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Showing posts from March, 2021

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

As far as anybody is, we’re the Martians now.

Quatermass and the Pit aka Five Million Years to Earth (1967) (SPOILERS) The last and best of Hammer’s Quatermass adaptations, in no small part due to Andrew Keir taking over lead duties from Brian “bladdered” Donlevy. But mostly because this is by far Nigel Kneale’s best script for his professorial protagonist. Which means that even Roy Ward Baker’s so-so direction cannot prevent Quatermass and the Pit from remaining fresh, vital and thought provoking.

What are you suggesting? That Gulf War Syndrome is caused by UFOs?

The X-Files 1.17: E.B.E. It took until the final third of the first season before Glen Morgan and James Wong were given a mythology episode, but it should be no surprise that it’s the best of the bunch. They’d written four up to that point, including the high-on-the-tension-scale Ice and the breakout for the series’ next-level potential, 1.13: Beyond the Sea . E.B.E. saw them playing with already established characters and situations – Deep Throat, the crashed craft/alien, local officials warning our heroes off their investigation – while relishing the opportunity to be extra slippery with the series conspiracy and paranoia tropes. Oh, and they introduce the Lone Gunmen!

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

If you can’t dig nothin’, you can’t dig anything. You dig?

Skidoo (1968) (SPOILERS) You could at least discern that someone involved had some degree of awareness or first-hand knowledge of the scene with most of the counter-culture cash-ins Hollywood attempted during the ’60s, regardless of how shipwrecked the results were. No such luck befalls Skidoo , frequently cited as one of the biggest dodos ever made and with which director Otto Preminger evidences to anyone interested why he had not, hitherto, explored the comedy genre. The result is a grimly unfunny satire, as well as being woefully square, but it’s nevertheless so wrongfooted at every turn, unfolding with all the narrative sophistication of one of those live-action Disneys of the period, only R-rated, that it’s kind of fascinating.

Without my research, you're about as psychic as a dry salami.

Family Plot (1976) (SPOILERS) And so, the master takes his final bow. Family Plot seems consigned by consensus to the “Yeah, it’s okay” Hitchcock pile. Even I do that mentally, although when I do revisit it, I invariably conclude it’s bit more than that, that it’s actually pretty good. But it has several things working against a resoundingly positive assessment. One is that it’s a Hitchcock comedy (well, dramedy), and when he stepped on that peddle, the results were occasionally regrettable. Another is that, in terms of production values and general presentation, Family Plot might easily be mistaken for a TV movie (all that’s missing are yellow credits). Yet it also boasts a smart screenplay from Ernest Lehman and a main quartet of leading players who acquit themselves admirably. After a spell in the mid-to-late 1960s where Hitch appeared to have lost his mojo, his final two movies may not have attained the status of all-time classics, but they are both more than respectable.

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

Then what can I say? How can I disprove lies that are stamped with an official seal?

The X-Files 1.10: Fallen Angel Fallen Angel hits the ground running with Mulder on the ground, running around Wisconsin woods in pursuit of an alien craft before a crash-retrieval team gets to it first. As such, this is an early sign of action-Mulder that’s called into service every so often. Until a rifle butt to the face sees to his little fancy. The subsequent dynamics of the hunt for an alien are so-so, however, and the episode’s strengths revolve around the nascent mythos the show is building for itself.

So the devil's child will rise from the world of politics.

The Omen (1976) (SPOILERS) The coming of the Antichrist is an evergreen; his incarnation, or the reveal thereof, is always just round the corner, and he can always be definitively identified in any given age through a spot of judiciously subjective interpretation of The Book of Revelation , or Nostradamus. Probably nothing did more for the subject in the current era, in terms of making it part of popular culture, than The Omen . That’s irrespective of the movie’s quality, of course. Which, it has to be admitted, is not on the same level as earlier demonic forebears Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist .

Some scientist bred a very special plant to produce a very special oil.

The Day of the Triffids (1981) 1981 was a banner year for BBC science fiction. Doctor Who had taken delivery of a new burgundy coat – and hat, scarf, troos, and, er, shirts adorned with question marks on the collars – and then a cricket blazer. On top of which, a rare season of vintage repeats was shown. Blake’s 7 went out in a blaze of glory. The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy latest incarnation was on television. Robert Holmes’ The Nightmare Man haunted a Scottish island. And the BBC gave John Wyndham’s novel the adaptation it deserved, twenty years after the last one and thirty after initial publication. The book and its ilk were rather dismissively characterised by Brian Aldiss as “cosy catastrophes”, not entirely fair and even less so of the TV version, although it’s easy also to see why the description has stuck. Douglas Livingston’s serial, directed by Ken Hannam, is better than anyone probably could have hoped for, and ought to be the first port of call to anyone who mig

The crowd seem to be sickened by the sight of no blood.

The Magic Christian (1969) (SPOILERS) As with Candy , also from the pen of Terry Southern, you instinctively want to give these star-studded, satirical ’60s counter-culture forays a bit of credit. Alas, it’s very difficult when they’re as bad as The Magic Christian . More often than not, projects Peter Sellers turned his attention to around this period turned to ashes, but the major problem here – aside from the source material – is one common to many an overblown disaster. Joseph McGrath may have been a darling of Beatles shorts, but he was not a film director.

Wow. Asteroids are made of farts. Okay. I got it.

Greenland (2020) (SPOILERS) Global terror porn for overpopulation adherents as Gerard Butler and his family do their darnedest to reach the safety of a bunker in the titular country in the face of an imminent comet impact. Basically, what if 2012 were played straight? These things come to test cinemas in cycles, of course. Sean Connery struggled with a duff rug and a stack of mud in Meteor , while Deep Impact plumbed for another dread comet and Armageddon an asteroid. The former, owing to the combined forces of Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, was a – relatively – more meditative fare. The latter was directed by Michael Bay. And then there’s Roland Emmerich, who having hoisted a big freeze on us in The Day After Tomorrow then wreaked a relatively original source of devastation in the form of 2012 ’s overheating Earth’s core. Greenland , meanwhile, is pretty much what you’d expect from the director of Angel Has Fallen .

That pipe has been blocked with human pulp!

Quatermass 2 aka Enemy From Space (1957) (SPOILERS) Quatermass II or Quatermass 2 ? Since it says the latter on screen and the former on the poster, I’ll tip towards the latter. Nigel Kneale penned this adaptation himself, so he’s responsible for eliminating vast chunks of the – superior, natch – TV version, most notably the trip to an alien planet and ninety percent of the doppelganger intrigue/paranoia. Nevertheless, this is still a very engaging picture. Once again, that’s in spite of the presence of gangster-style Brian Donlevy in the title role. Perhaps tailoring the character to the actor, or just throwing up his hands in defeat and forsaking all semblance of the original, Kneale – or director Val Guest, reworking his material – even has Quatermass machine gun a squad of possessed goons at one point. In the back!

I must be soft in the head, letting a suspected strangler put his arms around me.

Frenzy (1972) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s penultimate film isn’t quite a return to form – it can’t quite get past an unengaging protagonist and shifting perspectives that, in contrast to stablemate Psycho , fail to coalesce into more than the sum of its parts – but after two decidedly broke-backed pictures, Frenzy is demonstrable evidence he still had what it took. If Torn Curtain , aside from that scene, saw Hitch struggling to remain relevant in the 1960s, Frenzy feels like a film of the 1970s, as much as it owes its homeland flavour to the 1930s works that established the director as such a force to be reckoned with.

Mulder, you could have shown that kid a picture of a flying hamburger, and he would have told you that’s exactly what he saw.

The X-Files 1.2: Deep Throat Possibly the defining X-Files episode, getting to grips as Deep Throat does with government conspiracy rather than merely, or mostly, the local one depicted in the Pilot . Which makes it notable how perfunctory the hook that gets Mulder investigating the case is, and how much of a shrug Deep Throat’s solution turns out to be. This is very much a case of the journey being the thing, however, rather than the destination.

This is not a war any more than there's a war between men and maggots... This is an extermination.

War of the Worlds (2005) (SPOILERS) Spielberg’s adaptation of HG Wells’ best-known work struck me as a lazy move at that the time. As slickly made as it undeniably was, it left me resoundingly underwhelmed. Shorn of period accoutrements, the director’s latest SF extravaganza was revealed as a thin, pedestrian wallow in grim-dark. But it seemed to strike a chord, earning a raft of strong critical notices and an appreciative audience response; as a result, it would be the penultimate time the Beard scored a place in the annual worldwide box office Top 10. How does War of the Worlds ’ depiction of nationwide devastation carry now, in an environment of strategically advancing global devastation? Still not so hot, or resonant. Although, a deus ex machina of the order envisioned by Wells and unimaginatively transposed by David Koepp and Josh Friedman wouldn’t go amiss in the real world.

Do you mean to say, I really get all that with such a small premium?

The Naked Truth aka Your Past is Showing (1957) (SPOILERS) We’re all – or should be – familiar with the idea that the elite/TPTB have their claws embedded in the great and not so good via that old favourite of “the goods”, or dirt. For the most part, their goods, or dirt, are sure to make anything Dennis Price – himself rumoured to have been the victim of blackmail at various points – has his mitts on in The Naked Truth look positively innocuous. But what Mario Zampi’s movie may lack in authentic grimness, it more than makes up for by being very, very funny. Admittedly, that’s more down to a fine cast and screenplay than his own virtuosity, but neither should his dependability in capturing it all be denied.

Egyptian mummies building rockets? That's crazy.

  Doctor Who Pyramids of Mars Such was Pyramids of Mars ’ unrivalled status up to the mid-1980s, I suspect it became quite easy to see it as not quite all that. The Talons of Weng-Chiang duly eclipsed it in the Hinchliffe & Holmes go-period-gothic stakes. I’ve found myself coming back round to its claim on the title, though. It isn’t as much fun as Talons – Ernie Clements is crushed before he has a chance to become a jowl-jangling Henry Gordon Jago – but it boasts a tighter script with a stronger trajectory, much higher stakes, a better villain and a more dramatic climax. Episode Four earns a bit of drubbing from some quarters, but the shift boosts the story at a stage when they typically take a tumble… just like city of the Exxilons.

Tell her my socks are okay. Somebody darned them.

Crack in the World (1965) (SPOILERS) Inconceivably, Time Out ’s review of Crack in the World attempted to convince the wayward viewer that it was “ Infinitely better than the appalling The Day the Earth Caught Fire”. There can be no doubt David Pirie was smoking something potently bamboozling when he came up with that deranged view. Which is not to suggest that Crack in the World is bad per se – as a nipper it had me fretting like nobody’s business over its depicted eventuality – but that The Day the Earth Caught Fire is a bona fide, sweaty mood-piece masterpiece.

They brought guns into a care home. They’re the Russian mafia, baby.

I Care a Lot (2020) (SPOILERS) And it starts so well too. J Blakeson’s movie sets out its stall as a merciless satire on greed; sociopath Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike), from a line of sociopaths, makes her money manipulating the legal system to gain guardianship of the elderly, whom she then fleeces. Until she picks the wrong mark, that is: the mother (Dianne Wiest) of a Russian mobster (Peter Dinklage). The scenario’s potential, that of ruthless villain squaring off against ruthless villain, is fertile, and for a while I Care a Lot does indeed move along quite deliriously. And then it runs out of gas.

Hey, don’t sweat it, sis. It’s not like your dead husband could die twice.

WandaVision (2021) (SPOILERS) Much as I'm loathe to say it – especially since the results would have been torturously overloaded with pop culture references – the Joss Whedon version of Wandavision would surely have been superior to the one we got (although, it might not have featured Emma Caulfield Ford, since she stood with Charisma Carpenter). I watched the miniseries in several sittings after the run had completed, so I was spared most of the frustration at potential fan service left unfulfilled – anyone would think it was Lost … or Q Drops – but even without such dashed anticipation, it was very evident the show could have been sharper, tighter, and with more emphasis on the twists it did have. And, in some cases, better casting wouldn’t have gone amiss either.

Now, stop stealing things, do your fucking homework and find some decent friends.

Hillbilly Elegy (2020) (SPOILERS) A danger with fashioning Oscar bait is that it can be instantly called out for undisguised cynicism and thus immediately ignored. That appears to be the fate of Hillbilly Elegy , in which Ron Howard further evidences his journeyman “versatility” with a tale of rednecks – sorry, mountainfolk – and their trials and tribulations. Well, apart from regular nominee Glenn Close and her prosthetic ankle tits.

Give me those material corruptions.

Candy (1968) (SPOILERS) There’s no way anyone could get away with making it today. I’ll wager that’s the immediate reaction of anyone seeing Candy for the first time. Which, much as I’m adverse to outrage culture, is probably a positive. There’s something inherently suspect about satirising a subject through embracing it wholeheartedly, as this adaptation of the 1958 novel’s trawl through a pornographic America rather bears out. It’s tantamount to suggesting the oeuvre of Eli Roth is actually a commentary on violence. Nevertheless, while Candy isn’t a good movie, attempting as it does to filter its satirical subjects through a Confessions of a Window Cleaner -style level of perviness, it can boast a selection of memorable scenes and occasionally inspired cameos.

Your stories can only keep you company for so long.

News of the World (2020) (SPOILERS) I’d been looking forward to this. The full, unexpurgated, salacious story of Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday tabloid dedicated to topless tarts and tasteless tattle. Given the all-star treatment. Imagine my disappointment, then, when it turned out to be nothing more than a western starring Guantanamo Hanks and feted propaganda merchant Paul Greengrass. News of the World is a rousing tale of a man who travels a lawless land spreading real news to a thirsty population. A man who, because he’s such a kind, sensitive and caring gent, takes care of and eventually adopts a poor orphan child. So exactly the kind of image the actor who previously tried to sell himself as Walt Disney and Fred Rogers would like to project.

Some fantastic, invisible force converted two men… into jelly?

The Quatermass Xperiment aka The Creeping Unknown (1955) (SPOILERS) The movie most responsible for reshaping Hammer’s output, such that, over the span of a few short years, it would become primarily known for horror. A remake of Nigel Kneale’s 1953 BBC serial, The Quatermass Xperiment boasts higher production values (and crucially, two thirds more of it survives), but it also betrays certain significant shortcomings. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t still vastly superior to the live 2005 BBC4 remake.

Hey, look, I know all about bourgeois clichés.

Da 5 Bloods (2020) (SPOILERS) A sprawling, tone-deaf, indulgent mess of a movie from Spike Lee. So what’s new, right? At least BlackKklansman had a coherent screenplay at its core, undone as it was by typically scattershot direction and detours. Da 5 Bloods is shockingly inept on that score, likely the result of Lee overlaying his de rigueur didactic, windbag politicking over a shameless piece of exploitation cinema. It’s Three Kings meets The Treasure of the Sierra Madre meets Stand Up Guys meets (via some hilariously inept flashbacks) Platoon . But all of those influences – yes, even Stand Up Guys – are vastly superior.

They must be raising hell in Moscow today.

Topaz (1969) (SPOILERS) Torn Curtain was rocky going, a mostly-at-sea Hitchcock vehicle despite inhabiting the spy/thriller genre that made him famous. His follow up, Topaz , however, proved so deficient, it makes Torn Curtain resemble classic-era Hitch. An interminably dull thriller based around the Cuban Missile Crisis, it finding the director returning to a propaganda picture arena not really seen since his World War II features. The difference with Topaz being, it’s fairly difficult to feed audiences views if they’ve fallen asleep.

You’re just a wind-up toy in a music box.

One Night in Miami (2020) (SPOILERS) “ Inspired by true events ” is a very loose term, invariably closer to “totally made up” than “ Based on a true story ”. In the case of One Night in Miami , the veracity of a legendary encounter between Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke is probably more akin to Nicolas Roeg’s unlikely meet cute between Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein, Joe DiMaggio and Joseph McCarthy in Insignificance . Because while X and Clay were certainly sharing celebrations on the night in question, the only other definite is that Brown and Cooke were at the same hotel. Malcolm X taking piccies of a now-abstinent Clay all night probably wouldn’t be that epochal, though, so it’s understandable that Kemp Powers selected the most creatively fertile possibility for his entertaining if rarely challenging “What if such luminaries chewed the fat?”

Agent Mulder believes we are not alone.

The X-Files 1.1: Pilot Where one of the most influential TV shows of the last thirty years began. The Pilot impresses on revisit for just how many pieces of the mythos and general tone are perfectly formed from the get-go. The X-Files is a show that hits the ground running, so much so the storyline could be easily sequelised in Season Seven. Crucially too, since I’m in part returning to the main conspiracy arc with a mind to consider what – if anything – is the mix beside the overt UFO lore that earned the show such a following, both cult and mainstream, is how intentionally noncommittal it is with its implications. And I don’t mean that just in terms of the show’s characteristic determination to tease out that conspiracy beyond all sense or reason.

This be an empty world without the blues.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020) (SPOILERS) Is there any point making a movie from a play if you’re unable to overcome its essential staginess? At their best, even confined productions can fire on all cylinders – 12 Angry Men , Glengarry Glen Ross – but a director without the necessary acumen, or perhaps motivation, may be left high and dry. George C Wolfe comes from the theatre but has a decade and a half of film direction behind him, yet it never feels as if he has a firm grip on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom .

A semi-automatic shotgun wedding it will be!

Coming 2 America (2021) (SPOILERS) Well, it’s better than Beverly Hills Cop III . That’s a treacherously low bar, I know. But then, Coming 2 America was tempting fate with such self-referential lines as “ What do we have besides superhero movies, uh, remakes and sequels to old movies nobody asked for? ” I was keen to see a Beverly Hills Cop IV for the same reason as I’d have liked a Die Hard VI or Lethal Weapon V (or Dirty Harry VI ): send a series out on something approaching an acceptable quality level. Coming to America had at least avoid the spoiling of its legacy. Until now.

The cycle of Pisces is coming to an end. Thanks for everything, professor. It was beautiful. So long.

Wonderwall (1968) (SPOILERS) I somehow doubt that Liam Gallagher ever sat through Wonderwall. Most likely he’d have put his foot through the telly ten minutes in. Even “intellect” of the family Noel would probably have struggled with it. But then, their song was inspired by George Harrison’s album of music – no way would Theodor Adorno want credit for that one – rather than Joe Massiot’s oddball hippy dream/nightmare project (his only fiction feature, unless you count an 80s Barry Sheen escapade). It’s perhaps a shame Massiot didn’t make more movies, as while Wonderwall is in no way a good one, it is definitely visually accomplished.

Duffy. That old tangerine hipster.

Duffy (1968) (SPOILERS) It’s appropriate that James Coburn’s title character is repeatedly referred to as an old hipster in Robert Parrish’s movie, as that seemed to be precisely the niche Coburn was carving out for himself in the mid to late 60s, no sooner had Our Man Flint made him a star. He could be found partaking in jaundiced commentary on sexual liberation in Candy, falling headlong into counter culture in The President’s Analyst , and leading it in Duffy . He might have been two decades older than its primary adherents, but he was, to repeat an oft-used phrase here, very groovy. If only Duffy were too.

Fewer suspects, less work for me. My ideal is a forty-hour week.

Green for Danger (1946) (SPOILERS) A magnificently sure-handed piece from Launder and Gilliat – Sydney Gilliat receives the director credit, Frank Launder the producer, and Gilliat shares the screenplay with Claud Gurney – that plays superbly as a straight wartime noir murder thriller… until the inimitable Alastair Sim’s Inspector Cockrill is thrown into the mix. He’s an irreverent goofball, sharp of wit and intellect with a wonderfully twisted sense of humour and an abject terror of doodlebugs. The only slight you might lay against Green for Danger is that you’re likely to undervalue it because the duo make it all look so easy.