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Showing posts from June, 2019

The spoon is safer.

Toy Story 4 (2019)
(SPOILERS) Do you want a Toy Story that’s just entirely serviceable? I mean, that’s what they all are, but Toy Story 4 appears to set out to be precisely that, a collection of already over-familiar series elements dusted down, spruced up and rolled off the conveyer belt with the necessary sheen (and then some), but rarely truly inspired. As such, while there have been occasional longueurs during previous instalments – usually involving a Randy Newman song – this is the first time I’ve felt a certain listlessness coming on.

That’s Mr Evil Doctor Pork Chop to you.

Toy Story 3 (2010)
(SPOILERS) If only for the merciful absence of a Randy Newman dirge (until the end credits), this might be the best of the trilogy (well, what used to be a trilogy). Indeed, Toy Story 3 is superior to the previous two on almost every level until the last five minutes, which retrospectively tarnishes a fairly sentiment-light tale that also has a – surprisingly – strong emphasis on plotting, given the previous ones told the same basic tale, and even this one reuses several key story points.

I despise that chicken.

Toy Story 2 (1999)
(SPOILERS) Acclaimed as the Pixar high-water mark by many (a high accolade indeed) and one of the best sequels ever made, I’m afraid my response is more along the lines of “Well, yes, it is good, but…” Rotten Tomatoes can’t be wrong, though, with 100% fresh and an average rating of 8.67 out of 10. There’s not much nuance to a straight positive, however, and Toy Story 2, while raved over for its thematic depth and nuance, is basically more of the same, just more polished.

Ages three and up. It's on my box.

Toy Story (1995)
(SPOILERS) Pixar has a lot to answer for. Killing off traditional animation, for starters. And Randy Newman (well, in Pixar films at least). Indeed, one of the reasons I’m immune to the unconditional worship of the animation house’s crown jewel franchise is that I simply cannot stomach his anodyne, twee songs and lightly-sandpapered crooning. He does not have a friend in me (I’m sure he’s a very nice chap). The first Toy Story profoundly changed the industry (and won a special achievement Oscar for its troubles) and has paved the way for both the plentiful very good computer-animated movies since as well as the multitudinous ones that aren’t, but at what cost? And is it really that good?

Oh man, without a gang, you're an orphan.

West Side Story (1961)
(SPOILERS) Why the hell is Spielberg remaking this? Does he somehow think that, from on high in his Hollywood ivory tower, he has the keen insight to imbue some of the realism lacking in the Robert Wise/ Jerome Robbins Best Picture Oscar winner (well, it is a musical)? Or that, with today’s marginally keener eye for ethnicity-appropriate casting – if you aren’t Ridley Scott – this alone is good enough reason to retread ground there’s no earthly reason to (this at least appears to be part of it; that and he loved it as a teen, the soft-headed sop)? I don’t think West Side Story represents the unalloyed perfection its ten Oscars might suggest, but I have great difficulty in working out quite what the Berg thinks he’s going to achieve, aside from unflattering comparisons. If in doubt, he should go ask Gus van Sant.

Down ‘ere they say the lighthouse is haunted. And what’s more, blokes go mad and kill themselves.

The Phantom Light (1935)
(SPOILERS) This lighthouse-set comedy thriller represents one of Michael Powell’s early films, made a couple of years before his career “proper” took off with The Edge of the World. He was making “quota-quickies” during this period, cheap and cheerful no-frills productions resulting from the requirement for UK American distributors and British cinema owners to screen a quota of British films. As you’d expect, Powell ensures it all looks pretty good, despite the budget constraints, while the presence of Gordon Harker in the lead role ensures it’s also pretty funny.

Have you always lived here, Mother?

I Am Mother (2019)
(SPOILERS) This Netflix science-fiction offering arrived with very solid reviews, always a surprise for a Netflix movie, even one they picked up at Sundance. For about two-thirds of the running time, I Am Mother seems to justify the (modest) raves. It boasts assured direction from Grant Sputore (making his feature debut), polished production values and strong performances from a very small cast (basically Hilary Swank and Clare Rugaard, with Luke Hawker in a Weta robot body suit and Rose Byrne providing the voice). It operates intriguing turns of plot and switches in sympathies. Ultimately, however, I Am Mother heads towards a faintly underwhelming and unremarkable, standard-issue conclusion.

Prepare to ingest.

Mortal Engines (2018)
(SPOILERS) One of the all-time biggest flops, based on Deadline Hollywood’s estimates (the only competitors, in the upper range of price tags, are The Thirteen Warrior, John Carter, The Lone Ranger and Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas), yet no one much seems to care either way. There wasn’t any real crowing about what an unforgiveable misfire this was (see John Carter), and it didn’t send any studios into bankruptcy. It just sort of happened, everyone shrugged, and moved on. Which fairly accurately sums up Christian Rivers’ Mortal Engines.

Part of the picture’s problem is that the premise is fundamentally ridiculous, and one must assume Peter Jackson, shielded from the masses in his New Zealand ivory tower, has entirely lost his eye for hit franchise material. It’s notable – although you wouldn’t know it, given how very Young Adult the casting is – that Philip Reeves’ series of novels received literary awards in the 9-11-year-old bracket, which is just about what yo…

I’m the spoiled toff who lives in the manor.

Robin Hood (2018)
(SPOILERS) Good grief. I took the disdain that greeted Otto Bathurst’s big screen debut with a pinch of salt, on the basis that Guy Ritchie’s similarly-inclined lads-in-duds retelling of King Arthur was also lambasted, and that one turned out to be pretty good fun for the most part. But a passing resemblance is as close as these two would-be franchises get (that, and both singularly failed to start their respective franchises). Robin Hood could, but it definitely didn’t.

There will be nothing of you left inside. Only space for me.

Suspiria (2018)
(SPOILERS) Luca Guadagnino’s remake of giallo-meister Dario Argento’s 1977 film is set in the same year as the original for reasons that ultimately seem rather spurious. Indeed, while Suspiria 2018, also concerning a coven of witches running a dance school – as you do – is meticulously made and frequently mesmerising in its slow-burn dynamics – at an extremely indulgent two-and-a-half hours, it would have to be – it is transparently victim of the mutton-dressed-as-lamb approach taken by filmmakers tentative about approaching what they see as a lesser genre. As such, this is not justa horror movie. No, it has all this other stuff going on to justify its existence, you see – notably, screenwriter David Kajganich professed not to be a fan of the original. Even if, frankly, all that other stuff is largely beside the point, its inclusion made to seem slightly facile as a consequence.

The Statue of Liberty is kaput.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)
(SPOILERS) William Goldman said of Saving Private Ryan, referencing the film’s titular objective in Which Lie Did I Tell? that it “becomes, once he is found, a disgrace”. “Hollywood horseshit” he emphasised, lest you were in doubt as to his feelings. While I had my misgivings about the picture on first viewing, I was mostly, as many were, impacted by its visceral prowess (which is really what it is, brandishing it like only a director who’s just seen Starship Troopers but took away none of its intent could). So I thought, yeah Goldman’s onto something here, if possibly slightly exaggerating for effect. But no, he’s actually spot-on. If Saving Private Ryan had been a twenty-minute short, it would rightly muster all due praise for its war-porn aesthetic, but unfortunately there’s a phoney, sentimental, hokey tale attached to that opening, replete with clichéd characters, horribly earnest, honorific music and “exciting!” action to engage your interest. There are…

I had that Christopher Marlowe in my boat once.

Shakespeare in Love (1998)
(SPOILERS) You see? Sometimes Oscar can get it right. Not that the backlash post-announcement would have you crediting any such. No, Saving Private Ryan had the rug unscrupulously pulled from under it by Harvey Weinstein essentially buying Shakespeare in Love’s Best Picture through a lavish promotional campaign. So unfair! It is, of course, nothing of the sort. If the rest of Private Ryan were of the same quality as its opening sequence, the Spielberg camp might have had a reasonable beef, but Shakespeare in Love was simply in another league, quality wise, first and foremost thanks to a screenplay that sang like no other in recent memory. And secondly thanks to Gwyneth Paltrow, so good and pure, before she showered us with goop.

When we have been subtle, then can I kill him?

The Avengers 6.16. Legacy of Death
There’s scarcely any crediting the Terry Nation of Noon-Doomsday as the same Terry Nation that wrote this, let alone the Terry Nation churning out a no-frills Dalek story a season for the latter stages of the Jon Pertwee era. Of course, Nation had started out as a comedy writer (for Hancock), and it may be that the kick Brian Clemens gave him up the pants in reaction to the quality of Noon-Doomsday loosened a whole load of gags. Admittedly, a lot of them are well worn, but they come so thick and fast in Legacy of Death, accompanied by an assuredly giddy pace from director Don Chaffey (of Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts) and a fine ensemble of supporting players, that it would be churlish to complain.

This is the most secret nursing home in the country.

The Avengers 6.15: Noon-Doomsday
Noon-Doomsday isn’t exactly bad, but it’s incredibly slack, ripping off High Noon so redundantly that Brian Clemens had every right to tear Terry Nation a new one (he promptly went away and ripped off The Maltese Falcon instead, to miraculously better results). The effect is not dissimilar to watching a New Avengers episode where, for long sections, nothing much happens while simultaneously taking itself all-too seriously.

You're reading a comic book? What are you, retarded?

Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut (2009)
(SPOILERS) It’s a decade since the holy grail of comic books finally fought through decades of development hell to land on the big screen, via Zach Snyder’s faithful but not faithful enough for the devoted adaptation. Many then held the director’s skills with a much more open mind than they do now – following the ravages he has inflicted on the DCEU – coming as he was off the back of the well-received 300. Many subsequently held that his Watchmen, while visually impressive, had entirely missed the point (not least in some of its stylistic and aesthetic choices). I wouldn’t go that far – indeed, for a director whose bombastic approach is often only a few notches down from Michael Bay (who was, alarmingly, also considered to direct at one point), there are sequences in Watchmen that show tremendous sensitivity – but it’s certainly the case that, even or especially in its Ultimate Cut form and for all the furore the change to the end of the story provoked,…

I’d kill you too, Keanu. I’d kill you just for fun, even if I didn’t have to.

Always Be My Maybe (2019)
(SPOILERS) The pun-tastic title of this Netflix romcom is a fair indication of its affably undemanding attributes. An unapologetic riff on When Harry Met Sally, wherein childhood friends rather than college attendees finally agree the best thing to be is together, it’s resolutely determined to cover no new ground, all the way through to its positive compromise finale. That’s never a barrier to a good romcom, though – at their best, their charm is down to ploughing familiar furrows. Always Be My Maybe’s problem is that, decent comedy performers though the two leads may be – and co-writers with Michael Golamco – you don’t really care whether they get together or not. Which isn’t like When Harry Met Sally at all.

Bleach smells like bleach.

Million Dollar Baby (2004)
(SPOILERS) I’d like to be able to say it was beyond me how Clint’s misery-porn fest hoodwinked critics and the Academy alike, leading to his second Best Picture and Director double Oscar win. Such feting would naturally lead you to assume Million Dollar Baby was in the same league as Unforgiven, when it really has more in common with The Mule, only the latter is likeably lightweight and nonchalant in its aspirations. This picture has buckled beneath the burden of self-appointed weighty themes and profound musings, which only serve to highlight how crass and manipulative it is.

A distillation designed to eliminate the George Washington syndrome.

The Avengers 6.14: False Witness
Season Six has found something approaching form over the past four or five episodes. You wouldn’t mistake them for peak-Avengers fare, but they’ve hit a certain groove, especially since Mother has joined as regular. False Witness is a story played mostly straight, and succeeds on those terms, yet its (absurd) premise – a drug that compels the victim to respond to “yes” as “no” and “no” as “yes” and any variations of the same – could easily have been played entirely for laughs. Notably too, it’s another Jeremy Burnham teleplay, who earlier took to the series like a duck to water with You’ll Catch Your Death.

You have six minutes in which to win, or lose, our game of Super Secret Agent.

The Avengers 6.13: Game
If you’re casting around for villain seeking revenge… look no further than Peter Jeffrey (4.9: Room without a View, 5.15: The Joker). In The Joker, he wanted payback against Mrs Peel, whereas this time, Steed’s on his list. Jeffrey’s a formidable presence even in a limited role, of course, and Game – a disappointingly spartan title – can at least boast variety of content, particularly during the finale.

He made me look the wrong way and I cut off my hand. He could make you look the wrong way and you could lose your whole head.

Moonstruck (1987)
(SPOILERS) Moonstruck has the dubious honour of making it to the ninth spot in Premiere magazine’s 2006 list of the 20 Most Overrated Movies of all Time. There are certainly some valid entries (number one is, however, absurd), but I’m not sure that, despite its box office success and Oscar recognition, the picture has a sufficient profile to be labelled with that adjective. It’s a likeable, lightweight romantic comedy that can boast idiosyncratic casting in a key role, but it simply doesn’t endure quotably or as a classic couple matchup the way the titans of the genre (Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally) do. Even its magical motif is rather feeble.

In England, Colonel, the historic mission of the proletariat consists almost entirely of momentary interest.

Billion Dollar Brain (1967)
(SPOILERS) A reluctant Ken Russell (his second feature, and helming under protest, so he said) at least ensures this final (well, until the ‘90s, if we really mustgo there) looks good. Crucially, however, it’s all but devoid of internal tension, except momentarily when Harry experiences an altercation or two with a couple of heavies. Which invariably leads to a ream of exposition from his captor; this is about as far from an espionage investigation or mystery begging to be solved as it gets, and while the Bond comparisons batted its way are slightly unfair, Billion Dollar Brain does support a similarly incidental approach to plotting.

Don’t care much for Berlin, sir. You’re liable to get your head shot off.

Funeral in Berlin (1966)
(SPOILERS) A serviceable follow-up to The Ipcress File, but conclusive evidence that it wasn’t Michael Caine’s insolent performance as Harry Palmer alone – “You really work on the insubordinate bit, don’t you?” – that made it special. With Sydney J Furie conspicuously absent (Harry Salzman very much did not ask him to return), the directorial reins were passed to reliable go-to Guy Hamilton (Goldfinger). While Otto Heller returns as cinematographer, painting a suitably drab, austere Berlin, Bond editor Peter Hunt is absent, and so is the indelible score (Konrad Efers replaces John Barry). Gone too are the pep and verve of the original. This could be any Cold War spy movie, but with a pair of spectacles and an occasional quip.

You're always sorry, Charles, and there's always a speech, but nobody cares anymore.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)
(SPOILERS) To credit its Rotten Tomatoes score (22%), you’d think X-Men: Dark Phoenix was a travesty that besmirched the name of all good and decent (read: MCU proper) superhero movies, or even last week’s underwhelming creature feature (Godzilla: King of Monsters has somehow reached 40%, despite being a lesser beast in every respect). Is the movie’s fate a self-fulfilling prophecy, what with delayed release dates and extensively reported reshoots? Were critics castigating a fait accompli turkey without giving it a chance? That would be presupposing they’re all sheep, though, and in fairness, other supposed write-offs havecome back from such a brink in the past (World War Z). Whatever the feelings of the majority, Dark Phoenix is actually a mostly okay (twelfth) instalment in the X-franchise – it’s exactly what you’d expect from an X-Men movie at this point, one without any real mojo left and a variable cast struggling to pull its weight. The third act is a bi…

You didn’t come here to talk to me about button mushrooms and birds.

The Ipcress File (1965)
(SPOILERS) It’s ironic that Harry Palmer is seen as the down-at-heel, scruffy sibling of James Bond (from then Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman) – the anti-Bond as Variety put it – since, in The Ipcress File at least, there may none of the opulence that comes with grand sets and villainous lairs, but it’s visually more stylish than any Bond movie, despite the drab London scenery and non-descript interiors (legendary Bond designer Ken Adam was nevertheless on hand to offer verisimilitude – he won the BAFTA over the also-nominated Goldfinger and “Cubby wouldn’t talk to me for the rest of the day”). Michael Caine’s career-making performance as kitchen-sink spy Harry Palmer may be the most obvious clue to the picture’s success (which included the sometimes-dubious honour of the BAFTA for Best British Film), but it’s Sidney J Furie’s direction that engraves it on your memory.

We’re behind all the best windows.

The Avengers 6.12: Super Secret Cypher Snatch
More idyllic location filming in this one, most notably in the form of Mother’s temporary base in a field, as second-unit man John Hough graduates to main man and provides a wealth of striking visuals. Not enough, unfortunately, to make a silk purse from Tony Williamson’s rather uninspired teleplay (Williamson’s prior contributions to the show included the high of 4.6: Too Many Christmas Trees and the low of 5.23: The Positive-Negative Man).

"Take a hammer, Emily," he said. "Take a hammer and smash everything shiny."

The Avengers 6.11: All Done with Mirrors
One I rated much more highly prior to this revisit, Leigh Vance’s teleplay for All Done with Mirrors (he’d later pen the screenplay for mid-70s Michael Caine thriller The Black Windmill) nevertheless has some appealing conceits, while Ray Austin (who would also helm half a dozen New Avengers) offers some memorable visuals.

Whacking. I'm hell at whacking.

Witness (1985)
(SPOILERS) Witness saw the advent of a relatively brief period – just over half a decade –during which Harrison Ford was willing to use his star power in an attempt to branch out. The results were mixed, and abruptly concluded when his typically too late to go where Daniel Day Lewis, Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro had gone before (with at bare minimum Oscar-nominated results) – but not “full retard” – ended in derision with Regarding Henry. He retreated to the world of Tom Clancy, and it’s the point where his cachet began to crumble. There had always been a stolid quality beneath even his more colourful characters, but now it came to the fore. You can see something of that as John Book in Witness – despite his sole Oscar nom, it might be one of Ford’s least interesting performances of the 80s – but it scarcely matters, or that the screenplay (which won) is by turns nostalgic, reactionary, wistful and formulaic, as director Peter Weir, in his Hollywood debut, breathes …