Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from October, 2020

They'll think I've lost control again and put it all down to evolution.

Time Bandits (1981) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam had co-directed previously, and his solo debut had visual flourish on its side, but it was with Time Bandits that Gilliam the auteur was born. The first part of his Trilogy of Imagination, it remains a dazzling work – as well as being one of his most successful – rich in theme and overflowing with ideas while resolutely aimed at a wide (family, if you like) audience. Indeed, most impressive about Time Bandits is that there’s no evidence of self-censoring here, of attempting to make it fit a certain formula, format or palatable template.

Charming. Now she's got the old boy's money, she's making a play for the younger one.

Woman of Straw (1964) (SPOILERS) The first fruit of Sean cashing in on his Bond status in other leading man roles – he even wears the tux he’d later sport in Goldfinger . On one level, he isn’t exactly stretching himself as a duplicitous, misogynist bastard. On the other, he is actually the bad guy; this time, you aren’t supposed to be onside his capacity for killing people. It’s interesting to see Connery in his nascent star phase, but despite an engaging set up and a very fine performance from Ralph Richardson, Woman of Straw is too much of a slow-burn, trad crime thriller/melodrama to really make a mark. All very professionally polished, but the spoiled fruits of an earlier era.

I'm an old ruin, but she certainly brings my pulse up a beat or two.

The Paradine Case (1947) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock wasn’t very positive about The Paradine Case , his second collaboration with Gregory Peck, but I think he’s a little harsh on a picture that, if it doesn’t quite come together dramatically, nevertheless maintains interest on the basis of its skewed take on the courtroom drama. Peck’s defence counsel falls for his client, Alida Valli’s accused (of murder), while wife Ann Todd wilts dependably and masochistically on the side-lines.

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983) (SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bond s in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball , but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again , despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy .

Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know, if you ripped the fronts off houses, you'd find swine? The world's a hell. What does it matter what happens in it?

Shadow of a Doubt (1943) (SPOILERS) I’m not sure you could really classify Shadow of a Doubt as underrated, as some have. Not when it’s widely reported as Hitchcock’s favourite of his films. Underseen might be a more apt sobriquet, since it rarely trips off the lips in the manner of his best-known pictures. Regardless of the best way to categorise it, it’s very easy to see why the director should have been so quick to recognise Shadow of a Doubt 's qualities, even if some of those qualities are somewhat atypical.

You must have hopes, wishes, dreams.

Brazil (1985) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam didn’t consider Brazil the embodiment of a totalitarian nightmare it is often labelled as. His 1984½ (one of the film’s Fellini-riffing working titles) was “ the Nineteen Eighty-Four for 1984 ”, in contrast to Michael Anderson’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from 1948. This despite Gilliam famously boasting never to have read the Orwell’s novel: “ The thing that intrigues me about certain books is that you know them even though you’ve never read them. I guess the images are archetypal ”. Or as Pauline Kael observed, Brazil is to Nineteen Eighty-Four as “ if you’d just heard about it over the years and it had seeped into your visual imagination ”. Gilliam’s suffocating system isn’t unflinchingly cruel and malevolently intolerant of individuality; it is, in his vision of a nightmare “future”, one of evils spawned by the mechanisms of an out-of-control behemoth: a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. And yet, that is not really, despite how indulgently and glee

That’s a surprising amount of controversy for a gin and lemonade.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) (SPOILERS) If The Trial of the Chicago 7 feels like the kind of fare that might once have been prestige Oscar bait, that’s probably because it was intended to be. Doubtless accompanied by numerous speeches about how its subject matter is more relevant than ever. And maybe Paramount and DreamWorks, after more than a decade of development hell, hoped it still had a shot. Maybe, in a year with as little competition as this, it does. The picture finished up on Netflix, of course, which is a good fit for Aaron Sorkin’s lightweight but engaging approach. There’s nothing very much that goes beyond a practised eye for dramatically repurposed biographical fare, as you’d expect from the writer/adaptor of The Social Network , Moneyball and most recently Molly’s Game .

I get it. Little Miss Liberty, carrying the torch.

Saboteur (1942) (SPOILERS) Hitch criticised the screenplay, which is fair enough. However, the biggest impediment to Saboteur ’s effectiveness is – as Hitch also acknowledged – the leads. The movie is often painted as proto- North by Northwest , a dry run for bigger and more elaborate things with handpicked stars, and that’s fair to a degree; all the elements are there for Saboteur being great, but the only consistent one is its director’s technical prowess.

So, you’re telling me that NASA is going to kill the President of the United States with an earthquake?

Conspiracy Theory (1997) (SPOILERS) Mel Gibson’s official rehabilitation occurred with the announcement of 2016’s Oscar nominations, when Hacksaw Ridge garnered six nods, including Mel as director. Obviously, many refuse to be persuaded that there’s any legitimate atonement for the things someone says. They probably weren’t even convinced by Mel’s appearance in Daddy’s Home 2 , an act of abject obeisance if ever there was one. In other circles, though, Gibbo, or Mad Mel, is venerated as a saviour unsullied by the depraved Hollywood machine, one of the brave few who would not allow them to take his freedom. Or at least, his values. Of course, that’s frequently based on alleged comments he made, ones it’s highly likely he didn’t. But doesn’t that rather appeal to the premise of his 23-year-old star vehicle Conspiracy Theory , in which “ A good conspiracy theory is an unproveable one ”?

Oh, you got me right in the pantaloons, partner.

The Party (1968) (SPOILERS) Blake Edwards’ semi-improvisational reunion with Peter Sellers is now probably best known for – I was going to use an elephant-in-the-room gag, but at least one person already went there – Sellers’ “brown face”. And it isn’t a decision one can really defend, even by citing The Party ’s influence on Bollywood. Satyajit Ray had also reportedly been considering working with Sellers… and then he saw the film. One can only assume he’d missed similar performances in The Millionairess and The Road to Hong Kong ; in the latter case, entirely understandable, if not advisable. Nevertheless, for all the flagrant stereotyping, Sellers’ bungling Hrundi V Bakshi is a very likeable character, and indeed, it’s the piece’s good-natured, soft centre – his fledgling romance with Claudine Longet’s Michele – that sees The Party through in spite of its patchy, hit-and-miss quality.

He has enough trouble being a single agent.

Casino Royale  (1967) (SPOILERS) I had assumed, wrongly, that Casino Royale was a massive flop. It was massively expensive, but proved – surprisingly – a reasonably sized hit. Perhaps because this kind of unwieldy, overblown sprawl had become fairly familiar by this point in the 60s; the public knew, and presumably liked, a big mess when they saw one. It’s a movie I suspect few stick with for the duration when it’s on TV, and for good reason, as it entirely fails to grip and has no plot to speak of, by dint of production circumstance. But in its own way, this original movie version of Casino Royale is quite likeable. And one positive is unarguable: Burt Bacharach’s score is a triumph (and regarding Talk to the Animals beating The Look of Love to an Oscar; well, it tells you what you need to know about the authenticity of the Academy).

I think you’re some kind of deviated prevert.

Dr. Strangelove  or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) (SPOILERS) Kubrick’s masterpiece satire of mutually-assured destruction. Or is it? Not the masterpiece bit, because that’s a given. Rather, is all it’s really about the threat of nuclear holocaust? While that’s obviously quite sufficient, all the director’s films are suggested to have, in popular alt-readings, something else going on under the hood, be it exposing the ways of Elite paedophilia ( Lolita , Eyes Wide Shut ), MKUltra programming ( A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket ), transhumanism and the threat of imminent AI overlords ( 2001: A Space Odyssey ), and most of the aforementioned and more besides (the all-purpose smorgasbord that is The Shining ). Even Barry Lyndon has been posited to exist in a post-reset-history world. Could Kubrick be talking about something else as well in Dr. Strangelove ?

My whole family are private detectives.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941) (SPOILERS) Hitch pretty much dismissed this one with a wave of the jowl; he made it as a favour to Carole Lombard, so he told Truffaut. Perhaps a slight embroidery, since RKO records apparently show he actively pursued the project. Either way, it’s an appealingly light confection, unfairly neglected in some quarters, perhaps because it doesn’t feel thoroughly Hitchcockian at any point, even for a moment or two. Lombard and Robert Montgomery have terrific chemistry, and if Mr. & Mrs. Smith rarely elicits the laughs associated with a peak-period screwball, it bubbles along very nicely.

No other object has been misjudged more often as a flying saucer than the planet Venus.

The X-Files 3.20: Jose Chung’s From Outer Space. Perhaps because the series was so willing to cast its net so wide (in its stand-alone episodes), The X-Files can be more interesting to consider for what it didn’t tackle than what it did. It’s one of the reasons, by the end of its run, it was regarded (in some respects unfairly, as it was still coming up with occasionally inspired instalments) as overly staid and without any drive or real energy. This was even more clear with its patchy return in 2016, when despite – or because of? – the snowballing of the conspirasphere in almost every facet of life, it seemed rather lost and out of touch. Or perhaps it was simply that Chris Carter was still calling the shots. We were, after all, treated to a couple of gems from a writer he famously left free from his intrusively constipated philosophical retooling: Darin Morgan. Darin Morgan, writer of the best X-Files episode ever: Jose Chung’s From Outer Space .

Other monks will meet their deaths here. And they too will have blackened fingers. And blackened tongues.

The Name of the Rose (1986) (SPOILERS) Umberto Eco wasn’t awfully impressed by Jean Jacques-Annaud’s adaptation of his novel – or “ palimpsest of Umberto Eco’s novel ” as the opening titles announce – to the extent that he nixed further movie versions of his work. Later, he amended that view, calling it “ a nice movie ”. He also, for balance, labelled The Name of the Rose his worst novel – “ I hate this book and I hope you hate it too ”. Essentially, he was begrudging its renown at the expense of his later “ superior ” novels. I didn’t hate the novel, although I do prefer the movie, probably because I saw it first and it was everything I wanted from a medieval Sherlock Holmes movie set in a monastery and devoted to forbidden books, knowledge and opinions.