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Showing posts from July, 2021

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!

I ingest you, I gain control.

Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010) (SPOILERS) Resident Evil: Afterlife ’s box office would be mystifying, were it not for the genie of 3D bolstering its business. Something that – thanks mostly to Avatar – had many grateful adherents circa 2010 who might otherwise have floundered dreadfully ( Clash of the Titans , Alice in Wonderland ). It made more than double Extinction ’s gross worldwide, which might have been well and good had it incrementally improved on that movie’s significant uptick in the franchise’s quality. Instead, it feels like a bargain-basement idea (stick the protagonists in a prison for most of the duration) and one that is pervasively “You had to be there” in terms of the 3D-attuned visuals (unless, of course, you have a 3D telly).

Man, this is crazy. Some guy calling me a sausage?

Elvis aka Elvis: The Movie (1979) (SPOILERS) Elvis was a hero to most… John Carpenter dives into some (relatively) uncharacteristic genre-busting, the biopic being an area neither horrormeisters nor wunderkinds were yet tackling (Scorsese with Raging Bull , Wes Craven to deafening silence with Music of the Heart ). Carpenter agreed to it because he “ wanted to do something different ” and, with regard to the King, he “ liked him very much ”, thank you very much. He made it for TV, although the 168-minute movie would turn up in a two-hour European theatrical cut. How well does it fit in with his oeuvre? Well, despite a spirited performance from Kurt Russell (with Ronnie McDowell providing note-perfect vocals to the hits, at least, to my tin ear), it’s a rather indifferent affair, rendered so by a combination of determinedly biopic-by-numbers screenplay from Anthony Lawrence and the vanilla demands of network TV.

You better not tell nobody but God.

The Color Purple (1985) (SPOILERS) In which the Berg attempts to prove he’s a grownup. In a sense, this is the equivalent of the fourteen-year-old taking up smoking cigarettes and drinking beer to impress the older kids. The New Republic reports the view expressed by Salamishah Tillet in In Search of The Color Purple that the protests and criticisms of the film furthering “ an image of Black men as violent and sexually aggressive ” ultimately scuppered its chances at the Oscars, where it received eleven nominations but won not a single statuette. That may well have been a factor, the Academy being nothing if not squeamishly sensitive to criticism, but I tend to the view it was Spielberg’s shamelessness in his bid to hang with the big boys that elicited the snub. It was only when he milked their favourite subject (Holocaust porn) that he became the toast of Tinseltown.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

I’m not the killer that little girls call their hero.

Black Widow (2021) (SPOILERS) To suggest the MCU largely comprises a production line in which homogeneity is key is stating the obvious, but that hasn’t prevented it from occasionally coming up with something sufficiently distinctive to merit praise. Nor has it, for the most part, detracted from the series being largely watchable, if also largely undemanding. It may have suffered exits of those insufficiently on board with its general directive – Edgar Wright, more recently Scott Derrickson – but it’s also been quite rare for the formulaic nature of Kevin Feige’s visions to get in the way of a serviceably glib time of it. Captain Marvel comes to mind, where the empty space at its centre drew attention to just how mechanical its entirety was. Black Widow is similar, but more so by a significant multiplier. Much like its now deceased supporting character made main protagonist, it’s entirely redundant, not only inessential but also actively retrograde.

You gave me life, and then you left me to die.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) (SPOILERS) Or Francis Ford Coppola’s Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein , to the plebs. Except that Franny was very quick to disassociate himself from the garbage spewed forth by Ireland’s favourite Englishman. For anyone else, this would deservedly have been a career-ending episode. Just look at what happened to another swirling-camera artisan with another crude goth knock-off; Stephen Sommers struggled to catch a break after Van Helsing preposterously failed to be the next The Mummy . But a trained luvvie with boundless self-regard was bound to bounce back. Sir Ken retreated to Shakespeare for a few years (and an equally overblown “definitive” Hamlet ) before eventually returning to the mode of mediocre (at best) Hollywood behemoths with the likes of Thor (the Second Unit saved it), Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit , Cinderella and Murder on the Orient Express . All of which proved to any doubters that, as a director, he’s a less than talente

You have a very loud lawyer. Congratulations.

Richard Jewell (2019) (SPOILERS) Clint Eastwood’s unfussy, no-frills approach to directing rarely lends itself to great movies. Rarely, he happens upon a dynamite script ( Unforgiven ) and the rest is gravy, but more often, deficiencies present in the material and casting tend to be exposed unflatteringly for all to see. Plus, the idea of a proactive editor seems entirely foreign to his being. Richard Jewell could certainly have done with about twenty minutes shaved off it, but that aside, this is that surprisingly strong late – very late – period Eastwood picture, one that finds the reliably angry old Republican taking an axe to the FBI and the media with equal abandon (and was thus, so went the latter’s narrative, unabashedly pro-Trump). No wonder the knives were out.

Nothing like this has come into Rome since Romulus and Remus.

  Cleopatra (1963) (SPOILERS) Bloated, ungainly and rambling, but not without compensations. Perhaps the most sobering aspect to Cleopatra ’s preposterous profligacy is that, just occasionally, it advances an engagingly louche performance or rash of sparkling dialogue, offering a glimpse of what might have been had all its ducks been in a row. Such moments in no way makes up for the four hours the movie takes up, but they ensure it’s a less arid journey than, say, The Ten Commandments .

That’s what it’s all about. Interrupting someone’s life.

Following (1998) (SPOILERS) The Nolanverse begins here. And for someone now delivering the highest-powered movie juggernauts globally – that are not superhero or James Cameron movies – and ones intrinsically linked with the “art” of predictive programming, it’s interesting to note familiar themes of identity and limited perception of reality in this low-key, low-budget and low-running time (we won’t see much of the latter again) debut. And, naturally, non-linear storytelling. Oh, and that cool, impersonal – some might say clinical – approach to character, subject and story is also present and correct.

They hunger for flesh, but do not require it.

Resident Evil: Extinction (2007) (SPOILERS) My previous exposure to the Resident Evil movies was limited to the first outing and then this one. And the reason I was intrigued to see this one was to a small degree the Mad Max trappings it chose to appropriate, but mostly it was the presence of one Russell Mulcahy as director, at that point very much in the straight-to-video realm (an arena he’d quickly return to with a Scorpion King sequel). My interest in the Highlander – and Ricochet ! – director tackling zombies was not misplaced. Resident Evil: Extinction is vastly superior to anything the series offered hitherto. Why, it even makes the material seem half respectable.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

Evolution has its dead ends.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004) (SPOILERS) Well, that takes some doing. Resident Evil: Apocalypse is discernibly inferior to its less-than-stellar predecessor in almost every respect. Most of all, though, it’s absolutely horridly directed by debut feature helmer Alexander Witt. There’s zero sense of understanding of the frame or how a picture is edited together on display, leading to a disjointed, fractured mess even without the typically disjointed, fractured mess of a Paul WS Anderson screenplay. The strangest thing is that Witt was no ingenue on the directing front; he was an established second-unit director and DP, extending all the way back to Speed. Perhaps everything he shoots for second unit is conceived as a disjointed mess, only to have form when combined with the named director’s work… hence the devasting combination of double the deficits in Apocalypse .

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

I'm not sure I want to remember what went on down here.

Resident Evil (2002) (SPOILERS) I had little intention to revisit this, Paul WS Anderson’s fifth movie. But I figured, if I was going to complete my inspection of the entire sextet, it might be prudent to refresh my memory of those I’d already called upon. I’m not a great Anderson fan; the guy is entirely competent technically, but more often than not, has produced pictures of incoherent plasticity, lacking memorable characters, content or dramatic heft. And then there are his auteurish inclinations (he gets a screenplay credit on more than half), entirely unjustified. Resident Evil was Anderson’s second go at a video game adaptation, and we have to give him respect where it’s due; both were successful, and both earned themselves movie franchises. The plaudits should probably end there.

I’m just glad Will Smith isn’t alive to see this.

The Tomorrow War (2021) (SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War , so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.

They’ve chosen us so we can start over. So everything can start over.

Knowing (2009) (SPOILERS) Alex Proyas’ apocalyptic offering manages to be opaque in the best way, offering the viewer sufficient tools to arrive at a conclusion according to their own particular leanings. Albeit, perhaps not soaffirmative if they’re an avowed advocate of scientism. Even then, though, Knowing throws a few bones to the explicable in that regard. Unsurprisingly, it has become popular in Christian circles, with its appropriation of rapture imagery (and Ezekiel’s fiery chariot). While this is both a valid interpretation and one intended by the filmmaker, it would be a mistake to assume there aren’t other layers besides. Knowing leans strongly into Proyas’ earlier Dark City approach, whereby “ The movies I love don’t preach to their audience, but allow them to come up with their own thoughts and allow them space to think ”.

I want the secret of the cards. That’s all.

The Queen of Spades (1949) (SPOILERS) Marty Scorsese’s a big fan (“ a masterpiece ”), as is John Boorman, but it was Edgar Wright on the Empire podcast with Quentin “One more movie and I’m out, honest” Tarantino who drew my attention to this Thorold Dickinson picture. The Queen of Spades has, however, undergone a renaissance over the last decade or so, hailed as a hitherto unjustly neglected classic of British cinema, one that ploughed a stylistic furrow at odds with the era’s predominant neo-realism. Ian Christie notes its relationship to the ilk of German expressionist work The Cabinet of Dr of Caligari , and it’s very true that the picture exerts a degree of mesmeric immersion rarely found in homegrown fare.