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Boxcar Bertha (1972)
Does No One Love Scorsese Then ?
It took me a very long time to finally watch BOXCAR BERTHA. The prime reason for this is simply because it's hard to find. I can't recall it ever being broadcast on television and I'm including obscure cable channels and not just network television. I can't recall it being available on DVD either or being shown in the filmhouse , Edinburgh's foremost art-house cinema. Strangely it is not held in high regard by people who have seen it and it's shocking to see it has an average rating of 6.1 on this site. If there's a film by Scorsese that can be described as "forgotten" this might just be it. How can a film by this great American auteur be forgotten ?
Ah I can see why some people might hold it in relatively low regard. The 70s was a zenith for American film making and perhaps only classic Hollywood beats this era. This is an era where "movie brats" came along and made films about angry young people take on the world single handed and anyone who has ever been young and/or angry will recognise the wish fufillment that drives the central narrative of these movies. The downside is that BOXCAR BERTHA is drowned slightly by the films surrounding it. You're often reminded of similar films such as BONNIE AND CLYDE and BADLANDS. If there;s a difference it's that the characters are maybe a little bit too Robin Hood in that they'd never think of robbing the poor and that they're far more sinned against rather than sinners
Some people have stated that it's more like a Corman movie than a Scorsese one. I can understand this complaint and it's obvious that the budget is limited but don't forget this is character driven which has always appealed to Marty and while there's lots of incident it doesn't really have much in the way of a core central plot, Can you see Scorsese making a film featuring a mindbending plot ala Christopher Nolan ? Me neither so this type of story is ready made for Scorsese. It's also far more enjoyable than much of Scorsese's latter output where he tries too hard such as GANGS OF NY or his spiritual movies like KUNDUN and SILENCE. In short BOXCAR BERTHA is a film for people who want to live fast and die young but never got round to it
Doctor Who: The Eaters of Light (2017)
These Eaters Are Very Slight
The Doctor , Bill and that bloke from SHOOTING STARS travel to Scotland circa AD 120 and find that the Picts and the 9th Roman Legion are being stalked by an alien monster
Don't come in to this episode if you're your aware of history because unlike the good old days of the William Hartnell era where the themes of history and science were respected but I never go in to a NuWho episode expecting my knowledge of science or history to be expanded and this episode came hyped by the fact that the writer Rona Munro has passed in to legend as being the very last person to have written for DOCTOR WHO 1963-89 with Survival
Ooops. With hindsight the alarm bells should have been ringing because if you're hyping up an upcoming episode due to who wrote it rather than the content and the content is slight to say the very least. A dragon type of monster thingy is roaming the glens of Caledonia eating Picts and Romans alike and instead of developing this angle more the cardboard characters sit around discussing things like sexuality. As I said I'm not expecting accurate history but despite the Roman Empire being very diverse indeed Roman Legions weren't a pick and mix regiment as seen here , it'd be a Spanish regiment in the case of the 9th . The thinking behind this is the Romans would be worried about their Legions joining the other side if rebellions broke out so they'd send a Spanish Legion to Scotland and say send a Hungarian regiment to Spain. Likewise the Picts weren't "An early Celtic race" and what very little is known about them is that they didn't speak an Indo-European language which indicates they're not Celts . Did I say I didn't watch this as a history lesson ? Maybe not but surely it's possible to fuse drama with accurate history ?
As for the drama itself what lets the episode down is that it's pretty obvious the young cast have not long graduated from drama school and you're aware you're watching very inexperienced actors playing parts in a television show . We shouldn't be too hard on them because the material is very light and empty and seems more concerned with The Guardian inspired diversity rather than solid involving drama. It's the scene in the Tardis at the end the episode will be remembered for rather than the scenes in Bonnie Scotland
Deadman Apocalypse (2016)
Thinking Outside The Box
According to the IMDb trivia section this film has a budget of £1,500. If nothing else at least the budget is up there on screen by being filmed inside a couple of elongated crates. Yes that's right elongated crates.
At least the producers are trying to do something a little bit different involving a British apocalypse , one that doesn't involve zombies in a 28 DAYS LATER rip off. Any admiration quickly becomes diluted down to the fact that nothing else about the production works. It's more of an adult fairy-tale rather than any type of apocalyptic adventure. This doesn't stop the narrative suffering from some quite ridiculous plot holes that defy the laws of science and logic . Example you ask ? How are you able to grow sustainable food crops underground out of sunlight. Yes some people have reverted to cannibalism but surely people would die from scurvy or be crippled by rickets ? Going back to the adult fairy-tale aspect everyone seems to speak in theatrical purple prose delivered in a manner you hear Russell Crowe speak when he's cast as a Briton. This is made worse by the painful fact the cast aren't up to it. I'm guessing the cast were employed due to their go-karting skills more than anything else ?
As I said the producers deserve some credit for taking £1,500 and making a movie, Not only that but they've refused to do the obvious zombie apocalypse spiel so favoured by others and have instead tried to do something different. Here's hoping they learn from their mistakes
A former boxer with promise returns to his old stomping ground on the mean streets of London hoping for one last chance of success
Stop me if you've heard this one before but .... what you stopped me as soon as I came to this page? Fair enough. JAWBONE is a traditional type of gritty drama of a washed out boxer trying to get his life back on track. If you're expecting the big budget feel good Hollywood factor try somewhere else because this is a gloomy British movie
Actually this is maybe a little bit too gloomy. It's got that British independent feel. It's well made where the social realism shines through but it's not a film where you walk out of the cinema clicking your heels. On top of that unlike a lot of boxing films you've seen from ROCKY to RAGING BULL director Thomas Napper ensures that if you're hit with a high velocity fist then it will hurt and cut you
One minor complaint is that some people be fooled in to watching a film starring Winstone and McShane and there can't be a single movie in Britain who doesn't love these two legends but the reality is their parts are minor with McShane literally appearing in one walk on scene . Instead it's Johnny Harris as boxer Jimmy and Michael Smiley who carry the film. Smiley in particular is very good but the story is one you've seen before
Doctor Who: Empress of Mars (2017)
A Good Story That Should Have Been Better
The Doctor and co land on Mars in 1881 only to find an alien invasion is taking place on the planet. This time it's the Martian Ice Warriors who are the victims of human expansionism. Whose side will the Doctor choose ?
I was looking forward to this episode mainly down to last weeks trailer. A unit of British redcoats taking on Ice Warriors. Looked great but I did have reservations. DOCTOR WHO meets ZULU ! Too good to be true and it's highly unlikely we're going to see an up and coming working class actor from London coming out with "Stop firing these sonic lazers at me" There's also the expectation that there will be a large amount of grief whoring on the part of the BBC where an on screen apology for the British Empire will be given out at every opportunity
!!!! MILD SPOILERS !!!!
To be fair to Mark Gattiss he really knows what a lot of fans like . Scary bulletproof monsters in a fight to the death with human soldiers . For some of us this is what we grew up with from the show. One great thing this story brings to DOCTOR WHO folklore is the new Ice Warrior sonic gun which crumples its victims in to a ball. Much better than what could be achieved by the effects team in the 1960s and 70s. It's also a very nice surprise to see the story end with a cameo from a long forgotten character voiced by the original actress
The problem is despite Empress Of Mars being traditional and enjoyable it still could have been better. Plot holes are evident such the commanding officer being revealed to have been hung for desertion but for some reason still remains a serving officer. It's more incomprehensible when another character claims he's the only one who knows about the execution. Wouldn't this execution go through a chain of command ? There's also a large element of telling instead of showing. Similar themed stories from the 1970s were infinitely better at this because they had more time to develop and this would have worked better as a two part story , especially compared to the preceding three weeks of nothing we had with the Monks. Finally there's an element of hypocritical politics where it's pointed out it'd be impossible for a woman to be in the police force but apparently mixed marriages were common enough in 1881 Britain that no one would blink an eyelid
In summary this is one of the better episodes of the season but as with so much of the Capaldi era there's a strong feeling it cold have been a bit better
The Mummy (2017)
Not What I Expected Or Wanted
I promised myself I was going to see THE MUMMY the first chance I had. Watching the trailer involving a supernatural seductive sorcerer turn London in to a zombie apocalypse reminded me of the 1985 Cannon film LIFEFORECE . Okay that movie never has you claiming that it's a masterwork of cinema but I have no hesitation it's a masterwork of entertainment with practical effects that still hold up exceedingly well over 30 years later. As the release date approached more and more critical , wary voices started to claim THE MUMMY would be a box office disappointment so much so that the Dark Universe would be in danger of failing before the reboot had established itself
THE MUMMY doesn't get off to a good start and if a film has to use blatant exposition in order to set up a backstory then the storytelling is wrong. Going back to LIFEFORCE that was a film that suffered from the feeling that someone had written 20 odd pages of script , got bored with it , handed the typewriter to someone else and let them write a couple of dozen pages until they got bored. Despite this flaw at least the film remained true to its "QUATERMASS on drugs" premise and was an out and out sci-fi horror movie . Here with THE MUMMY there's nothing that can be described as consistent and has obviously been produced by a corporate committee. Part Tom Cruise vehicle , part action-adventure , part franchise origin etc none of which the film does very well. The tone especially is the main problem as the film has a serious identity crisis. To be fair the trailers and other marketing indicated it was a Summer blockbuster movie that might appeal to people who don't like horror movies ( I knew before seeing it that THE MUMMY wasn't horror genre) similar to how WORLD WAR Z was a film that marketed itself as a zombie film for people who don't like zombie films
"Aw come on Theo say something nice for once"
Oh okay then. The trailer is accurate . Probably because it contains all the good bits"
Hmmm. Let me think . Oh yes there is a slight amount of entertainment of spotting the movie reference but the downside is you'll often be reminded how some films of these films were better like LIFEFORCE or how many of them were similar to this one in the mediocrity stakes like MISSION IMPOSSIBLE or THE MUMMY franchise from the 1990s . All in all a disappointment
Complex But Not Entirely Confident
In one of my intermittent conversations with IMDb legend Bob The Moo he recommended a 2016 South Korean film THE HANDMAIDEN. Having total faith in Bob I did make a mental note of getting round to seeing it when I had some spare time. As with any recommendation I also made a mental note of not looking up the recommendation for obvious reasons. After all I did look up a couple of early online reviews of THE MUMMY earlier today and let's just say they let the cat out of the bag. It's hardly a surprise when a film is ruined because surprise is given away. The only thing I knew in advance before seeing THE HANDMAIDEN was that the director was Park Chan-wook who made the overrated OLDBOY which reminded of something else - Bob also once recommended me THE FOUNTAIN , a film I thought was pretentious rubbish
Park is something of an auteur. Revenge is a theme that intrigues him as a film maker but not in the way Hollywood would develop a revenge thriller where Bruce , Arnie , Sly or Chuck would wreak revenge on creeps via an arsenal of firearms and explosives and I'm not entirely sure if that's a compliment. By the same token it's not necessarily a complaint either but I did feel the narrative execution could have been developed better. There might be a problem in that the original source novel was set in Victorian Britain rather than 1930s Korea but I don't think it's that. What I found annoying was the constant need for characters explaining what is happening which is usually obvious and why it's happening when it's not obvious at the time but becomes obvious later on. It's certainly a complex film where objects that seem meaningless make reappearances as plot turns. Also as with OLDBOY there's a somewhat sleazy story which the audience will find divisive
One thing that will never , ever shake my faith in Bob The Moo is that he knows a great looking film when he sees one. I might have hated the fractured storyline of THE FOUNTAIN but at least Aronofsky understands what cinematography is, even if he takes it to excess. With THE HANDMAIDEN director Park and cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon have made a stunning looking film which while I was sitting in front of a laptop in a smoky Edinburgh flat made me think I was either walking around rural Japan or stuck in a Japanese mansion with a bunch of deviants, Another good aspect is the editing which gives the film a pace that can't be faulted especially compared to the average Hollywood movie. There is one technical aspect I found irritating and that was the intrusive music but again this is very subjective
It's certainly the visuals that impressed me with this movie , the story less so. Or should I say how the story is executed. As I said the story itself is rather complex but the constant need to spell things out shows a painful lack of confidence
Doctor Who: The Lie of the Land (2017)
Hey the Earth is under an alien jackboot and the Doctor is absolutely powerless to overthrow the oppressors! Haven't I seen this before ? Yes I have ten years ago in a three episode story that climaxed in The Last Of The Time Lords which didn't set the world alight
The Monks trilogy is similarly weak in that it doesn't really feel like a cohesive three part story . Worst of all is the final episode that sets the scene but you're left with feeling of time having passed. For example the Monks have ruled over humanity for several months but you feel the story has jumped in to another adventure in the space of the week . I know it's very difficult to portray a convincing time-frame in a weekly episodic drama but even so you'd think the production would have tried better
In my comments of the previous episode I said I was reminded of The Claws Of Axos and the homage continues in that the Doctor might have joined the other side. Again this doesn't really work because we know the Doctor so well and he'd rather die than compromise. The main subtext revolves around fake news and media propaganda but it's done in such an obvious manner it doesn't qualify as latent in anyway . On top of that everything is resolved far too easily in a NuWho manner we have seen too often which means that despite the season getting off to a fairly impressive start the last three weeks has been something of a waste
The Claws Of Pyramids
A Pyramid appears from nowhere and Earth's military forces are powerless to stop a countdown to the end of the world
This reminded me in some ways of the 1971 story The Claws of Axos where an alien race offer a solution to Mankind's problem but you know there's going to be a catch. Axos isn't considered an especially good story from the period but the reason I liked it was because Michael Ferguson directed the script with directorial flourish and imagination. Here with this 2017 episode director Daniel Nettheim just brings a journeyman style to the proceedings. To be fair to all the directors who have worked on the show DOCTOR WHO isn't really something to bring in auteur aspects but even so I do wish directors would try and bring an element of risk and their own hallmark to the stories
Narrative wise Pyramids is no great shakes and if you're an old school fan like me you'll be irritated how NuWho works . The UN call on "President Doctor" who turns up spouts innumerable lines giving away plot mechanics and exposition and more often than not the problem is easily resolved , too easily in fact . There's also the gut instinct that the Monks feature in a three episode story that will almost certainly have been better told as one 45 minute episode . Time will tell but there's a feeling here that the season is deteriorating slightly after a fairly good low key start
Alien: Covenant (2017)
Is It Really A Sequel/Prequel To Anything ?
I must be one of the few people who thoroughly enjoyed PROMETHEUS. It was a visually stunning film so much so that most of its flaws didn't matter. The only downside was that Scott and co seemed to forget it was a prequel to ALIEN and shoehorned that element into the narrative at a very late stage. Okay it led to more questions than answers but at least with ALIEN COVENANT some fundamental answers would be answered
!!!! MILD SPOILERS !!!!
The unforgivable thing about AC is that it effectively deletes PROMETHEUS as if it never existed in the first place . You want o know who the Engineers are ? You want to know why they hate the Human race ? Then you'll be none the wiser because of a very brief segment that writes them out of the story. Instead AC concentrates on being an ALIEN film of sorts . I say "of sorts" because it does feel like a fairly generic sci-fi action horror where the aliens could be any type of monsters killing a bunch of cardboard cut-outs
Characterisation is a problem. Plenty of people hated ALIEN 3 but even if the characters were all one note at least they still came across as real characters. Even with PROMETHEUS there was a relatively broad range of characters where as with AC we get a limited bunch of American characters. An early 22nd Century space expedition ? Shouldn't there be some Indians , Chinese and Brazilians present reflecting near future geo-politics. The story doesn't focus on development unless the character is an android. It's also a bitter fact that any surprises involving plot twists have been given away in the trailers
In short ALIEN COVENENT is a bitter disappointment . This disappointment is compounded by the fact that Hollywood has upped their game where action blockbusters are concerned . Both KONG SKULL ISLAND and LIFE I found to be fairly impressive. The fundamental problem with ALIEN CONVENANT is that it's cynically marketed. On its own it is a mildly diverting , visually impressive film in parts but as an ALIEN film in general and a sequel to PROMETHEUS in particular it falls short