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Showing posts from June, 2022

Are you telling me that I should take my daughter to a witch doctor?

The Exorcist (1973) (SPOILERS) Vast swathes have been written on The Exorcist , duly reflective of its cultural impact. In a significant respect, it’s the first blockbuster – forget Jaws – and also the first of a new kind of special-effects movie. It provoked controversy across all levels of the socio-political spectrum, for explicit content and religious content, both hailed and denounced for the same. William Friedkin, director of William Peter Blatty’s screenplay based on Blatty’s 1971 novel, would have us believe The Exorcist is “ a film about the mystery of faith ”, but it’s evidently much more – and less – than that. There’s a strong argument to be made that movies having the kind of seismic shock on the landscape this one did aren’t simply designed to provoke rumination (or exultation); they’re there to profoundly influence society, even if largely by osmosis, and when one looks at this picture’s architects, such an assessment only gains in credibility.

All I saw was an old man with a funky hand, that’s all I saw.

The Blob (1988) (SPOILERS) The 1980s effects-laden remake of a ’50s B-movie that couldn’t. That is, couldn’t persuade an audience to see it and couldn’t muster critical acclaim. The Fly was a hit. The Thing wasn’t, but its reputation has since soared. Like Invaders from Mars , no such fate awaited The Blob , despite effects that, in many respects, are comparable in quality to the John Carpenter classic – and are certainly indebted to Rob Bottin for bodily grue – and surehanded direction from Chuck Russell. I suspect the reason is simply this: it lacks that extra layer that would ensure longevity.

Harmony. Peace. Unity. It’s all bullshit. It’s a lie...

Captive State (2019) (SPOILERS) Rupert Wyatt’s dystopian, alien-occupation sci-fi has all the prerequisite signifiers of a totalitarian, Orwellian future, but by presenting its scenario “in situ”, for the most part, it runs with a good-guys terrorists narrative that probably seemed more original than it is; if anything, it’s a throwback to WWII yarns, which means that, as well made and performed as it is, it never finds itself breaking new ground.

I work for the guys that pay me to watch the guys that pay you. And then there are, I imagine, some guys that are paid to watch me.

The Day of the Dolphin (1973) (SPOILERS) Perhaps the most bizarre thing out of all the bizarre things about The Day of the Dolphin is that one of its posters scrupulously sets out its entire dastardly plot, something the movie itself doesn’t outline until fifteen minutes before the end. Mike Nichols reputedly made this – formerly earmarked for Roman Polanski, Jack Nicholson and Sharon Tate, although I’m dubious a specific link can be construed between its conspiracy content and the Manson murders - to fulfil a contract with The Graduate producer Joseph Levine. It would explain the, for him, atypical science-fiction element, something he seems as comfortable with as having a hairy Jack leaping about the place in Wolf .

The plot, I found a shade torturous, but the exposition of it, remarkably adroit.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969) (SPOILERS) Goodbye, Mr. Chips really oughtn’t to be as agreeable as it is. More still, it ought to stink. Its raison d’être is, after all, a complete bust: James Hilton’s novella reconceived as a musical. Perhaps the manner in which the songs entirely fail to take centre stage – unless the songs are diegetically taking place ona stage – saves this element; by and large, they’re solo soliloquies utilising montage or controlled choreography, rather than flamboyant budget busters. It would still have been preferable had they’d been entirely absent – and easy to see why a number of them were initially cut following the premiere – but then we would likely have been denied the pleasure of Petula Clark. It’s her chemistry with her leading man, and particularly the remarkable performance of her leading man, that rescue Goodbye, Mr Chips .

Okay, pump up the Verbaluce, let’s get ’em talking.

Spiderhead (2022) (SPOILERS) Spiderhead ’s setup suggests a third-act revelation, or at least stunning dramatic development, that never comes, a deficit that may lead many to feel underwhelmed by Joseph Kosinski’s follow up to Top Gun: Maverick , currently flying high in the box office charts. I wouldn’t say that of it, exactly, but this is undoubtedly a case where the short story lent itself more directly to the anthology show format, lacking sufficient meat for feature expansion.

The king is mad. I am doomed.

Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) (SPOILERS) If asked to speculate, I’d propose a greenlight for this adaptation of Maxwell Anderson’s 1948 play followed directly from A Man for All Seasons ’ Best Picture Oscar win (it has been claimed the less than salubrious subject matter, rife as it is with royal staples of incest and adultery, would have prevented an earlier film version). One might further conjecture that it was foolhardy to think a same-era Tudor setting featuring many of the same figures could see lightning strike twice, yet both Becket and The Lion in Winter had been well received earlier that decade, both with Peter O’Toole as Henry II and both garnering Best Picture nominations. Anne of the Thousand Days duly earned one, almost as if middle/early modern age forays into British history were guaranteed recognition, regardless of quality. A bit like expensive musicals in that regard. That no one talks about Anne of the Thousand Days today should be no surprise, however; it’s c

See you around, buddy boy.

The First Power (1990) (SPOILERS) One I had a hankering to see, largely due to the Don LaFontaine-narrated trailer – “ Since the beginning of time, Satan has worked to create the perfect killer. One who kills many, without reason. One who cannot be stopped. Today, that man exists. Be warned ” – but it somehow passed me by. Perhaps an inner sense told me it was worth skipping, and nothing Don LaFontaine could say would make it otherwise. Robert Renikoff’s supernatural serial killer thriller – see also the same year’s The Exorcist III – owed much to Jack Sholder’s 1987 body-swap SF horror The Hidden , and Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen would later hew closely to a similar premise, but is markedly inferior to both.

Fort Knox, ha! It’s for tourists.

Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995) (SPOILERS) There was so much behind-the-scenes turmoil between the second and third Die Hards , it’s little wonder Die Hard with a Vengeance took five years to arrive. That it bears very little resemblance to a Die Hard instalment – something its sequel more commonly gets called out for – is mostly down to the “ Die Hard in an/on a…” concept having been thoroughly milked in the meantime, most singularly by Under Siege . The result is half of a good movie (if not, particularly, a good Die Hard movie), which still makes it better overall than the limp, snow-sprinkled lettuce that is Die Hard 2: Die Harder.

Welcome to the fallen world.

Night Sky (2022) (SPOILERS) Honestly, I don’t think this is a great series – it seems determined to unfold with a geriatric pace reflective of its two main leads – but Night Sky just about earns its keep through incorporating several provocative concepts just begging to be pegged as soft disclosure. This is one of those series that requires its characters to avoid saying the bleeding obvious or necessary in order to sustain itself, with the consequence that precious few among them are relatable or sympathetic. Combined with the meandering sense of forward momentum – it makes Cocoon look like Raiders of the Lost Ark – and Night Sky ’s eight episodes feel like they’re twice that.

Don’t you ever call them tattoos!

The Illustrated Man (1969) (SPOILERS) I’d been blissfully unaware The Illustrated Man didn’t have a great rep. And that Ray Bradbury – not that authors/originators necessarily ought to be looked to as arbiters of the quality of adaptations of their work – thought it stank. I was quite taken with it on the occasion I first saw it – which must be upwards of thirty years ago – and this revisit confirmed many of the qualities I recognised in it then. To a degree, it’s little more than a pretentious, SF twist on then popular portmanteau horrors, but its conceits, likely the same ones Bradbury didn’t like, lend The Illustrated Man an eerie resonance.

99.386 percent of the population wouldn’t believe this conversation, and the rest are working for us.

Thirty-Minute Theatre:  The News-Benders (1968) (SPOILERS) I’m late to the party for this one – 54 years, to be precise – as it’s had something of a rediscovery, riding on the crest of the plandemic wave. The News-Benders ’ insights into the manufacture – the penning of the preordained script – of the news are all there in its densely packed 28 minutes . The only question arising would be whether it represents a quite shockingly blatant disclosure of method – as many understandably assume, given how accurately it reflects the current state of the conspirasphere – or simply trenchant satire. Such is the nature of these things, I’d suggest either is plausible; I certainly don’t think anything in it – even though it would, admittedly, make its creator(s) remarkably insightful – is beyond the realm of a keen and incisive writer, particularly since its cues are very visibly taken from Orwell. Or that, in terms of its innocuous mode of presentation, the BBC would necessarily think twice at

They look like a bunch of refugees from a gorilla love-in.

Easy Rider (1969) (SPOILERS) There are probably ramshackle movies that can be considered masterpieces, but Easy Rider isn’t one of them. Culturally iconic – that part is uncontested – but also spliced together from raging ineptitude and ego on the part of its director. Reputedly, once he’d shot the thing, Dennis Hopper spent months failing to edit the film together coherently. It reached the point where he was ejected from the cutting room, and four hours was hewn down to the slender ninety-odd minutes we know. There are still longueurs in there, but the Easy Rider we finished up with actually remains largely compelling. Perhaps despite itself.

You want to give a murderer a free ride for the secrets to the pyramids?

The X-Files 5.20: The End The final episode prior to a big-screen outing that didn’t exactly rock the foundations of world (at least partly because it pulled its punches) is a mixture of the intriguing and the all-too-familiar. Leading the latter is the return-proper of CSM, possibly the most singular example of the rot that would afflict the ongoing mythology arc from now on – most acutely of all with the series’ return – in that Chris Carter appeared to believe it couldn’t survive without him. Perhaps fans were responsible, greeting his every suck on a Morley with a whoop (or a shot); if so, they were wrong.

Crisis or no, nothing should interfere with tea.

Around the World in 80 Days (1956) (SPOILERS) Around the World in 80 Days gets a bad rap. You’ll even hear it cited as one of the all-time worst Best Picture Oscar winners. Which is patently absurd, if you’ve ever had the misfortune to endure A Beautiful Mind . Or Nomadland . Or Oliver! It is, however, undeniably guilty of spectacle-first filmmaking, not so much due to the eager procession of cameos littering every port of call made by Phileas Fogg as the idea that simply visiting said port and lingering there, dramatically engaged or more probably not, would be sufficient. Perhaps it was, in some cases, with the vistas producer Michael Todd’s widescreen (Todd-AO 70mmm) cinematography offered; this was the kind of all-important visual event that made leaving the comfort of one’s home – and the then-usurping-movies new TV set – worthwhile. Mostly, though, this is simply an amiable picture, boosted significantly by David Niven’s presence but diminished somewhat by the illusion that Can

I’ve seen more monsters in my Aunt Gussie’s fishbowl than on this whole cruise!

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) (SPOILERS) One of the seminal Disney movies. Although, it’s easy to see why its legacy has diminished somewhat, as the kind of spectacle and imagination it offers is now both ten-a-penny and supplied in incrementally more spectacular fashion. That said, I would have first seen the movie more than two decades after its release, and it slotted in seamlessly with the brand of ripe Doug McClure fare rife during the mid-1970s. Revisiting 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea , the salient question becomes one of just what Disney, and by extension Jules Verne (or should that be the other way round?) were getting at? Beyond simply a rousing adventure yarn that inspired many a kid enamoured of giant squid, that is.