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Showing posts from June, 2021

Why don't we go on a picnic, up the hill?

Invaders from Mars (1986) (SPOILERS) One can wax thematical over the number of remakes of ’50s movies in the ’80s – and ’50s SF movies in particular – and of how they represent ever-present Cold War and nuclear threats, and steadily increasing social and familial paranoias and disintegrating values. Really, though, it’s mostly down to the nostalgia of filmmakers for whom such pictures were formative influences (and studios hoping to make an easy buck on a library property). Tobe Hooper’s version of nostalgia, however, is not so readily discernible as a John Carpenter or a David Cronenberg (not that Cronenberg could foment such vibes, any more than a trip to the dental hygienist). Because his directorial qualities are not so readily discernible. Tobe Hooper movies tend to be a bit shit. Which makes it unsurprising that Invaders from Mars is a bit shit.

I’m a bagel. I’m a plateful of onion rolls.

Funny Girl (1968) (SPOILERS) Some movies lend themselves to instantly facile, derogatory retitling. The Un-Talented Mr Ripley . And this drudge of a musical that saw Barbra Streisand alight on the big screen like an egg-bound duck. Perhaps it takes a Babs fan to see her movies as the produce of golden geese; I’ll own up to having some catching up to do in order to offer a fair appraisal. Perhaps, if Streisand’s your cup of tea, Funny Girl just flies by. Perhaps, to everyone else, this, the most popular film of its year in the US, is endlessly turgid dross, all two-and-a-half hours of it.

I hate natural causes!

Body Bags (1993) (SPOILERS) I’m not surprised Showtime didn’t pick this up for an anthology series. Perhaps, if John Carpenter had made Coming Home in a Body Bag (the popular Nam movie series referenced in the same year’s True Romance ), we’d have something to talk about. Tho’ probably not, if Carpenter had retained his by this point firmly glued to his side DP Gary Kibbe, ensuring the proceedings are as flat, lifeless and unatmospheric as possible. Carpenter directed two of the segments here, Tobe Hooper the other one. It may sound absurd, given the quality of Hooper’s career, but by this point, even he was calling the shots better than Carpenter.

Oh my God, Scully. What have we done?

The X-Files 2.25: Anasazi The X-Files ’ peak mythology-arc episode? It certainly seemed that way at the time of the show’s run, weaving as it does ideas ancient (Navajo prophecies) and modern (conspiracies involving aliens) with (literally) buried secrets and a palpable sense of our heroes imperilled. And Anasazi , taken alone and as a season cliffhanger, stands the test of time. Which is not to say the two-part resolution will. Or did when it was first shown.

Hey, my friend smells amazing!

Luca (2021) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s first gay movie ? Not according to director Enrico Cassarosa (“ This was really never in our plans. This was really about their friendship in that kind of pre-puberty world ”). Perhaps it should have been, as that might have been an excuse – any excuse is worth a shot at this point – for Luca being so insipid and bereft of spark. You know, the way Soul could at least claim it was about something deep and meaningful as a defence for being entirely lacking as a distinctive and creatively engaging story in its own right.

He’s a sense offender.

Equilibrium (2002) (SPOILERS) Kurt Wimmer’s dystopian sci-fi movie is a mash up of 1984 , THX1138 and Fahrenheit 451 , with added spangles in the form The Matrix -inspired gun kata. Wimmer objected to such reductive categorisation, claiming it had a “ different message ”, but I’m blowed if I can find it. Equilibrium ’s mostly an effective little B-movie, though, setting out its stall and succeeding within the range of its familiar tropes.

Well, it’s a lot like life, but different.

Static (1985) (SPOILERS) Ironically, for a director who has made his career whoring himself to the music industry – furnishing videos for such Illuminati stooges as Madonna, Jay Z, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake and the Jackson siblings – it’s Mark Romanek’s first movie that he sees fit to disinherit. He’s much better known for his subsequent – infrequent – pictures One Hour Photo and the vastly overrated Never Let Me Go (clones as a metaphor for the Elite feeding off the general populace?) than Static , but it’s perhaps his youthful naivety, before he became enslaved to the Beast, that makes it his most interesting feature.

Hot tits on my milky tea, please.

Motherless Brooklyn (2019) (SPOILERS) Edward Norton’s extremely loose adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 noir pastiche is uber-liberal in intent, making it uber-ironic that Norton should wade brazenly into a quagmire of white-saviour tropes. I’m generally on board with checking out anything “ notoriously difficult ” Norton appears in, even if his choices are occasionally regrettable ( Collateral Beauty ). He is, however, nothing if not weighed down by piercing intellect and concomitant social conscience, one he feels compelled to massage (he’s the kind of prominent activist who declares celebrities should “ participate quietly ” in such matters). Motherless Brooklyn has a lot going for it, but it’s ultimately sunk by that need to espouse noble causes.

This would never have happened if you'd kept him on gruel.

Oliver! (1968) (SPOILERS) I couldn’t say for certain, not being an enormous fan of the genre, but I suspect a key ingredient of a great movie musical isn’t only the quality of the songs, but also their presentation. If the latter is distinctive and captivating, the chances surely increase for the movie as a whole to be too. Oliver! has more than its fair share of memorable songs, but what it lacks is their memorable presentation or performance. It arrived towards the end of a glut of 1960s adaptations, during which time studios were keen to milk every last potential property for all it was worth; it was duly successful and duly feted (winning an undeserved Best Picture Oscar), but it remains rather bereft of inspiration. One thing it can boast in spades, though, are sets. Oliver! gives good sets.

You were damn bolshie in the army, and now you’re doing the same thing here.

I’m All Right Jack (1959) (SPOILERS) I don’t think I previously recognised quite what an incredible performance Peter Sellers gives in I’m All Right Jack . There are others for which he is better known – Clouseau, Strangelove, maybe Chancey Gardner – but none are as immersive as this transformation. You can’t see Sellers in Fred Kite, waiting to corpse, even though, being Sellers at his best, the performance is very funny. Perhaps he rose to the challenge so immaculately because the Boulting Brothers’ satire is so perfectly sculpted. Every character, plot development and pointed barb is acutely judged; it remains one of the pinnacles of British comedy.

We needed your help. We knew you could be manipulated.

The X-Files 2.17: End Game I’d hazard you can count the number of X-Files two parters where the conclusion lives up to the opener on the thumbs of one hand. That’s certainly the case with Colony / End Game . I doubt anyone honest on the production team would deny they came up with the Arctic circle for reasons of an Ice Station Zebra style set alone and then worked backwards to “integrate” it. It shows.

Is it too late for a game of Stratego?

The X-Files 2.16: Colony Suddenly, after all that reticence and innuendo, The X-Files dives headlong into aliens, cloned aliens, cloned hybrids and alien bounty hunters. Yes, we’ve seen the toxic green blood and the spike to the back of the head before, but 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask looks positively conservative next to the series’ first expressly designed two parter. The result, for all its gestures towards sensitivity and reflection, is the show at its pulpiest. That wouldn’t be a problem if it had devised a clear path for its ninety-minute TV movie format, but as End Game proceeds, it becomes clear they’re making this up as they go along.

Lashings of apologies all round.

The English Patient (1996) (SPOILERS) I like The English Patient . In contrast to Elaine Benes. I’m more likely to concur with Seinfeld ’s disrespectful attitude to Schindler’s List , actually. Any movie sacred cow is game for assault, of course, although Seinfeld granting permission to voice loathing for this one seems particularly unwarranted. The pantheon of lousy Oscar winners more deserving of opprobrium is immense; the winners either side of The English Patient , for example. But yes, I can see that some would find it boring. I can see some would find a David Lean film boring too, with which it is commonly identified. In places, Anthony Minghella even invites that, a perhaps foolish temptation, but one that ultimately pays off.

You haven't anything to worry about. He hasn't spoken a word in fifteen years.

Halloween (1978) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s original slasher. Or at least, the movie that began the seemingly endless cycle. I have to admit, however, that while I recognise Halloween ’s stripped-down effectiveness and visual elegance, its persuasively insistent score and the engagingly antic presence of Donald Pleasance’s prophet of doom – representing scientific reason! – I don’t rate it as highly as some of the director’s lesser known or regarded pictures.

What do you think you’re running? A country club for lions?

Roar (1981) (SPOILERS) Copious quantities of humans were harmed in the making of this movie. Roar is an extraordinary achievement. If you want to put it that way. An act of a deranged mind. Of lunacy. The tale never learned of assuming a wild, vicious animal is going to be nice to you. Which it may well be. Until it isn’t (unless, of course, you’re Anastasia of the Ringing Cedars). The making-of documentary from a few years back ( Roar: The Most Dangerous Movie Ever Made ) even flaunted the picture’s gory excesses in its poster campaign, revelling in the gruesome gashes, mauls, scars and scalpings inflicted by Noel Marshall’s precious pets. It goes without saying that Roar isn’t much of a movie, barely even scraping together a narrative, but it’s beyond fascinating in its unhinged intent and protracted perseverance.

Wait a second. How do I know he’s not you, and you’re not him?

The 6th Day (2000) (SPOILERS) Arnie’s pre-penultimate pre-governator starring role, and perhaps surprisingly, given he’d been making bad or lazy choices for the best part of a decade, The 6th Day ’s probably his best material since Total Recall . What it isn’t, however is a production with any sense of vision or attitude, which comes down to journeyman-at-best, director of Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot at worst, director Roger Spottiswoode calling the shots.

Yes, exactly so. I’m a humbug.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) (SPOILERS) There are undoubtedly some bullet-proof movies, such is their lauded reputation. The Wizard of Oz will remain a classic no matter how many people – and I’m sure they are legion – aren’t really all that fussed by it. I’m one of their number. I hadn’t given it my time in forty or more years – barring the odd clip – but with all the things I’ve heard suggested since, from MKUltra allusions to Pink Floyd timing The Dark Side of the Moon to it, to the Mandela Effect, I decided it was ripe for a reappraisal. Unfortunately, the experience proved less than revelatory in any way, shape or form. Although, it does suggest Sam Raimi might have been advised to add a few songs, a spot of camp and a scare or two, had he seriously wished to stand a chance of treading in venerated L Frank Baum cinematic territory with Oz the Great and Powerful.

Now listen, I don’t give diddley shit about Jews and Nazis.

  The Boys from Brazil (1978) (SPOILERS) Nazis, Nazis everywhere! The Boys from Brazil has one distinct advantage over its fascist-antagonist predecessor Marathon Man ; it has no delusions that it is anything other than garish, crass pulp fiction. John Schlesinger attempted to dress his Dustin Hoffman-starrer up with an art-house veneer and in so doing succeeded in emphasising how ridiculous it was in the wrong way. On the other hand, Schlesinger at least brought a demonstrable skill set to the table. For all its faults, Marathon Man moves , and is highly entertaining. The Boys from Brazil is hampered by Franklin J Schaffner’s sluggish literalism. Where that was fine for an Oscar-strewn biopic ( Patton ), or keeping one foot on the ground with material that might easily have induced derision ( Planet of the Apes ), here the eccentric-but-catchy conceit ensures The Boys from Brazil veers unfavourably into the territory of farce played straight.

You know, for a holy man, you’ve got quite a knack for pissing people off.

The X-Files 2.10: Red Museum A curious one, this. Red Museum is an intriguing conspiracy-arc episode that offers an unexpected take on the human-guinea pig angle. It also makes the titular Church of the Red Museum a massive red herring, dangling it before the viewer, begging to be demonised as a hollow cult up to no good. In certain respects, that’s a smart piece of misdirection on Chris Carter’s part. Less so are some of the plot contrivances that enable our heroes to follow the trail to its conclusion.

I can always tell the buttered side from the dry.

The Molly Maguires (1970) (SPOILERS) The undercover cop is a dramatic evergreen, but it typically finds him infiltrating a mob organisation ( Donnie Brasco , The Departed ). Which means that, whatever rumblings of snitch-iness, concomitant paranoia and feelings of betrayal there may be, the lines are nevertheless drawn quite clearly on the criminality front. The Molly Maguires at least ostensibly finds its protagonist infiltrating an Irish secret society out to bring justice for the workers. However, where violence is concerned, there’s rarely room for moral high ground. It’s an interesting picture, but one ultimately more enraptured by soaking in its grey-area stew than driven storytelling.

It’s always open season on princesses!

Roman Holiday (1953) (SPOILERS) If only every Disney princess movie were this good. Of course, Roman Holiday lacks the prerequisite happily ever after. But then again, neither could it be said to end on an entirely downbeat note (that the mooted sequel never happened would be unthinkable today). William Wyler’s movie is hugely charming. Audrey Hepburn is utterly enchanting. The Rome scenery is perfectly romantic. And – now this is a surprise – Gregory Peck is really very likeable, managing to loosen up just enough that you root for these too and their unlikely canoodle.

So, crank open that hatch. Breathe some fresh air. Go. Live your life.

Love and Monsters (2020) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, Michael Matthews goes some way towards rehabilitating a title that seemed forever doomed to horrific associations with one of the worst Russell T Davies Doctor Who stories (and labelling it one of his worst is really saying something). Love and Monsters delivers that rarity, an upbeat apocalypse, so going against the prevailing trend of not only the movie genre but also real life.

Gosh, Space Girl is fast.

Chaos Walking (2021) (SPOILERS) Any book – especially a Young Adult science-fiction novel – titled The Knife of Never Letting Go is just asking to be dismissed out of hand as pretentious twaddle. Whether or not the subtitle would have seriously worsened Chaos Walking ’s chances of success is now moot, of course. While the YA phase peaked nearly a decade ago now, Hollywood is still willing to take a punt, hopeful that something might somehow break out. Hence this, with Spidey (popular) and the Amazing Wonder Rey (less so). And a disastrous production schedule that would have any right-minded exec dubious about giving its director the nod to shoot a Tom Cruise action movie in space… assuming, of course, said space wasn’t entirely green screen masquerading as space. You know, like all the footage of space we ever see.

You don’t own that plane, the tax payers do!

Top Gun (1986) (SPOILERS) I wasn’t a fan of this Navy recruitment reel at the time. If anything, I’m even less so now. I well recall how insanely popular Top Gun was, but I doubt if I’d have found it palatable even without the insistent effrontery of Tom Cruise’s shit-eating grin bookending each scene. This Simpson and Bruckheimer production is a studiously hollow, vacuous picture, one that attempted to make a virtue of its empty-headed machismo and consequently landed in the most zeitgeisty fashion. It’s this, rather than Wall Street , that really sums up the 80s, because it’s this that really reflects uncomprehending audiences’ aspirations, so easily swayed were they by its materialist frivolities and cornball rhetoric.

Blimey, Sour Crout!

Two-Way Stretch (1960) (SPOILERS) Did Ronnie Barker have Peter Sellers’ Dodger Lane in mind when he approached the role of Norman Stanley Fletcher? They’re both very much the resigned con versed in pulling the wool over the eyes of the warders yet forced to contend with a hard-case nemesis. Sellers is very good in Two-Way Stretch , but as with the later The Wrong Arm of the Law (also from the pens of John Warren and Len Heath), he’s upstaged by the magnificence that is Lionel Jeffries.

Yeah, it’s just, why would we wannabe be X-Men?

The New Mutants (2020) (SPOILERS) I feel a little sorry for The New Mutants . It’s far from a great movie, but Josh Boone at least has a clear vision for that far-from-great movie. Its major problem is that it’s so overwhelmingly familiar and derivative. For an X-Men movie, it’s a different spin, but in all other respects it’s wearisomely old hat.

Oh shit! Maybe his head just got loose and fell off. What do you want from me?

Q – The Winged Serpent (1982) (SPOILERS) In which an ancient Aztec god dupes a significant portion of the American – nay, global –population into inaction and so exacerbates mass depopulation. Decapitation optional. It’s curious how a letter can be appropriated and so become almost exclusively associated with one thing. X has obviously had several variants (rays, Files, certificates), but prior to QAnon, the seventeenth letter was probably most identified with tips, Spike Milligan or an abbreviated question. And also, trailing the pack by some considerable distance, this: Q – The Winged Serpent . 

Enough with the Harmonic Convergence crap, okay?

The X-Files 2.8: One Breath Commonly cited as a peak episode, but I don’t think One Breath is quite that. It’s good, but it strains so hard with its circular rhetoric of profundity – as the series at its most irksome was wont to do – that every scene where Mulder isn’t thrashing around on a revenge quest revolves around someone offering their Little Book of Insight for the day. If you turned it into a drinking game, you’d be thoroughly sloshed after 45 minutes.