Skip to main content

These people live in parking lots!

Nomads
(1986)

(SPOILERS) I suppose an inauspicious beginning to a directorial career is better than never again challenging one’s first-time-out-of-the-gate success. After all, nobody was on tenterhooks for Cameron’s next movie after Piranha II: The Spawning (then again, neither is anyone now). In his autobiography, Arnie tells how he caught John McTiernan’s Nomads and, impressed by his ability to ratchet up tension, suggested him for Predator. If this is true, the Austrian Oak has (had, judging by his last 20 years of movie roles) a rare eye, as it would be all too easy to come away unimpressed with the picture’s sub-MTV rock video, sub-Mad Max stylings.


Which isn’t to say there’s isn’t something here. The basic concept is distinctive, and McTiernan’s way into it is intriguing enough; when Jean-Charles Pommier (Pierce Brosnan, who would reteam with the director thirteen years later for the altogether more successful Thomas Crown Affair remake; sporting a Die Another Day beard, Pierce’s French accent would have been rejected by the ‘Allo ‘Allo cast as ludicrous) dies in an LA hospital emergency room, he mysteriously passes on his experiences to Dr Eileen Flax (former "Britain's Most Beautiful Teenager" Lesley-Anne Down), who understandably can’t cope.


We learn, through Flax’s eyes, that UCLA anthropologist Pommier had been doing what anthropologists do and studying primitive groups and their beliefs. This appears to have led to the arrival of a tribe of novelty nomads in his near vicinity. On taking pictures in which they fail to appear, Pommier concludes they are Einwetok, Inuit trickster spirits looking to silence him (“The problem now is not what you know. It’s what they know. You looked too closely”). They are “supposed harmful spirits”, who “brought down disaster and menace” on their victims, and Pommier’s death doesn’t seem to have abated them, as they start menacing Flax and Pommier’s wife Niki (Anna-Maria Monticelli).


Credit to McTiernan, he adopts an oblique dream-like approach that makes it a challenge to piece together precisely what is going on. But it isn’t always merit-worthy to make your audience do the hard work; one has to be rewarded by in some way by all that nebulousness. The parallel narratives, in which Flax finds herself suddenly dropping into Pommier’s prior experiences, are nicely achieved. McTiernan even includes a frisson of lesbian subtext in Flax’s newfound relationship with Niki, which put me in mind of another debut feature, Tony Scott’s atypical (for him) The Hunger, a more studious and rewarding blend of style and story.



There are also some strange and arresting interludes; Pommier’s encounter with a (ghostly) nun achieves a sense of the uncanny much of the movie (sadly) lacks, and the final reveal that he has now joined the ranks of the Einwetok is a solid, if inevitable, twist (it appears to signal the spirits are confining their activities to California, for whatever reason, as he turns back when Flax and Niki cross its boundary).


Unfortunately, Nomads often looks more like an extended pilot for The Equalizer than a prepossessing debut feature. There is much in the way of dry ice and deserted back alleys, suggestive not so much of an eerie atmosphere as zero budget for extras and locations. The style-conscious Einwetok include Adam Ant (who, we learn, was a killer in human form) and Warhol/Corman cult actress Mary Woronov among their ranks, and are consequently pitifully unmenacing. Visualising them as a leather-clad biker gang, driving around in an old van, McTiernan succeeds in robbing his concept of any mystique (“These people live in parking lots!”). Since much of the picture is based on the act of observing them, or their observing/threatening others, it’s rather a fundamental problem.


So too, McTiernan’s attempts to render an unnerving, twilight urban landscape are continually undermined by the Bill Conti/Ted Nugent rawwwk soundtrack, further adding to the sensation that this is more like a feature length music video than a coherent movie (the use of a heartbeat effect at various points is much more effective and unsettling).


There’s curiosity value here (where else will you get a chance to see 007 beating Prince Charming with a crowbar?) but McTiernan mistakes ceaselessly cryptic pseudo-mysticism for layered and challenging storytelling. Consequently, he elicits mere indifference, and it isn’t too great a surprise Nomads bombed. I’d been intrigued to see the movie, which is currently on YouTube, for a good long while, buoyed by its director’s subsequent credentials and the premise, which sounds so much better on paper – and likewise looks on the poster –  than it turns out on celluloid. The most impressive thing about Nomads is that you never would have expected its director to deliver something so accomplished – if from a far less imaginative premise – only a year later.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

That be what we call scringe stone, sir.

Doctor Who The Ribos Operation (1978)
Season 16 is my favourite season, so I’m inevitably of the view that it gets a bad rap (or a just plain neglected one), is underrated and generally unappreciated. Of its six stories, though, The Ribos Operation is probably the one, on balance, that receives the most accolades (on some days, it’s The Pirate Planet; many moons ago, back when DWAS was actually a thing of some relevance, The Stones of Blood won their season poll; there are also those who, rightly, extol the virtues of The Androids of Tara). I’m fully behind that, although truthfully, I don’t think there’s an awful lot between the first four stories. Why, I even have great affection for the finale. It’s only “KROLL! KROLL! KROLL! KROLL!” that comes up a bit short, which no doubt makes me a no good dryfoot, but there you are. If that Robert Holmes script is on the threadbare side, through little fault of his own, The Ribos Operation is contrastingly one of his very best, a hugely satisfyi…

I do… very competitive ice dancing.

Justice League (2017)
(SPOILERS) Superheroes, and superhero movies, trade in hyperbole, so it shouldn’t be surprising that DC’s two releases this year have been responded to in like, only each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Wonder Woman was insanely over-praised in the rush to fete a female superhero finally leading a movie, crushing all nuanced criticism in its wake. Justice League, meanwhile, has been lambasted on the basis that it’s more of the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, only worse – to the extent there have been calls for a Zach Snyder Director’s Cut, which is quite an extent, as extents go – as it’s guilty of being an unholy clash of styles, grimdark Zach scowling in one corner and quip-happy Joss pirouetting in the other. And yes, the movie is consequently a mess, but it’s a relatively painless mess, with the sense to get in and get out again before the viewer has enough time to assess the full extent of the damage.

Angry man is unsecure.

Hulk (2003)
(SPOILERS) I’m not a Hulk apologist. I unreservedly consider it one of the superior superhero adaptations, admittedly more for the visual acumen Ang Lee brings to the material than James Schamus, Michael France and John Turman’s screenplay. But even then, if the movie gets bogged down in unnecessarily overwrought father-son origins and dynamic, overlaid on a perfectly good and straightforward core story (one might suggest it was change for the sake of change), once those alterations are in place, much of the follow through, and the paralleling of wayward parents and upright children, or vice versa, translates effectively to the screen, even if the realisation of the big green fella is somewhat variable.

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

Sometimes when you take people away, they don't come back.

The Ward (2010)
(SPOILERS) I’d felt no particular compunction to rush out and see The Ward (or rent it), partly down to the underwhelming reviews, but mostly because John Carpenter’s last few films had been so disappointing, and I doubted a decade away from the big screen would rejuvenate someone who’d rather play computer games than call the shots. Perhaps inevitably then, now I have finally given it a look, it’s a case of low expectations being at least surpassed. The Ward isn’t very good, but it isn’t outright bad either.

While it seems obvious in retrospect, I failed to guess the twist before it was revealed, probably because I was still expecting a supernatural element to be realised, it being a Carpenter movie. But then, this doesn’t feel very much like a Carpenter movie. It doesn’t have a Carpenter score (Mark Killian) or screenplay (Michael and Shawn Rasmussen) and it doesn’t have Gary B Kibbe as lenser (Yaron Orbach). I suspect the latter explains why it’s a much more professi…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You diabolical mastermind, you.

The Avengers Season 4 Ranked – Worst to Best
Season Four is generally held up as the pinnacle of The Avengers, and it certainly maintains the greatest level of consistency in the run. Nevertheless, as I noted a few reviews back, one viewer’s classic is another’s ho-hum with this show, perhaps because it doesn’t elicit the same kind of exhaustive fandom to establish any level of consensus as some series. There follows my Worst to Best ranking of the season, told mostly in pictures. The index for full episode reviews can be found here.