Welcome to a brand new monthly feature here at Eat Sleep Live Film! On the first week of each month we will be bringing you a selection of staff picks on the subject of a specific theme, genre, or just whatever takes our fancy.
This month in celebration of the much anticipated directorial debut from Joe Cornish, Attack the Block (you can read my review here), we have carefully selected our favourite siege movies for your reading pleasure.
If you have any suggestions for future topics that youâ€™d like us to cover then let us know in the comments section below.
James McDonald â€“ The Negotiator
When expert hostage negotiator Danny Roman (Samuel Jackson) is framed for embezzlement and murder by some of his own colleagues, he himself becomes the hostage taker. Another renowned Negotiator, Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey), is brought in to quell the situation which only escalates as the truth to Danny’s predicament unfolds. Danny locks the building down and has the knowledge and ability to outsmart the police at their own game, proving to be quite the thorn in their side. Itchy trigger fingers and premature breaches into the building by the inept and partly corrupt police force push Danny to breaking point and possibly over the edge entirely.
I have a lot of fun when I watch this movie. I’ve seen it a fair few times and the performance between Spacey and Jackson is what captivates the most. Jackson plays it dead serious and has an uncanny knack of looking like a really angry mofo when called upon, while Spacey has a few moments of ham thrown in amongst the quality beef. Other supporting actors are of particular note. Paul Giamatti as the slimy but slightly likable Rudy and the late JT Walsh as the possibly bent Internal Affairs agent. One of his last roles.
The sight of two professional negotiators trying to talk each other down is very well played out. How do you bullshit someone who is trained to spot bullshit? It’s an excellent and entertaining movie all around. You will unfortunately require a few leaps of faith and logic, but not enough to ruin it entirely. Lady Luck plays her hand a few times throughout and you can’t help but feel that many different factors could’ve derailed Danny’s plan had they come unstuck. But sometimes you just get lucky I suppose. I’ll let this one go.
Emma Farley â€“ The Birds
Iâ€™m all for suspension of disbelief when it comes to films but when it comes to invasion movies, horrors and apocalyptic films, I like them to be believable. I also like my science fiction to be within the realms of possibility. So, my favourite siege film? The Birds.
Donâ€™t scoff, it could really happen! I have a perfectly rational fear of birds (all birds, no matter what size) and living by the sea means Iâ€™m never far from seagulls. Ugh, Iâ€™m shuddering just thinking about it. I genuinely believe that one day something could make these evil creatures turn on us and St Ives will be the home of the real The Birds. I wonâ€™t be shooting the documentary however; Iâ€™ll be the one hiding in an underground bunker. I just know the little buggers will come flying down my chimney and take over my house!
But enough about my crazy fear. Back to The Birds. Hitchcock really was the master of suspense and he made the ordinary extraordinary. Todayâ€™s films are full of effects and computer-generated imagery to try and freak out audiences. In The Birds, Hitch used a normal, everyday animal and turned it into a genuine threat. And even when the townâ€™s inhabitants arenâ€™t under attack, youâ€™re still sat on the edge of your seat. That scene in the school playground is one of the most tense and memorable in the history of cinema. You can keep your War of the Worlds and Monsters. For me, the greatest siege movie has to be The Birds.
Kurt Brookes â€“ Evil Dead II
Ash, played by chin wizard Bruce Campbell, takes his girlfriend Linda to a cabin in the woods on what in hindsight must be the worst romantic mini-break ever. After playing a recording of Professor Raymond Knowby, the missing owner of the cabin, reading passages from the Necronomicon Ex Mortis, roughly translated as â€œBook of the Deadâ€, all hell breaks loose and the woods come to life. Linda is promptly snatched by a mysterious invisible force, zombified and decapitated with a shovel before finally being finished off with the contents of a nearby workshed.
A broken bridge keeps Ash firmly in his forest prison and he’s tormented mentally and physically as the cabin’s furniture openly mocks him and his hand goes bad, smashing crockery and anything it can get it’s fingers on over his head. Ash lops off his evil appendage before being joined by four fresh would-be victims who are looking for the Professor and the book. All bar our chinrific protagonist are dispensed in hilarious and overly gory fashion and Ash dons his trusty chainsaw and shotgun to unknowingly fulfil an ancient prophecy to become â€œThe Hero From The Skyâ€.
Perhaps the only film on this month’s list where a grown man shares a laugh with a lamp, â€œEvil Dead IIâ€ is a lightning fast paced film which not only â€œremakesâ€ its predecessor in just under 20 minutes but also defined a genre of goofball gorefests.
Richard Turner – From Dusk Till Dawn
And who says B-Movies canâ€™t be smart? Scripted by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Robert Rodriguez, From Dusk Till Dawn is the true precursor to the Grindhouse movies. Witty, scary, and a hell of a lot of fun, this underrated gem of a film has it all.
Starting out like a standard heist movie, 2 fugitive bank robbers Seth (George Clooney) and Richie (Quentin Tarantino) take a family as hostages to smuggle them across the border into Mexico, in order to meet their business associate at the aptly named â€˜Titty Twisterâ€™ bar. Clooney has some absolutely magnificent one liners â€“ â€œIf you try to run, I’ve got six little friends and they can all run faster than you canâ€. And Tarantino does a surprisingly great acting job as the perverse sidekick, who spends the time eyeing up the feisty young daughter, Kate (played by Juliette Lewis).
Then exactly one hour into the movie comes one of the biggest â€˜WTFâ€™ moments in cinema history: The bar staff turn into blood sucking servants of hell, and the film unexpectedly transforms into a vampire movie. AWESOME. For the remainder of the film the few survivors must take refuge in the bar from the legions of vampires waiting outside. Apart from the usual batch of anti-vampire weaponry (stakes, crosses, table legs etc.), comes a whole host of inventive new weapons: shotgun crosses, stake drills, pelvis handguns, and holy water super soakers. Fun ensues.
The film then goes all kind of crazy; from George Clooney fighting a giant rat, to Harvey Keitelâ€™s head exploding. But From Dusk Till Dawn never loses sight of what makes it great: not taking itself too seriously, and a genuine affection for the genre. But the less said about the sequels the better.
Deb Martin â€“ Red Cliff
Red Cliff is yet another John Woo masterpiece.Â Loosely based on historical fact, it tells the story of Zhou Yu (Tony Leung) and his alliance with Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro) to defeat the warlord Cao Cao. Leung and KaneshiroÂ play well off each other as a commander and his war strategist, neither of whom really want to go to war but know it must happen for the greater good. These characters also continue the Woo tradition of unlikely bonding between two men. Liang comes up with several clever plans that confuse Cao, but what he lacks in intelligence he makes up for in merciless brutality. Zhao Wei gives an understated comedic performance as Sun Shiangxiang, Liangâ€™s sister and a capable troop leader.
Every single shot in this film is a thing of beauty. Woo uses the camera to paint pictures of battle scenes with lush cinematography that fill the horizon and beyond. Red Cliff is a sort of Ballet of Blood, but with arrows and swords instead of guns. The colossal final battle has the nerve-wracking tension weâ€™ve come to expect from a Woo standoff, and he does not disappoint. Do yourself a favor and see the original four hour version, not the edited international version, because not a single moment in this film is wasted.
Bradley Porter â€“ 300
It’s undeniable that 300 works on an entirely visceral level, but it wasn’t until… I guess the 4th time viewing (?), on a humble DVD, that I truly understood it’s appeal. My mother had avoided it for entirely superficial reasons but wanted to give it a crack at home, so we stuck it on and she flipped for it. She told me it was the ‘character development’ that impressed her the most. Now I’m not entirely sure my mother truly understands what she means by ‘character development’. This is after all the woman who thought only a year earlier that ‘Brokeback Mountain’ was taking “this gay thing a bit too far”. Obscured by the testosterone gaze, it was hard to see the wood for the might-as-well-be-tree-trunks Spartans and while a lot has been written on how men and women perceive 300 and it’s heroes, it tends to boil down to ‘Women wanting to screw them, and men wanting to be them’. It’s probably true to an extent, but I think it goes deeper than that. The way in which the Spartans fight to protect their city is admirable yes, but it’s not entirely selfless. While of course, if can’t stem the flow then they stand to lose everything but the odds were stacked so high against them and they still believed they would win. Losing Sparta would be crushing, but it would still come second to the agony of losing the fight. These men aren’t built for defeat and we men watching may want to look like them, to BE them, but only so we could feel worthy to fight alongside them. That’s the key.
Stephanie Scaife – The Mist
Here we have another Stephen King adaptation from Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile), but it is also one of his best as well as being the most effective siege film Iâ€™ve ever seen. The premise is fairly simple; a mysterious mist sweeps through a sleepy Maine town after a storm trapping a group of people inside a grocery store. Soon monsters with tentacles and giant killer insects start coming out of the mist and as the survivors become increasingly scared they form opposing groups, on one side you have the sensible contingent intent on surviving led by Thomas Jane (David Drayton) and on the other side you have a group of religious extremists led by the frightening Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden).
As with many of the best siege films it becomes apparent that the main problem and threat may not be a result of whatever they are under siege from in the first place but rather from the people themselves, quick to blame and turn on each other . The Mist also works as a fantastic monster movie with some great creatures and special effects as well as some genuinely eerie moments, including a particularly creepy scene in a drug store that I wouldnâ€™t recommend for any arachnophobes out there. What I love most about this film though is the ending, undoubtedly one of the bravest and most nihilistic endings Iâ€™ve seen in a Hollywood film, possibly ever.
Jordan McGrath – Home Alone
Ok, strange pick I know and not the first film that comes into your head when somebody asks you to pick one of your favourite siege films but Home Alone has everything that a movie needs to be a great siege film.Â You have Macaulay Culkin being a little bad ass, some great villains with some very solid comedic performances by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, a script from the late great John Hughes and Chris Columbus when he had talent.
I guess what I like most about Home Alone, is it takes all the guns, all the violence all the killing you would normally see in a siege movie and just turns it on its head.Â Itâ€™s hoodwinks its baddies instead of shooting at them and delivers all the laughs and all the heart you would want from a family comedy.
Itâ€™s still one of my favourite Christmas films because thereâ€™s just so many iconic moments in it that have been burned into your subconscious after watching as a kid.Â I guess itâ€™s not a question of whatâ€™s doesnâ€™t work with Home Alone but whatâ€™s not freakinâ€™ awesome!
Ian Loring – Assault On Precinct 13
If anyone asks “which one”, please do fuck off. John Carpenter’s first major picture after his breakout expanded student film Dark Star, Assault On Precinct 13 contains many of the elements Â us fans of the man know and love. The awesome synth score, the simple text on black credits, a love of hearkening back to pictures of old, in this case Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo, and a ruthless simplicity in it’s set-up which many of his films to follow would also have.
Despite hovering around the 90 minute mark, the film takes it’s time to get going, the actual assault of the title not actually beginning until a half hour in, instead the rising tension mixes perfectly with the character work on show, headed by Austin Stoker’s Ethan Bishop, a relative newcomer to the force who would like some action but not at this time and Darwin Jonson’s Wilson a badass prisoner who helps the good guys out of this jam. Along with them you have characters who basically cycle through tropes, Tony Burton’s comic relief, Laurie Zimmer’s tough-as-nails Leigh and Nancy Loomis’ not nearly as tough Julie, but they all bring a humanity to their performances which you may not expect. Even when some of them do bad things, you still understand why. The siege mentality brings these disparate people together and through it some of them become better people and others show their true colours, making an action film that has a bit more going on under the hood than you may otherwise think.
Tying this all together, Carpenter makes great use of the police station sets with many different places in which the action can take place, while the outside world knows nothing of what is going on. It’s claustrophobic, incredibly tense and yet still has many moments of levity without ever getting outright “funny”, it’s a masterclass in shooting a simple set-up and making memorable action cinema.