Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Frankie my dear doesn't give a damn
Once you get past the cliche one-joke title, this is a taut little thriller with Frank Sinatra diversifying his range by playing a near psychotic soldier-of-fortune, who with his rather simple-minded gang-of-two seeks to collect a big payday from an unknown employer by assassinating the unnamed and unseen President of the United States when the presidential train makes a need-to-know stop at a typical small-town U.S.A.
Over a brief 75 minute duration, a fair amount of tension is built up as Sinatra and his gang take over a house containing a young war widow, her slightly brattish infant son and cantankerous old father in law because it apparently provides the perfect vantage point for the kill-shot though how they know that in advance I couldn't say. Also on the scene is a new suitor for the young mum, Sterling Hayden's straight-arrow peacetime cop who unfortunately gets caught up in the hostage situation when he accompanies the incoming FBI chief on a routine check of the house.
What's surprising is the sheer viciousness of Sinatra's character, killing the FBI chief in cold blood, brutishly aggravating Hayden's injured arm, smacking the plucky kid about and even threatening to kill the boy. An innocent young TV repair man also finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time as he too is inveigled into the action. The plot denouement is signalled well in advance as the countdown to the fateful train arrival of the train at 5 p.m. nears.
It was certainly unusual to see Sinatra play such an unredeeming character with any resemblance to Richard Widmark's early psychopathic roles no doubt being more than coincidental. It's a pity that much of the rest of the playing by the cast is rather wooden and under-rehearsed looking. The direction is rather stolid and set bound too but none of these things can stop the inexorable rise of tension as the story progresses.
Frank was to make a markedly superior movie about a presidential assassination around 10 years later but this B-movie feature would have made for a watchable second feature alongside that following masterful political thriller, "The Manchurian Candidate" of course.
The Jeremy Thorpe Scandal (2018)
Truth will out
I was one of those who immediately switched channels, as prompted by the BBC continuity announcer, the minute the three part drama "A Very English Scandal" ended, to watch this shelved "Panorama" special from 1978, expected and scheduled to be aired the day of the original verdict in the actual Jeremy Thorpe trial. To the BBC reporting team here and indeed most of the public at large, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the ex-Liberal Party leader would be found guilty with his confederates of the attempted murder of his former lover Norman Scott. However, even in the hallowed British justice system, it appears, rather like the later trial in America of a well-known football star, the seemingly guilty can walk free.
And there's little doubt, going by the content here, that Thorpe was guilty of organising the botched hit on Scott. Motive and opportunity were clearly outlined with revealing interviews with almost every party to the plot, Thorpe excepted of course. The programme also demonstrated that the preceding dramatisation starring Hugh Grant as Thorpe didn't stray too far from the likely facts, although it did show Norman Scott to be a more robust character than the way Ben Whishaw portrayed him.
This hour long documentary, updated by its original presenter 40 years on and featuring yet more new revelations only further confirming the almost certainly correct presumption of guilt of the accused, was fascinating to watch, the better for its concentration on the known background events and was even more compelling than the TV drama.
Meet Danny Wilson (1952)
Frankie and Shelley were lovers
Firstly, I like the directness of the title. Apparently one of those films Sinatra made when he was on his career downward curve before "From Here To Eternity" on screen and Capitol Records on vinyl set him aright a couple of years later. Me, I really enjoyed it and wouldn't wonder it might have gotten a better reception and been better remembered if it had been made after 1953 and all that.
The story's pretty far fetched as Sinatra, Alex Nicol, Raymond Burr and a young Shelley Winters play out a love-rectangle if you will with surprisingly, Nicol being the one who gets the girl. Burr is the mobster with designs on her after he employs her as a singer at one of his clubs and who then takes singer and pianist duo Nicol and Sinatra on as their agent but at a hefty 50% cut of their earnings. Nicol is the nice guy, older than Frank's Danny Wilson and obviously some sort of mentor / father figure to him which is just as well as Frank's clearly going through his wild years (thanks, Tom Waits) always one misheard remark or misunderstanding away from a fist fight, from which Nicol usually extricates him.
How the intertwining love stories and the duo's situation with Burr resolve themselves are a little rushed and pat into the bargain, but there's enough grit and drama to see it through to a satisfactory conclusion.
The story goes that Sinatra and Winters didn't get along on set, but you wouldn't really know it here as they make a feisty and watchable couple. I don't recall seeing Nicol in a movie before but liked his work here, the straight man to firecracker Frankie. Burr actually isn't much on camera but conveys a credible sense of malevolence when he does.
The main attraction for Sinatra aficionados is the chance to see the still young Francis Albert looking good and sounding great rendering a nice selection of well known songs in fine style, including "All Of Me", "When You're Smiling", "That Old Black Magic" and "I've Got A Crush On You". He also has a knockout duet with Winters singing "A Good Man Is Hard To Find".
Other things to like were the New York settings, although much of it was probably recreated I'd guess, a one-line cameo by Tony Curtis and there's a cute scene where Sinatra effectively invents the first flash-mob at the airport to try to stop Winters leaving him, just after she's reluctantly become engaged to him.
So there you have it, part musical, part drama, part thriller, an unusual cocktail of a movie but these shaken up ingredients settle well together and made for a good 90 minutes well spent.
The Kid from Brooklyn (1946)
I am a fan of Danny Kaye and have been a long time tracking down this, one of his first starring features. Sad to say it wasn't really worth the wait. The constituent ingredients are there, a fine supporting cast of Virginia Mayo, Vera Ellen and Lionel Stander, Marx Brothers director Norman Z MacLeod at the helm, the filming is in glorious colour, the songs by Jules Styne and Sammy Cahn, even the story of Kaye's 98 pound weakling being set up for a world title fight based on his ability to avoid rather than actually throw a punch all augured well.
Somehow though it doesn't come together. At 1 hour 50 minutes it's way too long and you can see the padding, the songs are mediocre and even Kaye himself becomes somewhat irritating in his puffed-up swell mode.
I also don't think I've seen such an odd and prepossessing start to a feature as the Goldwyn Girls singing an advertising ditty around a full-grown cow and it doesn't really get much better from there. Sure, Danny boy clowns and mugs his way through the film but you can almost see him being directed in this, which can't be a god thing. Vera Ellen comes off better with her elfin appearance and dancing exuberance, Virginia Mayo can't do much with her part of the pretty singer who in rather unlikely fashion falls for Kaye's clutzy character but Walter Abel and Eve Arden make a good team as the manager on the make and his acid-tongued P.A. The comedy mainly centres on Kaye's antics in the boxing ring but I've seen funnier skits in silent movies on the same subject.
The same team of Kaye, Mayo and Macleod would soon reunite for Kaye's next feature, the classic "Secret Life Of Walter Mitty". Let's just say that with this inconsistent film they were sparring for the main event further down the line.
The Commuter (2018)
Off the rails
Another action movie promoting Liam Neeson as an O.A.P. where the initials stand for Over-the-top Action Pensioner. The film starts nicely and cleverly, establishing Neeson as an ordinary average guy who commutes to work on the same train to central New York every working day for 10 years, getting to know the regular staff and passengers in the process. Unfortunately this particular day is going to go badly for him as he promptly gets sacked from his life insurance sales job just when he's meant to pay his children's expensive college fees.
After a consoling drink with an old buddy he worked with years ago on the police force, he boards his return train still not having broken the bad news to his wife. No sooner is he sat down when he gets propositioned by a literally well-heeled female who runs by him her version of the law of unexpected consequences, at the same time playing on his need for ready cash.
So much I could accept in a sub-"Die Hard" manner but from there on the plot gets derailed by a series of ever more predictably unpredictable events, if you catch my drift, as Neeson embarks on a "and then there were none" process, whittling down all the passengers to the one he's meant to pick out for imminent elimination, a witness to the apparent suicide of a whistle-blower at a mega-corporation.
It's a shame that all the effective build up is thrown away on a ludicrous narrative which sees Neeson get into not one but three brutal life-threatening fist fights (he's over 60 remember!), lie down next to a corpse under the floor of the train, throw himself unharmed off the train and finally derail said train but somehow uncouple the last carriage just before the main train crashes. Oh and of course he succeeds in his 100 to 1 task of identifying the targeted party before there's an overlong hostage situation played out in the final scene with a predictable twist as to whose instructions he's been following.
I liked how the action was contained in the train and how the train destinations acted as a countdown for the action to climax but really, despite Neeson 's best efforts he can't stop this trainwreck of implausible plotting hurtling to nowhere.
This train you can let go by.
The Associates (1979)
I'm basing my review of this short-lived John-Charles-Walters produced U.S. sit-com on the first two episodes which have recently, as if by magic re-surfaced online and on my original memories of watching it nearly 40 years ago.
From the same stable as big-hit series employing the same talented directors and writers - the latter principally including the likes of David Lloyd and Earl Pomeranz with long term MTM pedigrees, this was a very funny half-hour comedy which managed to even make the grey-suited legal profession funny. Unlike the more working class backgrounds to say "Cheers" or "Taxi", this programme focused on the other end of the employment scale, young, aspirant lawyers at the old-established legal firm of Buss and Marshall, run by benevolent despot Wilfred Hyde-White as its elderly patriarch, Mr Marshall. In truth he steals almost every scene in which appears, although this is usually because he gets the best !ines. That said, Martin Short, Alley Mills, Joe Regalbuto and the rest of the cast get a good sprinkling of laugh-out-loud lines too in time-honoured James Burrows-directed ensemble fashion.
Sure you can read across characters to their counterparts in the two other shows I've mentioned above, but the different setting and like I say consistently high quality writing helped make it a firm favourite of mine and sorry to see it cancelled after only one series. It's a shame it didn't find an audience and I can I only hope I get to see the remaining episodes some time soon.
The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Doesn't get my vote
I made the big mistake of watching the black and white original 1962 movie, starring Sinatra, Lawrence Harvey and Angela Lansbury not long before watching this latter-day remake. That John Frankenheimer - directed film is comfortably in my top 10 all-time movies, while it's fair to say that this Jonathon Demme version isn't.
I allowed all the licence I could to the new film while watching it, from the awkward way they got the original title, so naturally important and relevant to the original, into the plot here, to the other changes in the narrative and roles of the main players, but the fact of the matter is that this feature has nothing like the original's sense of pace, drama, suspense or excitement. Even the scene-setting first shot, of Denzel Washington's Captain Ben Marco's character's troop of carousing young Desert Storm soldiers takes an age to move on to a shot of Liev Schreiber's Raymond Shaw sitting apart from them, both shots however hardly demonstrating the former's disdain or loathing for him or his alienation from them. The effect of this is to undermine their later pre-ordained litany of admiration for him after he's awarded the Congressional Medal Of Honour for his miraculously rescuing them (or did he?) when they're all ambushed.
It doesn't improve from there. For me the most memorable scene from the earlier movie was the masterly way the brainwashing scene and its attendant slaughters of the innocents was chillingly but imaginatively realised. Here it's done in a much more confusing and slapdash way, incorporating images of the faces of tribal females for reasons I couldn't decipher. Shaw's romance with Jocelyn Jordan is played down so much that it significantly reduces the impact of her and her father's later demises, again unlike the shocking double-sequence in the original.
Listen, I could go on and on, detrimentally comparing and contrasting the new against the old, but even if the later film had appeared as an original work, I'd still have struggled to work up enthusiasm for it. The casting here is uninspired too, Washington appears suitably confused throughout, Meryl Streep phones in her trademark unsurprising "Iron Lady" performance, the casting obviously forgetting about the devastating impact of Angela Lansbury's casting against type previously, while Schreiber seems content to just copy Lawrence Harvey's playing as if he's over-studied the part.
The climax at the party convention, like so many others in this film, was so played out it lost any prospect of achieving a nail biting finish. One of the binding factors in the earlier movie was its topicality, especially as the Kennedy assassination followed so soon after its release, whereas here the events played out seem too fantastic and contrived to in any way convince the viewer that something like this could have happened now.
Really, this is a very poor remake of a very good film and I urge anyone who watched this movie, whether they liked it or not to look out that original. I promise you that you won't be disappointed.
One Hand Clapping (1974)
New set of Wings
Paul McCartney was in good musical shape by mid 1974. He'd had a run of excellent and successful hit singles since late 1972 and more recently his Band on the Run album had seen him return to the top of the charts with his best set of songs going back to his Beatles years. Only problem was he didn't have a full band, two members of his band Wings having quit in late 1973. By the next summer though he had recruited two new members, mercurial lead guitarist Jimmy McCulloch and fitness freak drummer Geoff Britton. Preparing to record a new album and also for nationwide tours of the UK in 1975 and the US in 1976, this MPL produced film from that period shows McCartney rehearsing the band on camera.
A mixture of run-throughs of some of his best new and recent songs, some fly-on-the-wall, though hardly revealing observation and individual interviews with the band members, it's rather poorly filmed, especially the musical numbers where lingering close up shots completely miss the dynamic of a potentially exciting group cohering in its early life.
The rockers are terrific especially the unreleased at the time "Soily", "Live And Let Die" complete with in-house orchestra and a revealing lead vocal overdub by Macca alone on Band On The Run highlight "1985". There's a nice solo piano medley of again unreleased songs where McCartney freely admits to his fondness for pre rock and roll easy listening material, something he's been criticised for and which he over-indulged in his TV special of the previous year.
I'm grateful to see and hear alternate versions of some of Macca's best 70's work but just wish the direction had matched the musical quality.
A Very English Scandal (2018)
Norm fought the law...guess who won?
I do hope that viewers of this three part BBC dramatisation of the Jeremy Thorpe / Norman Scott affair followed the station's own prompt to immediately afterwards switch channels and watch a documentary made in 1979, ready to be shown on the expected conviction of the former Liberal Party leader Thorpe. However, on his unexpected acquittal, the programme was shelved, until now obviously when it only confirms what most people thought at the time, that Thorpe was as guilty as at least two of his also now deceased party colleagues, Cyril Smith and Clement Freud, about whom as we're al! aware, post death revelations of their heinous personal conduct have also come to light. It's no coincidence that both are name-checked in this programme which perhaps saw the BBC forty years later right its own wrong in not airing, even in an edited form, the original accusatory Panorama expose back then.
The mini series itself made for riveting viewing most of the way through and was certainly helped in its attempts at veracity by casting actors in almost every part with a resemblance to their real life counterparts. The big coup was getting Hugh Grant to play the Thorpe part and he does a good job of capturing the smarmy, superior air of a man of power and with sufficient clout with the Establishment to cover his own dirty tricks and tracks. I was less convinced by Ben Whishaw's portrayal of Norman Scott as a mostly weak, simpering, attention seeking blackmailer when while not without faults, the real life Scott, still alive and seeking justice, just doesn't fit that particular profile (as anyone watching the Panorama show could attest).
Clearly Thorpe thought himself above the law and with friends in high places somehow escaped prosecution. This is never more obvious than when we witness the presiding judge's wholly partial summing up, accurately and wickedly parodied by the brilliant Peter Cook only days later (a clip is thoughtfully included over the end credits). I would take issue with some of the tone of the writing and direction of the piece which seemed at times too light and comical in its depiction of certainly sinister events. I understand that Scott himself is unhappy with how both himself and the actual events are portrayed.
Nevertheless, like I said, it was gripping viewing throughout especially for those of us able to remember the original trial and at least and at last puts the record straight (no pun intended) on an almost certain miscarriage of justice.
As the old saying has it, it's the rich wot get the pleasure and the poor wot get the blame. Or to quote Talking Heads "same as it ever was".
I'm not much of a fan of the whole Coen Brothers non-linear method of fi!m making I have to say and identified quite early on that this particular movie fell into whatever category that might be. I guess I should have known from the offbeat title and cast that things would go every which way but loose and so it proves.
The initial idea of angry mother Frances McDormand broadcasting her frustration at her local police division by paying for three adjacent billboards to highlight their inaction over the unsolved rape and murder of her daughter some seven months previously might have worked in my view, not least as a whodunit was soon swamped by the introduction of several unusual characters and as many unlikely situations.
So we're introduced soon enough to Woody Harrelson's terminally ill chief of police who McDormand's character names and shames on the billboards, Sam Rockwell as his mother-fixated, redneck deputy, with many more too numerous to mention, like the dwarf who alibis MacDormand at an important moment in the story, her abusive ex-husband now dating a 19 year old pretty bimbo and the new black chief of police who takes over Harrelson's job and whose first action is to overlook Rockwell's near-murder of the homosexual young owner of the billboard company with whom it's fair to say, he doesn't see eye to eye.
The movie is a succession of tangential plot shifts and unbelievable coincidence. No doubt the writer - director was presenting us with themes of forgiveness, redemption and guilt set in the backward crazy-quilt Deep South just to double underline these issues and make the viewer think deeply about all this serious existential stuff y"all.
Sorry but I didn't buy any of it. The acting didn't impress me much either, and that includes McDormand's Oscar-winning turn. In the end, for me, it's just another of those eccentric, eclectic films that tries to implant what it thinks are memorable images or extraordinary characters into the viewer's consciousness and by its exaggeration and distortion somehow mirror society in some profound way. All i got from it in the end was a mixed sense of manipulation, confusion and cynicism and how easy it is to put a movie like this together and call it art.
Sorry, not for me.
I, Tonya (2017)
Ice Ice Baby
As much as I knew about the ice-skater Tonya Harding was her association with the Nancy Kerrigan incident at the Winter Olympics and her being the only American woman to, up to that point, successfully pull off a triple salkot in competition. I know that she was disgraced as a result of her at-a-distance connection to the Kerrigan assault but that she'd come back into the public eye, competing recently in the American version of "Strictly Come Dancing". So what an eye-opener this low-budget feature was.
It unflinchingly shows her upbringing, from a broken home, natch by a mother who clearly put the "hard" into Harding. Chain-smoking, foul-mouthed and bullying, she's the ice skating equivalent of the infamous "show-biz moms" you read about, hitting her daughter with everything but a little maternal love, deluding herself that her cruelty to her only child is self-sacrifice on her part designed to toughen up her little girl for the big bad world that's out there. Her father, you get the impression might just have made a difference, but you couldn't really blame him for baling out on his no-redeeming-features wife.
There's dark comedy in these early scenes as mommie dearest Lavona ignores every social convention to promote her tomboy daughter's one given talent, her ice-skating ability but its typical of Tonya's luck that the man who comes into her life romantically turns out to be a jealous, possessive guy who behind his geeky moustache and weedy appearance threatens her, hits her and even shoots at her anytime she tries to break away from him. Not that Tonya is any shrinking violet, she gives as good as she gets in their numerous arguments and drop-down fights but unfortunately he's back in play just as she's reaching herself for a crack at the Olympics where her biggest rival will be clean-cut, all-American Nancy Kerrigan, whose stylishly cut, virginal white skating costume contrasts vividly with Harding's old-fashioned, frills and bows homemade outfit.
The "incident" itself, a cockeyed plan by hubby and his meathead bodyguard chum, sees the latter beat Kerrigan on the leg after a training session becomes international news as the Winter Olympics of 1992 come around pitching the rivals head-to-head with a recovered Kerrigan finishing a close-up second but a psyched-out Harding come in a lowly eighth and that after a controversial re-skate after she dramatically stops her first routine after her boot lace comes undone.
This movie is the women's ice-skating equivalent of "Raging Bull", a warts and all portrayal of a kid from the wrong side of the tracks striving to make something of herself with everything seemingly stacked against her. Her greatest moment is shown not as winning Skate America or coming second in the World Championships but the first time she nails that near impossible jump on the ice. From there it's downhill all the way as we see her struggle with her notoriety in the aftermath of all the publicity post-conviction, trying to scratch a living, even trying pro-boxing for a spell.
The performances by the three leads, Margot Robbie as Harding, Allison Janney as the mother from hell and Sebastian Stan as her unhinged husband are terrific. The direction style is a clever mix of eye-on-the-wall documentary realism including recreated to-camera interviews with the main participants and fourth-wall-breaking asides together with convincing depictions of the ice-skating sequences.
It all makes for a deliberately awkward but compulsive insight into Stateside trailer-trash living but also how hard it is for those on the inside to break free from this rough and tumble upbringing and make something of themselves. In this biopic, Tonya Harding tried as hard as she could but was literally born to lose, the little victories and happiness she achieved along the way, scant recompense for a reputation tarnished forever by events outwith her control.
You Can't Hurry Brotherly Love
From the no-question mark title it's plain that Lee Ingleby's David Collins character has indeed suffered a miscarriage of justice as this 4 part ITV thriller gets under way with him finally being acquitted after three trials of the violent murder of his wife, the apparently flighty, wilful Tara. There's no flashback sequence at any stage of the proceedings so the viewer is kept in the dark pretty much all the way through as to who was the culprit.
From there on, in time-honoured Agatha Christie fashion, an array of suspects are paraded in full view, all apparently with motive, opportunity and busted alibis before the eventual murderer emerges as if from nowhere (although I correctly called out their identity long before the end).
There are the expected sub-plots required to flesh out the four hour viewing time, including a tug-of-love between Collins and his estranged sister and brother in law over his children who they've more or less adopted as their own in his absence but who also benefited from Tara's demise as it extinguished a debt of money she had lent them for their failed IVF treatment and who also got to live in the dead woman's house, a souring romance between the newly appointed female police investigator and her boyfriend predecessor who is convinced that Collins was guilty all along and the disintegration of a marriage between Collins' philandering ex-best friend (who's had a fling with Tara) and his younger, now pregnant wife.
Like I said I wasn't surprised with the reveal of the murderer's identity, I didn't like the way that the sister and brother in law had the children call them mum and dad nor did I appreciate that cliched relationship between the police detectives which of course doesn't end well.
All that said though, it was quite entertaining, fast moving if old fashioned, reasonably well acted and with a fine brooding soundtrack in the background adding atmosphere. Broadchurch it wasn't however.
Patriots Day (2016)
Off the pace
For a film where the actors were obviously carefully selected for their resemblance to their real-life counterparts, (as is made clear by the introduction of the real participants near the end of the film), to pivot the action around an entirely fictitious character (Mark Wahlberg's ubiquitous police officer], surely had to be a mistake. I say ubiquitous because Wahlberg always seems to be Johnny-on-the-spot whenever anything significant happens in the action. There he is close by when the bombs go off, he's there just after the young Chinese boy is kidnapped and carjacked by the two bombers, he's also there at their shoot out with the cops and again when the authorities finally catch up with the fugitive younger brother.
Once you know this (it becomes obvious when there's no real life equivalent introduced for him at the end), you realise you've been manipulated as a viewer and it just weakens the whole premise of the film. Surely there were enough brave citizens and emergency services in Boston on the day of the incident without the need for this imaginary person.
Otherwise I couldn't say I was entirely gripped as I think I should have been by the depiction of proceedings as they were presented. Of course the story has to follow the real life sequence of events which I don't doubt it did, I just didn't think it was done in a very exciting or gripping way.
Fine to celebrate the everyday heroism of ordinary average people when confronted by the unexpected, criminal and dangerous, but stretching it to a two hour movie didn't come off here.
Save Me (2018)
Some of Nellie's Blues
And so yet another story about a missing child and the disappearance's affect on parents, friends and communities. Set in London and with a varied cast of characters, to say the least, this was gritty and at times hard-to-watch drama. Particularly as it drew to its anti-climactic finish, scenes where a teenage boy uses information about the missing child to force the girl's mother into having sex with him and an excruciatingly disturbing auction amongst low-life deviants to buy a little girl might have had some viewers reaching for the off button.
For me, it was all just a little too full on. The main character played by series writer Lennie James answers to the unlikely name of Nellie and runs about everywhere in a bright yellow bubble jacket. On the face of it a likeable rogue, look deeper and you see a guy casually flitting from woman to woman, mooching favours from all and sundry, who's abandoned his daughter years ago when an out of the blue message from her on his mobile phone before she's abducted sets up the events which follow.
About that varied mix of characters, prominent amongst Nellie's friends is a guy who goes by the name of Melon previously convicted of corrupting an underage girl, only she's stood by him although not without lingering doubts as to his continuing proclivities no doubt as she moves past her own teenage years, a transvestite with a heart of gold, a group of young jeering teenagers who may know more about matters than at first seems, all of Nellie's ex and current girlfriends, including the one who mothered Jodi many years ago and who he's never quite got over and her slightly shady new husband so willing to try anything to erase her memories of Nellie he'll go to loan sharks to get reward money for news on the girl's disappearance.
As usual when these shows play out over 6 episodes, there are several sub-plots, red herrings and false climaxes en route, although I can't deny the last episode was gripping if tough to watch.
The acting was as you'd expect given the subject matter, deadly serious and mostly overdone by all. I found the direction unnecessarily quirky too with surreally strange background scenes inserted just for their weirdness it seemed to me. I also found the dialogue unrealistic in too many scenes for what purportedly was a near-too-real-life drama.
At the end of it all and after watching a slew of similarly themed programmes of late, I was quite drained and glad it was over.
Any happy-go-lucky shows out there just for a change?
Electric Dreams: Kill All Others (2018)
One man stand
Saving just about the best till last, this, the tenth and last episode of the Philip K Dick Anthology was probably the most chilling and disturbing of them all. It started lightly enough as Philbert Noyce, a typical blue-collar assembly-line operative and his wife play tit-for-tat with interactive holographic advertisements but quickly gets darker as they settle down to watch a fawning campaign interview by their megastate Mexuscan's single Candidate, reminiscent of a recent Xi Jinping interview. Rather like the Chinese reporter who rolled her eyes Philbert is sceptical of this brand of one-party democracy but did she really intersperse the usual sub-Obama parodic platitudes with the phrase "Kill All Others"?
Philbert discusses his incredulity at this casual exhortation to ethnic cleanse with his two fellow workers on the production line but it's clear that they either missed the reference or can't get worked up about it, so long as they know they're not one of the "others" but when he later sees a neighbour set upon by a crowd of pedestrians for no apparent reason, repeat references by the Candidate on TV and especially the erection of a huge advertising billboard proclaiming the order with what looks a dead man's body draped over it for effect, Philbert snaps and rebels.
The viewer for a time is left in some suspense as to whether Phil is suffering some sort of persecutional delusion complex as he's made to submit to medical procedures at work including the wearing of a Fitbit type watch to monitor his behaviour but it's clear the worm has turned as he attempts to expose and lift the Candidate's hold over the sheep-like population. The bleak conclusion posits a chilling final image as "order" is restored.
Like so many of the episodes in this series I was impressed by the way the adaptations inserted topical references to the material further reinforcing Dick's presence and prescience of mind when he first wrote his short stories some 50 years or so ago. For the record Mel Rodriguez was great in this one as the little-big man who takes on the system while I also appreciated an edgy synthesiser soundtrack which accurately echoed Noyce's increasing paranoia.
I'm now working my way through a book of Dick's stories (none of which appear to have been dramatised in this series) and I'm not a great sci-fi lover but I can say there's plenty more good source material if a further series gets commissioned which I hope occurs.
Beyond the Dave
This hour long BBC Northern Ireland tribute to the popular if controversial Irish comedian Dave Allen did justice to him I believe. I was a big fan of his early 70's BBC2 Show "Dave Allen At Large" and was interested to learn more about him. In truth his comedy shows probably haven't dated too well being occasionally un-P.C. in its depiction of women but he admirably took pot-shots at the Catholic religion, provoking much viewer anger especially in his home country even to the extent of garnering death threats.
The show adopted the format of dropping in on key years in Allen's life, starting naturally with his formative years in Ireland. Much is made of the early loss of the tip of one of his fingers, the cause of which he retold in different ways throughout his career but the major influence on his early life appears to have been his newspaper editor father who died when he was only 12. Unusual I'd say that his mother didn't feature more despite living longer than her husband.
I was surprised to learn that he made his name initially on Australian TV and then as an almost daredevil presenter back in Britain, as highlighted by a hair-raising stunt involving the submersion of a car. I knew already about his appearance on the same bill as the emerging Beatles in the early 60's.
He really found his feet in his BBC series at the end of the 60's especially "At Large" when he interspersed his laconic sit-down joke-telling, cigarette and drink in hand, with zany comedy sketches, besides the religious ones I particularly recall with affection his regular "Mexican last request" skits.
Due to his anti-establishment acerbic humour (even tackling apartheid in one sketch), he never became the type of TV dinosaur that the alternative comedians of the early 80's so aptly vilified, continuing on in TV specials into his older age, particularly highlighting eccentrics.
Away from the camera, he was married twice, had children and interests in painting and gardening. He seemed to live a full and happy life with none of the familiar comedic demons at his back, dying too young at age 68.
A comedic rebel, unafraid to tilt at established mores of the day (even to the extent of using the "F" word to embellish a joke), this was an enjoyable reminder that early 70's British humour wasn't all Benny Hill and Carry On.
A Star Is Born (1954)
Judy's Turn To Cry
A star is reborn as Judy Garland returns to Hollywood after a four year absence for this headlining role where you can clearly see the woman in her replacing the young girl whose career started so spectacularly in "The Wizard Of Oz" some 15 years earlier. Yes we all know the story about the falling star coming into the orbit of the rising comet but played as convincingly as it is here and with marvellous song production numbers to boot, this really is almost a last hurrah for golden age Hollywood and all it stood for but at the same time it's adult themes of alcoholism and disintegrating marriage point forward to more a modern, sophisticated realism.
We're properly introduced to Garland when she sings perhaps the ultimate torch song "The Man Who Got Away", with a powerhouse delivery which still doesn't overpower the song and immediately ensnares the passing ear of Hollywood legend Norman Maine, played with understated and underrated elan by James Mason. Yes, the movie plays Mason's alcoholism less like the disease we nowadays understand it to be today and more like an almost wilful career-choice done almost to attract attention by a fading yesterday man such as Maine.
Wonderfully staged and sympathetically directed by George Cukor, Garland's musical numbers are vivacious and heartwarming apart from a hackneyed Vaudevillian medley of over-heard Jolson songs, the best of them for my money probably being Judy putting on a one-woman show for Norman in her own living room.
Both leads you feel get right into their roles only very occasionally teetering into florid melodrama. Jack Carson and Ronald Bickford also deserve praise for their supporting turns, the former as Maine's long suffering press agent who eventually has his day and the latter as the supportive, nurturing film producer caught between both camps.
Sure the ending is maybe slightly over the top as Maine makes the ultimate sacrifice for his wife but you'd have to be made of stone not to be affected by the final scene with Garland in close-up delivering one of the classic final lines you'll ever hear in any movie.
This is a musical good enough to stand as a drama without its songs and with songs good enough to carry any other straight movie with even the flimsiest of story-lines. Put both these aspects together, mix in with convincing performances by the leading actors and a fine soundtrack and you really do have one of the very best musicals, indeed calling it just a musical is to somehow miss the point of a brave, ambitious and greatly rewarding film.
Jimi: All Is by My Side (2013)
Jimi does London
Like the early Beatles bio-pic "Backbeat" this depiction of Jimi Hendrix's breakthrough years of 1966-1967 suffers from not playing any of his most recognisable songs during the period. It really is unthinkable that in trying to explore his complex character, the producers would ignore tracks like "Hey Joe", "Purple Haze" or "The Wind Cries Mary" to name but three. I don't know if it was they couldn't get licensing permission or whether it was deliberate, but for me it left a gaping hole in the finished movie.
What we're left with then is in truth a rather flat, dreary movie which despite employing several cinematic tricks and devices, in the end comes out dull and boring, two things Hendrix assuredly wasn't. Among those devices is the name-plating of important people when they're on screen, even if only for fleeting seconds, just because they don't look sufficiently like their real-life counterparts (like Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and for one second George Harrison). Otherwise numerous jump-cuts, hand-held shots and unusual camera angles are deployed throughout no doubt to psychedelicise proceedings and get the viewer synced with swinging London in 1966-1967.
Hendrix is depicted in three distinct guises, the sex-god who casually flits from woman to woman as they uniformly fall for his hippy-drippy, far-out exoticism, staying with him even after he hits them, the peace-nik dreamer who we see set out his flower-power credentials in a lengthy heavy discussion with black activist Michael X and lastly of course the shy musician, reverent of his blues history and modern contemporaries like Clapton and Dylan, who can drop in on a Cream gig and blow away Slowhand Clapton or dazzle the attendant Beatles at a Savile Row gig by playing the title track to their landmark "Sgt Pepper" album just two days after its release.
I actually liked the acting in the film, Andre Benjamin of OutKast certainly nails Jimi's appearance, mannerisms, speech patterns and even his guitar playing style, the various women who pass in and out of his life are well played and similarly the actors playing his manager ex-Animal Chas Chandler and the Experience members Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding are convincing.
Somehow though this movie, whilst reasonably accurate in depicting the era failed to really leap off the screen and grab my attention with dialogue scenes running on too long and one senses really only touching the surface of the complex character that was James Marshall Hendrix.
Daddy Long Legs (1955)
As Fred Astaire moved into his 50's, rather than team him with mature female dancers closer to his own age, Hollywood decided instead to pair him with younger girls. However the problem arose as how to depict his relationship with actresses so much younger than him, never more so than in this movie, where as a bored billionaire on a "poverty tourism" visit to France he meets a gamine young orphan girl in the form of Leslie Caron and forms an immediate attraction to her so that within days he's jetted her off to the good life in uptown New York, setting her up in beautiful clothes and at the best college, with nary a thought for the young orphans she's been bringing up and who get left behind. So straight away we get that this isn't just a piece of philanthropy by Fred's Jervis Pendleton, else why not do a Madonna or Angelina and adopt a much younger child, even a boy.
I have to state, it makes the film a little problematic to watch in these more cynical and sinister times, where nice old Uncle Fred's Daddy Longlegs schtick can look ever so slightly like grooming, especially the way he uses his influence to exile a more youthful admirer for Caron' Julie Andre character's affections. Indeed it's a problem the film itself realises given the numerous times that Pendleton's motives are called into question by those around him. And as for young Julie's attraction for an old-timer, that can be answered by the question "So just what attracted you to the billionaire Jervis Pendleton?"
Of course plot matters much less to musicals than to almost any other movie genre you could mention here, so long as there are compensations in the dance numbers and soundtrack itself, but these too are a mixed bag too. The duo's romantic dance to by far the best number "Something's Gotta Give" can't quite compensate for Fred elsewhere getting down with the youth to a song and dance called the Sloo-foot, while Caron's first imaginings of Daddy L is embarrassingly bad especially when Fred has to play a big-time Texan oil-baron in a terrible hoe-down sequence. Them there's Caron's "nightmare ballet" sequence, a too obvious tilt at artistic pretension in the wake Gene Kelly's "An American In Paris".
Lesser things I did enjoy were the interplay of Fred's two hired hands, the frosty Fred Clark and the feisty Thelma Ritter also the 50's New York settings, but in truth Astaire looks like a man out of time here in a film which, colourful and bright as it is on the surface is rather shallow and unengaging just below it.
Electric Dreams: Safe and Sound (2018)
Yet another good entry in this Philip K Dick Anthology. The approach of this one appears more aimed at today's teen market weaned on similarly dystopian near-future scenarios like "The Hunger Games" or "The Maze Runner" focusing as it does on the 16 year old daughter of a prominent spokeswoman for one side of opposing factions in a long-running phoney war, the mother meeting senior counterparts on the other side to ostensibly discuss a peace settlement. Trouble is, the other side parleys fake news to its citizens like today's Kim Jung In or Putin which should have been a warning to the mother and daughter but somehow manages to go unheeded.
So said mother probably unwisely let's her daughter loose into this unfamiliar society while she attends her meetings and encourages the young girl to effectively take a gap year learning the ways of her fellow school mates. Not unnaturally she doesn't fit in and casts about looking for friends where she can find them, resorting to wearing the strange wrist-bands the other kids wear which while facilitating school lessons and communications nevertheless have the distinct hint of Big Brother about them. The show makes a good point about modern-day youth interacting more with their comms than in person which leads to the young girl being led to make a choice as to who she can trust, the real-life fellow pupils she meets or the voice in her ear, supposedly watching out for her like a stream of consciousness guardian angel.
Besides the above, references to the use of children in today's warfare in essence as suicide bombers gave the programme an up to date feel, but in the end I didn't enjoy the bleak conclusion or the cynical way adults use youth for their own nefarious tastes.
This episode seemed a little more fleshed out than some others I've seen already and the central character of the exploited daughter likewise appeared just a little too easily led to her acts of betrayal, especially with her mom right there with her. So while it made some telling points which are highly topical today perhaps I found the teen-condescending storyline just a little off the mark for me.
Electric Dreams: Autofac (2018)
See Emily Play
I found this to be one of the most intriguing of the Channel 4 series dramatising selected Philip K Dick short stories. It started off like a routine post-apocalyptic masses against the classes uprising as the last outcrop of humanity sought to wage guerrilla war against the controlling A.I. facility manifested in the all-powerful Autofac distribution centre. But then, through clever editing and layered story-telling gradually emerged another typical Dick-ian dissertation on free-will in the future and the irresistible rise of the machine overtaking our everyday lives.
Prominent amongst the rebels is a bright young scientist-type female called Emily. Just when it seemed as if she and her gang of three, in breaking into the shall we say, Amazonian Autofac complex, would next light up the piece with some cliched flashy action sequences as humans battle androids it became actually became a much more serious piece as Emily discusses humanity with the "female" android they initially captured to get inside but who later turns the tables on her and her colleagues. Only then does the shocking truth about her own existence come to light and sense is at last made of previously inserted scenes of firstly her younger self witnessing the end of days and also her bloodily forcing an implant into her own head.
The ending is suitably enigmatic closing on a memorable last line, spoken by Emily. Juno Payne is good as the central anti-hero but the most kudos must go the director for stylish work, two scenes of which stand out especially, one the efficient killing of one of Emily's fellow rebels inside the Autofac and the second when Emily's visions finally make sense to her and so fill in the gaps in the narrative.
I really enjoyed this episode even as I continue to wonder about the continuing Pink Floyd references in the series as we see Emily play but miss the (Zabriskie) point as she commandeers the mission...
Dave Allen at Peace (2018)
I watched this hour-long potted dramatisation of the life and times of Irish comedian Dave Allen immediately after viewing a real-life TV biography of the man which probably wasn't the best preparation. I was a big fan of Allen's TV series of the early 70's particularly "Dave Allen At Large" using a format of sketches (some of which today might seem un-P.C.) and stand-up or should that be sit-down comedy. Allen regularly sent-up his native country's Catholic religion, often provoking the ire of his countrymen, to the extent where he even received death threats for lampooning the Pope, most (in)famously in a sketch where the holy father disrobes to "The Stripper" by David Rose.
As much a blarney-spinner as a pure joke-teller, Allen's laconic style, drink within reach on the one hand, cigarette in the other, saw him stand out from the older-fashioned variety-show type comics of the same era, like "Morecambe and Wise" or "The Two Ronnies", in short, he had an edge, even once swearing on air to enhance a joke's punchline.
The narrative here concentrates on Allen's relationship with his free-spirited, newspaper editor father who died when he was only 12 and his older brother whose later life revolves around alcohol dependancy. However, given that his mother outlived his father and he himself was married twice, it's strange that the show makes almost no reference to the women in his life.
It also wasn't helped by lightweight lead actor Aiden Gillan's marked dissimilarity to the real Allen as well as his complete inability to get even close to Allen's distinctive accent. There were actually scenes with more than one character present where I couldn't pick him out as Allen.
The jump-starting narrative sidelined into well-known Allen sketches and monologues but none were delivered as crisply as in the original TV show. In the end, it seemed, certainly from the real life bio, that Dave Allen had a full and rewarding life. Unlike other comedic talents he seemed less driven by demons which probably helped constrain this over-respectful yet still misfiring telling of his story.
Oh and I still can't work out the relevance of the show's title unless I'm missing something.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Murder she gloat
The grand-daddy of all political thrillers right here, maybe even thrillers full stop. A great film, for me, should contain with it some sequence or scene which recurs in your memory maybe years after you last saw it, but when you think about the film at all, just comes immediately to mind. I'm referring of course to the brainwashing scene which sets up the whole premise of the movie. The film also has an almost literally heart-stopping climax and just for good measure the in-between content is gripping, involving and also has shockingly unexpected developments too. The fact that it proved tragically prescient of the JFK assassination the next year only adds a topical edge to proceedings when what seemed at the time fantastical and possibly far-fetched on the screen manifested itself into grim reality a year or so later on the streets of Dallas.
Said brainwashing scene, where we see exactly to what extent the Communist enemy have control over Lawrence Harvey's character, is brilliantly written, edited and filmed, the deaths of the two unsuspecting troop members, as devastating to watch as they are seemingly casual to commit. Even more transfixing later on is Raymond's double-slaying of his new father-in-law, where a spilling milk carton stands in for the bloodletting of Thomas Jordan and immediately afterwards the unthinking slaughter of the latter's daughter Traci, his own wife, as he stands over the prostrate father, caught in the horrific act of delivering the kill shot to the head.
Yes, coincidence plays a big part in proceedings, like Raymond's love for the daughter of his detested mother's political nemesis Jordan or Traci's wearing of the trigger-point queen of hearts dress to a fancy dress ball but these are easily excused especially with the back story echoing the rise of the McCarthy communist witch-hunt. Incredible to think that such a vulgar, loud-mouthed buffoon as Johnny Iresden could get so close to the White House, or is it...?
Of course it helps that the acting is so consistently good by all the cast members. Sinatra as the main starring name holds the film together with a commanding performance and Harvey is brilliant as the distant but disturbed Raymond and of course, Angela Lansbury is unforgettably cast against type as the devious and devilish would-be power behind the throne as Raymond's mother and Johnny's wife. However even the casting of lesser characters is spot-on as are their performances all of which helps keep the film grounded and credible as it progresses.
This particular film is one of my dad's favourites and he's rarely wrong is my old dad. It's one of mine too and a film that repays repeat viewings. I don't rule out watching it again sometime in the future so good is it.
The Eiger Sanction (1975)
Eiger up nor down
A cool-sounding title for a film to which the actual movie itself doesn't quite match up. It's a strange mish-mash of a Bond-type espionage thriller and cliff-hanging mountaineering actioner which makes you think you're watching two films spliced together.
It begins by introducing us to Clint as the oddly named Jonathon Hemlock, an art teacher by day, pushing away, albeit with a pat on the behind, the pretty young college girls who have the hots for him, but who's also a hired assassin for a secret Government agency in his spare time, where he answers to a mysterious / ridiculous albino, rasping-voiced boss called Mr Dragon you can barely see on the screen as he's bathed in infra-red light to alleviate his condition.
Clint's Hemlock wants off the murder-go-round but is lured back for one last double-hit when an old colleague gets taken out by a pair of enemy assassins over the theft of a nerve-agent (read McGoffin) the ownership which of course could threaten world peace plus the mission has to take place during a climb up the north face of the Eiger alongside three other climbers any one of whom could be our man's target. Did I mention that Hemlock is a crack mountaineer who's twice tried and failed to climb the mountain or that he's a discerning art lover whose price per hit includes modern art masterpieces he keeps in a secret room?
The problem with the movie is in the jarring schism between the two elements which the direction can't bridge. A Bond movie might give over 20 minutes to both these strands and move onto the next action set-piece but here the film dawdles over the scene-setting extended prologue before abruptly shifting to and then staying with the mountain scenes for its second hour.
Naturally, along the way, a bevy of "Clint Birds" throw themselves at our hero, in a film which highlights (or should that be "low-lights" in retrospect the cliched and sexist way women were usually treated in action films of this type - one shapely minor female character goes by the name of "Buns" which pretty much says it all. The cliches continue with Jack Cassidy's turn or should that be twirl as a camp ex-colleague of Hemlock's who gets his come-uppance for past and current treachery and the depiction of a moody but athletic young Native American female beauty who inevitably rewards Hemlock for completing his exacting "training runs" with her by silently slipping into bed with him - anyone else would get a congratulatory clap on the back but of course, as ever, it's good to be Clint in his own movie.
The climbing scenes are well shot and don't lack for realism or drama as Clint saunters through the unconvincing story-line even at 20000 feet on a snow-peaked mountain, but I personally found it to be more of an uphill climb over its 126 minute viewing time.
Electric Dreams: The Father Thing (2018)
Charlie, I'm not your daddy
I enjoyed this latest entry in the Philip K Dick anthology series even if it was decidedly lighter in tone. This story of young American school-kid Charlie who discovers his beloved, baseball-loving dad has been replaced by a beetle-like alien invader which assumes the host's appearance and memories was like a vaguely Speilberg-ian take on "Home Alone". Convincing his initially reluctant school-chum and said friend's big bully of a brother to help him, they embark on a save-the-world mission in their own backyard as they track down the invading aliens to their incubation pods in a nearby forest.
Like I said, it's shot very much from young Charlie's Shane-like perspective, with lots of subjective camera work, forward tracking shots and low-angle set-ups, while the narrative is laced with the type of humour the likes of Bill and Ted were dispensing several years ago. I especially liked the simple but effective way the boys literally trampled down the alien threat once it became clear to them.
Greg Kinnear is the big name in this one, playing Charlie's dad, but the child actors steal the show in a fun and occasionally funny nod to those films from the 80's and 90's where time-travelling, alien-battling, meddling kids were saving the day.