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Showing posts from April, 2019

You're gonna fit right in. Everyone in here is innocent, you know that?

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
(SPOILERS) The Shawshank Redemption’s reputation has become so ubiquitous – still number one on IMDB – that it’s inevitable, having been the underdog out of the gate (a poor box office performance, no Oscars from its seven nominations, but subsequently the top rental of 1995 as word of mouth exploded), that it’s now commonly dismissed as overrated. It’s impossible to counter such a claim, except to note that Shawshank’s a victim of being a “universal” tale, accessible in a manner relatively few modern movies are (there’s little sex, violence or swearing, the occasional instance of male rape aside); it has the robust, conservative air of classical Hollywood, of simpler times and the unbesmirchable values of aspiration and hope, but without oft-accompanying, off-putting cloying sentimentality. So yeah, Shawshank’s overrated to the extent that it isn’t the best movie of all time, but when it comes to “likeable” movies, it has little competition. You probabl…

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994)
(SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump. And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994)
(SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Basically, you’re saying marriage is just a way of getting out of an embarrassing pause in conversation?

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
(SPOILERS) There can be a cumulative effect from revisiting a movie where one glaring element does not fit, however well-judged or integrated everything else is; the error is only magnified, and seems even more of a miscalculation. With Groundhog Day, there’s a workaround to the romance not working, which is that the central conceit of reliving your day works like a charm and the love story is ultimately inessential to the picture’s success. In the case of Four Weddings and a Funeral, if the romance doesn’t work… Well, you’ve still got three other weddings, and you’ve got a funeral. But our hero’s entire purpose is to find that perfect match, and what he winds up with is Andie McDowell. One can’t help thinking he’d have been better off with Duck Face (Anna Chancellor).

Only an idiot sees the simple beauty of life.

Forrest Gump (1994)
(SPOILERS) There was a time when I’d have made a case for, if not greatness, then Forrest Gump’s unjust dismissal from conversations regarding its merits. To an extent, I still would. Just not nearly so fervently. There’s simply too much going on in the picture to conclude that the manner in which it has generally been received is the end of the story. Tarantino, magnanimous in the face of Oscar defeat, wasn’t entirely wrong when he suggested to Robert Zemeckis that his was a, effectively, subversive movie. Its problem, however, is that it wants to have its cake and eat it.

I have discovered the great ray that first brought life into the world.

Frankenstein (1931)
(SPOILERS) To what extent do Universal’s horror classics deserved to be labelled classics? They’re from the classical Hollywood period, certainly, but they aren’t unassailable titans that can’t be bettered – well unless you were Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan trying to fashion a Dark Universe with zero ingenuity. And except maybe for the sequel to the second feature in their lexicon. Frankenstein is revered for several classic scenes, boasts two mesmerising performances, and looks terrific thanks to Arthur Edeson’s cinematography, but there’s also sizeable streak of stodginess within its seventy minutes.

Stupid adult hands!

Shazam! (2019)
(SPOILERS) Shazam! is exactly the kind of movie I hoped it would be, funny, scary (for kids, at least), smart and delightfully dumb… until the final act. What takes place there isn’t a complete bummer, but right now, it does pretty much kill any interest I have in a sequel.

He’ll feel a lot better after he’s robbed a couple of banks.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
(SPOILERS) I’m doubtful Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid could have been made in the form it was a few years earlier, but you won’t find it identified with “New Hollywood” that was percolating at the time of its release (it merits a mere three mentions in Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders and Raging Bulls). Elements – trendy, “cool” nihilism – were, if not informed then fanned by the likes of Bonnie and Clyde, but this was very much a big Hollywood production, with a then bank-busting sum commanded by William Goldman’s screenplay and the studio martialling the talents of top stars and composers.

Vagaries of perception. Temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose.

The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
(SPOILERS) Plenty of movies become hugely successful while killing off their protagonist (Gladiator only three years earlier, for example), so that’s definitely not the problem per se with The Matrix Revolutions. No, it’s principally that, despite being filmed back-to-back with The Matrix Reloaded – so ennui on the directors’ part wasn’t a factor – the film feels like the trilogy has run out of steam and inspiration.

There is so much in this world that I do not understand.

The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
(SPOILERS) On release, I found myself feeling curiously out of synch with underwhelmed audiences’ prevailing response to The Matrix Reloaded; I loved it, for the most part. Indeed, there was but one scene I felt failed spectacularly, and yet it mystifyingly seemed to come in for the most praise: the Burley Brawl, assisted by some of the ropiest CGI in a major motion picture up to that point. So it wasn’t the ponderous exposition – the Architect’s discourse, memorably mocked by Will Ferrell in an MTV awards sketch – or especially the sweaty sexy Zion rave that got my goat, it was that the Wachowskis failed to meet the high standards of seamless world building evidenced in the first instalment.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999)
(SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet (Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Make those ears disappear.

Dumbo (2019)
(SPOILERS) Some would have you believeDumbo’s less than astonishing opening weekend takings were down to an IP that held no cachet for today’s generation, the kind of argument trotted out when it’s convenient but is also used to contrasting effect when it suits (“They smartly managed to freshen the age-old brand up for a modern audience”). That, and a side order of “Sadness, animal cruelty, loss of parents. Who wants to line up for that?” Answer: plenty, it’s all in the telling. Rather than reaching such rash conclusions, I suspect the reason Dumbo has gone down like a lead elephant is that it managed to trample on everything that made the original so beloved. In retrospect, perhaps you could hardly have expected otherwise, given the collaboration of the successful writer of the Transformers franchise and a director who has (mostly) long since sold his soul into creative limbo. Dumbo’s a lame duck principally because it’s barely even about its title character.

I want to see what love looks like when it’s triumphant. I haven’t had a good laugh in a week.

It Happened One Night (1934)
(SPOILERS) In any romantic comedy worth its salt, you need to be rooting for both leads to end up together. That’s why, while each has its individual pleasures – and one is an unchallenged classic in every other department – the triptych of Andie McDowell ‘90s romcoms (Green Card, Groundhog Day and Four Weddings and a Funeral) fail on that score; she doesn’t elicit any degree of investment (ironically, she’s much better as a knockabout nun doing a dolphin impression in Hudson Hawk). Even Hanks and Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle are merely likeable; you can’t get that caught up if there aren’t any sparks flying (Crystal and Ryan, though). It Happened One Night has sparks in spades, the back and forth between Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert ensuring it’s as vital and versatile today as it was 85 years ago.