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The people that are left, what they’ve become. You don’t know, do you? Well, I do.

A Quiet Place Part II (2021) (SPOILERS) Any post-apocalyptic movie released in the current environment immediately lends itself to the charge of predictive programming, of preparing the ground for the big event (invariably because it was made just prior to the big event). More so than ever, apocalypse movies are now. John Krasinski has naturally claimed of A Quiet Place , “ my whole metaphor was solely about parenthood ”. Which is a relief, as it makes it all very straightforward and nothing at all to concern oneself over. And given how generic the sequel is, doubling down on the original’s plot holes and hopeful/hopeless humanity themes, I could almost believe he’s being genuine.

Come on, boys. We don't want any trouble in here. Not in any language.

Tombstone (1993) (SPOILERS) Tombstone seemed impressively cast at the time, but it’s even more so in retrospect, given the way so many of its supporting faces have only become better known. I’d hesitate to call it star-packed, but it comes armed with that general ambience (in fairness, Wyatt Earp too is heaving with recognisable names, but largely to inertly self-important effect). Tombstone ’s also a movie that bears witness to the way a fraught production may very occasionally deliver the goods despite everything, and one successful enough to cement the western’s early ’90s renaissance.

Ours is the richest banking house in Europe, and we’re still being kicked.

The House of Rothschild (1934) (SPOILERS) Fox’s Rothschild family propaganda pic does a pretty good job presenting the clan as poor, maligned, oppressed Jews who fought back in the only way available to them: making money, lots of lovely money! Indeed, it occurred to me watching The House of Rothschild , that for all its inclusion of a rotter of a Nazi stand-in (played by Boris Karloff), Hitler must have just loved the movie, as it’s essentially paying the family the compliment of being very very good at doing their very best to make money from everyone left, right and centre. It’s thus unsurprising to learn that a scene was used in the anti-Semitic (you might guess as much from the title) The Eternal Jew .

Lieutenant, you run this station like chicken night in Turkey.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) (SPOILERS) You can’t read a review of Assault on Precinct 13 with stumbling over references to its indebtedness – mostly to Howard Hawks – and that was a preface for me when I first caught it on Season Three of BBC2’s Moviedrome (I later picked up the 4Front VHS). In Precinct 13 ’s case, it can feel almost like an attempt to undercut it, to suggest it isn’t quite that original, actually, because: look. On the other hand, John Carpenter was entirely upfront about his influences (not least Hawks), and that he originally envisaged it as an outright siege western (rather than an, you know, urban one). There are times when influences can truly bog a movie down, if it doesn’t have enough going for it in its own right. That’s never the case with Assault on Precinct 13 . Halloween may have sparked Carpenter’s fame and maximised his opportunities, but it’s this picture that really evidences his style, his potential and his masterful facility with music.

Just because you dreamt it, doesn’t mean you did it.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) (SPOILERS) The homoerotic one. Generally derided on release for its spurning of Freddy lore – his work ethic, even – A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge has gained cachet over the years for its not-so-much gay subtext as outright text. That doesn’t necessarily make it a particularly good movie, but it means that, in a genre where the thematic content tends to be overfamiliar and not-so rewarding, it actually has a few things going on under the hood, and plants a distinctive flag for itself amid the formula of the Elm Street series.

White nights getting to you?

Insomnia (2002) (SPOILERS) I’ve never been mad keen on Insomnia . It’s well made, well-acted, the screenplay is solid and it fits in neatly with Christopher Nolan’s abiding thematic interests, but it’s… There’s something entirely adequateabout it. It isn’t pushing any kind of envelope. It’s happy to be the genre-bound crime study it is and nothing more, something emphasised by Pacino’s umpteenth turn as an under-pressure cop.

You seem particularly triggered right now. Can you tell me what happened?

Trailers The Matrix Resurrections   The Matrix A woke n ? If nothing else, the arrival of The Matrix Resurrections trailer has yielded much retrospective back and forth on the extent to which the original trilogy shat the bed. That probably isn’t its most significant legacy, of course, in terms of a series that has informed, subconsciously or otherwise, intentionally or otherwise, much of the way in which twenty-first century conspiracy theory has been framed and discussed. It is however, uncontested that a first movie that was officially the “best thing ever”, that aesthetically and stylistically reinvigorated mainstream blockbuster cinema in a manner unseen again until Fury Road , squandered all that good will with astonishing speed by the time 2003 was over.

I admit it. I live in a highly excited state of overstimulation.

Videodrome (1983) (SPOILERS) I’m one of those who thinks Cronenberg’s version of Total Recall would have been much more satisfying than the one we got (which is pretty good, but flawed; I’m referring to the Arnie movie, of course, not the Farrell). The counter is that Videodrome makes a Cronenberg Philip K Dick adaptation largely redundant. It makes his later Existenz largely redundant too. Videodrome remains a strikingly potent achievement, taking the directors thematic obsessions to the next level, one as fixated on warping the mind as the body. Like many Cronenbergs, it isn’t quite there, but it exerts a hold on the viewer not dissimilar to the one slowly entwining its protagonist Max Renn (James Woods).

We got two honkies out there dressed like Hassidic diamond merchants.

The Blues Brothers (1980) (SPOILERS) I had limited awareness of John Belushi’s immense mythos before  The Blues Brothers arrived on retail video in the UK (so 1991?) My familiarity with SNL performers really began with Ghostbusters ’ release, which meant picking up the trail of Jake and Elwood was very much a retrospective deal. I knew Animal House , knew Belushi’s impact there, knew 1941 (the Jaws parody was the best bit), knew Wired was a biopic better avoided. But the minor renaissance he, and they, underwent in the UK in the early ’90s seemed to have been initiated by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, of all things; Everybody Needs Somebody was part of their That Sounds Good to Me medley, the first of their hits not to make No.1, and Everybody ’s subsequent single release then just missed the Top Ten. Perhaps it was this that hastened CIC/Universal to putting the comedy out on video. Had the movie done the rounds on UK TV in the 80s? If so, it managed to pass me by. Even bef

I’m not impressed by your miracles or moved by your trickery.

The X-Files 3.24: Talitha Cumi Well, that’s a relief. A bit of one, anyway. Talitha Cumi is more engaging and more engaged than its myth arc predecessor, possibly by dint of Duchovny coming in with a co-story idea – although, the alien bounty hunter was his too, lest we forget – but mainly because its diving into Chris Carter’s favoured arena of quasi-spiritual rumination. Only, crucially, largely avoiding the heavy-handed stodge he usually mixes up with such endeavours. Which isn’t to say there’s anything enormously special about the third season finale – indeed, the most striking thing is how innocuous it is for a season climax – but it ticks along in a reasonably involving way, and benefits hugely from Roy Thinnes’ underplaying introduction as Jeremiah Smith.

Maybe I’m a heel who hates guys who hate heels.

Crimewave (1985) (SPOILERS) A movie’s makers’ disowning it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s nothing of worth therein, just that they don’t find anything of worth in it. Or the whole process of making it too painful to contemplate. Sam Raimi’s had a few of those, experiencing traumas with Darkman a few years after Crimewave . But I, blissfully unaware of such issues, was bowled over by it when I caught it a few years after its release (I’d hazard it was BBC2’s American Wave 2 season in 1988). This was my first Sam Raimi movie, and I was instantly a fan of whoever it was managed to translate the energy and visual acumen of a cartoon to the realm of live action. The picture is not without its problems – and at least some of them directly correspond to why it’s so rueful for Raimi – but that initial flair I recognised still lifts it.

I don’t believe in phantoms sobbing through the night.

Wuthering Heights (1939) (SPOILERS) This is the version that inspired Kate to ascend those lofty pop peaks. Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht (and an uncredited John Huston) ditch the generational plotting of Emily Bronte’s 1847 novel, and director William Wyler, in partnership with cinematographer Gregg Toland, ups the gothic atmosphere. But Wuthering Heights is all about Sir Larry, glowering with sociopathic venom.

I dreamed about a guy in a dirty red and green sweater.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) (SPOILERS) I first saw A Nightmare on Elm Street a little under a decade after its release, and I was distinctly underwhelmed five or so sequels and all the hype. Not that it didn’t have its moments, but there was an “It’ll do” quality that reflects most of the Wes Craven movies I’ve seen. Aside from the postmodern tease of A New Nightmare – like Last Action Hero , unfairly maligned – I’d never bothered with the rest of the series, in part because I’m just not that big a horror buff, but also because the rule that the first is usually the best in any series, irrespective of genre, tends to hold out more often than not. So now I’m finally getting round to them, and it seemed only fair to start by giving Freddy’s first another shot. My initial reaction holds true.

How do you melt somebody’s lug wrench?

Starman (1984) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s unlikely SF romance. Unlikely, because the director has done nothing before or since suggesting an affinity for the romantic fairy tale, and yet he proves surprisingly attuned to Starman ’s general vibes. As do his stars and Jack Nitzsche, furnishing the score in a rare non-showing from the director-composer. Indeed, if there’s a bum note here, it’s the fairly ho-hum screenplay; the lustre of Starman isn’t exactly that of making a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but it’s very nearly stitching together something special from resolutely average source material.

You’re the bravest rat I’ve ever known.

Cruella (2021) Well, this is a surprise. The last thing I expected at this point in the course of Disney’s dogged determination to piss on its legacy was a decent live-action take on an animated classic and a decent origins story to boot at that. Perhaps it needs to be put down to the old exception that proves the rule, but Cruella hits a bullseye in several key respects: performance, direction and (derivative) premise. If the movie wanders during its final act, is grossly overlong and also inherently morally questionable, well that’s simply symptomatic of these times. And Disney all over.

Maybe he had one too many peanut butter and fried banana sandwiches.

3000 Miles to Graceland (2001) (SPOILERS) The kind of movie that makes your average Tarantino knockoff look classy, 3000 Miles to Graceland is both aggressively unpleasant and acutely absent any virtues, either as a script or a stylistic exercise. The most baffling thing about it is how it attracted Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell, particularly since both ought to have been extra choosy at this point, having toplined expensive bombs in the previous half decade that made them significantly less bankable names. And if you’re wondering how this managed to cost the $62m reported on Wiki, it didn’t; Franchise Pictures, one of the backers, was in the business of fraudulently inflating budgets .

He must have eaten a whole rhino horn!

Fierce Creatures (1997) (SPOILERS) “ I wouldn’t have married Alyce Faye Eicheberger and I wouldn’t have made Fierce Creatures.” So said John Cleese , when industrial-sized, now-ex gourmand Michael Winner, of Winner’s Dinners , Death Wish II and You Must Be Joking! fame (one of those is a legitimate treasure, but only one) asked him what he would do differently if he could live his life again. One of the regrets identified in the response being Cleese’s one-time wife (one-time of two other one-time wives, with the present one mercifully, for John’s sake, ongoing) and the other being the much-anticipated Death Fish II , the sequel to monster hit A Fish Called Wanda. Wanda was a movie that proved all Cleese’s meticulous, focus-group-tested honing and analysis of comedy was justified. Fierce Creatures proved the reverse.

You’ll never work in West Galaxy again!

Doctor Who Nightmare of Eden One of the more maligned stories in a much-maligned era of Doctor Who , Nightmare of Eden nevertheless has its staunch advocates. Outpost Gallifrey’s Shaun Lyon for one, who professed it his “ favourite Doctor Who story ever ”. It doesn’t quite reach that pinnacle for me, but I’m absolutely on the same page with regard to it being a gem. Tat Wood was also on side in About Time 4 , at a stage where the critiques were increasingly divided into Lawrence Miles prosecutions and Wood defences (switching lanes with the subsequent era). For me, it’s one of the series’ very best scripts – even those loathing the finished production begrudgingly tend to admit it has a few good ideas knocking about – and one of the most entertaining realisations thereof.

Remember. Decision. Consequence.

Day Break (2006) (SPOILERS) Day Break is the rare series that was lucky to get cancelled. And not in a mercy-killing way. It got to tell its story. Sure, apparently there were other stories. Other days to break. But would it have justified going there? Or would it have proved tantalising/reticent about the elusive reason its protagonist has to keep stirring and repeating? You bet it would. Offering occasional crumbs, and then, when it finally comes time to wrap things up, giving an explanation that satisfies no one/is a cop out/offers a hint at some nebulous existential mission better left to the viewer to conjure up on their own. Best that it didn’t even try to go there.

You absolute horror of a human being.

As Good as it Gets (1997) (SPOILERS) James L Brooks’ third Best Picture Oscar nomination goes to reconfirm every jaundiced notion you had of the writer-director-producer’s capacity for the facile and highly consumable, low-cal, fast-food melodramatic fix with added romcom lustre. Of course, As Good as it Gets was a monster hit, parading as it does Jack in a crackerjack, attention-grabbing part. But it’s a mechanical, suffocatingly artificial affair, ponderously paced (a frankly absurd 139 minutes) and infused with glib affirmations and affections. Naturally, the Academy lapped that shit up, because it reflects their own lack of depth and perception (no further comment is needed than Titanic winning the big prize for that year).

Is anybody not looking for Krycek?

The X-Files 3.16: Apocrypha   The unsettling feeling washed over me – a little like black goo itself – during this two-parter that my recollection of the series’ central arc being pretty solid until at least Season Five may have been remiss. Did it all actually fall apart during Season Three? Together, Piper Maru and Apocrypha are easily the least compelling instalments of the arc plot thus far. They aren’t bad so much as desperately underwhelming and uninspired.

We bury our dead alive, don’t we?

The X-Files 3.15: Piper Maru Which came first, The X-Files ’ black oil or the “real” world’s black goo? Assuming, of course, you believe in the “bona fide” black goo, “ a faux synthetic artificial intelligence elemental ”, and that it was the reason for the Falklands War . And assuming you believe Max Spiers really was a super soldier, and that it’s entirely coincidental – or doubtless, they would have it as soft exposure – that The X-Files too featured an invasive oily substance and latterly super soldiers (while Spider-Man, of course, had his black gooey Venom, and Prometheus had its own brand of black gooeyness). Does any of this mean the black goo is real? I’d suggest you can only deduce with any degree of confidence that it means, to some extent, “they” want us to think about black goo or oil and whether it is real. That’s predictive programming for you ( some wags have even linked it to the contents of the good old jab winging its way to a depopulation centre near you, if it h

I dreamt I tore all the skin off my face and was somebody else underneath.

The Shadow (1994) (SPOILERS) Another of the 1990s’ perverse attempts to fashion successful movies from superhero properties with little appeal to the general public. The Shadow , like the later The Phantom , is set in the 1930s, and like that movie, the period setting is ultimately a hindrance. Not because director Russell Mulcahy is unable to evoke a period sensibility – he’s actually one of the picture’s strengths – but because there’s a persistent sense that all that can be afforded is the art direction, leaving a rather barren New York. It’s thus a visual reflection of David Koepp’s screenplay, one that offers little in the way of a developed environment or dynamic sensibility.

You know, this is the cleanest and nicest police car I’ve ever been in in my life.

Beverly Hills Cop (1984) (SPOILERS) You could reasonably argue Eddie Murphy was a phenomenon before Beverly Hills Cop , but following the release of Martin Brest’s 1984 box office champ, the entire world now knew it. At about the same time, Bill Murray was making similar waves in Ghostbusters (no one was quoting Aykroyd and Ramis from that movie), so it must have been a particular rue to studios that both then dropped off the screen for a couple of years. With 1980s stars, in particular, there’s often a dissonance between the size of their hits and the actual quality (look no further than Tom Cruise). Murphy’s most particular skill was (and is) that he’s so damn likeable, you can almost convince yourself a middling movie was a great one. Beverly Hills Cop isn’t a great one, but a key to it working as well as it does is that it would still function as a movie – as a cop thriller – if you took its star out of it.

No, I ain’t a good man. I ain’t the worst either.

A Perfect World (1993) (SPOILERS) It’s easy to assume, retrospectively, that Clint’s career renaissance continued uninterrupted from Unforgiven to, pretty much, now, with his workhorse output ensuring he was never more than a movie away from another success. The nineties weren’t such a sure thing, though. Follow-up In the Line of Fire , a (by then) very rare actor-for-hire gig, made him seem like a new-found sexagenarian box office draw, having last mustered a dependably keen audience response as far back as 1986 and Heartbreak Ridge . But at home, at least, only The Bridges of Madison County – which he took over as director at a late stage, having already agreed to star – and the not-inexpensive Space Cowboys really scored before his real feted streak began with Mystic River. However, there was another movie in there that did strong business. Just not in the US: A Perfect World .

What are you doing, watching life in the slums?

Dead End (1937) In case you doubted it, there was never a monopoly on Denzel making all the painfully stagey movie adaptations of stage plays. Less still their getting rafts of Oscar nominations. It’s impossible to watch a certain kind of movie – or play, at any rate – without the Coen Brothers’ classic Barton Fink coming to mind, and its title character waxing “lyrical” about a tenement building on the Lower East Side, and the smell of fish, amid copious earnest moralising and an overwhelming air of self-importance. Which is Dead End all over. Like Barton Fink ’s fish, it stinks.

You cut my head off a couple of dozen times.

Boss Level (2021) (SPOILERS) Lest you thought it was nigh-on impossible to go wrong with a Groundhog Day premise, Joe Carnahan, in his swaggering yen for overkill, very nearly pulls it off with Boss Level . I’m unsure quite what became of Carnahan’s early potential, but he seems to have settled on a sub-Tarantino, sub-Bay, sub-Snyder, sub-Ritchie butch bros aesthetic, complete with a tin ear for dialogue and an approach to plotting that finds him continually distracting himself, under the illusion it’s never possible to have too much. Of whatever it is he’s indulging at that moment.

I must remind you that the scanning experience is usually a painful one.

Scanners (1981) (SPOILERS) David Cronenberg has made a career – albeit, he may have “matured” a little over the past few decades, so it is now somewhat less foregrounded – from sticking up for the less edifying notions of evolution and modern scientific thought. The idea that regress is, in fact, a form of progress, and unpropitious developments are less dead ends than a means to a state or states as yet unappreciated. He began this path with some squeam-worthy body horrors, before genre hopping to more explicit science fiction with Scanners , and with it, greater critical acclaim and a wider audience. And it remains a good movie, even as it suffers from an unprepossessing lead and rather fumbles the last furlong, cutting to the chase when a more measured, considered approach would have paid dividends.

We’re looking into a possible pattern of nationwide anti-Catholic hate crimes.

Vampires aka John Carpenter’s Vampires (1998) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter limps less-than-boldly onward, his desiccated cadaver no longer attentive to the filmic basics of quality, taste, discernment, rhyme or reason. Apparently, he made his pre-penultimate picture to see if his enthusiasm for the process truly had drained away, and he only went and discovered he really enjoyed himself. It doesn’t show. Vampires is as flat, lifeless, shoddily shot, framed and edited as the majority of his ’90s output, only with a repellent veneer of macho bombast spread on top to boot.

Free cake and sandwiches are being served in the Hall of Nature.

The Phantom (1996) (SPOILERS) It’s curious how perverse many of the comic adaptations were in the wake of Batman . Some of this was obviously down to rights and development hell (how to get Spidey webslinging, how to bring back Supes), but the likes of The Phantom , The Shadow and Dick Tracy – even, or especially, with Warren Beatty vouching for him – weren’t exactly the kind of iconic figures studio execs ought to have been imagining punters flocking to see. The Phantom wasn’t enormously expensive, but still not cheap (about $77m adjusted), and in fairness to Paramount, there was still speculation over what would work, outside of the DC icons; by the time it came out, there’d been successful recent outings for both goth Batman and camp Batman , so maybe a guy riding a horse in a purple leotard, with a pet wolf, would be just the ticket. There’s also the small detail that the movie that was made wasn’t the one that was envisaged.

It’s like paradise with little golden palm trees.

Working Girl (1988) (SPOILERS) There’s something insidious and repellent at the heart of Mike Nichol’s big business Cinderella story, a How to Succeed at Business by Reading the Rags . Wall Street , for all that Gordon Gekko became a bad boys’ hero, had the good grace to say outright that greed was bad. Working Girl tells you it’s only bad when there isn’t a level gender playing field. And that, if there are only two women in the room, one of them has to go. But because it’s accompanied by that so-damn-aspirant, surging, uplifting Oscar-winning Carly Simon tune ( Let the River Run ), Working Girl encourages any objections to relapse into sharp relief.

Well, I guess I can only make you remember the things you want to be true.

Memento (2000) (SPOILERS) Nolan joins forces with cinematographer Wally Pfister for the first time, and together they set the scene for the increasingly vast-in-scale – but cerebrally so – populist fare that would follow over the next two decades. Memento was one of those instantly cool cult indie darlings, like Donnie Darko or Pi , and you were invited to do little else but wow and flutter at a formidable new talent. Which is to say that Memento is impressive, both formally and thematically, but it also evidences the weakness that would increasingly manifest for the director going forward.

The NSA? Since when did they start issuing you guys piano wire instead of guns?

The X-Files 3.10: 731 Even he wasn’t consciously aping it, Frank Spotnitz was evidently inspired by just how well the previous season’s close-quarters encounter between Mulder and Duane Barry worked, and decided he’d have some of that. Hence Mulder trapped in a train car, ticking down to its detonation, with a man who just tried to kill him. It helps that Stephen McHattie, despite being cast as a standard heavy/assassin, is a terrific actor, as it ensures the stakes here feel very genuine.

According to the magazine ad I answered, it's an alien autopsy. Guaranteed authentic.

The X-Files 3.9: Nisei I have to admit, I’d forgotten how good this two-parter is. It’s that rarest of rarities in the show (or indeed, most shows): a story where the second instalment noticeably trumps the first. It also plunges the show back into the murky terrain of just what it is Mulder is dealing with: aliens, or simply an entirely corrupt and obfuscating government? We know how that ultimately goes in series lore, of course – and short of the alien Bounty Hunter being Tartarian, it’s been very clearly established by now that ETs are present and peppering the continuity – but it speaks to the makers’ relationship with the “truth” that they’re still willing to debate its meta-content rather than doubling down.

Personally, I give him a nine on the buzzard scale.

Darkman (1990) (SPOILERS) “ …the dark... what secrets does it hold? ” Sam Raimi bursts into the mainstream, kind of, with a low-budget superhero movie that puts the big guns to shame. Certainly Batman , and the then-a-few-months-old damp squib of a Dick Tracy . Darkman ’s exactly as ebullient, irresponsible and excessive as you’d expect from the director who had most recently given us an extraordinary antic sequel to his debut horror flick. For all that Darkman is messy and undisciplined, what shines through is its sheer exuberant energy. Why, it even makes Liam Neeson seem awake!

Tea without milk is so uncivilised.

The Great Escape (1963) (SPOILERS) Anyone minded to suggest Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking took hold in the 1980s needs to take a good hard look at The Great Escape , with its prototypical starry cast, engineered set pieces and bloated running time. It’s a dazzling entertainment machine, from Elmer Bernstein’s signature theme on in. If it’s far from a masterpiece, John Sturges movie stands the test of time for a very good reason; WWII as a boys’-own ( exclusively boys’ own) fantasy romp. Even the few (quite a few, offscreen) deaths can’t get in the way of its indomitable, rousing, can-do joie de vivre.

Okay, just jump right into my nightmare, the water is warm.

Jerry Maguire  (1996) (SPOILERS) I didn’t much like Jerry Maguire at the time, which I suspect is intrinsically linked to the fact that I didn’t much like Tom Cruise at the time. I’m still not really a massive fan of either, but the latter at least made an effort to rein in his most irksome traits subsequently. Jerry Maguire , however, finds him drawing on the same “bag of tricks” that mystifyingly transfixed his fan base a decade before in Top Gun . Bonnie Hunt suggested the toughest part of the role was “ playing a character that doesn’t like Tom Cruise ”. I wouldn’t have had that problem. I do not like Tom and Jerry.

And so what if you repeat yourself a lot? It adds emphasis.

Rules Don’t Apply (2016) (SPOILERS) Warren Beatty’s swansong, so it seems. But given that everything he’s made since Bulworth – only Town & Country and this, as it happens – has stiffed, he might have been better going out on a high back in ’98. On the other hand, he might have been even wiser still to call it quits after Reds , and the only great loss would have been the one where he gets to rap (atrociously). But Warren had an itch to scratch on the Howard Hughes front, and it had been festering for decades. The result is a misfire, most definitely, and one suspects the strange structure – a couple of youngsters are the romantic leads while the increasingly erratic Hughes holds court from the side lines – is a consequence of the director-writer-producer-star prevaricating for too damn long. And yet, he’s on undeniably good form in Rules Don’t Apply .

I said, “Go kiss a duck”, marblehead.

American Graffiti (1973) (SPOILERS) George Lucas’ massively influential and hugely successful nostalgia-fest, set in an America just far enough away and not really so long ago at all but increasingly heading that way with every passing year. I’ve never really cared too much for American Graffiti , even as I can appreciate Lucas’ instinctive ability to tap a rich seam (generational yearning for yesteryear, million-dollar soundtrack of bygone hits, new/old through combining then-current filmmaking acumen and social attitudes with classical tropes). Many of the similarly themed – nostalgic or otherwise period pieces or navel gazing – it spawned were superior: The Wanderers ; Diner ; The Big Chill . And then, of course, there’s it’s direct responsibility for Happy Days . And worse, the maturation of little Ronnie Howard, now a directing “legend”.

By whom will this be rectified? Your ridiculously ineffectual assassins?

The X-Files 3.2: Paperclip Paperclip recovers ground after The Blessing Way stumbled slightly in its detour, and does so with some of the series’ most compelling dramatics so far. As well as more of Albert performing prayer rituals for the sick (perhaps we could spend some time with the poor guy over breakfast, or going to the movies? No, all he’s allowed is stock Native American mysticism).

We predict the future, and the best way to predict the future is to invent it.

The X-Files 3.1: The Blessing Way Chris Carter was probably right not to approach Ansazi as he meant to continue the story – always assuming he thought ahead at all – instead opting for a complete change of pace for The Blessing Way , shifting down a gear into a more reflective season opener. That doesn’t necessarily excuse him some of the episode’s more glaring issues, however, including a recourse to cod-Native American philosophising that teeters on the brink of patronising/glib and a resolution to the second season cliffhanger that may be explicable but not sufficiently so that it isn’t still commonly cited in a “Things that don’t make sense” context.

Trust me. I’m credible.

Broadcast News (1987) (SPOILERS) I enjoyed Broadcast News when I first saw it in the 1980s. I think the things I enjoyed about it then – the well-drawn characters, in particular the dry, superior tone of Albert Brooks – are the things I still enjoy about it. And yet, there’s a lingering negative quality I was vaguely conscious of at the time that also carries through, of something shapeless about the picture in style and plotting, almost like a TV show (even the title is almost wilfully vanilla, nondescript). Which is perhaps appropriate for its setting. But there’s also something else. An overriding and inescapable bugbear that kept gnawing at me as I revisited the movie: director James L Brooks fashions a target figure, a personification, for all the things going wrong with the news, but he essentially thinks the news was okay, something to be proud of, something that, in its heyday – presumably when he worked in the CBS newsroom – spake the truth.

Did it look at you? Did the fire look at you?

Backdraft (1991) (SPOILERS) Ron Howard, never one to recognise his profound limitations of talent, here attempts a big, special-effects-laden family saga come action spectacle in the style of Tony Scott ( Backdraft even has Hans Zimmer on the soundtrack). Some of his stylistic imitations land effectively enough – there are undoubtedly very fine shots in the movie, courtesy of DP Mikael Salomon – and he has assembled a mostly stalwart cast, but his firefighting Top Gun attempt at a cash-grab blockbuster stumbles through biting off more than it can chew – it runs to two-and-a-quarter hours, and the last half hour is especially hard work – and having too little where it counts: like a vision, a feel for the Chicago milieu, and most crucially, a sympathetic lead actor.

After all, who wants to know they’re just a poor imitation of a worthless copy?

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016) (SPOILERS) I’m not sure I’d go as far as to call Iain Glen the saving grace of a billion-dollar-grossing movie franchise, but I suspect it’s no coincidence that the best two entries in the Resident Evil series feature him prominently. Unlike most of the characters in the run, he imbues Dr Isaacs with considerable personality, which can only serve to lift the proceedings, particularly in this concluding part. It helps too that Paul WS Anderson is genuinely attempting to pull out all the stops in terms of plot twists and set pieces. Which means Resident Evil: The Final Chapter , while it’s the longest in the sextet by some margin, rarely feels like it’s idling.

It’ll be like living in the top drawer of a glass box.

Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) (SPOILERS) The first of a pair of TV movies John Carpenter directed in the 1970s, but Someone’s Watching Me! is more affiliated, in genre terms, to his breakout hit ( Halloween ) and reasonably successful writing job ( The Eyes of Laura Mars ) of the same year than the also-small-screen Elvis . Carpenter wrote a slew of gun-for-hire scripts during this period – some of which went on to see the twilight of day during the 1990s – so directing Someone’s Watching Me! was not a given. It’s well-enough made and has its moments of suspense, but you sorely miss a signature Carpenter theme – it was by Harry Sukman, his penultimate work, the final being Salem’s Lot – and it really does feel very TV movie-ish.

Somewhere out there is a lady who I think will never be a nun.

The Sound of Music (1965) (SPOILERS) One of the most successful movies ever made – and the most successful musical – The Sound of Music has earned probably quite enough unfiltered adulation over the years to drown out the dissenting voices, those that denounce it as an inveterately saccharine, hollow confection warranting no truck. It’s certainly true that there are impossibly nice and wholesome elements here, from Julie Andrews’ career-dooming stereotype governess to the seven sonorous children more than willing to dress up in old curtains and join her gallivanting troupe. Whether the consequence is something insidious in its infectious spirit is debatable, but I’ll admit that it manages to ensnare me. I don’t think I’d seen the movie in its entirety since I was a kid, and maybe that formativeness is a key brainwashing facet of its appeal, but it retains its essential lustre just the same.

I campaigned for gun control.

Resident Evil: Retribution (2012) (SPOILERS) Something of an uptick in quality, although let’s not get too carried away here. Paul WS Anderson’s 3D fixation lends itself to action sequences that are less unspooled by the unflattering starkness of the 2D version this time, and thus a more coherent picture overall, but much of Resident Evil: Retribution seems to rely on the baffling premise that you’ll be nostalgic for former franchise character “favourites”. You know, the ones who had no character to speak of in the first place.

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

Call me crazy, but I don’t see America coming out in droves to see you puke.

The Hard Way (1991) (SPOILERS) It would probably be fair to suggest that Michael J Fox’s comic talents never quite earned the respect they deserved. Sure, he was the lead in two incredibly popular TV shows, but aside from one phenomenally successful movie franchise, he never quite made himself a home on the big screen. Part of that might have been down to attempts in the late ’80s to carve himself out a niche in more serious roles – Light of Day , Bright Lights, Big City , Casualties of War – roles none of his fanbase had any interest in seeing him essaying. Which makes the part of Nick Lang, in which Fox is at his comic best, rather perfect. After all, as his character, movie star Nick Lang, opines, after smashing in his TV with his People’s Choice Award – the kind of award reserved for those who fail to garner serious critical adoration – “ I’m the only one who wants me to grow up! ”

I’m feeling an updraft in my underpants.

Hello, Dolly! (1969) (SPOILERS) Well, I guess Wall•E liked it, so it must have something going for it. Although, that might be to rate Pixar’s prevailing tastes a tad too high. Hello, Dolly! has, so it says here, become one of the most enduring musical theatre hits evah in its stage form. Perhaps its appeal is all in the live experience, then, because, as a movie, it’s a bust. And not even a, bust!