Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
2. Gary Oldman
3. Robert De Niro
4. Sean Connery
5. Willem Dafoe
6. Sam Rockwell
7. Ian McKellan
8. Jack Nicholson
9. Hugh Jackman
11. Alfred Molina
12. Nick Stahl
13. Brendan Gleeson
14. Michael Clarke Duncan
15. Don Cheadle
16. Morgan Freeman
17. Christian Bale
18. Tom Wilkinson
19. Robert Downey Jr.
20. Eric Bana
21. Anthony Hopkins
22. Jack Black
23. Johnny Depp
24. Bill Nighy
25. Geoffrey Rush
26. Simon Pegg
27. Vinnie Jones
28. Kevin Spacey
29. Dustin Hoffman
30. Ben Foster
31. Steve Buscemi
32. Tim Robbins
Evan Rachel Wood
"What year is it?" "It's 2040. Our president is a plant!"
In 1984, the original Ghostbusters anchored one of its best gags on the punchline "This man has no dick." It's the kind of joke the 2016 remake doesn't dare make (though you can tell Melissa McCarthy is just bursting to), for fear of the internet combusting in a maelstrom of irrational frothing at the mouth. But for all the vitriol it has attracted, whether for being Not Another Remake, or its all-female leads, it's easy to forget that Paul Feig's Ghostbusters is actually a very simple film. It's not an iconoclastic diatribe, or callous cash grab (no more than any other Hollywood fare, anyway). There's nothing strange in this neighbourhood. But, if you're in search of a breezy, dopey, and laugh-riddled night at the movies? You know you who're gonna call.
Feig is enormously reverent to the original 1984 Ghostbusters, sprinkling in winks, homages, and buckets of slime throughout. In fact, it's almost excessive how much he leans on affectionate nostalgia here (one cameo in particular overstays his welcome beyond what we, or he, clearly want), as his remake is substantive enough to stand on its own. If nothing else, Feig mirrors the original's deft balance between sharp and silly, cheesy and snappy, to an admirable (and thoroughly entertaining) extent here. The plot, naturally, is an extraneous MacGuffin of a lonely, disenfranchised nerd seeking to bring about the apocalypse as revenge for his righteously indignant isolation (ahh, so that's why it's hit a nerve for so many online trolls), but the adventure that ensues is tremendous, punchline-laden fun, motivation be damned.
It helps that Feig isn't afraid to go genuinely spooky at times - ghosts should, after all, be at least a lil' bit scary - and it only feeds into the fun. He's aided by some surprising solid special effects, which hold up even during a CGI-bloated 'kitchen sink' climax, which skirts *just* clear of the threshold of overstimulating summer blockbuster spectacle (there's at least two action sequences - most notably Kate McKinnon's big trailer moment - which are so flat-out awesome, they more than compensate for any looming CGI-overload). It's even paradoxically refreshing to see a film having so much fun with its 3D, as its daft "let's puke on the audience!" aesthetics work weirdly well with its vibe of cheesy nostalgia.
There are, of course, legitimate complaints to be made, most of which echo from Feig's previous work. Like Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy, Ghostbusters is indulgently overlong and somewhat clumsily edited, toes the line of grinding the same gags into the ground (some of the more scatological ones of which flop entirely), and incorporates bursts of sentiment or character development into the broad comedy awkwardly, making otherwise crackling sequences uncomfortably laggy at times. The crass product placement moments meant to play as witty largely don't (though "salty parabolas" is an exquisite one-liner, context notwithstanding), and I definitely could have done without the deluge of Ray Parker Jr. dubstep remixes, too. Still, props are deserved for the film acknowledging its obnoxious shroud of irrational patriarchal hatred with only a wry, meta aside condemning YouTube comments. Instead, as with most of Feig's filmic output, the film's most groundbreaking gender politics lie in the film quietly doing its business rather than stressing them. There are no bombastic girl power statements here: just a cast of four women with uniquely drawn characters (or at least comedic archetypes) who love their jobs and aren't entangled in superfluous love subplots. And the punchline? None of this undercuts how hugely funny they are. Bam. Mic drop.
Kristen Wiig trots out her trademark neurotic motormouth schtick to endearing effect once more, but it'd be growing dangerously stale and forgettable without such flamboyant circumstances to react to (her bug-eyed "GHOSTS ARE REAL" histrionics remind how funny she can be when taking risks, though). Melissa McCarthy is more thankless as the Dan Ackroyd straight man, but although the plot labours to give her things to do (ghostly possession, etc.), her refined acidic chirpiness by itself is already a winner. But it's in the film's new SNL recruits where the real magic happens. Kate McKinnon's deranged gadgetmaster Holtzmann is such an outrageously, unpredictably funny live wire, she might steal the entire summer along with the show here, while Leslie Jones may be stuck with a politically dubious working class stereotype, but she owns it with her ferocious energy and barrage of unexpectedly funny one-liners. Chris Hemsworth's cheery doofus secretary Kevin is funnier than he has any right to be, as Hemsworth showcases an unprecedented affinity for making the most one-note gags unreasonably hilarious. Finally, keep your eyes peeled for the delightfully intimidating Charles Dance as Wiig's crusty dean and Andy "Never compare me to the mayor from Jaws!" Garcia, while cameos from Deadpool's Karan Soni and The Office's Zach Woods bag many of the film's best gags - which is high praise indeed.
Ghostbusters is not perfect, and comparisons to the iconicity of the original are a moot point. It is, however, an energetically goofy, tremendously fun romp, fuelled by a team of talented comedians who are just fun to hang out with, let alone watch trap ghosts. And that's all we really need from it. Those aforementioned scathing internet condemnations? Busting 'em makes me feel good.
The BFG (2016)
Bland, Fart-heavy, (but still) Glowing with Spielberg magic
Speaking of bottled dreams, try this one: it's 1992. Steven Spielberg's Hook, his Peter Pan passion project, is a smash hit. His follow-up box office darling: an adaptation of Roald Dahl's beloved children's classic The BFG, reuniting him with Hook champion Robin Williams (as the titular giant), and perfectly geared towards the first generation of children to grow up reading the book. The project was a dream. So, naturally, it didn't come true. Fast-forward 14 years, and Spielberg's BFG hits cinemas with a new star (RIP Robin), and a lacklustre audience of kids now likely less versed in Dahl than their iPad. Talk about nightmares
And yet, Spielberg's first kid's film since Hook is so warm, earnest, and nostalgic, it's oddly fitting to play as anachronistic. Like its titular behemoth, The BFG is visually awe-inspiring, but clumsy, lumbering, and prone to spouting well-meaning gibberish. Yet, as a vessel for heart - pure, old fashioned, un-cynical, complete with note of lamenting urgency -The BFG is Spielberg to a tee, and it's absolutely worth being swept away to giant country with him.
Compared to past cinematic cracks at Dahl, Spielberg is remarkably faithful, with passages and images transposed verbatim from the text. In many cases - the garbmarbled, gobblefunking talklarking of Dahl's giant-speak, for one - the delightful lilt of the novel translates perfectly. However, unfettered whimsy can come at a cost, and the film's pacing and emotional arc suffer heavily for paralleling, rather than adapting, Dahl's novel. The introduction - protagonist Sophie's abduction to giant country from her Dickensian orphanage - is vintage Spielberg: mysterious and magical, ominous and fiendishly exciting. However, after ascertaining that Sophie's captor, BFG, does not intend to gobble her up, the film's middle section lags tremendously, with the wonders of the BFG's workshop scarcely masking the gossamer-thin plot. Like Bridge of Spies, The BFG shows excellent Spielberg work become plodding and snoozy through overindulgent editing, risking losing kids (or adults) to their own dreams, no matter how many pretty lights and scary giants on screen. Even more distressing: seeing the (debatably) greatest living film director taking the wrong notes from Peter Jackson's despicable Hobbit trilogy. Behold: a surplus of silent side characters (the giants, apart from Jemaine Clement's Fleshlumpeater, suffer from indiscernible dwarf syndrome), eschewing character development in favour of overly convoluted, physics-flouting chase sequences. Here, the under-cooked BFG-bullying subplot is boiled down to a vaguely cringe-worthy scene of the 'mean giants' playing chicken, rolling BFG down a mountain towards a giant rollerskating on cars. For, um, some reason. As the film's only real conflict necessitates Sophie inciting BFG to rise up against their murderous cruelty, it would help if Spielberg hadn't drained the majority of their nastiness away on screen - let's not forget that Dahl's novel begins with the BFG pontificating about the tastiest humans, before countering that humans constantly "squishing" each other in war is less justifiable than the giants eating to live. Grim.
So, is the film worth it? Unfrozziloutly, yes. Naturally, it's visually sumptuous, with tactful CGI and impressively credible performance capture work. Similarly, a pre-climax visit with the Queen, who unquestioningly lends military support to the giant conflict (ahh, dreams) is so deliciously demented, you can imagine Dahl himself cackling along with an auditorium of children at the dopey farting corgi slapstick. Still, it takes visiting the dreamworld for Spielberg to really remind us all why he's here. The underwater, gravity-inverting dream tree, ensconced in flickering, multicoloured sprites, is mesmerizingly gorgeous, striking up the film's primary motivation of dreams and escapism making the troubles of the world amount to a hill of (human) beans. In one sequence, the BFG's bottled dream is broadcast on the wall - a shadow puppet play through a movie projector. It's as brazen a horn-toot to the value of cinema without a winking Spielberg stepping out from behind a camera, like Martin Scorsese in Hugo. It's an intentionally quaint idea - can't things just be pleasant, full stop? - and you can practically taste the desperation in Spielberg trying to sell it so full throttle here. But in its quieter, simpler, gentler moments, The BFG truly does remind us of what dreams are made of.
Newcomer Ruby Barnhill brings a spunky yet vulnerable edge to Sophie, making her inhabitation of the 'precocious orphan girl' archetype particularly endearing. Still, there's no question that it's Mark Rylance's eerily perfect BFG who's the highlight. Infusing his adorable bumbling with a breezy, gruff silliness (his cackling at the rocket-propelled farting-er-'whizzpopping' is what sells the otherwise stale gag) and puppy dog sadness, Rylance is arguably the most fully realized and lovable motion captured character since Gollum. Jemaine Clement brings a perfect cocktail of threat and goofiness to ringleader giant Fleshlumpeater, managing to squeeze every ounce of menace out of "I has a boo-boo," while Penelope Wilton remains delightfully regal amidst the silliest of scenarios as the chummy Queen we'd all love to pretend really heads the Monarchy. Rebecca Hall and Rafe Spall are fun, but largely wasted as the Queen's attendees. Keep your eyes peeled for stellar background work from a cabal of Vancouver actors (shout out to Paul Moniz de Sá as the superbly comically windmilling, top-heavy giant Meatdripper and "Lout #3," and William Samples, master of the affronted double-take, as an incredulous royal footman).
Breezy Feel Good; Banal Fluffy Galvani (I *barely* resisted the temptation to write this review entirely in acronyms), Spielberg's penchant for "Only good dreams" may make his BFG somewhat flimsier and more forgettable than anticipated. But that's the thing about giants - there's so much of them to love, and as BFG quips, "I is not right all the time; quite often I is left". So, for a film that encapsulates pleasantness and charm in every sense of the words, Spielberg's BFG is, yes, a dream come true.
Roman Holiday (1953)
If the shoe fits
An elegant woman's shoe - abandoned, not at midnight to beckon a prince, but, mid ankle-stretch, by horrified royalty unable to stoop to retrieve it, for fear of losing decorum in front of her austere procession. It's one of the most understated, classic bits of physical comedy in cinema history. And it's the perfect start to Roman Holiday, director William Wyler and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo's effervescent soufflé of a travelogue, which remains as irresistibly charming as it does deceptively clever, over half a century on.
It helps, naturally, that six decades on, our obsessions with not only celebrity culture but Monarchy-mania have only intensified. This makes the film feel simultaneously timely, but also a delightful escape to the ages of pre-digital social media (imagine Princess Ann's antics on the town going unnoticed in the era of Twitter or Instagram ). Trumbo's script crackles with subtly acidic tongue-in-cheek humour and heart, sailing along with breezy abandon. What is a product of its time (in the best possible sense): Princess Ann's claustrophobic, nauseatingly regimented royal life doesn't just poke fun at the disempowering nature of life in the public eye. It serves as perfectly metaphoric for the stifling, ideologically rigid 1950s housewife lifestyle, stripped of all autonomy under the veneer of glamour and elegance. Still, Trumbo nudges this subtext rather than hammering it, keeping the mood delightful, if not frivolous. The Rome locations, shot in crisp black and white, are utterly gorgeous, and tie the entire film's joys up in a sophisticated bow.
Audrey Hepburn is a luminous delight here, achingly convincing as both flawless princess, and the exuberant young woman cooped up inside her, ready to burst. She bubbles with infectious joy (and some A+ comedy-drunk acting) throughout, before snapping shut again with mirthless, icy composure, which is all the more heartbreakingly impressive, making her Oscar win here indisputably well-deserved. Bouncing off her, Gregory Peck struggles to overcome being a touch too stiff for a part unmistakably earmarked for Cary Grant, but lends it a clipped charm of his own all the same. Finally, Eddie Albert, in the long-suffering Donald O'Connor 'friend/foil' role, is an adorably acrobatic sensation, brimming with beleaguered pratfalls and beard-yanks galore.
If there's a sole complaint to be made, it's that Wyler's luxurious, congenial feel lends the film a more laboured, drowsy, and overlong feel than its sparky plot of hi-jinx on the town deserves. Still, Roman Holiday is one for the ages: airtight, clever, and heartwarming, it's still arguably the romantic comedy to beat, decades down the line, and a cinematic treat worth indulging in for viewers familiar or new. If nothing else, for a film that puts so much stock (ha) in images, that closing shot - long, lingering hallway procession, keeping the audience agonizingly dangling from the bittersweet lure of potential - is a doozy. Ciao, bella.
"It's a mega-palooza!"
If you've seen any of the other seventeen(!) Pokémon movies (and if you haven't, stop reading this, and get thee to the Mewtwo!), Hoopa and the Clash of Ages won't hold a single surprise. The franchise has its formula of scant story, frantic melodrama, and epic, destructive battles anchored on teasing a new legendary Pokémon pre-international gaming release down to a science, and Hoopa isn't one to rock the Poké- ball. More discerning adult viewers might find this staunch formula irritatingly lazy by this point, but it's hard to overrule the abiding thrill of hearing that theme music kick in once again for fans young and old. Hoopa and the Clash of Ages may be one of the more forgettable entries into the Poké-pantheon, but the fun force is still strong with it, making it a daft but pleasant enough way to while away 70 minutes.
Standouts within the past crop of Pokémon films are usually determined by moments that are iconically epic (holla Mewtwo and Lugia, circa-2000), or deliriously surreal ("YOU. ARE. MAMA!"). If anything in Hoopa and the Clash of Ages stands the test of time, it'll be the glut of (almost) every Gen II-V legendary Pokémon it conjures up for its battle royale - which, being a nod to their transportation by Hoopa ring in the ORAS games, doesn't even feel excessively gratuitous. It's wise to share the spotlight, as Hoopa itself is far too irritating, awkwardly voiced, and thinly drawn (in both tiny, impish and massive, sh*t-destroying forms) to anchor and entire movie on otherwise. Still, its teleportation-fuelled mayhem is quite fun to watch, owing a debt to the portal-spamming Blink from X-Men: Days of Future Past (who was probably the highlight of that movie as well). Watching gigantic Hoopa Unbound grappling with its teleporting six arms against a tag-team of Lugia and Mega Rayquaza, smashing across a city skyline? About as awesome as it sounds.
As with its predecessors, Hoopa's animation is a step up from the show's calibre, and its realm of pseudo Middle Eastern desert temples turned technological oases are impressively etched with detail. But, with the trumped up production values come storytelling and voice acting several steps below par. Apart from Hoopa's infuriating chirping, the English dub of each of the core humans are dopily flat, especially Ash, who sounds more like a placid middle-aged woman than ever here, and James, whose replacement voice actor is cringeworthy. Mee-ouch.
Story-wise, Hoopa's weird, schizophrenic disembodied rage "shadow-self" and dubious, cultist spirituality/magic subplots are treated so disposably, it's hard to imagine even the screenwriters not laughing them off as transparently nonsense. There's little of the show's zany humour, which is a bummer (even Team Rocket's requisite flyby has never been staler). Similarly, the geography is fairly stationary, which restricts the "Who's that Pokémon?" background cameos, though a climactic appearance by an adorably heroic Hippopotas goes a long way. But a final battle against a disembodied rift in space/time (which, lazily, doesn't even seem to have anything to do with Dialga and Palkia, who are right there, nonsensically shooting energy beams into it trying to stop it)? Sure.
Whether Hoopa and the Clash of Ages is worth its weight in Pokéblocks will depend on the viewer's tolerance for the unyielding Pokéformula. It's a lot of nostalgic fun for indulgent Pokéfans (though monstrous Hoopa Unbound verges on being too scary for young kids), but liable to the leave the uninitiated wishing they could borrow a Hoopa ring to disappear into a different movie. But, let's be honest: as Hoopa queries ad nauseum, "Were you surprised?"
Only Angels Have Wings (1939)
"It's like being in love with a buzz saw!"
"Things happen awful fast around here!" exclaims Jean Arthur, after an unceremonious smooch from curmudgeonly wooer Cary Grant. It's a great moment - not only for being one of the few pieces of Hawksian snappy patter in a largely more serious film, but equally a piece of dialogue that serves not only microcosmic for Only Angels Have Wings, but Hawks' machine-gun-bantering career as a whole. Here, the breakneck pace bypasses the zippy frivolity of Bringing Up Baby and the Machiavellian mania of His Girl Friday, and lends itself to something altogether more grim. Only Angels Have Wings may not be a war movie, but it's undeniably coloured by the political climate and distant rumblings from Germany of its time. It's a film driven by acrid fatalism, yet seasoned with peppy resilience, both stagnantly stationary yet driven by furious momentum. And the drama and energy generated by its duelling influences are both infectious and superb.
In the aviation outpost of Barranca, cheating death is always only a phone call away, as the ominously omnipresent drone of background planes reminds us. Then, enter the players. We start with innocent enough flirty repartee, as Arthur is intoxicated with the fumes of adventure and derring-do of her pilot pursuers. Then, as suddenly as it is matter-of-fact, one of our cheery protagonists is killed - a bad crop of weather turned botched landing. And the comrades of the departed sing a raucously mocking song as they pick up and send his replacement out before his crash fumes have dissipated. And we wait for a punchline to come, to defuse and save the situation, and code it as safe and all in good fun. And it never comes.
Are these men, formerly charming and debonair, secretly sadistic and cruel? No - they've simply been ground down by too much death to react any differently. And this heady realism, and the grim humour it spawns, is what helps Hawks' drama soar above (ha) the heads of its fellow flyboy films. Hawks doesn't valourize his pilots with cloying heroism: he drags them through the muck - literal and emotional - and paints them with such a belligerently unwavering code of honour (as their peer bullying dynamics when introduced to one whose self-preservation cost the life of his mechanic demonstrates) that they're not heroic so much as simply standing. But, courtesy of his characteristic overlapping dialogue (employed with more restraint here) and flair for vivid, colourful ensemble characterizations, we see the cracks and misty eyes behind their devil-may-care gregariousness. And it's hard to imagine a more magnetically compelling human drama for it.
It helps that the film is gorgeously shot, melding classical grandeur with a noir murkiness, as valiant pilots, striding towards their aerial steeds, are besieged by shadowy torrential rain, mud, and blood. The impressively textured sets add to the film's rustic grandeur, as do the spectacular aviation sequences and aerial scenery shots (again, had the U.S. entered the War at this junction, it's impossible not to imagine such sequences being twisted into enlistment propaganda, a-la Top Gun). At two hours in length, the film isn't as lean and concise as it could be, though this length does allow for considerable immersion into the world of the pilots, as if rapt attention will help them cling to life. Similarly, the intertwining love subplots, particularly Arthur's lovesick pining amidst this world of fast-living, toe the line of being Classical Hollywood plot devices of convenience (the accidental gunshot is really pushing it), though this slightest breach of realism is only a mite bothersome.
Still, Arthur's careful performance sells it all beautifully, undercutting her playful banter with an undercurrent of acidic self-loathing. She may not act like the quintessentially spunky, take-charge, sexually aggressive 'Hawksian woman' (as was legendarily to his chagrin), but she's certainly kicking herself for it, and enjoys her nimble wordplay too mirthfully not to enormously take to. Similarly, Cary Grant at his surliest is still infinitely charismatic (albeit somewhat wolfish), and he's on top form here. Guarding himself against the hardships and horrors of his profession with an armour of sarcasm, like a fast-talking Rick Blaine from Casablanca, he metaphorizes the pilot experience by refusing to carry a match, but plays it as a surprisingly tender trope, which makes his rakish commander a lot easier to warm to. Richard Barthelmess gives a tremendously nuanced performance as the ashamed pilot who left his mechanic to die, his craggy gruffness perfectly etching out self-loathing yet self-preservation on his face, while Rita Hayworth is impressive indeed for holding her own sparring with Cary Grant in her first major cinematic role. It's a Wonderful Life's Thomas Mitchell is nearly unrecognizable here as aging but still twinkling pilot 'Kid', while Sig Ruman demonstrates consistently pitch-perfect comedic timing as the beleaguered yet lovable owner of the aviation company.
Only Angels Have Wings is a top-notch, classy affair, as Hawks' airtight, bravado directorial work and the cast's stellar performances help keep grim emotional realism aloft with spirited, thrilling storytelling. Exhibiting taut, magnetically thrilling storytelling far ahead of its time, the film is a prime example of Classical Hollywood with which to charm the acquainted and lure in the uninitiated. Those on the fence should be sure to call heads with Kid's lucky coin when deciding whether or not to check it out. In so many ways, this film has wings.
Q the Winged Serpent; Larry Cohen the High Priest Troll
Let me dash your expectations right from the start: Q the Winged Serpent is not the story of 007's lovable gadget-master muting himself into a flying monster and attacking Noo Yawk. I know. I was crestfallen too.
But, what we do get is nearly as perplexing. Befitting all expectations, Q is exactly the kind of trashy pulp escapism stalwarts of the Ray Harryhausen house of stop motion behemoths will lap up. Against all expectations it's actually fairly good. And not just 'bad good', even. Within the gloriously daft monster mash framework, schlock sultan Larry Cohen is subversive enough to deliver a surprisingly watchable, clever, and thoroughly contemporary police procedural. Q is silly yet sly enough to continually pull the rug out from viewers, with a self-aware wink that's so weirdly fascinating you almost forget to set internal timers for the next batch of heads or feet to fall from the sky.
There's a constantly shifting sense of who's in on what joke throughout Q, and it helps keep the film a vibrantly enjoyable watch. Initially, Cohen seems more interested in crafting his murder mystery, and there's a sly sarcasm to his treatment of the monster movie ensconcing it. Rather than the slow tension building of his 50s source texts, Cohen takes a leaf out of Jaws' handbook, starting with a splashy monster massacre, then conjuring each subsequent screeching bloodbath with the same fastidious clockwork of the rotating rooftop sunbathers that become his creature's prey. Cohen's Quetzalcoatl attacks are so precisely timed, brazenly foregrounded, and cheerily gruesome, you almost expect him to accompany them with silent film style intertitles trumpeting "You want carnage? Well here you go!!"
Meanwhile, Cohen's nearly laughably disconnected 'real movie' cop drama zings along, with impressively naturalistic dialogue sold well by an improv-heavy cast who help keep the film snappy. But, when given the elbow room to expand his cop drama, Cohen's plot is so purposefully vacuous it's at odds with its relatively sophisticated telling. Think Jaws birthed by unlikely parents The Taking of Pelham 123 and Them!, and you've got a fairly good sense of Cohen's duelling art-house and outhouse sensibilities, and ensuing plucky, sardonic humour.
Take the Aztec ritual sacrifice subplot fuelling the creature attacks: intriguing, but given so little attention it's transparently an afterthought. Take the cheeky graphic matches throughout, consistently teasing the Quetzalcoatl's arrival, only to subvert expectations, only to pull the same gag, again, within a matter of minutes, and have it work, again, goddamit. Take the classically spooky score and bobbing panoramic aerial shots of the city, landing somewhere between silly 50's foreboding and goofy Tommy acid trip. Even the Quetzalcoatl's stop motion attains this blend of impressive and cheekily low-fi (its movements look deceptively convincing from afar, yet its close-ups are delightfully cheesy), which only adds to the campy fun. It's hard to tell who Cohen's having on throughout: audiences expecting pure, unfiltered trash, or daring to dream of sophisticated, nuanced storytelling therein? A studio expecting a taut, low-budget cult moneymaker? Himself, for hesitating to fully commit to one or the other? It's hard to say, but the result is surprisingly jubilant and addictively watchable throughout.
If anyone's in on the joke, it's Cohen's cast, who are just too damn good to even acknowledge their B-movie slumming here. Michael Moriarty delivers a performance so full of playfully controlled lunacy he reaches Christopher Walken levels of unhinged but strangely effective. His righteously indignant, nebbish loser hood should be thoroughly dislikable throughout, but Moriarty is taut yet unstrung enough throughout that he's oddly compelling - never more than when bellowing instructions on how to devour his heist buddies to the Quetzalcoatl with a flat affect that has to be heard to be believed. B-king and Bill himself David Carradine glides through the film with a breezy charisma, likable enough that it's easy to imagine an entire monster/detective franchise being hung on his shoulders. With this in mind, it's sad to see Shaft himself, Richard Roundtree, so painfully underutilized. He's fantastic his few moments to shine - namely, tossing one-liner metaphors left right and centre while roughing up Moriarty's lout - but inexcusably benched at the back of the shot to an almost aggravating extent. Candy Clark delivers consistently solid work as Moriarty's hard-edged but unfeasibly patient girlfriend, while Malachy McCourt is deviously charismatic in the 'Jaws mayor' role, micromanaging mass panic.
You want a sense of how delightfully confused Q the Winged Serpent's reception was? As Roger Ebert recounts, it was premiered not at a midnight B-horror circuit, but Cannes(!). There, critics could pontificate on hidden meanings and tonal subversiveness, amidst, as critic Rex Reed effused, "all that drek." Producer Samuel Z. Arkoff's response? "The drek was my idea." If Quetzalcoatl is the deity of wind and learning, appropriated here as Z-grade killing machine, Larry Cohen is its high priest troll. And the trashily sophisticated mischief they make is rather delightful indeed.
Billy Wilder and Scooby-Doo walk into an English bar
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic detective has always been astute at cheating death (you'd practically imagine him, upon leaving the room, to call out "Be Reichenbach!"). But how to cheat a movie death, outliving the chipper Basil Rathbone adventure serials of the 40s and more sombre Christopher Lee Hammer Horror films of the 50s/60s? Why, by the 1970s version of one of Hollywood's favourite contemporary go- to tropes: the gritty reboot. Behold: The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.
Penned by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, arguably Classical Hollywood's most famous comic duo after the Screwball era, Private Life is an enjoyable romp, but a touch too confused in terms of what it wants to be to really hit home. Take the 'gritty reboot' qualifier, for one. Wilder seems to be simultaneously striving for an old- fashioned feel (the scratchier, grainier film stock, stagier performances, and more bombastic score), while also embracing the freedom the 1970s have lent him (Holmes can do cocaine here! Nudity! References to homosexuality, and even Holmes' sexuality!), which he does with almost whimsical abandon. This disjuncture can't help but feel a touch gratuitous, like a teen giddily but clumsily experimenting out of parental supervision. Moreover, its ensuing projected uncertainty worms its way into the rest of the film.
As the first third, a cute but overstated prologue set strictly to reflexively tweak and challenge the public's - and audiences' - perceptions of Holmes' legendary mystique winds up, we settle into a British Isles-spanning mystery adventure, which chugs along satisfactorily. The seemingly disparate elements of the plot's mystery inevitably coalesce with a suitable 'big reveal' and intriguing conspiratorial undercurrent. Still, affairs culminate somewhat awkwardly, especially anchored on an unsatisfyingly understated climax - which, spoilers aside, has no business falling so flat, considering it involves international intrigue, explosives, and the Loch Ness Monster(!!). It's also an oddly flat and disinterestedly serious film, considering Wilder and Diamond's satirical pedigree, and the fact that Robert Stephens appears to be bursting to uncork the campy Holmes he seems to be barely keeping in check. A sillier, zanier Billy Wilder touch could have helped liven up the proceedings and sweep plot quibbles under the rug, but profiling the most fiercely observant character in literary history makes such audience scrutiny and nitpicking impossible to avoid.
Ultimately, though, the majority of the film's plot gaps lead to a mishandled characterization of Holmes himself. Taking its cue from the film's reflexive deflating of the legend, Holmes is played as more emotional and far less intuitive and observant than customary, and even prone to the kind of asinine redundant questions he would normally rebuke others for. This uneven portrayal leads to several inconclusive plot points and character beats at the film's conclusion, leaving a conclusion intended as poignantly bittersweet playing as simply vexing instead. Still, the Scotland sequences are fun, if a bit twee - every single castle Holmes and Watson travel to is accompanied by a blare of bagpipes, and the barely feigned accents are something else - while the 'Loch Ness by night' interludes are a welcome dose of The Hound of the Baskervilles- calibre crackling tension. Even if the 'Sherlock Holmes vs. Loch Ness Monster' plot sounds like a Scooby-Doo episode, Wilder and Diamond handle it adeptly enough to keep the fun and stave off the folly.
Robert Stephens' work as Holmes is capably amusing and eloquent, but more fey and extravagantly emotional than one would hope for. Colin Blakely is similarly hammy but more gruffly entertaining Dr. Watson, taking notes from Nigel Bruce, but thankfully nowhere near as bumbling and incompetent (the man is a military doctor, after all, wot wot). Geneviève Page is a bit too flat to much endear herself as a hysterically determined woman with secrets of her own, but the always superb (and former Holmes himself!) Christopher Lee is excellently clipped and debonair as Holmes' enigmatic brother Mycroft.
The regular players of the Holmes pantheon are iconically watchable enough that the characters themselves outperform the actors or story that ensconce them: pleasant but vaguely irksome, and overall mediocre. As such, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is neither the witty, revisionist take you'd expect from Billy Wilder, or much of a gritty postmodern exposé. What it is is a perfectly passable trifle. And are trifles overall worth it? Elementary.
Sleeping with Other People (2015)
The rom-com: a genre where (with preciously few exceptions) clichés used to go to die. Now, rom-coms are on the verge of being killed off themselves, their target demographic increasingly flocking to teen-lit adaptations like Divergent or whatever Third Next Best Greatest Marigold Hotel sequel hits theatres. Its unlikely resuscitation? Evolving from rom-com to raunch-com. Folks like Amy Schumer and Judd Apatow have hit pay dirt gunning for a late twenties/thirties, more sex-savvy audience, who, in the commitment-phobic epoch of divorce epidemics, tinder nightmares, and 'how to date squashed by lifelong student debt,' could probably use reassuring of the existence of feasible love more than anyone.
Their latest drinking buddy, and arguably crown jewel of the lot? Leslye Headland's Sleeping With Other People. I know - on paper, it looks like a relic from the unbearably daft days of Ashton Kutcher etc. But damned if it isn't one of the sharpest, most observant and genuine, sweet, sexy, and - yes - outrageously funny films to grace theatres in years. Yes, really.
Headland certainly learned from the best. In fact, if there's one major bone to pick with Sleeping With Other People, it's that it models itself after When Harry Met Sally to such an extent that it verges on plagiarism. But the comparison isn't unwarranted. Headland has a genius ear for crafting situations and dialogue that, in short, feel real, insightfully teasing out the wrinkles of contemporary dating culture with a refreshingly frank, rough-and-tumble honesty. Characters swear, have (lots of) sex, get stoned, and are simultaneously enormously charming and unforgivable assholes in the same breath. Friends sustain successful, happy marriages (gasp!), while our leads have panic attack-induced bathroom pukes without it feeling gratuitous, and are well-drawn enough that they can reunite at a sex-addicts meeting years after a college hookup without it feeling like a plot device. There's such a snappy naturalism to Headland's banter and our heroes' self-imposed friendship that the sweetness settling in feels like providence. Even the saccharine levels - the genre's greatest vice - are largely kept carefully under control. Although we can never quite decide if we want them to get together (let alone if it's a good idea ), it's impossible not to root for them throughout.
A major cliché-combatting factor is the fact that Headland crafts a world of real consequences. When lovable assholes push their partners too far, no matter how timeless the Hollywood speech they conjure up, their partners push back - sometimes literally, and into traffic to boot. The film's most gratuitous Hollywood moment - a heartwarmingly affirming brunch brawl - leads to an arrest and extensive litigation which consumes a sizeable chunk of the film. With this in mind, it becomes genuinely hard to predict what will befall our irrepressible leads, and Headland's teasing out of the discrepancy between passion and contentment makes it a real struggle to decide which is a better call. And this only makes us all the more invested in our adorably, beautifully flawed characters, as they fumble towards making sense of life, sex, and love, all while spouting Headland's hysterically quotable dialogue, and capture our hearts like nobody's business.
It helps that Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis - both patiently awaiting their chance to shine on the big screen outside of TV excellence and forgettable Hollywood dross - are the new comedy pairing to beat. They're both outrageously charming, and share such a superbly witty, nonchalant chemistry that the screen practically sparkles as they exchange jovial put-downs, cheerily straightforward flirtation, The Graduate and Steven King references, and masturbation tips (you could groan - or cheer - at the number of times Brie shows up in lingerie, but you'll likely be too busy laughing at her irrepressible goofiness). Both have their defining character flaws - she's warped from being strung along by her college booty call (the excellent Adam Scott, magnetically powerful in being so dull); he routinely destroys relationships to avoid having to face up to his pickiness, and the film finds balance in their sombre beats. Still, they're clever enough to remain charismatic and organic throughout, and my goodness are they lovable. Backing them, Jason Mantzoukas and Margaret Odette are flat-out hysterical as the requisite married friends ("I miss drugs" and "My love is conditional!" may be the film's funniest one-liners), and are so entertaining riffing whimsically over the film's credits that we'd happily have them never end. Finally, Amanda Peet breathes life and genuineness into the 'prissy hot boss' cliché, while Adam Brody is unexpectedly golden as Brie's flamboyantly 'mansplaining' ex.
'Diamond in the rough' amidst the seas of less worthy Hollywood sex/rom-coms, Sleeping With Other People is, amazingly, only Headland's second feature film, after 2012's Bachelorette. But, after such a sincere and savagely funny sophomore effort, I'll definitely have more of what she's having. Mousetrap.
Yoga Boner (2012)
Jefferson queries 'What'd I miss?', but here's what YOU missed.
Poor Daveed Diggs. Yoga Boner, being one of his few film credits (let alone a film named, y'know, Yoga Boner), is sure to get more circulation in the wake of Hamilton's rampant success - but it really probably shouldn't. Essentially, Yoga Boner is a prime example of one of those earlier throwaway works in a subsequently successful artist's careers that they'd probably devote considerable resources into burying if they could. But, thanks to the wondrous world wide web, gloriously embarrassing forays like Yoga Boner can't be buried if you tried. And, like Jefferson, I'm sure Daveed tried.
Which isn't too say Yoga Boner (I'm just going out of my way to repeat it now) is outright awful - there's just really not much too it. For one thing, it's more music video of Daveed and compatriot/writer/director/co-star Andrew Bancroft (aka: "Jelly Donut") rapping than film. Still, in spite of the absurdly simple (and fairly sexist) premise, the film goes about its stupidity in such a cheekily (get it? because butts in yoga tights? if that pun worked for you, Yoga Boner is probably for you) forthright fashion there are a fair few chuckles to be had. Granted, most of those are chuckles of 'I can't believe this is happening' incredulity at the sight of the Tony award winning actor who charmed the hearts of the world as founding father and America's favourite fighting Frenchman strutting around with the worst inflatable erection since Anchorman, or a man answering to the name Jelly Donut yogic flying while rapping about his penis. But hey - beggars can't be choosers, I s'pose.
There's a surreal twist ending which is pretty fun, but we're mired in pretty stale, one- note teenage boy humour otherwise. Watching this, it's easy to remember why, before its puerile innuendo, "boner" used to be synonymous with "idiotic mistake." Diggs and Bancroft are solid rappers - enough so that, even pre-Hamilton, there's a pretty clear feeling that Yoga Boners (yup, one more for the road) is beneath their talents. One might say they didn't rise to the occasion.
Okay, that's it - clearly the blood has rushed out of my head to, um, elsewhere. I'm out. Save yourselves!
The Count of Monte Cristo (1934)
"It is not my sword, Mondego, but your past that has disarmed you!"
Okay - hands up if you were led here by V for Vendetta. Be honest.
But hey - that's very okay. Suffice to say that 1934's crack at Alexandre Dumas' timeless tale of treachery and revenge is a robust and spirited enough adaptation to get your blood pumping as much as everyone's favourite alliterative rollicking revolutionary.
The script, while necessarily abbreviated, holds up as one of the more faithful Dumas adaptations as a procedural account of Dantes' methodical vengeful takedown of his betrayers at least until the grand departure of its romantic, very 1930s-populist ending (which is too sweet to excessively fault). Still, the pace is lively and the action plugs along at a compelling jaunt. If the screenplay sometimes dallies with segments spelling out the narrative's themes a bit thickly, it more than compensates with its share of excellent barbed dialogue zingers along the way. Those more familiar with the 2002 Jim Caviezel remake than Dumas' novel might take some adjusting to the pace here, as Dantes' dual with Mondego (restructured as principle antagonist in the remake) is dispensed with fairly early and unceremoniously. Instead, we get a climactic trial sequence (another complete departure from the text), giving Donat a chance to do his best heroic shouting, which feels adequately conclusive in its stead.
Being a product of its time, this Count of Monte Cristo's staging restrictions and performance conventions may make it a flatter and calmer rendition than the explosive catharsis our righteous indignation at Dantes' plight might expect or befit (the scenes of Dantes' captivity in the Château D'If in particular feel jarringly civil, compared to the gruelling, inhumane torment Dumas painted). This certainly isn't helped by the somewhat film's cheap, anachronistic costumes, and an overenthusiastic musical soundtrack which soars in to punctuate key emotional moments with such ferocity that it tends to quash rather than heighten their resonance. Still, the film's production values are excellent, juxtaposing some key location footage (Dantes' daring underwater prison escape is perfectly chilly and claustrophobic) with some stellar studio sets - Abbe Faria's cell has the austere artistry of a stained glass window, and Dantes' treasure horde discovery is rousing adventure stuff.
Robert Donat is excellent as the titular rogue-hero. He drives Dantes' plunge from chirpy sailor to apoplectically bitter prisoner to debonair aristocrat clouded by acidic ruthlessness with grace and a piercing insistence, handling Dantes' nuances much more deftly than his on-the-nose dialogue. Elissa Landi is also terrific, sliding from warm and giddy to caustic and cautious as his warped love Mercedes, and her bold decision to play up Mercedes' grim detachment rather than mugging for soft focus close-ups throughout the film's latter half plays as appealingly emotionally truthful. Sidney Blackmer and Louis Calhern are appropriately seedy, but a bit too prissy and standoffish to make much of an impact as the villainous Mondego and De Villefort; however, Raymond Walburn is a colourfully boorish, charismatic highlight as greedy, corrupt banker Danglars. Finally, character actor O.P. Reggie is warm slyness personified as the cheekily inspirational Abbe Faria, Dantes' friend in captivity.
Released the year before Captain Blood, it's easy to see Monte Cristo settling into the 1930s resurgence of seafaring adventure films. Director Rowland V. Lee feels most at home with Dantes' adventures at sea and crisply energetic sword fights than the talkier melodramatic romantic angst and political intrigue, which are done suitably, but with less pizazz. As such, 1934's Count of Monte Cristo remains a sturdy and heartily enjoyable Dumas adaptation, and one of the more bombastic and abiding costume dramas of Classical Hollywood.