcissism and quiet superiority. In preparing for the role, Lie said he listened to quite a large volume of the interrogation tapes with Breivik. “Alarmingly normal” was how Lie described him.

Utøya island, in the middle of a lake =in Buskerud county, Norway.

Once the emergency services arrive and begin sorting through the carnage, the film picks up the simultaneous threads of Breivik, as he is detained, questioned and indicted and Viljar Hanssen, a 17-year-old high school student who survived multiple gunshot wounds on the island that day.

Viljar contemplates his future.

Viljar’s long road to physical and mental recovery forms a core part of the story. Narrowly surviving five bullets, he eventually appears in court to testify against Breivik. The role of Viljar gets a convincing and intense performance by actor Jonas Strand Gravli; when Viljar does eventually face Breivik in court, you’re almost living it with him.

Face to face with a monster. Vilja testifies against Breivik.

Another plot thread examines the role of Breivik’s lawyer in the whole affair. Bound by the principle that even the vilest of offenders deserves a proper defence, advocate Geir Lippestad (Jon Øigarden) decides that he will represent Breivik. It’s a costly move, affecting him and his family very deeply. We’re party to the soul-searching behind Lippestad’s decision, but also his tacit disgust at his client.

Lippestad serves as defence for Breivik.

Paul Greengrass shot his film in English but wisely chose an almost entirely Norwegian cast and authentic locations. The movie thus gets its mainstream audience but retains a feel of stark reality. Just a few minor changes were made to the facts to keep the narrative flowing smoothly. The principal cast is excellent, but there really isn’t a wrong note from any of the supporting actors either. 22 July is extremely well put-together. It’s not light entertainment but tells a harrowing story in immersive fashion.

Hard to watch, but this is what happened.

Greengrass is no stranger to this kind of filmmaking. His filmography includes The Bourne Ultimatum and United 93 (the story of the one aircraft on 9/11 that didn’t hit its intended target because the passengers assaulted the terrorists). Peril and how people react to it is clearly a subject Greengrass handles exceedingly well.

Paul Greengrass, directing two of the young cast.

I was particularly interested to see this film because I’ve a strong personal connection with Norway. I worked over there briefly and then went back again later as a student of Scandinavian languages. During that time, I lived in Telemark, coincidentally the same county in which Anders Behring Breivik is now incarcerated. It’s been some years since I last visited Norway, but I was pleased to find I could still understand some of the background Norwegian chatter in 22 July.

Just kids on a summer camp.

22 July shows us plenty of Norway, but without calling attention to the fact. Perhaps the most striking vista of all is on Svalbard where Viljar contemplates the future opening up before him, even as his assailant gets banged up in a prison cell. It’s a most effective piece of symbolism for what happened to Norway. A beautiful country that suffered something awful and yet managed to work through it, move on and look to the future without knee-jerking, blamestorming or politicising.

Norwegian PM, Jens Stoltenberg (in real life) comforting one of the survivors of Utøya.

I sincerely hope nothing like the events of 22nd July 2011 ever visits Norway again, but I admire the way the country dealt with it. They didn’t over-regulate law-abiding citizens to try and make people feel safer. They took what practical steps they could but recognised that you can’t legislate for the kind of lunatic who stole 77 lives for his warped notion of freedom.

Svalbard, home to Viljar Hanssen and his family.

Personally, I’d have seen Breivik strung up, but that’s just me. The Norwegians are much more measured. They took the long view and were determined to learn from their tragedy and get past it. What’s more, this way, Breivik gets to preach his rubbish to the same four walls for the rest of his days, secure in the knowledge that nobody’s listening.

 

 

 

 

OST – original soundtrack

For most of my life, I’ve been a keen collector and appreciator of film soundtrack music.

Yeah baby! It’s Thunderball

There was this slow dawning, as I went into my mid-teens that, while other kids were following the charts and raving about David Bowie, Hot Chocolate and the Bay City Rollers (I know), I had my head in the scores to Thunderball , Close Encounters, Earthquake  and  The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

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Saturday Night Fever

Don’t get me wrong; I liked the popular hits too. I liked all sorts of bands, but they were something entirely apart from the film scores. Incidentally, I’ve been a big ELO fan for most of my life. Jeff Lynne’s work has been a bright spot for me over the years; but that’s the subject of another post.

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Jeff Lynne

Something that used to bug the hell out of me was the way soundtrack LPs (yeah, back in the days when vinyl reigned) often seemed to use cues that didn’t sound the way they had at the cinema. I later learned that scores were often re-recorded for an LP release. This allowed them to iron out any bugs or perhaps to fatten up the arrangements and make them “more listenable”. At this point, there was still some snootiness  amongst musos about the validity of film music.

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John Williams

I was lucky enough to be around when some of the greatest names in film music history were working their magic. I’d find myself reading that fine print they put on movie posters, to see who’d done the score. If it was James Bond, it would most often be John Barry. If it was a disaster film, John Williams (the American composer, not the Australian guitarist). If it was sci-fi, then Jerry Goldsmith. Films about WWII always sounded great if Ron Goodwin had done them (Where Eagles Dare anyone?). And Hitchcock was always best when backed by Bernard Herrmann (check out North by Northwest!).

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Ron Goodwin
Bernard Herrmann. He of the shrieking violins in Psycho

It wasn’t until the 1990s that filmmakers realised there was an audience out there who wanted to hear exactly what they’d heard on the big screen and not some mocked-up version of it. There was also a burgeoning realisation that  film music was a good thing in and of itself; that it had a valid place in musical history and was something people wanted to hear.

Yoda conducts the LSO with his midget lightsabre

The soundtrack market exploded and I was in heaven. All of a sudden, there were re-releases of film scores going back into the 1950s and 60s. Gone were the CD releases which just carried the limited selection of the vinyl release. A CD could hold twice as much material, so in most cases you could get every single cue from a film in there.

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Jerry Goldsmith at work

I still collect soundtracks, but am quite selective about which ones. Contemporary films seem to be pervaded by generic-sounding cues which you could transfer from one film to another and never know the difference. This is because the turnaround time is much shorter now and it’s harder for composers to catch and express that original sound which travels with the audience as they leave the cinema.

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John Barry

For me that’s the hook. A film needs its own special sound and you can’t achieve that by just vomiting off-the-peg musical cliches all over it. John Barry always used to build his work around two or three themes and you’d get fragments of them woven into the whole film. It made the story cohesive and provided an emotional ground upon which to stand and view the images before you.

Indecent Proposal. A real balancing act for composer John Barry

There are those who still put out work with strong themes; themes you can hum and remember. Michael Giaccino’s work on Jurassic World was something else. Not only did he work in John Williams’ themes from the Jurassic Park series, he added stirring motifs of his own and produced something wonderful in the process.

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Jurassic World

Another superb modern film composer is Alexandre Desplat (Girl with a Pearl Earring, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows I and II and Zero Dark Thirty). Desplat is probably one of my modern favourites. He never turns in anything shoddy or without merit.

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Alexandre Desplat

The list of available film composers is massive now. There are university courses in scoring for film and it has almost become institutionalised as an art form. For me though, the names which really shine are the ones whose style you can recognise and who counterpoint the action or tell you something about what’s going on inside a character’s head without flagging it up too obviously. It’s a delicate balance and not everyone can do it. That’s what separates the men from the boys in film composition.

 

Edge of Darkness (1985)

Over the last couple of evenings, I’ve revisited the BBC’s excellent 1985 miniseries, Edge of Darkness. This six-parter was the work of writer Troy Kennedy Martin (Z-Cars, The Italian Job, Kelly’s Heroes) and director Martin Campbell (who would go on to introduce two new James Bonds to us – Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye and Daniel Craig in Casino Royale).

If you haven’t seen it before, or have only seen the lesser film version with Mel Gibson (again, directed by Martin Campbell), then I would recommend this series. One caveat – it’s not easy viewing…


 Bob Peck – he’s got a teddy bear and a gun. Not a man to be trifled with.

In the first three parts, the action centres on Ronnie Craven, a policeman whose 21 year-old daughter, Emma, is gunned down in front of him on the steps to their house. Craven is no stranger to pain; a few years before, he watched his wife fade away from cancer. Now, the one remaining light in his life is snuffed out, but Craven soon discovers that Emma was neck-deep in some very sinister stuff.


Joanne Whalley as Emma Craven, murdered environmental activist. Official cause of death, gunshot wounds. But why is her body radioactive?

The series certainly looks and feels “of its time”, anchored as it is in the deep political divisions of the Thatcher era and presented in the old 4:3 format. However, this makes no odds in a powerful and at times surreal Cold War drama.

Edge of Darkness carries a pervading menace and doom. After I’d seen it back to back, I really felt like I needed a breather. Like all good drama, there’s no one thing that creates the atmosphere. In part, it’s the score by Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton (as I write this, I am into my second full day of that bloody guitar line going round and round and round in my head!) There’s also a highly intense performance by Bob Peck as the grieving father. Then there’s the underhandedness of powerful antagonists, portrayed by a superb supporting cast. And finally, the mystery of just what the hell went on at Northmoor.

Oh and then there’s Darius Jedburgh.

 Joe Don Baker as loose-cannon black-ops man, Darius Jedburgh

We first find Jedburgh in London. It’s closing time at a restaurant, and there he is with two American military pals. All are mullered, having spent the evening celebrating their return from doing God-knows-what, God-knows-where. Jedburgh is just sober enough to badger Craven out of his hotel room for a drink and from there, an already intriguing plot gets really engrossing.

Jedburgh’s a Langley man alright, but quite the oddball. He’s uncompromising and dangerous, but enjoys Come Dancing with childish glee and wears a poncho to breakfast.

A favourite scene is when, returning from El Salvador, Jedburgh empties out his golf bag. Out tumble golf clubs, tees, clothing, shoes, several empty bottles and an AR-15. Jedburgh draws Craven deeper into the looming mystery of what happened to Craven’s daughter and her organisation, Gaia.


“Millions of years ago when the Earth was cold, it looked like life on the planet would cease to exist. But black flowers began to grow, multiplying across the landscape until the entire surface was covered in blooms…” Emma explains it all to her dad. 

Edge of Darkness is a real one-off. It’s environmental activism (as it was in the 80s), blended with spy mystery, highly focused personal drama and revenge thriller.

It all leads miles underground, to a secret facility called Northmoor. In the film version, Northmoor was just an American corporation with dirty secrets. In the TV series, it’s much more sinister – a massive underground complex, known only to a few powerful people and hiding an ugly secret. There’s something about the way the characters get drawn into this grim, irradiated chasm that harks back to Dr Who of the 1970s or Quatermass before it.

Northmoor. Not exactly the place for a great night out… or is it?

Craven and Jedburgh retrace Emma’s steps and find their way to the heart of what’s going on. It’s a tough scramble down into the bowels of the earth and you find yourself sharing Craven’s astonishment at the secrets his recently deceased daughter must have been keeping. “This is the most dangerous business in England run by the most dangerous men”, Craven remonstrates with Emma’s ghost.

Yes, Emma’s ghost. That’s another element of this series; the enigmatic and supernatural side. Is she really appearing to him? Is he just imagining it due to grief? Is it prophetic?

Lobster omelette, asparagus tips, a cellar of the best vintages AND its own stash of weapons-grade plutonium. Northmoor – book now!

From then on, there is a tragic inevitability to the action, but it’s never predictable. All sides want a piece of what lurks deep in the caves under northern England but the truth can never be allowed out.

When it was first shown, Edge of Darkness aired on BBC2. Within days, it was rerun on BBC1 and quickly became a massive hit. To this day, it’s regarded as one of the most outstanding and influential pieces of TV ever broadcast and has influenced countless other productions.

The atmosphere of this series is so strong that I think it may be some time before I revisit it. It’s well-crafted, well-acted TV drama, but by heck it’s potent.

The Limehouse Golem

I haven’t said much about films lately, but not because I haven’t seen any. In fact, if anything, I’ve been watching quite a few but I tend to only pick out ones which have really made an impression to talk about on here.

Let me say right away that I’m no big fan of murder mysteries/whodunnits (or Victorian period pieces) but The Limehouse Golem (2016) sticks out as an extremely well-made piece of drama with a solid evocation of the period.

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I won’t spoil the story for you, but this film recreates the seedy world of Victorian East End London so well that you won’t have to suspend disbelief.

If you’re the kind of viewer who grew up devouring Agatha Christie and enjoys second-guessing mystery dramas, then you may work out what’s actually afoot in this film. I can never be bothered to puzzle it out. I just like to sit back and enjoy,  so for me this was a solid 105 minutes’ entertainment.

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The film centres on the goings-on in and around a popular London music hall company. A string of grisly murders takes place, pre-empting Jack the Ripper’s infamous doings and so horrible that the killer is nicknamed the Golem; a legendary creature of dark and murky origins.

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The narrative is ever so slightly non-linear, at least in the beginning, but the threads are skilfully woven together by director Juan Carlos Medina, who also elicits some terrific performances from Bill Nighy,  Douglas Booth and especially rising star, Olivia Cooke.

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Not for the squeamish and definitely not for young children, The Limehouse Golem is a little bit like the Sherlock Holmes films with Robert Downey, but minus the daft contrivances and laugh-aloud gags.

Bill Nighy is Inspector John Kildare, a very clever and capable policeman whose career progression has been quietly capped, owing to bitchy rumours about his sexuality. Olivia Cooke is the young actress married to a cruel and domineering man. Her career has also been stunted, because of her husband’s interfering.

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There isn’t a wasted talent in this picture. All the supporting cast turn in fine work and the story zips along nicely. For nearly two hours, you’ll feel transported to the Limehouse of the late 19th Century.

 

The Siege of Jadotville (Netflix)

I’d had this film on my watchlist for quite some time. When I finally got round to seeing it, I wondered why I had waited so long. It is, quite simply, excellent.

I think part of me was expecting it to be depressing because it had “siege” in the title and sieges don’t often end well. What transpired on screen though was a fascinating tale which, had it not been based on true events, would have had me shaking my head in cynical disbelief.

“The Siege of Jadotville” is the story of 155 men from the Irish Army ONUC who served as peacekeepers in the 1961 Katanga conflict. These are the real guys:

Netflix pours a ton of money into making original series and films. They, and others like them, have ramped up the quantity of available viewing material to saturation point, so it’s essential to pick and choose a bit or you’d never be away from the telly.

This film told the story which really should have come to light much sooner. The Irish Army unit concerned did not go home as heroes and were vilified as cowards upon their return from the Congo because of a lack of transparency or any kind of support by the politicians who sent them over there in the first place.

In 1961, the United Nations sent what was meant to be a body of peacekeepers into what turned out to be a far more dangerous situation than they had predicted. The Congolese had, in the past, welcomed the Irish Army to act on behalf of the UN because they were regarded as entirely impartial and thus ideally suited for the job.

Unfortunately, on this occasion the Irish soldiers, led by Commondant Pat Quinlan, were sent to a less than ideally situated barracks, right in the firing line of several thousand French mercenaries hired by vested interests in the country.

I won’t say any more about the plot, but if you like military adventure stories or true-event drama than do watch it. It’s an amazing tale.

Logan – surprisingly good

My eldest son is a film buff like me. He likes his Marvel genre stuff and recently sent me a little present right out of the blue; a copy of “Logan”.

I’ve seen two or three of the X-Men films and got on OK with them. Like most movies, as long as I can suspend disbelief reasonably well I’m happy. This means I can enjoy quite a wide variety of stuff; even outright crap. However “Logan” is definitely not in that category. This is a solid, entertaining thriller/drama.

They’ve really pulled something out of the hat with “Logan”. Unleashed from the constraints of the 12A certificate, “Logan” was able to show us a much grittier take on the whole X-Men thing. It also managed to be funnier. Hearing Professor Xavier turn the air blue was such a culture shock after his restraint in other films, it made me guffaw out loud.

I’d say, if you’re sitting on the fence about seeing “Logan”, then see it. It’s a good ol’ yarn with believable characterisation and strong performances all round. It is very violent though so if you’re squeamish it might not be for you.

“We’ve gone on holiday by mistake, Mr Bond!”


Where Eagles Dare (1969)

I’ve been interested in films for almost as long as I can remember. My father ran a large Scope unit in Cornwall. It was a marvellous place, set in its own grounds and from time to time, we’d have movie nights. A massive, white canvas screen had been constructed in one of the workshops and there was a Bell & Howell 16mm projector and basic loudspeaker. This was the 1970s so no 5.1 surround sound just yet.


Withnail & I (1986)

Eventually, in my teenage years, I took over as projectionist. If the film was something involving big names or a recent major release, audiences would be swollen by family members, staff and significant others. Only the advent of VCR players eventually killed it all off, but by then I had had at least 10 years of saturation in the cinema and had also grown very interested in film soundtrack music.

John Barry (1933-2010)

I thought I might put the occasional post up on here regarding films that I’ve discovered/consider to be classics. Not full-blown reviews particularly; just personal thoughts and impressions. Maybe the odd thing about film music too.