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Remember what the Dormouse said > Feed your head
This was inexplicably recommended to me by one of my movie-expert friends, an expert who I think doesn't watch any films older than brand new. If there's a next time I'll make sure I'll tell him my opinion on this one and that The Wizard Of Oz is one of my favourite smart films, he may have heard of that one.
Bradley Cooper plays a loser who gets to pop a mind-expanding pill that changes his life; as in one pill makes you larger, one pill makes you small blah. It's all slickly and sickly handled, Cooper begins his rise to wealth and power on the back of a limited amount of the drug, whilst brutal gangsters and other assorted thuggish users are out to nobble him for his stash. It's an engrossing plot for the most part with only a couple of gross-out bits didn't see the slurpy bit coming with the Russian gangster, but didn't want to either. Cooper puts in his usual sterling performance as the main man and he's in almost every scene. As with all fantasies you're forced to take a number of plot turns for granted and follow the relative outcome algorithms along to the end, either to the end of the film or more likely to the end of the supply of drugs. At least the spice on Frank Herbert's science-fictional Dune set ten thousand years in the future was inexhaustible! But as with all things, the ending comes and with it the only twist possible: however if you're not prescient reference the result of Paul Muad'dib's junkie experience on Dune. My report back on this is it's well made violent hokum but just not my cup of tea.
It's so sad to watch a sweet thing die
And sadly I've been watching it die since 1966. That fabulous line from last track Caroline, No was unfortunately obscured by narration but to me it sums up Brian Wilson's short career as a songwriting genius before he went supernova. I could never understand why the BBC chose to obscure it in this otherwise excellent documentary concentrating on the landmark LP Pet Sounds.
The career of the Beach Boys from their beginnings as harmonic surfer boys in 1961 is outlined, showing the influences on them from Dad Murry Wilson to the Four Freshmen and basically from where the album sprang Brian Wilson's then fertile imagination. He took pop music to a new higher level with Pet Sounds, one it's seldom reached since. It prompted the Beatles to produce Sgt. Pepper one year later, which was their attempt to go one better and often voted the "Best Ever" album over Pet Sounds. In the '70's it took me six attempts to consider Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica as merely one of the Best Ever but it took me over thirty years to finally consider Pet Sounds as the Best Ever over Pepper. Roll over Rolling Stone, you're just wrong! It's a collection of glorious tunes and harmonies with simple open-hearted lyrics, full of youthful love and introspection that I can still play over and over again even in middle age. Wouldn't it have been nice if Wilson's vein of inspiration could have been mined for a few more years but the documentary does a good job in placing what we've got in context and explaining its relevance even if lighter on the recording details. Songs for any age indeed; if it doesn't get to you at twenty here's hoping it will at fifty. Listen!
The Avengers (2012)
Literally a block-buster
It's yet another glossy Marvel fantasy which seems to divide opinion so I think it's one of best average films I've ever seen. It's entertaining, noisy, violent, and you just know who's going to win; mind you, New York was left in ruins yet again. The Marvel plot should run that New Yorker's should just leave everything as it is to save time for the next alien foul-up. Can the producers re-use any of the cgi cartoon conflagration scenes to pad out the next movie?
Bad god Loki forcibly gathers a force around him in order to take over Earth and get one over his brother the good god Thor. Meanwhile in the growing chaos Samuel L. Jackson is responsible for assembling a force of superheroes to save the planet: Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, Thor and eventually Hawkeye. It's a shame Capt. America didn't get his moments readjusting to life in the 21st century, I. Man's slappable whimsicality was reduced, Hulk sure had some fun in his far too brief meeting with Loki, Johansson looked just as serious and good with her kit on. Personally there could have been more room for character interpolations and plot and less building-crunching battle at the end, but I suppose that's what appeals more to the kids. But I must admit that in the thick of it I was wondering where was Popeye and could he have polished the baddies all off a little quicker than this lot. And fancy a future US government signing off the building of a mammoth flying aircraft carrier with teleportation maybe just around the corner the whole concept of travel and battle will be altered. I came away almost impressed at the style over substance brazenness of the film itself but very impressed with Tom Hiddleston's smooth performance as Loki; maybe an Eton education helps perfect acting with a cold heartless demeanour.
I loved the after-credit ending section tying back in to the plot, and although if stripped of the cgi it's pretty simple fare I enjoyed it. Not a bad nor a great film - even if compared to Battleship; but it's barmy and just lively and fast enough to suspend belief for two hours. And it does what it says it's going to do on the shield.
Now, Voyager (1942)
Even to this bloke, Art!
The definition of a Woman's Picture, as was. It's basically all that would be required nowadays too but sadly it usually best works with a sprinkling of soft porn to rope the ladies in, er as in Fifty Shades Of Grey so to speak. This expert film can even to hold the guys to the end, through the layers of soap and tripe to the climactic Give and Take annihilation of reason and the triumph of corn.
Mentally repressed woman Bette Davis under mother Gladys Cooper's bony thumb first with the help of psychiatrist Claude Rains and then with married lover Paul Henreid eventually asserts her independence and blossoms as a person, and of course as a Woman which is more important. It's a masterclass in emotional cinema and tenuous logic they're right when they say this couldn't be remade successfully: the down-to-earthy realism and intolerance to cigarette smoking nowadays and also the lack of seemingly untouchable stars, a Max Steiner to supply a suitably heart-stirring score, a dreamy gleamy nitrate black and white photography, and soft Warner Bros production values will all see to that.
It's all rather wonderful to watch, and to wonder if you really are closer to your feminine side watching and digesting the labyrinthine plot. The cast, especially Davis are almost perfect in their melodrama. The money shots are just before and after Henreid (and Steiner) ask "Shall we have another cigarette on it?" if you're not affected by the emotional conclusion and trite resolution of non sequiturs then you must surely have a screw in place!
Captain America Meets General Mayhem
What makes this a good movie is that I enjoyed watching it, only looking at my watch once to guess how long the army of credits would be at the end. If you don't enjoy watching it then it's obviously a bad movie and one you should have avoided. Basically these Marvel Superhero cartoons always split opinions depending on how much corn and cgi cartoonery you like and whether you're a superhero story purist or not a well made film with an entertaining storyline that holds to the end is usually the last consideration.
It is utter nonsense of course: puny 4F guy keeps trying to join the Army to fight the enemy, is chosen for TS experiment in instant bodybuilding, becomes 1A Captain America and goes on a personal crusade. He, his shield and a small veritable band of brothers are up against the massive Nazi Hydra organisation controlled by self-styled god Red Skull who apparently took his attitude cue from Paul Scofield's marvellous art-loving Nazi colonel in The Train, and a doctor who kept reminding me of Peter Lorre's mad doctor in Arsenic And Old Lace. Maybe that makes Red Skull looking like Sam Neill look like Raymond Massey looking like Boris Karloff from the same film? The bit with the flagpole reminded me of Will Smith with the noisy table in Men In Black with Tommy Lee Jones. The cgi used on the weedy Chris Evans at the start is absolutely amazing, the cgi used later for all the explosions is either routine or laughable depending on your mood, or amazing if you're a kid. I have a job lugging a shopping bag about but I suppose it's no biggie for a big strong man to be glued to a heavy metal shield. Jones as usual steals every scene he's in; what a shame the cgi wasn't up to making HIM Captain America instead. The attention paid to normal, genuine period detail is total. The only gripe I had was Red Skull seemed too quick to capitulate firstly at and in one of his massive complexes he declares he's outmatched, presses self-destruct and skedaddles holding his petticoats, and later in the plane is swiftly despatched to the stars. But this is pure Marvel with echoes of Raiders Of The Lost Ark and A Matter Of Life And Death I only hope someone is in charge of Marvel Cinematic/Magazine continuation coherency otherwise I'm going to get (more) hopelessly confused.
Well made (Shepperton too!) and enjoyable but completely forgettable - an admirable time-passer with brain on off or standby; fun to watch as all fantasy films should be.
The Enforcer (1951)
Hits the spot
I hadn't seen this one for over 35 years until just now for some reason it didn't appeal so much to me back then, but it certainly did tonight all right. I think I was so bowled over by The Big Sleep when young that it made everything else Humphrey Bogart did seem second-rate; how wrong though. The Enforcer is just about as gritty and sleazy as I care to get, and of a marvellous melodramatic noir.
Bogie plays a rather energetic Assistant District Attorney dashing about to get the boss of a murder-to-order gang of psychopaths to the Chair at all costs. One suspect leads to another as sure as one flashback leads to another, leading us on a dizzying but logical journey from A all the way through to Z and back out again. On the way we meet a depressing number of ugly nutters desperate to make a hit even right up to the last nail-biting minute, and from the nobodies like clammy Zero Mostel to the bigger fish such as hammy Ted De Corsia. There's only the briefest of moralising, the story deals not with the reasons why there are ruthless human savages living it up amongst us but the seeking and destroying of them. Bogie was excellent of course and it was a perfect vehicle for him, even in a bow-tie; and sometimes the acting can be a little OTT or hokey but generally everything was handled well.
The concepts and their causes and effects portrayed so simplistically in here have been taken as routine and humdrum for general public consumption for many decades now, which indicates the moral direction society has gone.
The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)
Four Wasters And A Funeral
This was Rio Bravo Meets The Magnificent Seven, not as good but even more sprawling and undisciplined. John Wayne was the hero again, but now sans one lung and finding good films gradually harder to come by as was everybody if only they'd known it. He churned this type film out by the dozen every year in the '30's, this long and lazy oater would have made three Lone Star's.
The four useless sons of the late Mrs Elder return to her funeral, try to reform to help get their youngest brother an eddication but trouble dogs their every hoofbeat. There's some dark secret being kept from them and baddie James Gregory is probably at the bottom of it all; when the secret is revealed you have your work cut out wondering what exactly the secret was. I liked the melodrama, the OTT acting of the leads, the matter-of-fact corniness of the loose plot. I liked an ethical doctor for treating the youngest brother for a gunshot wound without even caring whether or not he was a smoker. I liked the limping possible romance that is allowed to peter out and flatline. In fact, it's a pleasant time-filler, nothing terrible and definitely nothing great. The great gunfight on the bridge was a little savage for my taste except the classic moment when the deputy sheriff hilariously got shot dead in mid-air, and I don't think anyone knew the correct moral outcome for shot-in-the-back brother Dean Martin as he was on his own admission a rather callous murderer. Ah well, even if it's all rather pointless the biggest justification for the movie is that folks got jobs and some money must have been made.
The War of the Worlds (1953)
The Martians invade the World Of The Wars
I was looking forward to finally seeing this classic in a HD copy on Netflix. Imagine my disgust when finding the lip sync was miles out I mean, what is the point?! But this Hollywood hokum looks splendid in a sharp condition whenever it catches up with the sound. It's H. G . Wells' old fashioned story updated for the now old fashioned Post World War 2 Cold War World, when America saw the Soviets everywhere.
The Martians dramatically land on Earth to conquer and destroy, the Earthlings naturally resent the intrusion and fight back. The Martians have fabulous fire-breathing space ships protected from the puny American arsenal by invisible "blisters" all any successful invaders will really require are locust-like numbers and an impervious religious belief. Gene Barry plays the rather demonstrative hero, full of brainy scientific-type gobbledegook, but it could have been played just as well by Richard Carlson, Warren Stevens, Kenneth Tobey et al; at least he calmed down in later films. Ann Robinson perfectly played the feeble fifties female lead stereotype, her emotive reaction to everything may induce a tightening of the arteries; at least she didn't twist her ankle. The special effects cost a lot but now look less than a little, the screenplay and acting is generally corny, the ending flat but thankfully swift however I've loved this film with all its faults since I was young and impressionable. Nowadays a lot of money for cgi cartoonery is thrown at projects like this, but all it results in is a cartoon this is intensely simple fare but it's human and relatable to, and will be still be watchable way in the future (assuming human survival) when cold cgi cartoon movies have faded away.
Simplistic yet Thortful
The closest I've ever got to Odin & Thor is through The Vikings; this was slightly different fare to that classic. I didn't expect much from this but got lots which surprised me it's the usual Marvel superhero cgi cartoon movie, but taken at a cracking pace, shaved of gristle and utterly daft. Quite good in fact, although I was warned by a few friendly movie experts it was naff however I always bear in mind none of those particular experts have ever seen or intend to see Citizen Kane.
Hammer wielding impetuous youth Thor is thrown out of celestial Asgard by his all powerful father Odin, crashing to Earth, while his brother Loki machinates for overall control by apparently siding with the grunting red-eyed baddies from the Dark Side. Time is saved not only by accepting the universality of the English language but that standard plot devices involving falling in love, straightforward fight scenes, and metaphorical battles between Good and Evil are implicitly consented to as well. So many things are simply assumed that it gets a bit confused at times, and any characterisation is completely jettisoned as not worth the time and in kids movies like this it isn't worth the time. The cartoonery is swift and relentless but atmospheric and not as senseless as other similar efforts, such as Man Of Steel for example. The contrast between the serious ethereal world and the flippant real world is cleverly handled, almost impressive and reminded me of The Fountain in its doom-laden commentary. Different story strands all come together satisfactorily, whilst Thor or is it Brad Pitt lopes about suitably heroically. A nice one excellent in its inconsequentiality and well worth watching Gary Son Of Jan has so decreed.
The Dam Busters (1955)
Dam Busters used to be on UK TV regularly at one time, I must have seen it six times before I was 16. Then colour TV and later videotape came along, the distance from the War increased while the old actors decreased, finally earthy realism and cgi cartoonery have ensured this is relegated to rare off-peak screenings nowadays. Which is a shame because with all its faults it shows a vanished world portrayed by its vanished people, any remake might be technically better and easier to make but would be less genuine. Well, I caught it again recently and Time has not lessened the films power at all it's been set in amber for decades now.
It's a fairly true story (I'm no military expert!) of Barnes Wallace the inventor of the bouncing bomb, the laying of the plans, the training of the secret squadron and the act of precisely bombing the German dams. I understand it was slightly fictionalised for entertainment and in that aim it scored a direct hit it entertains as well as informs. So many familiar British faces appeared, from Michael Redgrave and Richard Todd down to bit parts for Raymond Huntley, Nigel Stock, Laurence Naismith, Derek Farr, George Baker, Arthur Howard etc etc that it's like watching a string of old friends at work and play for two hours or so. There seem to be three main modern objections to the film: 1) The name of the black Labrador but one day soon the word "black" will also be frowned on; 2) the special effects are risible but so they are in the copycat Star Wars film, as eventually they will be in all films too. At least the story is the main thing in here and not what the couple of explosions looked like; 3) ye olde British stiff upper lip that is on display but that was of its time, today's grunting curling swearing lip dates badly too and personally sounds more puerile. On the other hand I wonder if any of the cast remembered Danny Kaye's British airman in Walter Mitty?
In short: keep it all in context and it's a wonderful film, both thoughtful and entertaining. As with Lucas's Star Wars the bombing of the flue on the Deathstar had enormous consequences, but as this was real life there were no sequels either in real life or on film. As with The Great Escape: was it worth the loss of life to make such a point? Working class life has always been cheap to our Betters and always will be; at this point I always like reminding, if these people had lost the War I wouldn't be here writing this or you reading it.