Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.
Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller
hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the
characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story
with a taut, economical backbone.
Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010) Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise.
Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action.
Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance. ***
Star Wars The Saga Ranked This is an update of my 2018 ranking, with the addition of highly-acclaimed The Rise of Skywalker along with revisits to the two preceding parts of the trilogy. If you want to be generous and call it that, since the term it makes it sound a whole lot more coherent than it plays.
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.
Dean Spanley (2008) (SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable
– but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation,
it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along,
it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanleywas well
liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly
slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley, our narrator relates how the titular
Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“too syrupy”, is the conclusion reached by both
members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection
of a past life as a dog.
Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference
Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog
story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than
fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it
has cause to be, as does any re…
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) Everyone loves Bruce Campbell. He’s eminently lovable; self-depracating,
a natural wit, enthusiastic about his “art” and interactive with his fans. It’s
easy to be seduced into cutting anything he shows up in some slack, just by
virtue of his mighty Bruce-ness. I know, I’ve done it. Unfortunately, not
everything he does has the crazy, slapstick energy of his most famous role.
Most of it doesn’t. Don Cascarelli’s Elvis versus Mummy movie has a
considerable cult following, based as much on the cult of Don as the cult of
Bruce, but its charms are erratic ones. As usual, however, Campbell is the
The blames rests with Cascarelli, since he adapted Joe R.
Lansdale’s short story. The premise is a great high concept mash-up; Elvis
Presley, a nursing home resident in declining health, must fight off an ancient
Egyptian mummy. Is he really Elvis, or Elvis impersonator Sebastian Haff? Or
both, as the King claims to have switched places with the real Haff so as t…
Total Recall (1990)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven offered his post-mortem on the failures of the remakes of Total Recall (2012) and Robocop (2013) when he suggested “They take these absurd stories and make them too serious”. There may be something in this, but I suspect the kernel of their issues is simply filmmakers without either the smarts or vision, or both, to make something distinctive from the material. No one would have suggested the problem with David Cronenberg’s prospective Total Recall was over-seriousness, yet his version would have been far from a quip-heavy Raiders of the Lost Ark Go to Mars (as he attributes screenwriter Ron Shusset’s take on the material). Indeed, I’d go as far as saying not only the star, but also the director of Total Recall (1990) were miscast, making it something of a miracle it works to the extent it does.