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By some reckoning the worst film I have seen in a long, long time. Some plus points for the photography, though it's overemphasised to obscure the small budget, from which you'd get change from a box of popcorn and carton of cola from the Odeon kiosk. When Monty addresses his men before sailing for Normandy, they seem to number only 15. Chartwell (Churchill's home) seems to consist of two box rooms, albeit nicely shot.
This is the sort of film that makes one wish the Germans had won the war, it's that bad. Historically I can't say it's accurate that Churchill didn't want to open a second front against the Germans, and so to base an entire film around that seems like madness. On top of this, he is portrayed as a senile, out-of-touch buffoon who is only fit for a nursing home, who turns up three days before D-day with an alternative invasion plan for Eisenhower. Who laments the imminent loss of life - this would be the same Churchill who led (failed) allied attempts in Norway, Crete, Dieppe, yet you'd imagine from this that the Normandy landings was the first military initiative.
Characterisation is broad, dialogue is asinine.
I don't carry a torch for Churchill, like many great men he had flaws, but this is at such variance with the truth it's basically pornography, except unlike pornography I can't imagine how it could appeal to anyone.
The Two Faces of January (2014)
Solid, could be sexier
A thoroughly decent movie that respects the audience. Some great locations, mostly in Athens. It's a three-hander, and in retrospect the chemistry between the three of them could have got under the skin a bit more, rather like in Knife in the Water. As with Patricia Highsmith's other works, a key theme is male one-upmanship but it doesn't play out here quite the way it ought to, especially with the final pay-off, which is nonetheless quite satisfying.
Nothing wrong with any of the performances, and the twists and turns of the plot work well, but if you can't really sympathise too much with the characters, the director ought to have a more mischievous style perhaps, rather like Hitchcock of course. So this is a film that won't wind you up much, but won't ruffle your feathers either.
The Great Gatsby (2013)
You're an Absolute Beginner...
So imagine it's 1967 if you'd missed out on all the hoo-ha over Bond, but you read Ian Fleming's Casino Royale and found you quite enjoyed it... and what's this? There's a big screen version of Casino Royale hitting the cinemas, with David Niven, Orson Welles and Ursula Andress. Better check it out, right? Well this version of Great Gatsby is as close to F Scott Fitzgerald's novel in tone as that psychedelic romp starring Niven, Welles, Peter Sellers and Woody Allen was to Fleming's dour Cold War novel. Or, if you prefer, as close as the mid-1980s Absolute Beginners musical was to the classic novel about Soho coffee houses of the 1950s.
Which is not to say this film jettison's the novel's plot, not at all, if anything it's too faithful. Scenes are shoehorned in because they were in the novel, but for no real reason. When Nick and Jordan meet the old buffer in Gatsby's library, well in the book it means something, but in the film it serves no real purpose I can see.
As with the other two movies I've mentioned, the songs help save it and it does have its moments. The melancholy scenes work better than all the frenzied upbeat stuff, but this film is really about taking a dayglo spray paint to an ornate statue. You know the director has failed when you have Tobey Maguire just talking the whole frickin' time, explaining what people are thinking and doing and their motivations. Don't tell, show, is one lesson Fitzgerald would have been taught when he tried out as a screenwriter in the 1930s. It doesn't help that narrator should be made stronger, not weaker, otherwise what is he doing there? When he's a first person narrative in a book, his raison d'etre is solid, but in a film the lead actor (arguably I know) should have something more to do, otherwise why not just have the director tell the story? I give this 5 out of 10 because the 3D visuals are out of this world and make this a real experience, albeit not always an enjoyable one, but it IS different, probably the same way that the 67 Casino Royale was in its day. It's mad. But the director misses the poetry and poignancy, the subtlety of the book, and probably isn't even aiming for that anyhow.
The Look of Love (2013)
Steve Coogan was turned down for the lead in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, losing out to Geoffrey Rush, and I get the feeling this is his attempts to compensate. It is a biopic with a retro look, encompassing the same era and focused on an oft unsympathetic individual who goes on to neglect his wife and kids.
The problem is that Sellers was a man of a hundred faces while Paul Raymond seems to have none, he always came across as a deeply uncharismatic, grey little man so instead Coogan pastes his own TV persona onto him. It's not quite Partridge, but we've seen it before in 24 Hour Party People and in things like Tristram Shandy and The Trip, where Coogan plays an unflattering version of himself - sort of narcissistic, insecure, a bit sarcastic and witty, not without flair.
I didn't mind this in the Tony Wilson biopic, largely because that was played for laughs and also looked outwards to the whole Manchester music scene, but I did mind it here. We really have no clearer idea of Raymond's personality at the end of it - it maybe should have looked at the hangers on a bit more and the world of Soho generally. What's more, the pop music tends to date better than soft porn. For this to be a celebration of the Raymond Revue Bar, you'd have to contrast the buxom babes with the dour, pinched women of the era, starchy Margot Ledbetters and Margaret Thatchers, with hornrimmed spectacles and never a day in the gym. (Not saying the blokes looked much better back then to be fair. A quick look on Google Images reveals that the real Raymond was severely balding even by the mid 1960s, so must have sported a heavy hairpiece for his lothario years.)
Imogen Poots is poignant as his daughter, and they try to make out she's the same fit as newspaper proprietor Kane's wife, with similar ill-advised showbiz ambitions. Poots gets to sing the title track rather affectingly, the other song on a loop is Anyone Who Had a Heart, so maybe they were going to go with that title for the film at one point. But it's all very broadly written, and too much improvised it seems. Chris Addison impresses as one of the hangers- on, but I couldn't help thinking (due to his look in this) that we'd be better watching a history of Radio 1, with Addison as DLT and Coogan as the odious Jimmy Savile.
As for other stars, Stephen Fry plays a judge and is in this for less than a minute, David Walliams has a recurring cameo as a lecherous vicar, the sort of role that Terry Scott would have played, but is given no backstory or context to speak of, while Matt Lucas plays a stage character for all of 30 seconds. So don't be fooled by scrolling down the cast list, it's fairly slim pickings and at times it resembles those awful No Sex Please We're British movies of the day. You do get a fair bit of sex, with coke snorting atop many a bare breast, so it's not one to watch with the folks, but I can't say it's quite as erotic as I'd like, maybe because tastes have moved on since then.
Django Unchained (2012)
Last 20 minutes is a 5
It's always a joy for me to see a new Tarantino on screen, it's the dialogue stupid. But it's also the direction, there's a sense of ease and familiarity, a feeling that he's going to take you on an exhilarating trip.
So it is here, and I'd happily see this movie again, but there are problems along the way. I can't quite believe that Waltz could get himself into so many scrapes and talk his way out of it, it belongs in a more outrageous, funnier film. In a way, I think Quentin is too influenced by those slightly silly 1970s films where anything goes, and it doesn't really fit here. He is mixing his genres, though when it turns slapstick with the Ku Klux Klan, well, that could be out of Blazing Saddles. I don't mind, it's funny enough, but it's a thin line.
I'm not sure Foxx as Django is quite charismatic enough, so Waltz is carrying the movie a lot, a bit of a problem. DiCaprio puts in the best acting performance I've seen as the plantation owner, but he doesn't quite have the stature or prescence to pull off what would have been a plum role for Larry Hagman or Orson Welles in their younger days.
The final 20 minutes goes off the rails and becomes pure fantasy, much like the ending of Inglorious... It's like Tarantino can't follow through, or maybe it's deliberate, as if to say, yeah, this what we'd like to happen, but I won't kid you that it ever actually did.
Only in a Bond film
These have been patriotic times for the UK. The Diamond Jubilee. The Olympic Games. I went along with it, you'd have to be a curmudgeon not to. Or Morrissey.
But Heaven Knows, the new film Skyfall has me getting how our miserable pop star feels. I just can't buy into it. The applause given to this series' longevity seems a bit, well, Trigger's Broom. If you recall the gormless road sweeper from Only Fools and Horses, 'Thirty years I've used this broom! I've changed its head three times, and its handle four times...' Which means, of course, that it's hardly the same broom, is it? To me, these films don't stir the same feelings they did when I was a kid. Why should they, just because they feature a character with the same name in it? The first two Jason Bournes, Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill Volume 1 - these get me going the way the old Bond films used to.
The phrase 'Only in a Bond film' once referred to the quirky, the classy, the bizarre, traits that lifted the series above other films.
But now the phrase means something very different.
Only in a Bond film would the 'hero' leave a fellow agent to his death to obey orders from his superior, and it's like we're meant to admire him! Craig's Bond disobeys his boss whenever it takes his fancy, but not in this case. We have a name for a bloke like this in England - jobsworth. Maybe that could be the name of the next Bond film, sung by Adele:
Jobsworth! / Get the T-shirt / From the foyer / That'll be another 15 pounds please...
Okay, we soon forget this as we're in a chase and there's some good banter going on, but only in a Bond film do I find it just a bit hard to hear the dialogue, as it's been since Die Another Day, it's just a bit muffled. Is to put the audience on the edge of its seat? Only in a Bond film does the hero slam into another car so it goes crashing into a bunch of 'natives', oh it's okay, he's British and they're not, who cares? Contrast later when you see just how polite and solicitous he is with Brit commuters on the Tube.
Only in a Bond film will the hero smash the bike he's riding into bridge hoping to somehow get thrown onto the train, rather than just pulling up to the bridge like you or I would.
Only in a Bond film will the lead actor move like a crab and no one really cares - it's cool! If you ever watched Octopussy and thought what the film needed was General Orlov in a fight on the speeding train in West Berlin, you're in luck, cos that's just how Craig looks in this scene.
Only in a Bond film would we get all this tripe about what a wonderful song Adele has come up with. It's not a good tune really, you wouldn't look at it twice if it weren't a Bond song. It's lushly produced, just as the film looks good, and some are fooled by window dressing.
Just as Sam Mendes' The Road to Perdition looked great, had ambition but just didn't move along, so it is here. These directors shouldn't be let near a Bond film. As with Marc Forster, who did the last one, I sense a slumming it vibe, as if to say, well, if this doesn't make sense who cares - it's only a Bond film.
This is the Craig and Dench show. Both their characters are talked down - with total justification! They both seem to be idiots. Craig is said to be old and past it - only two films back they were trying to make out he was the young kid on the block! He's only been on two missions, or only two we've seen. This is one way the film tries to tap in to Bond's iconography at the expense of him as a real person.
I think the nadir is when he cockily says he can save the trapped girl in Shanghai. Righty-ho! Sneaks on her ship, easily done. Walks naked into her shower before saying hello. He thinks he can just show up on his own to meet the villain. It starts to feel like The Man with the Golden Gun at this point, in terms of general believability.
CGI buildings on the island, like The Expendables 2.
When the helicopters show up to rescue Bond there's this daft jubilant bit of brass! Like, hey ho, he's safe! No matter the girl he went out to save is, er, dead! Only in a Bond film would the actress get so much publicity for screen time that amounts to what, about 10 minutes? The problem here is a subtext. The writer seems to be saying, hey, M is Bond's Mummy substitute! By taking her back to his own family home, her death allows him to grieve for the first time his parents' death. Seen in that way it's sort of clever, it's only as a straight narrative it's drivel.
Of course, the fans have plenty of reasons to explain away these plot holes (and there are too many to list); though you feel like you're arguing with the Tea Party. Or they say just go with it, there have been plot holes in plenty of Bond films. Well, up to a point, but those movies were fun comedy thrillers. Craig's Bond pitches itself as grim, realistic. I don't want to fess up to being a Bond fan when it means applauding the kind of rubbish we've been fed for the last decade or more. They say patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, it's also the last refuge of the rubbish filmmaker.
Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
A David Lynch film, starring The Beatles
Context is everything, and I cannot think of a worse way of watching this film than how it was first presented; on Christmas Day evening, with a disapproving dad and bewildered uncles and aunties, on a small black and white telly. While much of Sgt Pepper raised a glass to the older generation, and was both out there and inclusive, Magical Mystery Tour takes the brakes off to deliver a total freak-out, and it really should end up like the finale of The Italian Job, with the coach dangling off a cliff. 'Hang on lads,' Macca might shout. 'I've got an idea!' A recent showing on BBC2 may have helped with the documentary preceding it, with both Ringo and Macca on good form, along with lowered expectations, but I really enjoyed this film. It's not too long - only about an hour - with some fine Beatle songs in it. Much of it isn't really dreamlike, but more an odd nightmare, but it did put me in mind of a David Lynch film, in particular Mulholland Drive. It's true there isn't much 'magic' in it, it seems to seek to alienate, or disturb. I'm thinking of the dream sequence where a grinning Lennon - at his most Michael Caine-like - heaps spaghetti onto a fat woman's plate.
I am the Walrus looks rubbish on youtube, but in the context of this film looks quite quirky and polished, the Beatles' animal outfits anticipating the Soft Bulletin and Coldplay. Same with Fool on the Hill, a bit rubbish on youtube but in the film seems to be inspired from the Bergman classic The Seventh Seal.
A lot of the humour seems less out there since Python and Vic and Bob came along.
I know this isn't meant to be the best Beatle film, but honestly I've had worse times watching the others. I can't always get away from the fact that a lot of A Hard Day's Night is aimed at young teenage girls, or that the fabs are stoned throughout Help!, which has a goofy, lethargic, let's spoof Bond plot. Yellow Sub can be a protracted bore and of course Let it Be is no one's idea of fun. In some ways Magical Mystery Tour is the less dated of the lot, but it's also a bit of a time capsule. I'm glad it exists, and while Paul may have instigated it, it's the last time John Lennon looked truly happy to be a Beatle.
Everything or Nothing (2012)
Fantastic bit of editing, catch it if you can
Fantastic documentary and very pacily directed. Actually more involving and entertaining than many recent Bond films for this fan, a real narrative arc to it all, and emotional involvement. Superb use of Barry music throughout to accompany the narrative, and clips from the films to illustrate events.
Bond creator Ian Fleming gets his deserved share of acclaim in it. Connery's non-involvement lends him a posthumous air, but it allows him to be cast as the villain of the piece, an attitude which seems more justified in retrospect as the series has gone from strength to strength without him. They linger on shots of Connery looking quite obese in the Diamonds are Forever era, as if to make a point, and the clips from his rogue Bond film Never Say Never Again mainly show him at his worst. They don't mention, however, that EON actively worked to mess up Never Say Never Again by hauling them to the courts on a weekly basis to throw up roadblocks over their intended storyline.
Alternative Bond producer and huckster Kevin McClory is the other villain of the piece, though no one would realistically stick up for him. That said, I'm not sure that the whole Spectre thing wasn't his idea and lord knows EON milked that in the 60s, using them for films where they hadn't even featured in the books.
A shock to see Roger Moore look so overweight, he's turning into Cubby now, while I thought Dalton looked better than he's been in decades, quite rugged and windswept. But his interpretation of Bond is wholly damned here, with no one speaking up in support of it, and he even seems to damn it in his own words: 'I worried that half the people would love Connery and the other half love Moore and they'd gang up to hate me...' implying that's what happened, though in the interview from which that quote was taken, a few years after LTK, he swiftly added 'Which didn't happen I'm glad to say', now edited out. Brosnan is in good form, but still surprisingly cut up about getting the push, surprisingly because, let's face it, his films were mostly below par through no fault of his own. I think his response was the grief or regret that comes from knowing he'd never get a chance to get it right, and now time had moved on.
One-time Bond George Lazenby is perhaps the best entertainment value for anecdotes, he's in good form and amusingly self-deprecating. Oh, there's a moving scene regarding a phone call from Connery to Cubby, related by Barbara Broccoli. Connery's comments are occasionally heard, but they're from past interviews and used very fleetingly, over other clips.
What I found surprising was that I found the clips of Casino Royale with Daniel Craig at the end far more moving than in the actual film, because the music played over it - not David Arnold, it seems - was more affecting. Craig's performance looked shockingly impressive this time round simply because of this.
Some clips from Skyfall at the end, though not too many if you haven't seen it yet. The trailer is almost directly before the film, so arrive at the last minute if you want to miss that. Catch this in cinemas if you can, as you get to see some clips of the films on the big screen for once, even if some of the hi-def remasters seem to have just something very slightly wrong about them sometimes.
The Expendables 2 (2012)
Pro-Celebrity Golf for the Modern Age
Some of us of a certain age may remember the days of pro-celebrity golf, where past-it stars would invite members of the public to pay to see them knock a few golf balls around paired with actual golf pros; Bob Hope with Seve Ballesteros, Sean Connery with Gary Player, that sort of thing, Bruce Forsythe, Ronnie Corbett, a kind of Stella Street scenario.
The Expendables 2 is a bit like that, you get to see Sly and Arnie back again, but young guns like Jason Stratham lend a bit of credibility in the action stakes. Also this film reminded me of Sinatra's Ocean's 11, with really was rather turgid for the most part, lots of tired banter and the sense it's made to give them all something to do.
It has a bravaura opening scene, and it's easy to overlook that some of the background shots seem painted in. It's let down by the awful, clunky banter, delivered with no sense of timing or expertise. Is it meant to be bad? Is it ironic? Who knows. It maybe comes from Sly's enablers and hangers-on laughing at his jokes for the last two decades, making him think he's funny, a bit like McCartney making Give My Regards to Broad Street all those years ago, imagining his day to day life is really interesting.
But this does seem interesting, it works on different parts of your brain. It's for folk who think the Lethal Weapon films were too Ivy League, too clever, too witty, too Waspish maybe. Maybe that kind of wit and cerebral activity creates a kind of mental malaise, who knows. It reminds me of the Tea Party kind of thinking, if you can call it thinking. Reject the rational, reject discernment, it only makes your head hurt. Or maybe this is like WWF, and I'm missing the point, in that with those wrestling bouts, it's actually meant to be fixed, it's not for real. It's a real different mindset - but this film is for those who rated Tango & Cash over Riggs and Murtagh.
Cats on the lash
A group of barge cats are disgruntled to find their floating abode taken over by a film crew making a movie in which nothing much happens for the first hour. So they decide to take off, to see the sights of Paris. Meanwhile, the director is distraught when mice begin to take over the vessel, and one of the crew is dispatched to search for them.
In this clear precursor to Disney's The Aristocats, the fleeing felines hole up with a jazz quartet in the Montmatre district and... okay, okay, that's not the film at all, but in fairness there are times when you might wish it was. In a 90 minute movie, it's an hour before the central event, the newlywed bride, heads off to Paris on her own. Until then, it's something of nothing, rather humdrum life on a barge and it doesn't help if you're at the cinema, cos they never crank the sound up on these old flicks, it never feels too cinematic. The couple are not that charming together, their fellow bargees the wrong side of eccentric and only the cats keep it together. That said, I reckon Hitchcock might have used a couple of things for The 39 Steps the following year; the blonde's Madeleine Carroll taking off her stockings, and the idea of a young bride smitten with talk of the city sights.
The ending did move me, but in a way because it's almost the only meaningful thing that occurs in the movie.