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Showing posts from May, 2021

He spurned me like a strumpet in the street.

The Ten Commandments (1956) (SPOILERS) Stodge of biblical proportions. Sometimes during The Ten Commandments , you’ll feel like you’re spending those forty interminable years in the wilderness yourself (luckily consisting of no more than a line of narration in this four-hour epic). The common response to Cecil B DeMille’s final grand spectacle is that it’s overblown, old-style entertainment, worthwhile in spite of its delusions of importance and reverence. Unfortunately, however, the movie is more often dramatically stolid, even to the extent of presenting literal tableaux, and sometimes with accompanying narration at that. The picture obviously did the trick – audiences flocked to it in droves – but this is far from nimble storytelling.

Oh wow. Ava DuVernay just liked one of my posts.

The Hunt (2020) (SPOILERS) Damon Lindelof’s satire arrived with many presumptions made of its content – some accurate and some way off – and typically inept “sensitivity” to public events (if you aren’t cynical about mass shootings – and Lindelof clearly isn’t – then the picture would surely be upsetting, or alternatively influential, depending upon what the studio thinks it’s responding to, whenever it was released). What The Hunt is, though, is your classic Hollywood reductivism in full effect, redefining the world through the limiting prism of the dominant (liberal) paradigm while virtue-signalling (if you want to call it that) that it’s an equal-opportunities attack on all (but hey, lest we forget, South Park always has first dibs on such Tinseltown-sanctioned cynicism). The picture’s woke-critique is negligible because it perfectly overblows the premise, while its “conservative” hero turns out to be nothing of the sort (so excusing Lindelof and Nick Cuse of sleeping with the enem

I’m not going into that cavity. That one’s already dying.

Marathon Man (1976) (SPOILERS) Marathon Man ’s one of those movies where the deficiencies become less easy to ignore the more times you see it. On first viewing, it’s an absorbing, visceral thriller with smart twists and occasionally surprising turns, lent a degree of conviction somewhat at odds with its Nazi war criminal on-the-loose mythos (for more of that, see The Boys from Brazil a couple of years later). There are various disagreements on record with regard to the better course of key production decisions, mostly based on screenwriter William Goldman being unimpressed with changes made by director John Schlesinger in concert with star Dustin Hoffman, but the picture’s essential problems are beyond either creative conflagrations. Because both, in various ways, were trying to dress pure pulp up as respectable, prestige moviemaking, with the effect that, like new wine in old skins, it starts leaking everywhere.

It says this room is five feet longer on the inside than it is on the outside.

You Should Have Left (2020) (SPOILERS) I’m always interested to see a new David Koepp movie – yes, even his misfiring comedies – since they tend to be much more engaging than his writer-for-hire work. You Should Have Left finds him back in the horror zone, where he eked out his first big hit in 1999 ( Stir of Echoes , which was unfairly eclipsed by The Sixth Sense ’s behemoth box office). Koepp duly knows his way around unsettling atmospheres and creepy moments, but You Should Have Left ’s overfamiliarity ultimately scuppers it.

You think I’m just a gravy-train rider with a turn-around collar.

On the Waterfront (1954) (SPOILERS) Commonly celebrated for one of the all-time great performances in one of the all-time great films, On the Waterfront has never done a whole lot for me. It’s never been a contender for my all-time Top 100, let alone Top 10. It may have heralded a magnificent new wave of realist cinema at the time, a harbinger for the beating down of taboos to come, but Eli Kazan’s tale of a noble informant exposing waterfront racketeering is extraordinary creaky in its theatricality, especially so for a picture made almost entirely on location. And Brando’s wow performance is an exercise in mannered artifice, standing out like a sore thumb amid a sea of diligent, driven co-stars.

I was toying with the idea of translating Kafka into Welsh, but how do you translate his values?

Only Two Can Play (1962) (SPOILERS) There aren’t very many occasions when Peter Sellers immersed himself in “proper” characters, as opposed to caricatures or sketches. Probably because, in such instances, he had too little foliage with which to conceal himself. Mostly, these were straight roles ( Mr. Topaze , Hoffman , The Blockhouse ), but there’s also this, a curiosity of a kitchen-sink comedy from Launder and Gilliat. Only Two Can Play ’s far from the top of their game, an adaption of Kingsley Amis’ second (published) novel That Uncertain Feeling – his first, Lucky Jim , had earlier been made by the Boulting Brothers – but it’s an interesting performance from Sellers, filtered through a Welsh accent and a dry wit.

Dad's wearing a bunch of hotdogs.

White of the Eye (1987) (SPOILERS) It was with increasing irritation that I noted the extras for Arrow’s White of the Eye Blu-ray release continually returning to the idea that Nicolas Roeg somehow “stole” the career that was rightfully Donald Cammell’s through appropriating his stylistic innovations and taking all the credit for Performance . And that the arrival of White of the Eye , after Demon Seed was so compromised by meddlesome MGM, suddenly shone a light on Cammell as the true innovator behind Performance and indeed the inspiration for Roeg’s entire schtick. Neither assessment is at all fair. But then, I suspect those making these assertions are coming from the position that White of the Eye is a work of unrecognised genius. Which it is not. Distinctive, memorable, with flashes of brilliance, but also uneven in both production and performance. It’s very much a Cannon movie, for all that it’s a Cannon arthouse movie.

Have you ever eaten a Sontaran?

Doctor Who The Two Doctors Ah yes, The Two Doctors . It can’t catch a break. If it isn’t in gratuitous, disgusting and in appalling taste, then it’s incredibly, unforgivably racist. And terribly directed besides. Some of these things are fair comment. Having recently rewatched Warriors of the Deep , I can attest there are degrees to the field of bad direction; as uninspired as his work is, Peter Moffat isn’t nearly at the bottom of the heap in this case. Tat Wood even suggests Pennant Roberts could probably have made something of the story, which is illustrative of how incredibly off base his overall assessment is. The Two Doctors is also, at times, quite grisly (while I tend not to be too squeamish about these things in Doctor Who, there’s something jarringly blunt about the deaths of the Dona Arana and Oscar). But racist? I’d argue, as several others have – including, yes, and perhaps surprisingly, Elizabeth “You’re a racist if The Talons of Weng-Chiang is your favourite story” Sa

Watch your fingers, Mr Big Hand.

Army of the Dead (2021) (SPOILERS) Or Zack Snyder’s Aliens . There’s no shame in being obviously influenced by another film or filmmaker, particular when that film or filmmaker is, or has delivered, a genre classic. But the only way to do so and truly succeed is to be creative with it. Even Snyder’s abundant visual flair cannot mask that Army of the Dead most emphatically is not that. Zack (Shay Hatten and Joby Harrold share screenplay credit) laboriously follows Jim Cameron’s template in his Vegas-set zombie movie, and it does Army of the Dead no favours. Cameron, lest we forget, has never won an Oscar for screenwriting – no, not even for Rambo: First Blood Part II – and as a conceptualist, Snyder is no Jimbo.

Grandma, please get off the floor, and put me on the coffee table.

The Witches (2020) (SPOILERS) The rough reception of lost-his-way Robert Zemeckis’ utterly redundant remake of The Witches is richly deserved. It’s as lacking in reason-to-be and filmmaking passion as the majority of his work during the past couple of decades. Unless, by reason-to-be, one means his box of effects tricks, from feverish mocap nightmares – The Polar Express , Beowulf , A Christmas Carol – to a tepid return to live action with as many “seamless” CG augmentations as possible ( Flight , The Walk , Allied , Welcome to Marwen ). Few now seem interested in his movies, which rather reflects his own visible enthusiasm. The Witches was previously made – quite splendidly – by Nicolas Roeg in 1990, and in every respect – direction, performances, effects, atmosphere – this version is grossly inferior.

Never underestimate the wiles of a crooked European state.

The Mouse on the Moon (1963) (SPOILERS) Amiable sequel to an amiably underpowered original. And that, despite the presence of frequent powerhouse Peter Sellers in three roles. This time, he’s conspicuously absent and replaced actually or effectively by Margaret Rutherford, Ron Moody and Bernard Cribbins. All of whom are absolutely funny, but the real pep that makes The Mouse on the Moon an improvement on The Mouse that Roared is a frequently sharp-ish Michael Pertwee screenplay and a more energetic approach from director Richard Lester (making his feature debut-ish, if you choose to discount jazz festival performer parade It’s Trad, Dad! )

Lady, you need some Band-Aids.

Gigli (2003) (SPOILERS) I can’t say I avoided Gigli due to all the terrible reviews and the Razzie sweep. There are plenty of movies commonly cited as lousy that I like or even rate (to mention a selection of Razzie’s targets: Ishtar , Jaws: The Revenge , Star Trek V: The Final Frontier , Hudson Hawk , Last Action Hero , Gods of Egypt ). Martin Brest’s previous film had received bad notices but I unabashedly think it’s a good ’un. I had little opinion of J-Lo, except that she was appealing in Out of Sight . Mostly, I couldn’t muster any willpower to investigate because I found, and still do, Batffleck to be underwhelming. So I’ve finally stooped to checking it out, well in advance of its doubtless twentieth anniversary celebrations, and… Well, at one point, Louis (Lenny Venito) asks Gigli (Batffleck) “ Do you happen to know what excoriate means? ” and I think this might be the answer.

Okay, I’ll be as normal as hell.

Love Story (1970) (SPOILERS) There are some movies you studiously avoid but sense that, in the fulness of time, you owe it to yourself to see, just to confirm the uninformed opinion you already have on them. Mamma Mia ’s one, and someday, perhaps when the world has awoken anew as a transhumanist paradise, I expect I shall brave those infernal waters. Love Story ’s another, a movie that has become the very cliché of the woefully clichéd chick flick. It’s everything I expected and less, but it has the undeniable redeeming quality of being mercifully short.

I told you they would take somebody else. They did!

The X-Files 2.6: Ascension As noted, Ascension is something of an addendum to the originally intended solo Duane Barry outing. Consequently, it’s serviceably written by Paul Brown (also 2.11: Excelsis Dei ) and Michael Lange, but it’s a victim to the “blockbuster” mentality that would ultimately favour attractive set pieces over coherent plotting in the arc episodes. Mulder trapped in a cable car! Scully gets snatched! The shortfall is perhaps more transparent in Ascension, since all that fine character work in Duane Barry leads to the character’s rather perfunctory demise in favour of shifting Scully’s abduction centre stage.

It’s almost as if someone was using it to catalogue him.

The X-Files 2.5: Duane Barry Immediately that The X-Files begins its two- (or even three-) part mythology episodes, it shows it has problems with the payoff. To be fair to Duane Barry/Ascension , this is, at least partly, because the first episode is so good, and in some respects would have functioned as a perfect single with a few amendments – one can readily discern that it was originally outlined this way – but it’s there nonetheless. I considered looking at my revisits of multi-part stories under one review, but the frequent gulf in quality put me off. Notably, Duane Barry finds Chris Carter pulling double duties as writer/director for the first time, and if you wanted evidence of what he could do in both departments when serving the idea in both writing and execution, look no further. The real star of the show, however, is Steve Railsback in the title role.

On behalf of the Temporal Regulation Commission, I declare this facility closed.

A Sound of Thunder (2005) (SPOILERS) Does A Sound of Thunder deserve its relegation to the movie dungeon? It’s been languishing there for a decade and a half, egged along by a six-percent Rotten Tomatoes score, and I think it deserves a break. Sure, it has its work cut out for it there, as any non-judgemental viewer will have to get past some truly appalling special effects (but, to be fair, some that aren’t nearly so bad), a time travel plot that doesn’t make a lick of sense (but, to be fair, name one that does ) and… Edward Burns. And yet, you can see director Peter Hyams is really trying to make this work. If it doesn’t, his attempts are nevertheless honourable ones.

A drunken, sodden, pill-popping cat lady.

The Woman in the Window (2021) (SPOILERS) Disney clearly felt The Woman in the Window was so dumpster-bound that they let Netflix snatch it up… where it doesn’t scrub up too badly compared to their standard fare. It seems Tony Gilroy – who must really be making himself unpopular in the filmmaking fraternity, as producers’ favourite fix-it guy - was brought in to write reshoots after Joe Wright’s initial cut went down like a bag of cold, or confused, sick in test screenings. It’s questionable how much he changed, unless Tracy Letts’ adaptation of AJ Finn’s 2018 novel diverged significantly from the source material. Because, as these things go, the final movie sticks fairly closely to the novel’s plot.

Maybe back in the days of the pioneers a man could go his own way, but today you got to play ball.

From Here to Eternity (1953) (SPOILERS) Which is more famous, Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr making out in the surf in From Here to Eternity or Airplane! spoofing the same? It’s an iconic scene – both of them – in a Best Picture Oscar winner – only one of them – stuffed to the rafters with iconic actors. But Academy acclaim is no guarantee of quality. Just ask A Beautiful Mind . From Here to Eternity is both frustrating and fascinating for what it can and cannot do per the restrictive codes of the 1950s, creaky at times but never less than compelling. There are many movies of its era that have aged better, but it still carries a charge for being as forthright as it can be. And then there’s the subtext leaking from its every pore.

To our glorious defeat.

The Mouse that Roared (1959) (SPOILERS) I’d quite forgotten Peter Sellers essayed multiple roles in a movie satirising the nuclear option prior to Dr. Strangelove . Possibly because, while its premise is memorable, The Mouse that Roared isn’t, very. I was never that impressed, much preferring the sequel that landed (or took off) four years later – sans Sellers – and this revisit confirms that take. The movie appears to pride itself on faux- Passport to Pimlico Ealing eccentricity, but forgets to bring the requisite laughs with that, or the indelible characters. It isn’t objectionable, just faintly dull.

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you got yourself killed.

Bloodshot (2020) (SPOILERS) If the trailer for Bloodshot gave the impression it had some meagre potential, that’s probably because it revealed the entire plot of a movie clearly intended to unveil itself in measured and judicious fashion. It isn’t far from the halfway mark that the truth about the situation Vin Diesel’s Ray Garrison faces is revealed, which is about forty-one minutes later than in the trailer. More frustratingly, while themes of perception of reality, memory and identity are much-ploughed cinematic furrows, they’re evergreens if dealt with smartly. Bloodshot quickly squanders them. But then, this is, after all, a Vin Diesel vehicle.

Amazing what they can make with soya beans these days.

The Final Conflict aka Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981) (SPOILERS) Twentieth Century Fox remained broadly dedicated to a quality-be-damned approach towards sequels (and remakes) through various changes in management. Occasionally an Aliens would happen, but more common was the template established by Planet of the Apes (chuck out cheap sequels; miraculously, several of these were quite good). So it was most certainly the same studio that gave us The Final Conflict and much later A Good Day to Die Hard (from the director of The Omen remake). In many respects, Damien: Omen II appeared to be a functional sequel, dutifully following the creative kill count of its predecessor, but it’s a positively creative font compared to this trilogy capper.

Whenever I’m around fishermen, I wish I had bigger hands.

Serenity (2019) (SPOILERS) I was intrigued by Serenity as soon as I saw the trailer. And then the reviews mauled it, and I was slightly less intrigued. But I persevered, avoiding spoilers so as to give it a fair go. I can absolutely understand why it has been savaged, since writer-director Steven Knight’s solution to the overfamiliar “reality is not what you think it is” premise is simultaneously absurd and – most damagingly – sadly mundane. And yet, I still couldn’t find it within myself to dismiss the movie entirely; it’s closer to the engaging folly namechecked by Christy Lemire’s review , The Book of  Henry .

What do you want me to do? Call America and tell them I changed my mind?

  Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021) (SPOILERS) The demolition – at very least as a ratings/box office powerhouse – of the superhero genre now appears to be taking effect. If so, Martin Scorsese will at least be pleased. The studios that count – Disney and Warner Bros – are all aboard the woke train, such that past yardsticks like focus groups are spurned in favour of the forward momentum of agendas from above (so falling in step with the broader media initiative). The most obvious, some might say banal, evidence of this is the repurposing of established characters in race or gender terms.

Wow, there were dinosaurs in Brooklyn?

Super Mario Bros. (1993) (SPOILERS) The other dinosaur movie of 1993. And it was out of the gate two weeks before Spielberg’s. And it stinks. A whole lot has been written about the disastrous decisions that accompanied Hollywood’s first attempt to make a movie from a video game (endeavours to make a really good one are still ongoing). I actually went to see it in a cinema back in 1993, and even given it’s positioning near the front of the UK summer –back when release dates were rarely day-and-date globally – it managed to squander any accompanying goodwill. The cardinal sin of movies of this type is to test the patience, and Super Mario Bros. was and is big and noisy and tiresome, with lots of moving parts but none of them in alignment.

Look what came out of my egg sac.

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) (SPOILERS) On the entirely reasonable basis that it looked lousy, I dismissed Sonic the Hedgehog ’s chances of being a significant box office hit (remember those?). It had already undergone widespread derision over its initial horrifying Sonic design, such that Paramount shelled out to make the zippy blue hedgehog less aesthetically repellent. It was also part of a cinematic genre – videogame adaptations – that traditionally experienced mixed fortunes at best. But no. It was a huge hit, made to look even huger through coming out prior to pressing the global autodestruct/reset button last March. Anecdotally, it also seems like a lot of punters had a good time with it. I can’t say I did. I mean, it’s better than Super Mario Bros. but that’s no kind of yardstick.

Well, it must be terribly secret, because I wasn't even aware I was a member.

The Brotherhood of the Bell (1970) (SPOILERS) No, not Joseph P Farrell’s book about the Nazi secret weapons project, but rather a first-rate TV movie in the secret-society ilk of later flicks The Skulls and The Star Chamber . Only less flashy and more cogent. Glenn Ford’s professor discovers the club he joined 22 years earlier is altogether more hardcore than he could have ever imagined – not some student lark – when they call on the services he pledged. David Karp’s adaptation of his novel, The Brotherhood of the Bell is so smart in its twists and turns of plausible deniability, you’d almost believe he had insider knowledge.

He was a Skull the day he was born.

The Skulls (2000) (SPOILERS) Any hopes of The Brotherhood of the Bell: The Early Years are soon dashed in this “exposé” of the influential, nefarious and elite-spawning Yale Skull and Bones Society. That should come as little surprise, given the qualitative mean of writer-director Rob Cohen’s preceding and subsequent work. He claimed to know what he was talking about, having mixed with these people. On this evidence, however, one could only conclude The Skulls was made with their full blessing and co-operation, such that any clear-headed viewer would dismiss the notion of a conspiratorially active group asserting preeminent influence over and within the corridors of power as patently ridiculous.

And you're worried that all your life, you've been seeing elves?

The X-Files 2.1: Little Green Men I well recall the slight disappointment when the second season opener arrived. Was this the payoff to all that palpable excitement of The Erlenmeyer Flask ? A limp retread of previous plots (1.10: Fallen Angel , 1.17: E.B.E .) varnished with some up-against-it dressing in the form of our protagonists’ now ex-X-Files status? The passage of time has done little to change that response. Little Green Men serves its remit of reconfirming the show’s credentials to newbies, but that remit is disappointingly coy.

A deariccle cat.

Cats (2019) (SPOILERS) But not a cute iccle one. There are plenty of allegedly terrible movies whose consensus status I have no strong wish to verify. Nor do I have a particularly yen for the musical oeuvre of Andrew Lloyd Webber. And even less of one for the very existence of portly putz James Corden, let alone witnessing him smugging his way across the screen. But some car crashes just need to be witnessed first-hand, so the horror acts as a warning to any who’d drive without due care and attention in future. I’d seen the trailers for Cats , so I was fully aware of the aberrant design. I had also been warned there’s pretty much no plot – but hey, it’s a musical. And I knew Tom Hooper was “directing”, so I was prepared for an aesthetically ghastly mess of grotesque cat people and incoherent visuals and faintly dull with it. So if there’s any surprise to report, it’s that I didn’t entirely hate it.

I don't think this is the lightning you're looking for.

Meet Joe Black (1998) (SPOILERS) A much-maligned Brad Pitt fest, commonly accused of being interminable, ponderous, self-important and ridiculous. All of those charges may be valid, to a greater or lesser extent, but Meet Joe Black also manages to attain a certain splendour, in spite of its more wayward impulses. While it’s suggestive of a filmmaker – Martin Brest – believing his own hype after the awards success of (the middling) Scent of a Woman , this is a case where all that sumptuous better-half styling and fantasy lifestyle does succeed in achieving a degree of resonance. An undeniably indulgent movie, it’s one I’ve always had a soft spot for.

Now all we’ve got to do is die.

Without Remorse (2021) (SPOILERS) Without Remorse is an apt description of the unapologetic manner in which Amazon/Paramount have perpetrated this crime upon any audiences foolish enough to think there was any juice left in the Tom Clancy engine. There certainly shouldn’t have been, not after every attempt was made to run it dry in The Sum of All Our Fears and then the stupidly titled Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit . A solo movie of sometime Ryan chum John Clark’s exploits has been mooted awhile now, and two more inimitable incarnations were previously encountered in the forms of Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber. Like Chris Pine in Shadow Recruit , however, diminishing returns find Michael B Jordan receiving the short straw and lead one to the conclusion that, if Jordan is indeed a “star”, he’s having a hell of a job proving it.

My sailboat’s out here in the desert.

Nomadland (2020) (SPOILERS) This is dreadful slop, less appealing even than the contents of Frances McDormand’s poop bucket. I’d heard some criticism of Nomadland along the lines of Frances “as Fern” interviewing homeless types for two hours, but I doubted that could the sum of its parts. But no, that really is the Best Picture Oscar-winner’s patronising, self-congratulatory and entirely unconvincing remit. There’s an essential dissonance as soon as the film attempts to bridge these divides: the genuine dissolute and the feted millionaire thespian directed by a billionaire’s, sorry multimillionaire’s, daughter in the service of a grossly opportunistic project. And to what end? Why, to own nothing and be happy, of course.

I’m afraid the Myrka takes quite a lot to impress.

Doctor Who  Warriors of the Deep There’s an oft-voiced suggestion that, if only it had the benefit of a better class of production, Warriors of the Deep would be acclaimed as a classic. I think we all know this is phooey, but at the same time, it’s undeniable that a better class of production couldn’t have harmed its reputation any. It might still have had paper-thin characters and a desperately uninventive plot (“ linear ”, as Pennant Roberts put it) along with an entirely perfunctory reintroduction of old monsters, but it could also have claimed some zip, some verve and some drama.