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Showing posts from August, 2021

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

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

He must have eaten a whole rhino horn!

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

You’ll never work in West Galaxy again!

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

Remember. Decision. Consequence.

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

You absolute horror of a human being.

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

Is anybody not looking for Krycek?

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

We bury our dead alive, don’t we?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you doing, watching life in the slums?

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

You cut my head off a couple of dozen times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s like paradise with little golden palm trees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tea without milk is so uncivilised.

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

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

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

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

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

I said, “Go kiss a duck”, marblehead.

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

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

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

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

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

Trust me. I’m credible.

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