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Showing posts from January, 2020

No, I'm not a feminist. I'm a lawyer.

Bombshell (2019)
(SPOILERS) Reactions to Bombshell from some quarters of the online community are perhaps more interesting to analyse than the film itself, which is, after all, a fairly straightforward telling of the Roger Ailes sexual harassment case, just with the inevitable post-The Big Short-style stylistic tailoring seeking to make potentially unappealing material easily digestible. On one level, then, it’s yet another unwanted – as in, audiences aren’t going to show up for it; The Big Short was a one-off – back-slapping Hollywood dive into current affairs. On another, it’s dealing with an area that would evoke immediate sympathy for the parties involved, were it not for the politics of those involved.

Just imagine having a stuffed werewolf staring at you from the wall!

The Wolf Man (1941)
(SPOILERS) By and large, visiting or in some cases revisiting Universal’s Essential Collection of horror classics has been a rewarding experience. That comes rather unstuck with The Wolf Man, directed with little in the way of style and panache by George Waggner (he end up in TV) and suffering a personality bypass in the form of leading wolf man Lon Chaney Jr. I’ve mainly been familiar with the film for its legacy in werewolf lore, and it’s definitely one that’s better cited than experienced.

Do you have a piece of cheese about you?

Treasure Island  (1972)
(SPOILERS) Originally planned by Orson Welles as a means to secure financing for Chimes of Midnight, his production of Treasure Island fell through only to be revived by old Welles associate Harry Alan Towers seven years later, but with the multi-hyphenate now demoted (mostly) to thesping duties. More ignominiously still, one of the most legendary voices in cinema suffered the fate of being dubbed by Robert Rieti.

Create a race. A man-made race upon the face of the Earth. Why not?

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
(SPOILERS) It’s quite appropriate that Joe Dante should have introduced the documentary on the disc release of Bride of Frankenstein, since the film represents the original free-for-all sequel, one where the director gets away with perhaps not doing anything he wants, but far more than one would have expected within a studio structure. Dante would later achieve the same thing with Gremlins 2: The New Batch, of course. Bride of Frankenstein is held up as a horror classic, and understandably so; it’s a far superior picture to its predecessor. But it’s also a picture, consequently, that is far more memorable for its idiosyncrasies and foibles than for succeeding as lucidly considered narrative.

So the moral of the story is, better Red Riding Hood than dead Riding Hood. You read me?

The Fortune Cookie (1966)
(SPOILERS) Despite its pedigree – director and writer Billy Wilder reteaming with Jack Lemmon, the first teaming of Lemmon and Walter Matthau, a clutch of Oscar nominations – The Fortune Cookie isn’t up there with the best of Wilder’s Lemmon collaborations. Which were, at this point, in the past.

Still got that nasty sinus problem, I see.

Bright Lights, Big City (1988)
(SPOILERS) A star’s quest to buck audience – and often studio – preconceptions is invariably a dangerous game. You can quickly flame out the very thing that made you an attractive prospect in the first place. Or you can plod on, entrenching yourself determinedly in a style that doesn’t suit you (Robert De Niro in most broad comedy, Bruce Willis in most straight drama). Michael J Fox wanted to be taken seriously – being adored for Family Ties, Back to the Future and, yes, Teen Wolf just wasn’t enough – and it took him three attempts to realise no one really wanted to come along with him on that journey, whether he was serviceable in those roles or not. Bright Lights, Big City arrived after the John Hughes teen wave had peaked and a more cautionary tone was being taken towards youthful 80s abandon. It’s major problem, however, is that it’s all cautionary; the excess never looks like it’s fun, even for those partaking.

It’s pick-and-shovel work now. No more heroics.

The Fourth War (1990)
(SPOILERS) The appeal of John Frankenheimer’s only just Cold War thriller (it’s set in November 1988) is all in the title. Not that the idiosyncratic plot doesn’t have a certain appeal, but it wasn’t a broad one; The Fourth War came out three weeks after a Cold War thriller people wanted to see (The Hunt for Red October) and duly bombed.

It’s like an angry white man’s basement in here.

Bad Boys for Life (2020)
(SPOILERS) The reviews for Bad Boys for Life have, perhaps surprisingly, skewed positive, given that it seemed exactly the kind of beleaguered sequel to get slaughtered by critics. Particularly so since, while it’s a pleasure to see Will Smith and Martin Lawrence back together as Mike and Marcus, the attempts to validate this third outing as a more mature, reflective take on their buddy cops is somewhat overstated. Indeed, those moments of reflection or taking stock arguably tend to make the movie as a whole that much glibber, swiftly succeeded as they are by lashings of gleeful ultra-violence or humorous shtick. Under Michael Bay, who didn’t know the definition of a lull, these pictures scorned any opportunity to pause long enough to assess the damage, and were healthier, so to speak, for that. Without him, Bad Boys for Life’s beats often skew closer to standard 90s action fare.

You’re a slut with a snake in your mouth. Die!

Mickey One (1965)
(SPOILERS) Apparently this early – as in, two years before the one that made them both highly sought-after trailblazers of “New Hollywood” – teaming between Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn has undergone a re-evaluation since its initial commercial and critical drubbing. I’m not sure about all that. Mickey One still seems fatally half-cocked to me, with Penn making a meal of imitating the stylistic qualities that came relatively naturally – or at least, Gallically – to the New Wave.

You don’t think Jennifer Aniston’s a movie star?

Long Shot (2019)
(SPOILERS) What the hell am I doing, watching Seth Rogen movies? This is the second one in two months, and I was I sure I’d sworn off the boorish oaf. Presumably, I’m not alone, since Long Shot may have been largely well reviewed, but it also flopped. Could it be that moviegoers just don’t see Rogen as a romantic lead? Even – or especially – in a gender reversed ugly duckling role? At one point, referring to Charlize Theron’s Secretary of State and presidential hopeful’s thing with his stoner schlub (he’s stretching himself there) journalist-cum-speechwriter, June Diane Raphael’s staffer tells him “The public will never accept the two of you together”. It should have been on the poster. As it is, it’s simply Long Shot’s epitaph. Feel something different? Only if being a little sick in my mouth qualifies.

They seem to be attracted to your increasing nudeness.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was put in mind of Shazam! watching Pokémon Detective Pikachu, another 2019 tentpole that somewhat underperformed based on expectations. Not particularly due to any plot resemblance, but because both movies fall apart under the weight of an overblown and underwhelming finale. In the case of Shazam! that may be more damaging to its prospective sequels (if they keep the team of super-adult kids), whereas Detective Pikachu will simply have to struggle with a whole heap of unnecessary expositional baggage attempting to imbue the proceedings with emotional resonance.

This is one act in a vast cosmic drama. That’s all.

Audrey Rose (1977)
(SPOILERS) Robert Wise was no stranger to high-minded horror fare when he came to Audrey Rose. He was no stranger to adding a distinctly classy flavour to any genre he tackled, in fact, particularly in the tricky terrain of the musical (West Side Story, The Sound of Music) and science fiction (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Andromeda Strain). He hadn’t had much luck since the latter, however, with neither Two People nor The Hindenburg garnering good notices or box office. In addition to which, Audrey Rose saw him returning to a genre that had been fundamentally impacted by The Exorcist four years before. One might have expected the realist principals he observed with The Andromeda Strain to be applied to this tale of reincarnation, and to an extent they are, certainly in terms of the performances of the adults, but Wise can never quite get past a hacky screenplay that wants to impart all the educational content of a serious study of continued existence in tandem w…

Mind your business, turkey. I’m having a moment.

The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019)
(SPOILERS) It says something regarding the misplaced confidence Illumination had in this would-be second franchise that they included Minions and Pets in the animated logo preceding The Secret Life of Pets 2. While this sequel took a not-to-be-sneezed-at $433m, it was rather shockingly (not least to Universal) less than half the original’s global gross. Tellingly, no third instalment has been announced. It shouldn’t be a surprise, as this movie, following a decent but unremarkable predecessor, is patchy at best. Or patchwork, more accurately, attempting to juggle three separate plotlines and rather rudely mash them together for a breakneck but unengaging finale.

I don't want to be in that bubble for my entire life.

The Souvenir (2019)
(SPOILERS) Joanna Hogg’s autobiographical drama has been appearing on many best of 2019 lists, but I found myself resolutely unpersuaded by The Souvenir and her low-key, interior approach to “herself” as a young woman and the dependant relationship she gets into with an older man.

Look, the last time I was told the Germans had gone, it didn't end well.

1917 (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I first heard the premise of Sam Mendes’ Oscar-bait World War I movie – co-produced by Amblin Partners, as Spielberg just loves his sentimental war carnage – my first response was that it sounded highly contrived, and that I’d like to know how, precisely, the story Mendes’ granddad told him would bear any relation to the events he’d be depicting. And just why he felt it would be appropriate to honour his relative’s memory via a one-shot gimmick. None of that has gone away on seeing the film. It’s a technical marvel, and Roger Deakins’ cinematography is, as you’d expect, superlative, but that mastery rather underlines that 1917 is all technique, that when it’s over and you get a chance to draw your breath, the experience feels a little hollow, a little cynical and highly calculated, and leaves you wondering what, if anything, Mendes was really trying to achieve, beyond an edge-of-the-seat (near enough) first-person actioner.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991)
(SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

Mr Denby, I'm not ignorant, and I'm not selling my land. And I'm not giving my children over to anyone else to raise.

Places in the Heart (1984)
(SPOILERS) The one that’s more famous for Sally Field’s Oscar acceptance speech than the film itself. Which is to say, despite its Best Picture Oscar nomination, I suspect few really loved Places in the Heart, they didn’t really love Places in the Heart. It’s a slight, pleasant American period (Great Depression era) picture that contrives to put forward an “It’ll be alright” homespun, righteous quality, despite the horrors going on at its fringes. Which can be affecting when done well (The Shawshank Redemption), but here, it tends to wither in the face of a lack of real backbone.

I like her. She talks about things.

Sense and Sensibility (1995)
(SPOILERS) It’s probably a coincidence that Sense and Sensibility arrived just as Merchant Ivory had peaked, with back-to-back Best Picture nominations for Howards End and The Remains of the Day; they’d never have it so good again, having successfully earmarked a regular awards slot for the sumptuous literary adaptation that Sense and Sensibility duly snapped up. On one level, its success is entirely understandable, screenwriter (and star) Emma Thompson taking pains to make the material accessible in a romcom vein while avoiding the indifference of treatment that characterised subsequent Austen Emma. On another, it’s still rather formal and reserved, despite the choice of Ang Lee as director; I’d argue that Joe Wright delivered a more engaging big screen Austen overall with Pride and Prejudice.

This popularity of yours. Is there a trick to it?

The Two Popes (2019)
(SPOILERS) Ricky Gervais’ Golden Globes joke, in which he dropped The Two Popes onto a list of the year’s films about paedophiles, rather preceded the picture’s Oscar prospects (three nominations), but also rather encapsulated the conversation currently synonymous with the forever tainted Roman Catholic church; it’s the first thing anyone thinks of. And let’s face it, Jonathan Pryce’s unamused response to the gag could have been similarly reserved for the fate of his respected but neglected film. More people will have heard Ricky’s joke than will surely ever see the movie. Which, aside from a couple of solid lead performances, probably isn’t such an omission.

There is no rebellion. There's only me, earning a paycheque.

Under the Silver Lake (2018)
(SPOILERS) I was aware that David Robert Mitchell’s shaggy dog amateur detective stoned-out neo-noir conspiracy movie had received very mixed reviews, to say the least, so I embarked upon it with limited expectations. But I liked it a lot, with some reservations. In much the same way that I liked the oft-reviled Southland Tales, admiring Mitchell’s ambition but not always where it took him. I’m dubious that Under the Silver Lake is rich and rewarding enough to warrant a dedicated subreddit pouring over interpretations of its themes and subtexts, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the dedication. And it’s surely the best reward Mitchell could have received. Well, aside from a hit movie.

It’s like ayahuasca but Asian. Asian-huasca.

Booksmart (2019)
(SPOILERS) Expectations were high for Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, but Booksmart ended up underperforming at the box office, for reasons post mortems couldn’t quite decide. Some have suggested a gender-reversed Superbad simply wasn’t going to find an audience, because the audience for those types of comedies is predominately male. Others that it was too “woke” for its own good (that cinemagoers generally aren’t interested in the progressive obsessions of the Twitterati). Whatever the reason, it deserved a wider audience, as Wilde takes an inventive screenplay and attacks it with style and humour. They should be throwing Charlie’s Angels projects at her, not Elizabeth Banks.

We need somebody to walk the clones.

Jojo Rabbit (2019)
(SPOILERS) Not so much the banality of evil as of taking pot-shots at easy targets, Taika Waititi’s typically insubstantial, broad-brush, sketch-comedy approach isn’t the best of fits for the formulation of this self-styled “anti-hate satire”. The issue isn’t so much that it’s inappropriate or insensitive to broach material of Nazi persecution of the Jews comedically as that the manner in which it has been done here is so obvious as to be redundant. Waititi said his inspiration for making the movie was partly the statistics on those Americans who had never heard of Auschwitz; Jojo Rabbit is as cack-handed a way of going about informing them as Life is Beautiful.

You can have it. Make the edits.

Little Women (2019)
(SPOILERS) It could be argued, given Little Women’s evergreen popularity, not least as a go-to text for Hollywood adaptations, that Greta Gerwig isn’t exactly stretching herself or giving us a better idea of the kind of directorial career she envisages. Hers is a likeable, intelligent, well-rendered sophomore picture. As such, the awards plaudits are probably no more or less deserving than for your average prestige period piece. Which is to say that Little Women is handsomely mounted and consummately performed (at least, by some of the cast), but it doesn’t absolutely feel like this umpteenth version of Louise May Alcott’s novel demanded to be told, even with the Gerwig’s innovations of experimentation with time frame and metatextual use of its author.

We're talking about several billion dollars of Soviet state property. And they're going to want it back.

The Hunt for Red October (1990)
(SPOILERS) I’ve always wondered why The Hunt for Red October became such a big hit (sixth of the year in the US, eleventh worldwide), when it seems to function antithetically to the presumed goal of a tense, claustrophobic submarine thriller. Instead, it’s a highly glossy affair, courtesy of at-peak-cachet director John McTiernan and cinematographer Jan de Bont; not for them the gloomy, dank interiors associated with the sub subgenre. Perhaps audiences flocked to it because, with its 1984 setting (the year of Tom Clancy’s novel of the same name), it represented the first opportunity to be nostalgic about the Cold War, safe in the knowledge of who had “won”.

I’m basing my whole crescendo on the sum of its parts.

The Gentlemen (2020)
(SPOILERS) Guy Ritchie’s version of a palate cleanser, following an extended Hollywood sojourn that yielded mixed results. Which means The Gentlemen doesn’t so much dive gracefully as belly flop into his favourite mockney gangster milieu, splashing a slew of delightfully dodgy characters across the screen, all operating across varying levels of inimitably Ritchie-defined social strata and blessed with a range of colourful vernacular as their plans to outwit and double-cross each other are in turn outwitted and double-crossed.

To do what I do, I need some idea of the threat we face.

Prediction  2020 Box Office
Every year looks dicier for studios that aren’t Disney, now even more so that Fox is under the Mouse House’s roof. But there are a few caveats for 2020, since Disney is in a post-Avengers: Endgame, post-sequel trilogy world, one with less certainty in respect of hitting the jackpot with their live-action remakes. Which may benefit their competitors, but without the instant high scorers in 2020, prospects for box office overall are looking even iffier than they were without the select few to bring up the balance. Added to which, there are a lot of movies next year, both attempts at new franchises and sequels, that run a risk of seriously underperforming. But we shall see...