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Showing posts from 2022

Well, we’re looking for the impossible shot.

Nope (2022) (SPOILERS) Jordan Peele’s movies may ultimately fail to deliver, but he’s nevertheless a persuasively proficient, talented moviemaker, an expert in scene setting and pacing, mood and atmosphere. He also tends to mine intriguing territory conceptually. Indeed, his last movie Us was ALL ideas, replete not so much with soft disclosure as a resounding dump of the hard stuff that went largely unnoticed. Probably because – going back to the ultimately-failing-to-deliver part – as a whole, effective movie, it just wasn’t much cop. Nope is more successful in that regard, but still only really half successful. Once Peele reveals the contents of his box of tricks, all he has left is that proficient filmmaking technique, and it isn’t really enough.

The future is coming, and you're not it.

Top Gun: Maverick  (2022) (SPOILERS) I’m a long way from the effusive responses of – seemingly – the preponderance of Top Gun: Maverick ’s audience. Nevertheless, it’s undoubtedly possible, as some have attested, to appreciate this sequel while in no way having any partiality toward the original. Indeed, in some respects, Maverick even manages to cast a certain lustre on that movie’s iconographic elements (the soundtrack, the visual acumen), even as it also rehearses its essential emptiness of character and emotion in tandem with its rousing militarism. That’s principally because Joseph Kosinski’s movie is a technical marvel, and every time it takes to the air, it throws everything else about the picture (those characters, emotions, and the rousing militarism) into sharp relief.

We're coming for you, tiny man!

Minions: The Rise of Gru (2022) (SPOILERS) I’m far from immune to the appeal of the Minions, although I’m much less persuaded by the parent series that spawned them. This second prequel manages to throw in a more-than-healthy slice of Gru, and has him in the title, which rang a mild alarm bell. However, perhaps because this is a pre-reformed supervillain, albeit a pre-reformed supervillain who’s also pre-supervillain – so when it comes down to it, we never really see him all that villainous, ever – I found the overall brew much more appealing, conjuring something of an Austin Powers vibe with its ’70s setting via The Incredibles , with its teams of villains and their high-tech gadgetry. Plus, of course, little yellow creatures fond of exposing their arse cracks (well, either them or the Illumination staff).

At least I have the Spider to keep me company?

Watcher (2022) (SPOILERS) Maybe I’m just weary of this kind of movie, however proficiently put together and performed. That would be my explanation for a very mild acknowledgement of Watcher ’s merits. It generally seems to have garnered plaudits as a smart, intelligent entry in the horror genre. Chloe Okuno’s feature debut is well done for what it is, but immerses itself so heavily in genre tropes that it struggles to emerge with its own distinct identity.

I’m smarter than a beaver.

Prey (2022) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, I have to respect Dan Trachtenberg’s cynical pragmatism. How do I not only get a project off the ground, but fast-tracked as well? I know, a woke Predator movie! Woke Disney won’t be able to resist! And so, it comes to pass. Luckily for Prey , it gets to bypass cinemas and so the same sorry fate of Lightyear . Less fortunately, it’s a patience-testing snook cocking at historicity (or at least, assumed historicity), in which a young, pint-sized Comanche girl who wishes to hunt and fish – and doubtless shoot to boot – with the big boys gets to take on a Predator and make mincemeat of him. Well, of course , she does. She’s a girl, innit?

Well, he’s not your standard-issue feline.

Lightyear (2022) (SPOILERS) Lightyear ’s disastrous box-office showing might seem like a miscalculation, based on the pointed finger of the going broke for woke lesbian relationship and kiss disincentivising a section of parents from taking kids to a family movie. That, and a frankly confused status for the hero; this is the movie the toy was based on (so a 1990s animated kids movie featuring a mixed-race lesbian couple; almost as unlikely as “sex” in the clouds in The Lion King and the Centaur with a penis head in Hercules ). But the truth is surely that the Buzz’s failure was intentional. How else to explain the decision to reveal Buzz as the seething embodiment of the despicable toxic white male? Lightyear represents express and wilful destruction of a kids’ hero (be it toy or his animated movie “antecedent”), and there isn’t even a nominally successful attempt to replace him with a stamped-and-approved, gender-swapped version. Unlike the similarly baleful Star Wars and the MCU.

I learned everything about people from Thomas. Everything.

Bullet Train (2022) (SPOILERS) A big summer movie that isn’t a sequel, superhero or superhero sequel animation would, you’d have thought, be welcomed by critics wont to complain about all three. But it seems Bullet Train has fallen foul of being too wanton and unapologetic in its cheerful ultraviolence. Meaning, it’s the kind of picture that gets dismissed as soullessly derivative, when it’s actually a pretty good variant on wanton, unapologetic, ultraviolent Tarantino/Ritchie/Vaughn originals. Sure, it’s a strictly functional affair, but its expertly put together by David Leitch, peppered with engaging performances, characters, twists and quirks, and only about twenty or so minutes too long.

Kiss me, my dear, and I will reveal my croissant.

The Mask (1994) (SPOILERS) The movie that confirmed Jim Carrey as a megastar. There’s probably a groundswell of opinion that The Mask hasn’t aged well, owing to a combination of special effects and Jim fatigue. Coming back to it, however, confirms it as a frequently very funny picture, one that might even go down better now, shorn of all the surrounding hype. It’s Carrey’s Nutty Professor , essentially: a meek and mild nobody transformed into an uber-confident smart mouth. The only caveat being that, unlike Jerry Lewis, Carrey isn’t quite downtrodden enough as bank clerk Stanley Ipkiss; there’s already clearly a quipster in there.

That’s all we need. A robot who’s into equal rights!

Short Circuit 2 (1988) (SPOILERS) Evidently, the inspiration for Babe: Pig in the City . And, in turn, as Time Out put it “ a chromium Crocodile Dundee ”, as our anthropomorphic hero is led astray in the Big Smoke. Johnny 5’s the original Chappie, and on balance, far preferable. Short Circuit may not have been able to boast an actual Indian benefactor/human sidekick, but it at least avoided the blight that is Die Antworte. This sequel was divested of stars Steve Guttenberg and Allie Sheedy (the latter has a voiceover), and director John Badham also opted out, so it’s unsurprising the box office halved. Short Circuit 2 is by no means terrible – Johnny 5 is nothing if not personable, in an irrepressible, ADHD, Roger Rabbit kind of way – but it’s unmistakeably a big-screen TV movie.

Extra ten million to the first guy to put a bullet in this Ken doll’s brain.

The Gray Man (2022) (SPOILERS) Somehow, all those MCU movies, with the immaculate pre-vis work, had a great many convinced – studio execs included, doubtless – that the Russo Brothers were auteurs of the first order. And somehow, the wretchedness of Cherry did nothing to dent their reputation in any serious way (perhaps because it was tucked away on Apple). The Gray Man , a $200m Netflix monster, may be less forgiving, however, since it ought to confirm to a great many that the siblngs’ action chops are about as convincing as Anthony’s rug.

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

I was just checking to see if I was standing on plastic.

Lethal Weapon 2 (1989) (SPOILERS) As an aficionado of ’80s-90s action cinema, I naturally loved all things Joel Silver (except Joel himself, natch… except in Who Framed Roger Rabbit , natch), yet I was never entirely persuaded by the Lethal Weapon series. The first is a more than decent movie, and the chemistry between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover is uproarious and infectious, such that the series is undoubtedly very difficult to dislike. But as action cinema, as boosted as it is by Michael Kamen’s robust scoring, the movies are never more than serviceable, competent, respectable. Richard Donner was no John McTiernan at his peak, and you can see that in the way he threads, or rather doesn’t, Lethal Weapon 2 together. It’s almost an archetype of “That’ll do” sequels, because it’s bigger, funnier and more ridiculous, while never attempting to be a consummate piece of cinema in its own right.

Jurassic World? Not a fan.

Jurassic World Dominion (2022) (SPOILERS) “ Jurassic World? Not a fan. ” You said it, Jeff (well, Ian Malcolm). I can’t say I’m really a Jurassic Park fan either, although I do respect the skill and efficiency involved in several of the first two movies’ set pieces. And more perversely still, unlike many, I wasn’t actively antagonistic towards the first Jurassic World , probably because I didn’t venerate its predecessors. Fallen World , while much better directed than Colin Trevorrow’s movie, and with a couple of leftfield ideas, simply wasn’t much cop. Jurassic World Dominion – per critics’ takes – isn’t much cop either, and furthermore, it isn’t very well directed. But, it has much more going on it that’s interesting this time round.

If that small woman is small enough, she could fit behind a small tree.

Stranger Things Season 4: Volume 2 (SPOILERS) I can’t quite find it within myself to perform the rapturous somersaults that seem to be the prevailing response to this fourth run of the show. I’ve outlined some of my thematic issues in the Volume 1 review, largely borne out here, but the greater concern is one I’ve held since Season Two began – and this is the best run since Season One, at least as far my failing memory can account for – and that’s the purpose-built formula dictated by the Duffer Brothers. It’s there in each new Big Bad, obviously, even to the extent that this is the Big-Bad-who-binds-them-all (except the Upside Down was always there, right?) And it’s there with the resurgent emotional beats, partings, reunions and plaintively stirring music cues. I have to be really on board with a movie or show to embrace such flagrantly shameless manipulation, season after season, and I find myself increasingly immune.

Get away from my burro!

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) (SPOILERS) The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is beloved by so many of the cinematic firmament’s luminaries – Stanley Kubrick, Sam Raimi, , Paul Thomas Anderson and who knows maybe also WS, Vince Gilligan, Spike Lee, Daniel Day Lewis; Oliver Stone was going to remake it – not to mention those anteriorly influential Stone Roses, that it seems foolhardy to suggest it isn’t quite all that. There’s no faulting the performances – a career best Humphrey Bogart, with director John Huston’s dad Walter stealing the movie from under him – but the greed-is-bad theme is laid on a little thick, just in case you were a bit too dim to get it yourself the first time, and Huston’s direction may be right there were it counts for the dramatics, but it’s a little too relaxed when it comes to showing the seams between Mexican location and studio.

Is this supposed to be me? It’s grotesque.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022) (SPOILERS) I didn’t hold out much hope for The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent being more than moderately tolerable. Not so much because its relatively untested director and his co-writer are mostly known in the TV sphere (and not so much for anything anyone is raving about). Although, it has to be admitted, the finished movie flourishes a degree of digital flatness typical of small-screen productions (it’s fine, but nothing more). Rather, due to the already over-tapped meta-strain of celebs showing they’re good sports about themselves. When Spike Jonze did it with John Malkovich, it was weird and different. By the time we had JCVD , not so much. And both of them are pre-dated by Arnie in Last Action Hero (“ You brought me nothing but pain ” he is told by Jack Slater). Plus, it isn’t as if Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten have much in the way of an angle on Nic; the movie’s basically there to glorify “him”, give or take a few foibles, do

Are you telling me that I should take my daughter to a witch doctor?

The Exorcist (1973) (SPOILERS) Vast swathes have been written on The Exorcist , duly reflective of its cultural impact. In a significant respect, it’s the first blockbuster – forget Jaws – and also the first of a new kind of special-effects movie. It provoked controversy across all levels of the socio-political spectrum, for explicit content and religious content, both hailed and denounced for the same. William Friedkin, director of William Peter Blatty’s screenplay based on Blatty’s 1971 novel, would have us believe The Exorcist is “ a film about the mystery of faith ”, but it’s evidently much more – and less – than that. There’s a strong argument to be made that movies having the kind of seismic shock on the landscape this one did aren’t simply designed to provoke rumination (or exultation); they’re there to profoundly influence society, even if largely by osmosis, and when one looks at this picture’s architects, such an assessment only gains in credibility.

All I saw was an old man with a funky hand, that’s all I saw.

The Blob (1988) (SPOILERS) The 1980s effects-laden remake of a ’50s B-movie that couldn’t. That is, couldn’t persuade an audience to see it and couldn’t muster critical acclaim. The Fly was a hit. The Thing wasn’t, but its reputation has since soared. Like Invaders from Mars , no such fate awaited The Blob , despite effects that, in many respects, are comparable in quality to the John Carpenter classic – and are certainly indebted to Rob Bottin for bodily grue – and surehanded direction from Chuck Russell. I suspect the reason is simply this: it lacks that extra layer that would ensure longevity.

Harmony. Peace. Unity. It’s all bullshit. It’s a lie...

Captive State (2019) (SPOILERS) Rupert Wyatt’s dystopian, alien-occupation sci-fi has all the prerequisite signifiers of a totalitarian, Orwellian future, but by presenting its scenario “in situ”, for the most part, it runs with a good-guys terrorists narrative that probably seemed more original than it is; if anything, it’s a throwback to WWII yarns, which means that, as well made and performed as it is, it never finds itself breaking new ground.

I work for the guys that pay me to watch the guys that pay you. And then there are, I imagine, some guys that are paid to watch me.

The Day of the Dolphin (1973) (SPOILERS) Perhaps the most bizarre thing out of all the bizarre things about The Day of the Dolphin is that one of its posters scrupulously sets out its entire dastardly plot, something the movie itself doesn’t outline until fifteen minutes before the end. Mike Nichols reputedly made this – formerly earmarked for Roman Polanski, Jack Nicholson and Sharon Tate, although I’m dubious a specific link can be construed between its conspiracy content and the Manson murders - to fulfil a contract with The Graduate producer Joseph Levine. It would explain the, for him, atypical science-fiction element, something he seems as comfortable with as having a hairy Jack leaping about the place in Wolf .

The plot, I found a shade torturous, but the exposition of it, remarkably adroit.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969) (SPOILERS) Goodbye, Mr. Chips really oughtn’t to be as agreeable as it is. More still, it ought to stink. Its raison d’être is, after all, a complete bust: James Hilton’s novella reconceived as a musical. Perhaps the manner in which the songs entirely fail to take centre stage – unless the songs are diegetically taking place ona stage – saves this element; by and large, they’re solo soliloquies utilising montage or controlled choreography, rather than flamboyant budget busters. It would still have been preferable had they’d been entirely absent – and easy to see why a number of them were initially cut following the premiere – but then we would likely have been denied the pleasure of Petula Clark. It’s her chemistry with her leading man, and particularly the remarkable performance of her leading man, that rescue Goodbye, Mr Chips .

Okay, pump up the Verbaluce, let’s get ’em talking.

Spiderhead (2022) (SPOILERS) Spiderhead ’s setup suggests a third-act revelation, or at least stunning dramatic development, that never comes, a deficit that may lead many to feel underwhelmed by Joseph Kosinski’s follow up to Top Gun: Maverick , currently flying high in the box office charts. I wouldn’t say that of it, exactly, but this is undoubtedly a case where the short story lent itself more directly to the anthology show format, lacking sufficient meat for feature expansion.

The king is mad. I am doomed.

Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) (SPOILERS) If asked to speculate, I’d propose a greenlight for this adaptation of Maxwell Anderson’s 1948 play followed directly from A Man for All Seasons ’ Best Picture Oscar win (it has been claimed the less than salubrious subject matter, rife as it is with royal staples of incest and adultery, would have prevented an earlier film version). One might further conjecture that it was foolhardy to think a same-era Tudor setting featuring many of the same figures could see lightning strike twice, yet both Becket and The Lion in Winter had been well received earlier that decade, both with Peter O’Toole as Henry II and both garnering Best Picture nominations. Anne of the Thousand Days duly earned one, almost as if middle/early modern age forays into British history were guaranteed recognition, regardless of quality. A bit like expensive musicals in that regard. That no one talks about Anne of the Thousand Days today should be no surprise, however; it’s c

See you around, buddy boy.

The First Power (1990) (SPOILERS) One I had a hankering to see, largely due to the Don LaFontaine-narrated trailer – “ Since the beginning of time, Satan has worked to create the perfect killer. One who kills many, without reason. One who cannot be stopped. Today, that man exists. Be warned ” – but it somehow passed me by. Perhaps an inner sense told me it was worth skipping, and nothing Don LaFontaine could say would make it otherwise. Robert Renikoff’s supernatural serial killer thriller – see also the same year’s The Exorcist III – owed much to Jack Sholder’s 1987 body-swap SF horror The Hidden , and Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen would later hew closely to a similar premise, but is markedly inferior to both.

Fort Knox, ha! It’s for tourists.

Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995) (SPOILERS) There was so much behind-the-scenes turmoil between the second and third Die Hards , it’s little wonder Die Hard with a Vengeance took five years to arrive. That it bears very little resemblance to a Die Hard instalment – something its sequel more commonly gets called out for – is mostly down to the “ Die Hard in an/on a…” concept having been thoroughly milked in the meantime, most singularly by Under Siege . The result is half of a good movie (if not, particularly, a good Die Hard movie), which still makes it better overall than the limp, snow-sprinkled lettuce that is Die Hard 2: Die Harder.

Welcome to the fallen world.

Night Sky (2022) (SPOILERS) Honestly, I don’t think this is a great series – it seems determined to unfold with a geriatric pace reflective of its two main leads – but Night Sky just about earns its keep through incorporating several provocative concepts just begging to be pegged as soft disclosure. This is one of those series that requires its characters to avoid saying the bleeding obvious or necessary in order to sustain itself, with the consequence that precious few among them are relatable or sympathetic. Combined with the meandering sense of forward momentum – it makes Cocoon look like Raiders of the Lost Ark – and Night Sky ’s eight episodes feel like they’re twice that.

Don’t you ever call them tattoos!

The Illustrated Man (1969) (SPOILERS) I’d been blissfully unaware The Illustrated Man didn’t have a great rep. And that Ray Bradbury – not that authors/originators necessarily ought to be looked to as arbiters of the quality of adaptations of their work – thought it stank. I was quite taken with it on the occasion I first saw it – which must be upwards of thirty years ago – and this revisit confirmed many of the qualities I recognised in it then. To a degree, it’s little more than a pretentious, SF twist on then popular portmanteau horrors, but its conceits, likely the same ones Bradbury didn’t like, lend The Illustrated Man an eerie resonance.

99.386 percent of the population wouldn’t believe this conversation, and the rest are working for us.

Thirty-Minute Theatre:  The News-Benders (1968) (SPOILERS) I’m late to the party for this one – 54 years, to be precise – as it’s had something of a rediscovery, riding on the crest of the plandemic wave. The News-Benders ’ insights into the manufacture – the penning of the preordained script – of the news are all there in its densely packed 28 minutes . The only question arising would be whether it represents a quite shockingly blatant disclosure of method – as many understandably assume, given how accurately it reflects the current state of the conspirasphere – or simply trenchant satire. Such is the nature of these things, I’d suggest either is plausible; I certainly don’t think anything in it – even though it would, admittedly, make its creator(s) remarkably insightful – is beyond the realm of a keen and incisive writer, particularly since its cues are very visibly taken from Orwell. Or that, in terms of its innocuous mode of presentation, the BBC would necessarily think twice at

They look like a bunch of refugees from a gorilla love-in.

Easy Rider (1969) (SPOILERS) There are probably ramshackle movies that can be considered masterpieces, but Easy Rider isn’t one of them. Culturally iconic – that part is uncontested – but also spliced together from raging ineptitude and ego on the part of its director. Reputedly, once he’d shot the thing, Dennis Hopper spent months failing to edit the film together coherently. It reached the point where he was ejected from the cutting room, and four hours was hewn down to the slender ninety-odd minutes we know. There are still longueurs in there, but the Easy Rider we finished up with actually remains largely compelling. Perhaps despite itself.

You want to give a murderer a free ride for the secrets to the pyramids?

The X-Files 5.20: The End The final episode prior to a big-screen outing that didn’t exactly rock the foundations of world (at least partly because it pulled its punches) is a mixture of the intriguing and the all-too-familiar. Leading the latter is the return-proper of CSM, possibly the most singular example of the rot that would afflict the ongoing mythology arc from now on – most acutely of all with the series’ return – in that Chris Carter appeared to believe it couldn’t survive without him. Perhaps fans were responsible, greeting his every suck on a Morley with a whoop (or a shot); if so, they were wrong.

Crisis or no, nothing should interfere with tea.

Around the World in 80 Days (1956) (SPOILERS) Around the World in 80 Days gets a bad rap. You’ll even hear it cited as one of the all-time worst Best Picture Oscar winners. Which is patently absurd, if you’ve ever had the misfortune to endure A Beautiful Mind . Or Nomadland . Or Oliver! It is, however, undeniably guilty of spectacle-first filmmaking, not so much due to the eager procession of cameos littering every port of call made by Phileas Fogg as the idea that simply visiting said port and lingering there, dramatically engaged or more probably not, would be sufficient. Perhaps it was, in some cases, with the vistas producer Michael Todd’s widescreen (Todd-AO 70mmm) cinematography offered; this was the kind of all-important visual event that made leaving the comfort of one’s home – and the then-usurping-movies new TV set – worthwhile. Mostly, though, this is simply an amiable picture, boosted significantly by David Niven’s presence but diminished somewhat by the illusion that Can

I’ve seen more monsters in my Aunt Gussie’s fishbowl than on this whole cruise!

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) (SPOILERS) One of the seminal Disney movies. Although, it’s easy to see why its legacy has diminished somewhat, as the kind of spectacle and imagination it offers is now both ten-a-penny and supplied in incrementally more spectacular fashion. That said, I would have first seen the movie more than two decades after its release, and it slotted in seamlessly with the brand of ripe Doug McClure fare rife during the mid-1970s. Revisiting 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea , the salient question becomes one of just what Disney, and by extension Jules Verne (or should that be the other way round?) were getting at? Beyond simply a rousing adventure yarn that inspired many a kid enamoured of giant squid, that is.

This risotto is shmackin’, dude.

Stranger Things Season 4: Volume 1 (SPOILERS) I haven’t had cause, or the urge, to revisit earlier seasons of Stranger Things , but I’m fairly certain my (relatively) positive takes on the first two sequel seasons would adjust down somewhat if I did (a Soviet base under Hawkins? DUMB soft disclosure or not, it’s pretty dumb). In my Season Three review, I called the show “ Netflix’s best-packaged junk food. It knows not to outstay its welcome, doesn’t cause bloat and is disposable in mostly good ways ” I fairly certain the Duffer’s weren’t reading, but it’s as if they decided, as a rebuke, that bloat was the only way to go for Season Four. Hence episodes approaching (or exceeding) twice the standard length. So while the other points – that it wouldn’t stray from its cosy identity and seasons tend to merge in the memory – hold fast, you can feel the ambition of an expansive canvas faltering at the hurdle of Stranger Things ’ essential, curated, nostalgia-appeal inconsequentiality.

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

A creature that cannot talk will be a welcome relief.

Anatomy of a Murder (1959) (SPOILERS) The most striking aspect of Anatomy of a Murder on revisit is how atypical it is of the courtroom drama/thriller, even six-decades-plus after it broke new ground. Studio wisdom would dictate you can’t have such an incendiary case and not include whodunnit; it would be anathema to audience expectations. And yet, for Otto Preminger’s picture, the ambiguity of motive, perspective and moral judgement are precisely the point – “ the apparent fallibility of the human factor in jurisprudence ” as Wiki puts it – occasionally to the extent that one feels one is being lectured, rather than watching a dramatisation.

I bet even Madonna has difficulty getting her shoes and socks off.

The Full Monty (1997) (SPOILERS) There are certainly much less respectable examples of the modern British dramedy, but that doesn’t mean The Full Monty had any business being Best Picture Oscar nominated. It certainly isn’t in the same class – ahem – as earlier awards darling Four Weddings and a Funeral , even if it made even greater waves at the box office. And that’s what this is about, really: showing the Oscar doesn’t stuffily need to be oozing respect and refinement from every pore.

I felt he used too many onions, but it was still a very good sauce.

Goodfellas (1990) (SPOILERS) Scorsese’s gangsters-at-street-level masterpiece is near the top of most lists for “It wuz robbed” when looking back at Best Picture Oscar winners. Kev’s Dances with Wolves is a decent-enough movie and a decent-ish revisionist western, put together with care, craft and what appears to be genuine feeling on its maker’s part; there are certainly far worse Best Picture winners out there. But co-contender Goodfellas is in a class all its own. It also reminds the viewer that, in the first rank of filmmakers as Scorsese is, it’s become relatively rare for him to tackle material with which he visibly (and palpably) connects.

He's not in my pyjamas, is he?

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) (SPOILERS) By rights, Paul Mazursky’s swinging, post-flower-power-gen partner-swap movie ought to have aged terribly. So much of the era’s scene-specific fare has, particularly so when attempting to reflect its reverberations with any degree of serious intent. Perhaps it’s because Mazursky and co-writer Larry Tucker (also of The Monkees , Alex in Wonderland and I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! ) maintain a wry distance from their characters’ endeavours, much more on the wavelength of Elliott Gould’s Ted than Robert Culp’s Bob; we know any pretensions towards uninhibited expression can’t end well, but we also know Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice have to learn the hard way.

There is a war raging, and unless you pull your head out of the sand, you and I and about five billion other people are going to go the way of the dinosaur.

The X-Files 5.14: The Red and the Black The most noteworthy aspect of this two parter is that it almost – but not quite – causes me to reassess my previous position that the best arc episodes are those that avoid tackling the greater narrative head-on, attempting to advance the resistant behemoth. It may be less than scintillating as far as concepts go, but the alien resistance plot is set out quite clearly here, as are the responses to it from the main players.

I think that if you prepare people well enough to believe a lie, they will believe it as if it were true.

The X-Files 5.13: Patient X Season Five’s continuation of the mythology arc has been rocky going. Despite a bracing volte-face handed to Mulder, Carter et al haven’t really known what to do with it, probably because they set it up with the inevitability of it, in turn, being revealed as misdirection (gotta get those aliens in the movie!) Nevertheless, this is the closest the show – by necessity a proponent of the ET-government collusion narrative – gets to the essential psyop-ness of the management of the conspiracy movement, of whistleblowers and official or leaked reports (regardless of any truth therein, the key is control and misdirection). This two-parter makes Mulder’s non-belief an outright impediment to the investigation, refreshing in itself.

Basically, I take human garbage from around the world, and I reprocess it.

No Escape (1994) (SPOILERS) A problem for the futuristic prison movie subgenre is that its instigators can be a little slack when it comes to including an idea of how the encompassing future world operates. A corporatised prison system seems like a given (see also Wedlock , Fortress ), probably because it already had roots when these movies came out (in the US, UK, France and Oz, at minimum). Beyond that, though, the unifying factor is an apparent lack of thought. No Escape , a mish-mash of established tropes, some utilised effectively by director Martin Campbell, some less so, exemplifies this.

Intestination commencing.

Fortress (1992) (SPOILERS) Stuart Gordon’s pulpy prison sci-fi has acres of splatter and some vital ideas to see it through its budget-conscious paces; one thing you could rely on with Gordon was a sense of humour, even if the finished product was frequently patchy. Here, he amasses a collection of dystopian tropes and runs with them to sporadically effective results; like the previous year’s Wedlock , Fortress is better when its protagonists are confined, rather than engaged in the act of escaping.

We’ve got the best ball and chain in the world. Your ass.

Wedlock (1991) (SPOILERS) The futuristic prison movie seemed possessed of a particular cachet around this time, quite possibly sparked by the grisly possibilities of hi-tech disincentives to escape. On that front, HBO TV movie Wedlock more than delivers its FX money shot. Elsewhere, it’s less sure of itself, rather fumbling when it exchanges prison tropes for fugitives-on-the-run ones.

We’re not murderers, in spite of what this undertaker says.

The Godfather (1972) (SPOILERS) I expect most people – among those aware The Godfather won the Best Picture Oscar, that is – assume it was the big winner that night. While it could indeed boast the top prize, Cabaret far and away exceeded it in trophy count, eight to the Don’s meagre three (Picture, Adapted Screenplay and Actor, the latter category one where Cabaret wasn’t competing). In those terms, The Godfather ’s victory looks closer to a quirk of Spotlight proportions, despite sharing the year’s most nominations with Bob Fosse’s movie. Time and hindsight have shown the Academy got the main award right, but the cautious applause serves to emphasise that its now-hallowed status was anything but a foregone conclusion.

I can’t be the worst. What about that hotdog one?

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) (SPOILERS) It would have been a merciful release, had the title card “ The End ”, flashing on screen a little before the ninety-minute mark, not been a false dawn. True, I would still have been unable to swab the bloody dildoes fight from my mind, but at least Everything Everywhere All at Once would have been short. Indeed, by the actual end I was put in mind of a line spoken by co-star James Wong in one of his most indelible roles: “ Now this really pisses me off to no end ”. Or to put it another way, Everything Everywhere All at Once rubbed me up the wrong which way quite a lot of most of the time.

You’d be surprised how many intersectional planes of untethered consciousness exist.

Moon Knight (2022) (SPOILERS) Now, this is an interesting one. Not because it’s very good – Phase IV MCU? Hah! – but because it presents its angle on the “superhero” ethos in an almost entirely unexpurgated, unsoftened way. Here is a character explicitly formed through the procedures utilised by trauma-based mind control, who has developed alters – of which he has been, and some of which he remains, unaware – and undergone training/employment in the military and private mercenary sectors (common for MKUltra candidates, per Dave McGowan’s Programmed to Kill ). And then, he’s possessed by what he believes to be a god in order to carry out acts of extreme violence. So just the sort of thing that’s good, family, DisneyPlus+ viewing.

Drank the red. Good for you.

Morbius (2022) (SPOILERS) Generic isn’t necessarily a slur. Not if, by implication, it’s suggestive of the kind of movie made twenty years ago, when the alternative is the kind of super-woke content Disney currently prioritises. Unfortunately, after a reasonable first hour, Morbius descends so resignedly into such unmoderated formula that you’re left with a too-clear image of Sony’s Spider-Verse when it lacks a larger-than-life performer (Tom Hardy, for example) at the centre of any given vehicle.

He doesn’t want to lead you. He just wants you to follow.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) (SPOILERS) The general failing of the prequel concept is a fairly self-evident one; it’s spurred by the desire to cash in, rather than to tell a story. This is why so few prequels, in any form, are worth the viewer/reader/listener’s time, in and of themselves. At best, they tend to be something of a well-rehearsed fait accompli. In the movie medium, even when there is material that withstands closer inspection (the Star Wars prequels; The Hobbit , if you like), the execution ends up botched. With Fantastic Beasts , there was never a whiff of such lofty purpose, and each subsequent sequel to the first prequel has succeeded only in drawing attention to its prosaic function: keeping franchise flag flying, even at half-mast. Hence Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore , belatedly arriving after twice the envisaged gap between instalments and course-correcting none of the problems present in The Crimes of Grindelwald .

You think a monkey knows he’s sitting on top of a rocket that might explode?

The Right Stuff (1983) (SPOILERS) While it certainly more than fulfils the function of a NASA-propaganda picture – as in, it affirms the legitimacy of their activities – The Right Stuff escapes the designation of rote testament reserved for Ron Howard’s later Apollo 13 . Partly because it has such a distinctive personality and attitude. Partly too because of the way it has found its through line, which isn’t so much the “wow” of the Space Race and those picked to be a part of it as it is the personification of that titular quality in someone who wasn’t even in the Mercury programme: Chuck Yaeger (Sam Shephard). I was captivated by The Right Stuff when I first saw it, and even now, with the benefit of knowing-NASA-better – not that the movie is exactly extolling its virtues from the rooftops anyway – I consider it something of a masterpiece, an interrogation of legends that both builds them and tears them down. The latter aspect doubtless not NASA approved.

How’s it feel to be working for your favourite food?

The Bad Guys (2022) (SPOILERS) Wow. I didn’t expect this. Having, of late, been disabused of any expectations of quality Hollywood animated movies, thanks to the combined efforts of Disney and Pixar (the same entity, really, but let’s split the difference), The Bad Guys comes as a breath of fresh air. It’s a welcome reminder of what the art form can accomplish when it’s allowed a little freedom to move and hasn’t been agendised to within an inch of its life.