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Showing posts from May, 2022

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.

My earth magic will stoke the flames of your sword.

The Northman (2022) (SPOILERS) Tarzan the Eric Northman . Robert Eggers’ “authentic” Viking flick is a pagan-chic melange of exploitation splatter and grisly characterisation, designed to impress upon us just how uncivilised things were back then. But also kind of great, right ? Because people were freer and more instinctive and more aligned with the old gods. And shit. Eggers’ pictures, with their unhealthily heathen hues, appear to be an embrace/warning of the madness and ecstasy that comes with such release. Surely no right-minded person would wish to end up like Robert Pattison in The Lighthouse , nor Alexander Skarsgård here, even if they were granted the latter’s magic pecs in the bargain. It follows, then, that you don’t need to be a right-minded person to clutch his works to your shrivelled bosom. Hence The Church of Satan endorsing The Witch .

Not so tough when you’re fighting someone 700 times your size, are you?

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022) (SPOILERS) I don’t find Sonic the Hedgehog, as realised by Jeff Fowler’s FX team and voiced by Ben Schwartz, particularly endearing. That’s a reasonably hefty barrier to getting on board with, ahem, a run of movies featuring the character. I do, however, think Jim Carrey is pretty funny here, whichever version of Jim Carrey that is here (not, it seems, the former law-of-attraction loving, TM-promoting, anti-vax, Illuminati-baiting one, but more plausibly some post-wrongful death suit performing seal). Consequently, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is patchy enough, even without factoring in all the material devoted to the humans who aren’t human cartoon Carrey, and the animated characters who aren’t the already less-than-endearing Sonic.

You tampered with the universe, my friend.

The Music of Chance (1993) (SPOILERS) You won’t find many adaptations of Paul Auster’s novels. Original screenplays, yes, a couple of which he has directed himself. Terry Gilliam has occasionally mentioned Mr. Vertigo as in development. It was in development in 1995 too, when Philip Haas and Auster intended to bring it to the screen. Which means Auster presumably approved of Haas’ work on The Music of Chance (he also cameos). That would be understandable, as it makes for a fine, ambiguous movie, pregnant with meaning yet offering no unequivocal answers, and one that makes several key departures from the book yet crucially maintains a mesmerising, slow-burn lure.

You’re like a human mummy!

The Lost City (2022) (SPOILERS) Perhaps the most distressing part of The Lost City , a Romancing the Stone riff that appears to have been packaged by the Hollywood equivalent of a processed cheese plant lacking its primary ingredient (that would be additives), is the possibility that Daniel Radcliffe is the only viable actor left standing in Tinseltown. That’s if the suggestions at least two of the performers here – Sandra Bullock and Brad Pitt – are deep faked in some way, shape or form, and the other name – Channing Tatum – is serving hard atonement time. If the latter’s choices generally weren’t so abysmal and his talent in arears, I’d assume that was the only explanation for him showing up in this dreck.

In order to produce the necessary answer, I had to alter the equation.

Raised by Wolves Season Two (SPOILERS) The most impressive part of Raised by Wolves Season Two is the way in which, at times, it is able to cast off the shackles of Ridders-brand science fiction and transform itself into something truly strange, boasting imagery that only ups the ante of the first and suggests the untamed psyches of Miyazaki or Jodorowsky. The least impressive part is also its most catnip quality; the show insistently pursues Lost mystery boxes, week after week, dispensing with one before setting up another (thought that snake was where it was at? Guess again). Will Raised by Wolves win a third season, or will it become HBO’s latest example of a Carnivale ?

I only know what I’ve been programmed to believe. But, of course, the same goes for you.

Raised by Wolves Season One (SPOILERS) Ridley Scott’s latest transhumanist tract is so stuffed with required lore, markers and programming, it’s a miracle it manages to tell a half-engaging story along the way. Aaron Guzikowski ( Prisoners ) is the credited creator, but it has the Ridders stamp of dour dystopia all over it, complete with Darius Wolski ( Prometheus ) cinematography setting the tone. Which means bleak grey skies, augmented by South Africa this time, rather than Iceland. Raised by Wolves is a reliable mix of wacko twist plotting and clumsy, slack-jawed messaging; like the Alien prequels, it will surely never be seen through to a conclusion, but as an agenda platform it’s never less than engaging (and also frequently, for the same reasons, exasperating).

If we keep shooting Joey, don’t you think he might get suspicious?

I Love You to Death (1990) (SPOILERS) At the time, the sheer broadness of Lawrence Kasdan’s comedy came as something of a surprise; his previous picture was the well-regarded, Best Picture Oscar-nominated The Accidental Tourist , and yet, here he was, taking someone else’s script based-on-an-actual incident of a wife employing hit men to kill her unfaithful husband, and delivering a knockabout romp wallowing in farting, fornicating and foul play. Critics found it on the coarse, unfinessed side, and audiences didn’t find it all. I Love You to Death may not be a forgotten gem, but it is often very funny, in its shambolic way, and it boasts some cherishable performances from an eclectic cast.

Don’t blame me, madam, if you chose to go abroad to do your shopping.

Passport to Pimlico (1949) (SPOILERS) Ealing Studios’ “What if?” scenario yields several raw reminders of an inflexible establishment behind its genteel, gently playful exterior. A few years later, The Man in the White Suit would devastate supply-demand economics and make very clear what a farce that whole ball game is. Passport to Pimlico does something similar, albeit in even less polemical form, with ideas of concealed history and personal sovereignty. It has been dismissed as amiable but toothless, but its message is as unmistakable as Sidney Stratton being left standing in the street in his shirt and underwear.

You're creating this whole scenario to fulfil a dream.

The X-Files 5.6: Christmas Carol What could be more festive than some X-Files misery porn? This mythology arc two-parter continues the series makers’ mission to decimate poor Dana Scully’s life. They got in there early in Season One by blitzing her dad. Then came killing off sister Melissa in Season Three before she even had a chance to develop beyond the rudiments of new-age flake. On top of that, Dana’s had cancer for what seems like more seasons than the show’s been running. So don’t, whatever you do, Chris Carter, grant her any sustained respite.

She was born to serve an agenda.

The X-Files 5.7: Emily Just when you thought you’d escaped the insultingly rote voiceovers… (“ It begins where it ends. In nothingness ”) Cued by the return of Mulder (“ Have you ever seen Mr Potato Head? ”), Emily assumes a much more traditional thriller bent than its predecessor. And accompanying that shift, the show’s calculated, manipulative streak is foregrounded. What better way to put Dana through the ringer than losing the child she so desperately wants?

They got a buildin' down in New York City called Whitehall Street where you get injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected.

Alice’s Restaurant (1969) (SPOILERS) Arthur Penn’s picture “dramatisation” (comedisation?) of Arlo Guthrie’s classic song Alice’s Restaurant Massacre , and the actual events contributing to it, is intentionally ambling, unhurried and episodic, much like the song itself. Unlike the song, however, it’s far from a classic, regardless of the affection many may (understandably) hold for it. Penn was no master of comedy, and Guthrie is no actor, one with even less screen presence (he bears a slight resemblance to Jerry Seinfeld, also no actor, but more of one than Guthrie. And tangibly better at comedy too). Consequently, Alice’s Restaurant is rather shapeless and inert – you could confidently exit the room to brew intermittent cups of tea without feeling you’d missed anything vital, because you wouldn’t have – and it’s only really that song on the soundtrack lending it character.

Horses don’t eat sardines!

The Reivers (1969) (SPOILERS) I’m sure there’s an appetite for this brand of nostalgic, good ol’ southern boys tale – one only has to look at the later successes of The Dukes of Hazzard and numerous Burt Reynolds vehicles, generally foregrounding vehicles – but it’s rather lost on me. The Reivers comes from sometime Hollywood resident pisshead William Faulkner’s 1963 The Reivers: A Reminiscence , and was doubtless considered a hot property: a Pulitzer winner that attracted Steve McQueen to star. Unfortunately, it lands largely as reheated Mark Twain, far too pleased with its comfort-zone childhood glow and the faux wisdom of times past.

Right in the schnitzel!

The Pentaverate (2022) (SPOILERS) Soft disclosure, or a hard pass? In last week’s So I Married an Axe Murderer review, I speculated why Mike Myers might choose to return to comedy now, almost a decade and a half since his last effort, and considered the context of his picking the conspiracy subject – when it has never held greater currency – yet flipping the malign elite control on its head to present a positive secret society. That he was an identified visitor to Langley didn’t really make such a great case for his approaching the material with autonomy. But what if The Pentaverate is actually a White Hat exercise, making the case for those working behind the scenes to get the world – or globe, ahem – to a point where the bad guys are sent packing? With accompanying filthy language, flatulus and foreskins.

The Illumi-what-i?

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) (SPOILERS) In which Sam Raimi proves that he can stand proudly with the best – or worst – of them as a good little foot soldier of the woke apocalypse. You’d expect the wilfully anarchic – and Republican – Raimi to choke on the woke, but instead, he’s sucked it up, grinned and bore it. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is so slavishly a production-line Marvel movie, both in plotting and character, and in nu-Feige progressive sensibilities, there was no chance of Sam staggering out from beneath its suffocating demands with anything more than a few scraps of stylistic flourish intact.

Next stop, implosion!

Fat Man and Little Boy aka Shadow Makers (1989) (SPOILERS) The Manhattan Project is currently Hollywood currency once more, on account of a highly-prized – by bidding studios – Chris Nolan project that hopes it will be a goldmine simply based on the director’s past credits. Not, perhaps, an outrageous assumption, but studios would have been wise to look to Dunkirk ’s performance and then halve it when agreeing to the budget. On the face of it, Oppenheimer ’s a prestige Oscar-grab by Nolan, one that sees him once again scouting the terrain of perception and reality as he reinforces the dominant paradigm. If he isn’t careful, though, his picture will meet with a similar response to the last major foray to Los Alamos: crickets. Which is where Roland Joffé comes in with Fat Man and Little Boy .

What does plinge mean?

Doctor Who The Time Monster Fifty years of The Time Monster. A cause for celebration? With no prior experience of the story, one might have been conditioned by The Discontinuity Guide ’s perverse smackdown: “ Like watching paint dry while being whipped with barbed wire: immensely dull and painful at the same time ”. Of course, ripping the Pertwee era a new hole circa the mid-90s was very fashionable – Paul Cornell, the movement’s chief architect, was one of the book’s three authors – and you can find similarly jaundiced responses towards stories in the latter four Pertwee seasons, not least its predecessor The Mutants . Both bombardments are somewhat over the top, which is not to suggest they don’t have their problems. In The Time Monster ’s case, its faults are particularly exacerbated by Paul Bernard’s unenthused direction.

I can’t wait to get back to all that music and fun and diversion.

Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959) (SPOILERS) While up to its eyeballs in Oirishness – Disney had attempted to secure professional Hollywood Oirishman Barry Fitzgerald as Darby, to no avail – this adaptation of Herminie Templeton Kavanagh’s stories is surprisingly un filtered by the studio’s predilection for sentimentality and cutesiness. The Sean Connery-Janet Munro romance lends Darby O’Gill and the Little People a sniff of a supernatural (or is it?) The Quiet Man , while Albert Sharpe’s unmoderated accent – unless you’re unfortunate enough to see it on Disney+ – in concert with the emphasis on boozing, all the while with the main drama/comedy revolving around the interaction of a couple of sexagenarians, announces this as slightly unlikely kids’ or even family fare.