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Showing posts from November, 2018

If this whole thing goes wrong, I want my kids to know that I just didn't sit there and take it. I did something.

Widows (2018)
(SPOILERS) Widows might have made a decent comedy. It’s certainly the only way its premise and ensuing plot wouldn’t have seemed ludicrous. Steve McQueen’s adaptation of Lynda LaPlante's 1980s TV series (tellingly, he'd have been thirteen when it was first broadcast, a great leveller of an age in terms of accepting daft ideas at face value - see my love for Dempsey and Makepeace) has been mystifyingly venerated by critics, apparently wont to leave their faculties at the door when it comes to an art house director brandishing content easily clutched to bosoms if it has even a whiff of political acuteness.

McQueen and Gillian Flynn (Sharp Objects, Gone Girl, so no stranger to absurd twists herself) adapted LaPlante's work, but the basics remain in place; the wives of a gang of robbers, none of them remotely experienced in criminal ways aside from spending their husbands' loot, decide to pull a heist when their spouses die in a job gone wrong. They have a month…

A great ape on a football field. That's what she called me.

This Sporting Life (1963)
(SPOILERS) In a piece for The Guardian last year, critic Peter Bradshaw rightly feted This Sporting Life, Lindsay Anderson’s film of David Storey's novel (which Storey also adapted). Confusingly, however, his last line claimed Richard Harris' rugby league player Frank Machin, was "a great working-class hero for the screen". Which made me wonder if we saw the same picture.

You are either in possession of a very new human ability... or a very old one.

The Dead Zone (1983)
(SPOILERS) I wouldn't call myself a Stephen King fan, or particularly a Cronenbuff, although there's material I rate by both (and in the latter's case rate very highly). The Dead Zone arrived at the onset of a glut of King adaptations, and as Kim Newman and Alex Jones suggest on the Blu-ray commentary, it was the first version of his work to really publicise itself as a King piece first and foremost (published in 1979, it was his first hardback to hit Number 1 on the bestseller list, which may partly account for it). Which isn't to say it doesn’t feel like Cronenberg made it – there's a certain dovetailing of interests here – but that the previously vaunted movie adaptations (Carrie, The Shining) were overshadowed by their auteurs.

Magic blooms… only in rare souls.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)
(SPOILERS) First things first: that title. Or rather, subtitle. Since it's indicative of some of the broader issues with the movie(s). Let’s ignore for a moment that Fantastic Beasts, as a prescriptive main title, is entirely unrepresentative of this developing prequel universe, as out of place as the nominal protagonist who comes with it. The Crimes of Grindelwald is an inert, passive, unimpressive slab of nothing. The Harry Potter sequels presented themes, mysteries or goals in their subtitles; they incited interest. Here we have a statement, regarding which we'll be none the wiser when we've watched it. You could perhaps see a movie The Crimes of Jack the Ripper and know you’re getting something eviscerating in return, but then you'd only really need his name to get that. There's no hook here. If you want to impress upon the viewer urgency to see your movie, throw in a "strike" or "attack" or …

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

It was one of the most desolate looking places in the world.

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old, broadcast by the BBC on the centenary of Armistice Day, is "sold" on the attraction and curiosity value of restored, colourised and frame rate-enhanced footage. On that level, this World War I documentary, utilising a misquote from Laurence Binyon's poem for its title, is frequently an eye-opener, transforming the stuttering, blurry visuals that have hitherto informed subsequent generations' relationship with the War. However, that's only half the story; the other is the use of archive interviews with veterans to provide a narrative, exerting an effect often more impacting for what isn't said than for what is.

The virus is airborne. It's inside the walls.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)
(SPOILERS) Purely by dint of having no outright terrible instalments – see the Twilights – and through actually finishing its story – see Divergence – without the succumbing to inadvisable hacking in half of final chapters– Hunger GamesMaze Runner ends up as one of the more consistent YA adaptations. Which isn’t to say it's ever been outright great; the premise is much too wonky for that. But director Wes Ball has lent the trilogy a degree of consistency that's relatively rare. Indeed, the biggest problem with the final instalment is that it doesn't know when to quit.

I am so sick of Scotland!

Outlaw/King (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that it isn't enough just to want to make a historical epic, you have to have some level of vision for it as well. Say what you like about Mel's Braveheart – and it isn't a very good film – it's got sensibility in spades. He knew what he was setting out to achieve, and the audience duly responded. What does David Mackenzie want from Outlaw/King (it's shown with a forward slash on the titles, so I'm going with it)? Ostensibly, and unsurprisingly, to restore the stature of Robert the Bruce after it was rather tarnished by Braveheart, but he has singularly failed to do so. More than that, it isn’t an "idea", something you can recognise or get behind even if you don’t care about the guy. You’ll never forget Mel's Wallace, for better or worse, but the most singular aspect of Chris Pine's Bruce hasn’t been his rousing speeches or heroic valour. No, it's been his kingly winky.

If this is not a place for a priest, Miles, then this is exactly where the Lord wants me.

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)
(SPOILERS) Sometimes a movie comes along where you instantly know you’re safe in the hands of a master of the craft, someone who knows exactly the story they want to tell and precisely how to achieve it. All you have to do is sit back and exult in the joyful dexterity on display. Bad Times at the El Royale is such a movie, and Drew Goddard has outdone himself. From the first scene, set ten years prior to the main action, he has constructed a dizzyingly deft piece of work, stuffed with indelible characters portrayed by perfectly chosen performers, delirious twists and game-changing flashbacks, the package sealed by an accompanying frequently diegetic soundtrack, playing in as it does to the essential plot beats of the whole. If there's a better movie this year, it will be a pretty damn good one.

It is the greatest movie never released, you know.

They'll Love Me When I'm Dead (2018)
(SPOILERS) They'll Love Me When I'm Dead, Morgan Neville's documentary on the making of Orson Welles' long-gestating The Other Side of the Wind, is much more interesting than the finally finished article itself, but to be fair to Welles, he foresaw as much as a possibility. Welles' semi-improvised faux-doc approach may not seem nearly as innovative nearly fifty years on – indeed, in the intervening period there's a slew of baggage of boundary-blurring works, mockumentaries and the whole found footage genre – but he was striving for something different, even if that "different" was a reaction to the hole he'd dug himself in terms of bankability. On the evidence of the completed film, he never quite found the necessary rhythm or mode, but the struggle to achieve it, as told here, is fascinating.

He's a rough magician, isn't he?

The Other Side of the Wind (2018)
(SPOILERS) Sometimes it may be better notto get what you want and to carry on dreaming about how splendid it would be if you had it. The Other Side of the Wind has been one of those elusive grail items; "Wouldn't it be amazing if we finally got to see Orson Welles' great uncompleted masterpiece?" The critical response to getting it at last has been generally kind, but generally kind in the sense of considering it would be churlish to rip it to shreds after all the effort that has gone in to getting it out there, and out of respect to the fat man. Really, though, it's a bit of a mess.

Oh man, they wronged you. Why they gotta be like that? You exude a cosmic darkness.

Mandy (2018)
(SPOILERS) Sometimes you're left scratching your head over a movie, wondering what it was about it that had others rapturously raving while you were left shrugging. I at least saw the cult appeal of Panos Cosmatos’ previous picture, Beyond the Black Rainbow, which inexorably drew the viewer in with a clinically psychedelic allure before going unceremoniously off the boil with a botched slasher third act. Mandy, though, has been pronounced one of the best of the year, with a great unhinged Nic Cage performance front and centre – I can half agree with the latter point – but it's further evidence of a talented filmmaker slave to a disconcertingly unfulfilling obsession with retro-fashioning early '80s horror iconography.

How are you, Mrs Gale? I’ve been unravelling the intricacies of your drinks cabinet.

The Avengers Seasons 1 & 2 Ranked - Worst to Best
I didn't get around to providing a worst-to-best ranking of the first three seasons when I revisited through them, so this is to remedy that. Obviously, there's a slim surviving selection from Season One, but I opted not to include it with Two. Both represent a show gradually finding its direction, first with the pairing of Keel and Steed, the gradual evolution of the latter from mysterious hard guy to the laidback toff we know, and then the patchy partnering with King and Venus before the groundwork for The Avengers' best-known format is established with Cathy. In this capacity, a handful of classic episodes point the way for the show’s high-water mark to come.