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Showing posts from July, 2019

Ice is civilisation! That's why I'm here! That's why I came!

The Mosquito Coast (1986)
(SPOILERS) How different things might have been, had The Mosquito Coast been a hit. Its failure evidently chastened Harrison Ford, who was still opining half a decade later that it was his only film that hadn’t made its money back. For a spell there, with two phenomenal franchises to his name and his star power entrenched by the success of Witness, he felt confident enough to mix things up a little, to put his name to the Peter Weir project that had fallen through due to lack of funding/Jack Nicholson, to work with an out-of-favour European director (in Frantic for Polanski, now even more out of favour), try his hand as the supporting romantic interest in an unfamiliar genre (Working Girl) and work with one of the ‘70s most feted directors in a did-he-didn’t-he Jagged Edge-esque courtroom drama (Presumed Innocent, where more column inches ended up being devoted to his severe haircut than the quality of the picture). At least a couple of these paid off, and it …

Different skin, same suffering.

Heaven & Earth (1993)
(SPOILERS) All credit to Oliver Stone for feeling a responsibility to portray the Vietnamese perspective of the Vietnam War, after so many depictions of the physical and mental traumas of GIs (even when inflicting suffering on the enemy) but from the evidence of the all but forgotten Heaven & Earth, the final part of his Vietnam trilogy, he wasn’t the guy to do it.

Do you think the world’s ended and they forgot to tell us?

The Avengers 6.21: The Morning After
This one seems to get something of a mixed reaction, which rather surprises me. Along with the not-dissimilar-in-premise 4.15: The Hour That Never Was, it was one of the highlights of my first-run Avengers experience, and revisiting the series stands up even better than its Season Four counterpart. Much of that is down to John Hough’s superb location work and sure feel for suspense, but Brian Clemens also ensures the plot maintains a sense of mystery, while the odd couple/ Midnight Run/ The Defiant Ones handcuffed pairing of Macnee and Peter Barkworth (1.22: Kill the King, 3.16: The Medicine Men, 5.9: The Correct Way to Kill) is an absolute treat.

But let me remind you that the course has already begun. And you can be taken away and interrogated at any time. Any time at all.

The Avengers 6.21: The Interrogators
After the dual-role disappointment of 5.10: Never, Never Say Die, the show finally does right by Christopher Lee, in the role of Colonel Mannering (!), “Head of Interdepartmental Security”, operating a beast of all scams on the intelligence network. It’s a seriously-inclined episode from Richard Harris, rewritten by Brian Clemens (and directed by Charles Crichton), but with just enough of the eccentric to add flavour.

What about the meaningless line of indifference?

The Lion King (2019)
(SPOILERS) And so the Disney “live-action” remake train thunders on regardless (I wonder how long the live-action claim would last if there was a slim hope of a Best Animated Feature Oscar nod?) I know I keep repeating myself, but the early ‘90s Disney animation renaissance didn’t mean very much to me; I found their pictures during that period fine, but none of them blew me away as they did critics and audiences generally. As such, I have scant nostalgia to bring to bear on the prospect of a remake, which I’m sure can work both ways. Aladdin proved to be a lot of fun. Beauty and the Beast entirely tepid. The Lion King, well, it isn’t a badfilm, but it’s wearying its slavish respectfulness towards the original and so diligent in doing it justice, you’d think it was some kind of religious artefact. As a result, it is, ironically, for the most part, dramatically dead in the water.

I can’t believe we’re fighting each other, when we should be fighting them.

Platoon (1986)
(SPOILERS) Oliver Stone won his first of two directing Oscars for Platoon, but it was one of three nominations at the 59thAcademy Awards; dual Best Original Screenplay nominations for Platoon and Salvador were also forthcoming (Woody won for Hannah and Her Sisters). Now, I think Salvador’s a fine piece of work, near-peak Stone operating at the height of his powers, and it’s worth remembering that he had previously won in the screenplay category for Midnight Express, but his writing for Platoon is by some distance the least of its virtues. As Pauline Kael noted, it’s like “a young man’s first autobiographical – and inflated – work” (Stone wrote it a decade before he eventually got to make it and its earliest form came not long after his tour of duty in Vietnam concluded). At its best, Platoon is visceral and ferociously uncompromising, but its merits are too often diminished by Stone’s would-be poetic lens, casting himself (through Charlie Sheen) as the sensitive, afflict…

You're waterboarding me.

The Upside (2017)
(SPOILERS) The list of US remakes of foreign-language films really ought to be considered a hiding to nothing, given the ratio of flops to unqualified successes. There’s always that chance, though, of a proven property (elsewhere) hitting the jackpot, and every exec hopes, in the case of French originals, for another The Birdcage, Three Men and a Baby, True Lies or Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Even a Nine Months, Sommersby or Unfaithful will do. Rather than EdTV. Or Sorcerer. Or Eye of the Beholder. Or Brick Mansions. Or Chloe. Or Intersection (Richard Gere is clearly a Francophile). Or Just Visiting. Or The Man with One Red Shoe. Or Mixed Nuts. Or Original Sin. Or Oscar. Or Point of No Return. Or Quick Change. Or Return to Paradise. Or Under Suspicion. Or Wicker Park. Or Father’s Day.

They literally call themselves “Decepticons”. That doesn’t set off any red flags?

Bumblebee  (2018)
(SPOILERS) Bumblebee is by some distance the best Transformers movie, simply by dint of having a smattering of heart (one might argue the first Shia LaBeouf one also does, and it’s certainly significantly better than the others, but it’s still a soulless Michael Bay “machine”). Laika VP and director Travis Knight brings personality to a series that has traditionally consisted of shamelessly selling product, by way of a nostalgia piece that nods to the likes of Herbie (the original), The Iron Giant and even Robocop.

Oi! Give me back my bum bag!

The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018)
(SPOILERS) “Spy Who…” movies have a reasonably solid historic pedigree (yes, I’m including the Austin Powers one), but that title talisman does little for The Spy Who Dumped Me, attempting as it does to run with the tried-and-tested baton of unexceptional types thrown into a fantastic narrative that can be found in everything from The Man Who Knew Too Much to The Man Who Knew Too Little to Condorman and your average Wilder/Pryor vehicle. On this evidence, though, director Susan Fogel is a better action director than she is a dab hand at comedy (before you call me out by pointing to her credit on the recent raved-over Booksmart, that is with three other writers).

I’ve got a problem in timber technology right here.

The Avengers 6.20: The Rotters
David Freeman’s sole contribution to the series feels like he’s been writing The Avengers for years. Most particularly, the Mrs Peel era in which bad guys (rotters, even) bump off a list of parties connected to some eccentric enterprise or group. Which came first, the punning title or the plot? It scarcely matters, since they’re equal of each other. Director Robert Fuest, meanwhile, continues his domination of the season’s best visuals.

In alphabetical order, he was clubbed, poisoned, shot, spiked, stabbed, strangled and suffocated. And his eardrums are damaged.

The Avengers 6.19: Killer
One of the series’ infrequent “Steed-gets-another-partner-for-an-episode” outings (see also 4.19: The Girl from Auntie). And while on the plus side, Lady Diana Forbes-Blakeney (Jennifer Croxton) mercifully avoids the overt flirtation of Tara, she also lacks the sense of fun and energy Thorson brings to her role. As a result, Lady Diana only ever seems like a stand-in, marking time, where other eccentric one-offs (5.19: Dead Man’s Treasure, 3.24: The Charmers) were more indelible.

You want to investigate me, roll the dice and take your chances.

A Few Good Men (1992)
(SPOILERS) Aaron Sorkin has penned a few good manuscripts in his time, but A Few Good Men, despite being inspired by an actual incident (one related to him by his sister, an army lawyer on a case at the time), falls squarely into the realm of watchable but formulaic. I’m not sure I’d revisited the entire movie since seeing it at the cinema, but my reaction is largely the same: that it’s about as impressively mounted and star-studded as Hollywood gets, but it’s ultimately a rather empty courtroom drama.

What happens at 72?

Midsommar (2019)
(SPOILERS) Ari Aster, by rights, ought already to be buckling under the weight of all those accolades amassing around him, pronouncing him a horror wunderkind a mere two films in. But while both Midsommar and Hereditary have both received broadly similar critical acclaim, his second feature will lag behind the first by some distance in box office, unless something significant happens in a hitherto neglected territory. That isn’t such a surprise on seeing it. While Hereditary keeps its hand firmly on the tiller of shock value and incident, so as to sustain it’s already more than adequate running time, Midsommar runs a full twenty minutes longer, which is positively – or rather, negatively – over-indulgent for what we have here, content-wise, and suggests a director whose crowned auteurishness has instantly gone to his head.

Everyone who had a talent for it lived happily ever after.

Empire 30:  Favourite Films of the Last 30 Years
Empire’s readers’ poll to celebrate its thirtieth birthday – a request for the ultimate thirty films of the last thirty years, one per year from 1989 – required a bit of thought, particularly since they weren’t just limiting it to your annual favourite (“These can be the films that impressed you the most, the ones that stuck with you, that brought you joy, or came to you at just the right time”). Also – since the question was asked on Twitter, although I don’t know how rigorous they’re being; does it apply to general release, or does it include first film festival showings? – they’re talking UK release dates, rather than US, calling for that extra modicum of mulling. To provide more variety, I opted to limit myself to just one film per director; otherwise, my thirty would have been top heavy with, at very least, Coen Brothers movies. So here’s they are, with runners-up and reasoning:

Can you close off your feelings so you don’t get crippled by the moral ambiguity of your violent actions?

Spider-Man Worst to Best

Doesn't work out, I'll send her home in body bag.

Anna (2019)
(SPOILERS) I’m sure one could construe pertinent parallels between the various allegations and predilections that have surfaced at various points relating to Luc Besson, both over the years and very recently, and the subject matter of his movies, be it by way of a layered confessional or artistic “atonement” in the form of (often ingenue) women rising up against their abusers/employers. In the case of Anna, however, I just think he saw Atomic Blonde and got jealous. I’ll have me some of that, though Luc. Only, while he brought more than sufficient action to the table, he omitted two vital ingredients: strong lead casting and a kick-ass soundtrack.

How can you have time when it clearly has you?

Dark  Season 2
(SPOILERS) I’m not intending to dig into Dark zealously, as its plotting is so labyrinthine, it would take forever and a day, and I’d just end up babbling incoherently (so what’s new). But it’s worth commenting on, as it’s one of the few Netflix shows I’ve seen that feels entirely rigorous and disciplined – avoiding the flab and looseness that too often seems part and parcel of a service expressly avoiding traditional ratings models – as it delivers its self-appointed weighty themes and big ideas. And Dark’s weighty themes and big ideas really are weighty and big, albeit simultaneously often really frustrating. It came as no surprise to learn of the showrunners’ overriding fixation on determinism at work in the multi-generational, multiple time period-spanning events within the German town of Winden, but I was intrigued regarding their structural approach, based on clearly knowing the end game of their characters, rather than needing to reference (as they put it) Post-It…

Spider-Man with his hand in the cookie jar! Whoever brings me that photo gets a job.

Spider-Man 3 (2007)
(SPOILERS) Spider-Man 3 is a mess. That much most can agree on that much. And I think few – Jonathan Ross being one of them – would claim it’s the best of the Raimi trilogy. But it’s also a movie that has taken an overly harsh beating. In some cases, this a consequence of negative reaction to its most inspired elements – it would be a similar story with Iron Man Three a few years later – and in others, it’s a reflection of an overstuffed narrative pudding – so much so that screenwriter Alvin Sargent considered splitting the movie into two. In respect of the latter, elements were forced on director Sam Raimi, and these cumulative disagreements would eventually lead him to exit the series (it would take another three years before his involvement in Spider-Man 4 officially ended). There’s a lot of chaff in the movie, but there’s also a lot of goodness here, always providing you aren’t gluten intolerant.

Guy name Otto Octavius ends up with eight limbs. What are the odds?

Spider-Man 2 (2004)
(SPOILERS) It may be a relatively minor heresy, as these things go, but I prefer the first Spider-Man to Sam Raimi’s praise-showered follow up. More accomplished in terms of character work, effects and interweaving plotting it may be, but Spider-Man 2 just isn’t as much fun.

It's a simple case. A man with the mentality of a child of seven could handle it.

The Avengers 6.18: Wish You Were Here
Wish You Were Here counts as one of the season’s best so far, combining an appealingly eccentric premise from Tony Williamson (a guest house prison with no obvious barriers to leaving) with strong direction from Don Chaffey. I have to admit, though, like a bit of a lemon, the obvious The Prisoner parody aspect – it was even the working title – escaped me until afterwards, probably because this is tonally so different.

My name's the Human Spider!

Spider-Man (2002)
(SPOILERS) I’d recalled Sam Raimi somewhat performing with his hand in his pockets for his first Spidey outing, reining in his style in order to prove to Sony he could do the necessaries and deliver the required blockbuster (and only really becoming unleashed for the sequels), but his first Spider-Man is actually most striking for how much flourish, colour and inventiveness there is from the get-go. Perhaps that’s a consequence of a decade of actually stylistically restricted MCU movies, but even the formally freer DCEU has yet to produce anything approaching both his sense of panache and fun.

What, you're going to walk in there like it's the commie Disneyland or something?

Stranger Things 3 (2019)
(SPOILERS) It’s very clear by this point that Stranger Things isn’t going to serve up any surprises. It’s operating according to a strict formula, one requiring the opening of the portal to the Upside Down every season and an attendant demagorgon derivative threat to leak through, only to be stymied at the last moment by our valorous team. It’s an ‘80s sequel cycle through and through, and if you’re happy with it functioning exclusively on that level, complete with a sometimes overpowering (over)dose of nostalgia references, this latest season will likely strike you as just the ticket.

That's Steed. Who else would smile at a time like this?

The Avengers 6.17: They Keep Killing Steed
Great title. If only Brian Clemens’ teleplay was up to the same standard. Which isn’t to say the episode is terrible, just that it’s anotherdoppelganger Avengers, only this time, instead of one Steed there’s a selection. Ray McAnally (5.23: The Positive Negative Man) returns, overplaying again with a silly accent, and he’s better here, but still far from being one of the series’ most iconic guest stars.

Catatonics are so easy to possess.

The Exorcist III (1990)
(SPOILERS) The demand for reshoots on The Exorcist III, as seems to be the case more often than not, failed to bolster its box office. One might argue that alone made tampering with William Peter Blatty’s vision for the picture redundant. Ironically, however, it may have resulted in a superior film; while I haven’t seen the “Director’s Cut” version of the film assembled a few years back (glued together with sticky tape and Blu Tack might be more accurate, given the quality of the materials available), nothing I’ve read about it makes it sound superior to the theatrical release.

Please do not start calling it my “Peter Tingle”.

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
(SPOILERS) I had a feeling the makers of Spider-Man: Far From Home weren’t making life easy for themselves when they picked Mysterio as – yes – the villain the piece, and the finished movie bears that out. Because Quentin Beck’s nature as an illusionist/ master manipulator, rather than an antagonist prone to getting into extended punch-ups with our hero, means there’s added onus on dexterous, surprising and slippery plotting, and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers only partially succeed in that regard. Which doesn’t mean Far From Home fails to deliver a series of standout sequences and twists, but as a whole it just isn’t as well sustained as its Spider-predecessor.