Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from May, 2019

Consider us very intimidated.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)
(SPOILERS) If Godzilla: King of the Monsters is any indication of a regal ideal, the key job requirements are clearly eating a lot of pies and remaining largely out of the public eye. Excepting a wave to the gathered crowds in the vein of a punchy, severed-head-in-the-mouth, city-devastating finale. The third in Legendary’s series of monster movies – their MonsterVerse, which bears absolutely no resemblance to a very long Pam Ayres limerick – is a bust, and one might lay the blame squarely at the lack of monster mashing, or the choppy action choreography when they areon screen, but by far the worst of it is the human element.

It seems there's nothing deadlier than the mail.

The Avengers 6.10: You’ll Catch Your Death
Jeremy Burnham’s first teleplay, originally titled Atishoo, Atishoo, All Fall Down, which might have given the impression that it’s zanier than it is (equally, it might have been used to more sinister effect, as nursery rhymes often are). There’s plenty of eccentricity in the supporting cast, though, which lifts this one considerably above the past couple of episodes.

Did you ever go to a totally strange place and feel certain you'd been there before?

Lost Horizon (1937)
(SPOILERS) Frank Capra’s adaptation of James Goodbye, Mr Chips Hilton’s novel has a potent legacy, not least through helping to popularise the name Shangri-La (Roosevelt named the later renamed Camp David retreat after it) and a wholly lambasted musical remake in the ‘70s. The production of Lost Horizon spiralled out of control and took some time to make its money back, but it still ultimately continued Capra’s hot streak, duly garnering a Best Picture nomination. With hindsight, while one wouldn’t call it a folly, it does betray the unvarnished privilege that has given form to its utopian vision, and one can even muster a modicum of sympathy for Columbia head Harry Cohn in his desire to edit down the director’s unwieldy beast.

Do you have to open graves to find girls to fall in love with?

The Mummy (1932)
(SPOILERS) Even though retellings of Dracula and Frankenstein have been more ubiquitous over the years, it feels as if The Mummy has been granted the most prolific attention of late, probably because the Brendan Fraser Indiana Jones version, while mostly not very good, was very successful, and the recent Tom Cruise edition, while also not very good, wasn’t nearly successful enough, bringing Universal’s "Dark Universe" crashing down around its ears. This original iteration is very modest in both ambition and intent, but boasts craftsmanship in key areas that ensures it stands the test of time rather better than some of its Universal Horror stablemates.

Maybe he was just too strong to die?

Neither the Sea Nor the Sand aka The Exorcism of Hugh (1972)
(SPOILERS) A Jersey-set (the Channel Island, that is) curio based on actor and news reader Gordon Honeycombe’s first novel, for which he also furnished the screenplay, Neither the Sea Nor the Sand makes for an unlikely zombie movie. Not in the ravenous-for-flesh sense, but the more traditional revivified empty shell. Indeed, going in knowing nothing – provided you haven’t been spoiled by the alternative and misleading title The Exorcism of Hugh – you’d have no inkling that anything supernatural’s in store for almost half the running time. While the sudden shift in genre engenders interest, this is nevertheless a cold, distancing tale, told at a torpid pace, in which it’s difficult to summon much engagement with the main protagonist.

We’re feeding electricity to him, hoping he’ll respond.

The Avengers 6.9: Whoever Shot Poor George Oblique Stroke XR40?
Another like My Wildest Dream, Whoever Shot Poor George Oblique Stroke XR40? is equipped with a decent-enough premise but rather falls down by having nowhere interesting to go with it. We don’t know precisely why the titular computer has been sabotaged until quite late in the proceedings, but we could have guessed (it’s assumed that Pelley was feeding George top secret equations, hence the “PELLEY… TRAITOR” message, but he was actually telling George he was held captive, for the purpose of revealing that old reliable: “full details of the seek and destroy mechanism of the anti-missile system”).

I think it’s time I consulted my aggresso-therapist.

The Avengers 6.8: My Wildest Dream
Philip Levene’s teleplay is translated effectively to screen by former production designer Robert Fuest, in his, er first, for the show, but the director can’t rescue the back half of the story, which entirely fizzles. Written for the John Bryce regime, My Wildest Dream’s serious tone and corresponding lack of eccentric insulation shows unflatteringly, but it can boast a formidable guest star in Peter Vaughn, clearly enjoying himself.

Does he have the squirrels in the attic?

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018)
(SPOILERS) Well, at least he didn’t starve a horse to death this time. It took Terry Gilliam almost twenty years to remount The Man Who Killed Don Quixote following its initial disintegration, in which time original player Johnny Depp’s movie star career exploded then imploded, and original Quixote Jean Rochefort passed away (as a horse lover, Rochefort was understandably most upset about the equine; still, he gets an “in memory of”, along with intended replacement John Hurt). Gilliam managed to make four movies in between, none of which had anything approaching the kind of raves of his early efforts (several were outright slated) and his career seemed ever cooler and pet projects less attractive to financiers. Fortunately, Amazon finally came knocking. And then, less fortunately, they exited (while the budget fell to half that of the original, without factoring in inflation). The film still isn’t officially released in Britain, thanks to the rights…

Looks as though vaudeville may have just decided to fight back.

The Avengers 6.7: Look – (Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One) But There Were These Two Fellers…
Well, it took a while, but The Avengers finally rediscovers the sparkle of the best Rigg era episodes thanks to a Dennis Spooner teleplay (his first credit since the first season), one that spreads itself just about as broadly as it’s possible for the show to go – Look – (Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One) But There Were These Two Fellers… was purportedly rejected for the Rigg run for just that reason – but which is also nigh on perfect in pace, structure and characterisation. And guest spots.

Move away from the jams.

Aladdin (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was never overly enamoured by the early ‘90s renaissance of Disney animation, so the raves over Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin left me fairly unphased. On the plus side, that means I came to this live action version fairly fresh (prince); not quite a whole new world but sufficiently unversed in the legend to appreciate it as its own thing. And for the most part, Aladdin can be considered a moderate success. There may not be a whole lot of competition for that crown (I’d give the prize to Pete’s Dragon, except that it was always part-live action), but this one sits fairly comfortably in the lead.

She's killed my piano.

Rocketman (2019)
(SPOILERS) Early on in Rocketman, there’s a scene where publisher Dick James (Stephen Graham) listens to a selection of his prospective talent’s songs and proceeds to label them utter shite (but signs him up anyway). It’s a view I have a degree of sympathy with. I like maybe a handful of Elton John’s tunes, so in theory, I should be something of a lost cause with regard to this musical biopic. But Rocketman isn’t reliant on the audience sitting back and gorging on naturalistic performances of the hits in the way Bohemian Rhapsody is; Dexter Fletcher fully embraces the musical theatre aspect of the form, delivering a so-so familiar story with choreographic gusto and entirely appropriate flamboyance in a manner that largely compensates. Largely.

No one is very happy. Which means it's a good compromise, I suppose.

Game of Thrones  Season 8
(SPOILERS) How many TV series that rely on ongoing plotlines – which is most of them these days – have actually arrived at a wholly satisfying conclusion? As in, one that not only surprises but pays off the investment viewers have made over (maybe) seven or eight years? I can think of a few that shocked or dazzled (Angel, The Leftovers) and some that disappointed profoundly (Lost) but most often, they end on an “okay” (reasonably satisfying, if you like) rather than on a spectacular or, conversely, enormously disappointing note. Game of Thrones may not have paid off for many vocal fans who’d accept nothing less than note-perfect rendering of certain key desired developments, but much of the season unfolded in a manner that seemed just the kind of thing I would have expected; not, on the whole, shocking, blind-siding, or (give-or-take) spectacular, but okay, or reasonably satisfying.

Isn’t Johnnie simply too fantastic for words?

Suspicion (1941)
(SPOILERS) Suspicion found Alfred Hitchcock basking in the warm glow of Rebecca’s Best Picture Oscar victory the previous year (for which he received his first of five Best Director nominations, famously winning none of them). Not only that, another of his films, Foreign Correspondent, had jostled with Rebecca for attention. Suspicion was duly nominated itself, something that seems less unlikely now we’ve returned to as many as ten award nominees annually (numbers wouldn’t be reduced to five until 1945). And still more plausible, in and of itself, than his later and final Best Picture nod, Spellbound. Suspicion has a number of claims to eminent status, not least the casting of Cary Grant, if not quite against type, then playing on his charm as a duplicitous quality, but it ultimately falls at the hurdle of studio-mandated compromise.

If both sides have arms, it’s not a coup d’état. It’s a war.

The Avengers 6.6: Have Guns – Will Haggle
The spot-the-stitched-together-with-sticky-tape sequence of early Season Six episodes salvaged by Brian Clemens reaches its penultimate chapter with this Tara in blonde wig-sporting number. Have Guns – Will Haggle isn’t nearly as bad as its reputation suggests, but it’s still rather uninspired and linear. The title’s probably the best thing about it, in fact.

I think, I ruminate, I plan.

The Avengers 6.5: Get-A-Way
Another very SF story, and another that recalls earlier stories, in this case 5.5: The See-Through Man, in which Steed states baldly “I don’t believe in invisible men”. He was right in that case, but he’d have to eat his bowler here. Or half of it, anyway. The intrigue of Get-A-Way derives from the question of how it is that Eastern Bloc spies have escaped incarceration, since it isn’t immediately announced that a “magic potion” is responsible. And if that reveal isn’t terribly convincing, Peter Bowles makes the most of his latest guest spot as Steed’s self-appointed nemesis Ezdorf.

No time to dilly-dally, Mr Wick.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)
(SPOILERS) At one point during John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum, our eponymous hero announces he needs “Guns, lots of guns” in a knowing nod to Keanu Reeves’ other non-Bill & Ted franchise. It’s a cute moment, but it also points to the manner in which the picture, enormous fun as it undoubtedly is, is a slight step down for a franchise previously determined to outdo itself, giving way instead to something more self-conscious, less urgent and slightly fractured.

I mean, I think anybody who looked at Fred, looked at somebody that they couldn't compare with anybody else.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018) 
(SPOILERS) I did, of course, know who Fred Rogers was, despite being British. Or rather, I knew his sublimely docile greeting song. How? The ‘Burbs, naturally. I was surprised, given the seeming unanimous praise it was receiving (and the boffo doco box office) that Won’t You Be My Neighbor? didn’t garner a Best Documentary Oscar nod, but now I think I can understand why. It’s as immensely likeable as Mr Rogers himself, yet it doesn’t feel very substantial.

She worshipped that pig. And now she's become him.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)
(SPOILERS) Choosing to make The Girl in the Spider’s Web following the failure of the David Fincher film – well, not a failure per se, but like Blade Runner 2049, it simply cost far too much to justify its inevitably limited returns – was a very bizarre decision on MGM’s part. A decision to reboot, with a different cast, having no frame of reference for the rest of the trilogy unless you checked out the Swedish movies (or read the books, but who does that?); someone actually thought this would possibly do well? Evidently the same execs churning out desperately flailing remakes based on their back catalogue of IPs (Ben-Hur, The Magnificent Seven, Death Wish, Tomb Raider); occasionally there’s creative flair amid the dross (Creed, A Star is Born), but otherwise, it’s the most transparently creatively bankrupt studio there is.

Son, lions don't leave the Serengeti.

White Boy Rick (2018)
(SPOILERS) '71, Yann Demange’s edge-of-the-seat feature debut, had me eager to see whatever he did next (one of those things turned outnotto be the next Bond movie, for which he was cited as shortlisted; probably for the best to avoid having his career derailed quite so soon). Unfortunately, while this account of the FBI’s youngest informant boasts excellent performances (not least Richie Merritt, debuting in the title role) and an unsurprisingly authentic milieu – Detroit looks an even less savoury place to live than it did in Robocop – Demange somehow allows attachment to the fate of Rick Wershe Jr to escape him.

Would you care to remark upon the remarkability?

The Avengers 6.4: Split!
The opening teaser can go a long way to cementing an Avengers as a good ‘un in the memory, but it can also be just about all there is to a story. Such is the case with Split! in which, once you’ve seen Mercer (Maurice Good, 1.10: Hunt the Man Down, 3.7: Don’t Look Behind You, The New AvengersForward Base) hear the name Boris, undergo a personality change (the clawed hand!) and shoot his Ministry of Top-Secret Intelligence (the name’s probably the funniest part of the episode) colleague Compton (Iain Anders), it’s pretty clear what’s up. The only variable is quite how science fiction the explanation is, and in this case it’s very.

If anyone knows how to take on a slugger like Drago, it would be Rocky.

Creed II (2018)
(SPOILERS) It wouldn’t be such a bad thing that this is a by-the-numbers, Stallone co-scripted sequel – after all, part of the pleasure of sports movies is their adherence to tried-and-tested formula – if only it had been made with a degree of evident enthusiasm. The (Sly-directed) follow-ups to the original Rocky weren’t exactly artful, but they knew how to rouse their audience. Creed II can’t even get the training montage right.

... of whom the opinion of all was that he was born to be hanged.

Tom Jones (1963)
(SPOILERS) It’s my impression that retrospection hasn’t been overly kind to this streamlined adaptation of Henry Fielding’s substantial novel, chiefly because of the quirky filmmaking ticks and devices employed by director Tony Richardson, many of which are now regarded as injudicious or undiscerning. Certainly, Tom Jones hasn’t remained on everyone’s lips as a go-to great Oscar winner (the picture was an instant hit in Britain despite iffy reviews; it was only when the French critics embraced it that its rep built across the pond) .

Deduction, Steed, deduction.

The Avengers 6.3: The Curious Case of the Countless Clues
Like Invasion of the Earthmen, this is a John Bryce-produced episode, and like Invasion of the Earthmen, it’s rather underrated. The Curious Cast of the Countless Clues includes its own heightened element amid the seriousness in the shape of Sir Arthur Doyle (Peter Jones, the Voice of the Book, of course, and previously Dr Adams in 4.17: The Thirteenth Hole) and a plot that plays out like a rather more feasible version of 5.21: You Have Just Been Murdered, also written by Philip Levene, with a couple of enterprisingly disreputable types, Gardiner (Kenneth Hopkirk Cope, 5.3: The Bird Who Knew Too Much) and Earle (Anthony Bate, the recently recovered 1.20: Tunnel of Fear), extorting the rich for art treasures thanks to elaborately set up blackmailing schemes.

I’m calling because I’m going to get to the leaves, the leaves on the lawn.

The Book of Henry (2017)
(SPOILERS) Colin Trevorrow, already the object of abject enmity from some quarters for his Jurassic World sequel, and then more so due to the (eventually retracted) engagement to direct Episode IX, received whole new levels of scorn for The Book of Henry, his smaller more personal movie that now slots between Jurassic expeditions. While that response (the final one, although the second at least made some sense too, and as for the first, well it’s only a Jurassic Park movie) makes some sense, given the almost deliriously misconceived nature of the picture, it does tend to ignore that in its own entirely messed-up, wrong-headed way, The Book of Henry is very watchable.

I mean, if you’re going to get shot in the head, that’s the way to do it.

Regarding Henry (1991)
(SPOILERS) How did the Golden Razzies miss this one? Regarding Henry is the kind of wretched miscalculation that kills careers, but somehow screenwriter JJ Abrams (a tender twenty-five at the time, and his first solo credit) rebounded unscathed – even his cameo unaccountably did him no damage – although it would be the end of the decade before he was really making inroads, and on TV. Perhaps because the prime culprit, the one who comes out with half-a-dozen eggs on his face, is hubristic star Harrison Ford, believing he could have a slice of the disability pie that was, during that period, paying off handsomely for so many other famous actors and seeing them reap awards glory.

I shall lead my army into these new worlds and colonise them. My army of astronauts.

The Avengers 6.2: Invasion of the Earthmen
Some have labelled this one of the show’s nadirs, but I really can’t see it. Sure, the episode has many obligatory, patented Terry Nation SF teleplay clichés, including some quite ridiculous logic, it’s fair share of visual clunkers and a patchy quality betraying its troubled production even to those unaware, but for good stretches, Invasion of the Earthmen is a quite serviceable more serious-minded episode, even if that’s in direct contrast to the absurdity of its diabolical mastermind’s scheme.

Come on. Let’s ignite Jupiter!

The Wandering Earth (2019)
(SPOILERS) Proof that Hollywood doesn’t hold the monopoly on empty-headed disaster movies. The Wandering Earth is currently the third-biggest movie of the year globally (99% of receipts were sold at the Chinese box office, however) and China’s second-largest homegrown hit ever, but as Titanic proved, a guarantee of quality in no way comes as part and parcel of such spectacle. Director Frant Gwo is a huge fan of James Cameron, but it’s Armageddon you’ll be thinking of here – only even bonkerers – complete with absurd Bay-hem style CGI action that only gets dafter as the daftness escalates. And a prerequisite comic-relief Cosmonaut (Arkady Sharogradsky).

You draw with a good hand.

The Dark Tower (2017)
(SPOILERS) The Dark Tower was released only five weeks before It’s stratospheric success had every studio scrabbling around for any Stephen King property they could get their hands on, in the hope of landing a similar goldmine. But even during the 80s, the heyday of King adaptations, box office was very variable, as was quality, and as the recent Pet Sematary remake has shown, there’s every reason to believe It (and it’s second chapter) will remain an exception rather than a new rule. The Dark Tower’s prospects certainly wouldn’t have been helped had it been released in its wake; a misbegotten disaster that had been through so many variations and versions before it finally limped to the screen, it stood no chance of retaining whatever essentials were needed as an introduction to the author’s epic series.

Always keep you bowler on in times of stress. And watch out for diabolical masterminds.

The Avengers 6.1: The Forget-Me-Knot
I’d best clear up one thing right away. I like Tara King. Maybe it was my age I first saw her (eleven or twelve) or being simultaneously made aware of how unbeatable Mrs Peel was, and thus hers was a period I could have for myself in some way, but I didn’t perceive the assumed drop in quality, and liked her slightly dappy, make-do quality. Of course, I can see “objectively” that the relationship with Steed isn’t a patch on that of Emma or Cathy, but its biggest failing is not that it isn’t a match of equals, but rather the attempt to impress a romantic twist upon it.

You have a white voice in there. You can use it.

Sorry to Bother You (2018)
(SPOILERS) There’s a cumulative fatigue accompanying Sorry to Bother You, akin to readily agreeing to sign a petition only to be immediately subjected to a ten-minute tirade detailing all the reasons you should sign said petition. Boots Riley’s film can boast several great performances (in particular, Lakeith Stanfield, marvellously deadpan in the lead role), is intermittently very funny, has an appealing visual flair and a deftly complementary soundtrack (courtesy of Tune-Yards and Riley’s The Coup), but by the time it’s done, you’ve more than had enough. And that’s without including the horse-men.

I have to admit that I wait to talk, but I'm trying harder to listen.

And the Oscar Should Have Gone To… The 1994 Contenders Ranked
It isn't every year you can say the Oscars at least had an interesting selection of nominees, but 1994 not only managed that, it included two unassailable classics among the five Best Picture contenders. Also unlike most years, there isn't an enormously misjudged dud in the ranks, and at least three of the pictures represented something different to the usual Academy fare.

Are you seriously telling me that your plan to save the universe is based on Back to the Future?

Avengers: Endgame (2019)
(SPOILERS) I had a good time with Avengers: Endgame, what with its Back to the Future Part II revisiting of its own history, various of its character developments, and particularly with its resourceful throwing of spanners in the works of the team’s best laid plans to return the lost populace of the galaxy to their present, but I wasn’t overly impressed by the Russo brothers’ ability to explain their pet version of time travel. Indeed, I went away thinking that element was something of a train wreck. I’ve since moderated that view, but with a few caveats (there’s a particularly concise, digestible account of how Endgame most likely coheres here, but it’s very much the exception among numerous pieces explaining “How time travel does make sense in Endgame” that make no sense unto themselves). Endgame isn’t the most elegant picture, plot-wise – I’m sure there’s an actual kitchen sink in there somewhere – and like almost all Marvel movies, it culminates in a battle…