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Showing posts from October, 2019

Do you see that crap? All that horror crap?

Creepshow (1982)
(SPOILERS) It’s curious that Creepshow is so keen to establish an EC Comics style, right down to the page frames and inked opening and final shots of each story, as George Romero’s patchy approach is exactly notthe way to produce a consistent aesthetic. Compare this to the more full-blooded engagement with split screen and attempts at visual immersion of Ang Lee’s Hulk two decades later, and subsequently the likes of Sin City, The Spirit and 300, and Romero’s movie looks rather malnourished. In a way, though, this cobbled-together vibe is perfectly suited to movie. Like most anthologies, the quality of its episodes is wildly variable, and add to that very spotty performances and tonal lurches (including those of humour) and you have a grisly mess, if one emphatically short on scares.

Well, isn’t that an oogy mess?

Misery (1990)
(SPOILERS) Misery’s the first time in Rob Reiner’s spotless early run where one becomes conscious of his limitations. It’s a thoroughly, commendably decent adaptation, one in which he elicits outstanding performances from his leads and pushes all the necessary shock buttons, but there’s never that crucial sense of an ability to go the extra mile to make it a truly seminal horror movie. Instead, what it has is a truly seminal villain. Otherwise, it has to settle for punching-above-its-weight journeyman status.

If a Ripley gets out of this pine tree paradise, well, it just can't be allowed to do that.

Dreamcatcher (2003)
(SPOILER) A puzzler for many. Not so much in terms of how a post-horrific car crash, OxyContin-addicted Stephen King could have written such a rotten story (at one point, before his comedown, he proudly extolled that Dreamcatcher would do for the toilet what Psycho did for the shower”, which, well…) – I think the circumstances speak for themselves – but how such luminaries as William Goldman and Lawrence Kasdan became involved in the movie adaptation, and how Castle Rock, for the most part a bastion of successful translations of the author’s work, could have tripped up so badly. Because Dreamcatcher is an unmistakably bad film.

It’s a comedy and it's sex and it's action. It’s a total entertainment experience.

Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
(SPOILERS) Eddie Murphy’s Rudy Ray Moore biopic, charting Moore’s rise to fame in Ed-Wood-who-could blaxpoitation movie Dolemite is breezy and enjoyable, brimming with performers clearly having a very good time and overseen by director Craig Brewer with an easy zest that bodes well for the forthcoming Coming 2 America. It’s the best thing Murphy’s done in years. But still, it never feels quite as turbo-charged or uproarious as it promises to be.

Yeah, I’m so bad, I kick my own ass twice a day.

Dolemite (1975)
(SPOILERS) It says something about unlikely interdependencies in the digital age that Amazon Prime should suddenly offer Rudy Ray Moore’s blaxpoitation cult item off the back of the publicity engendered by Eddie Murphy’s Netflix comeback movie Dolemite Is My Name. The problem with cult items is often that they’re so attuned to time and place – and how wasted you were when first encountering them – that theirs are the most subjective of merits.

I'm reliable, I'm a very good listener, and I'm extremely funny.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I wrote my 23 to see in 2019, I speculated that James Cameron might be purposefully giving his hand-me-downs to lesser talents because he hubristically didn’t want anyone making a movie that was within a spit of the proficiency we’ve come to expect from him. Certainly, Robert Rodriguez and Tim Miller are leagues beneath Kathryn Bigelow, Jimbo’s former spouse and director of his Strange Days screenplay. Miller’s no slouch when it comes to action – which is what these movies are all about, let’s face it – but neither is he a craftsman, so all those reviews attesting that Terminator: Dark Fate is the best in the franchise since Terminator 2: Judgment Day may be right, but there’s a considerable gulf between the first sequel (which I’m not that big a fan of) and this retcon sequel to that sequel.

Well, Doctor. This is a surprise.

Doctor Who Season 18 – Worst to Best

Peoples of the universe, please attend carefully.

Doctor Who Season 18 – Worst to Best
As the star ratings that follow will attest, I generally rate Season 18 very highly. John Nathan-Turner’s new-broom approach may have been unceremonious towards the old guard, be they actors or production personnel, and was additionally responsible for introducing a slew of bad ideas (bad companions, bad designs, bad directors), but it also saw the arrival of a script editor with commendably strong story-telling instincts – best if you ignore him talking about them, mind – and at least some of the production changes he made genuinely served to refresh and reinvigorate the show. Unfortunately, especially when ploughing through a Blu-ray boxset, it’s a season where, the more one knows about the behind-the-scenes dramas, tensions and perspectives, the less lustrous it can seem. Albeit, that doesn’t often overwhelm what’s actually on screen; the JN-T era began on a high he’d never again come close to equalling.

I have a cow, but I hate bananas.

The Laundromat (2019)
(SPOILERS) Steven Soderbergh’s flair for cinematic mediocrity continues with this attempt at The Big Short-style topicality, taking aim at the Panama Papers but ending up with a mostly blunt satire, one eager to show how the offshore system negatively impacts the average – and also the not-so-average – person but at the expense of really digging in to how it facilitates the turning of the broader capitalist world (it is, after all based on Jake Bernstein’s Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite).

It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t have to look yourself in the mirror any more.

Hollow Man (2000)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven very acutely critiqued his own choices when he observed of Hollow Manit really is not me anymore. I think many other people could have done that… there might have been twenty directors in Hollywood who could have done that”. It isn’t such a wonder he returned to Europe, and to quality, for his subsequent films. If Memoirs of an Invisible Man failed to follow up on the mental side effects of being seen right through found in HG Wells’ novel and (especially) in James Whale’s film, all Hollow Man does is take that tack, with the consequence that the proceedings degenerate into a banal action slasher, but with a naked Bacon instead of a guy in a hockey mask.

If I had eyes and teeth, I’d be a whole head.

Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992)
(SPOILERS) A huge box office bomb for Warner Bros, but unlike the later Escape from L.A., its problems can’t really be laid at director John Carpenter’s door. Indeed, it sounds as if he brought exactly the right instincts to the project (“North by Northwest meets Starman”); it’s almost entirely the presence of Chevy Chase that does for Memoirs of an Invisible Man, a vanity project the star had nurtured but which proved entirely ill-fitting and scuppered his serious thesping designs as quickly as they took form.

It’s easy, really, if you’re clever. An invisible man can rule the world!

The Invisible Man (1933)
(SPOILERS) James Whale’s most celebrated features may be his brace of Frankensteins, but this, his other contribution to the Universal horror cycle (The Old Dark House presumably doesn’t get officially included as it lacks their classic monsters), ought to be mentioned in the same breath. Superbly spoofed by Joe Dante in Son of The Invisible Man for Amazon Women on the Moon (below), it doesn’t actually need that kind of undercutting, as its hearty – and twisted – sense of humour shines through throughout. Much of which can be attributed to a magnificently full-blooded performance from Claude Rains.

It’s not every day you see a guy get his ass kicked on two continents – by himself.

Gemini Man (2019)
(SPOILERS) Ang Lee seems hellbent on sloughing down a technological cul-de-sac to the point of creative obscurity, in much the same way Robert Zemeckis enmired himself in the mirage of motion capture for a decade. Lee previously experimented with higher frame rates on Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, to the general aversion of those who saw it in its intended form – 48, 60 or 120 fps have generally gone down like a bag of cold sick, just ask Peter Jackson – and the complete indifference of most of the remaining audience, for whom the material held little lustre. Now he pretty much repeats that trick with Gemini Man. At best, it’s merely an “okay” film – not quite the bomb its Rotten Tomatoes score suggests – which, (as I saw it) stripped of its distracting frame rate and 3D, reveals itself as just about serviceable but afflicted by several insurmountable drawbacks.

Ice cream, Cherryade and chicken nuggets, liquidised.

The Kid Who Would Be King (2019)
(SPOILERS) Joe Cornish generated such goodwill with Attack the Block – admittedly, I wasn’t its greatest fan – that I suspect no one really wanted to admit The Kid Who Would Be King, his belated follow up was a bit of a damp squib. This modern-day Arthurian retelling but with kids in the key protagonist roles may appear to have sufficient reconfigured cachet to appeal, but it’s mostly rather derivative, and that’s without even considering the patchy lead cast.

You’ll just have to face it, Steed. You’re completely compromised.

The Avengers Season 6 Ranked – Worst to Best
The final run, and an oft-maligned one. It’s doubtful anyone could have filled Emma Peel’s kinky boots, but it didn’t help Linda Thorson that Tara King was frequently earmarked to moon over Steed while very evidentlynot being the equal Emma and Cathy were; the generation gap was never less than unflatteringly evident. Nevertheless, despite this imbalance, and the early hiccups of the John Bryce-produced episodes, Season Six arguably offers a superior selection of episodes to its predecessor, in which everyone became perhaps a little too relaxed.

Dude. You’re my hero and shit.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was going to say I’d really like to see what Vince Gilligan has up his sleeve besidesBreaking Bad spinoffs. But then I saw that he had a short-lived series on CBS a few years back (Battle Creek). I guess things Breaking Bad-related ensure an easy greenlight, particularly from Netflix, for whom the original show was bread and butter in its take up as a streaming platform. There’s something slightly dispiriting about El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, though. Not that Gilligan felt the need to return to Jesse Pinkman – although the legitimacy of that motive is debatable – but the desire to re-enter and re-inhabit the period of the show itself, as if he’s unable to move on from a near-universally feted achievement and has to continually exhume it and pick it apart.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

He’s got all the nerve in the world, but none of the nerves.

Elmer Gantry (1960)
(SPOILERS) Richard Brooks was something of an Oscar regular by the time he made Elmer Gantry, with The Blackboard Jungle, The Brothers Karamazov and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof all getting attention; he’d continue to keep that up during the ‘60s. Gantry receiving the nominations it did (five, including Best Picture), in some ways feels like a surprise, though: that the Academy would recognise material so overtly critical of religion, or by implication, through broadsiding those treating it like a business. That may be partly because its source material dates back to Sinclair Lewis’ 1927 novel, so there’s a literary pedigree, however current and controversial. It may also help that, while the film starts out with uncompromising zeal to expose and critique, by the conclusion it has become a much more recognisably traditional affair.

So does anyone have another question, not related to Hill House?

The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
(SPOILERS) Throughout the early episodes of The Haunting of Hill House, I nursed a creeping suspicion that the horror element was really so much window dressing. Partly because Mike Flanagan’s loosest of adaptations of Jane Shirley Jackson’s 1957 novel seemed far more concerned with Lost-esque personal narrative juggling than scares – which were, let’s face it, inserted on a formula basis to keep the thing ticking over. That suspicion seemed to be confirmed with the centre-piece funeral episodes (Six and Seven), where however entwined the familial strife of the Crains was with Hill House, it was much less engrossing that the actual emotional fireworks. And then, the climactic episode served to underline the point, seemingly throwing away any notion of horror in favour of a rather sappy, jaundiced depiction of a house that will actually in some way protect the souls it eats.

It's sort of Charles Foster Kane meets The Munsters or something.

The Haunting (1999)
(SPOILERS) I somehow expected time wasn’t going to improve The Haunting miraculously, but returning to it rather underlines the idea that Jan De Bont somehow just got lucky with his first foray into directing – and, to an extent second – while everything subsequently proved him rather tragically incompetent. To such an extent, he effectively retired from the business after his fifth film. The Haunting suggests not only that he didn’t have the faintest clue how to make a scary movie, but that he wasn’t even trying. Or about as much as the makers of Scary Movie.

It ought to be burned to the ground and sowed with salt.

The Haunting (1963)
(SPOILERS) Is it bad that, as far as the haunted house subgenre goes, I prefer The Legend of Hell House to Robert Wise’s very respectable, mature adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s then-recent novel? Both are based on a team of investigators setting up shop in a famously haunted abode – Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape does something similar – but John Hough’s film of Richard Matheson’s novel simply wants to have unapologetic fun with the premise. The Haunting goes for a less tangible vibe – night and day compared to the recent Netflix incarnation – but I’m not sure it quite pulls it off.

This sucks! It sucks the biggest mega balls in the history of shitty ball-sucking!

Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
(SPOILERS) The biggest failing of this sequel to the surprisingly witty 2017 Groundhog Day horror is that it stops short of fully embracing the out-there potential of invoking Back to the Future Part II. Instead, writer-director Christopher Landon opts to coast somewhat on a what-if scenario in which returning protagonist Tree (Jessica Rothe) gets to experience an alt-reality where her mum never died, and she must decide whether to give that up to get back to her own universe.

Why do all my generals want to destroy my bridges?

A Bridge Too Far (1977)
(SPOILERS) Deliberate and measured – some might say ponderous – was always the hallmark of Sir Richard Attenborough’s directorial career, but for the most part, that works to the benefit of A Bridge Too Far. It offers a liberal smattering of both personalised and cast-of-hundreds action sequences, but essentially his recounting of Operation Market Garden is all about talk, deliberation and a cavalcade of miscalculations, hubris and outright idiocy. Yes, there’s plenty of spectacle (and cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame, is no slouch in that regard), and the expense is all up there on screen, but its effectiveness comes from following William Goldman’s wordy screenplay.

An invasion of Normandy would be against all military logic. It would be against any logic at all.

The Longest Day (1962)
(SPOILERS) It certainly felt like it. Three interminable hours that even playing “spot the star cameo” couldn’t relieve. It’s salient to note that both this and A Bridge Too Far were based on epic accounts of epic wartime operations by Cornelius Ryan, but whereas William Goldman managed to turn the latter into a surprisingly remarkable screenplay and Richard Attenborough into a surprisingly good film, here Ryan, adapting himself (with additional material credited to four other writers), induces mostly lethargy. He never finds an effective means to thread the various incidents and beachheads and responses together into a coherent whole, so you’re left with material that feels rather formless and directionless.

I can’t have you following me about eternity like the Flying Dutchman.

Time after Time (1979)
(SPOILERS) It seems as if every even half-successful science-fiction movie has spawned at least a failed TV version at some point. I haven’t seen Time after Time’s spin-off, but I’m unsurprised its premise didn’t successfully lend itself to an ongoing series format. Indeed, by the time the credits roll on Nicholas Meyer’s directorial debut, I felt he’d run into the limits of his (Karl Alexander’s) idea.