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Showing posts from February, 2022

Just like the army. Give them an inch, they’ll take a mile.

The Square Peg (1958) (SPOILERS) It’s an odd realisation that little Norman Wisdom, armed with his persona of loveably inept comic man-child, only came to the fore when the actor/performer was pushing forty (in 1953’s Trouble in Store ). By the time of The Square Peg , he was well into his fifth decade, his initial appeal having slid a little (this may be overstated, however, as he remained popular throughout the ’50s). Along with The Early Bird , this army farce ranks as one of his best comedies; it’s largely shorn of the sentiment that would run a number of his pictures aground and only really coming up short when the need for plotting takes over from the first hour’s freewheeling set pieces.

As far as everyone around here is concerned, Fred Krueger never existed.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, A Nightmare on Elm Street ’s remake serves to yield a degree of respect for Wes Craven’s rickety craft in fashioning the original. I was aware of Platinum Dunes’ churn ’em out approach to remaking horror properties, but I still didn’t expect an Elm Street iteration to be quite so devoid of personality, imagination and ambition. Even the least of the series’ predecessors – and there are a few, let’s be frank – couldn’t be denied sincere intentions on the parts of their makers. There’s no trace of that here. Samuel Bayer’s movie is simply a machine, the kind of functional slasher from which Craven’s film was seen as such a refreshing departure.

I could suck you right up my tailpipe.

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) (SPOILERS) For a movie with speed as its driving force, at least ostensibly, Two-Lane Blacktop is remarkably meandering. It’s one of those counter-culture classics I never had much urge to investigate, and that reticence appears entirely warranted. It’s a capsule curio, passingly interesting, lightly engaging, but never in danger of earning the praise and attention lavished on it at the time.

Is your bottom soggy?

Licorice Pizza (2021) (SPOILERS) Unlike everyone else, it seems, I didn’t take to the first few Paul Thomas Anderson pictures, particularly those San Fernando Valley, Altman-esque lurching sprawls Boogie Nights and (yeesh!) Magnolia . It was only with There Will Be Blood and a broadening yen for time, place and subject matter that he revealed himself as a filmmaker of merit. This could be why Licorice Pizza , in which he returns to his childhood milieu, left me persuasively unmoved. Or it could also just be the story he chose.

You know, this is what happens when people spend too much time in Florida.

Capone (2020) (SPOILERS) Watching Capone , one can’t help but wonder if its title character’s increasingly addled state represents some level of semi-autobiographical statement on the part of its writer-director. Josh Trank was, after all, purportedly stoned out of his gourd while making The Fantastic Four , so precipitating that debacle’s torturous production and legacy (I should stress, I don’t think the picture is nearly the disaster it’s made out to be, even if going grimdark on one of Marvel’s most upbeat properties may not have been the most considered take). Capone delivers a not dissimilarly unwelcoming, albeit syphilis-riddled disposition, as if Trank really wants to dig in to his uncommercial acumen; it’s baffling that any financier figured this was a good prospect. Nevertheless, the picture is fitfully engrossing, and it offers a typically dedicated performance from Tom Hardy.

Just call it Stab 8. You’re not fooling anyone.

Scream (2022) (SPOILERS) My initial reaction to the Scream 5 trailer was that the movie was missing the charm – if you can call it that – of earlier instalments and would likely be greeted with indifference. Well clearly, I was erroneous in predicting box office gloom, but my assessment of the picture’s tone was fairly accurate. Scream ’s ruthlessly meta- elements are often well orchestrated by writers James Vanderbilt and Gary Busick (and at times emphatically not so), but there’s something ruthlessly impersonal about the exercise – even compared to the cynicism of Scream 4 ’s failed cash grab.

At least I’m a real detective. Not some outer-shit space thing!

Alien Nation  (1988) (SPOILERS) I’m not sure there was a way to make Alien Nation , coming as it did in the socio-politically conscious science-fiction lineage of Planet of the Apes , and not make its themes seem somewhat clunky, overbearing and even patronising. The alternative would just have been to make some slick nonsense like Bright . Of course, if Alien Nation worked as slick nonsense, that would be something . Instead, it has just enough going for it to see why it was quickly spun off as a (short-lived) TV show (with a subsequent long-lived string of TV movies), but not enough to see it clear of abundant clichés of character, plot and motivation.

Without my armour, I’m less persuasive.

The Book of Boba Fett Season One (SPOILERS) What a dog’s – or bantha’s – dinner. In other words, Jedi poodoo. I think I preferred Boba when he was a fatty. If there’s one good reason to wait until a Disney+ series is over before watching it, it’s this; the rises and falls in anticipation (particularly following The Mandalorian Season Two) just aren’t worth it. Not when all hopes are dashed as resoundingly as they were in The Book of Boba Fett Chapter 7 : In the Name of Honor . And that’s after four underwhelming episodes of the title character posing as a lacklustre crime lord/Daimyo, outings that undermine his credibility almost as much as clumsily falling into the Sarlacc Pit did, and two swap-in instalments planned for The Mandalorian Season Three that cumulatively unwind and incapacitate that character’s journey.

She was a noble lamprey.

Drive My Car aka Doraibu mai kâ (2021) (SPOILERS) Halfway through Drive My Car , I realised I could be starting on a second viewing of Belfast at the same point. Not that I especially want to watch Belfast again, but to suggest Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film is indulgent would be an understatement. To some degree, its melancholy perseverance with its characters pays off in slowly revealed insights and the blossoming of minds meetings and sharing guilt. At the same time, it’s so bent on mirroring and referencing its core theatrical inspiration – Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya – in slavishly meandering fashion, I began to wonder if I wasn’t watching the rehearsals in real time.

It’s not a question of losing my nerve. I never had none.

Topkapi (1964) (SPOILERS) Good heist movies are hard to come by. Audiences are so starved of them, even dreck like the Now You See Me s does well. Jules Dassin was no slouch in the genre, having already wowed audiences almost a decade before Topkapi with Rififi ’s silent, half-hour heist sequence. This is much more a caper than it is a hard-bitten crime movie, though, completely with jaunty comic turns and a very relaxed – sedate, even – approach to unfolding its tale. When it comes to the main set piece, however, it more than delivers.

I would put two in the back of your head and go make a sandwich.

The Protégé (2021) (SPOILERS) Calling The Protégé a serviceable action thriller isn’t really a dig at director Martin Campbell, as he’s been making those – post-TV work and even earlier sex comedies – for most of his career. Because he has very fluid, capable chops, though, he’s occasionally risen above this. His Bond s are two of that series’ best, largely due to his steady, assured hand at the tiller. The TV drama that kickstarted his movie career proper, Edge of Darkness , is something else, of course, a case of rising to the challenge of remarkable material (and his big-screen remake, redundant as it is, is no slouch either). In contrast, the Protégé finds the director continuing to sift the waters of appreciably lesser fare, a situation that comes of spoiling the oyster of comic-book opportunities ( The Green Lantern , in Campbell’s case). But it’s punchy, efficient, and suggests he’s showing no signs of fatigue, despite approaching his ninth decade.

I’ll tell you how good that is. Even a gifted director couldn’t hurt it.

Deathtrap (1982) (SPOILERS) If you’re going to build the plot your play/movie on delirious/absurd twists, you’d better be sure you can sustain (or even escalate) them, or you’ll end up leaving your audience feeling short-changed. I suspect that’s why Deathtrap lacks the longevity of Sleuth , with which it is often compared. It might also be because Supes v Caine isn’t quite the event Sir Larry v Caine was. Which is to say, Sidney Lumet’s adaptation of Ira Levin’s 1978 play is highly entertaining. And then , it isn’t so much.

I apologise. Your cake… did not agree with me.

The King’s Man (2021) (SPOILERS) Perhaps it’s down to the World War I setting and the accompanying glib appropriations and reinventions, but the aggressive juvenilia of Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman franchise has now become the distracting motive force. Previously, I gave it, if not a free pass, the benefit of the doubt due to those elements that succeeded, albeit to diminishing degrees. Here, whether he’s replotting history in a sub-Alan Moore, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen manner, establishing period characters as the most irritating quip-smart Steven Moffat clones, or delivering trite moralising on the horrors of war while simultaneously revelling in graphic and bombastically choreographed bloodletting, The King’s Man , to use the kind of vernacular he and fellow toff Guy Ritchie adore, got on my tits.

I don’t know what you mean by “You’re a peckerwood”.

KIMI (2022) (SPOILERS) Steven Soderbergh’s latest impersonal, production-line effort – if only he really had retired – is pretty dumb, but also highly efficient. Which counts for something when mounting a claustrophobic thriller. The director previously unleashed pandemic propaganda flick Contagion on a pliant audience and has more recently applied himself to whatever safe, popular, good liberal narrative exercises tickled to his rather eclectic fancy, be they the low-fruit Panama-Papers “exposé” The Laundromat or last year’s disastrous, uber-woke Oscar Ceremony. Here, he’s servicing more of the same – plandemic backdrop; a proliferation of obedient mask junkies; nominal threat of pervasive surveillance tech as a sub for actual commentary; proactive heroine who does for the villains – but it largely delivers. That is, if you can excuse screenwriter David Koepp’s frankly ludicrous central conceit.

One eye from night, as they say.

The Salute of the Jugger aka The Blood of Heroes (1989) (SPOILERS) The extreme-sports version of Number Wang, the rules of The Game at the heart of The Salute of the Jugger are so baffling, it’s amazing writer-director David Webb Peoples was able to muster any tension in the contests at all. But I guess hitting, mutilating and maiming one’s opponent will tend to have that cumulative effect, even when the objective (sticking a skull on a spike, loosely) is vague. It’s big in Germany, apparently (playing The Game, that is). The Salute of the Jugger is, in its own oddball way, kind of great, despite not being especially stunning in terms of ideas, themes or action.

I don’t care if his name is Colonel Sanders. Just get his ass back there.

Cry Macho (2021) (SPOILERS) I wouldn’t have credited the director of the very good Richard Jewell with late onset senility, but I can find little other explanation for his disastrous central casting decision, one that destroys any chance Cry Macho has for credibility or dramatic integrity. Towering hubris, perhaps, of the kind that saw Clint, in his previous starring vehicle ( The Mule ) proving ever-so satisfying and virile while servicing a couple of hookers. That, at least, was a mere interlude. Here we’re supposed to believe Marta (Natalia Traven, about fifty) is so desperate for companionship, she’d see a ninety-year old man as a prize catch. Or any kind of catch.

The Everclear is kicking my ass.

Freddy vs. Jason (2003) (SPOILERS) It’s pretty clear who wins this slug fest, if you compare it to even the least inspired previous entries in the Elm Street series. On screen, at least, the franchise makers are compelled to call a draw, so as to avoid the dissatisfaction of either arch villain’s advocates, but who are they trying to kid? Jason brings Freddy down to his thoroughly pedestrian slasher level, in a grudge match that carries a dire lack of imagination. Director Ronny Yu does his best to paper over the cracks by making Freddy vs. Jason look very generically polished, but that only serves to emphasise how out of luck anyone seeking a glimmer of personality or inventiveness in the whole affair will be.

He hasn’t had a wink of sleep all night. He’s forgotten how.

The Black Sheep of Whitehall (1942) (SPOILERS) Propaganda movies never die – lockdown flicks enjoining masked subservience have been just the latest incarnation – but at least a few have exhibited a healthy, anarchic irreverence amid whichever cause they were espousing. In this case, the war effort, and what could be better fodder for the impressionable masses (because no one – well very few – would cast doubt on its legitimacy)? The Black Sheep of Whitehall finds Will Hay’s “ incompetent authority figure ” – © Wiki – foiling a Nazi plot, with the help of dinky little John Mills.

Trust me, bud, you do not like fun.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021) (SPOILERS) “ The Mitchells have always been weird, and that’s what makes us great. ” Actually, no. The Mitchells represent your standardised, homogenised, Hollywood approximation of the family, one comprising the aspergic son (cause unknown, but if you suggest one, be prepared to lose your medical licence), LGBTQ+ gender-fluid daughter (visually coded, but only obliquely referenced, yet sufficient to pounce on as a progressive and ground-breaking triumph), wise mom (with a preference to revealing her as hero figure because female) and remote, decontextualised father (because irrelevant white male authority figure who needs to learn his place). The question shouldn’t so much be who will win The Mitchells vs. the Machines , as The Mitchells are the Machines .

If you could smell between my groins, you’d understand.

House of Gucci (2021) (SPOILERS) It’s easy to see why reactions to House of Gucci have been all over the map. And why it has done decent business despite a shortfall in critical raves. Perhaps insufficient business when set against its price tag, but compared to Sir Ridders’ other 2021 movie ( The Last Duel ), it’s a monster. Starring the fame monster. House of Gucci boasts the director’s typically unmoderated, get-it-in-the-can approach to the many-and-varied subject matter that has characterised his output over the last two decades: efficient, effective, but lacking any sense of authorial oversight beyond the technical (which is ever-accomplished but also entirely indifferent). It’s thus down to the cast to give the movie oomph, which means, intermittently, that House of Gucci is highly entertaining. But only intermittently.

You’re nothing but an Okie with straight teeth.

Nightmare Alley (2021) (SPOILERS) It’s no compliment when you can predict the final scene of a movie simply by watching the first few minutes (and no, I hadn’t previously seen the 1947 version). Particularly when the cumulative effect is of a Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt episode but five times the length, and thus distended beyond all bounds of reason. While it’s true that Nightmare Alley has almost no bona fide supernatural elements, it plays in the much same way as those anthology tales, albeit crawling rather than propelling itself towards the final “twist” moment.

I went 35 miles an hour straight into a cow.

The 355 (2022) (SPOILERS) Probably the best Simon Kinberg’s fledgling directorial “career” can hope for is that audiences who wouldn’t touch his work on the end of a bargepole – commonsensically, that’s everyone – should be exposed or directed to it via artificial means. Consequently, early January’s conspirasphere rumour must have seemed like a godsend. This claimed no theatres in the US – or anywhere – would be allowing bookings beyond January 6, barring this opus, on account of some massive imminent Truther announcement taking place. For a few days, there was a spike of interest in just why it should be that The 355 was singled out for attention. Alas for Kinberg, this did not translate into ticket sales. Mostly because the movie so clearly sucked.

The dinner scene is inarguably better.

Being the Ricardos (2021) (SPOILERS) Being the Ricardos would still be a structurally sloppy, unearned biopic from Aaron Sorkin had Nicole Kidman heeded the backlash against her casting and quit, but it might also have lucked-in with someone better suited to inhabiting Lucille Ball’s persona (Debra Messing has been suggested). As it is, there’s an empty husk at the heart of the movie, not helped any by the terrifying polish Kidman’s given to her already plastic-enhanced face; it makes her look more like Judge Reinhold – or something Bruce Campbell’s Surgeon General of Beverly Hills spat out – than Ball.

Children are a crushing responsibility.

The Lost Daughter (2021) (SPOILERS) For her directorial debut, Maggie Gyllenhaal has chosen to make a sensitively shot, acutely measured movie about quite awful people. And so, of course, it has garnered raves. There’s no doubting The Lost Daughter is perceptively staged – she’d make a good horror director, should she ever wish to tackle that genre – and that Gyllenhaal extracts exactly the desired performances from her cast, but if she expected us to trawl through two hours of her protagonist Leda’s subjective discontent, despair and tense encounters and give it two thumbs up, making her so profoundly unsympathetic probably wasn’t the best way to go about it.

Do you remember things that made sense? Things you could count on? Before we all got so lost?

Born on the Fourth of July (1989) (SPOILERS) Revisiting the oeuvre of Oliver, I’m reaching the realisation that the degree of qualitive consistency I credited to his earlier directorial efforts (up to around the point he concluded his Vietnam trilogy) isn’t actually there. Or rather, they’re blessed with the wrong kind of qualitative consistency. Watching Born on the Fourth of July is like being beaten about the head with a block hammer. There’s zero room for subtlety or nuance in Stone’s long-in-development adaptation of Ron Kovic’s story. The inability to convey such tones may, in certain of his pictures, actually be a plus – it’s probably no coincidence the director’s best works, Salvador and JFK , rely on overstatement – but with this kind of material, loaded as it is with readily recognisable tropes – falls from innocence; yearnings for yesteryear – it’s an absolute hindrance.

Why do you dress me in borrowed robes?

The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021) (SPOILERS) The distinguishing title of this latest adaptation of the most (?) adapted Shakespeare play sounds like the setup of for a round of Whose Line Is it Anyway...? “The tragedy of Macbeth is…” that it’s a quite beautifully shot film, one where you can sink into each frame and luxuriate, yet its central relationship – the one that sparked the project in the first place, at least as far as the actress playing Mrs MacB is concerned – rather lacks the expected oomph.

Well, you’ve got to be pretty brave to take a ride in a pumpkin.

King Richard (2021) (SPOILERS) Raves over a biopic should always be taken with a pinch of salt, so it ought to be little surprise that the initial raptures greeting King Richard have lost momentum. In part, this simply reflects public indifference upon its release, but it also testifies to a creatively moribund genre. Every so often, a biopic in whichever field – sports, music, business – breaks the standard mould and justifies the genre’s existence. More generally, they follow a determinedly literal course – whilst simultaneously playing fast and loose with the facts – one that leads to an approach of shapeless, sprawling, unfocussed, potted “lifelights”. Even when a chunk, rather than the whole journey, is depicted, it tends to be the same in capsule form. King Richard is closer to the latter, dealing with Richard Williams’ coaching and brokering of his famous daughters’ tennis careers from their ages of 11-14, or thereabouts; unfortunately, the results are as indulgent and undisci