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Showing posts from November, 2020

You’re easily the best policeman in Moscow.

Gorky Park (1983) (SPOILERS) Michael Apted and workmanlike go hand in hand when it comes to thriller fare (his Bond outing barely registered a pulse). This adaptation of Martin Cruz Smith’s 1981 novel – by Dennis Potter, no less – is duly serviceable but resolutely unremarkable. William Hurt’s militsiya officer Renko investigates three faceless bodies found in the titular park. It was that grisly element that gave Gorky Park a certain cachet when I first saw it as an impressionable youngster. Which was actually not unfair, as it’s by far its most memorable aspect.

Never lose any sleep over accusations. Unless they can be proved, of course.

Strangers on a Train (1951) (SPOILERS) Watching a run of lesser Hitchcock films is apt to mislead one into thinking he was merely a highly competent, supremely professional stylist. It takes a picture where, to use a not inappropriate gourmand analogy, his juices were really flowing to remind oneself just how peerless he was when inspired. Strangers on a Train is one of his very, very best works, one he may have a few issues with but really deserves nary a word said against it, even in “compromised” form.

This is what the Cybermen do to you.

Doctor Who Attack of the Cybermen (SPOILERS) For some, Attack of the Cybermen is a low point of 80s Doctor Who , the moment when continuity finally ate itself and heaved up a glob of indigestible Levinised cyberbile. It’s an entirely reasonable position. As About Time acidly pointed out, it’s a sequel to just about anything you can think of and then some. It also represents Eric Saward – whose influence on the show I don’t, in contrast to the consensus, see as entirely negative – at his most brazenly nihilistic, almost to the point of self-parody. Even with that, there are a lot of things l like in Attack . Unfortunately, they’re almost all in the first episode.

I don’t like fighting at all. I try not to do too much of it.

Cuba (1979) (SPOILERS) Cuba -based movies don’t have a great track record at the box office, unless Bad Boys II counts. I guess The Godfather Part II does qualify. Steven Soderbergh , who could later speak to box office bombs revolving around Castro’s revolution, called Richard Lester’s Cuba fascinating but flawed. Which is generous of him.

Your reality, sir, is lies and balderdash, and I’m delighted to say I have no grasp of it whatsoever!

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) (SPOILERS) Wondrous. Gilliam’s colossal misfire is, in fact, his masterpiece. Although, it might be even more so in its unedited form; the director, in response to pressure from Columbia, under new management and loathing his David Puttnam-initiated project, attempted to hone it closer to their favoured two-hour duration. In doing so, he felt it lost something of its assured pacing; “ an extra five minutes would make a big difference ” (albeit, Gilliam is also on record as saying “our first cut ran three hours and I thought it was just perfect”). When interviewed by Ian Christie twenty years ago, he said he didn’t think he had the energy to put together a restored director’s cut. Besides which “ Nobody’s going to give me the money for that, since the film didn’t make any money in the first place ”. Even given that some directors since have shown an almost deranged zest for revisiting previous work to variable results (Coppola, Mann) I can only

Miss Livingstone, I presume.

Stage Fright (1950) (SPOILERS) This one has traditionally taken a bit of a bruising, for committing a cardinal crime – lying to the audience. More specifically, lying via a flashback, through which it is implicitly assumed the truth is always relayed. As Richard Schickel commented, though, the egregiousness of the action depends largely on whether you see it as a flaw or a brilliant act of daring: an innovation. I don’t think it’s quite that – not in Stage Fright ’s case anyway; the plot is too ordinary – but I do think it’s a picture that rewards revisiting knowing the twist, since there’s much else to enjoy it for besides.

I'm being toyed with by a bunch of depraved children.

The Game (1997) (SPOILERS) It’s fair to suggest that David Fincher has had an up-and-down career. No one blamed him for Alien³ going pear-shaped (although, the stylistic choices in it are straight-up his and many are downright lousy). But by the end of the 90s, with Seven and Fight Club to his name, he had firmly established auteurish credentials, with a yen for dark, edgy material boasting that rarity: smart thematic content. In between those two, there’s the rather forgotten The Game . Unfortunately, it turns out this was the real harbinger for his later career: a shallow film that desperately wants to mean something more.

Now, are you sure you want to have a fight? Because I’m only going to use my thumb.

The Presidio (1988) (SPOILERS) “ Shit on a shtick ” exclaims Sean Connery (RIP) at one point during The Presidio . That was probably also his reaction on learning Mark Harmon was to be his co-star (it seems Kevin Costner dropped out, and then Don Johnson couldn’t catch a break from Miami Vice . You know, manly male types Sean might have vibed with). Much as it would be nice to dispute the prevailing view (“ I suppose Harmon could have been stronger ” was Sean’s verdict), Connery’s co-star is the weak link here. But even if this had ended up as a reteam for Costner and Connery, I doubt The Presidio would have been a keeper.

You took part in an unsavoury debauch with the scum of the convict colony!

Under Capricorn (1949) (SPOILERS) Under Capricorn remains one of Hitchcock’s most under-the-radar films, particular so considering it comes just before his most feted, populist period. An independent picture and an adaptation of Helen Simpson’s 1937 novel, it became a massive flop; Truffaut suggested that many of Hitch’s admirers regarded it as his very best work, but I think a citation would definitely be needed on that one (apart from Cahier du Cinema voting it one of the ten greatest movies of all time in 1958, suffering no doubt from an especially pseudish malaise). Like many of the directors’ films where you can’t readily identify what attracted him to the material, the results are simply “okay”; Under Capricorn ’s a serviceable melodrama most distinguished by the self-imposed technical rules to keep him interested.

Combined primary economics was a bottle about this big.

THX 1138 (1971) (SPOILERS) Curious George’s debut is the antithesis of his later Star Wars ( A New Hope ), and it’s interesting that he should have invested himself in something so austere, “adult” and joyless given his later escapist veneer. One half senses, like Spielberg with Sugarland Express , that this was a self-consciously serious piece, intended to garner respect, rather than being something he was entirely invested in. But in contrast to the berg, Lucas was always a thoughtful young man – the prequel trilogy is deadly serious in theme – and it’s as likely that basic pragmatism took over when it came to delivering ideas that audiences might actually go and see next time. THX 1138 lent its title to his game-changing sound system, of course, and like Star Wars , Lucas couldn’t help but revisit his work decades later and add in some obviously updated special effects (not as egregious as most of the additions to A New Hope , but still wholly unnecessary). The picture remains an

I never strangled a chicken in my life!

Rope (1948) (SPOILERS) Rope doesn’t initially appear to have been one of the most venerated of Hitchcocks, but it has gone through something of a rehabilitation over the years, certainly since it came back into circulation during the 80s. I’ve always rated it highly; yes, the seams of it being, essentially, a formal experiment on the director’s part, are evident, but it’s also an expert piece of writing that uses our immediate knowledge of the crime to create tension throughout; what we/the killers know is juxtaposed with the polite dinner party they’ve thrown in order to wallow in their superiority.

I enjoy working with human beings and have stimulating relationships with you.

2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984) (SPOILERS) The deal with 2010: The Year We Make Contact , of course, is that it pales into insignificance if sat next to Kubrick’s film. The further deal is that, just because it isn’t a worthy sequel that doesn’t make it a bad film. Indeed, I’m always rather impressed by it. With the proviso that, like pretty much all Peter Hyams’ best films (see also Capricorn One, Outland , The Star Chamber ) it doesn’t quite come together. And that, most damagingly, it feels like an 80s SF movie, whereas 2001: A Space Odyssey for all its psychedelia and monkey suits, hasn’t dated at all. And for that, Hyams really does have to cop the blame.