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Interesting if a little disappointing
Oddly enough I came to the Alien films in a very roundabout way, I watched Aliens first and thought it was the greatest thing ever then went back and watched Alien which was also superb (the greatest sci-fi action film and sci-fi horror film ever respectively). Alien 3 was the worst film of all time, not only god-awful in itself but ruining your enjoyment of the first 2 films, Alien Resurrection was decent and for the most part rescued the series (thanks Joss) but was still a long way down from the first 2 classics. AvsP are popcorn movies, better than 3 but that's really not saying much. So I was intrigued to see if Ridley Scott could restore the greatness of the series and also to solve the mystery of the 'Space Jockey' which was an essential part of the lore.
Certainly a film that doesn't lack for spectacle and gore, the 'abortion' scene was really out there. The ending was pretty surreal too, be interesting to see how Liz and Michael's relationship develops? The revelations are satisfying, I must say I never suspected that the Space Jockey's facial features were simply a mask, I always thought it was a facehugger that had binded with its' fossilised host over time.
On the bad side what was the point of the zombie attack sequence except to add a little action into a film which rather lacked it? We almost have a few too many characters so it's hard to distinguish between them which is very different to Alien/Aliens, Charlize Theron is pretty much wasted and killed off arbitrarily and anti-climatically and why do we have Idris Elba putting on an American accent, what was wrong with his British one?
So not really up there with Alien/Aliens but easily head and shoulders above all the other films, you rather think that maybe they wanted to do a 2001 style sci-fi epic and used the Alien angle to sell it to the studio/audience?
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
The kitchen sink, the working surface and the whole damn dining room!
Wow, you really thought that Mad Max 2 was the ultimate chase film but it really has nothing on this! It got to the point that it was utter sensory overload but never boringly so (because you cared about the characters, the ultimate secret to any action film)
Okay, first off I see this as a reboot occurring just after the original Mad Max. We see Max with his iconic 'last of the V8 interceptors' police car at the beginning and as that was destroyed in Mad Max 2 we must assume that Hardy's Max and Gibson's Max one day came to a fork in the road and one went one way and the second went another. Therefore Gibson's Max is happily living out his life with the feral kids after returning to them at the end of Beyond Thunderdome, staying right there, living a long time and being grateful. Hardy's Max by contrast is still looking for redemption before finding his new family and purpose (at the end he walks away from the celebration in true cowboy style, just as Gibson's Max chooses not to go with the settlers to form their new colony 'The Great Northern Tribe' at the end of Mad Max 2, he isn't done yet). We see the beginnings of Max's moral comeback here, choosing to risk his own life when he could have walked away, finding in Furiosa and her sisterhood something worth fighting for and living for. When he finally reveals his name to Furiosa it shows that he is beginning to remember who he once was and who he might be again, no longer just a nameless drifter.
All credit to some extremely brave stuntmen who made this film, really beggars belief that no one was killed in the filming. Amazing special effects too, the idea that Furiosa's missing arm was created using purely CGI is staggering.
A feminist film? I guess so, we have both the 'brides' and the 'milk cows' rebelling, we have the motherhood taking over at the end. In the previous Mad Max films we'd had rape, a formidable female warrior who was then killed off and Aunty Entity, in many ways an admirable figure but also the quasi villain. Staggering that this got a 15 rating, the caesarean scene made me cringe like nothing else.
All told pretty damn brilliant and definitely up for another sequel.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Joss should really go back to TV
Went to see it, liked it better than the first one, some great touches like Thor's little double take when Cap America is able to move his hammer by about a millimetre. Quite surreal as my train to work takes me past Hendon Police College in London and you can see the tower blocks and other buildings they used for the Russian town. I'm not sure what Sir Robert Peel would have thought about his statue was transformed into Lenin for the length of the filming? It lacked the magic of Joss' TV shows though but I couldn't help but think that the Vision's line could have easily have been said by Giles'.
Some good stuff and there's no denying that. The Vision's 'I was born yesterday' line was classic Joss and no mistake. It was very interesting to see the Avenger's greatest fears, especially Captain America's. I always though Cap's worst fear would be the Nazis goose-stepping along Pennsylvania Avenue or being a irrelevant nothing during WW2. But instead what he really fears is an end to war, he justified everything to himself by the moral conflict but with it gone what is there for him to do? (don't worry Cap, we'll never run short of wars). Black Widow's horrific memory of being sterilized in order to make her the perfect assassin is just beyond disgusting.
And the ending? Well am I the only one who thinks that the figure is going to be inevitably Galactus?
Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974)
Terrific show despite the obvious men in monster suits
Saw this in the 90s when it was repeated on late night BBC2 and recently bought the boxset out of sheer curiosity. Didn't disappoint, a thoroughly entertaining and in many ways groundbreaking.
Really is Darren McGavin's show, he breathes such life and likability into the in many ways morally reprehensible Kolchak, the sleazy, loner, workaholic reporter who works his way through life bribing and tricking the gullible to get the story. He is heroic but at the same time you get the idea if he was around these days he'd be tapping Hugh Grant's phone. His closest friend seems to be his editor but even they're constantly rowing, their relationship one of the highlights of the show.
It's interesting to see the bygone era of print journalism with rolls of quarters for payphones, stories being put out on 'the wire' and journalists researching with books and banging away on typewriters, not to mention the brutal, trigger-happy and corrupt Chicago police of the 70s. Love his car too, a classic Mustang convertible complete with police scanner whilst his outfit is a weird mixture of the formal and down at heel.
Some good guest stars, Erik Estrada, Phil Silvers in what must be one of his last roles, Tom Skerrit. You can see the inspiration for Altered States here and the robotic company named the Tyrell corporation.
Where the series falls down is its' lack of decent villains, once you get to Helen of Troy they're really scraping the barrel whilst The Sentry is blatantly a guy with a cardboard crocodile head mask. The series treatment of women, inevitably belittled and/or killed is also a little hard to take.
Sapphire & Steel (1979)
A classic of its' time
Treated myself to the DVD boxset and it was certainly a treat, commentaries on the first and last episodes of the series (although the writer and producer seem to have fading memories) and a lovely documentary with both Lumley and McCallum.
Just as good as I remember it, great mood, writing, acting, terrific premises all around. If I were to have one complaint it would be that some episodes go on for far too long and would have been much better if they'd been cut to nearly have their length, especially adventure 2. But it's still great fun and shows what you can do without big special effects and graphic sex and violence. Would love to have seen more especially if they could have expanded their universe, we could have got to see other members of their community and understood a little more but then one of the appealing points was that it was never all explained, we were always left wondering.
And the ending? On face value Sapphire and Steel are trapped in the café in 'nowhere' forever whilst Silver's fate is unknown. However rather than being trapped by their opponents it seems they have been imprisoned by the higher authorities of their own organisation who resent their 'independence'. When Sapphire looked into their future she saw this fate as 'thousands' of years and not eternity. In adventure 3 Steel observes that it would be better if 'operatives' were in place before time crises erupted rather than being dispatched when they had already occurred but Sapphire points out that no one would volunteer to wait for hundreds of years, including him. It is possible that they have actually been put on ice for just such an occasion.
American Sniper (2014)
Quite a good film but possibly the most polarising of all time?
Judged as a film alone this is a pretty good story. Clint Eastwood directs well, the cast do a fine job, the action sequences are exciting and it walks a fine line with it's tone, veering effectively between 'war is hell' clichés and celebrating Kyle's undoubted skill and bravery. It doesn't depict war as anything but brutal and horrific and the traumatising effect it has on its' participants is plain for all to see. Having read the book my main complaint was that we don't get to see the beach-ball story (a group of 16 insurgents using beach-balls as flotation devices to attack a US position via a river, Kyle letting them get midstream then shooting out the beach-balls and letting them drown, killing sixteen enemy using only four shots) or what he actually earned his medals for, rescuing wounded Marines on a couple of occasions. If I was a to pick a favourite scene it's him killing an insurgent and his spotter not even acknowledging it, so routine has this become or him winning his future wife's hearts by holding her hair up when she drunkenly vomits on their first meeting (who says romance is dead?).
What's amazing about this film is the visceral reaction to it from its' opponents who simply cannot accept it because it differs from their own viewpoint, Kyle derided as a bloodthirsty racist killing machine monster of big oil war criminals who wish to poison the children of Iraq with depleted uranium and re-establish colonialism, the entire film a work of slanted propaganda and wishing they could give it less than one star as a rating. The only conclusion you can reach is that left-wingers are deeply intolerant people who don't countenance views different to their own or that possibly they heard the hype and hadn't seen the film? I wonder if Audie Murphy or Alvin York ever had to put up with this kind of disgusting abuse?
For the record Kyle never claimed to have shot looters after Hurricane Katrina, he merely discussed rumours of other special forces soldiers doing that with another SEAL. No one has ever been able to substantiate the story of shooting 2 car-jackers one way or the other nor the facts of his drunken brawl with Jesse Ventura, Kyle being dead before the case came to court so not being able to give his side (I'm happy to put it down to alcohol and PTSD on both sides).
So, ignore the American Sniper bashers, it's a great film, see it with an open mind and decide for yourself.
Deep in the Valley (2009)
Surprising fun for such a cheesy concept
Quite liked this, very entertaining and not just in terms of the plentiful softcore cheesecake on display. The porn world is so riven with clichés that it's obviously fit for satire as Boogie Nights so ably proved. Really like Chris Pratt's character and his ideal porn girl is surprisingly sweet, so happy that they end up together in the end. Also liked the porn cop who speaks in nothing but meaningless porn film law enforcement clichés, complete with the 2 hulking, nearly mute cohorts you inevitably find in such films.
And Kim Kardashian and Denise Richards as guest stars? Wow! Surprised they didn't have some real porn stars taking part too although maybe I just missed them? Needless to say loads of tasteful nudity from some incredibly beautiful women, actually watched this on YouTube, surprised they allowed it as they don't normally permit any, even if this was a 15 certificate? Perhaps because virtually no one actually has any sex despite the risqué subject matter?
Two more things I'd like to have seen, firstly Chris Pratt's porn star girlfriend adapting to the real world, finding out what you can't do in a non-porn reality. Secondly a better ending. Chris Pratt's beautiful but shrewish ex-girlfriend staggering drunkenly into the liquor store and bitchily demanding more tequila after her break up. Shift to Scott Caan's ex-porn star cop who is now the liquor store clerk raising an eyebrow to the camera. Back to some sexy cheerleaders dancing and then finish the film with Scott Caan and the ex-girlfriend coming out of the storeroom breathless, sweaty and putting their clothes back on.
"Can I have some tequila please?" she asks, now much more subdued. He passes it to her but grips her hand as she receives it.
"If you ever want some more you know where to come!" he tells her. She raises a saucy eyebrow "Count on it!"
Violent, visionary, intelligent sci-fi of the type they don't seem to make anymore
Watched this as a kid and was totally engrossed in the game, really wanted to play Rollerball for real although I'm a lousy skater (maybe I could have ridden one of the motorbikes?). Reputedly the cast and crew actually did play Rollerball (presumably with penalties, substitutions and time limits rather than the ultimate no holds barred version we see at the end?) in between takes and really got into it. I wonder if there's any film of that? In the 70s 2000AD magazine had a comic strip 'inspired' by Rollerball where the players wore jetpacks which is about the only way you could make the game more exciting.
What makes it special though is that it's not just a glorification of a brutal futuristic sport but a study of the role of the individual in a civilized society. Thomas Mann would recognise the concept although he probably wouldn't have included motorbikes in it. The future is depicted as a quasi-benign dictatorship as Plato always advocated. We have no wars, no crime, no poverty, corporations run the show and conflicts are confined to the boardroom and stock exchange. People are free within the system as long as they don't question the established order. Some have described it as fascist but actually it strikes me as more communistic, the individual sublimated for the sake of the greater good. However mankind never changes so an outlet is needed for aggression and populist entertainment. Hence we have Rollerball. Problem is in a society which values conformity Jonathan E has become an individualistic superstar and that threatens the whole nature of society.
Great performance from James Caan and equally great from John Houseman who isn't exactly the villain, it's very subtle on his part, you can't really be sure who's right or wrong in all this (noticeably Houseman's character doesn't want Jonathan to have an 'accident'). Also like Shame Rimmer as the team manager, the obedient corporate stooge who tells it as it is but still cares about his team, trying to prevent an injured Jonathan E from going back out to probable death during the final game (the New York manager noticeably succeeding in doing the same for one of his players). Fantastic music too, the classical influence contrasting with the sheer brutality of the game. And it is still shocking after all these years, the scene where the injured player slides down the rink leaving a bloody trail behind him still makes you cringe. You're so happy that Jonathan spares the final New York player and then goes on to score the final point, to him it's still all about the game rather than the violence.
No offence to Star Wars but it rather killed the more thoughtful sci-fi we had in the 1970s, Silent Running, Dark Star, Logan's Run, THX 1138, Westworld, Solaris, The Omega Man etc.
The only bad thing is Jonathan's trip to the the computer bank in Geneva which is utterly baffling.
X: The Unknown (1956)
Interesting British b-movie which reflects the concerns of its' age
Apparently this was supposed to be the fourth instalment of the Quatermass series and you can definitely see the influence here, British location, American scientist character in order to give it some transatlantic appeal, bumptious military types, disbelieving bureaucrats (Dr Beeching?) and young and handsome earnest assistants. This time however the threat does not come from outer space but in a neat twist from inner space, a prehistoric creature that feeds on radioactive energy and has now emerged as the development of nuclear power/weaponry has finally provided it with enough food source to return to the surface. A great concept which unfortunately the special effects can never live up to, I envisioned something more akin to Morbius' creature of the 'Id' from The Forbidden Planet.
Speaking of which this must have been quite shocking in its' day, the sight of the creature's victims melting away must have been truly disturbing to a 50s audience. They also kill the kid which must have been taboo at the time. One thing that stuck in my craw a little was the nurse who was rendered mute after witnessing her lover's death, I half expected someone to exclaim 'Well of course she's hysterical, she's only a woman'.
Underpinning this all is an early form of environmentalism, atomic energy had been sold to the masses as the great white hope but now people were beginning to have second thoughts as the grieving father's rant against the scientist illustrates. That the creature resembles an oil slick may also be a metaphor of sorts.
The ending is somewhat underwhelming, the creatures defeat depending on a tyre getting out of a rut and you wonder if there wasn't supposed to be another scene before the titles run but all the same it's an interesting and entertaining film.
Magic Mike (2012)
A surprisingly fun male version of 'Striptease'.
Watched this largely out of curiosity, male strippers not really my thing (to say the least) but I don't disapprove, if guy/gay girls can have Spearmint Rhino then straight girls/gay men can have male strippers. That being so I guess a film dealing with the subject would be treading on some pretty thin material. Glad to say I was actually mistaken and this has a pretty good story and some excellent performances in between all the rippling six-packs and thrusting pelvises. You wonder nowadays could mainstream Hollywood make a similar film about female strippers and their motivations without being branded as sexist?
A few criticisms, there seems to be a lack of gay characters, couldn't there have been at least one homosexual couple amongst the strippers? Also couldn't we have had a bit more depth to some of the clients? I would have liked a gay special night and some older ladies in the audience. It would have been a funny scene for one of their mothers to be spotted amongst the screaming fans.
Ultimately it is a very traditional story of the man who thinks he has it all (money, casual threesomes with sexy bimbos who can't even remember one another's names, getting paid to work out all the time and have everyone fawning over you nightly). But eventually he sees the pitfalls, that it's shallow, the perils of drugs and that it is essentially a younger man's game and that you have a very limited shelf life as a career. I wouldn't call it a moral film exactly but it certainly is a film with a moral.