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Showing posts from July, 2020

The beginning of any new society is never charming or gentle.

The Last Man on Earth (1964)
(SPOILERS) I get the impression that some – purists – regard The Last Man on Earth as the best of the three I Am Legend adaptations simply by default: because it’s the most faithful version, regardless of other diminishing factors. Which was pretty much Richard Matheson’s take (“I was disappointed in the film, even though they more or less followed my story”). The truth is, the movie is quite watchable, largely down to Price (whom Matheson felt was miscast), but it’s only ever a bare-bones, basic piece of work.

Okay, we’re in space now, so it’s not North. It’s port and starboard.

Lockout (2012)
(SPOILERS) Luc Besson’s “original idea” may have been found guilty of plagiarising both Escape from New York and Escape from L.A. (although, the idea that anyone would want to steal from the sequel…), but the real shame of Lockout is that it wasn’t a Snake Plissken movie. Which isn’t to suggest it’s a whole lot more than a routine actioner with a no-frills, at-best-serviceable screenplay, yet such credentials still put it way out ahead of either L.A. or the at-one-time Escape 3, Ghosts of Mars.

The high voice that you heard that night might not have been a woman.

Murder! (1930)
(SPOILERS) To say the motivation for the titular (and exclamatory!) act in Hitchcock’s third film comes out of nowhere is an understatement. Or rather, the stated motivation. The subtext makes sense, but you have to be sufficiently informed to be able to read it as subtext. Without that, the explanation, which is transposed from the crime fiction Enter Sir John by Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson, is so distracting that my first response to Murder! was to wonder if I had missed something.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

This goes straight onto the top-secret restricted list.

The Avengers
Ranked: 70-1

While it's undoubtedly the case that The Avengers hit peak form with the Diana Rigg era (well, her first season anyway), there's a lot of quality to spread round throughout. Which is why five of the six seasons make a showing in the Top Ten. You can find 139-71 here.

You’ll note, gentlemen, the correct way of doing everything, even in defeat.

The Avengers 
Ranked: 139-71

There are, of course, more than 139 The Avengers episodes (sorry, The New Avengers, you didn't make the grade, mostly because most of your episodes would languish, all-but uninterrupted, right down at the bottom of the ranking). 161 in total, but alas, the majority of the first season is missing, presumed wiped (there's always the outside chance of another Tunnel of Fear). And no, I don't count Big Finish as a valid secondary source. Most of the rankings and observations here reflect the previously published season rankings, and it's a testament to the series' quality that there are relatively few outright disasters (even if there are also, conversely, quite a number of that are merely average). So here are 139-71 (link at the bottom of the page to part two). Keep your bowler on throughout, and in due course, you'll learn the most diabolical mastermind.

I don't think she likes the special sauce, Rick.

Falling Down (1993)
(SPOILERS) Did Joel Schumacher, who died last month, ever make a classic movie? There are those who will go to bat for The Lost Boys, but “cult classic” is something of an eclectic beast (in that it doesn’t actually need to be a great movie, per se). I’m not convinced he did, but there was a spell there, for about a decade following Flatliners – yes, even after Batman & Robin – when I’d eagerly check out his latest picture, confident that his energised approach would at least offer something. Falling Down is a very flawed picture, but it’s also a highly entertaining and occasionally inspired one; like most of the director’s work, it’s very slick, but it also, less commonly in his oeuvre, has something to say. Even if that something is occasionally muddled, garbled and nervous about the hornet’s nest it’s kicking in semi-reactionary fashion.

You know, detectives in glass houses shouldn’t wave clues.

Blackmail (1929)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s first sound film (also shot as a silent), Blackmail finds him hitting his groove, a step on from The Lodger, where he first landed in his natural crime genre habitat. This is where we his suspense muscle really begins firing on all cylinders, though, adapting Charles Bennett’s play (Bennett would go on to further cement the director’s milieu with The 39 Steps, Secret Agent and Sabotage) and using every opportunity to milk the tension from every situation for all its worth.

And he’s come home again, hearty and flush o’ money.

The Manxman (1929)
(SPOILERS) I can’t say I blame Hitchcock for being so dismissive of this turgid love triangle fodder when Truffaut broached the picture with him. The Manxman may have been his final silent, but his adaptation of Hall Caine’s novel of the same name has very little to say for itself. Even its most unusual element, the setting, is rather undermined; if the Isle of Man scenery looks surprisingly idyllic, that’s because it was shot in Cornwall.

I don't think the Sun even exists in this place.

Dark City: Director’s Cut (1998)
(SPOILERS) My previous look at Dark City: Director’s Cut is the more concise one, and it’s entirely borne out by a repeat visit. In extended form, Alex Proyas’ best film remains flawed but fascinating, never quite finessed enough in its mythology or execution to warrant the neglected classic status sometimes thrust upon it. It’s packed with ideas – a great deal more than most fare with David S Goyer’s name attached – many of them more striking than those of the thematically comparable and undoubtedly superior, game-changing Wachowskis movie released the following year.

I used to pay to come to places like this – now they pay me.

Champagne (1928)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock called Champagneprobably the lowest ebb in my output” and I’d like to be able to suggest it isn’t so bad really, but it is actually pretty banal stuff. When a title comes first (as he told Truffaut), it’s probably no surprise that the content turns out to be a stiff, but I don’t think it needed to be. Indeed, his chief complaint (“There is no story!”) could easily have been remedied. After all, the setup isn’t really so far from Trading Places.

There’s a female or two be floating around my mind like the smell of a Sunday dinner.

The Farmer’s Wife (1928)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock adapts a romantic comedy from Eden Philpotts’ stage play, which starred Laurence Olivier in the lead at one point. The Farmer’s Wife would later be remade in 1941, and while I haven’t seen that version, I suspect it lands better; it would, after all, be able to rely on the verbiage that comes with a courtship farce. Hitch’s version quickly becomes laborious, despite the best efforts of a bald-capped Gordon Harker in a supporting role.

One-Round Jack’s met his match at last!

The Ring (1927)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s boxing movie, although the title lends itself to multiple readings (boxing ring, engagement ring, the arm band given to the girl by the smooth-talking fly in the ointment). While having a scrap is the profession of both protagonist and antagonist – matches bookend The Ring, with another in between – the real war waged is that of relationships, and our hero’s cuckolding by his easily-distracted wife, all eyes for his sparring partner.

I knew this woman was concealing some vile secret!

Easy Virtue (1927)
(SPOILERS) Not one of Hitchcock’s most memorable affairs, except perhaps for its salacious title. Easy Virtue derives from Noel Coward’s play of the same name, adapted by Eliot Stannard (who worked on most of the director’s early silents). Hitchcock opined that “it contained the worst title I’ve ever written” in the form of heroine Larita Filton’s final address to the press outside the divorce court (her second bout): “Shoot! There’s nothing left to kill”. I don’t know about that, though. At least it ensures Easy Virtue can boast somethingnoteworthy.

Mortal or not, you made a promise. Whatever it takes.

The Old Guard (2020)
(SPOILERS) If you always wanted Highlander without the colour, verve and humour – Highlander with every drop of personality drained out, and I’m not referring to the TV show – then this is the immortal movie for you. The Old Guard, adapted by Greg Rucka from his comic book, is serviceable but offers just about zero surprises and little more of anything else that would make it remotely memorable. Well, except perhaps for Harry Melling, coming on like a gimboid, coke nightmare Matt Smith as the big-pharma villain.

He did it. He shut down the Earth.

Escape from L.A. (1996)
(SPOILERS) It seems it was Kurt Russell’s enthusiasm for his most iconic character (no, not Captain Ron) that got Escape from L.A. made. That makes sense, because there’s precious little evidence here that John Carpenter gave two shits. This really was his point of no return, I think. His last great chance to show his mettle. But lent a decent-sized budget (equivalent to five times that of Escape from New York) he squandered it, delivering an inert TV movie that further rubs salt in the wound by operating as a virtual remake of the original. Just absent any of the wit, atmosphere, pace and inspiration.

You’ve got to take me back father! You’ve got to take me back!

Downhill (1927)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock had no problem throwing Ivor Novello under a bus for this one (of the source material, Down Hill, by Novello and Constance Collier, under the nom de plume Julian L’Estrange, he said “It was done as a series of sketches. It was a rather poor play” and “the dialogue was pretty dreadful in spots”). Downhill makes for an overlong, plodding melodrama concerning unjustly expelled school boy Roddy (Novello), who embarks on a bleak but instructive rite of passage before finally having his world righted, Job-like.

I’m keen on golden hair myself, same as the Avenger is.

The Lodger aka The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s third feature, and the one you’ll hear about as being vital to informing his future style and sensibility. Unsurprisingly, then, it involves suspense and grisly murder. The Lodger finds a Ripper-type killer on the loose – whom we never see – and takes as its main thrust the “Is he or isn’t he?” of the mysterious new tenant in the Bunting house. Since he’s played by Ivor Novello, obviously, he isn’t (at least, that was Hitch’s audience-savvy reasoning), but the scenario allows the director some playfulness along the way to the character’s eventual exoneration.

How do you like that – Cuddles knew all the time!

The Pleasure Garden (1925)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s first credit as director, and his account of the production difficulties, as related to Francois Truffaut, is by and large more pleasurable than The Pleasure Garden itself. The Italian location shoot in involved the confiscation of undeclared film stock, having to recast a key role and borrowing money from the star when Hitch ran out of the stuff.

The President is dead. You got that? Somebody’s had him for dinner.

Escape from New York (1981)
(SPOILERS) There’s a refreshingly simplicity to John Carpenter’s nightmare vision of 1997. Society and government don’t represent a global pyramid; they’re messy and erratic, and can go deeply, deeply wrong without connivance, subterfuge, engineered rebellions or recourse to reset. There’s also a sense of playfulness here, of self-conscious cynicism regarding the survival prospects for the US, as voiced by Kurt Russell’s riff on Clint Eastwood anti-heroics in the decidedly not dead form of Snake Plissken. But in contrast to Carpenter’s later Big Trouble in Little China (where Russell is merciless to the legend of John Wayne), Escape from New York is underpinned by a relentlessly grim, grounded aesthetic, one that lends texture and substance; it remains one of the most convincing and memorable of dystopian visions.

The present will look after itself. But it’s our duty to realise the future with our imagination.

Until the End of the World (1991)
(SPOILERS) With the current order devolving into what looks inevitably like a passively endorsed dystopia, a brave new chipped and tracked vision variously in line with cinema’s warnings (or its predictive programming, depending on where your cynicism lands), I’ve been revisiting a few of these futuristic visions. That I picked the very Euro-pudding Until the End of the World is perhaps entirely antagonistic to such reasoning, seeing as how it is, at heart, a warm and fuzzy, upbeat, humanist musing on where we are all going.