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Showing posts from April, 2022

I'm smitten. I'm in deep smit.

So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993) (SPOILERS) An unlikely choice for an extended universe, even if unofficially. But with Mike Myers' imminent return to original comedy, his first outing since The – unfairly maligned – Love Guru , So I Married an Axe Murderer gets a chance to be recognised as more than simply a fizzle, one best known for featuring the by-then-ancient The La’s’ There She Goes as its theme song.

It turns out it’s not all Cabbage Patch Kids and cocaine.

Russian Doll Season 2 (SPOILERS) Russian Doll ’s first season started off going great guns, before failing to stick the landing. This unnecessary – in as much as nothing about the original demanded more, beyond it proving something of a hit for Netflix, not least critically – second run doesn’t have that problem, mostly because it never even clears the runway.

He loves to pull a cork, I know that!

True Grit (1969) (SPOILERS) In the wake of the Coen Brothers’ version, there isn’t really much need to see this first cinematic go round of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel again. Unless you adore John Wayne. It won him his Best Actor Oscar, of course, but if you came to True Grit cold, with zero knowledge of the background to his receiving the statuette, you’d reasonably be mystified quite how that came to pass.

Aloof sounds good.

Sweet Charity (1969) (SPOILERS) Bob Fosse’s directorial debut, and very far from any kind of classic. Sweet Charity does, however, offer a sequence that undeniably merits such status, and knocks 99 percent of choreographed numbers into a cocked hat. Unfortunately, it comes during the first thirty minutes, and there are still two more hours to go.

I just popped some heroin and took a gas pipe.

The Happy Ending (1969) (SPOILERS) Turgid melodrama that earned Jean Simmons a Best Actress Oscar nomination: there’s no contesting the quality of her performance, only the material she has available. Director Richard Brooks had earlier worked with his missus, far more successfully, in Elmer Gantry , and he only has himself to blame, since he also wrote and produced The Happy Ending .

Let’s never be weirdos, okay?

The Sterile Cuckoo (1969) (SPOILERS) Alan J Pakula’s debut has more in common with his ’80s relationship dramas than his more immediately adjacent ’70s forays into neo-noir. Even then, though, it stands somewhat apart. An adaptation of John Nichols’ 1965 novel of the same name, The Sterile Cuckoo actually bears closer resemblance – to jump to another decade – to ’90s indie pictures; it’s a low-key, lo-fi affair revolving around likeable or not-so-likeable eccentrics (we’ve seen not dissimilar from Wes Anderson, Alexander Payne and Hal Hartley).

Yeah, that’s a very expensive car chase right now.

Ambulance (2022) (SPOILERS) My advice is to go with the definite article – the 1990 Larry Cohen movie starring Eric Roberts – but this latest unwieldy slice of Bayhem is nevertheless engaging for the most part. Ambulance is one of his “artier, more character-driven” statements. You know, artier, more character-driven statements replete with gunfire, car chases and seismic explosions.

Hey, I go everywhere with Mr Whiskers, okay?

Uncharted (2022) (SPOILERS) The omens never seemed promising for Uncharted , which over the span of almost a decade and a half of development hell, went from a Mark Wahlberg starrer to… a Mark Wahlberg starrer. As unwanted as a Wahlberg Nathan Drake was, though, Tom Holland is straight-up absurd as the video games’ main protagonist; he resembles a twelve-year-old with photoshop pecs, and there’s still no sign of his voice breaking any time soon. Holland’s essentially the new Michael J Fox: tiny, likeable – the teeny girls just love him – and at a stage in his career when he’s still nursing the illusion he can do any damn thing. He will learn, by hit and miss, he can’t.

Please tell me you’re here with severe chest pains.

The X-Files 5.2: Redux II Generally considered an uptick on a subpar season opener, Redux II may slack off somewhat when it comes to the portentously inert narration, but it’s no less drowned in Chris Carterisms. There are some decent beats here, but they’re wrapped in another instalment in the interminable sick Scully arc; that it (finally) finds its resolution here in no way mitigates the alienation it engendered.

There are truths that can kill a nation, Agent Mulder.

The X-Files  5.1: Redux Looking back at season opener Redux now, it’s scarcely believable this was The X-Files at the peak of its popularity. The myth arc isn’t merely running on fumes, it’s being serviced in a manner that borders on (unintentional, alas) self-parody. The saddest part of this is that – although my response at the time was that they should just quit horsing around and cut to the chase – the series during this phase was coming closest to the smoke-and-mirrors truth of how the conspirasphere operates.

Do you know how you sound, accusing the owner of a Fortune 500 company of being some kind of occultist?

Archive 81 (2022) (SPOILERS) The latest in Hollywood’s apparently unwavering appetite for Lovecraftian horror, Article 81 is also diligently magpie with regard to scooping up cinematic influences in the same. It’s nearest relative and Netflix stablemate is thus probably Stranger Things , with its parallel realms to our own nursing unspeakable horrors of an anti-life nature (that series’ Rebecca Thomas directed half the episodes here). On top of the HP source, Archive 81 embraces the found-footage conceit, one that has been very variable in value – The Blair Witch Project being the most prolific and most vastly overrated – and is employed here via a set of logistical rules that are strictly bendable. The result, exec-produced by James Wan (who likes his Cthulhu) effectively pushes all the buttons you’d expect while never breaking free from what could be regarded as formula.

That’s your problem, kid. You don’t know who you’re kidding.

The Two Jakes (1990) (SPOILERS) Or Jake and the Fatman: Jake is the Fatman . The Jake in question being one private investigator JJ Gittes, now on his way to occupying a suit of Orson Welles proportions. Chinatown ’s belated sequel, set eleven years later, underwent a succession of production woes such that, by the time it landed, audiences weren’t even willing to take a sniff; it opened in a paltry seventh place in early August 1990 ( Flatliners taking the top spot) and was out of the Top 10 the following week. Equally long-awaited sequel The Godfather Part III opened at the end of the same year, also to mixed reviews, but it still managed to make a relative success of itself. Perhaps Chinatown ’s time had passed, or hadn’t come round again? Perhaps the title plain sucked.

We’ve been dropping the British Empire for the last six months!

In the Name of the Father (1993) (SPOILERS) The trouble with the Troubles is that they tend to make for rather dreary, respectable, eggshell-treading fare. Unless, of course, they’re entering into full-blown genre territory ( Hidden Agenda , ’71 ; there’s a film to be made about the funding of the various paramilitary organisations and their infiltration, but that puts you squarely in the kind of terrorism territory Hollywood wouldn’t want to touch). Barring the odd, unfathomable decision to make a Fiddy Cent movie, Jim Sheridan has mostly spent his cinematic career charting the Irish experience in various forms and settings, several of which relate to the repercussions of British rule (this, Some Mother’s Son and Bloody Sunday ). In the Name of the Father has going for it the “wrongly imprisoned” subgenre, and its intentions are at least laudable, but its failing is that that of an over-emotive cry for attention, one emblazoned with big names before the camera and across the soundtra

Alright, tell me what she didn’t say, word for word.

Cactus Flower (1969) (SPOILERS) The Academy has often recognised the cachet in populating its Best Supporting Actress category with attractive young starlets. Actually giving them the statuette has been less frequent, however, reaching its peak during the ’90s (Marisa Tomei, Mira Sorvino, Angelina Jolie). Nobody’s claiming those recipients were rewarded purely on the basis of skin-deep appraisals, of course, even if they’ve largely failed to make good on early promise. It’s much less easy to make the same assertion of Goldie in Cactus Flower , however. I can think of a number of movies where she’d have been rightly recognised for her effervescent talents – less so her plastic-fantastic current look – but this tired farce, complete with woeful “down with the kids” aging Hollywood hipsterism, isn’t one of them.

Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando were in a movie together.

Old (2021) (SPOILERS) Par for the course from M Night Shyamalan. Old is by turns confidently crafted and ham-fisted, confirmation that, while premise (and twist) is everything to the writer-director (and exasperatingly persistent cameo artiste), it’s very rarely been enough to see him through to journey’s end. In some respects, Shyamalan’s latest twist-horror is a thematic variant on his world-in-a-microcosm The Village , where the nature of reality is concealed from the participants. It foments less opportunity to incur the indignation of its audience when the truth is revealed, however, because there are only so many possible answers, most of which will likely have occurred to them by that point.

We are equally glad to be rid of him, are we not?

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) (SPOILERS) Sometimes, just sometimes, Oscar gets it right. Lawrence of Arabia isn’t only on a whole other level to its fellow Best Picture nominees that year, but also to most films – of that or any year. As a piece of mesmerising, wholly immersive filmmaking, it’s the zenith of the artform. If Oscar got it wrong in any conspicuous categories that year, it was rewarding Gregory Peck over Peter O’Toole – who would remain ever the bridesmaid, or Florence of Arabia, as Noël Coward wittily described him – and Horton Foote over Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson for Best Adapted Screenplay (in both cases, To Kill a Mockingbird being the beneficiary).

There are some places which, to an Englishman, are sacred.

The Italian Job (1969) (SPOILERS) Has The Italian Job been forever sullied by its association with/ appropriation by Loaded / lad culture/ Top Gear et al? I don’t think so. It was a bank holiday and family favourite long before being “rejuvenated” as an emblem of Cool Britannia and shallow self-regard. Indeed, the most striking part of the picture is how custom packaged it is from the first. There’s an easy confidence to Peter Collinson’s film, whereby it knows exactly what it wants to be and how to deliver that. Plus, it’s propelled by a supremely catchy, “footie anthem” theme song: Getta Bloomin’ Move On! (The Self Preservation Society) .

All you have to do is nothing. That's all we're asking.

The Invasion (2007) (SPOILERS) It would be entirely understandable for any on the lookout for ongoing relevance and refection of social trends and undercurrents to pass over Oliver Hirschbiegel’s take on Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers (Warner Bros’ fourth so far). After all, it underwent some brutal reshoots and wound up in such a mangled form that it was pronounce DOA. The Invasion’s a footnote no one much cares to exhume, less still re-evaluate, and for good reason; a decade and a half’s distance has done nothing to reposition it as a neglected gem. Nevertheless, the first half of the picture does withstand renewed scrutiny. While the reshot material comprising the final act still entirely adulterates Oliver Hirschbiegel’s tone and vision, it starts out remarkably effectively, assured in its approach and intent. Furthermore, as predictive programming enterprises go, The Invasion contains some fascinating material…

We are, of course, Norwegians.

The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming (1966) (SPOILERS) Ah, for the heady days of the Cold War. Where, even if you weren’t conscious of the comprehensive Hegelianism at work, it was perfectly acceptable to hold moderate views of East-West relations. Sadly, though, the best thing about The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming is its title.

I'd hate to wake up some morning and find out that you weren't you.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) (SPOILERS) The premise of Don Siegel’s anti-McCarthy – or is it anti-Commie? – SF paranoia movie is an evergreen. Hence it having been remade three times (so far). One of those came during a period when – whisper it – those refashioning ’50s B-movies were coming up with takes that were more resonant and richer than the originals. So much so, they have invariably supplanted them in first-port-of-call stakes. Over the course of less than a decade, Invasion of the Body Snatchers , The Thing and The Fly all succeeded in justifying and validating a cash-in process that has, generally, been rightly derided. As such, the Siegel movie, while packing a punch, looks almost plain in comparison to Phillip Kaufman’s urban nightmare.

All of a sudden, I’ve got a camp full of very displaced people.

Body Snatchers (1993) (SPOILERS) One can go to town on interpretations of Body Snatchers , and indeed, various of these can be found on its Wiki page. But really, the movie’s thematic subtext-lite, assuming you know the drill by now, after two previous versions and numerous facsimiles of “They’re taking us over” paranoia on film and TV. Despite this, Abel Ferrara’s adaptation of Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers is a lean, efficient alien invasion thriller, and for the most part deserves a much higher rep than it has.

It's like cycling with an elephant on your back.

Il Postino  aka The Postman (1995) (SPOILERS) Il Postino ’s success represented a triumph of marketing over substance. As one might have expected from the then-nascent Miramax, whose heft in that sphere had led to the likes of Sex, Lies and Videotape , My Left Foot , The Crying Game , Enchanted April , The Piano , Heavenly Creatures and – obviously – Pulp Fiction making a greater or lesser impact at both the box office and on the Oscars ceremony. Theirs was a battle strategy that would often have dubious relationship with actual merit. So what was new? Probably not a lot – while some of their favoured Academy contenders were deeply average, none were Dr. Dolittle – but it was more acute. And in Il Postino ’s case (and later Life is Beautiful ’s), it was attached to considerable sentimental massaging of Academy members’ sympathies and the “wowsa” of a (still relatively rare) Best Picture nomination for a foreign-language film.

Hang out a lot at biker bars, Bruce?

Batman Forever (1995) (SPOILERS) In theory, Joel Schumacher ought to have been the guy to take up the bat-on, embracing the spirit of ’60s Bat campery as a “new” take after Tim Burton turned Warner Bros off by making Batman Returns a little too twisted. But being versed in camp doesn’t necessarily extend to delivering successfully delivering the same. Batman Forever can boast overboard design work and gaudy excess, but it singularly lacks the presiding sense of humour that might have allowed it to attain a personality. Schumacher might have seemed like a reasonable choice on paper to plug the gaps in Burton’s approach; the latter was never at its best when dealing with action (either in the sense of spectacle or forwarding the plot). Alas, the best he can muster is a choppy, barely coherent, noisy mess – and yet, the movie’s still better than Batman and Robin !

Always blame the USA! Even if you’re wrong!

Z (1969) (SPOILERS) It’s easy to see why Z received the attention it did, including a rare Best Picture nomination for a non-English language film. Quite apart from being a compelling if rather dry conspiracy thriller, its fictionalised events preceded the then-current military junta in Greece, and if there’s one thing Hollywood can be relied on for – providing of course they have retired to a safe distance, brave Sean Penn aside – it’s sticking it to the fascists.

He’s a boob with a batting eye.

The Pride of the Yankees (1942) (SPOILERS) The sports biopic is obviously an evergreen, but you do rather need something more substantial than the noble intention of paying tribute to a successful athlete (or cashing in on his reputation, as the case may be). A story to tell, for starters. Baseball player Lou Gehrig dying from ALS isn’t really enough, although the makers appeared to believe it was. Damon Runyon’s seal of approval practically lays out The Pride of the Yankees ' thinness at the outset: “ This is a story of a hero of the peaceful paths of everyday life ”. Which is code for: “You’re absolutely going to have to adore Lou Gehrig – or the Yankees – to get down with this one”.

I’ve seen nothing, I should have stayed home and found out what was really going on.

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) (SPOILERS) Something of a surprise, in that a movie made immediately subsequent to the concerted propaganda onslaught of WWII should be as open as it is to the lasting effects of conflict on those involved. There’s undoubtedly a degree of rhetoric in The Best Years of Our Lives , both in terms of boosting the prospects for veterans and extolling a “just” war, but William Wyler’s film (yet another Sam Goldwyn awards darling) treads its terrain with frequent care and attention, and it’s easy to see why this appeared on Oliver Stone’s All-Time Top Ten List back in 2003.

Everything was dismal as murder.

Cherry (2021) (SPOILERS) There’s something almost pathetically juvenile about Anthony and Joe Russo choosing to make Cherry , as if their reward for delivering all those massively successful MCU monsters was a “grownup” movie. Variety ’s Owen Gleiberman ranked it the worst film of 2021, labelling it a “ spectacularly overblown debacle ” and “ less a movie than an overdirected 140-minute showreel of gritty brand extension ”. He isn’t wrong. Anyone who hadn’t realised on first sniff of their Marvel efforts will now have to admit the Russos’ “auteurishness” is pure affectation, soulless study devoid of actual inspiration or creative spark.

Put on your most ferocious expression and keep it pointing at him.

Invasion (1965) (SPOILERS) I don’t think I was aware of Invasion ’s credentials as a ( Doctor Who luminary) Robert Holmes storyline when I first saw it, and one adapted by Roger Marshall ( Public Eye , The Avengers ) at that. If this low-budget offering only occasionally evidences its writers’ frequent flair, it’s a more unconditional thumbs up for director Alan Bridges, a ’60s BBC mainstay – literary classics adaptations, The Wednesday Play , Play for Today – and Palm d’Or winner for The Hireling (1973); his final feature would be James Mason starrer The Shooting Party (1985), after funding fell through mid-shoot on a 1987 adaptation of Stephen King’s Apt Pupil .

Don’t sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon.

My Fair Lady (1964) (SPOILERS) As an adaptation, My Fair Lady is hardly a cinematic triumph. George Cukor brings none of the acumen Robert Wise did to The Sound of Music (or West Side Story ), or even the comic-strip brio Robert Stevenson daubed across Mary Poppins . It’s (very) expensive, sumptuously costumed, shot and lit, and rather inert. But as a performance piece, this take on the 1956 Lerner and Loewe stage musical, itself an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion , is irresistible.

You are determined to get me into this... salade.

A Matter of Life and Death aka Stairway to Heaven (1946) (SPOILERS) Propaganda par excellence, if you wish to look at A Matter of Life and Death  purely through that lens. And if you do, Powell and Pressburger’s earlier The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp hadn’t been nearly such a boon to the war effort, at least in the eyes of the establishment (as director Michael Powell recalled in A Life in the Movies , Churchill “ would have stopped the film if he could, and when it was made he tried to stop it being sent abroad ”. As it was, without War Office support, the Archers couldn’t secure first choice lead Olivier). Mostly, though, A Matter of Life and Death is held up for its romantic idealism and iconic imagery. And justifiably so.

I was locating the cheese.

Finch (2021) (SPOILERS) An all-too-familiar vision of Gretageddon, in which the Earth has been rendered a superheated dustbowl, and the future lies not without our obsolete species but posthuman inheritors. Actually, the cause of Finch 's apocalyptic hell isn’t our reliance on fossil fuels – burn those heretic screenwriters Craig Luck and Ivor Powell – but rather a nasty “solar flare” wiping out the ozone layer. I guess it’s about time the ozone layer was dusted off again, although I’d assumed it was considered very passé and so late twentieth century (solar fares are a popular source of predictive programming, though, one even alternative circles often buy into).