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The 6th Day (2000)
Attack of the clones
This is a terrible film made worse by the fact that its underlying premise- illegal cloning- was actually strong. With a bit more effort this could have been in much the same league as Total Recall; indeed there is much about TSD which, intentionally I think, sets about to remind the viewer about that classic, but this is very much a pale imitation.
The problem is that the main premise in presented in a confusing and incoherent way. There seems to be an element of consciousness transference about the cloning process. Although this is not usual with any known cloning process, it could be made to work if it were consistently applied. But it isn't. Some characters seem to be the same person reborn in a fresh body even though they clearly died (and make light of their deaths in not very convincing comedy) while others, such as Schwarzenegger and the baddie can exist in two bodies at the same time. How does this work exactly? This is indicative of the general sloppiness of modern Hollywood.
The double dose of Arnie could have been fun but his acting is not up to the task and it comes across as particularly flat and wooden. The action scenes are ok but hardly great.
All in all, a waste of good potential
Who Dares Wins (1982)
Surprisingly good and realistic actioner...and it triggers snowflakes
For over 35 years this film passed me by. I had heard of it but had never fancied watching it due to vaguely remembering negative reviews. Looking it up on wikipedia after I happened to catch it late one night on TV, I noted, with some amusement, that it triggered tedious lefty snowflakes like the Guardian and Stewart Lee who described it as "very rightwing" and "nasty". If only I knew what these reviewers thought earlier and I would have checked out this good film a long time ago.
I wonder what about WDW that so triggers them? Certainly it admires masculinity and admits that some situations can only be resolved through brutal violence. It also unequivocally casts the radical left as villains (and how many films can you say that about?) Lewis Collins, fresh from his stint in the equally manly and gritty 1970s British TV series The Professionals ( a series which, incidentally, like this film could never be made now in these politically correct times) puts in an excellent performance as the rugged hero. The way in which he inveigles himself with the radical female Leftist is rather contrived, but that is typical Hollywood stuff.
My only real criticism is that it lacks the final degree of Hollywood panache. It actually looks more like a TV movie (albeit a violent one) in some ways. The fight scenes are extremely realistic, brutal and short. There are none of the prolonged gun fights of more fantastical films, with glass shattering all around and the hero dancing through hails of bullets. I rather miss that. Here the villains all have their brains blown out in a couple of seconds. Particularly effective are the scenes involving Collins wife and child, where the SAS have to blow a hole in the Neighbours wall in order to break in.
This film was made with actual SAS advisors apparently, and it shows.
A Major (or perhaps General) disappointment
This film could and really should have a masterpiece. There is a strong sense of period enhanced by what appears to be authentic 19th century barrack room slang and music from the period. It could be argued that the film is rather slow, but to my mind a lingering on the enormous wealth of detail, adds rather than detracts from the film's appeal. There are also many strong performances, in particular, Trevor Howard is imposing as the stubborn commanding officer.
Yet I find this film unsatisfying and somewhat boring to watch. The fault, I feel, is that the film's message is hammered home over and over again. A case in point: Howard instructs an inferior officer to spy on David Hemmings. The officer is reluctant and when pressed says he would have to inform Hemmings that he was instructed to spy. He then relates a touching tale of how he has worked his way up and been sober for many years. Howard is completely contemptuous and tells him his career is now in ruins. This scene is highly memorable and moving and had it been left at that, it would have been been effective. We understand the injustice and brutality of ruling elite.
However, we immediately see this officer becoming drunk followed by him being horse whipped, something that belabours the message. In another scene an officer is seen trying to subdue a horse through aggression. Hemmings shows up and subdues the horse "through kindness" as he says. Howard immediately flares up when he sees this. And in another, an anti-war protest is violently broken up. Yes we get the message: War is bad, and the military machine is ugly and inhuman. But it need not be repeated over and over again.
The Entertainer (1960)
Slice of life from the miserablist school
This once admired film has not aged well. Like so many other British films of the period, it is a bleak depressing "slice of life" kitchen sink drama. The main family, as always in these things, is deeply unhappy and held together by reasons other than love. Such things make pieces beloved of critics but are such a reduction of human relationships. There is something dissatisfying about watching a group of miserable people live miserably.
The role of Archie Rice is a somewhat iconic one for Olivier. His performance is very good. Archie completely dominates this and as usual with Osbourne he seems to be a cipher for Osbourne himself. Very self- centred. Other characters are rather under developed, particularly Archie's young love interest who seems to be introduced simply so she could appear in the movie poster, a misleading piece of fake news of the time to try and persuade potential movie goers that the film is more interesting than it actually is. The girl disappears very quickly and is never seen again.
Ultimately this is like watching a long episode of East Enders, only more depressing.
What can be said about this bizarre film? Anyone expecting anything relating to Liszt or his music will be sadly disappointed. The structure is that of a bad dream or a stream of consciousness poem, yet I remain unconvinced that anything in it is truly poetic.
Being by Russell, it is a series of images, some of them striking, others hyper sexualised, grotesque or merely baffling. I must admit it held my attention, even if the proliferation of bare breasts and phallic imagery is a bit much at times.
The story, such as it is, revolves as much around Liszt's son-in-law Wagner as the man himself. Taking their cue from his alleged proto-Nazi sympathies, Wagner is depicted first as a costumed superman then as a machine-gun-toting Hitler.
There are a few good in-jokes here and there. An early one is when Brahms is told by Liszt "you're p*ssed" (it helps to be British to get that one) and later when Rick Wakeman turns up dressed as Marvel comics' Thor "You look like you came out of a comic book".
Oddly enough I felt the most dated part of this was exactly what was meant to make it seem the most contemporary in the mid 70s, namely the music. Horribly synth arrangements of the works of Liszt and Wagner, and worse still songs based, for instance, on Lieberstraum, with terrible lyrics even by the standards of the time. Badly sung, too, surprisingly by Daltry who struggled to stay in tune.
A Late Quartet (2012)
Roll over (in your grave) Beethoven
Who would have thought that self-absorbed classical musicians could be so attractive to women? The second violinist is a bedhopper, sleeping around with a young fan (do quartets really have groupies?) while his wife, the viola player, is away, although she inevitably finds out. Their daughter, meanwhile, initiates an affair with the first violinist Daniel, who of course, is 'brilliant'. Not that we ever see him doing anything brilliant, but we are told he is.
All this may remind you of the implausibly complex relationships of the old comedy series 'Soap'. Here however it is played in deadly earnest.
The music over the opening credits gave me an early red flag of the empty melodrama to come. Instead of quartet music or something composed in the same spirit, an insipid orchestral piece is heard. This music gets more saccharine as the film progresses.
The second violinist, when not bed hopping, is getting a bit tired of -ahem- playing second fiddle. Although he has been doing this successfully for 25 years.
He's also angry that the brilliant Daniel does not want to play without the score in front of them. Although he has been doing this successfully for 25 years.
So we have this brilliant musician who never takes any risks but is still brilliant and plays to packed auditoriums.
Obviously this is a lot of clichés strung together and never really rises above it. But the main problem is a lack of resolution of any of its themes. The viola player leaves the 2nd fiddler, the 2nd fiddler punches Daniel, the viola player discovers her daughter's affair with Daniel, yet none of this is really resolved. We merely see the quartet playing together at the end and, to slushy music, in a scene designed to inspire us, they close the score. Wow. That's revelatory! The one good part of this is Walken's role as a cellist coming to terms with his incipient Parkinson's. He handles with dignity and his resignation at the end is actually moving.
(In)Justice League: Goatees and Massacres
Anyone watching the Justice League animated movies in order: The New Frontier, Crisis On Two Earths, Doom, Flashpoint, and War, will notice that they have become darker and more nihilistic one after another. Now we arrive at Gods and Monsters, the depressing continuation of this trend.
Of course, they are all "anti-heroes" now, to put it kindly, although a combination of violent vigilantes and fascist army is probably closer to the truth. Batman's a vampire (how imaginative! A vampire bat!), and embarrassingly Superman (sporting a goatee which I guess is meant to make him look badass?) is a Mexican illegal immigrant, a move obviously intended to make a politically correct point, although not really exploited here. Truth Justice and the Mexican way ! Yay! Oh and his real father is the murderous General Zod.
Even worse is the new sword-carrying Wonder Woman. Her family has been massacred by Highfather, who in the real DC universe is the embodiment of goodness, while Darkseid, who Highfather betrays here, is supposed to be the embodiment of evil. (Hence the name)
Poor old Jack Kirby must be rolling over in his grave to see his creations being so abused. He understood the difference between good and evil, light and dark, something that modern writers (themselves gone over to the dark side?) no longer see.
So by what perversion of the word 'Justice' can this trio of murderous misfits call themselves the 'Justice League'? I refuse to call these impostors by their assumed superhero names, since they are NOT the beloved characters they purport to be or anything close, so I dub them Sword Woman, Goatee Man and Vampire-Batman.
This morally inverted universe could be interesting if there was some realisation at some point by the characters that they were actually the bad guys and see them turn it around. Now That could have been thrilling. The problem is that we are supposed to be on their side from the start and see their personality flaws (ie that they are all bloodthirsty killers) as badass.
The film is basically a series of massacres, each more brutal than the last. Leaving aside the destruction of Krypton, massacre #1 is the "Justice League" wiping out a terrorist organisation. At least 50 people are horrifically killed by the JL, when they could just as easily have been captured by this super-powered trio. Some are hacked to death by Sword Woman, some crushed to death thanks to Goatee Man's heat vision (which he uses indiscriminately) and one has his blood sucked by Vampire-Batman. Nice. But that's OK its alright since they are "terrorists" and therefore deserve to be summarily executed by our heroes.
A token protest by ordinary people is then shown as well as a critical report by Lois Lane, but this legitimate concern is depicted as a bunch of small-mindedness.
Massacre #2 is of a group of scientists, some beloved characters in the comic world. Oh and a kid who just happens to be a young version of Cyborg. Again the film goes out of its way to make this as sadistic as possible.
Massacre #3 is the aforementioned backstory of Sword Woman.
Massacre #4 is a continuation of the massacre of scientists, this time inside Magnus's house. The violence is even more graphic with one poor victim being literally ripped in two. Note that our heroes were not able to save one person.
At this point I was pretty stunned but was still expecting some big turnaround to come. This, after all, has received some 5/5 reviews.
Massacre #5 is when Goatee Man and Sword Woman decide "heroically" not to give up but instead fight the army. To be fair, this sequence is less graphic than the earlier ones; we don't actually see any soldiers being killed when their tanks and helicopters are smashed by our heroes. Maybe these all were drones. But I guess showing soldiers dying would make the shallow ending less palatable.
Then comes an almost literal Deus-ex-machina. Lex Luthor (channeling his inner Stephen Hawking) appears out of thin air and explains to the JL what's happening and they go and fix the "villain".
Cue general rejoicing. Lois Lane recants her former opinions. The JL are now exonerated. So what if they have killed dozens of soldiers unnecessarily in addition to over 50 "terrorists" and failed to save a single scientist? They saved the world! Oh, from a threat powered by Goatee Man's rocket ship and protected by their "Justice" tower's force field. But nevermind, that's not anything to worry about.
Terrible. But the only question is, how on earth has this dreck gotten some many good reviews?
Harry Brown (2009)
A nasty British Death Wish
I remember watching films like Dirty Harry and Death Wish in the 1970s and thinking that America must be a seriously messed up place to produce violence like this. England at the time was still a fairly genteel place, although crime was massively on the rise. Sadly, some 40 years on, I wish I could say that this film is a ludicrous over the top version of Modern Britain, but, from my own experience, I don't think it is.
Therefore, politically, I think the film is bang on. However, aesthetically it is rather lacking.
Only one sequence stands out as a striking cinematic vision. This is when Harry Brown visits a couple of coked up gun dealers. He enters a subterranean world, a little bit of hell on earth and part of the power of this sequence is that the dealers are too drugged up to realise the level of degradation about them. This section is extremely well shot and acted by all concerned.
The other parts of this fail to approach this level. Much of the film looks like it could have been made for TV. True, the scenes of the 'youths' being interrogated are energetic and realistically written with four letter words in every sentence, but generally the police scenes are rather dull and empty. The caring female PC and her officious male superior are too cliché ridden (and politically correct) to be effective. The writing of these characters just seems to be going through the motions.
The final bloody shoot-out again fails to convict, while the conclusion just has a dangling unfinished feel.
Basically a very long Family Guy episode
Anyone familiar with the work of Seth MacFarlane will know what to expect: a lot of 80s references and some very crude comedy. Here both aspects are ramped up to 11.
Here we have so many 80s "tributes" that I wondered if I was watching Hot Tub Time Machine by mistake. There's Johnny Carson, Return of the Jedi, Knight Rider and 80s pop. The homage to Airplane is actually a direct rip-off and Flash Gordon is embedded into the film's DNA.
The comedy is crude and tasteless in the best Family Guy tradition although lacking the wit and inventiveness of that series better episodes. Generally there's a few big laughs but long mediocre patches. Another problem I had was MacFarlane's Ted tended to sound rather too much like Peter Griffin, I thought that he would have more in his vocal locker.
I guess Mila Kunis relished her bigger part, being relegated to virtually one line per episode in FG.
Overall an OK movie, enjoyable if not very memorable.
The New Centurions (1972)
This is less of a story than a series of vignettes which take place over several years. They are loosely based around Stacey Keach's character. Although there is some attempt to inject humour, the general tone can be summed up in one word: grim. We see cops shooting innocent people, being shot and indeed shooting themselves. Other than that there's marital breakdown, alcoholism, child abuse and immigrant exploitation among other cheery subjects.
The only real comedy appears when Keach joins the vice squad. The comedy is not very successful and seems just added on. This part is notable for the appearance of James Sikking in what seems to be a trial run for his role in Hill Street Blues. HSB does seem indebted to TNC is some ways particularly the opening gathering in front of the sergeant (I almost expected him to say "let's be careful out there") and also the wide range of characters. HSB is much more successful than TNC however; there is much better character development and each individual plot strand is satisfactorily resolved. Also the comedy interludes are better.
In TNC the characters are rather sketchily drawn; they drop in and out of the film and we do not think we get to know them well. The vignettes jump quickly to the next scene sometimes months later which creates a disjointed effect. Certain plot elements are left dangling. For example, when George C Scott and Keach nab a suspect early on, there is talk as to whether the case will stand up in court or not. But we do not discover if it does or not. something which HSB would have clarified.
It also think that, despite the grim nature of the piece, the ending is unnecessarily downbeat and depressing. After watching this, one wonders why anyone would ever become a New York cop.
Laurel and Hardy do The Sting
This film is one of those films in which the elements fail to come together. It is clearly an attempt to recreate the lightning in a bottle of The Sting some years earlier. However it does not measure up for a number of reasons.
Firstly the truly boring title does the film no favours. It is not surprising the audience stayed away despite this having obvious star power. Like The Sting the main stars are a couple of con men. The comedy is very broad, almost slapstick at times. This tends to undermine any tension in the film. And I'm not convinced that either Caan or Gould have any aptitude for this kind of broad comedy (and neither, I think, do they, if their subsequent career moves are an indication).
However, there are certain times when nastiness creeps in, the most obvious example is when Gould is locked in a safe. Yes, that's comedy gold, having a man almost suffocate to death.
Not only are the con men much more buffoonish than in The Sting, but they are also more contemptible. When we first see them, they are stealing money from ordinary members of the public. Why on earth would we be sympathetic to their escapades from then on? While in The Sting the objective was to rob another (and worse) villain, here the target is a normal bank containing real people's money. An attempt to show the manager as corrupt and lecherous does not undermine the fact that the bank contains real people's money and at a time when banks could go out of business.
Ultimately, no one really cares about these two thieves and whether they succeed in their venture.
For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)
Slow to start but then compelling
This film has a reputation for being somewhat boring, even turgid. For the first hour, I can certainly see the point of that. Not a great deal happens in the first 60 minutes or so, other than a rather predictable and over ripe Hollywood romance springing up between Cooper and Bergman. There's no action, no real sense of an external threat (surprising considering the setting) only a few not too interesting squabbles between the partisans.
This however changes pretty much when the weather changes. As the snow begins to fall there is a new urgency to the film. Nationalist troops show up and the squabbles take on a darker edge with a real sense of menace. There is a truly superb performance from the drunkard which deserved an Oscar. Then Pilar (well played too) recounts his past history and we see him in a more sympathetic light. From then on our feelings towards the drunkard constantly shift between disgust and pity, perhaps the subtlest aspect of the film.
One can say the dialogue is rather over-blown but this is typical of romantic films of the time. But the scenes of the atrocities committed in the name of 'freedom' are well done and surprisingly brutal even for a film of 1943.
The Blood on Satan's Claw (1971)
Folk Horror at its finest
When I was younger I greatly preferred Hollywood's slick approach to horror- these 70s British films always seemed to me rough and amateurish. In hindsight, I much prefer the British product and what I mistook for roughness, I now see as a mark of authenticity.
BOSC is one of the very few films of the sub-genre which Mark Gatiss in his history of Horror calls "Folk Horror" which also includes the more famous Wicker Man.
BOSC is probably the finest film in this genre. There is a strong feeling of pagan England desperate to burst free from the thin veneer of Christian morality, something that is made metaphorically visible at the very start when the plough exposes the demonic claw beneath the surface.
From then on, the film remains unsettling through out. Some scenes are somewhat confusing, inasmuch as they remain unexplained, but explanations here would be a hindrance.
It must be said, however, that BOSC rather runs out of energy towards the end, maling the finale less impressive than it might have been. Nevertheless this remains one of the creepiest British films ever made.
Star Trek VI The Wasted Opportunity
It is a pity that, by this stage in the Star Wars franchise, the torch was not passed to the younger generation of the crew. To have seen Sulu or Chekhov in command with perhaps cameos from Kirk and Spock could have made for an exciting adventure.
The story itself is rather ordinary, the sort of thing that would have struggled to make the cut in the original series. As with several episodes in TOS, the script leans heavily on Shakespeare as though the mere presence of the Bard can impart a gravitas which the script lacks. He can't and the only gravity here comes from the bulging waistlines of the aging crew.
Scott is the worst culprit, having obviously scoffed more than his fair share of haggis and short bread; the scene at the end when he has to waddle up some stairs in order to shoot a would-be assassin is obviously ridiculous (why not use a younger fitter and trained security guard?).
But it is Kirk, despite excellent work from his corset and an Oscar-winning performance from his bouffant wig (played by Hammy the Hamster) who is the most incongruous, since the script requires him to engage in some of the virile manliness which made him famous 20 odd years earlier. Unfortunately unlike Ricardo Montalban in WOK, Shatner has not aged too well, and we are subjected to the unedifying sight of a podgy middle-aged man not only fighting but also making love to an alien babe. Yuck!
Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972)
Thumbnail sketch of a Tudor king
This is a film adaptation of the six part BBC TV series. I've unfortunately never seen the series but I know it is highly regarded, much more than this film version. The reason for the inferiority of this version is obvious: the original material is very compressed.
It is naturally very difficult to compress a life so colourful, and containing so much complex political and abstruse religious manoeuvring as Henry's in a 2 hour film. Events rush by so much that it requires a good working knowledge of the life of Henry VIII to be able to follow them. For example Henry's relationship with Thomas More is barely established (it comes down to one 30 second conversation) before Thomas is executed. Later, we suddenly see rebels kneeling before Henry, for some under explained reason, who he immediately betrays (this is the Pilgrimage of Grace, when northerners rebelled against the king's abandonment of the Roman rite). Nor is the fall of Thomas Cromwell properly explored among many other lacunae. I wonder what the uninitiated would make of these things? Bewilderment I guess.
The compressed nature of the film gives rise to much obvious expositional dialogue. Henry baldly states things rather than us subtly getting to know his thoughts through his actions. This violates the basic rule of drama "show not tell".
Because of this the scenes of Henry's later life, when a lot of the political and religious turmoil had died down, come off better. There is simply less to explain to the audience and most of the famous historical people (Woolsey, More, Cromwell) were dead. So the personal drama can be explored more fully. The scenes with Katherine Howard are probably the highlight of the film, even if the actress rather over-eggs her final monologue. The scene with the king weeping is especially moving.
I'm not sure if I could recommend this to a complete novice in Tudor history, it would be too confusing. But for those studying Henry's reign of general history buffs, it is moderately interesting.
"I expect the franchise to die, Mr Bond!"
As many have observed, there is something seriously wrong with modern criticism if this rather ordinary outing is hailed as a masterpiece. I've lost count of the amount of films given huge praise which turn out to be mediocre at best or often very awful.
It seems the critics now respond to empty spectacle and superficial gimmicks rather than tiresome things like characterisation or a plot that makes sense. So it is with Skyfall, a succession of action sequences with just enough story line to string them along. The opening action sequence, although not the equal of anything in Casino Royale, is the best. Then the film falls more sharply than Bond does from the train. And you can tell that the writers do not over trouble themselves with such things as making sense, since they make not even a cursory attempt to explain Bond's miraculous survival.
Javier Bardem, who was so mesmerisingly menacing in No Country for Old Men, is here merely unintentionally funny. Sporting an awful blond wig and giving a high camp performance, he channels John Inman so much that you almost expect him to say "I'm free!" Not exactly a frightening villain, then, but worse, his gay overtures towards Bond are immediately forgotten, a sure sign of a bad script.
A convoluted and unbelievable plot, most of which is lifted from other better sources, and with numerous plot holes, fails to convince. And the bombastic special effects, including Bond dodging a careening underground train (curiously empty for daytime and apparently driverless- the unions should have words) and an assault on Bond's childhood home (a sort of overblown version of Home Alone, by way of Death Wish 3), although designed to distract us from the weak story are not good enough to impress for more than 5 minutes.
One of the most disturbing aspects is Bond's sheer incompetence. He stands by and watches an assassin execute his target before intervening (why? Is this new Home Office guidelines?), he fails to save his latest Bond girl even though he knows re-enforcements are only seconds away (her death is merely because the film has no more use for her- and his quip after her unsavoury demise "a waste of good scotch" is very poor taste), he even fails to save M at the end, thus rendering the whole film rather pointless. No doubt these unnecessary deaths are inserted for 'gritty realism'.
The ending, set in a Scottish chapel, is very weak indeed, with M's death, (succumbing to a bullet from an anonymous lackey earlier) in particular, being anti-climactic. I sincerely wish that M had pulled the trigger on the double suicide that Bardem suddenly wanted (why? he showed no such suicidal tendencies before) only with the proviso that Bond's head was in Bardem's place. That might put this tired franchise (and us) out of its misery.
Star Trek (2009)
Teen Trek: the next de-generation
This latest Star Trek re-boot has the aesthetic of Star Wars crossed with a teenage soap opera. Like so many modern films, tiresome old-fashioned things like plot and character development are jettisoned in order to accommodate more empty spectacle.
In TOS all the characters had a depth and dignity, even when clowning around. You can believe they would all command respect and loyalty. Here they are replaced with emoting prima donnas, people who, not only would you not follow, but would go out of your way to avoid.
It would be impossible to point out all the badness of this travesty, but here's a few which stuck in my mind.
1. A pointless "heroic" death scene at the start merely to give Kirk some "skin in the game".
2. A pointless scene of young Kirk stealing and destroying a car merely to show he's a maverick. Ditto the following bar room brawl.(By the way isn't it odd that everyone in the 23rd century is heavily into 20th century rock music?)
3. A time traveller who spends 25 years in the past grieving over a planet that will die 125 years in the future and does not lift a finger to see his family or warn the inhabitants. Instead he spends the whole time thinking up a ludicrous and bombastic revenge scheme.
4, Despite, in TOS the enterprise having a chain of command based on age and experience and all the crew obviously joining at different times, (Spock explicitly states that he had served Capt Pike for 11 years for example) here they all become crew members on exactly the same day.
5. Starfleet's flagship being handed over to raw recruits with no supervision. The only moment that inexperience might be a problem is when Sulu bungles the takeoff. But this rare intrusion of realism does not last.
6. Apparently people carry around swords (or sword handles that magically just grow into swords) in the 23rd century so they can have sword fights atop drills. Well it worked in Star Wars didn't it?
7. Chekhov being able to run the length of the ship and still save the falling crew.
8. Kirk is given the captaincy, even though there are more highly ranked officers on board (Which is to say, EVERYBODY ELSE on board since he was officially suspended from Starfleet). Oh and by the way, why didn't Spock resume the captaincy when he recovered?
9. Scotty being immediately given control of the engine room despite having just beamed on board. And why was this genius engineer stuck on a deserted ice planet anyway?
10. Spock deserves a whole list to himself.
a) His romance with Uhura. I burst out laughing at this. Adolescent smooching in the elevator and the teleport pad is unbecoming in anyone let alone MR Spock.
b) His jettisoning of Kirk on a frozen and dangerous planet. No Starfleet officer would conceivably do this to another officer. The only reason is, of course, the plot demands it.
c) The ludicrous and uncharacteristic way that he explodes when challenged by Kirk.
Needless to say, given the badness of the script, the actors fail to rise to it with the exception of Karl Urban who does an outstanding job as bones, and Anton Yelsin who makes a reasonable fist of the teenage Chekhov. Of Simon Pegg's performance, the least said the better.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Guardians of the Mix-Tapes
Someone forgot these losers are meant to be heroes.
The Star Lord here has little in common with his comic book version; instead he is a cross between Indiana Jones and Han Solo, although rather more superficial than Harrison Ford in those films. For instance, as Jones obtains a valuable object at the start of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, so Star Lord does here. But in ROTLA there is a sense of real danger with some occasional wit to lighten things, here there is annoying one liners and a rather easy victory. It also matters that, while Jones is a serious archaeologist interested in gaining artifacts for the benefit of humanity, Star Lord is interested only in lining his own pockets. In other words, Star Lord, who is presented as the main hero here, is no better than the villains in ROTLA.
So Star Lord is a self-serving thief, as well as an obnoxious big-mouth and a philanderer. But then wasn't Han Solo a shady character before finding his inner hero? However, Solo was surrounded by better, more idealistic people who shamed him into change. Star Lord has no such companions, each one is as self-serving as himself.
Gamora, Rocket Raccoon and Groot are violent bounty hunters, prepared to use whatever methods to line their pockets. Rocket is an obnoxious big-mouth too and, of the group, only Groot emerges as any kind of nobility of spirit, even if his "I am Groot" shtick gets old very quickly. Yondu, who in the comics is the very definition of a "noble savage" is here yet another self-serving mercenary. They are later joined by Drax, a muscle-man with a grudge against Thanos, something that would normally mark him out as a cliché but, in the context of all these mercenaries, makes him a least a bit refreshing.
Star Lord's thievery puts him in possession of an all-powerful gem stone, on which Mcguffin the feeble plot hangs. But the real cultural artifact here is Star Lord's Mix Tape, which has inappropriate 70s music introduced at odd moments always to an anti-climactic effect. I guess this will sell a lot of soundtrack albums as well as evoking a mood of cozy nostalgia among the baby-boomer parents watching this. It does speak volumes for the lack of ambition among modern films that such easy nostalgia is sought instead of anything more interesting. But the film itself is a sort of 'Mix Tape' - an assortment of favourite tropes stuck together without any great logic.
Star Lord's Mix Tape performs its magic on Gamora. Despite not being from Earth, she mysteriously responds to 1970s pop music. Of course Star Lord's dancing, witty banter and references to Kevin Bacon help. Naturally, they immediately fall in love and Star Lord is prepared to sacrifice himself to save her.
During the course of this film, when not engaging in annoying one-liners or embarrassing and inappropriate dance routines, the GOTG are meting out brutal violence, which often includes cold blooded murder. In a scene near the end Groot kills a group of "Space Nazis" by repeatedly smashing them against the walls. This scene lasts a good few seconds. He then turns and grins to his pals. And this is a superhero film pitched at kids.
Rocket Raccoon crashes his ship into Ronan. This could have been a moment of heroic sacrifice, but not only does he survive completely unscathed (how?) but everybody in the same room as Ronan does too! Then apparently Groot sacrifices himself; we have the tears and the sad music but then we see him growing back in the end credits? The scene with Groot's sapling dancing to 70s music in the credits is truly embarrassing. But not quite as embarrassing as Star Lord's dance in front of Ronan. This is meant to the climax of the film and Star Lord is meant to be a super hero for goodness sake! Nor is there any sense that this band of mercenaries have grown and become better people by the end of the film. These "Guardians Of The Galaxy" do not vow to give up theft or violence. They do not vow to follow the good, but quite revealingly, Star Lord leads them to "somewhere in between" which I guess means more adolescent adventures in GOTG II.
The Wild Geese (1978)
Improves with age
I remember trying to watch the Wild Geese in the past and finding it not particularly interesting or rewarding to watch. However, when I saw it recently on TV, I found it thoroughly gripping and surprisingly realistic. What has changed? Certainly by comparison with modern action movies, with their emphasis on big budget CGI special effects and bare-chested muscle bound bellicosity, a film like this which attempts characterisation and some political exploration is a breath of fresh air. Or perhaps, now I am older myself, I can feel greater sympathy to the aging cast of dinosaurs.
The film starts badly with the awful and jarring theme song along with images of Africa which seem lifted from a Save The Children advert. Not the best way to start an adventure and action film, but then The Wild Geese does present itself as having a social conscience.
The interaction between the characters is convincing throughout. Some of the lines seem tailor made for the actors, such as Burton riffing on his fondness for alcohol for instance. It does the film credit that it manages mostly to avoid stereotypes. Yes, the gay character is played a little too campy for my tastes, but he is shown as being capable and heroic, as indeed is the 'token' black guy. Maybe the somewhat racist South African is too easily swayed by the noble African leader by this is a film after all, and it does manage to put a reasonable amount of subtle conversation between the two.
The action is at times brutal and quite realistic.
Guys and Dolls (1955)
Guys and Dolls is one of the most famous of the 1950s, but IMHO it has dated more badly than most of its contemporaneous pieces, at least as far as the film version goes. The reason, I think, is down to 3 things: characters, plot and music (in other words, basically everything).
The best moments in the film are the musical numbers, although these are hardly the equal of say West Side Story. There are a lot of dated songs, either what might be described as patter or list songs or else sickly sentimental romantic ballads. The songs given to the "Dolls" are forgettable and quite tedious despite being quite short. There are a few interesting ensemble piece for the "Guys" such as Fugue for Tinhorns, The Oldest Established and mostly memorably the title Guys and Dolls. Of the solo songs, the only two of note are "Luck Be a Lady", unfortunately "sung" by Brando (Couldn't a way be found to have contrived Sinatra to sing it?) and "Sit down you're rocking the boat".
Although these songs are good they are short, lasting usually less than 2 minutes. In total I would say that the musical numbers add up to less than 40 minutes (probably less) of the film's 150 minutes, and as stated, many of these are substandard. But that leaves well over an hour of film, made up of a silly plot and badly drawn caricatures, and it is for this reason that Guys and Dolls is a failure.
The characters are broadly drawn even by the standards of the time. In keeping with the convention of making gangsters non-threatening, they all talk in a comically over precise and genteel way always saying "I do not" rather than "I don't". Now this would be fine if it was limited to short bursts or to one or two characters, but most of the male characters talk this way for most of this (lengthy) film. It gets old very quickly and actually becomes annoying.
As far as the females goes, there are only two of note. One talks in a "comical" broad New York accent and the other, more serious one, is depicted as a sexually repressed spinster eager to become wild. This is greeting card level psychology. As to why Sinatra and Brando, two serial womanisers, would suddenly both be overcome by urges to marry these women is never seriously explained. It simply happens because that's what happens in a romantic comedy.
This is not the only aspect of the plot that is weak. One gangster, Big Juli, is depicted as being feared yet Brando knocks him out with a single punch at one point without there being any ramifications. And why is the crap game being held in a sewer? Is it believable that extremely rich men would travel great distances to play a high stakes game to walk 10 minutes in a stinking sewer? Maybe it was a crap game in more senses than one.
The Police Chief walks in and out of scenes with all the realism of a character in a bad sit-com. He just walks in, speaks a few lines, then walks out again. I could give many more examples of the weak and contrived plotting, and of course the counter would always be "well its just a piece of light hearted entertainment, not to be taken seriously." But even the light hearted must be competently constructed in order to be enjoyable. Things simply can't happen one way at one point because the plot demands it, and another way at another point because the plot demands it.
Despite several numbers being cut, the film seems all of its 150 minute length. There are many longueurs, the most interminable being the scenes with Brando and Simmons in Havana, with the implausible seduction of Simmons by Brando which is really the seduction of Brando by Simmons. Despite her handing herself to him on a plate and him previously telling us his easy conquests of women, he declines and acts like a gentleman. One might argue that her purity appeals to his jaded sensibility; however, inexplicably, he starts to fall for her AFTER he has seen her act like a totally selfish and violent drunken tart.
Verdict: watch the best bits on youtube and give the film a miss.
Young Justice (2010)
This is "mature"?
The title sequence- which has the members of Teen Titans, oops I mean Young Justice, turn and moodily stare out the camera- reveals the intent of this show. That intent, as with so many shows nowadays, is one of self-conscious coolness- coolness, emotional detachment and darkness.
The art is generally outstandingly good, setting a new benchmark for a superhero cartoon. But, despite widespread critical praise for its "maturity and intelligence" I doubt whether this series will be as well regarded as the Timmsverse series of the 90s.
All the characters have attitude. Robin is an annoying computer nerd, although strangely he is still Dick Grayson not one of the more recent Robins. Kid Flash is an annoying loud mouth. He wears cool sunglasses, an affectation in a 13 year old. Speedy/Red Arrow is an intense loner. Aqualad is intense too, and somewhat of a loner too although nominally the team's leader. He does at least have some nobility although how much of that is black guy = noble savage, I'm not sure.
Superboy is super intense and a super loner. He wears a black t-suit and likes to brood. Artemis is the group's other archer, which would seem to be at least one archer too many. She's an annoying ingrate. Only Miss Martian, a sort of comic powered klutz, comes across as in any way likable.
Since all the characters are so unsympathetically drawn, it is hard to relate to them. The dialogue only makes things worse since it is very superficial. Sample Artemis: "I'm distraught!" Robin: "You better get traught, quickly." And many variations.
The story is one continuous plot, elaborately worked out. At the end of each episode, the league of Shadows are defeated by always claim to have achieved their primary objective. Unless this is bluster, this would appear to be the craziest plan of all time, to get your operatives defeated by a bunch of school kids. This seems to be building to something grand, but the series finale is a major disappointment, not just anti climatic in itself (with a nod to Starro, the first ever JLA villain) but leaving several threads hanging. These are not satisfactorily resolved at the start of the second series, which inexplicably takes place 5 years later thus robbing the story of any forward momentum.
However, many individual episodes have very interesting premises. One has them having lost their memories and another, probably the best episode, has them battling against androids in their own headquarters. Both these work because we see them overcoming incredible odds by their own wits and skill.
Elsewhere, they are saved several times by a member becoming Dr Fate, something of a Deus Ex Machina and also by the Justice League. This tends to undermine their ability but not as much as when they are helped by beings such an intelligent ball, an intelligent tiger and even Miss Martian's intelligent space ship. Again, I am at a loss to know what is mature about this? Overall, good artwork does not cover the lack of likability of the characters. And someone should tell the critics, brooding loners does not make a programme mature.
The Black Widow's Pert Assemble
For some unknown reason, Marvel have never been able to match the success of DC when it comes to animation. The Avengers is arguably their best work but falls well short of, say, the Justice League, a comparable series in many ways. Maybe it is because the DC series is more loosely related to the comics than Marvel; Marvel does seem to have a slavish devotion to reworking various classic comic book stories into their animated series, almost invariably weakening the original. And here the homage stretches to the naming of the episodes after well known stories, although the episodes have very little in common with the comic books of the same name.
Each series consists of two overarching story arcs, both related to each other although divided into many differing stories. The main invasion strand of season 2 is strongly foreshadowed in season 1 and the Asgardian War is season 1 is continued in season 2. These story arcs are very impressively handled, in fact, I can think of no more successful handling of complex narrative over such a span even in supposedly more mature programmes.
Not everything is so successful however. The dialogue is generally banal with everyone constantly being told to "stand down" all the time. Characterization is variable. Whilst I enjoyed the pacifistic interpretation of Henry Pym, the Hulk seemed rather too knowing. I prefer him as an innocent savage. Other characters are (intentionally?) annoying. Iron Man/Hawkeye/ Human Torch/Wasp among others have an interchangeable line in glib one-liners that quickly wears thin and it is a relief when the occasional serious person, such as The Black Panther, speaks.
In fact, a certain facetiousness of tone undermines any sense of real danger. The general plan is: bad guy shows up, heroes make some glib comment, someone is told to "stand down", then there's a fight. Or some variation.
For some reason WWII has been altered to remove any mention of the Nazis or Germany, instead having the allies fighting against Hydra. What is the reason for this? German sales?
The animation itself ranges from great to bad. Some imaginative animation early on but this tends to decline as the series progresses. Thor's hammer Mjolnir is depicted as comically oversized, one of several things which, I guess, is meant to appeal to children although it must be said that the Black Widow's derriere is lovingly animated throughout for some reason.
During the second season, each episode has a short prelude consisting of what appear to be rather randomly selected clips from the first season. I found them more confusing (I watched the second season first) than enlightening since they rarely have any relevance to what follows.
It is a much debated point whether this or the Spectacular Spiderman from the 2000s is the better version, I would personally say that Spectacular is by a short head but both versions fail to live up to expectations.
Each season is conceived as a single story line divided in chapters. While this adds to the sense of continuity in places, it can also become strained as the writers try to force their ideas into these strait jackets. Generally the writing becomes more convoluted and less convincing as the series progresses.
The art is good but hardly the equal of the wonderfully stylish DC animations of the same period. The stories are largely 'adapted' from various comic books. I should really say 'cobbled together' rather than 'adapted' since these cartoons do not do justice to their source material. Different story arcs which take place in the comic books many years apart are here unconvincingly stuck together with details and characters changed. These changes are never an improvement and often seem to be merely watered down versions of the original.
The most striking example is when the Green Goblin learns Spider Man's secret identity and throws Mary Jane off a New York bridge. This is 'adapted' from a celebrated couple of story lines from Spider man 39 and 121, many years apart. In the original, Spider Man's then girlfriend Gwen Stacey is actually killed in perhaps the most famous of all Spider man stories. Here MJ is merely transferred to some sort of parallel dimension, one which is poorly explained (how can the Green Goblin survive there for months without food and drink for example?) To make matters worse, while MJ is missing for months, not only does Spider man NOT make any real effort to find her, he has a fling with another woman, namely the Black Cat. And then MJ comes back in a poorly conceived story line.
The writing throughout is mediocre but this particular story arc is very shoddy. The Black Cat goes off to Europe to find a cure for her (other) lover then, with no explanation given, turns up at the wedding of Parker and MJ. The Punisher, in another poorly motivated strand, gets involved in the search for MJ. He just happens to be at the graveyard when MJ's mother is there, and she invites him, a man wearing a skull on his shirt and a bandanna, back to her home for a cup of tea? Numerous other examples of the silly writing could be cited, all designed to cobble together these different source materials.
As in the comics, Gwen Stacey is cloned after her death, here MJ after her (death? disappearance? who knows?) is cloned too in a much less convincing way. Then we have the mad dash for the end with a routine adaptation of Secret Wars and a nod to the then-contemporary "clone saga". In the end, a lot of plot threads are just left dangling. What happened to MJ? Or indeed the Green Goblin? Why should Uncle Ben be alive in a universe where spiderman exists? What about the Morbius and Blade story?
X: First Class (2011)
David Cameron assembles the C-(list) Men
X-Men: First Class is a typically slick product of modern Hollywood; well made in its own way, but rather flat. It is one of those films that the more you think about it, the worse it becomes. Things happen because they look 'cool' in the moment rather than make sense.
Nice to see what David Cameron was up to in his Bullindon Club days before he became UK Prime Minister. James McAvoy does an astonishingly good impersonation of him, only more slippery and creepy, if that's possible. But it seems to undermine the great Professor X that he should be using his telepathy to seduce girls, something of a low trick and one that cannot be merely dismissed as youthful high jinks. Perhaps he should call himself Professor Sex instead.
I can certainly see why fans of the comic are appalled by the lack of fidelity to the original but I can also see why the film makers would want to go their own way. It is amazing, however, that they would choose such a crew of c-listers (with a few z-listers), some of whom are very little known even among comic fans. And like many badly written films, it leaves more questions than answers.
Why was Havok chosen in preference to his brother Cyclops? Who are Angel and Darwin?
Considering this is a PG-13, isn't the level of violence very disturbing, especially the slo-mo murder of Sebastian Shaw at the end, but also the indiscriminate killing of humans in the compound? Why would Shaw take the time and trouble to break into the compound, mass murdering people, say to the mutants "you're either for us or against us" then leave with only one mutant (the feeblest one at that) leaving these potential enemies alive? He even makes it even worse by killing one of them for little reason thus angering the rest?
Why for that matter is the one black character in the film seem there merely to be killed off as quickly as possible? He seems to go unmourned by the x-men as do the humans in the compound. Why is the potential massacre of sailors at the end seen as worse than this actual massacre in the compound which the X-men do nothing about?
Why does Mystique walk away from her oldest friend (Professor X) when he's just been crippled? It probably says a lot for the banality of the script that just about the last line in the film is David Cameron saying "I can't feel my legs".
Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)
A badly updated Bonnie and Clyde
Imagine all the clichés of early 70s road movies rolled into one. A sub-par Bonnie and Clyde gang; a maverick sheriff who clashes with his by-the-book superior; a series of incompetent Dukes-of-Hazzard-style police chases. You've got yourself the plot of DMCL.
Add to that the early 70s obsession with being gritty. The actual robbery sequence (stealing money from Roddy McDowall's safe while holding his family at gunpoint) is far nastier than it could have been and makes us lose all sympathy for the robbers. Strangely the film then carries on as if this hasn't happened and mostly (up until the "shock" ending) treats the characters in a light-hearted way. We're supposed to be on their side, despite one of them (with the complete approval of the other) having broken into someone's home, pulled a woman violently from the shower and held her and her daughter in a state of fear at gunpoint, then tied them up and left them, while McDowall is frantic about what has happened to them. There is even a threat that the child would be hurt if necessary. And he is shown as being the "good guy" of the gang!
Susan George is oddly miscast as Mary. She unfortunately speaks an unpleasant accent (when she has such a good speaking voice normally). I have no idea why she is dirty, however.
Peter Fonda is Larry, and to be fair, it is easy to see why he is 'crazy'. Mary is initially attracted to Larry but curiously seems to favour the third gang member (ie the house breaker) later after he gallantly defends her.
The dialogue is either very banal or expositional and the action is the semi-comic no-one-really-gets-hurt car carnage common of the era.
The "shock" ending is heavily telegraphed long before it happens and only seems to be there, like the robbery, be make the film look weightier than it actually is.