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Showing posts from March, 2022

You are defiling one of the wonders of the world!

Death on the Nile (2022) (SPOILERS) A great steaming pile on the Nile. I was mildly surprised to find Oscar-winning Sir Ken was able – at times, mind – to observe a modicum of restraint with Belfast . So it’s gratifying and a great relief to learn that was a mere aberration. Death on the Nile sees him revert to form, as lousy as he’s ever been as a director. And as an actor, he clearly hasn’t the faintest clue about Hercules Parrot. Except, it seems, that he should play him as Doctor Who . And by that, I mean nu- Doctor Who .

Ziggy smokes a lot of weed.

Moonfall (2022) (SPOILERS) For a while there, it looked as if Moonfall , the latest and least-welcomed – so it seems – piece of apocalyptic programming from Roland Emmerich, might be sending mixed messages. Fortunately, we need not have feared, as it turns out to be the same pedigree of disaster porn we’ve come to expect from the director, one of the Elite’s most dutiful mass-entertainment stooges, even if his lustre has rather dimmed since the glory days of 2012.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

It's like extremely Draculated.

Nothing but Trouble (1991) (SPOILERS) Valkenvania ’s a better title. Dan Aykroyd had that part right. He had to get something right in this monstrous misfire, which fails to ring the laughs or the horror, yet succeeds in being extremely grotesque, to the point of unpleasantness. Nothing but Trouble was a famous bomb, although one that’s now largely forgotten, since there were other more enormous bombs the same year, including Hudson Hawk and Highlander II: The Quickening . It also rather helped, along with Eddie Murphy’s Harlem Nights , to draw a line under that generation of SNL players as movie superstars (fortunately, Mike Myers was waiting in the wings). A revisit confirms it’s essentially the same mess it was the last time I saw it thirty years ago, but not without a certain repellent fascination.

Thank you, er, hopefully the Academy invites me back.

Oscar Winners 2021 Well, at least this year’s Oscars gave everyone something to talk about, so let’s hear it for Chris Rock and Will Smith. We’re obviously at a stage where the entire ceremony and its participants could, if it was so desired, be virtually simulated, so this incident at least sparks the possibility that everything we’re seeing right now, even or especially in the world of celebrity, isn’t scripted, by whichever side that may be at that particular moment.

I fired you because you always overcooked the pasta.

Pig (2021) (SPOILERS) Per Metacritic , Pig was among critics’ 2021 Top Ten lists’ ten most-mentioned films. Of course, so was The Green Knight , so the statistic doesn’t necessarily mean very much, except to suggest it wouldn’t have been so outlandish had it been granted a slot among this year’s Best Picture Oscar nominees. Rather than, say, Nightmare Alley . That it didn’t, again, isn’t necessarily indicative of anything, but one has to consider that its essential ethos is antithetical to everything Hollywood espouses. Pig can’t even boast a WEF-ratified subtext like last year’s winner Nomadland.

You’re such a good little nugget.

Dog (2022) (SPOILERS) Dog probably wouldn’t have unduly attracted my attention – throw a random rock and you’re likely to hit one of a multiplicity of heart-warming, life-affirming dog movies – but for the claim that it’s guilty of anti-woke sentiments. Which, well… one might construe it that way. It’s evidently not expressly sympathetic to woke, as its protagonist – and, one might reasonably assume, co-director and star Channing Tatum – has a very matter-of-fact, no-bullshit attitude that would be anathema to the average wokester. At the same time, announcing it as some kind of creed would be gross overstatement. It is, basically just another of a multiplicity of heart-warming, life-affirming dog movies.

There’s no time to be shocked by the truth.

Chinatown (1974) (SPOILERS) One of the most poured-over classics, with even a recent book ( The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood by Sam Wasson) devoted to its undiminished lustre. Consequently, it can be more interesting to trawl rare divergent takes on such hallowed pictures. Not that Chinatown doesn’t deserve its rep, but the chorus of approval can drown out any other consideration, yielding a wash of rather vanilla views (look at The Godfather s I & II , and III – uniform in their yay, yay, nay consensus).

You know, he’s not terribly dynamic, for a Charismatic.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021) (SPOILERS) The problems with The Eyes of Tammy Faye are the perennial ones of the biopic; it’s either unable or unwilling to break the shackles of straight, literal-minded regurgitation and become a movie in its own right. Occasionally, one sees glimmers, particularly in the performances of Andrew Garfield and Jessica Chastain, at times so heightened they verge on camp, but screenwriter Abe Sylvia (working from the 2000 Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato doc) and director Michael Showalter lack the flair to push it into more interesting territory.

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

“Where’s the western in this western?” I take it personal.

Prediction 2022 Oscars Was Sam Elliott being “ a little bit of a B-I-T-C-H ”? After all, as Jane Campion observed, “ He’s not a cowboy; he’s an actor ”. On the other hand, it seems fair enough that Sam ain’t never seen cowboys that “ look like Chippendale dancers before ”. Particularly since this also comes from a man who ain’t never seen the Queen in her damn undies.

You got the wrong pig by the ear.

Old Henry (2021) (SPOILERS) Not one that appeared on many awards shortlists, but despite the fact that Obama’s PR vouched for it when drawing up “his” tally of the best 2021 movies, writer-director Potsy Ponciroli’s western is every bit as worthwhile as the very different Coen Brothers genre entry also starring Tim Blake Nelson of a few years back. Nelson was concerned people would automatically compare the two, but being fish and fowl, and his performances being likewise, I don’t think he need have worried. Really, his concern should be that no one even seems to have seen Old Henry.

Well, there’s the team. Pirates and cutthroats, every one of them.

The Guns of Navarone (1961) (SPOILERS) While it may be increasingly difficult to recall, given recent “form”, every decade has yielded its share of Best Picture Oscar contenders nominated primarily out of recognition for box office/cultural impact, rather than content: The Towering Inferno ; Fatal Attraction ; Titanic ; Avatar ; Bohemian Rhapsody . The Guns of Navarone definitely falls into that category; next to West Side Story – arguably also an artistic achievement, unlike the recent version – it was the biggest hit of the year. Alastair MacLean, stalwart purveyor of boys’ own adventures, a contender for Best Picture? Surely some mistake.

I’m not being rude. I made lobster bisque.

Deep Water (2022) (SPOILERS) Adrian Lyne’s belated return to cinema is par for the course with his erratic directorial resumé. His last film was two decades ago; now an octogenarian, Lyne’s industry standing was undoubtedly damaged by the crashing and burning of an ill-advised and costly Lolita remake. Obviously, his principle rep has been in the erotic thriller/drama genre – varyingly including 9½ Weeks , Fatal Attraction , Indecent Proposal and Unfaithful – and this Patricia Highsmith adaptation very loosely conforms to that template. Rumours circulated that Deep Water was unreleasable, such that it was being dumped on Hulu/Amazon Prime as a means of avoiding the humiliation of an outright bomb. Really, though, it’s no better or worse than any given example from the genre’s ’90s heyday, despite the inevitable critical mauling it has received.

That’s right. We’re in prime killing time.

The Osterman Weekend (1983) (SPOILERS) One thing I’ll give Robert Ludlum is titles. As much as they’re resolutely formulaic, they’ve also innately memorable (at least, his first couple of decades’ worth). Titles – in rude contrast to titties – meant nothing to Sam Peckinpah, less still Ludlum’s novel, which he purportedly considered trash. Sam just wanted to get back in the moviemaking saddle, ailing and deemed an unsafe bet as he was by this point. So he willingly hitched his wagon to unsafe producers and (in his view) an unsafe script, and the results were promptly dismissed by critics, with a few notable exceptions. The Osterman Weekend was thus ripe for rediscovery, becoming a true cult item: The Peckinpah Legacy .

You can go back to your pies now, Mildred. We’re through.

Mildred Pierce (1945) (SPOILERS) Is Mildred Pierce really a film noir? Sure, its framing device revolves around murder, and there’s crime – it’s adapted from a 1941 James Cain novel, after all – and requisite black-and-white cinematography, but at its core, this is really melodrama. The picture’s genre specifics are evidently a well-thumbed subject for discussion, so I’m rather late to the table on that score. All I know for certain is, there’s only so much of Veda (Ann Blyth) being a right little spoiled cow to pushover mum Mildred (Joan Crawford) I can take before I’m longing for Bogey to show up and slap the little madam about a bit or stop her permanently with a slug from a .45.

Two ice teas for Fred Astaire.

Body Heat (1981) (SPOILERS) In retrospect, perhaps the most notable aspect of Body Heat is how stylistically distinctive it is from Lawrence Kasdan’s subsequent pictures. Admittedly, he was operating elsewhere in the drama or dramedy sphere most of the time – and occasionally in the “ shit weasel ” one: avoid Dreamcatcher – but even his westerns display little in the way of verve. Body Heat is precise and studied in its neo-noir flair, matching the screenplay’s studied dialogue and John Barry’s woozy jazz score with a hermetically oppressive mis-en-scène.

I stick to modest goals.

The Card Counter (2021) (SPOILERS) A silly and contrived Paul Schrader picture, which shouldn’t be a great surprise coming off the back of the grossly overrated First Reformed . Once upon a time, Schrader penned an all-time-classic screenplay (turned into a all-time-classic movie) about a veteran who drove a taxi around scum-ridden NYC. Now, he’s penned a turgid-and-forgettable screenplay about a veteran who counts cards for a living, having spent eight years in military prison for crimes committed at Abu Ghraib, and who takes under his wing the son of another soldier, who was prosecuted and committed suicide; the son plans revenge on the major who oversaw said prison. It’s a convolution of unwieldy elements, ones that fail to mesh in any coherent manner as Schrader overlays his usual Calvinist guilt tics on The Card Counter while straining for social relevance.

People still talk about Pandapocalypse 2002.

Turning Red (2022) (SPOILERS) Those wags at Pixar, eh? Yes, the most – actually, the only – impressive thing about Turning Red is the four-tiered wordplay of its title. Thirteen-year-old Mei (Rosalie Chiang) finds herself turning into a large red panda at emotive moments. She is also, simultaneously, riding the crimson wave for the first time. Further, as a teenager, she characteristically suffers from acute embarrassment (mostly due to the actions of her domineering mother Ming Lee, voiced by Sandra Oh). And finally, of course, Turning Red can be seen diligently spreading communist doctrine left, right and centre. To any political sensibility tuning in to Disney+, basically (so ones with either considerable or zero resistance to woke). Take a guess which of these isn’t getting press in reference to the movie? And by a process of elimination is probably what it it’s really about (you know in the same way most Pixars, as far back as Toy Story and Monsters, Inc . can be given an insi

Shut your mouth, Chuck, or I will fill it with Ray’s feet.

The Adam Project (2022) (SPOILERS) If you’re going to rely on a pint-sized performer for much of your dramatic/comedic heft in a movie, you’d better be damn sure you’ve picked one with the right stuff. Which means a kid who can not only hit their marks, but is also abundant in personality. The latter, a Mac Culkin, is a relative rarity, so the quest to find someone for The Adam Project who could approximate a young Ryan Reynolds was always going to be iffy, particularly when he’s required to spit out Reynolds-patented smart-mouthed quips (sample: " Hello Derek. You have a wonderful mouth mullet. You must be proud "). Walker Scobell is a perfectly accomplished technical performer, but he’s a vacuum at the heart of a movie that has enough problems to be getting on with anyway.

I always knew you was a born mentalist.

Nightmare Alley (1947) (SPOILERS) Watching this after the recent Guillermo del Toro Nightmare Alley wasn’t perhaps the fairest measure Edmund Goulding’s noir, but I wanted to give the new one as much leeway and bring to it as few preconceived ideas as possible. Del Toro’s film is undoubtedly much more polished and much bigger on detail, and it’s also more dedicated to seeing William Lindsay Gresham’s novel through to its unadulterated conclusion. Yet Goulding’s picture remains the more effective of the two, despite its clumsier dialogue and need for exposition; del Toro can’t help but underline advance warning of every development in bold type, undermining the whole and turning his take into a protracted slog on its way to a foregone conclusion. This Nightmare Alley is blessedly lighter on its feet.

Mr Vengeance here, he don’t bite.

The Batman (2022) (SPOILERS) There are more than enough first-rate scenes and sequences in The Batman to make a classic movie, and like director Matt Reeves’ other pictures, it has a very deliberate, confidently realised sense of time, place and mood. Unfortunately, like his other pictures – in particular his Planet of the Apes reboot prequel sequels – it’s cumulatively exhausting through its lack of focus. This is a reboot that sprawls, absent of discernible highs and lows, desperately in need of a binding structure borne from internal momentum and delineated acts, and forfeit the imprimatur of the epic necessary to justify the three-hour running time. Seven – The Batman ’s most obvious visual and thematic inspiration – was lean, punchy and to the point. And it left you reeling. By the time The Batman is over, you’re simply wearied. You’ve had more than enough, the promise of new/further Arkham residents unleashed be damned.

I didn’t do it with me nose.

My Left Foot (1989) (SPOILERS) It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that My Left Foot loads the dice in its triumph-over-adversity tale; to have done otherwise would surely have kept the Oscar from Deserving Daniel, and would almost certainly have forestalled its Best Picture nod. Nevertheless, I’d remembered it to be much less beholden to such savvy stirring of the emotions, less pressed into the service of aspirational highlights and rousing vignettes, perhaps because its working-class Dublin milieu is a far cry from The Theory of Everything ’s rarefied Oxbridge atmosphere. They’re very much on the same page, though, delivering smooth, palatable disability dramatics, just with some colourful effing and blinding to suggest this one is a rough-and-ready slice of life.

It’s like Liberace banged a set of curtains.

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (2021) (SPOILERS) I’m unsure quite why this sequel was roundly slated by critics (and, it seems, none-too-loved by audiences). Sure, it has Ryan Reynolds in it, ubiquitous Ryan Reynolds, doing what he does best. Or worst, depending on your mileage. And Samuel L Jackson is there too, the Michael Caine of his generation, never one to pass on a project pay cheque. Neither necessarily merits an immediate thumbs down, though. Perhaps it’s simply the way the picture revels shamelessly in its lowbrow, quickfire, ruddy, cruddy delirium, daring you to find it distasteful. Director Patrick Hughes is no one’s idea of a restrained artiste, and The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is nothing if it is not a cacophony of noise, mugging and cartoonish ultra-violence. But it’s also frequently very funny.

You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.

Inception  (2010) (SPOILERS) Inception ’s the blockbuster where Christopher Nolan gets everything – or nearly everything – right. His Russian doll, dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream structure, by way of a heist movie (originally conceived as a horror), is meticulously structured, and so propulsive and confident in its storytelling that it’s slavishness to exposition somehow becomes an asset rather than a hindrance. As should be expected, it’s another of the director’s ongoing ruminations – and arguably a piece of high-end predictive programming – regarding the nature of reality and the manipulation of perception. In this case, the focus ultimately appears to be one of our capacity to deceive ourselves, or further, not even to care about our self-deception or manipulation. Or is that simply what Inception wants us to think?

Do you wanna start World War III?

West Side Story (2021) (SPOILERS) Spielberg’s West Side Story remake isn’t merely redundant; it’s a lifeless, mechanical VR machine version of the original, the kind of soulless facsimile you’d expect to find discarded in some corner of his other recent, empty attempt at recapturing youthful brio, Ready Player One. The director previously dipped a toe in musical waters with the dance-hall tumble of 1941 and the opening number from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom ; both set pieces tantalised the prospect of his tackling an entire movie with such energy and aplomb. But they were forty-odd years ago, and he’s no longer the same eager geek. Now he’s drearily respectable, a slave to conformity, esteem and papering over the gaping cracks in his domestic sphere. Plus, he has the ball and chain that is Janusz Kamiński as his DP.

I don’t think being deaf makes it legal to spark a fatty.

CODA (2021) (SPOILERS) Were CODA simply a tale of a young woman trying to break free from the shackles of her family in order to live her own life, would it have been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar? Rather than the same but featuring the differently abled? You might as well ask if Marlee Matlin, who co-stars here, would have won the Best Actress Oscar for Children of a Lesser God were it not for similar considerations. Hollywood loves to announce itself as progressive and socially aware. It’s how it sleeps at night amid all that wealth. The only difference between yesteryear and the current environment is the size of the cart leading the horse, and how much it crowds out the rest of the field.

They don’t know Anne Boleyn saved my life last night.

Spencer (2021) (SPOILERS) I’m sure there’s a very funny edit of Spencer to be made, perhaps involving Reeves and Mortimer appearing at inopportune moments while Kristen Stewart’s Prince Di reels, dazed and confused, around the halls of Sandringham, faithfully accompanied by Johnny Greenwood’s free-jazz snoodlings. The picture’s random and deranged enough as it is, so it would require very little prodding to fracture its deadly-serious face ache and daub across it instead a splash of levity. Or how about Terry Gilliam in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas mode, replacing visions of Liz et al with his animatronic casino reptiles (the referenced perpetually frigid Sandringham interiors underline such potentialities)?

You’re going on a journey. A journey through memory.

Reminiscence (2021) (SPOILERS) Jonathan Nolan rewards his missus Lisa Joy for all her hard work on the variable-at-best Westworld by co-producing this consummately bland sci-fi. Reminiscence is one she, as a true multi-hyphenate would-be-auteur, has written, directed and co-produced. I’m rather reminded of a previous Nolan alumni spin-off sci-fi bomb, Transcendence , which Wally Pfister unwisely made his directorial debut. Since then, crickets.