Watching The Walking Dead these past couple of weeks has been a bit of a chore. Don’t get me wrong, I do like it but it seems like the programme guide info is a constant repetition of ‘Rick and the group face new challenges’, ‘Rick and the group find safety but is everything as it seems’, ‘tensions mount as Rick and the group face new challenges… that might not be as they seem’ and so on etc etc and I keep thinking about BBC 3′s wonderful drama In the Flesh.
Based four years after ‘the Rising’, the show tackles the question of what happens after all the head shots and brain eating has finished and cleverly keeps the big problem (the guilt of killing and the guilt of enjoying it) front and centre by having the undead semi-cured and return home. It created an answer to The Walking Dead’s biggest problem, which is ‘where to go from here’ and, because no zombie is just a zombie, it was a great portrait of what it’s like to be a teen and different.
Sadly, I’m writing this on a day when it’s been announced that BBC 3 will be closed in Autumn 2015. It’s a channel that usually has stuff I don’t like on it (which is one of the arguments I’ve heard for closing it and one of the most spoilt brat pieces of logic going) but regularly turns out great, odd, experimental TV. Apparently, it’ll live on ‘online’ shuffling around just like a…
A little gem of a movie. Even with a relatively short run time Computer Chess does slightly drag but there is gold here and it’s found in the completely realised environment of the hotel and the fully rounded characters. These are believable people engaged in a fascinating endeavour and that is what you want from film… plus it has the same tech / new age feel that seeped out of British TV plays back before I was born, which is another good thing.
Forget ‘Blue sky on Mars’, beads of sweat and other puzzles; the real ambiguity in this film is the physical impossibility of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He doesn’t look like a construction worker or a spy and, if you were being fanciful, his presence (in all senses) could let you argue that the whole film is an implanted memory. The 2012 remake had a load of great ideas (Rekall as an opium den, ‘the Fall’ – an elevator between England and Australia, John Cho) but Colin Farrell just looks like some guy and there’s no real doubt.
Beyond the head scratching and smarts there is a lot of grown up sci-fi fun to be had here.
There is a scene in You Only Live Twice which sums up the why I’ve gone off Bond as I’ve grown up and become that bit more precious and liberal, it’s the one where a group of subservient women in underwear make him ‘more Japanese’ (you know, they give Connery a darker wig and make his eyes less rounded)… but I watch it anyway because it does some things very well. The plot is quite good and it makes great use of the Japanese setting in that travelogue / cinema of attractions way that you don’t really see much any more, plus there is a great knockabout rooftop fight scene filmed from a helicopter. Of course, the real bonus is the glorious volcano lair by Ken Adam with Donald Pleasence waiting inside.
Of the old Bond movies this and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service are easily the most enjoyable.
So, I found myself talking The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) a couple of nights back and it turns out that one of the scenes that really stuck with me (and, despite it’s flaws, many do) features a female employee having her head shaved for cash. With the general commotion and marching band etc what springs to mind is a European town liberated by the Allies and the public shaming of a collaborator… which again complicates what this film thinks of women.
Full disclosure; my son is called Dylan after Bob and I’m a big fan of the Coens. Chances are I was going to like this film and I do. A lot. I think it’s a strangely funny and charming portrait of a character who is not very easy to like.
What I love most is that it gives musical performance the space it needs to really matter. It’s what I love about Streets of Fire (1984) and The Blues Brothers (1980). Crossroads (1986), another Walter Hill movie, does it and Lindsey Anderson’s O Lucky Man! (1973) goes as far as cutting back to the studio where Alan Price is recording the soundtrack.
To me, these are musicals and Inside Llewyn Davis is the best film I’ve seen in a long time.
RoboCop is endlessly re-watchable. That’s a fact, a personal, subjective fact, but a fact nonetheless and facts don’t lie. What makes it so enduring is that so much clever is crammed into the 102 minute runtime and yet it never forgets that it is also pulpy genre cinema and proudly trumpets all the excess and mayhem that that entails.
RoboCop is one of the many reasons that I love mainstream American cinema, it’s a movie you can hold up and say ‘look, here’s a really smart film and it has a cool bit where a guy melts and then gets hit by a car’.
1. Here’s a great link to the BBFC’s original certification notes – http://www.bbfc.co.uk/sites/default/files/attachments/Robocop.pd
2. Although enjoyable and a great way to get all that pesky exposition sorted I always thought that the adverts / news coverage laid it on a touch thick… but being British I’d never seen Morton Downey Jr. before…
Okay, so 12 Years A Slave is a great film. Director Steve McQueen has bought the same patient, visual style that he bought to Hunger and Shame (both excellent) and has delivered a film that neither flinches from, or wallows in, emotion and violence. Nor does it bend under the weight of it’s historical basis, which, like Lincoln, would have killed it.
The only thing is that I would like to re-watch it without the weight of the expectation of violence. I’m not saying that the film isn’t a hard watch because, at times, it is, but such was the ‘hype’ surrounding it, that going into the cinema I did wonder why I was going to watch it and, after the film, was left with the distinct impression that many people never seem to have considered what slavery actually is… probably a good idea that this reminder exists.
Edit: just changed ‘was’ to ‘is’ in that final line, seems more accurate.
With Goodfellas, Scorsese not only made one of the great genre pictures of all time but also a pitch perfect indictment of the ‘American Dream’ and no holds barred capitalism which leaves The Wolf of Wall Street feeling slightly reheated, especially when many scenes and arcs parallel the earlier film. What the latter film effectively does is make the implied message literal which, well, you know.
But that’s not to say that it’s not a ‘good’ film because the 180 minutes went by quickly enough and it is funny throughout. It also boasts a bevy of very strong performances (although McConaughey is so good in his brief appearance that you really miss him in the following 170 minutes) and, obviously, Scorsese knows what to do with a camera.
File under ‘Scorsese having a good time’. Still kicking after all these years and that makes me smile the same guilty smile I made when I watched the Farrelly’s The Three Stooges movie; another movie that I wont be revisiting any time soon.
Having not been to the cinema for what seems like ages, due to a mixture of Christmas and general lack of inspiration (another three hours of Hobbit really couldn’t have been a less appealing prospect), I got back into the swing of things last night with a late screening of The Railway Man and the film has really lingered with me for the last 24 hours.
Technically, there is nothing flashy or particularly outstanding about the movie. It occasionally, particularly in flashback, verges on being ‘quality Sunday night TV’ and Firth is Firth but what it does have is the patience to tell a powerful story in a simple way. There is raw emotion but no melodrama, terrible violence but no wallowing.
The story of Eric Lomax has made me feel petty all day. This film is worth watching.
Let’s just get one thing out of the way; this was never going to be like the book. The structure of Max Brook’s excellent fake history of a global zombie war had as much chance of fitting into a movie-shaped hole as Studs Terkel’s The Good War, the book that inspired it. A faithful adaptation would be much more suited to a Netflicks style series where episodes could be as long or short as needed and watched as stand alone entries or delved into in any order. What we have here is a film that tries to take some of the ideas and put them into a narrative structure, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The Jerusalem section is fantastic and worth the price of the ticket but both feeling and narrative suffer when the idea of ‘swarm’ is left behind in the final (replacement) act. That something different was being attempted is evident and commendable but, walking out the cinema, you can’t help but dream of an extended / alternate cut.
That’s what I wrote for the local cinema page that I help admin on facebook when the film came out at the cinema and having had the chance to watch it again (the extended, mildly more graphic cut), I now think that I now like it a whole lot more. It’s a smarter film than I originally gave it credit for and the final segment actually works quite well because the whole point of the film is about finding a weapon, a biological advantage, and these things tend to happen in small sterile rooms.
Conversely, I’ve recently tried to read the book again and, although some of the chapters are staggering, there is a lot of drag. The Good War, on the other hand, is a stone cold classic of non-fiction and highly recommended. Plus, it connects back to World War Z via interviewee Eugene Sledge who was portrayed in HBO’s The Pacific which features the actor James Badge Dale who is in World War Z… which is just about the most useless thing you will read today.
This blog has existed in a few different forms but what I’ve settled on, the version you are reading now, can be best summed up with the question ‘have you seen?’ This is because I want to write about films in the same way that I chat about them, with enthusiasm and interest. I just didn’t want to be sat here ranting like a brat about things that are not to my own particular taste. But that’s not to say that I’m not going to write about films that frustrate me, because they also make me want to chat… have you seen Elysium?
Elysium is one of those films that I can’t help but feel I should like a whole lot more than I do. It pushed all the right buttons (the one marked sci-fi geek, the pastel coloured one with the words ‘insufferable liberal’ printed on it and the red gore covered switch in the corner etc) but, following District 9, a smarter film about the mistreatment of the poor, it all seems a bit underwhelming and, at the same time, overcooked. This is most notable in the portrayal of the antagonists, a right-wing politician and a ruthless soldier, who are both overwritten and underdeveloped until they are meaningless. The give away, as ever, is the rather tediously cheap inclusion of rape threat.
…but I’ll watch it again because in a couple of years I’ll still be intrigued. I’ll enjoy William Fichtner and the data robbery, I’ll marvel at Elysium itself as it reminds me of my Dad’s old copies of Science Now and the scene where Max is shown an image of Earth from space will still get me but, by the end, I’ll still be left feeling that I should like it more and soon afterwards I’ll turn to a friend and say ‘have you seen Elysium?’
After the disappointment of The Beach, Danny Boyle went back to the drawing board, back to genre and turned out this lo-fi, low budget masterpiece. 28 Days Later… is a mishmash of classic sci-fi recalling the likes of The Day of the Triffids, The Death of Grass and I Am Legend, it’s a film written by an author (Alex Garland who would go on to be integral to some of the best recent sci-fi cinema) and all the better for it. Like a lot of great sci-fi it’s also a ferocious and smart movie where the quiet moments pack just as much punch. World War Z might have given us the zombie plague as a tidal wave (and Boyle’s film overflows with great images) but the scene where a character recounts the story of a train station being overrun by infection is just as compelling… which is no mean feat considering that the best cinema is usually ‘show’ not ‘tell’.
The sequel, 28 Weeks Later, is a different type of film and, although not quite as good, is as great an example of the ‘again but more’ method of sequeling (?) as Aliens is to Alien.
Edited by Simon Braund, The Greatest Movies You’ll Never See: Unseen Masterpieces by the World’s Greatest Directors charts the almost or partial productions of numerous films that never made it to the big screen.
Whilst this book doesn’t have the depth of David Hughes’ similarly focused and highly recommended The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made and Tales from Development Hell (thankfully there isn’t much overlap but it does share the unavoidable repetition of ‘and then the studio changed it’s mind’) it is still an intriguing exercise in what could have been and the ‘magazine’ style makes it an accessible read that is easy to dip in and out of and will seriously increase your YouTube use…
Like the BBC’s earlier The War Game, Threads is scary in a way that commercial channels can only dream of. It has a bureaucratic public information feel that other broadcasters would have replaced with emotional spectacle.
Of course, Threads still has it’s big moments, with a mushroom cloud over Sheffield and soldiers shooting looters in the streets, but it’s the local-ness of it all that kills you; the emergency committee trying to manage the civic fallout and the iconic image of the armed Traffic Warden working alongside soldiers. The core of Threads is the very British terror that we already know how shit the local council is at getting the bins collected so lord knows what’ll happen if the bomb drops.
Originally aired as one of the BBC’s Christmas ghost stories, The Stone Tape is a fascinating piece of work and classic Nigel Kneale. Kneale is probably best known as the creator of Quatermass and the classic BBC adaptation of Susan James’ The Woman in Black so it’s fitting that The Stone Tape, with it’s melding of science and superstition, sits somewhere between the two.
The story follows the research and development department of an electronics firm as they seclude themselves in a country house to develop a new recording medium and stumble across a haunting that they think might help them in their task. As ever, Kneale’s teleplay balances the two aspects perfectly as modern technology clashes with ancient ideas. Of course, its also a cracking ghost story.
The BBC’s horror output, the A Ghost Story for Christmas strand and related dramas such as The Stone Tape (intended as an episode of the Dead of Night anthology) and 1992′s Ghost Watch, are pretty much all excellent viewing and, thanks to the BFI’s efforts, very available.
Ben Wheatley is like a secret treasure. He’s not a household name (yet) but he’s been quietly building a collection of macabre and uniquely British movies. Horror can be found in all these films, the bloody family implosion of Down Terrace, the mushroom induced mania of A Field in England, but perhaps the most overt is Kill List, an unsettling tale of hitmen and, well I won’t spoil it. Kill List works because it spirals into a dreamlike state without ever becoming overly stylized. It’s an oppressive, suffocating film with some genuinely tough violence but, like Martyrs, rewards perseverance. Kill List is possibly the best British film of the past decade and this is the guy who’ll be kicking off Peter Capaldi’s turn as Dr Who… ‘excited’ doesn’t really cover it.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Invasion, The Faculty, The World’s End etc and so on. Like Romero’s zombies the pod people (or versions thereof) return every few years to tap into the zeitgeist (communism, psychiatry, the Bush Doctrine, erm, school and chain pubs?) and scare us. Abel Ferrara’s take might not be the most unsettling (1978, if you are interested) but it’s military setting and direction make it the most thrilling version and, in genre cinema, that’s just what the doctor ordered. Meg Tilly is great as that staple of all fiction the ‘untrustworthy step-parent’ and Forest Whitaker steals the show as the crumbling Major Collins.
Man Of Steel is one of those ‘near miss’ movies. It’s good fun and full of (too many?) great images but would really benefit from turning the volume down to eleven and a bit of re-arranging. The idea of Lois Lane hunting an urban myth is brilliant but really shouldn’t have been resolved so early. Similarly, the spaceship and suit shenanigans could have waited as the idea of Lois and Clark hunting the same person until the final reel suggests a much more satisfying film and a storyline that would have worked nicely in tandem with Zod’s ultimatum.
Ultimately, maybe it’s the idea of Superman and the way it’s used that is least satisfying. Don’t get me wrong, the narrative of two Jewish writers creating a saviour, an only son sent to guide us, is fantastic but the films never seem to touch on the possibility of a golum story and end up being a bit too neat.
You think water moves fast? You should see ice. It moves like it has a mind. Like it knows it killed the world once and got a taste for murder.
…brilliant. Deep Blue Sea is no classic. It’ll never win any awards or cinephile accolades but it’s proof that, despite numerous faults, idiocy and inconsistency, films either work for you or they don’t. Deep Blue Sea works. It’s got genetically modified sharks (they swim backwards!), ‘splosions out the wazoo, Samuel L Jackson doing his thing, and Thomas Jane. It’s worth a watch every couple of years because director Renny Harlin knows that action movies need to move faster than the time it takes to think about clever sharks or LL Cool J’s terrible attempts at pretending to be cold.
I love the fact that books, albums and films are ‘released’. It always seemed fitting as anyone can make a piece of art with any intention but once it gets away from the author it is anything the consumer wants it to be. Red Dawn is a great example of this, it was always a great movie, as a cold war thriller it stands with the likes of Threads, By Dawns Early Light and WarGames, but over the years it’s moved from Milius’ red scare to a ‘shoe on the other foot’ tale of occupation.
Whatever you read into it, it’s a film that still packs a punch. The (then) young cast are fantastic, it’s got a grimness that the remake could not hope to attempt let alone repeat and reel after reel of iconic images.
One of the immutable laws of modern cinema is what I call ‘the Statham Grace’; it’s the rule that any film is improved, or made marginally less terrible by the presence of Jason Statham. Like most actors he’s been in his fair share of good movies and absolute dogs but he has a screen presence that is begging to be used properly. Films like The Mechanic, Hummingbird and (the much maligned) Revolver come close but ultimately fall short whilst the likes of The Expendables only showcase his mastery of a underwhelming sub-genre. Statham needs a Scorsese or Winding Refn or Michael Mann and one day I’m convinced he’ll be in a stone cold classic.
Fittingly, even for a story as densely plotted as this, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a film about looking. Director Tomas Alfredson puts this front and center with Smiley’s visit to the optician for new frames and the way that the viewer is invited, just like Connie Sachs, to interrogate the frame (the beginning of ‘the fall’, and the start of the next Le Carre tale, can be found in a missing tie). It’s also in Bill Roach, ‘best watcher in the unit’, mirrored looks across an office party and through a wire fence and Smiley’s inability to see the mole. The classic BBC TV series might be more faithful but the film, with it’s emphasis on the visual, is a much better telling of this gripping tale.
Here’s the dark idea that sits at the heart of The Purge; for one night a year crime is legal and, even worse, America is better for it. Of course it is a home invasion b-flick so it contains plenty of nasty exploitative moments but it’s the bits around the edges, the Let The Spacemen Beware / Handmaid’s Tale stuff, that make this one of the most satisfying films of 2013. This is smart, substantial, efficient, thought-provoking filmmaking and proof that Prof. Michael Haneke often misses the point.
Sitting somewhere between Carrie and Scanners, The Fury is equally captivating and distracting. Brian De Palma delivers staggering set pieces (a slow motion escape and a rear projection utilising ‘vision’ really stand out) and his trademark 70′s/80′s callousness is on full show but the untamed ideas just need herding in the right direction. It might ultimately be a film that doesn’t quite add up but The Fury really needs to be seen because the layers are all there and so are Kirk Douglas and John Cassavetes.