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Showing posts from January, 2022

We will be the first to see it. To explore it. To experience it.

The Black Hole (1979) (SPOILERS) Sometimes, a movie’s ambition is enough to see it through its less illustrious aspects. When I last revisited this entry in the “Dark Disney” canon, I pointed the finger of blame for The Black Hole ’s drawbacks at director Gary Nelson, and while I still believe that’s partially fair, I have to credit him with the fact that it remains commendably weird-arsed (as I put it ) and light years ahead of most big-budget science fiction, not only in its broaching of ideas but also in pursuing them to their conclusion. Calling it a kiddie 2001: A Space Odyssey would be unfairly dismissive – only the robots really fall into such a category – but for a movie nevertheless aimed at family audiences, it’s remarkably unblinking in its willingness to stare into the existential abyss.

Get yourselves to the Moon.

Belfast (2021) (SPOILERS) I wasn’t expecting that. I may have to retract my assessment that Sir Ken is one of the worst directors under the firmament. There’s no doubting his responsibility for the steaming pile that is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein , and I wouldn’t wish to go to the opposite of extreme of suggesting Belfast is some kind of small miracle, but it is, for the most part, a model of restraint and well-wrought performances. Almost as if, when faced with something personal, Branagh was ironically able to get out of its way.

Why, once he even tried to ravish me, disguised as a cuttlefish.

Clash of the Titans (1981) (SPOILERS) A Harryhausen step too far? Dynamation deflation? At the time, being a devotee of Jason and the Argonauts and lured by the cash-in mini/movie-adaption ads from Smiths Crisps – I was a DC Thompson comics reader; they appeared, it seems, in Warlord , although it could as easily have been Buddy or Victor – I was as eager to see this as any right-minded kid was the next Star Wars. And Ray had evidently considered the zeitgeist (hence Bubo). But not enough. I know many swear by Clash of the Titans , but too much of it is stale or ineffectual – regardless of the occasional splash of tastefully titillating nudity – and the additional budgetary extravagance fails to manifest in a visually enticing manner. Too often it looks plain cheap (awful to say so), and stuck in the production mode of two decades earlier.

You’re going to make me drop a donkey.

Encanto (2021) (SPOILERS) By my estimation, Disney brand pictures are currently edging ahead of the Pixars. Not that there’s a whole lot in it, since neither have been at full wattage for a few years now. Raya and the Last Dragon and now Encanto are collectively just about superior to Soul and Luca . Generally, the animation arm’s attempts to take in as much cultural representation as they possibly can, to make up for their historic lack of woke quotas, has – ironically – had the effect of homogenising the product to whole new levels. So here we have Colombia, renowned the world over for the US’s benign intervention in their region, not to mention providing the CIA with subsistence income, beneficently showered with gifts from the US’s greatest artistic benefactor.

He has dubiety about his identity, possibly.

The Tender Bar (2021) (SPOILERS) George continues to flog his dead horse of a directorial career. It has to be admitted, however, that he goes less astray here than with anything he’s called the shots on in a decade ( Suburbicon may be a better movie overall, but the parts that grind metal are all ones Clooney grafted onto the Coen Brothers’ screenplay). For starters, he gives Batffleck a role where he can shine, and I’d given up on that being possible. Some of the other casting stretches credulity, but by setting his sights modestly, he makes The Tender Bar passably slight for the most part.

Out of my way, you lubberly oaf, or I’ll slit your gullet and shove it down your gizzard!

The Princess and the Pirate (1944) (SPOILERS) As I suggested when revisiting The Lemon Drop Kid , you’re unlikely to find many confessing to liking Bob Hope movies these days. Even Chevy Chase gets higher approval ratings. If asked to attest to the excruciating stand-up comedy Hope, the presenter and host, I doubt even diehards would proffer an endorsement. Probably even fewer would admit to having a hankering for Hope, were they aware of, or further still gave credence to, alleged MKUltra activities. But the movie comedy Hope, the fourth-wall breaking, Road -travelling quipster-coward of (loosely) 1939-1952? That Hope’s a funny guy, mostly, and many of his movies during that period are hugely inventive, creative comedies that are too easily dismissed under the “Bob Hope sucks” banner. The Princess and the Pirate is one of them.

My hands hurt from galloping.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021) (SPOILERS) Say what you like about the 2016 reboot, at least it wasn’t labouring under the illusion it was an Amblin movie. Ghostbusters 3.5 features the odd laugh, but it isn’t funny, and it most definitely isn’t scary. It is, however, shamelessly nostalgic for, and reverential towards, the original(s), which appears to have granted it a free pass in fan circles. It didn’t deserve one.

I’ve heard the dancing’s amazing, but the music sucks.

Tick, Tick… Boom! (2021) (SPOILERS) At one point in Tick, Tick… Boom! – which really ought to have been the title of an early ’90s Steven Seagal vehicle – Andrew Garfield’s Jonathan Larson is given some sage advice on how to find success in his chosen field: “ On the next, maybe try writing about what you know ”. Unfortunately, the very autobiographical, very-meta result – I’m only surprised the musical doesn’t end with Larson finishing writing this musical, in which he is finishing writing his musical, in which he is finishing writing his musical… – takes that acutely literally.

I think it’s wonderful the way things are changing.

Driving Miss Daisy (1989) (SPOILERS) The meticulous slightness of Driving Miss Daisy is precisely the reason it proved so lauded, and also why it presented a prime Best Picture pick: a feel-good, social-conscience-led flick for audiences who might not normally spare your standard Hollywood dross a glance. One for those who appreciate the typical Judi Dench feature, basically. While I’m hesitant to get behind anything Spike Lee, as Hollywood’s self-appointed race-relations arbiter, spouts, this was a year when he actually did deliver the goods, a genuinely decent movie – definitely a rarity for Lee – addressing the issues head-on that Driving Miss Daisy approaches in softly-softly fashion, reversing gingerly towards with the brake lights on. That doesn’t necessarily mean Do the Right Thing ought to have won Best Picture (or even that it should have been nominated for the same), but it does go to emphasise the Oscars’ tendency towards the self-congratulatory rather than the provocat

If this were a hoax, would we have six dead men up on that mountain?

The X-Files 4.24: Gethsemane   Season Four is undoubtedly the point at which the duff arc episodes begin to amass, encroaching upon the decent ones for dominance. Fortunately, however, the season finale is a considerable improvement’s on Three’s, even if it’s a long way from the cliffhanger high of 2.25: Anasazi .

You have a very angry family, sir.

Eternals (2021) (SPOILERS) It would be overstating the case to suggest Eternals is a pleasant surprise, but given the adverse harbingers surrounding it, it’s a much more serviceable – if bloated – and thematically intriguing picture than I’d expected. The signature motifs of director and honestly-not-billionaire’s-progeny Chloé Zhao are present, mostly amounting to attempts at Malick-lite gauzy natural light and naturalism at odds with the rigidly unnatural material. There’s woke to spare too, since this is something of a Kevin Feige Phase Four flagship, one that rather floundered, showcasing his designs for a nu-MCU. Nevertheless, Eternals manages to maintain interest despite some very variable performances, effects, and the usual retreat into standard tropes, come the final big showdown.

Archimedes would split himself with envy.

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) (SPOILERS) Generally, this seems to be the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad outing that gets the short straw in the appreciation stakes. Which is rather unfair. True, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger lacks Tom Baker and his rich brown voice personifying evil incarnate – although Margaret Whiting more than holds her own in the wickedness stakes – and the structure follows the Harryhausen template perhaps over scrupulously (Beverly Cross previously collaborated with the stop-motion auteur on Jason and the Argonauts , and would again subsequently with Clash of the Titans ). But the storytelling is swift and sprightly, and the animation itself scores, achieving a degree of interaction frequently more proficient than its more lavishly praised peer group.

Abandon selective targeting. Shoot everything.

28 Weeks Later (2007) (SPOILERS) The first five minutes of 28 Weeks Later are far and away the best part of this sequel, offering in quick succession a devastating moral quandary and a waking nightmare, immortalised on the screen. After that, while significantly more polished, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo reveals his concept to be altogether inferior to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s, falling back on the crutches of gore, nihilism, and disengaging and limiting shifts of focus between characters in whom one has little investment in the first place.

Doctors make the worst patients.

Coma (1978) (SPOILERS) Michael Crichton’s sophomore big-screen feature, and by some distance his best. Perhaps it’s simply that this a milieu known to him, or perhaps it’s that it’s very much aligned to the there-and-now and present, but Coma , despite the occasional lapse in this adaptation of colleague Robin Cook’s novel, is an effective, creepy, resonant thriller and then some. Crichton knows his subject, and it shows – the picture is confident and verisimilitudinous in a way none of his other directorial efforts are – and his low-key – some might say clinical – approach pays dividends. You might also call it prescient, but that would be to suggest its subject matter wasn’t immediately relevant then too.

This guy’s armed with a hairdryer.

An Innocent Man (1989) (SPOILERS) Was it a chicken-and-egg thing with Tom Selleck and movies? Did he consistently end up in ropey pictures because other, bigger big-screen stars had first dibs on the good stuff? Or was it because he was a resolutely small-screen guy with limited range and zero good taste? Selleck had about half-a-dozen cinema outings during the 1980s, one of which, the very TV, very Touchstone Three Men and a Baby was a hit, but couldn’t be put wholly down to him. The final one was An Innocent Man , where he attempted to show some grit and mettle, as nice-guy Tom is framed and has to get tough to survive. Unfortunately, it’s another big-screen TV movie.

A laughing jury is never a hanging jury.

Find Me Guilty (2006) (SPOILERS) I’m trying to recall when I last had the displeasure of viewing such a horribly lit movie. It took me longer than it should have to become engrossed in Find Me Guilty , because every early scene screamed of sets and soundstages in the tattiest, cardboard, amateurish fashion. Damages Season Four sprang to mind, which looked ghastly and cheap. Find Me Guilty looks equally ghastly and cheap. Which is a shame, as it is otherwise very good.

The Bible never said anything about amphetamines.

The Color of Money (1986) (SPOILERS) I tend to think it’s evident when Scorsese isn’t truly exercised by material. He can still invest every ounce of the technical acumen at his fingertips, and the results can dazzle on that level, but you don’t really feel the filmmaker in the film. Which, for one of his pictures to truly carry a wallop, you need to do. We’ve seen quite a few in such deficit in recent years, most often teaming with Leo. The Color of Money , however, is the first where it was out-and-out evident the subject matter wasn’t Marty’s bag. He needed it, desperately, to come off, but in the manner a tradesman who wants to keep getting jobs. This sequel to The Hustler doesn’t linger in the mind, however good it may be, moment by moment.

He said he was going to exorcise his dreams.

The X-Files 4.23: Demons This is, officially, a mythology episode, but if so, I see no reason why any of the broader conspiracy/alien-y ones ( Jose Chung’s From Outer Space , The Unnatural , Dreamland ) shouldn’t also gain admission. Mulder smacks himself up with Ketamine and undergoes a trepanning in an attempt to recall the fate of his sister. Only, he also goes and gets accused of murder in the process.

It feels wrong, doesn’t it? To interrogate a miracle.

Midnight Mass (2021) (SPOILERS) Midnight Mass , Mike Flanagan’s “deeply personal” Netflix horror, at least comes to the party with something to say. The problem is that its discourse is neither terribly original nor insightful, and it proceeds to rehearse it again and again, to diminishing effect, in ever longer monologues throughout its characteristically luxuriant (some might say a little baggy) runtime. It’s probably more interesting, then, as a metaphor, albeit one that wasn’t Flanagan’s express intent.

Now, that’s some unscrupulous shit.

The Harder They Fall (2021) (SPOILERS) The revisionist western is a broad church, at its best opening out the genre to new ideas or perspectives while preserving a prevailing verisimilitude. Conversely, it also runs the danger of offering window dressing, with the “serious” commentary of the shallowest and most obvious kind. For the most part, The Harder They Fall amounts to little more than posturing pastiche, taking in historical figures but making no attempt to integrate them intelligently – or intelligibly – with its fictional framework (in the manner of, say, Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid ). The results are closer to something like Jake Scott’s Plunkett & Macleane , with a brazenly clashing score and an accompanying approach to milieu (costuming, photography, dialogue) and performance (everyone has a “I get to be a cowboy for a few weeks!” air about them). I mean, it’s fine for what it is, intermittently, which isn’t very much.

Captain, he who walks in fire will burn his feet.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) (SPOILERS) Ray Harryhausen returns to the kind of unadulterated fantasy material that made Jason and the Argonauts such a success – swords & stop motion, if you like. In between, there were a couple of less successful efforts, HG Wells adaptation First Men in the Moon and The Valley of the Gwangi (which I considered the best thing ever as a kid: dinosaur walks into a cowboy movie). Harryhausen’s special-effects supremacy – in a for-hire capacity – had also been consummately eclipsed by Raquel Welch’s fur bikini in One Million Years B.C . The Golden Voyage of Sinbad follows the expected Dynamation template – blank-slate hero, memorable creatures, McGuffin quest – but in its considerable favour, it also boasts a villainous performance by nobody-at-the-time, on-the-cusp-of-greatness Tom Baker.

What would you do with a diseased little island?

28 Days Later (2002) (SPOILERS) Evolution’s a nasty business. If not for its baleful influence, all those genetically similar apes – or bats – would be unable to transmit deadly lab-made viruses to humans and cause a zombie plague. Thank the lord we’ve got science on our side, to save us from such scientifically approved, stamped and certified terrors. Does Danny Boyle believe in the programming he expounds? As in, is he as aware of 28 Days Later ’s enforcement of the prescribed paradigm in the same manner as the product placement he oversees in every other frame of the movie (and yes, he could have chosen the Alex Cox option for the latter; it would at least have shown some wit)?

I’ll probably get blamed for that.

After Hours (1985) (SPOILERS) Scorsese’s finest? Definitely his most underrated picture, even given it has found its own loyal niche. After Hours is atypical in the sense of embracing a broader comic flair, broader even than the satirical swipe of The Wolf of Wall Street . It also manages to be one of his most human movies, in spite of a technical engagement suggestive of early Coen Brothers or Sam Raimi, where exaggerated camera movement and impactive editing are as – or more – foregrounded as performance.

He’s a sick man, but he ain’t a crazy one.

The Little Foxes (1941) (SPOILERS) A handsomely mounted Southern melodrama that competed for Best Picture Oscar with such luminaries as Citizen Kane , The Maltese Falcon , Sergeant York and How Green Was My Valley , The Little Foxes has rather faded from view over the years, yet it still has much to offer, if you can get past the godawful wall-to-wall soundtrack (I’m hesitant to call it a score, as that would suggest some kind of legitimate intent).

A man digs a hole, he risks falling into it.

The X-Files 4.21: Zero Sum Skinman-centric and all the more effective for presenting both an ongoing season-arc plotline and resolving it. Now, if only it didn’t have those killer beezzzz in it too. Once again, it’s testament to the best arc stories being quite narrow in focus, rather than attempting to address the whole gamut of constipated Chris Carter canon. That’s present in Zero Sum , by way of our finding out Maria’s affiliations, but she’s such an uninteresting character, a vacant lot, it’s fairly easy to forget this is even supposed to be a revelation.

You’re the pattern and the prototype for a whole new age of biological exploration.

The Fly II (1989) (SPOILERS) David Cronenberg was not, it seems, a fan of the sequel to his hit 1986 remake, and while it’s quite possible he was just being snobby about a movie that put genre staples above theme or innovation, he wasn’t alone. Fox had realised, post- Aliens , that SF properties were ripe for hasty follow ups, and indiscriminately mined a number of popular pictures to immediately diminishing returns during the period ( Cocoon , Predator ). Neither critics nor audiences were impressed. In the case of The Fly II , though, it would be unfair to label the movie as outright bad. It simply lacks that *idea* that would justify the cash-in.

Who gave you the crusade franchise? Tell me that.

The Star Chamber (1983) (SPOILERS) Peter Hyams’ conspiracy thriller might simply have offered sauce too weak to satisfy, reining in the vast machinations of an all-powerful hidden government found commonly during ’70s fare and substituting it with a more ’80s brand that failed to include that decade’s requisite facile resolution. There’s a good enough idea here – instead of Charles Bronson, it’s the upper echelons of the legal system resorting to vigilante justice – but The Star Chamber suffers from a failure of nerve, repenting its premise just as it’s about to dig into the ramifications.

Your desecration of reality will not go unpunished.

2021-22 Best-of, Worst-of and Everything Else Besides The movies might be the most visible example of attempts to cling onto cultural remnants as the previous societal template clatters down the drain. It takes something people really want – unlike a Bond movie where he kicks the can – to suggest the model of yesteryear, one where a billion-dollar grosser was like sneezing. You can argue Spider-Man: No Way Home is replete with agendas of one sort or another, and that’s undoubtedly the case (that’s Hollywood), but crowding out any such extraneous elements (and they often are) is simply a consummate crowd-pleaser that taps into tangible nostalgia through its multiverse take. Of course, nostalgia for a mere seven years ago, for something you didn’t like anyway, is a symptom of how fraught these times have become.

I said I had no family. I didn’t say I had an empty apartment.

The Apartment (1960) (SPOILERS) Billy Wilder’s romcom delivered the genre that rare Best Picture Oscar winner. Albeit, The Apartment amounts to a rather grim (now) PG-rated scenario, one rife with adultery, attempted suicide, prostitution of the soul and subjective thereof of the body. And yet, it’s also, finally, rather sweet, so salving the darker passages and evidencing the director’s expertly judged balancing act. Time Out ’s Tom Milne suggested the ending was a cop out (“ boy forgives girl and all’s well ”). But really, what other ending did the audience or central characters deserve?

If I ever met Huey Lewis, I’d be a wreck.

Hawkeye Season One (SPOILERS) Of the Marvel Disney+ series thus far, this was the one that had the least going for it on paper. Overtly Woke credentials – teenager assumes the mantle from a self-confessedly toxic male – in combination with nigh-on the least interesting member of the Avengers. Although, obviously, that one’s a dead heat with Natasha Romanov. And yet, surprisingly, Hawkeye is easily the most satisfying of year’s TV foursome (I’m not including What If… ? )