Rum! I need rum!

I can’t think of rum without thinking of Billy Connolly in the Muppets’ Treasure Island, parading around the Admiral Benbow argh-ing and ah-ing and telling puppets not to run with scissors. Funnily enough, I’ve come to rather enjoy it.

img_0195I’m an occasional heavy drinker, which is to say I don’t always drink, but when I do, well …. Anyway, I’ve discovered a fondness for rum, and I think I understand what the pirates were always on about. In particular, I really enjoy Captain Morgan Private Stock Premium Barrel rum. It has a wonderfully smooth character, a sweetness that doesn’t overpower, and a hint of spice that reminds me of the Caribbean.

I also like single malt islay whiskies, but that’s for another time.

Movie Night: Project A

Year: 1983

Director: Jackie Chan

Production Company: Authority Films

Leads: Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung Kam-Bo

ProjectAOne thing Netflix does have a lot of is old Jackie Chan movies. I have to be careful to avoid the R-rated ones with Little Satis (it’s usually just for Chris Tucker‘s foul mouth), but there are plenty that are pretty much just harmless fun. A particular joy are those from the eighties before he moved to Hollywood, because some of them just don’t make any sense. We watched The Accidental Spy once (fair enough, that one’s from 2001), which is about a salesman who just happens to be a karate master. Fair enough.

At least in Project A Jackie Chan is an ex-cop turned sailor, so the martial arts is a little more explainable…maybe? Anyway, long story short, pirates are attacking the Chinese navy in Hong Kong, and despite all their efforts, they always seem to be one step ahead of the navy’s plans. The admiral, a kindly old man, is discharged, the ships abandoned, and naturally all the sailors become police officers. It turns out, however, that it was the police who were giving the information to the pirates in the first place. With the help of a shadowy, overweight kung-fu-chopping madman friend and a haughty police officer who nonetheless has his heart in the right place, our hero manages to fool the cops, bust an arms trade with the pirates, sneak into their island cove, duke it out with the super-badass pirate bad guy and escape just before it all blows to hell.

Frankly there isn’t a whole lot to be considered here. The whole thing feels a little bit like a Chinese James Bond film with martial arts. IMDB labels it as a “costume drama”, and the costumes certainly couldn’t be more dramatic. The pirates are wonderfully stereotyped, complete with swords and bare chests and pantaloons and drooping pencil mustaches:

535728-projecta_d

All in all, the main reason to watch this movie – the main reason to watch any Jackie Chan movie – is for the stunts, and of those there are numerous and spectacular examples. The cycling stunts through the back alleys of Hong Kong are splendid, and when Jackie Chan manages to climb to the top of a forty-foot flagpole, jump onto a roof and crash through a loft window, all with his hands manacled, my heart did actually do a little leap. Every fight scene is beautifully choreographed, which is simply a pleasure to watch. There is humor, but often the true laughs are at the attempts to deliberately be funny – the crudeness of the slapstick is itself amusing (for example, when Chan’s bicycle seat falls off without his knowing, and he sits down on the bare pole).

There was one thing about the film that stuck out to me, and it was something that I personally was very appreciative of. Unlike many of his more modern films (and unlike most films these days), the on-location filming in the streets and back alleys of Hong Kong lends a wonderful authenticity that is so often missing these days. No spectacular sets, no jumping out of airplanes or off skyscrapers; the story is a simpler one, and so the locations are simpler. It makes one realize that huge sets are very impressive and all, but it can actually take away from what you’re supposed to be impressed by: the actors, and the action.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Movie Night: Swiss Family Robinson

Welcome to Movie Night: a chance to sit back, relax, and take in a new piece of cinematic wonder with Little Satis and I. This will (hopefully) be a once-weekly post about the movies we watch together, snuggled up in the dark with a cup of tea and a pack of M&Ms. Enjoy!

 

Year: 1960

Production Company: Walt Disney

Leads: John Mills, Dorothy McGuire

Little stands out in my memory from my childhood as well as Disney’s 1960 version of Swiss Family Robinson. Along with such swashbuckling epics such as Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe, its simple yet delightful tale of a (Swiss) family shipwrecked on a deserted island mesmerized me, and I lived and breathed the storms, the jungles, the fear and the smoke of the pirates’ attack. What young boy didn’t want to live in a treehouse with a monkey and an elephant?

This was something of a spectacle when it was released almost fifty-two years ago. A rare feat for Disney, it was filmed in epic widescreen, which allowed the luscious scenery of Trinidad and Tobago to sprawl across the screen. The opening scene, serving as a striking backdrop for the credits, shows a nineteenth-centry sailing vessel being battered to pieces in a savage storm. I marvel at this scene today; long before the age of terrible CGI sea storms, this looks, even now, stunningly realistic. The waves seem too large and detailed to be a miniature set, yet they clearly couldn’t have filmed it in an actual storm. My best bet is they made phenomenal use of the historic sets of Pinewood Studios.

Accompanying this dramatic opening is William Alwyn‘s beautiful, romantic-inspired score – strings, piccolos, timpani and haunting brass a musical match to the storm that could rival Wagner. Throughout the film, this score keeps pace, and though it occasionally descends into cartoonish cues, it provides a depth and drama to an otherwise amusing family adventure.

There are, of course, numerous instances that date the film, most notably the almost embarrassingly stereotyping of both women and races. There are only two females in the film – Mother Robinson and Roberta – and both are portrayed throughout as helpless and defenseless. I held a little hope when Roberta shows some skill at shooting, but she never ends up actually shooting any pirates – another terrible typecast. I’m pretty sure the oriental-ish pirates weren’t actually speaking any kind of language at all. Oh, for the sixties.

And of course, looking back on it now, how did I miss that the ‘Swiss’ family were all English and American? And why on earth did no one ever grow a beard? And for that matter, how did they build all that cool stuff? It’s sort of like someone had a sonic screwdriver to hand.

Either way, it’s a charming and lighthearted romp of an adventure, and Little Satis and I very much enjoyed it.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆