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Showing posts from 2021

The BBC have announced a cutback of one hundred percent.

The Goodies 5.13: The End The Goodies tended to be at their most inventive when they had very little in the way of resources at their disposal. Typically, come the end of a season, bereft of location work, guest stars or expensive props, and so forced to make hay from the central trio (themselves) and office set. Off-the-wall introspection and – curiously – apocalyptic ennui occurred more than once under such circumstances, and possibly the most successful of these, both creatively and in terms of viewing figures, was The End .

Yeah, well I think of it as a sort of Nightmare in progress.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) (SPOILERS) I’m all for the idea of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare . Post-modern, self-reflexive, fourth-wall-breaking movies are catnip to me (why, I even liked The Matrix Resurrections !) It’s just that New Nightmare isn’t a very good one. It’s quite watchable for the first hour, but Craven made a multitude of bad choices here. And it’s telling that, prior to my excursion into all things Elm Street , I’d only seen the first instalment and this; as it turns out New Nightmare ’s lore was equally discriminating (okay, I might give you Dream Warriors , but try parsing how it makes any difference). Craven’s like a bear with sore head that the other Freddy sequels got a bit too wacky, had a bit too much fun. So he makes damn sure New Nightmare isn’t any.

Listen to the goddamn qualified scientists!

Don’t Look Up (2021) (SPOILERS) It’s testament to Don’t Look Up ’s “quality” that critics who would normally lap up this kind of liberal-causes messaging couldn’t find it within themselves to grant it a free pass. Adam McKay has attempted to refashion himself as a satirist since jettisoning former collaborator Will Ferrell, but as a Hollywood player and an inevitably socio-politically partisan one, he simply falls in line with the most obvious, fatuous propagandising.

I’m just the balloon man.

Copshop (2021) (SPOILERS) A consistent problem with Joe Carnahan’s oeuvre is that, no matter how confidently his movies begin, or how strong his premise, or how adept his direction or compelling the performances he extracts, he ends up blowing it. He blows it with Copshop , a ’70s-inspired variant on Assault on Precinct 13 that is pretty damn good during the first hour, before devolving into his standard mode of sado-nihilistic mayhem.

It’s always possible to find a good moral reason for killing anybody.

The Assassination Bureau (1969) (SPOILERS) The Assassination Bureau ought to be a great movie. You can see its influence on those who either think it is a great movie, or want to produce something that fulfils its potential. Alan Moore and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen . The just-released (and just-flopped) The King’s Men . It inhabits a post-Avengers, self-consciously benign rehearsal of, and ambivalence towards, Empire manners and attitudes, something that could previously be seen that decade in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (and sequel Monte Carlo or Bust , also 1969), Adam Adamant Lives! , and even earlier with Kind Hearts and Coronets , whilst also feeding into that “Peacock Revolution” of Edwardian/Victorian fashion refurbishment. Unfortunately, though, it lacks the pop-stylistic savvy that made, say, The President’s Analyst so vivacious.

I don’t see that being silly and Christmas go together.

The Good Life  Silly, But It’s Fun… . There’s some Christmas fare that simply doesn’t get old, no matter how many times you revisit it. The Good Life Christmas Special is one such. Perhaps it wouldn’t melt so-called Vyvyan’s heart (“ Bloody, bloody, bloody… ”), but then again: “ Felicity Kendall’s bottom ”. The Good Life ripples with affection for its characters, with gentle swipes at snobbery and avarice, but also hubris, and it’s laced with the kind of inoffensive innuendo and playful flirtation that’s a rare and delicate art. And, as if it needs saying, you couldn’t make anything like this now.

You certainly know how to put a man in his planet.

The Shop Around the Corner (1940) (SPOILERS) Utterly charming Ernst Lubitsch movie. Although, I do find it difficult – nay, nigh-on impossible – to countenance the idea that it’s supposed to be set in Budapest, and that Jimmy Stewart is Hungarian. Obviously, remake You’ve Got Mail with Meg Ryan and Guantanamo Hanks has now eclipsed this picture, but The Shop Around the Corner is superior in almost every respect, and isn’t trying too hard to please in the way Nora Ephron was prone. Of course, it’s also another Christmas movie where the rich man makes bank (and that’s a good thing). But this is Hollywood. Hollywood, Budapest.

You ruined every suck-my-silky-ass thing!

The Matrix Resurrections (2021) (SPOILERS) Warner Bros has been here before. Déjà vu? What happens when you let a filmmaker do whatever they want? And I don’t mean in the manner of Netflix. No, in the sequel sense. You get a Gremlins 2: The New Batch (a classic, obviously, but not one that financially furthered a franchise). And conversely, when you simply cash in on a brand, consequences be damned? Exorcist II: The Heretic speaks for itself. So in the case of The Matrix Resurrections – not far from as meta as The New Batch , but much less irreverent – when Thomas “Tom” Anderson, designer of globally successful gaming trilogy The Matrix , is told “ Our beloved company, Warner Bros, has decided to make a sequel to the trilogy ” and it’s going ahead “with or without us”, you can be fairly sure this is the gospel. That Lana, now going it alone, decided it was better to “make the best of it” than let her baby be sullied. Of course, quite what that amounts to in the case of a movie(s) tha

Now, don’t look like you’re handling hot reindeer.

The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) (SPOILERS) That ghastly poster (the one at the foot of the page) makes it a wonder anyone actually saw The Lemon Drop Kid , a remake of the 1934 movie of the same name – kind of, in that it was also based on the Damon Runyon short story – but this time reconditioned for Bob Hope. Hope is generally reviled these days, largely based on his later period of very resistible stand-up/Republican cheerleading/USO-ing unsuspecting troops and compering gigs like the Oscars – and for other, less widely broadcast reasons I shall mention tangentially – but there was a golden period, around 1939 to 1952 when he was consistently appearing in some of the quippiest, meta-est comedies around. The Lemon Drop Kid isn’t quite one of those, casting Hope as the small-time swindler who does the right thing in the end – it’s Christmas! – but it definitely has its moments.

Good heavens, we've completely forgotten it's Christmas!

Meet Me in St. Louis  (1944) (SPOILERS) Seasonal fare, in as much as it covers all four of them. Meet Me in St. Louis isn’t the kind of musical designed to win the attention of those, such as myself, already reticent of the genre. Scant of plot, it very loosely follows the dramas – if you can call them that – of the Smith family over the year leading to the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition World’s Fair. I dare say I may have seen the movie before, as a nipper; certainly, many of the songs are familiar, which always helps when a musical otherwise fails to transport one. And then, there are the fringe peculiarities. Can one say mudflood?

Christmas! Nothing but a merchants’ holiday.

Beyond Tomorrow (1940) (SPOILERS) This one’s definitely a Christmas curiosity. With such a premise – including throwing in a “twist” halfway through, assuming you haven’t seen the movie poster (bottom of the page) – and a surer hand at the tiller, you suspect it would have played like gangbusters. Dusted off and spruced up, it might even be an evergreen, ripe for its own remake: a kind of Yule Ghost , with a couple’s happiness at stake, the divine intervention – or from beyond, at any rate – and holiday season theme would later become central to the ultimate entry in Beyond Tomorrow ’s genre, It’s A Wonderful Life.

There’s nothing so restful as a nice, dark, stuffy closet.

It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947) (SPOILERS) The title sounds like a shameless Capra rip-off, and it’s suggested the original story – which was Oscar nominated – also came to the great director’s attention. That he preferred to make box office bomb It’s a Wonderful Life while this did pretty well financially tells you everything. There’s little that’s very sophisticated about Roy Del Ruth’s adaption of Everett Freeman’s screenplay, from the performances to the execution. But It Happened on 5th Avenue is amiable enough, with the premise, as unlikely as it is, offerings sufficient fuel to keep it going, just about, over its near two-hour duration.

The squirrel is me, isn’t it?

Funny Farm (1988) (SPOILERS) Proof, if proof were needed, that some moviemakers really should not stray outside their comfort zone. Spielberg quickly realised goofball, John Landis-style comedy was not his greatest strength. George Roy Hill, who showed no prior acumen or inclination towards anything one might deem ex- SNL fare, mystifyingly alighted on Funny Farm , for what would turn out to be his last film, and proceeded to flatten it into a form more suited to his tastes. With the result that it is likely to satisfy no one.

On the night before Christmas, When all through New York, Large lumps of money, Are bouncing like cork.

Fitzwilly aka Fitzwilly Strikes Back (1967) (SPOILERS) If you’re looking for reasons Dick Van Dyke never really made the leap from TV to movie star – the odd Mary Poppins or Lt. Robinson Crusoe, U.S.N . aside: Disney nice-ies, basically – look no further. There’s something curiously empty and unpersuasive about his criminal mastermind butler Claude Fitzwilliam, and director Delbert Mann, of Marty and That Touch of Mink , fails to turn Fitzwilly into a bright and lively caper at any point, which is exactly what it needs to be. Light, jaunty and replete with confident verve.

Gods don’t have to choose. We take.

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) (SPOILERS) The ultimate superhero crowd-pleaser? I think so, pretty much. It’s everyone’s favourite superhero – well, aside from those who prefer Bats, who are, of course, nuts – and it’s replete with by-and-large, the right kind of fan service, fan service that pays off far more than it drops the ball. Nevertheless, Spider-Man: No Way Home still isn’t the best Spider-Man movie. It might only be the second-best Tom Holland Spider-Man movie. It gets what it gets right really right: all those multiverse past Spidey characters. Well, except for the one(s) who were rubbish anyway. But the side effect is the parts that made MCU Spidey so successful previously – MJ, Ned, Happy – too often feels like it's dragging the pace and purpose down. No Way Home is, at times, overstuffed, trying to cater to its MCU when what it really wants to do is have fun with its new box of old toys.

Merry Christmas, you lug.

Lady in the Lake (1946) (SPOILERS) There’s a good reason this isn’t first in line for discussion of great Philip Marlowe adaptations. And it isn’t because Bogey isn’t in it (or Elliott Gould, come to that). Robert Montgomery doesn’t exactly look like a dishevelled PI – at least, on the occasions you can actually see him – but he gets the cadence right. No, the reason Lady in the Lake is largely left languishing in the icy depths is Montgomery’s leftfield creative choice as director: subjective camera.

Is it real coffee, or some Scandinavian Christmas potion?

The Ref aka Hostile Hostages (1994) (SPOILERS) I tend to think it’s a mistake to offer up a Christmas-set movie that doesn’t evoke a Christmas glow, or even a glimmer, regardless of whether – as in this case – it reaches a place of reconciliation and forgiveness. Anything you care to look at spanning any degree of tones and genres – from Die Hard , to Bad Santa , to The War of the Roses to Gremlins – understands this, to a greater or lesser extent. The Ref , set as it is on Christmas Eve, rather manages to miss the Yule boat.

No one else is carolling. It might as well be Lent.

The Lion in Winter (1968) (SPOILERS) Depraved royals’ festivities. Of course, depraved royalty aren’t just for Christmas, and certainly not confined to the twelfth century. If you’re a fan of Succession , The Lion in Winter has basically the same plot, only with no central heating, an added matriarch and a penchant for sub-Shakespearian dialogue. It is also conspicuously unable to open out a theatre piece for the filmic realm. Naturally, The Lion in Winter was nominated for all the Oscars, but it rarely justifies itself as a piece of cinema in its own right.

A bad workman always blames his fools.

Doctor Who  Season 24 – Worst to Best The most unloved original season of Doctor Who , and so of any season of Who old or nu-, aside from anything Chibbers has pooped out on the side of the road, usually comes down to two contenders: Season 23 or Season 24. Now, I actually quite like Season 23, for all that it makes some, er, regrettable choices. I liked it at the time, and I like it now, more or less. Season 24, I did not like then, and more or less, I’m none too keen on it now. It’s a conflation of terrible acting, writing, direction, music and production decisions, resulting in episodes you’d think twice about letting go out on CBBC. This is, however, an exception in all this. It doesn’t go as far as making Season 24 worthwhile, but it does provide with a saving grace. 4. Delta and the Bannermen You see comments, now and again, that time has been kind to Season 24, but it really hasn’t. About the only positives to be found are (a) the top-ranked here, and (b) McCoy isn’t playing –

I could feel the Christmas noose beginning to tighten.

A Christmas Story (1983) (SPOILERS) I was aware A Christmas Story had a high reputation – in the pantheon of Christmas movies, at any rate – but nothing about its premise really piqued my interest: kid wants a Red Ryder BB Gun for Crimbo. It sounded like winsome, highly resistible Yule Americana. And without Jean Shepherd’s splendidly wry narration, it probably would be, give or take Darren McGavin’s hoot of a performance as young Ralphie’s dad. So yeah, I should have sought this out a long while back.

I have always valued my lifelessness.

Return to Oz (1985) (SPOILERS) Is this the highpoint – so to speak – of the Dark Disney period? Return to Oz is a movie so uncompromising in respect of its target audience, it makes Babe: Pig in the City seem positively innocent. It also remains quite fascinating in a way the same year’s more compromised The Black Cauldron fails to be. Both arrived right at the end of Disney’s identity crisis, before Jeffrey Katzenberg unleased a whole new, Touchstone-led approach (albeit, Splash was the first glimmer of that). Of course, it flopped. How could it not? And yet, I’d much rather watch Return to Oz than the more celebrated Wizard . At least it wears its MKUltra on its chin.

I can see you don’t know what it means to be up to your neck in nuns.

The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945) (SPOILERS) Now this, this is much closer to the “ godawful Oscar-winning schmaltz ” Time Out labelled its predecessor Going My Way . Albeit, The Bells of St. Mary’s went home empty handed on the night of the 18thAcademy Awards (it received the most nominations of the contenders: eight including Best Picture). Instead, voters chose The Lost Weekend ’s sobering tale of an alcoholic’s bender over Leo McCarey’s cockles-warming repeat of Bing Crosby being a thoroughly decent priest (I know, right?) The public were more in the mood for the schmaltz, however, with The Bells of St. Mary’s proving the biggest hit of the year by some distance (also RKO’s biggest hit ever) and returning nearly twice as much as The Lost Weekend. However, neither the critical nor box office laurels can disguise the fact that, to an unwavering latter-day eye, The Bells of St. Mary’s is turgid drivel.

Security! We’ve got trouble at the North Pole!

Trancers aka Future Cop (1984) (SPOILERS) On the evidence of Trancers , one might easily conclude the original version of Da 5 Bloods , before Spike Lee doused it with effluent, was a much more engaging and humorous affair, since both share screenwriters Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo. And if it’s true that Jimbo Cameron was a fan of Trancers , I wouldn’t be overly surprised. Because, for all that Charles Band’s movie shamelessly rips off Blade Runner , The Terminator and – at least to some batty and highly tenuous degree – Scanners , it does so with wit and inventiveness, while being cheerfully unpretentious about its low-budget trappings and more than willing to have a liberal dollop of self-conscious fun with them.

You even throw like an atheist.

Going My Way (1944) (SPOILERS) Bing Crosby was winningly self-effacing when he accepted the Best Actor Oscar for his easy-going Father (Chuck) O’Malley in Going My Way : “ This is the only country where an old broken-down crooner can win an Oscar for acting. It shows that everybody in this country has a chance to succeed ”. One might construe he doesn’t think everybody deserves to from that, and certainly, Time Out ’s Adrian Turner didn’t hold back when blasting this “ godawful Oscar-winning schmaltz ”. I wouldn’t go nearly that far, but it is overly enamoured of its own sanctified intentions, to the extent of almost flatulent self-indulgence, and the old broken-down crooner’s crooning only accentuates such tendencies.

I'd like a pint of Prospect Park.

Wonder Man (1945) (SPOILERS) For my money, the best Danny Kaye movie, although most of the plaudits tend to go – also quite reasonably – to The Court Jester or The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Kaye makes the most of Wonder Man ’s dual roles, showing off both his theatrical and introvert modes, and the screenplay’s a veritable wind-up motor for gags based on disbelief in supernatural goings on. Double takes at the ready!

A shitting bird just shat in my eye!

Last Christmas (2019) (SPOILERS) Facile Christmas fare, just pre-Coof – so last, last Christmas – from the pen of premiere luvvie Emma Thompson, whose prior foray into original comedy was disastrous 1988 sketch comedy Thompson, and Paul Feig, whose major claim to fame henceforth will be inflicting the femidom Ghostbusters on an undeserving world. Last Christmas isn’t so much bad as aggressively smug in its affluent-Left, Blair-mare virtue signalling, helping itself to a slice of the self-satisfied romcom pie usually reserved for Richard Curtis (there’s even a reference to “ middle-class do-gooders ” so Em’s at least slightly self-aware).

I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it.

The Dark Knight (2008) (SPOILERS) More than the sum of its parts, mostly due to its rightly celebrated performance of central villainy, The Dark Knight is nevertheless an unwieldy mixture of the inspired and strictly functional, assembled by a director entirely lacking cognisance of his own limitations. As a result, it manages to be both a formidable experience and an overrated one.

It is I, Helen of Troy.

The Last Duel (2021) (SPOILERS) Sir Ridders  cast aspersions on those who shunned his not-quite most recent movie, on the basis that “ The millennian do not ever want to be taught anything unless you are told it on the cell phone ”. Perhaps he should be more concerned at the mature adults who didn’t show up – surely the actual market for this – the ones hoping for a modicum of stimulation beyond unnuanced regurgitation of the prevailing political currency. Hoisted atop his ivory tower, Ridders may think a medieval #MeToo is pure dynamite, but very few outside the Twittersphere inhale such rarefied fumes, certainly not out of choice. The consequence is that The Last Duel is bluntly didactic, and so entirely fails to justify the typically gargantuan bloat with which Scott invests his telling. Another movie, another bout of toxic maledom.

You can tell the truth. That I stink, and I love it.

The Power of the Dog (2021) (SPOILERS) Toxic masculinity, ahoy! Obviously, none of us can get enough of this subject, such that even the tritest iteration thereof will duly win all the plaudits going. Which, for all that it’s handsomely mounted, admirably directed and – well, mostly – commendably performed, The Power of the Dog , adapted from Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel, is. At least, until it transforms in to The Young Poisoner’s Handbook during the last twenty minutes. James Campion’s likely Best Picture Oscar contender would surely have been more enthusiastically received (from me, I mean) if it had switched perspective, charting the development of a young sociopath rather than the shamefully concealed sexuality of its sadistic protagonist and those satellites he torpedoes into his pit of disgust.

Gosh, there’s a lot of you, isn’t there?

Jungle Cruise (2021) (SPOILERS) If anything gives the lie to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl being a piece-of-cake no-brainer, it’s this. Although, the floundering of The Haunted Mansion and Tomorrowland might also have served as pertinent pointers. Disney evidently understood the right kind of production formula at the outset – start with some decent writers – but proceeded to go awry as soon as they opted for an ancient curse (hey-ho, Curse of the Black Pearl ), the director pick and… Dwayne Johnson.

Does your policy cover the acts of extra-terrestrials?

The X-Files 4.17: Tempus Fugit Such is the way with The X-Files , just as you’re beginning to think its mythology arc can no longer deliver the goods in any kind of coherently satisfying way, it lobs a two parter like this your way. There may be something to acknowledge here – or perhaps I’m just spitballing – but the mythology episodes tend to work better when they are pursuing a specific story within the mythology, rather than the mythology itself. Just as 731 was all about the contents of a box car, Tempus Fugit is concerned with the fate of Scott Bellis’ Max Fenig (previously seen way back in 1.10: Fallen Angel , and an interesting choice of character to revisit). This means the episodes don’t need to get bogged down with alien bounty hunters, black oil or CSM being CSM, and can instead tell a well-conceived story that boasts some series-best direction from Rob Bowman.

All I know is that this plane seems to be killing people as it sits there on the ground.

The X-Files 4.18: Max A rare second instalment that equals the quality of the original, Max continues with Tempus Fugit ’s confident plotting in a largely satisfying manner, avoid simply devolving into a big action (often chase + explosion) climax. It also offers more of Max himself, by way of flashbacks and tapes from beyond the grave. And throughout, Kim Manners is the MVP, just as Rob Bowman was for the previous episode.

We’re eating dinner on Mars.

Red Planet  (2000) (SPOILERS) At the time, out of 2000’s pair of unloved, duelling Martian meanders, Red Planet found my greater favour, striving less for unreachable philosophical weight and focussing its attention more on the nuts and bolts of action/survival dramatics. Revisiting both successively, while there still isn’t a great deal between them – I don’t think either is remotely a disaster, but neither is much of what you’d call a great success either – it’s Mission to Mars that inches ahead, with ad man turned first time feature director Antony Hoffman unable to elevate the rather functional screenplay from Chuck Pfarrer ( Navy SEALs , The Jackal , Virus ) and Jonathan Lemkin ( The Devil’s Advocate ).

We’re going in the garbage truck.

The Getaway (1994) (SPOILERS) This remake of Sam Peckinpah’s Steve McQueen starrer isn’t so much bad as unnecessary. As far as I can discern, about the only alteration Walter Hill made to his original screenplay (by which I mean, his original adaptation of Jim Thompson’s 1958 novel) was adding Amy Holden Jones’ name to the credit (Jones’ most dubious claim to fame is the screenplay for the previous year’s Indecent Proposal ). It’s not as if Peckinpah’s movie is an unalloyed classic (although, some revisionist takes would have it so), so there was no reason a different take on Thompson’s material couldn’t have been both valid and paid dividends. Particularly if it had tackled the novel’s ending; for which, see the review of the 1972 picture. It’s something you could easily imagine Oliver Stone, or Alex Garland, or Joe Carnahan running with. This The Getaway is not that different take.

You run the job, but I run the show, and don’t forget it.

The Getaway (1972) (SPOILERS) Sam Peckinpah at his most mainstream – The Getaway was a big hit – but he’s still decidedly on the untameable side. Although, in contrast to Alec Baldwin’s intimations, it seems screenwriter Walter Hill was entirely pleased with the way the director interpreted, and collaborated on, his material (take a look at how little the 1994 remake differs, and you’ll be left wondering what exactly Walter was paid for second time round). The Getaway ’s a good movie, but it isn’t a great one; Hill excised the more outré aspects of Jim Thompson’s 1958 novel, so yes, there’s still infidelity and mistrust, and an entirely sordid subplot with an unseemly antagonist. But the cannibalism is out. Which is a wonder, as I’m sure Sam would have loved that.

Give daddy the glove back, princess.

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) (SPOILERS) Looking at Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare , by some distance the least lauded (and laudable) of the original Elm Street sextet, you’d think it inconceivable that novice director and series old-hand – first as assistant production manager and finally as producer – Rachel Talalay has since become a respected and in-demand TV helmer. For the most part, Freddy’s Dead is shockingly badly put together. It reminded me of the approach the likes of Chris Carter and Sir Ken take, where someone has clearly been around productions, absorbing the basics of direction, but has zero acumen for turning that into a competent motion picture, be it composition, scene construction, editing or pacing. Talalay’s also responsible for the story idea here, which does offer a few nuggets, at least, but her more primary role actively defeats any positives.