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Showing posts from March, 2020

You’re a regular little CIA all on your own, aren’t you?

The Internecine Project (1974)
(SPOILERS) I underrated Ken Hughes’ sharp little spy thriller last time I saw it; probably, the quality of the battered, pan-and-scanned print didn’t help any. In pristine form, The Internecine Project – I think it’s a great title, in contrast to Glenn Erickson’s appraisal – reveals itself as commendably oddball and unlikely, but also politically shrewd picture, if in a manner that is anything but heavy-handed. Plus, it has James Coburn, being magnificently James Coburn about everything.

You can’t keep the whole world in the dark about what’s going on. Once they know that a five-mile hunk of rock is going to hit the world at 30,000 miles per hour, the people will want to know what the hell we intend to do about it.

Meteor (1979)
(SPOILERS) In which we find Sean Connery – or his agent, whom he got rid of subsequent to this and Cuba – showing how completely out of touch he was by the late 1970s. Hence hitching his cart to the moribund disaster movie genre just as movie entertainment was being rewritten and stolen from under him. He wasn’t alone, of course – pal Michael Caine would appear in both The Swarm and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure during this period – but Meteor’s lack of commercial appeal was only accentuated by how functional and charmless its star is in it. Some have cited Meteor as the worst movie of his career (Christopher Bray in his book on the actor), but its sin is not one of being outright terrible, rather of being terminally dull.

God and the Serpent have joined hands, and we are all kicked out of Eden.

The Last Valley (1971)
(SPOILERS) The received wisdom on this more obscure Michael Caine film is pretty much “unusual setting but dull”. I didn’t find The Last Valley so. Dull that is. But then, I didn’t think the highlight was Caine’s studious German accent (per biographer Christopher Bray in A Class Act), which sounds to me exactly what you’d expect of Sir Michael attempting a German accent.

You are, by your own admission, a vagabond.

Doctor Who Season 10 - Worst to Best
Season 10 has the cachet of an anniversary year, one in which two of its stories actively trade on the past and another utilises significant elements. As such, it’s the first indication of the series’ capacity for slavishly indulging the two-edged sword that is nostalgia, rather than simply bringing back ratings winners (the Daleks). It also finds the show at its cosiest, a vibe that had set in during the previous season, which often seemed to be taking things a little too comfortably. Season 10 is rather more cohesive, even as it signals the end of an era (with Jo’s departure). As a collection of stories, you perhaps wouldn’t call it a classic year, but as a whole, an example of the Pertwee UNIT era operating at its most confident, it more than qualifies.

I’ve seen detergents that leave a better film than this.

The Muppet Movie (1979)
(SPOILERS) I like The Muppets – love some of the individual ones – but I’m not sure the movie format has ever entirely suited them. Their best puppeteered foot forward in this regard may actually be the spoof/pastiche format adopted by The Muppet Christmas Carol and Treasure Island in the 90s, since it ensures a robust frame for whatever mayhem and gags they wish to hang on it. Here, in their first big screen outing, events are strung together in a freewheeling “genesis of The Muppet Show” narrated prequel format that only fitfully offers inspiration (and laughs).

He says the Sun came out last night. He says it sang to him.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
(SPOILERS) Interviewed on the set of Saving Private Ryan for Close Encounters of the Third Kind’s twentieth anniversary, Steven Spielberg expressed the view that it was the only film of his he looked back at that “dates me”, that falls victim to the “privileges of youth”. He alluded in part to this being down to his then passion for the UFO subject and possible interpretations thereof (“Now, I grew up”), but chiefly because of the fate of protagonist Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), who leaves his family for a flight across the universe with little grey men. As a father of seven, Spielberg found this unconscionable. And you’ll get no arguments that it may not be most mature or responsible thing to do, but it’s telling that this is the most interesting choice he has given one of his characters in any of his films, and a marker of his decline as a vital filmmaking force that the one project reeking of personal investment is now one he wouldn’t go nea…

You are physically close to him. He’s in that urn over there.

The Invisible Man (2020)
(SPOILERS) Incredible how you can see right through him. As a fan of Leigh Whannell’s sophomore film Upgrade, I was willing to give this latest telling of The Invisible Man a chance, even though I was doubtful of its repurposing, seemingly falling prey to the kind of unrefined stalker antics that largely did for Paul Verhoeven’s Hollow Man, the last major studio take on the premise (okay, excepting The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). And while it’s certainly the case that Whannell does rather limit his canvas in that regard, he has nevertheless made an undeniably effective stalker picture, one that features a number of quite satisfying plot turns.

Do I look like anybody’s bloody comrade?

The Jigsaw Man (1983)
(SPOILERS) Michael Caine’s 80s career increasingly looks much more respectable when set against the “really will do any old shit” latter-day approaches of John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Bruce Willis and John Cusack. In particular, his recourse to Cold War thrillers when all else failed and he was at a loose end for more than five minutes is now surrounded by a rather nostalgic, muggy grey hue. That doesn’t make The Jigsaw Man remotely any good, occupying as it does the bargain bin of even that spy thriller sub-genre, but it does have its incidental pleasures.

I know enough to know that that great big, dumb cowboy crap of yours don't appeal to nobody except every jockey on 42nd Street.

Midnight Cowboy (1969)
(SPOILERS) Midnight Cowboy waltzed off with a Best Picture Oscar and John Schlesinger and Waldo Salt with Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay respectively, but this is a film that was and remains mystifyingly overvalued (there have been plenty of bad choices for Best Picture since, but often with a degree of groundswell surrounding their lack of merit). That’s likely because it does suggest an end-of-an-era starkness – misery porn, one might call it – that, with Easy Rider (rightly) not in the running for the main award, made it an easy pick. Previously, I’d been more charitable towards the film, while nevertheless acknowledging that I didn’t see in it what the cognoscenti appeared to, but on this occasion, I simply found it a patience-testing ordeal.

I know, I know, we are the chosen people. But once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?

Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
(SPOILERS) When I say the appeal of Fiddler on the Roof is all about Topol’s performance, that’s not to suggest I might not have similarly rated Zero Mostel had I first seen him as Tevye (although I’m guessing that’s unlikely). And it’s not a slight on Joseph Stein’s adaptation of his stage play, or the clutch of great songs peppering the picture, or Norman Jewison’s unobtrusive direction and Oswald Morris’ fine earthy cinematography. But Topol makes the film, in the same way F Murray Abraham is the pulse of Amadeus.

This is about one thing: dominion. It’s not their planet any more.

Ghosts of Mars (2001)
(SPOILERS) I might have more sympathy for John Carpenter’s protests that Ghosts of Mars was misunderstood if the content did more to support the idea that it was intentionally over-the-top and tongue-in-cheek. Such as silly/amusing plotting and characters and campiness instead of scares. It does rather come across, as per his defence of Escape from L.A. as better than the original, as trying to cover the ineptitude of the production with the old “It was meant to be ‘so bad it was good’; it was self-consciously, post-modernly bad” excuse.

Gerard. Did you know your pops had a mushroom belt on?

Boomerang (1992)
(SPOILERS) Eddie Murphy was trying to recover his footing in 1992. He’d experienced a couple of missteps, most notably the underwhelming reception of his self-penned, self-directed vanity project Harlem Nights and tired, desperate and unwanted sequel Another 48 Hrs (which one imagines Murphy must have agreed to do as an easy hit maker, but he even came up with the story). Neither came close to his run of 80s hits. Boomerang represented a reinvention, with Murphy as a romantic lead and essaying an actual character arc. But it only half works.

Let's have two Tom Jones.

Greed (2019)
(SPOILERS) Michael Winterbottom’s relationship with Steve Coogan extends to nearly two decades and has seen them essay biographical subjects Tony Wilson and Paul Raymond amid semi-regular Trips, although their best collaboration probably remains Tristam Shandy adaptation A Cock and Bull Story. Winterbottom’s nothing if not prolific – I count fifteen dramatic features since 2000 – which guarantees that occasionally he hits a bullseye, but more frequently’ his work is merely reliably, diligently “okay”. He’s also a singularly political filmmaker and the problem with Greed, a satirical biography of Sir Philip Green by another name, is that he just has too many targets he wants to throw a light on. With the result that, as with the lion at the climax, the beast ends up devouring him.

I got poodles comin' out of my ass.

Spenser Confidential (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve expressly avoided the previous string of jingoistic Peter Berg/ Mark Wahlberg collaborations, and probably would have skipped Spenser Confidential too, if not for the possibility that, besides it going straight to Netflix, it was offering a worthwhile take on Robert B Parker’s private eye – also the source of 1980s series Spenser: For Hire – and an entertaining role for Wahlberg, always better when he isn’t playing the straight-edge hero. It does neither.

I hated it, but I wasn’t interested enough to listen to it again to find out why.

Yesterday (2019)
(SPOILERS) Danny Boyle’s paean to The Beatles via a scenario where they – as a band, rather than the individuals themselves – have been winked out of existence during a power surge is a cute enough Mandela Effect conceit; only Himesh Patel, and eventually two others, have any recall of their existence. But the result, scripted by self-professed muso Richard Curtis – see The Boat That Rocked, or rather don’t – from a story by Jack Barth, is weak swill. Apparently $10m of Yesterday's $26m budget was spent securing rights to use the Fab Four’s songs, but you have to ask, was it really worth it to hear a bunch of bad covers?

It isn't a matter of hate. It is a biological obligation.

Village of the Damned (1995)
(SPOILERS) It’s probably easiest to point to Village of the Damned as the beginning of the end of John Carpenter as an estimable director. He was only 47 when it came out, but watching it, you’d be hard-pressed taking away any notion that he cared anymore. I tend to place the beginning of the rot earlier, post-Big Trouble in Little China, when he stopped working with Dean Cundey as DP and hooked up with Gary B Kibbe. Sure, they made In the Mouth of Madness together, and They Live! but the effect isn’t so dissimilar to Spielberg relying on Janusz Kaminski, even when the latter has been utterly unsuited to a picture (the biggest reason the announcement of the Berg vacating the director’s chair for Indy V is no bad thing).

Demon, eh? Well, it's no more far-fetched than your gillman.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
(SPOILERS) Jack Arnold’s classic Universal horror isn’t especially impressive in the cold light of day (or absent the thrills, frills and gills of 3D). In terms of characterisation and atmosphere, The Creature from the Black Lagoon is a bit of a cold fish. Indeed, it’s only that cold fish (man) who evokes much of a response at all.

Now you’ll sing for me. And I’ll play, and we’ll be together, forever.

Phantom of the Opera (1943)
(SPOILERS) I can’t say I’ve ever been especially au fair with Phantom of the Opera lore, such that I wasn’t even aware this version (included on the Universal Monsters Box Set) was the remake of the original featuring Lon Chaney’s deliriously unsettling visage. Arthur Lubin’s colour production is an altogether lusher affair, one that backpedals on the horror in favour of melodrama and extended musical – well, operatic – interludes. And, surely rather defeating the point of the exercise, it’s a more engrossing picture before Claude Rains’ Erique Claudin suffers an excruciating facial disfigurement.

Because every mother wants their son to grow up and eat a doctor.

Dolittle (2020)
(SPOILERS) Roundly slated, as if its troubled production and rejigged release dates condemn it to purgatory without due consideration, Dolittle isn’t nearly the abomination critics would have you believe. It makes an affable, inoffensively watchable family entertainment, lacking the bloat of the Rex Harrison version or the shamelessness of Eddie Murphy’s and one never quite at ease with itself or sure of what it wants to be, but largely underserving of being hung out to dry as the latest example of Hollywood excess; there are other, far more deserving recipients, usually found in any given calendar quarter of any given studio’s roster of releases.

I might just hang myself by my underpants.

Doctor Dolittle (1998)
(SPOILERS) By several miles the least ambitious Doctor Dolittle adaptation, but possibly for that reason, probably the most agreeable. No one here is trying very hard – although the Jim Henson Creature Workshop creations are mostly pretty good – from the screenplay credited to Nat Maudlin and Larry Levin to director Betty Thomas (who managed a couple of decent, sharpish comedies prior to this, The Brady Bunch Movie and Private Parts), to star Eddie Murphy, sinking into the family comedy morass that would preoccupy him for the best part of twenty years.

Good heavens! I speak pig!

Doctor Dolittle (1967)
(SPOILERS) If there’s an obvious and immediate contender for the crown of least justified Best Picture Oscar nominee, it’s surely Doctor Dolittle. Infamous for the campaigning this box office bomb received, leading to nine nominations and two wins, the ignominy is understandable and deserved, even if it’s simply a worst-case and highest-profile example of the kind of behaviour that’s par for the course in the Oscar business. As for the film itself? It isn’t terrible, but it’s so sedate as to be almost inert, a killer for a two-and-a-half-hour family musical.