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Showing posts from September, 2021

I’ve crossed the Atlantic to be reasonable.

Dodsworth (1936) (SPOILERS) Prestige Samuel Goldwyn production – signifiers being attaching a reputable director, often William Wyler, to then-popular plays or classical literature, see also Dead End , Wuthering Heights , The Little Foxes , The Best Years of Our Lives , and earning a Best Picture nomination as a matter of course – that manages to be both engrossing and irritating. Which is to say that, in terms of characterisation, Dodsworth rather shows its years, expecting a level of engagement in the relationship between Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston) and his wayward, fun-loving wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton) at odds with their unsympathetic behaviour.

You’re going to have a lot of trouble getting in… but you’ll never get out.

Point Blank (1967) (SPOILERS) The Cliff’s Notes for Point Blank require one to note its nouvelle vague influence (fractured time lines and the ilk), but the likelihood is that anyone coming fresh to the film now will be fully au fait with its various stylistic and narrative devices, so assimilated are they into the mainstream. Still striking, however, is John Boorman’s stylistic sensibility, coming on like a noir comic strip brought to life, yet shot through with Technicolor purpose. It’s an existential mood piece, yes, but it’s translated into the language of an action spectacle, one with a particularly dark sense of humour.

And what do you hope to gain from facing all this, this… hue?

The Green Knight (2021) (SPOILERS) If there’s a very “faux” feeling to The Green Knight , that its pretensions towards depth and resonance are little more than stylistic veneer, that might be swiftly explained by writer-director David Lowery’s inspiration: he seized upon the idea while building a Willow diorama in his backyard. As we all know, or should, Willow ’s more than a little bit shit. I mean, Little Ronnie Howard directed it. The Green Knight , overburdened and super inflated by a sense of its own importance, is a little bit that too, maybe. Certainly ponderous, portentous and other words beginning with po-.

Like a bullet, you can’t call it back.

Dark Blue (2002) (SPOILERS) There are a plenty of positives to be found in Dark Blue , not least a first-rate performance from Kurt Russell, but it’s fatally undermined by the attempts of David Ayer (adapting James Ellroy’s original) to reposition events against the backdrop of the Rodney King verdict and the LA Riots. The result reads as your typical ivory-castle manoeuvre of striving for real-world resonance but succeeding only in drawing attention to the artifice of the genre, the characters, the plotting, and the big-name actors. Positioned as another police corruption drama from the writer of L.A. Confidential, it’s an engrossing movie. As a piece of socio-political commentary, it’s an abject failure.

I’ll look in Bostock’s pocket.

Doctor Who Revelation of the Daleks Lovely, lovely, lovely. I can quite see why Revelation of the Daleks doesn’t receive the same acclaim as the absurdly – absurdly, because it’s terrible – overrated Remembrance of the Daleks . It is, after all, grim, grisly and exemplifies most of the virtues for which the Saward era is commonly decried. I’d suggest it’s an all-time classic, however, one of the few times 1980s Who gets everything, or nearly everything, right. If it has a fault, besides Eric’s self-prescribed “Kill everyone” remit, it’s that it tries too much. It’s rich, layered and very funny. It has enough material and ideas to go off in about a dozen different directions, which may be why it always felt to me like it was waiting for a trilogy capper.

Five people make a conspiracy, right?

Snake Eyes (1998) (SPOILERS) The best De Palma movies offer a synthesis of plot and aesthetic, such that the director’s meticulously crafted shots and set pieces are underpinned by a solid foundation. That isn’t to say, however, that there isn’t a sheer pleasure to be had from the simple act of observing, from De Palma movies where there isn’t really a whole lot more than the seduction of sound, image and movement. Snake Eyes has the intention to be both scrupulously written and beautifully composed, coming after a decade when the director was – mostly – exploring his oeuvre more commercially than before, which most often meant working from others’ material. If it ultimately collapses in upon itself, then, it nevertheless delivers a ream of positives in both departments along the way.

The people that are left, what they’ve become. You don’t know, do you? Well, I do.

A Quiet Place Part II (2021) (SPOILERS) Any post-apocalyptic movie released in the current environment immediately lends itself to the charge of predictive programming, of preparing the ground for the big event (invariably because it was made just prior to the big event). More so than ever, apocalypse movies are now. John Krasinski has naturally claimed of A Quiet Place , “ my whole metaphor was solely about parenthood ”. Which is a relief, as it makes it all very straightforward and nothing at all to concern oneself over. And given how generic the sequel is, doubling down on the original’s plot holes and hopeful/hopeless humanity themes, I could almost believe he’s being genuine.

Come on, boys. We don't want any trouble in here. Not in any language.

Tombstone (1993) (SPOILERS) Tombstone seemed impressively cast at the time, but it’s even more so in retrospect, given the way so many of its supporting faces have only become better known. I’d hesitate to call it star-packed, but it comes armed with that general ambience (in fairness, Wyatt Earp too is heaving with recognisable names, but largely to inertly self-important effect). Tombstone ’s also a movie that bears witness to the way a fraught production may very occasionally deliver the goods despite everything, and one successful enough to cement the western’s early ’90s renaissance.

Ours is the richest banking house in Europe, and we’re still being kicked.

The House of Rothschild (1934) (SPOILERS) Fox’s Rothschild family propaganda pic does a pretty good job presenting the clan as poor, maligned, oppressed Jews who fought back in the only way available to them: making money, lots of lovely money! Indeed, it occurred to me watching The House of Rothschild , that for all its inclusion of a rotter of a Nazi stand-in (played by Boris Karloff), Hitler must have just loved the movie, as it’s essentially paying the family the compliment of being very very good at doing their very best to make money from everyone left, right and centre. It’s thus unsurprising to learn that a scene was used in the anti-Semitic (you might guess as much from the title) The Eternal Jew .

Lieutenant, you run this station like chicken night in Turkey.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) (SPOILERS) You can’t read a review of Assault on Precinct 13 with stumbling over references to its indebtedness – mostly to Howard Hawks – and that was a preface for me when I first caught it on Season Three of BBC2’s Moviedrome (I later picked up the 4Front VHS). In Precinct 13 ’s case, it can feel almost like an attempt to undercut it, to suggest it isn’t quite that original, actually, because: look. On the other hand, John Carpenter was entirely upfront about his influences (not least Hawks), and that he originally envisaged it as an outright siege western (rather than an, you know, urban one). There are times when influences can truly bog a movie down, if it doesn’t have enough going for it in its own right. That’s never the case with Assault on Precinct 13 . Halloween may have sparked Carpenter’s fame and maximised his opportunities, but it’s this picture that really evidences his style, his potential and his masterful facility with music.

Just because you dreamt it, doesn’t mean you did it.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) (SPOILERS) The homoerotic one. Generally derided on release for its spurning of Freddy lore – his work ethic, even – A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge has gained cachet over the years for its not-so-much gay subtext as outright text. That doesn’t necessarily make it a particularly good movie, but it means that, in a genre where the thematic content tends to be overfamiliar and not-so rewarding, it actually has a few things going on under the hood, and plants a distinctive flag for itself amid the formula of the Elm Street series.

White nights getting to you?

Insomnia (2002) (SPOILERS) I’ve never been mad keen on Insomnia . It’s well made, well-acted, the screenplay is solid and it fits in neatly with Christopher Nolan’s abiding thematic interests, but it’s… There’s something entirely adequateabout it. It isn’t pushing any kind of envelope. It’s happy to be the genre-bound crime study it is and nothing more, something emphasised by Pacino’s umpteenth turn as an under-pressure cop.

You seem particularly triggered right now. Can you tell me what happened?

Trailers The Matrix Resurrections   The Matrix A woke n ? If nothing else, the arrival of The Matrix Resurrections trailer has yielded much retrospective back and forth on the extent to which the original trilogy shat the bed. That probably isn’t its most significant legacy, of course, in terms of a series that has informed, subconsciously or otherwise, intentionally or otherwise, much of the way in which twenty-first century conspiracy theory has been framed and discussed. It is however, uncontested that a first movie that was officially the “best thing ever”, that aesthetically and stylistically reinvigorated mainstream blockbuster cinema in a manner unseen again until Fury Road , squandered all that good will with astonishing speed by the time 2003 was over.

I admit it. I live in a highly excited state of overstimulation.

Videodrome (1983) (SPOILERS) I’m one of those who thinks Cronenberg’s version of Total Recall would have been much more satisfying than the one we got (which is pretty good, but flawed; I’m referring to the Arnie movie, of course, not the Farrell). The counter is that Videodrome makes a Cronenberg Philip K Dick adaptation largely redundant. It makes his later Existenz largely redundant too. Videodrome remains a strikingly potent achievement, taking the directors thematic obsessions to the next level, one as fixated on warping the mind as the body. Like many Cronenbergs, it isn’t quite there, but it exerts a hold on the viewer not dissimilar to the one slowly entwining its protagonist Max Renn (James Woods).

We got two honkies out there dressed like Hassidic diamond merchants.

The Blues Brothers (1980) (SPOILERS) I had limited awareness of John Belushi’s immense mythos before  The Blues Brothers arrived on retail video in the UK (so 1991?) My familiarity with SNL performers really began with Ghostbusters ’ release, which meant picking up the trail of Jake and Elwood was very much a retrospective deal. I knew Animal House , knew Belushi’s impact there, knew 1941 (the Jaws parody was the best bit), knew Wired was a biopic better avoided. But the minor renaissance he, and they, underwent in the UK in the early ’90s seemed to have been initiated by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, of all things; Everybody Needs Somebody was part of their That Sounds Good to Me medley, the first of their hits not to make No.1, and Everybody ’s subsequent single release then just missed the Top Ten. Perhaps it was this that hastened CIC/Universal to putting the comedy out on video. Had the movie done the rounds on UK TV in the 80s? If so, it managed to pass me by. Even bef

I’m not impressed by your miracles or moved by your trickery.

The X-Files 3.24: Talitha Cumi Well, that’s a relief. A bit of one, anyway. Talitha Cumi is more engaging and more engaged than its myth arc predecessor, possibly by dint of Duchovny coming in with a co-story idea – although, the alien bounty hunter was his too, lest we forget – but mainly because its diving into Chris Carter’s favoured arena of quasi-spiritual rumination. Only, crucially, largely avoiding the heavy-handed stodge he usually mixes up with such endeavours. Which isn’t to say there’s anything enormously special about the third season finale – indeed, the most striking thing is how innocuous it is for a season climax – but it ticks along in a reasonably involving way, and benefits hugely from Roy Thinnes’ underplaying introduction as Jeremiah Smith.

Maybe I’m a heel who hates guys who hate heels.

Crimewave (1985) (SPOILERS) A movie’s makers’ disowning it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s nothing of worth therein, just that they don’t find anything of worth in it. Or the whole process of making it too painful to contemplate. Sam Raimi’s had a few of those, experiencing traumas with Darkman a few years after Crimewave . But I, blissfully unaware of such issues, was bowled over by it when I caught it a few years after its release (I’d hazard it was BBC2’s American Wave 2 season in 1988). This was my first Sam Raimi movie, and I was instantly a fan of whoever it was managed to translate the energy and visual acumen of a cartoon to the realm of live action. The picture is not without its problems – and at least some of them directly correspond to why it’s so rueful for Raimi – but that initial flair I recognised still lifts it.

I don’t believe in phantoms sobbing through the night.

Wuthering Heights (1939) (SPOILERS) This is the version that inspired Kate to ascend those lofty pop peaks. Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht (and an uncredited John Huston) ditch the generational plotting of Emily Bronte’s 1847 novel, and director William Wyler, in partnership with cinematographer Gregg Toland, ups the gothic atmosphere. But Wuthering Heights is all about Sir Larry, glowering with sociopathic venom.

I dreamed about a guy in a dirty red and green sweater.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) (SPOILERS) I first saw A Nightmare on Elm Street a little under a decade after its release, and I was distinctly underwhelmed five or so sequels and all the hype. Not that it didn’t have its moments, but there was an “It’ll do” quality that reflects most of the Wes Craven movies I’ve seen. Aside from the postmodern tease of A New Nightmare – like Last Action Hero , unfairly maligned – I’d never bothered with the rest of the series, in part because I’m just not that big a horror buff, but also because the rule that the first is usually the best in any series, irrespective of genre, tends to hold out more often than not. So now I’m finally getting round to them, and it seemed only fair to start by giving Freddy’s first another shot. My initial reaction holds true.

How do you melt somebody’s lug wrench?

Starman (1984) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s unlikely SF romance. Unlikely, because the director has done nothing before or since suggesting an affinity for the romantic fairy tale, and yet he proves surprisingly attuned to Starman ’s general vibes. As do his stars and Jack Nitzsche, furnishing the score in a rare non-showing from the director-composer. Indeed, if there’s a bum note here, it’s the fairly ho-hum screenplay; the lustre of Starman isn’t exactly that of making a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but it’s very nearly stitching together something special from resolutely average source material.

You’re the bravest rat I’ve ever known.

Cruella (2021) Well, this is a surprise. The last thing I expected at this point in the course of Disney’s dogged determination to piss on its legacy was a decent live-action take on an animated classic and a decent origins story to boot at that. Perhaps it needs to be put down to the old exception that proves the rule, but Cruella hits a bullseye in several key respects: performance, direction and (derivative) premise. If the movie wanders during its final act, is grossly overlong and also inherently morally questionable, well that’s simply symptomatic of these times. And Disney all over.