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Showing posts from August, 2019

Body snatchers in this day and age?

The Avengers 6.33: Bizarre
Perhaps I was just being kind as it’s the last episode, or that I liked the final scene (which I still do like) but I had it in my head that Bizarre was a slight but agreeable way to go out. I was right about the slight part.

You have a fine ear, Mr Steed. I hope you hang onto it.

The Avengers 6.32: Take-Over
Another first-rate Avengers from Terry Nation, this – out of six for the series, half of them are classics – with the kind of nasty home-invasion premise that has been frequent fodder for psychological horror flicks of the last couple of decades. Only, in this case, in much more genteel form. I don’t think it’s quite as strong as Legacy of Death and Take Me To Your Leader, but it’s near enough.

What a fantastic story. Dastardly planned, fiendish.

The Avengers 6.31: Requiem
Is this the least inspired Avengers episode? It certainly had me on the verge of giving up the will, with its crude, jigsaw, memory-association plot that seemed to consist entirely of filler in aid of a reveal that was transparently obvious from the first.

They were worse than philistines. They were villainstines!

The Avengers 6.30: Homicide and Old Lace
It seems Homicide and Old Lace (originally titled Tall Story) generally gets the short straw as the most vilified Avengers episode, but as with the much-decried Invasion of the Earthmen, I was able to find quite a bit to enjoy here. Even the rather deathless main body of the piece, a salvaging of a sort of The Great Great Great Britain Crime, can boast Gerald Harper (2.4: Death Dispatch, 4.15: The Hour That Never Was) as an idiot.

If it turns out to be a poltergeist, vicar, you shall exorcise it.

The Avengers 6.29: Thingumajig
Not up to the high standard of Terry Nation’s previous two teleplays, alas, this is a rather standard-issue affair of something killing off archaeologists in a cave under a church. Indeed, it’s most intriguing aspect is its title. Still, it features Iain Cuthbertson, which is in its considerable favour.

I'm not Pandora. I'm not!

The Avengers 6.28: Pandora
Pandora seems to be a somewhat divisive episode, with complaints ranging from it being atypical to rather dull. I might agree on the former, tonally, as it bears more semblance to a horror tale than an Avengers. That said, it recalls both 5.2: Escape in Time and Avengers girls isolated and in peril in a strange house yarns (3.7: Don’t Look Behind You, 5.15: The Joker). As to it being dull, I tended to being lukewarm on those previous excursions, but I found this one wholly compelling.

Steed, given the opportunity, I could make you look a one-hundred-percent, double-dyed traitor.

The Avengers 6.27: Who Was That Man I Saw You With?
Jeremy Burnham’s last contribution to the show is a likeable but slight framing tale, but this time, rather than Steed or Mother, all the evidence points to Tara King. There’s also a rather crucial issue that it doesn’t really bear much scrutiny that someone as innocuous would be the trigger to destroy the country, even when the dastardly plan has been explained.

Tonight it seems he stalks again through the alleys of the East End.

The Avengers 6.26: Fog
Jeremy Burnham’s teleplay offers an overtly Ripper-esque villain (the deliciously named Gaslight Ghoul) and John Hough serves up appropriately fog-shrouded visuals aided by a very faux-Victorian London set; Fog is arguably pretty thin when it comes down to it, but it’s an appealingly atmospheric yarn, and one with negligible interest in anything approaching a real-world setting, which is very much in its favour.

My image has been hypnotised from his mind. I can put a gun to his head and he won’t even see it.

The Avengers 6.25: Stay Tuned
Steed being hypnotised, such that he repeatedly awakes and prepares for holiday, as if for the first time, sounds like a premise ripe with Groundhog Day potential. And it is, in an episode that generally seems to be a very popular, but for me Tony Williamson can’t quite bring it together.

This is the highlight of my day. I hope it's not all downhill from here.

And the Oscar Should Have Gone To… The 1999 Contenders Ranked
For a year commonly cited - in my view, seemingly at random - as the best year ever for movies, it's notable that 72nd Academy Awards' vanguard Best Picture Oscar nominees have either fallen from grace (American Beauty, The Green Mile, even The Sixth Sense is less feted after two decades of M Night Shyamalan repeatedly using the same template) or been forgotten (The Cider House Rules, The Insider). I'd argue that rather reflects a not-quite-vintage year generally. Still, there's only one picture there that had absolutely no business even being within sight of the last five.

I’m what you might call a champagne problem.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)
(SPOILERS) The idea of teaming the two most engaging characters from the recent Fast & Furious movies for a spin-off seems like a no-brainer for making something better than Fast & Furious at its best (somewhere around 6 & 7), but there’s a flaw to this thinking (even if the actual genesis of the movie wasn’t Dwayne Johnson swearing off being on the same set as Vin again); the key to F&F succeeding is the ensemble element, and the variety of the pick’n’mix of characters. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw – I can’t help thinking the over-announced title itself stresses an intrinsic lack of confidence somewhere at Universal – duly provides too much of a good thing, ensuring none of the various talents employed are fully on top of their game.

Would you like Smiley Sauce with that?

American Beauty (1999)
(SPOILERS) As is often the case with the Best Picture Oscar, a backlash against a deemed undeserved reward has grown steadily in the years since American Beauty’s win. The film is now often identified as symptomatic of a strain of cinematic indulgence focussing on the affluent middle classes’ first world problems. Worse, it showcases a problematic protagonist with a Lolita-fixation towards his daughter’s best friend (imagine its chances of getting made, let alone getting near the podium in the #MeToo era). Some have even suggested it “mercifully” represents a world that no longer exists (as a pre-9/11 movie), as if such hyperbole has any bearing other than as gormless clickbait; you’d have to believe its world of carefully manicured caricatures existed in the first place to swallow such a notion. American Beauty must own up to some of these charges, but they don’t prevent it from retaining a flawed allure. It’s a satirical take on Americana that, if it pulls its p…

Is CBS Corporate telling CBS News "Do not air this story"?

The Insider (1999)
(SPOILERS) The Insider was the 1999 Best Picture Oscar nominee that didn’t. Do any business, that is. Which is, more often than not, a major mark against it getting the big prize. It can happen (2009, and there was a string of them from 2014-2016), but aside from brief, self-congratulatory “we care about art first” vibes, it generally does nothing for the ceremony’s profile, or the confidence of the industry that is its bread and butter. The Insider lacked the easy accessibility of the other nominees – supernatural affairs, wafer-thin melodramas or middle-class suburbanite satires. It didn’t even brandish a truly headlines-shattering nail-biter in its conspiracy-related true story, as earlier contenders All the President’s Men and JFK could boast. But none of those black marks prevented The Insider from being the cream of the year’s crop.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

You know what I think? I think he just wants to see one cook up close.

The Green Mile (1999)
(SPOILERS) There’s something very satisfying about the unhurried confidence of the storytelling in Frank Darabont’s two prison-set Stephen King adaptations (I’m less beholden to supermarket sweep The Mist); it’s sure, measured and precise, certain that the journey you’re being take on justifies the (indulgent) time spent, without the need for flashy visuals or ornate twists (the twists there are feel entirely germane – with a notable exception – as if they could only be that way). But. The Green Mile has rightly come under scrutiny for its reliance on – or to be more precise, building its foundation on – the “Magical Negro” trope, served with a mild sprinkling of idiot savant (so in respect of the latter, a Best Supporting Actor nomination was virtually guaranteed). One might argue that Stephen King’s magical realist narrative flourishes well-worn narrative ploys and characterisations at every stage – such that John Coffey’s initials are announcement enough of his …

You don't find it depressing that Homer Wells is picking apples?

The Cider House Rules (1999)
(SPOILERS) Miramax’s big Oscar contender of 1999 made its finalist appearance largely by default, after hopes for The Talented Mr Ripley bottomed out. The studio had gone great guns during the previous few years, taking both The English Patient and Shakespeare in Love to the top prize and even securing Roberto Benigni Best Actor, but suddenly things didn’t look so bright, and the result was this: a film that put a whole new spin on the – to all intents and purposes – inconsequential nominee vying for the main award. The studio would repeat the trick to almost exactly the same effect with the same director a year later in the form of Chocolat.

My security device is now primed. I will give audible warning of any unauthorised contact.

The Avengers 6.24: Take Me to Your Leader
Terry Nation hits another bullseye – or near enough – with Take Me to Your Leader, in which he shrewdly uses a similar “trail of suspects” approach to previous winner Legacy of Death, as Steed and Tara are required to navigate a suitcase – one that provides the bearer with instructions – to its owner when – in theory – it’s required to be passed from enemy agent contact to enemy agent contact in relay. It isn’t perhaps as uproarious as his previous teleplay, but more than makes up for it in inventiveness.

Extraordinary creatures. I’ve never been able to understand what motivates them.

The Avengers 6.23: Love All
Another quality episode from Jeremy Burnham, with a plot simultaneously both daft and clever (so very Avengers), but the biggest standout is the terrific performance from his wife – and later Children of the Stones lead – Veronica Strong, first seen as an aging, fag-ash cleaning lady with a strange knack for attracting men in the Ministry, and then as her “real” self, a dazzling beauty.

You’re a staring Stanley!

The Sixth Sense (1999)
(SPOILERS) It has usually been a shrewd move for the Academy to ensure there’s at least one big hit among its Best Picture Oscar nominees. At least, until the era of ever-plummeting ratings; not only do the studios get to congratulate themselves for their own profligacy (often, but not always, the big hits are also the costliest productions), but the audience also has something to identify with and possibly root for. Plus, it evidences that the ceremony isn’t just about populism-shunning snobbery. The Sixth Sense provided Oscar’s supernatural bookend to a decade – albeit, The Green Mile also has a stake in this – that opened with Ghost while representing the kind of deliberate, skilfully-honed genre fare there was no shame in recognising. Plus, it had a twist. Everyone loves a twist.

Kindly behove me no ill behoves!

The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
(SPOILERS) It’s often the case that industry-shaking flops aren’t nearly the travesties they appeared to be before the dust had settled, and so it is with The Bonfire of the Vanities. The adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s ultra-cynical bestseller is still the largely toothless, apologetically broad-brush comedy – I’d hesitate to call it a satire in its reconfigured form – it was when first savaged by critics nearly thirty years ago, but taken for what it is, that is, removed from the long shadow of Wolfe’s novel, it’s actually fairly serviceable star-stuffed affair that doesn’t seem so woefully different to any number of rather blunt-edged comedies of the era.

What say we unscrew the lid and see what happens?

The Current War (2017)
(SPOILERS) If you didn’t know Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s The Current War had a turbulent history in the editing suite, you’d rapidly reach that conclusion from watching the film. Either that, or assume the director has no idea what he was doing. Aside from an aesthetically inadvisable penchant for low-angle, fish-eye framing, there’s scant design or coherence to Gomez-Rejon’s visual sense; we’re subjected to random cutting (and cutting randomly) from careful compositions to ones bereft of the same, regardless of the requirements of the scene or flow of the overall narrative. As a consequence, it says something for the fascination the Thomas Edison/ George Westinghouse story exerts – their competition for whose electrical system would win out and be adopted en masse – as told by Michal Mitnick that the film is even halfway watchable.