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Showing posts from December, 2020

I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in Casablanca, married to a man who runs a bar.

When Harry Met Sally… (1989) (SPOILERS) When Harry Met Sally… is undoubtedly indebted to the oeuvre of Woody Allen, but I disagree with those who dismissed it as a shallow steal of his best moments. It lands somewhere between the Allen of Annie Hall and the knowing New York-ness of Seinfeld (and like the latter, it is remarkably honed; there isn’t an ounce of fat on it). But what mostly distinguishes the picture is that it allows itself warmth and optimism in a manner Allen would surely have scorned. Woody’s “romcoms” were all about the bittersweet, about reflecting on the loss of love in a melancholic manner. So while I’d never suggest When Harry Met Sally… is a better movie, or a better comedy, than Annie Hall , it is a more satisfying romantic comedy.

You discovered so much up there. I just point.

The Midnight Sky (2020) (SPOILERS) In which George Clooney the director proves his most enduring quality in said role: boring the shit out of the average viewer. Which isn’t so different to his acting these days either. He fooled me first time round, since he rose admirably to the occasion of translating Charlie Kaufman’s translation of Chuck Barris’ Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002) into a movie (albeit, failing to meet with Kaufman’s approval). Even with Suburbicon (2017), his more recent, tampering take on an old Coen Brothers screenplay, he brought the original parts to the screen with due conviction (the parts he introduced were, unsurprisingly, complete cobblers). So maybe it’s just down to the material. But given a third of his directorial efforts – this, Leatherheads (2008) and The Monuments Men (2014) – are as boring as a dog’s ass, I wouldn’t count on it.

He looked exactly the same when he was alive except he was vertical.

The Trouble with Harry (1955) (SPOILERS) Hitch was very partial to this atypical comedy, one he took on over Paramount’s objections (“ With Harry I took melodrama out of the pitch-black night and brought it out into the sunshine ”). The Trouble with Harry probably represents very few Hitchcock fans’ favourite of his films, so it is conversely a prime contender for “most underrated” lists. I’m not hugely on board with it, I have to admit. It’s enjoyably lightweight (it has that in common with his previous film) but almost painfully self-conscious in its quirkiness. Funny as The Trouble with Harry often is, its trouble is that it’s so aware that it’s Hitch doing outright comedy, it loses a lot of goodwill along the way.

I never drink while emancipating!

Love Crazy (1941) (SPOILERS) William Powell and Myrna Loy made so many films together that The Thin Man series doesn’t even make up half of them. They’d already been teaming for the best part of a decade when they collaborated on this farce, one that, if it’s very much arranged for Powell to take the lion’s share of the funny business, still grants Loy some choice scenes.

He is a brigand and a lout. Pay him no serious mention.

The Wind and the Lion (1975) (SPOILERS) John Milius called his second feature a boy’s-own adventure, on the basis of the not-so-terrified responses of one of those kidnapped by Sean Connery’s Arab Raisuli. Really, he could have been referring to himself, in all his cigar-chomping, gun-toting reactionary glory, dreaming of the days of real heroes. The Wind and the Lion rather had its thunder stolen by Jaws on release, and it’s easy to see why. As polished as the picture is, and simultaneously broad-stroke and self-aware in its politics, it’s very definitely a throwback to the pictures of yesteryear. Only without the finger-on-the-pulse contemporaneity of execution that would make Spielberg and Lucas’ genre dives so memorable in a few short years’ time.

Another case of the screaming oopizootics.

Doctor Who Season 14 – Worst to Best The best Doctor Who season? In terms of general recognition and unadulterated celebration, there’s certainly a strong case to be made for Fourteen. The zenith of Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe’s plans for the series finds it relinquishing the cosy rapport of the Doctor and Sarah in favour of the less-trodden terrain of a solo adventure and underlying conflict with new companion Leela. More especially, it finds the production team finally stretching themselves conceptually after thoroughly exploring their “gothic horror” template over the course of the previous two seasons (well, mostly the previous one).

We interrupt our Christmas carol service to bring you an important announcement. The world will end at 12 o’clock.

The Goodies 7.6: Earthanasia Christmas Eve. What better time to contemplate ending it all? If the Goodies of 1977 had written an irreverent take on 2020, would it have turned out very differently to Earthanasia ? Governments of the world collectively coming together – albeit in an act of implicit complicity rather than explicitly – and agreeing to destroy the world. In tandem with taking jabs at a media eager to milk every last drop of hype from the situation.

The bonniest, brightest little blue egg you have ever seen.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes 1.7: The Blue Carbuncle Sherlock Holmes does Christmas. Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes at that. An antidote to the ghastly likes of the nu- Who festive instalments, where the only thing going for them is provoking a gag reflex for those who have overdone the turkey dinner, The Blue Carbuncle eschews saccharine and fake tinsel. Indeed, it is possessed of a proper plot, the sort of thing rarely scene in Christmas TV special episodes post-1980s. Of course, that comes courtesy of the 1892 Conan Doyle original, taking a very Christmassy element – the aforementioned dinner, although in this case a fattened goose – and creating a mystery around it.

I regret that the exchange of presents at Christmas time is something about which I am notoriously lax.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes 2.16: The Blue Carbuncle The final episode of the 1960s BBC Sherlock Holmes series. It ran between 1964 and 1968 across two seasons, first with Douglas Wilmer and then Peter Cushing (Nigel Stock provided a sense of continuity, appearing as Watson throughout). Cushing played Holmes eight years earlier in Hammer’s full-blooded The Hound of the Baskervilles , of course, but this series is a decidedly less atmospheric affair, as might be expected of the less exotically budget BBC. Certainly, if the meagre seven surviving episodes are testaments.

Mulder, I’ve got wrapping to do.

The X-Files 6.6: How the Ghosts Stole Christmas One of the worst things that happened to X-Files producer Chris Carter, output-wise, was witnessing the often very funny, witty contributions of his more comedically minded peers – Darin Morgan, Vince Gilligan – and deciding he’d have some of that. Because Carter’s best contributions as writer – and even, initially, as director – to the show’s early period, tended to be honed, tightly constructed mythology builders or punchy standalones. He dipped his toe in more frivolous waters with 3.13: Syzygy and failed to garner the plaudits he likely felt were due, such that he didn’t try again until the much better received 5.5: The Post-Modern Prometheus . Which brought us to Season Six, and undisciplined messes like third episode Triangle . And How the Ghosts Stole Christmas .

I don’t want to spend the holidays dead.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) (SPOILERS) Chevy Chase gets a bad rap. By which, I don’t mean the canvas of opinion suggesting he really is a bit of a tool in real life is misplaced, as there’s no shortage of witnesses to his antics (head of the pack being probably Bill Murray, whose brother Brian appears here as Clark’s boss). But rather that, during his – relatively brief – heyday, I was a genuine fan of his deadpan delivery in the likes of Caddyshack and Fletch . The National Lampoon’s Vacation movies, even the initial trilogy overseen by John Hughes, are very hit-and-miss affairs, but it’s Chase, with his almost Basil Fawlty-esque ability both to put his foot in it and deliver withering put-downs, who forms their irrepressibly upbeat core.

Yay, I’m a llama again!

The Emperor’s New Groove (2000) (SPOILERS) Perhaps more Disney fare should be born of desperation, if this is the result. The Emperor’s New Groove came as a breath of fresh air after all those overly sincere, straight-arrow Disney Renaissance flicks (with the honourable exception of Hercules , but even then, its distinction is based more on Gerald Scarfe’s input than ingrained irreverence). You know, the ones with the perverse subliminal imagery the Mouse House claimed was an accident. The picture is remarkably cohesive in style and tone, all the more of a miracle given its production history. It’s the most fun you’ll have with a Disney flick since the Wolfgang Reitherman era. Which is to say, The Emperor’s New Groove feels less like a Disney movie than something Warner Bros might have come up with if making a feature-length Looney Tunes .

This is the loudest snow I’ve ever heard in my life.

The Grinch (2018) (SPOILERS) A pot-bellied (okay, fat) curmudgeon with a twisted sense of humour and unruly hair attempting to destroy Christmas for everyone? Never has the noxious notion had more resonance. Actually, the nightmarishly unpleasant and saccharine 2000 Jim Carrey incarnation probably bears more resemblance to How the Boris Stole Christmas! But the subtitle And Didn’t Put It Back Again at the Behest of His Masters, the Elite, as Part of Their Plan to Cull, Sterilise and Reset the Entire Global Population doesn’t quite fit Dr Seuss’ tale of a character whose heart thaws in the face of basic goodwill of all men. Or Whos. Illumination’s version of the Christmas classic is exactly what you’d expect from an envisioning by the animation house responsible for the Despicable Me s (they also previously tacked The Lorax ). Which is to say, it’s as easily digestible, undemanding and indistinct from its stablemates as one DreamWorks animation or Pixar pic is from the other.

It’s just a colour that burns.

Color Out of Space (2019) (SPOILERS) Richard Stanley returns to features after 27 years (without a finished one) and gives us a Lovecraftian horror, his first of three planned adaptations. Responses have been generous, but I quickly found Color Out of Space teetering on the brink of the tedium that comes with escalating horror chaos devoid of suspense or turns of plot. We know what is happening here – madness unbound, physical, mental, psychic – and we’ve seen Cage’s brand of unbound lunacy more than enough times already. Add to that a picture heavily indebted to John Carpenter’s The Thing by way of gross-out familial descent into hell, and there’s something oddly pedestrian about the whole affair, despite it being clear that, in his time out, Stanley has lost none of his flair as a director.

I don’t know if we should leave, but I would definitely advise skipping the fish course.

The War of the Roses (1989) (SPOILERS) Danny DeVito’s ruthless black comedy is an evergreen. Based on Warren Adler’s 1981 novel of the same name – Adler’s Random Hearts was later adapted much less successfully – it finds the director using audience familiarity with Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and himself to sell a very different prospect to the Indy-riffing Romancing the Stone . The War of the Roses certainly wasn’t guaranteed to become the hit it did, but it’s uncompromising freshness, and its offbeat seasonality (it was released in December in the US, with an accompanying 12 Days of Christmas -riffing trailer), hit a nerve with audiences.

Practically perfect people never permit sentiment to muddle their thinking.

Mary Poppins (1964) (SPOILERS) Disney’s unimpeachable – unless you were an unimpressed PL Travers – smash hit, loved by children everywhere… Although, I don’t recall that I was ever that enamoured, preferring the similarly themed, just with an overtly identified witch and even wackier animation, Bednobs and Broomsticks (1971). Indeed, Bednobs and Broomsticks  was in the running to be an earlier Disney production, when the rights negotiations for Mary Poppins were looking beyond Walt’s reach. Suffice to say, I don’t think my earlier position holds up. Even for one as jaded and cynical as I undoubtedly am – most of all towards the Mouse House – Mary Poppins is an irresistible affair, blessed with great tunes, dazzling choreography, some gorgeous cinematography and delightful performances. Even the eccentrically accented one.

Mrs Claus’s Village is the best place on Earth.

The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two (2020) (SPOILERS) Good grief. I came late to the Queen’s Gambit party over the last week, but it’s proof Netflix doesn’t always just serve up any old crap, expectant that its passive subscribers will gratefully receive. The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two , however, their highest-profile festive offering of the year, rather confirms every worst conclusion you’d reached about the service. A sequel to their – actually quite good – 2018 movie, they couldn’t just let such amiably innocuous fare lie. No, they had to churn out a grotesquely hollow, plastic-packaged Christmas bauble of a follow up. Somehow, it has garnered a 72% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which if nothing else signals that civilisation as we know it has well and truly collapsed.

What do I get? A few runny noses and some dead citrus!

The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006) (SPOILERS) Has there ever been a decent movie depiction of Santa’s Village? I suppose Elf intentionally took the piss, so that’s on its side. But the plastic Disneyland of the likes of The Christmas Chronicles , The Santa Clause and Santa Claus: The Movie seems to be de rigueur. Desperately devoid of festive flair. I didn’t catch up with this final Santa Clause for the sake of completism, or because I’m a fan of the other two, but because Martin Short is usually good value. And so he is here, when he gets the chance . But The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause is still pretty awful.

I like your pants very much.

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) (SPOILERS) Well Patty and Gal brought their undiluted vision for Wonder Woman to the screen… and suddenly the Snyderverse doesn’t look quite so bad after all. No, that’s an exaggeration, but the fact remains that Wonder Woman 1984 is every bit as flawed as anything arrested-development Zach has delivered to DC. Just considerably less grimdark. On the flip side, moments of curdling sentimentality in this sequel will have you longing for the balm of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ’s relentlessly portentous foreboding. There are quite a few things to enjoy in Wonder Woman 1984 , but they’re almost all on display during first half, the second duly doing its very best to induce amnesia of any positives.

He’d better get that trunk out of there, before it starts to leak.

Rear Window (1954) (SPOILERS) The consummate Hitchcock movie, and the one that probably best distils and displays his ongoing obsessions, certainly in terms of crowd-pleasing spectacle. Rear Window is rightly rarely far from the two or three most highly regarded of the director’s films, and it remains as quick, witty and peerlessly staged as ever.

Mr. President, I stand guilty as framed!

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) (SPOILERS) I’m by no means a die-hard Frank Capryte. His particular taste in earnestly extolled values can easily rub one up the wrong way, and when that blends with his later more cynical tack, the results are sometimes alarming ( It’s A Wonderful Life is justifiably esteemed as a classic, but it’s also a deeply warped picture that finds cause for celebration in a man being resoundingly shat upon and manipulated by everyone he knows). Mr. Smith Goes to Washington saw the inception of this modified approach in the director’s work, where impossible goodness is pressed into service against the unvarnished corruption that lies at the heart of America. As a result, the viewing experience tends to swing wildly according to just how undiluted each side is being at any given moment.

I’m not the auditor, I’m the Doctor.

Doctor Who The Sun Makers Or The Sunmakers , if you first came to the story via its Target novelisation. I’ve generally regarded this one as not quite making it. Call it the Pennant Roberts factor, if you like, degrading any bite and sharpness into a slightly bland soufflé. That approach failed to dent the later The Pirate Planet , where the script’s knockabout energy complements the outrageous performances, lending the whole a ramshackle spark. But departing script editor Robert Holmes lent The Sun Makers a shed load of wit and perversity, and it didn’t feel like it was done justice. Revisiting the tale on this occasion, however, I found it considerably more rewarding. If still some distance from being any kind of classic.

It’s a very stressful thing, time travel.

12 Monkeys (1995) (SPOILERS) Gilliam goes maximum sell out. And yet, even though this is undoubtedly the soberest and least quirky film in his oeuvre, it’s much, much more satisfying than his Terry-Goes-Tinseltown The Fisher King . 12 Monkey s is the evidence that he could have been – not that I’m suggesting he should have been – an entirely creditable studio director had he taken the bit between his teeth and buckled down. As it is, 12 Monkeys still manages to exude enough of his personality and wide-angle visual sense that you’re never in doubt who is calling the shots, but never to the extent that it gets in the way of its lead character’s emotional journey. Or indeed, the fairly wrought conspiracy plotline at its core.

Just relax. Act like a countess.

Shalako (1968) (SPOILERS) Sean Connery starring in a western sounds like the kind of lame idea a Bond star grabbing any options available would choose, just to keep working and see where he might land (see also Harrison Ford in The Frisco Kid ). The result then, is a particularly lame movie. Not in the sense of Shalako being awful, but rather entirely redundant, dull and outmoded. Aside from some content signifying the era (the rape of Honor Blackman’s character, usually cut for TV showings), this could easily have been made a decade prior. It’s only really Connery’s presence that announces otherwise.

I never thought one could care so much about a sled.

Mank (2020) (SPOILERS) David Fincher probably deserves due credit for doing right by dad and getting Jack’s screenplay into production. Even if it rather waywardly took him more than two decades. Perhaps the length of time is a clue, because for all the meticulousness of Mank ’s production, there’s negligible sense that Fincher’s fired up by the material. Indeed, you’re likely to come away from this rather flaccid picture convinced that what Citizen Kane needed wasn’t so much a nostalgically positioned sled as a headless corpse. Or any tell-tale Fincherian sign of murderous despair.

And now, here you have a case in which there are no clues, no fingerprints, no motives, no suspects. Ought to be very simple for you.

I Confess (1953) (SPOILERS) There’s a sense in I Confess of Hitchcock aiming for a piece that will garner respect for the qualities of depth and range, rather than something that will simply be a crowd pleaser. It’s a very sombre affair, all-but devoid of his usual wit and thus very much not playing to his strengths. The moral quandary at its heart isn’t really one, since Montgomery Clift’s priest never appears to have the slightest inclination to betray his vow, and the “scandal” of his relationship with Anne Baxter’s married woman is entirely less so by virtue of his being entirely innocent. As a consequence, despite Clift’s strong performance, the film’s protagonist is the worst thing he can be: passive. And I Confess is never really able to move past that.

There's nothing trashy about romance.

The Fisher King (1991) (SPOILERS) The Terry Gilliam film everyone loves, especially those who aren’t Terry Gilliam fans. Often claimed as his best picture, it’s one he himself says he made “ in the real world ”. Which is true, if you consider the real world to be composed of a slightly less sugary Hollywood confection than usual. The Fisher King finds the director making an “acceptable” film. Which is basically one the critics can fully embrace as he navigates the path he is expected to navigate when going the studio route, with a very conservative sprinkling of his own idiosyncrasy. It is essentially, fine. It’s likeable, whimsical, feel-good. Which means it finds Gilliam losing his edge.

Maybe this universal mind resides in the mirror image instead of in our universe as we wanted to believe.

Prince of Darkness (1987) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s wounded retreat from the traumas of big studio moviemaking saw its first fruit in this cult curio. Not as legendary as his subsequent They Live! but also very influential in its own scrappy way, as well as being very influenced in its own right (most particularly, and self-confessedly on Carpenter’s part, by Nigel Kneale). Prince of Darkness is also less satisfying than They Live! although its ancient astronauts take still produces several highly memorable moments. Mostly, the movie’s shortcomings are down to the execution, but that’s not because it’s cheap per se. Rather, Carpenter failed to surround himself with the level of talented key players that made his low budget outings in the previous decade so enduring.

If you're going to be rude to my daughter, you might at least take your hat off!

My Man Godfrey (1936) (SPOILERS) William Powell deserves more credit than he gets as one of the all-time most watchable movie stars. My Man Godfrey garnered him his second of three Best Actor nominations, teaming him (at his own behest) with ex-wife Carole Lombard. A hugely entertaining screwball comedy, it duly achieved the singular feat of being nominated for all four acting Oscars (of which it was the first), and writing and directing. But not Best Picture.