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Showing posts from April, 2018

How did you get inside that cloud? Also, how could you eat an entire box of Pop-Tarts and still be hungry?

Thor (2011)
(SPOILERS) Thor gets several things very right, suggesting Marvel were shrewd to offset their nervousness over a magical/supernatural, cod-Shakespearean departure from their semi-realist pictures so far by casting Sir Kenneth Branagh as director. Being a luvvie, he's right at home with theatrical tones erupting from thespians hamming it up. Unfortunately, he's also a movie director of negligible pedigree, one who thinks moving the camera a lot represents style and that Dutch angles are evidence of auteurism. There’s not all that much hyperactivity in Thor, the less the pity – even the Dutch angles are more subdued than one’s accustomed to – as its biggest disappointment is that it fails to dig into its cosmic absurdity and really relish the material.

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

So the house is falling apart and the vineyard makes undrinkable wine. Excellent.

A Good Year (2006)
(SPOILERS) I oughtn’t really to like A Good Year. And, kind of, I don’t. But I kind of do too. Despite entirely floundering on a number of levels that should entirely incapacitate it on the starting line, it’s probably the most likeable, personable movie Ridley Scott has made in the past two decades. Which doesn’t make it very good, but it’s very evident he actually had something invested in what he was making for a change.

Kroll couldn’t tell the difference between you and me and half an acre of dandelion and burdock.

Doctor Who The Power of Kroll
All baloney? Certainly, The Power of Kroll was and is oft-cited as one of the worst Doctor Who stories evah, which is probably why there’s now a converse apologia that it isn’t that bad at all, actually, to the extent that a cult of Kroll has grown around it, bathing in its badness, Plan 9 from Outer Space-like. Both the 1998 DWM and 2003 Outpost Gallifrey story polls, way back before there was nu-Who to mess with the purity of the process, had it pegged at 145th out of 160-ish (the exact number depending on which other extraneous inclusions were allowed), which isn’t quite the pits but not far off. Far from being an exemplar of all that’s wrong with the much-maligned Graham Williams era, though, the story stands out because it effectively shuns many of its key ingredients. Albeit, the most notable exception to this proved the biggest stick to beat it with: never more variable production values.

So, you want to go overseas. Kill some Nazis.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
(SPOILERS) I suppose you have to give Kevin Feige credit for turning the least-likely-to-succeed-in-view-of-America’s-standing-with-the-rest-of-the-world superhero into one of Marvel’s biggest success stories, but I tend to regard Steve Rogers and his alter ego as something of a damp squib who got lucky. Lucky in that his first sequel threw him into a conspiracy plotline that effectively played off his unwavering and unpalatable nobility and lucky in that his second had him butting heads with Tony Stark and a supporting selection of superheroes. But coming off the starting block, Captain America: The First Avenger is as below par as pre-transformation Steve himself, and I’m always baffled when it turns up in best of Marvel Cinematic Universe lists. The best I can say for it is that Joe Johnston’s movie offers a mildly engaging opening section and the occasional facility for sharp humour. For the most part, though, it’s as bland and impersonal as…

I apologise for Oslo's low murder rate.

The Snowman (2017)
(SPOILERS) Maybe Morton Tyldum made Jo Nesbø adaptations look deceptively easy with Headhunters, although Tyldum hasn’t show such facility with material since, so maybe Nesbø simply suits someone with hackier sensibilities than Tomas Alfredson. It’s a long way down from the classy intrigue of John Le Carré to the serial killer clichés of The Snowman, and I’m inclined to think that, even if Alfredson had managed to film that 15% of the screenplay he says went awry, this wouldn’t have been all that great.

Definitely the perfect prisoner’s friend.

The Avengers 1.20: Tunnel of Fear
(SPOILERS) As Alan Hayes observes (in the booklet accompanying the DVD release of this recently discovered Season One episode), there’s a more than passing kitchen sink element to Tunnel of Fear. You could almost expect it to form the basis of a Public Eye case, rather than one in which Steed and Dr Keel get involved, if not for the necessary paraphernalia of secrets being circulated via a circus fairground.

I once fought for two days with an arrow through my testicle.

Kingdom of Heaven Director’s Cut (2005)
(SPOILERS) There’s an oft-cited view that Kingdom of Heaven, in its unexpurgated as-Ridley-honest-to-goodness-intended director’s cut – in contrast to some of his other, rather superfluous director’s cuts, in which case – is a goddam masterpiece. It isn’t, I’m afraid. First and foremost, Orlando Bloom is not miraculously transformed into a leading man with any presence, substance or conviction. But there are other problems, more than evident, mostly in the form of the revisionist pose William Monahan’s screenplay adopts and the blundering lack of subtlety with which his director translates it.

I’ve successfully privatised world peace. What more do you want?

Iron Man 2 (2010)
(SPOILERS) Difficult second album syndrome. So difficult, the main architect subsequently surrendered control to – or was tactfully pushed aside for – Shane Black, and the trilogy ended on a blissful high (although mileage on that view varies). Iron Man 2 is as typically over-stuffed as has become the de rigueur cliché for sequels, and you’d have hoped studios would have learnt by now. Two villains (neither of whom quite come together, one through intent – he’s vaguely comic relief – and the other through being a bit shit), two Iron Men (well, one War Machine and an Iron Man), the escalating involvement of SHIELD, and with it Black Widow. Oh, and the inclusion, in part anyway, if not as habitually, of the fan favourite Demon in a Bottle addiction storyline. Where Favreau’s spitballing command of the ship got the 2008 original over its bumps, here he actively seems to get in its way (or the demands of Marvel do), with the result that its mostly down to its very watchabl…

Don’t think I think you’re as dumb as you want me to think.

The Florida Project (2017)
(SPOILERS) I was rooting for Willem Dafoe to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar this year, sight unseen, simply because he’s Willem Dafoe, and it’s impossible for him to disappoint. He’s a duly impressive presence in The Florida Project, although it’s easy to understand why Sam Rockwell’s showier turn took the lion’s share of the attention and ultimately the award to boot. The picture itself is a mixed bag, shining a spotlight on the disenfranchised and down-at-heel underbelly of Kissimmee, Florida, home of Disney World, but doing much better with its portrait of the adults than the kids (the latter probably getting more screen time); there’s a feeling, at points, that it’s overcome by a persuasion towards vérité, whether that’s engaging or not.

Who are we if we can’t protect them? We have to protect them.

A Quiet Place (2018)
(SPOILERS) Movies built on a bedrock of rules usually come a cropper if they pause long enough to allow examination of how closely they adhere to them. Either they have to come out and say it doesn’t really matter (Gremlins 2: The New Batch) or the assembled elements overcome any logical shortcomings. A Quiet Place, John Krasinski’s third feature as director, rewriting a screenplay by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, achieves the latter chiefly through devotion to its characters, but also via a confident grasp of cinematic language.

You can’t believe that voodoo. Sharks don’t commit murder. They don’t pick out a person.

Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
(SPOILERS) Jaws IV is, of course, one of the worst movies ever made, one of the biggest stinkers ever to have erupted from Hollywood. That’s the received wisdom, at any rate, seemingly even underlined by its stars, with Michael Caine famously citing it as paying for his house, and that, despite not having seen it, he was “reliably informed that it is, by all accounts, terrible”. But what if it isn’t? What if Jaws: The Revenge is actually – not a high bar, I know – the best of the Jaws sequels?

Don’t make me… hungry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m… hungry.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)
(SPOILERS) It’s fortunate the bookends of Marvel’s Phase One are so sturdy, as the intervening four movies simply aren’t that special. Mediocre might be too strong a word (although at least one qualifies for that status), but they amountto a series of at-best-serviceable vehicles for characters rendered on screen with varying degrees of nervousness and second guessing. They also underline that, through the choices of directors, no one was bigger than the franchise, and no one had more authority than supremo Kevin Feige. Which meant there was integrity of overall vision, but sometimes a paucity of it in cinematic terms. The Incredible Hulk arrived off the back of what many considered a creative failure and commercial disappointment from Ang Lee five years earlier yet managed on just about every level to prove itself Hulk’s inferior. A movie characterised by playing it safe, it’s now very much the unloved orphan of the MCU, with a lead actor recast and a main c…

This isn't just a game. I'm talking about actual life and death stuff.

Ready Player One (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ready Player One was a major test for the ‘berg. Did he still have what it took to rank as one of the big guns of populist modern cinema, or would he be confirmed as an out-of-touch grandpa, futilely attempting to reclaim a crown he’d long since lost, and in the process adding insult to injury by attempting to tap into a vein of nostalgia he himself had a hand in creating? The answer is that this is very much cinema from a man with his finger on the pulse of current tastes and trends, one who – if we’re take his comment at face value – thinks it’s anything other than facetious to suggest the Indiana Jones series would benefit from a gender swap as “Indiana Joan”. Ready Player One moves along breezily, hitting the superficial marks of event cinema, but it’s a mechanical exercise from a man who was once a titan of the genre. Where once he was enthused by the possibilities of creating sheer entertainment and that was enough, now he’s caught second-guessi…

White sharks are dangerous. I know 'em. My father, my brother, myself. They're murderers.

Jaws 3-D (1983)
(SPOILERS) Well, not 3-D the way I saw it, although you’d have to be deluded, or fallen asleep (the latter most likely) not to (sporadically) be alarmed at the manner in which it was dressed for that format. A belated sequel, five years down the line from Jaws 2, showed Universal all at sea and floundering, rather than making the most from their unexpected cash cow. The premise of Jaws 3-D (more commonly known as simply Jaws III outside of theatres) was arrived at after Steven Spielberg nixed a much more daring shake up of a franchise that was already lacking spark with its first follow-up, but his dogmatic resistance to Joe Dante’s version only underscored that this was a drowning franchise gasping its last.

Next time, I shall not be so lenient!

Doctor Who The Androids of Tara
Pastiche is often applied to The Androids of Tara as if it’s a dirty word. It’s only a pastiche, wafer thin, of The Prisoner of Zenda. A few names changed, a few science fiction tropes added, but otherwise, little more than a pastiche. The pastiche of the Hinchcliffe era tends to be heralded, but Tara’s guilty of self-conscious limitation, to a set text and a limited scale; it is, at best, considered slight but amiable. There’s a seeming predisposition towards regarding it as minor because it isn’t dealing with death and destruction. The Robots of Death pastiched Agatha Christie but also slotted in Asimov, distinctive production design and high stakes. Tara, through being so quietly assured, lays itself open to accusations of not trying too hard, but marking it down for cutting a light-hearted dash so well and with such confidence seems rather churlish.

Five years of pain after twenty of privilege and now you think you know a thing or two about suffering.

Ben-Hur (2016)
(SPOILERS) MGM has been entirely consistent in plundering its back catalogue for remakes. At least, to the extent that they never at any point suggested quality results were a determining factor. You’d have thought a redo of one of their greatest success stories would have presumed more care and reverence, but Timur Bekmambetov brings the same level of depth and discernment to Ben-Hur he did to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. About the best you can say for it is that’s it’s relatively concise in the telling.

You were the people's one true god, for a moment.

Ben-Hur (1959)
(SPOILERS) Ben-Hur has the fairly unchallenged virtue of being a biblical epic that, if not quite as astounding as its unparalleled 11 Oscars would suggest, is actually really good. The number of kids foisted into watching it during a Religious Studies class only to be very pleasantly surprised (I can’t say my response was similar when Pink Floyd: The Wall got an unlikely airing), and its status as a Bank Holiday weekend fixture, has given it a well-earned reputation, even if nothing in the rest of its 3 hours 32 minutes comes close to matching the nine-minute chariot race.

Scum of the galleys! I will grind you in the dust before all Antioch!

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)
(SPOILERS) The first adaptation of General Lee Wallace’s 1880 novel (if you ignore the unauthorised 1907 short), and as is often the case retrospectively with the silent era, more of a curiosity than the earth-shattering spectacle it was in the day. Which isn’t to say there’s not spectacle in spades – the $3.9m budget ($55m by today’s standards) assures that, so much so that despite making $9m worldwide ($128m), MGM recorded a financial loss, so not unlike the third version, only even more so in that case – but Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ is as notable, if not more so, for the mannered performances, stylistic quirks and anachronisms as it is for its sets and climactic chariot race.