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Showing posts from November, 2021

Give daddy the glove back, princess.

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) (SPOILERS) Looking at Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare , by some distance the least lauded (and laudable) of the original Elm Street sextet, you’d think it inconceivable that novice director and series old-hand – first as assistant production manager and finally as producer – Rachel Talalay has since become a respected and in-demand TV helmer. For the most part, Freddy’s Dead is shockingly badly put together. It reminded me of the approach the likes of Chris Carter and Sir Ken take, where someone has clearly been around productions, absorbing the basics of direction, but has zero acumen for turning that into a competent motion picture, be it composition, scene construction, editing or pacing. Talalay’s also responsible for the story idea here, which does offer a few nuggets, at least, but her more primary role actively defeats any positives.

Oh hello, loves, what year is it?

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) (SPOILERS) Simu Lui must surely be the least charismatic lead in a major motion picture since… er, Taylor Lautner? He isn’t aggressively bad, like Lautner was/is, but he’s so blank, so nondescript, he makes Marvel’s super-spiffy new superhero Shang-Chi a superplank by osmosis. Just looking at him makes me sleepy, so it’s lucky Akwafina is wired enough for the both of them. At least, until she gets saddled with standard sidekick support heroics and any discernible personality promptly dissolves. And so, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings continues Kevin Feige’s bold journey into wokesense, seemingly at the expense of any interest in dramatically engaging the viewer.

I don’t think Wimpys still exist.

Last Night in Soho (2021) (SPOILERS) Last Night in Soho is a cautionary lesson in one’s reach extending one’s grasp. It isn’t that Edgar Wright shouldn’t attempt to stretch himself, it’s simply that he needs the self-awareness to realise which moves are going to throw his back out and leave him in a floundering and enfeebled heap on the studio floor. Wright’s an uber-geek, one with a very specific comfort zone, and there’s no shame in that. He evidently was shamed, though, hence this response to criticisms of a lack of maturity and – obviously – lack of versatility with female characters. Last Night in Soho goes broke for woke, and in so doing exposes his new clothes in the least flattering light. Because Edgar is in no way woke, his attempts to prove his progressive mettle lead to a lurid, muddled mess, one that will satisfy no one. Well, perhaps his most ardent fans, but no one else.

No one throws away more than fourteen euros worth of sandwich and juice like that.

Riders of Justice aka Retfærdighedens Ryttere (2020) (SPOILERS) Anders Thomas Jensen’s ruminative comedy-thriller (or should that be thriller-comedy? Neither option does it justice) is one of those perfectly pitched pictures that gauges its tonal shifts with deceptive ease. The kind of movie that might have been no more than a slickly well-oiled genre vehicle, satisfyingly cathartic in its action beats and laugh out loud in its eccentric character foibles, were it not for the genuinely affecting meditation on loss and forgiveness at its core. To that extent, Riders of Justice put me in mind of the work of Martin McDonagh.

He’s just an old man in strange skins.

Doctor Who An Unearthly Child Aka The Tribe of Gum . Aka 10,000 BC . Aka where it all began. There’s a line of thought that An Unearthly Child is one blinder of an episode and three of grunting Gum-bies delivering lacklustre stone-age man impressions, without even Raquel Welch or the odd anachronistic dinosaur to alleviate the boredom. It’s definitely the case that, on its own plot merits, this budget-strapped Quest for Fire would be no great shakes. Deposit it any other era, and you’d have sound grounds to complain. What makes it work, though, and work extremely well, is that it serves as a lens through which to establish and observe the developing dynamic between our main quartet. And in particular, charts the rocky first steps of the series’ title character, in all his caveman’s head stoving-in glory.

You can’t ask the truth of a man who trades in lies.

The X-Files 4.14: Memento Mori If ponderous, turgid, self-inflated rumination is your bag, Memento Mori is doubtless an X-Files classic. It seems to be held up as one of the mythology arc’s finest (Frank Spotnitz certainly believed so) as Scully gets all introspective – cue the interminable voiceovers comprising the level of content alluded to in my first sentence – over her cancer and Mulder refuses to accept her fate. In some respects, then, there’s a mirroring of the kind of philosophy-action approach of the Scully-focussed One Breath two seasons earlier, and like that one, it’s in the “do, don’t talk” arena that the episode works best.

The universe is not chaos. It’s connection.

Mission to Mars (2000) (SPOILERS) The history of duelling Hollywood projects has tended to see one clear winner, invariably the one with the head start. Dangerous Liaisons was a critical, commercial and Academy Awards hit; Valmont was none of those things. Tombstone was a surprise success, Wyatt Earp a prize turkey. Dante’s Peak cleared up more than Volcano . In the cases of Deep Impact and Armageddon , though, both did very well, but Armageddon did better. And then, when it came to Mission to Mars and Red Planet , neither did well, but Red Planet did worse. What was it that fuelled such assumed Mars appeal at the turn of the millennium?

Just try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose.

The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun (2021) (SPOILERS) More a trifle than a Grand Bouffe, The French Dispatch is every bit as dry and distancing as The Grand Budapest Hotel was warm and welcoming, as if Wes Anderson’s set upon pushing as far as he possibly can in his studiously stylised direction, just to see how many are willing to come along for the ride. He’s done stories within stories before, but they’ve never been as conspicuously detached as they are here. Perhaps Wes watched The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and decided it was a good way to develop some sketchy ideas. However, one gets the impression a series of five-minute tableaux running to 100 minutes would be the ideal form for such aesthetic/ intellectual posing.

Give poor, starving Gurgi munchings and crunchings.

The Black Cauldron (1985) (SPOILERS) Dark Disney? I guess… Kind of . I don’t think I ever got round to seeing this previously. The Fox and the Hound , sure. Basil the Great Mouse Detective , most certainly. Even Oliver and Company , so I wasn’t that selective. But I must have missed The Black Cauldron , the one that nearly broke Disney, for the same reason everyone else did. But what reason was that? Perhaps nothing leaping out about it, when the same summer kids could see The Goonies , or Back to the Future , or Pee Wee’s Big Adventure . It seemed like a soup of other, better-executed ideas and past Disney movies, stirred up in a cauldron and slopped out into an environment where audiences now wanted something a touch more sophisticated.

Monster nom nom?

The Suicide Squad (2021) (SPOILERS) This is what you get from James Gunn when he hasn’t been fed through the Disney rainbow filter. Pure, unadulterated charmlessness, as if he’s been raiding his deleted Twitter account for inspiration. The Suicide Squad has none of the “heart” of Guardians of Galaxy , barely a trace of structure, and revels in the kind of gross out previously found in Slither ; granted an R rating, Gunn revels in this freedom with juvenile glee, but such carte blanche only occasionally pays off, and more commonly leads to a kind of playground repetition. He gets to taunt everyone, and then kill them. Critics applauded; general audiences resisted. They were right to.

Is that why you’re here? To see if your baby’s having nightmares?

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989) (SPOILERS) The main takeaway from A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child , found in post-mortems and general hindsight, was that its box office was so poor (less than half that of its predecessor) because it failed to offer the fans what they wanted. I’ll be the first to admit the premise isn’t a great one, or a very original one (hearkening back to the demon offspring cycle, spanning Rosemary’s Baby to The Omen ), but it’s at least attempting to stretch itself, for all that director Stephen Hopkins’ approach is decidedly scrappy and the dream sequences are less than elegant.

I’m going to get my chimp.

Planet of the Apes (2001) (SPOILERS) Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake is one of those movies, like Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla , where everyone knows it’s terrible, so there’s nothing much else to discuss. Except that neither of those movies are terrible. They may not be what fans wanted, but in many respects they’re both much more interesting “failures” than the later, heralded incarnations where the studios concerned “got it right” (which, in Apes ’ case, entailed getting bogged down in a highly pedestrian human-ape war, and in Godzilla ’s, failing to find a means to instil interest in the token human element). Burton’s movie is probably the least Burton-esque picture he has made, and it’s irreversibly crippled by a flat-out terrible choice of lead actor, but I maintain there’s a lot here that deserves respect, up to and including that ending.

Three. Two. One. Lift with your neck.

Red Notice  (2021) (SPOILERS) Red Notice rather epitomises Netflix output. Not the 95% that is dismissible, subgrade filler no one is watching but is nevertheless churned out as original “content”. No, this would be the other, more select tier constituting Hollywood names and non-negligible budgets. Most such fare still fails to justify its existence in any way, shape or form, singularly lacking discernible quality control or “studio” oversight. Albeit, one might make similar accusations of a selection of legit actual studio product too, but it’s the sheer consistency of unleavened movies that sets Netflix apart. So it is with Red Notice . Largely lambasted by the critics, in much the manner of, say 6 Underground or Army of the Dead , it is in fact, and just like those, no more and no less than okay.

It looks like a digital walkout.

Free Guy (2021) (SPOILERS) Ostensibly a twenty-first century refresh of The Truman Show , in which an oblivious innocent realises his life is a lie, and that he is simply a puppet engineered for the entertainment of his creators/controllers/the masses, Free Guy lends itself to similar readings regarding the metaphysical underpinnings of our reality, of who sets the paradigm and how conscious we are of its limitations. But there’s an additional layer in there too, a more insidious one than using a Hollywood movie to “tell us how it really is”.

Death to Realism!

eXistenZ (1999) (SPOILERS) eXistenZ has more going on, more ideas and layers, than any of its thematic late ’90s bunkmates – The Matrix , Dark City , The Thirteenth Floor – even if it’s the least polished of the quartet. It’s engaging, and engrossing, and David Cronenberg creates a sense of recursive, entropic remove from any original point via a range of baseline realities, but his movie is perhaps more satisfying thematically than it is in terms of storytelling. It doesn’t even make its rules of gameplaying entirely clear.

It becomes easier each time… until it kills you.

The X-Files 4.9: Terma Oh dear. After an engaging opener, the second part of this story drops through the floor, and even the usually spirited Rob Bowman can’t save the lethargic mess Carter and Spotnitz make of some actually pretty promising plot threads.

I think we’d all like to know what’s in that rock.

The X-Files 4.8: Tunguska The usual two-part caveat applies here, of avoiding reaching a definitive appraisal before one has seen the finale. But obviously, I have, and obviously, it doesn’t live up to Tunguska . Actually, that’s something of an understatement. Nevertheless, much of this episode is really good, throwing in not-quite-ancient mysteries and reteaming Mulder and Krycek to engagingly conflicting effect. Plus, it throws in some simple-yet-starkly iconic imagery for the cliffhanger.

Encumbered by idiots, we pressed on.

Young Guns II: Blaze of Glory (1990) (SPOILERS) Revisiting the favourites of one’s youth can be a sobering experience, particularly if they’re reflective of one’s then age. Brat pack movies were always hit and miss, and the grouping itself was generally more a lazy catch-all for anything from the mid ’80s to the early ’90s that starred actors of a certain age who weren’t Tom Cruise (although, he might be squeezed in right at the start, a good few years prior to the phrase’s formulation). Young Guns , which I’d considered decent enough, didn’t really stand the test of time, so how does Young Guns II: Blaze of Glory fare, given I rated it more highly?

What you’re about to witness is not magic. It is purely science.

The Prestige (2006) (SPOILERS) If you hadn’t heard, The Prestige ’s ending is divisive. The very fact of this is something I find, frankly, bizarre. The idea that it’s somehow perceived as a cheat or cop out. The ending as it unfolds is everything to the movie. It’s intrinsic to it and makes explicit its thematic content in a powerful and resonant way. Without it, the film becomes an above-par Now You See Me (one with tricks that actually have some degree of coherence and less CGI). With it, it amounts to a classic.

I work very hard to keep any President from knowing I even exist.

The X-Files 4.7: Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man The popularity of this one has always mystified me. But then, trading off the “appeal” of CSM was never something likely to pique my interest. Combine that with the most tired backstory conceivable – “ Some of it may indeed be true, and some of it may – well, never mind ” commented Frank Spotnitz – that takes in riffing on/ripping off/homaging – take your pick, depending on your disposition – then recent touchstones JFK , Dark Skies and Forrest Gump , and you’ve got forty-odd minutes very thin on inspiration.

You're looking at the future, Mr Mulder.

The X-Files 4.1: Herrenvolk The very so-so Season Three finale gets a very so-so conclusion in Herrenvolk . It’s a good title (“Master Race”), but once you contextualise it, it’s rather too derivative. After all, what do these blonde, blue-eyed not-human boys (okay, not the girls) wandering about a rural aviary evoke if not John Wyndham’s Village of the Damned ( The Midwich Cukoos ), with its bunch of superior juniors?

Why, it's just a hat, darling, belonging to a small-headed man of limited means who lost a fight with a chicken.

James Bond 007 Ranked So the Daniel Craig era is over. Some might suggest it took more than long enough to make a measly five movies. Connery managed it in less than a third of the time. Moore in just over half. And still Daniel looked glum and resolutely unsuave, indifferent to the unfeasible sums they kept paying him to keep on coming back and keep those massive man tits in tip-top condition. Who knows where the series goes from here, if the series goes from here (if anything goes from here). I dare say Eon would be more reluctant than most movie production companies to institute a radical shift in the lead’s casting, be it via race or gender. Certainly much more so than the major studios. It is, after all, their only asset. But pressure can be brought to bear. I mean, they did just kill Bond off.