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Showing posts from March, 2019

To die, to be really dead. That must be glorious.

Dracula (1931)
(SPOILERS) The movie that kicked off the Universal horror cycle and thus, pretty much, horror as a (Hollywood) movie genre. Not that you’d know it to look at it now, as the last thing it is is remotely terrifying. Indeed, Garrett Fort’s adaptation – he’d next tackle Frankenstein – of Hamilton Deane’s stage play of Bram Stoker’s novel often plays like unadulterated parody, so ingrained are the tropes and clichés that have accumulated in its wake. Director Tod Browning would make Freaks a year later, a picture that retains the power to disturb, but in the case of Dracula, you’d best not look for Bela Lugosi’s count to give you shivers.

Caustic wit is my religion.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
(SPOILERS) There’s probably a version of Can You Ever Forgive Me? – perhaps even one starring Melissa McCarthy and Richard E Grant – that’s more lightweight and less ruminative, emphasising the hoodwinking hijinks and hilarity over the alcoholism and despair. Not that Marielle Heller’s is a depressing film – it’s frequently very funny – but it’s undeniably an inward looking one, which may explain why material with in-built potential for reaching a wider audience – a down-on-her luck author turns forger and becomes something of a cause célèbre – failed to make a splash.

Nobody wants the boat, dad.

Us (2019)
(SPOILERS) Jordan Peele evidently loves his conspiracy lore, so he’ll probably appreciate inevitable theories that his sophomore movie, even with movie and literature antecedents and influences such as The Skeleton Key, C.H.U.D. and Wells’ Morlocks, is an exposé of celebrity cloning antics in underground bases and/or Vrill body snatching, right through to the facilities being shut down. I mean, he onlyoffers the most ungainly of expository monologues in the latter stages of Us to that essential effect, during which we’re told that these subterranean locales have been used in the past for producing soulless clones. It’s very on-the-nose material in that regard; the conspiracy-minded might suggest Peele has purposefully shoehorned his “revelation” into such a lumpen info-dump, one that invites ridicule and profoundly damages the architecture of the movie, in order to exhibit the truth in plain sight. Unfortunately, Us has little to offer beyond that bizarre, high-concept, retro-…

As I heard my Sioux name being called over and over, I knew for the first time who I really was.

Dances with Wolves (1990)
(SPOILERS) Kevin Costner’s Oscar glory has become something of a punching bag for a certain brand of “white saviour” storytelling, so much so that it’s even crossed over seamlessly into the SF genre (Avatar). It’s also destined to be forever scorned for having the temerity to beat out Goodfellas for Best Picture at the 63rdAcademy Awards. I’m not going to buck the trend and suggest it was actually the right choice – I’d also have voted Ghost above Dances, maybe even The Godfather Part III – but it’s certainly the most “Oscar-friendly” one. The funny thing, on revisit, is that what stands out most isn’t its studiously earnest tone or frequent but well-intentioned clumsiness. No, it’s that its moments of greatest emotional weight – in what is, after all, intended to shine a light on the theft and destruction of Native American heritage – relate to its non-human characters.

Sorry I’m late. I was taking a crap.

The Sting (1973)
(SPOILERS) In any given list of the best things – not just movies – ever, Mark Kermode would include The Exorcist, so it wasn’t a surprise when William Friedkin’s film made an appearance in his Nine films that should have won Best Picture at the Oscars list last month. Of the nominees that year, I suspect he’s correct in his assessment (I don’t think I’ve seen A Touch of Class, so it would be unfair of me to dismiss it outright; if we’re simply talking best film of that year, though, The Exorcist isn’t even 1973’s best horror, that would be Don’t Look Now). He’s certainly not wrong that The Exorcistremains a superior work” to The Sting; the latter’s one of those films, like The Return of the King and The Departed, where the Academy rewarded the cast and crew too late. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is the masterpiece from George Roy Hill, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, not this flaccid trifle.

You had to grab every single dollar you could get your hands on, didn't you?

Triple Frontier (2019)
(SPOILERS) Triple Frontier must have seemed like a no-brainer for Netflix, even by their standards of indiscriminately greenlighting projects whenever anyone who can’t get a job at a proper studio asks. It had, after all, been a hot property – nearly a decade ago now – with Kathryn Bigelow attached as director (she retains a producing credit) and subsequently JC Chandor, who has seen it through to completion. Netflix may not have attracted quite the same level of prospective stars – Johnny Depp, Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Tom Hardy and Channing Tatum were all involved at various points – but as ever, they haven’t stinted on the production. To what end, though? Well, Bigelow’s involvement is a reliable indicator; this is a movie about very male men doing very masculine things and suffering stoically for it.

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

Trouble’s part of the circus. They said Barnum was in trouble when he lost Tom Thumb.

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
(SPOILERS) Anyone of a mind that it’s a recent development for the Oscars to cynically crown underserving recipients should take a good look at this Best Picture winner from the 25thAcademy Awards. In this case, it’s generally reckoned that the Academy felt it was about time to honour Hollywood behemoth Cecil B DeMille, by that point into his seventies and unlikely to be jostling for garlands much longer, before it was too late. Of course, he then only went and made a bona fide best picture contender, The Ten Commandments, and only then pegged it. Because no, The Greatest Show on Earth really isn’t very good.

Well, hyperbole isn’t the worst crime.

The Greatest Showman (2017)
(SPOILERS) I can see why The Greatest Showman was such a big hit, but largely, I still have to side with the critical drubbing it received. As a patchwork of infectiously catchy songs (all with the same effusive crescendos to get you properly emotionally uplifted) it has a certain appeal, in an extended pop-promo sense. As a movie, it’s barely coherent.

What lit the fire that set off our Mr Reaper?

Death Wish (2018)
(SPOILERS) I haven’t seen the original Death Wish, the odd clip aside, and I don’t especially plan to remedy that, owing to an aversion to Charles Bronson when he isn’t in Once Upon a Time in the West and an aversion to Michael Winner when he wasn’t making ‘60s comedies or Peter Ustinov Hercule Poirots. I also have an aversion to Eli Roth, though (this is the first of his oeuvre I’ve seen, again the odd clip aside, as I have a general distaste for his oeuvre), and mildly to Bruce when he’s on autopilot (most of the last twenty years), so really, I probably shouldn’t have checked this one out. It was duly slated as a fascistic, right-wing rallying cry, even though the same slaters consider such behaviour mostly okay if the protagonist is super-powered and wearing a mask when taking justice into his (or her) own hands, but the truth is this remake is a quite serviceable, occasionally amusing little revenger, one that even has sufficient courage in its skewed convictions …

You're very frank, Clarice. I think it would be quite something to know you in private life.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
(SPOILERS) I was pleased for The Silence of the Lambs’ Oscar glory, a rare genre entry to be bestowed such garlands, even though I didn’t think it was the most deserving of that year’s nominees (that would be JFK, Oliver Stone’s crowning achievement, after which he would never be quite the same again). Indeed, while it’s generally regarded with hindsight as one the Academy definitely got right, I don’t think it’s even the best Thomas Harris adaptation.

I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
(SPOILERS) There isn’t, of course, anything left to say about 2001: A Space Odyssey, although the devoted still try, confident in their belief that it’s eternally obliging in offering unfathomable mystery. And it does seem ever responsive to whatever depths one wishes to plumb in analysing it for themes, messages or clues either about what is really going on out there some around Jupiter, or in its director’s head. Albeit, it’s lately become difficult to ascertain which has the more productive cottage industry, 2001 or The Shining, in the latter regard. With Eyes Wide Shut as the curtain call, a final acknowledgement to the devout that, yes, something really emphatic was going under Stanley Kubrick’s hood and it’s there, waiting to be exhumed, if you only look with the right kind of eyes.

Ferris Bueller, you're my hero.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
(SPOILERS) John Hughes’ greatest, most lasting contribution to western civilisation. Time Out’s review of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off opined that it was unfortunate no one got to ring the little bastard’s neck, and a number of reviewers have taken issue with the movie’s apparent unchecked materialism: a teenager running amok, unfettered, in the avaricious ‘80s and getting away with it. Which is fair comment; one might regard Ferris, his aspirations and achievements, as the inevitable end product of such self-involved, me-centric “progress”. Which is also why the movie is both hugely satisfying and entirely empty.

What about large, blind, fat girls with boils?

How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989)
(SPOILERS) Bruce Robinson’s mostly forgotten sophomore outing follows in step with more than a few directors’ crash-back-down-to-earth second feature following a much-feted debut (Kafka, Southland Tales). Robinson allows his passion to get the better of him, and the result is a high-concept, one-joke state-of-the-nation polemic that isn’t nearly as sharp as it would like to think. Mainly because it mistakes a point for a bludgeon. He isn’t alone in this type of hoisted-by-one’s-own-petard thinking – Downsizing is just a recent example of blithe disconnect with a sketch concept that audiences simply won’t be interested in stretched to feature length – but even in outline form (a vituperative boil growing on adman Richard E Grant’s neck becomes a second head, subsuming his actual one, and so takes over) it was obvious How to Get Ahead in Advertising was on rocky ground.