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Portrait of a Village (2018)
This is a loving DVD documentary by local man Mark Rivers showing some of the people and places in Spondon, on the eastern side of the city of Derby, UK. It was a village on the outskirts of the old town of Derby until 1968 when it was gobbled up to increase the town revenues. Partly because old habits die hard and partly because of its geographical setting many people still refer to the centre as Spondon Village, although even calling it "semi-rural" is pushing it nowadays. Generations of vehicle drivers in the queuing traffic all the way through the village to get out on the single road at rush hour have never thought how idyllic it all looked. And yet it does - I've lived here for over 50 years and know many others who have been here donkey's years too. If I won the lottery jackpot, I probably wouldn't move anywhere else.
Lots of the businesses and business people and their customers are on display, along with community-minded Spondonians, movers and shakers, mild eccentrics, even a few yobs, some people we know many we don't. I almost feel guilty there's a few shops I've never even been in - but otoh a wedding dress is not really my bag, and if I have a say it will be a while longer before the Co-op undertakers get their clutches on me. The jumble sale stall holder reminded me I need some shoelaces though. Not very much nostalgic community history, but plenty of how fragile modern community is. It must be pretty humdrum stuff to outsiders but the video was well made and fascinating to me an' the missus, and must be to other insiders too. I never realized how posh Maurice used to be!
It's easy to mention a few of the many places included such as the Village Hall, White Swan, Julie's Shop, but also the many places left out such as the schools, the Sensory Garden, the Post Office before it was blown to smithereens by robbers in October 2018, other pubs and clubs to visit, a few of the many jitties such as Guzzler's Nook. And anybody who's anyone in Spondon is in the chip shop on a Friday evening!
Well made and well done on probably next to no budget, and judging by the director's other short films on youtube hopefully there'll be a volume 2.
Black Panther (2018)
It seems a long time since the Civil War, this Marvel Cinematic Instalment goes on to show what was happening in Wakanda before the Infinity War starts.
Whether it was overhyped or overcooked I know not: I never follow the hypesters or their drivel. Hype is always Overhype as far I'm concerned.
The acting was OK, the script as nonsensical I could desire and satisfied the kid in me; maybe I should've left the subtitles on but that happens all the time nowadays! The cgi cartoonery was perfect, almost believable in its enormous scope. At one point the baddie says Death is preferable to Bondage, but the historical statistics wouldn't support such a view - and besides, every living creature on the planet is born into bondage to life unto death. The only difference with humans the world over is that we can also be slaves to capitalism. I won't dwell on the admiring loyalty shown by the common people in here to noble blood royalty!
Overall entertaining, even if it couldn't help being chockful of someone else's social, racial and political opinions.
What do you get if you cross The Fountain with Independence Day? I hooted with laughter at both of those films at the time, but after seeing Arrival they suddenly appear stately and meaningful. And at least I didn't haven't to squint in the dimness of it all. The over-use of TV news and gasp TV news seen on laptops to tell the story in here grated with me, it always looks like a lazy script when they fall back on that old fashioned and hackneyed trick. Now add incredibly old fashioned and hackneyed art-house "music" comprising random burps farts and groans to this mix.
The plot appears as dim and grey as the film: 12 gargantuan alien stone peanuts float down on Earth causing consternation among all the ants in God's garden, turn into gargantuan mushroom caps and after the phoning to a Chinese general of his wife's dying words start gargantuanly fizzing away in mid-air - apparently job done. Er.
I'll try again. Expert linguist Amy Adams put in a good performance as usual, but what to make of her deathly serious demeanour for the entire film is the big question. She didn't even smile at Jeremy Renner playing a brainy physicist press-ganged into playing a spare tool. We're told that successful communication with the aliens could take years to accomplish and we can also guess there's years of boredom ahead, when Adams segues into a higher state of consciousness and finds out in seconds they want to help us now as they want something from humanity way in the future. Er.
As bonkers as The Fountain and as gungho as ID. The use of flashback memories brimming over with loss and longing to a heart tugging string quartet is the big similarity to the Fountain though, and it works fine again. If you're looking for lightheartedness you won't find it here, or a meaningful examination of the political motives of alien and Man either. Just another arty excuse to explore the overwhelming emotions we all have and can froth to, as we've all lost someone or something in our lives. Including these 116 linear minutes I knew I'd never get back before the film had even started.
Get a life
As a sharp and slick work of fantasy fiction this film entertained me. It reminded me of 2001, Silent Running, Mission To Mars and even The Shining, but with its own gravitational spin. It covered 90 years in less than 2 hours and successfully kept me from looking at the clock.
One of the 5000 hibernating passengers (has suspended animation been put into cold storage?) on an interstellar starship is inadvertently woken up on the journey with 90 years left to go to arrival – if you couldn't re-hibernate what would you do? Would you calmly walk about a gargantuan ship populated with a handful of robots drinking and playing with your yo-yo for the rest of your life or try to get someone to talk to? Love the place you're in or Love the one you're with. With this moral dilemma eating his vitals Chris Pratt is suitably chiselled and wooden as usual, however Jennifer Lawrence steals the show with her intensely believable performance as usual. On believability - whether someone could survive being so close to a nuclear reactor as was Pratt, protected only by an oven door is a moot point and a bit of a comedy moment too, but I thought the well thought of Gravity was similarly daft and not so weighty as this either. For the bar room scenes with Arthur The Android a bit of Al Bowlly crooning in the echoey background wouldn't have been amiss, but thankfully science fiction films and mankind have gone far beyond Joan Baez warbling end credits even if the message is similar.
Whether the film is guilty of Sexism or not it's certainly guilty of Corn, and nothing wrong with that at all. Excellent hokum, superb cgi cartoonery, and a central performance well worth watching.
A Cup of Kindness (1934)
Blood Will Out
A Cup Of Kindness was the last Ben Travers Aldwych Theatre play filmed with the original team of Tom Walls, Ralph Lynn & Robertson Hare, the play was good enough to run for 291 performances from 1929. Although a pleasant time passer the trouble is his other efforts all had better lines and more farcical situations; maybe simply the setting of everyone's travails in a "middle class" instead of upper class environment made a huge difference.
Suburban neighbours the Tutt's and the Rambottom's are absurdly snobbish and/or reverse-snobbish and/or plain argumentative, but their respective offspring are in love with each other. Lynn gets involved in some dodgy enterprise which for a time makes it look like curtains for his romance with Dorothy Hyson but of course in accordance with most of the best films ever made a happy ending is guaranteed. That is my only problem with it – the cup of kindness overflowed so suddenly and swiftly with Auld Lang Syne sung by the cast to the camera I wondered if the climax of the original play had been as rushed too. The film lasted a mere 75 minutes, I could have happily sat through another 75; most people probably wouldn't last 75 seconds though. To me there were enough double-entendres, witticisms and nonsenses to make it all worthwhile, none of which could be successfully conveyed in print. Graham Moffat appeared briefly as a choirboy, the IMDb list this as his earliest film; Claude Hulbert played his usual part – therefore with Lynn making a brace of silly asses in here. Favourite bits: the group assembled for the wedding photo and the chaotic break up; Sly Veronica Rose telling departing bride Hyson (and us) she'd packed nothing in her suitcase because that's what she's need. Nice old farce, I assume the BBC's 1970 version was binned and lost decades ago so thanks go to Walls and Travers for committing it to film and preserving it.
Superman vs Godzilla
I promised myself after watching Man Of Steel (all being well) to steel myself and see just one more Dark Crap film and this was it, the 3 hour Dawn Of Justice Ultimate Edition. Is there a Coherent Edition out there too? I wasn't disappointed – as I expected I didn't enjoy it; I'll probably stick with light-hearted Marvel from now on for this kind of entertainment, because ultimately Time's running out.
Batman has a lifelong violent grudge against Superman for being responsible for his parents' deaths and machinates to kill him for the first 150 minutes. Then, upon the utterance of a single word by Superman to the grunted astonishment of Batman all sins are forgiven for the final half hour and they become allies in attempting to defeat Evil. Unbelievable, they're living in a fantasy world if they expect us to swallow that! Then, the film nosedived from being mildly incoherent and boring into intensely incoherent and laughable. I thought the tinny music for the relentless multi-coloured patterns on the screen which were supposed to represent a cgi conflagration suited the Godzilla/Hobbit monster perfectly though – no doubt Warners owed any Asian backers something. There seemed to be more newspapers and TV news telling the "story" than usual – but do kids nowadays remember those antiquated types of news outlets? The film started and ended with gloomy grimy graveyards with much grunting and griping; there has to be an overarching moral there somewhere. And don't expect any light-bulb moments in here! Carnage is wreaked and Death would be stalking the Land for weeks afterwards but none of the twerps protecting the planet cared a fig about that. Affleck was fascinating with his ridiculous grunting, Cavill was a thoughtless sulky yob, Gadot should have been with someone else, I felt sorry for Amy Adams in yet another hopeless film.
I grew up with the nonsensical 1960's Batman, but unfortunately these particular superheroes have been allowed to grow up superselfish and superfluous.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
A fictional fantasy easy to swallow
I always check a page of previous comments, mainly to verify I'm on the right webpage but also to verify I watched the same movie and possibly to purr at shared opinions. This time I was very surprised at the vehemence of the angry dislike and scorn of most commenters to the latest Marvel offering, because as a non-purist it was basically what I expected: fantastic in the expected sense, not great as expected but I quite enjoyed it, as I'd hoped.
There's a rift in the lute betwixt Iron Man and Captain America and a spat develops when the Avengers are told by a mere 117 governments they must be officially registered to be allowed to continue saving the Earth. Iron Man and his motley crew side with the UN, the latter with his team side with Good. For a commercial work of fantasy it works. If all the Avengers had appeared in a scene singing and dancing in top hats and suspenders I would have accepted it in the same way we have to accept scenes like Bucky stopping and mounting a motorbike going by at speed one-handed and riding it away, or America mega-leaping from a building to the edge of another and continue running with no damage. Thumping whilst flying is routine and as for stopping a helicopter in mid-flight with your bare hands, well that kind of thing happens every day! I do have a minor problem with the chances of a traffic camera being nicely on hand in 1991 to record Stark's parents' brutal murders, the videotape surviving, and being suddenly available to the understandably outraged Tony 25 years later - in front of the murderer. But not much. You can appreciate that an appearance by Hulk would've made for a rather one-sided battle, but I admit I'm puzzled why Thor was excluded. The plot and acting is suitably unbelievable, the many action scenes are so superbly cartoon as to make Jason Bourne look a doddering old fool. My only worry is that it can't be long before the MCU, like the books, disappears up its own fiendishly incoherent plot vortex. Expect no ending, for there no ending in this world.
This franchise is financed by hard headed business people expecting only a profit but made by creative people who appreciate what they're doing as well. And in the main it'll be watched by people already looking forward to the next satisfactory Marvel time-filler probably including the real D. Trump too I expect.
Jason Bourne (2016)
Have the Bourne films overly influenced D. Trump? He and V. Putin must have the boxset. After this instalment I again wonder who the good guys in the world are supposed to be and feel that everyone is out to destroy someone or thing, including the drivers behind this project to flog an apparently dead horse.
A thin tale of bullies and cyber bullies with lashings of chases and fights, conflating all kinds of fact and fiction. Chunky Bourne again played by Damon is drawn out of the shadows by director Greengrass, sorry, a sudden reawakened longing to establish the reason for his existence now and previous, and a recollection of his fathers' death finally established by a jpg. If corny music had been added and the violence reduced the film's premise would've been on a par with a soapy storyline from Neighbours or Dallas. Treadstone has surely been well trodden by now? The nice people at the CIA in the US show how damn clever they are by deleting those files he was looking at in Berlin by linking up to a non-smartphone. The millions of destructive dumb nutters in the world can breathe easy with US security busy chasing its tail as portrayed here. The UK DVD warns of "moderate violence" but neglects to warn of "excessive brutality". While the product placement won't influence me to go out and get another Dell laptop, oh no! The acting was generally believable, especially so with Vikander but craggy Jones' character was the King of Bland. The obligatory chase sequences are eye popping as usual, and those in Las Vegas now make those in Diamonds Are Forever look more akin to a stroll in the park. Although the final fight made me unintentionally laugh as the style has so quickly become so mimicked and clichéd.
I enjoyed it overall as pure escapism sprinkled with forgivable plot holes – as I expected it was nowhere near as good as instalment #1 and still as engrossing (and grossing) as ever; but not as I expected, borderline corny. After all the destruction, to be constructive: It kept a lot of people in thought and in work for a while making it and a lot more people in pleasure watching it. As repeatedly adjured during the film, Copy that!
Will You Remember : Unforgettable
This is one of my all time favourite sentimental melodramas – seen again tonight after a 20 year gap it's holding up well. It helps that it's always been soft-focus other-worldly to me like most of the Macdonald-Eddy films - probably was in 1937 to most people.
Mysterious old lady Jeannette Macdonald tells old story to young woman setting out in life, with or without her beau. In flashback we learn her tragic history, she had been moulded into a successful opera singer by John Svengali Barrymore in love with her but she fell in love with dashing opera singer Nelson Eddy instead. Some fine singing and lavish production values along the way - especially singing for Louis Napolean and the Maytime scenes - to the logical climax and wishful-thinking ending. A lot of people today may consider savage the depiction of monkeys on chains, smoking, and the immutable law that a woman's existence is mainly for her submission to the whims of her man. Me, I duly note how times have changed and get on with enjoying the film for what it is: One of MGM's most wondrous and enduring musicals. Watch it and weep - and not just for what movies have lost over the decades.
It also helps having a wondrous tune with thoughtful words in, even excellent if hummed whilst having a bath. Will You Remember (Sweetheart) especially as reprised was perfectly built up to – if after over two hours you aren't moved by the torrent of beautiful corn you're made of stronger stuff than me!
For the kids
Back in 1977 I enjoyed the original Star Wars, all six passable follow-ups since have only left me wondering why I bothered with them. This time, for the last time.
The preliminary rolling script tells you in advance all you need to know: it's straight-faced and interminable - by the second paragraph I was glazing over. It's an updated cgi copy of the original, only right down to the corny plot and hackneyed characterisations as well. Although the threadbare Nazi comparison looms larger in this. If you've seen the original and aren't a kid or are childish you've no need to see this – the franchise will survive and thrive without us, and vv. Film companies have long written over 50's out of their plans – although Hans Solo was humorously shown up with Routine Early Onset in here. And just for the record for the kids: don't bother watching the originals either in case you choke with laughter on your cocaine - What you have with this film is something that will live on in your memories and imaginations.
It's a well-made time-passer, but I got so little out of this film that it's made up my mind to watch any more instalments only by pure chance, during post-Christmas dinner subsidence. Let's see, that'll be The Empire Awakens And Strikes Back followed by The Returned Jedi Awakens won't it?
The Busy Doing Nothing Film
This was a pleasant Bing Crosby vehicle, sitting in a comfort range somewhere between Abbott & Costello Meet Captain Kidd and The Court Jester. It was a favourite family film in ye olden days of mine; to which there's no going back.
A young American blacksmith in 1912 relates his story – that he was whisked mysteriously back in time to King Arthur's Court in Camelot, England in 528, where he instantly proved a hit with the denizens and fell in love with one of them, the Good Lady Rhonda Fleming. Great Hollywood liberties were taken with Mark Twain's text of course, intentional and unintentional anachronisms abound. Especially with the flat van Heusen & Burke score – pleasant enough ballads but the only one turned timeless was Busy Doing Nothing. To me, 50% of the reason to watch the whole film now is just for that song, a wonderful 3 minutes I only wish was longer. The irony was never lost on me that Crosby, Cedric Hardwicke and William Bendix were joyously celebrating their freedom on the road whilst simultaneously looking out to verify the kingdom's human suffering and despair! Later on, another irony was that apparently the first American manufactured product on British soil was a gun Plenty of familiar faces in here to watch out for: Alan Napier as the executioner heads the list, Merlin, sorry, Murvyn Vye as a rather slapstick wizard, Richard Webb playing Sir Nelson Eddy, Joseph Vitale having stopped giggling from his previous film's laughing gas, Henry Wilcoxon never looking more like a brick toilet block, etc. Director Tay Garnett seldom put a foot of film wrong in the '30s and '40s.
I have a few problems with it – the technicolor has washed away on a few prints which can be annoying at times, the sound was never great, the acting variable and the plot veered from inspired to winceable corn, and the ending was too Zen to laugh at – but still, a pleasant entertaining film for all that. Hopefully I'll be able to revisit it again sometime soon.
I would rather watch silly escapist entertainment films like this any day over films which disappear up their own arthole in the pursuit of grim meaning. Because of that I'm sure this was the best "British" film of the year even though I haven't seen any other; I'm also sure nearly everything produced nowadays has to be sadistic and/or perverted to have any money spent on it at all. The colour in this is so subdued most of the time for the sake of modern realism it may have looked more realistic to have pressed the monochrome button. Whether it would look more believable is another matter though!
James Bond is on the chase after baddies variously in places like Mexico, Rome, Tunisia, Austria, and London of course with all of its splendid under-publicised tourist attractions. He gets some, and a few women along the way as usual with many slick nail-biting obligatory chases and fights. What more needs to be reported and what more could anyone want of Bond? Daniel Craig as 007 and Sam Mendes as director have helped make a huge improvement in the Legend that Sean Connery left us; those poor quality extended Saint episodes in previous decades that were passed off as Bond are getting more risible with every new episode. Favourite bits: the delicate artiness with Monica Belucci; the sinister meeting of the baddies in the ridiculous banqueting hall; the romance with Lea Seydoux and then the violence on the empty train – I can't believe they'll throw big Dave Bautista away just like that.
If there was product placement it was very subtle - but I personally wouldn't know a Rolex from a Reebok. The whole plot and almost every character in it is nonsensical and Batmanesque with its cliffhangers, resolutions, cars and gadgets but the actual climax bordered on ludicrous and was rushed (among other things there was no fanfare for Q), however there was a lot to savour in the overall mammoth running time. And I admit it - I preferred it to Skyfall.
The Martian (2015)
As soon as I saw Jeff Daniels I realised this picture was going to be Dumb And Dumber than I was initially hoping; most of us live in hope. But at least he makes sense paired with Sean Bean. Serious scientist Matt Damon in a life and death situation relishing using naughty adult words doesn't help. I hadn't seen Robinson Crusoe On Mars for decades either and to see him brought up to digital date was the next best thing – although continually and sometimes hopelessly incongruous 70's disco music kept taking me back to the ye olden primitive days when NASA actually had some of their employees cavorting about on the Moon.
Damon is left for dead on Mars after a big storm and disaster and has to survive and fend for himself until death or rescue. It's all extremely well done, with the usual seemingly minute attention to detail looked after, and is sufficiently gripping and entertaining. All of us millions of news-hungry space fans cheer Bravo! from Times Square, Red Square and Trafalgar Square for CNN to cover this opinion as Breaking News. And great that the making of the film gave 15,000 people jobs and purpose (the end credits seemed to be much more populous), and I only wish there could be many sequels to keep them all employed. But now to delete it.
Unlike Damon I'm not going to have to science the poo out of this but – I would rather recommend the equally corny, escapist and similar film but with more honest human characterisation and emotion Mission To Mars instead. And Jeff Daniels wasn't in it either.
Crimson Peak (2015)
With an atmospheric Gothic horror storyline and looking very stylish from the clips I'd seen, as a genre aficionado I considered it almost obligatory to see this effort. And I'm glad I've seen it – it was OK and brought back pleasant thoughts of Gaslight, Notorious and Ghost Breakers during the watching – but I also realise that del Toro has a violent cheek fetish. He portrayed one sliced open in Pan's Labyrinth, wrecked one and stabbed another to the bone in here. Whatever gets him through the night!
Mysterious English Baronet and his sister inveigle themselves into American society in Buffalo and whisk away a rich young woman in search of romance and life; who finds only horror and death at her new husband's cold country home in Cumberland. There are expert jumps and gasps galore while their secret is being unravelled – but as usual with this director, he leaves many plot lines unfulfilled. What about the supposed body rising out of the vat of masala – nice thought, but they may have wanted something to show in the unused extras section of the DVD. The cgi cartoonery is generally superb, only the once reminding me of a Bugs Bunny cartoon when one ghost theatrically pulled himself out of a floor just begging for a hooting audience to tell him to Pull Himself Together.
I enjoyed it – Tom Hiddleston always puts in a er top notch performance and this is worth watching at least once solely for him. Best seen in the cinema or with the lights off as even lively party scenes are set in the gloom for economy, sorry, atmosphere. However, as a modern Gothic horror movie it's almost faultless. It's only because of its occasionally childish undisciplined bestiality that means it won't live in my or even probably the collective memory fondly. Unless over time the running time too gets cut.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Not weird at all: It easily holds its own
Against the excellent previous Avengers film I mean. Seen this four times now over the last few months so it seems to be a film I enjoy for one reason or another. It definitely helps that when I was a kid I briefly got into superhero comic book adventures, then left it for other things but think I still understand the genre
and even a few of the plots. Marvel will worry about alienating people who can't keep up, as they first started to in the '70's; but ultimately no one can keep up, including their scriptwriters. However, they're by far the best ones to do their stories.
More or less superhuman Goodies vs Baddies led by a violent peacekeeper Ultron in a breathless bone crunching nail biting 2 hours, mixing mayhem and wise-cracking comedy effortlessly. It's pointless describing anything in more detail even if I understood it: the plot's deliberately barmy but engrossing, with cgi cartoonery used as it was always meant to be used - with many variations we've seen it all before and with many more variations being presently dreamed up expect to again and again. As with the first film there are many iconic comic booky scenes for posterising. Ultron cynically sings I've Got No Strings from Pinocchio occasionally, but the original Thunderbirds were just as realistic to me. Worthy of note is the almost Shakespearean scene on the train between baddie Ultron and Scarlet Witch after her brother's surprising demise.
Highly enjoyable and recommended non-essential viewing by this non-expert non-purist, the running time whizzes by every time I see it. At this rate I may understand it all in about a year's time too. Do Marvel include Howard The Duck in their Cinematic Universe?
The Cocoanuts (1929)
The first fine careless rapture!
It's the earliest extant example of the Marx Brothers work on film, made at the dawn of sound and while primitive still has the power to amuse and entertain all these years later...if you want to let it. It was originally a successful stage play and was filmed in New York whilst the brothers were performing Animal Crackers in the evenings on Broadway in 1929; it shows as being very stagey in acting and sets - but I wouldn't want it any other way. As it is it has an unrivalled historical authenticity and charm.
It concerns a hard up Florida hotel and its owner during a land grab. Groucho was as he always was, the main reason why people went to see this back then, or want to now – his surreal zaniness transcends Time, whether or not he or George Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind wrote whichever side-splitting lines he spoke. His opening speech was meant to soothe his rebellious unpaid staff who eventually break up satisfied: wages means wageslaves and who wants to be a slave? The one-liners are thick and furious from him, very often with Margaret ("Ah you and the Moon - you wear a necktie so I'll know you") Dumont as the unwitting butt, and all impossible to humorously convey in print. Apart from Why A Duck, Chico's best gag was when he announced his first number, Harpo's was in continually pulling horror-struck faces at the dinner table. Zeppo Who? It was Kay Francis's first film, and very different from the elegant potboilers Paramount put her in during the next five years. On the other hand I thought the In and Out of the ladies' bedrooms routine palled after a bit – but over time they adapted and perfected it. The points that Groucho, Chico and Harpo especially were sex-mad off and on set, and Groucho held director Robert Florey in low esteem don't detract from the overwhelming charm and other-worldliness of all of the proceedings.
Ultimately they made a tremendous little film, a record of a time which was fast disappearing, with primitive technology - the cameras were unwieldy monsters which left the cameramen gasping for air after a few shoots – but with such a careless vivacity from all concerned to get the nonsense onto film. Irving Berlin's two songs When My Dreams Come True and Monkey Doodle Do weren't hits for him and also pall after many reprises during the film but are essential in the viewing and enjoyment of this historically important document.
The Mummy Returns (2001)
Preordained entertaining sequel
Not only does the Mummy return but his friends and enemies and all the romance and adventure they brought with them in the first film. Stephen Sommers, Brendan Fraser, Rachael Weisz, Arnold Vosloo and John Hannah were back to do the second part of the franchise, this time up against an even more powerful adversary. Parts of the plot are amusingly retrodden from the first part too; and again not much makes or is expected to make sense.
The former servant of Anubis the Scorpion King and his vast army have lain dormant for nearly five thousand years biding their time. Young Imhotep would like to control this power, meanwhile the Fraser's are chasing after them all to get back their precocious eight year old son who has been kidnapped by Imhotep, and to fight Evil with Good too of course. It's a swift film with no messing about but favourite bits out of many include the London Bus ride, the boy's journey on the train, the barmy dirigible flight, the race to get to the pyramid before dawn. With this movie it's only the ride that matters - all the way from 3067 BC to AD 1933, not the reason for it. The cgi cartoonery was laid on with a trowel but usually complemented the action even if a bit brutal at times. Fraser and Weisz certainly had a delightful rapport.
It only worked because it was the same team on and off the screen - take one part of the jigsaw away and you don't have a jigsaw, witness the later disastrous part three. However I still wish it originally could've been a three-film franchise instead of two, simply because we would've had even more of this pleasantly nonsensical hokum to enjoy all these years later!
Jupiter Ascending (2015)
Muddled and mediocre
I grew up on a steady diet of science fiction stories, which is my excuse for still watching science fiction movies good bad and indifferent of any era. Star Wars, The Matrix and Cloud Atlas were all reasonable science fiction films, not so this. It reminded me more of Dune, but it had elements within of Terminator, Phantom Menace, even a smattering of the Fifth Element and probably others too. And of course strip it right down to reveal Buster Crabbe's non-pretentious Flash Gordon. This was a film designed primarily to satisfy little girls' little princess wish fulfilment with Mila Kunis playing Dale, Channing Tatum as Pygar borrowed from Barbarella (cheating with rocket skates) and Eddie Redmayne as Ming.
Fed up lady toilet cleaner suddenly discovers that many swift monstrous things from the universe are out to kill her, others to marry her and kill her. Why? Because her recurrent DNA apparently makes her Her Majesty the Queen of Something but also the rightful owner of Earth which is shortly going to be harvested of its human population to ensure the longevity of the current owners. The interesting hypothesis presents itself: will the capitalist owners of the universe of the future value Time more than Money, and will they still be called capitalists? There are other interesting plot possibilities during the film, all sadly thrown away in the drive for debatable spectacle. The cgi cartoon gamer sequences take up the majority of the film but fail to impress – they're generally lame and taken at such a breakneck speed with conflagration in every pixel that it all ends up risibly incomprehensible. I couldn't laugh though in case I felt motion sick.
Kunis's character was named Jupiter Jones - which only made me wish Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews of the Three Investigators could've made an appearance to find out what was going on here. As usual the good point is that it kept a lot of people in a job but what a wasted opportunity to make something entertaining and worthy of its own longevity! At the end of the movie the owner of planet Earth is back to toilet cleaning, almost Whistling While She Worked and surely about to say There's No Place Like Home! I could've forgiven the waste of time if the end credits had rolled to Chicago My Kind Of Town. Colourful but utterly confusing and non-engaging.
Les amants de Montparnasse (1958)
Good film, tragic end
Every generation sees or thinks it sees things differently from previous generations; this film shows yet again that bohemian boorishness and temperamental talent is and was nothing new. If you're seen to be an Artist also being a fascinating penniless perpetual drunk yob can be acceptable, that troubled spirit is sometimes the price of Genius. Amedeo Modigliani was an Italian artist who died at 36 of TB in France, the almost impossibly handsome Gerard Philipe who played him here died the year after the film also at 36 of cancer, and director Max Ophuls died before production started – it makes this French-Italian co-production especially poignant.
The story follows the last period of Modigliani's life about 1919, after he met and fell madly in love with fellow artist Jeanne Hebuterne, their trials, tribulations and tragedy. It's all done very well, definitely not as the elegant Ophuls would have done it (witness those clumsy tracking dancing scenes) with good black and white photography and great acting: basically no problems with any of it. However the end of the film was very different to the reality and bearing in mind it was fairly frank anyway I can't understand why the truth was jettisoned at the climax. Did Modigliani's daughter object? What actually happened was incredibly sad, brutal and even incomprehensible but still would have made more sense than the end to the film did. It turned a study in romance into a lesson in sordidness.
But never mind, it was still an interesting journey into an Artist's troubled mind and life and the joy and pain he brought to those around him. I wouldn't hang one of Modigliani's hideous paintings up in my house unless I was paid a lot to; I prefer the film – because Beauty is either in the eye of the beholder or the owner.
The Birth of a Nation (1915)
"A plea for the art of the motion picture"
Third time I've seen this racist film in forty years; that's probably mysteriously enough to make me a racist to people in the antiracist industry. That's also probably enough times for me to see it too – never again! A century on and this film still has the power to divide opinion and even shock some sensitive souls and I even guarantee that less people in this lovely world have been shocked by Salo or A Serbian Film than by this. Those two examples of vile obscenity are probably blithely watched by the world's antiracists without any qualms, and they would likely defend to the death the rights of the violent perverts who made them, but not this one. The Prophet may be fervently insulted by present-day other-believers in the Name of Free Speech, but a silent film made by racists in a previous civilisation almost has the power to send millions of selective-egalitarians into paroxysms. Where are all the antiracists whenever there's a genocide going off, too busy complaining about images and words which don't suit them?
We all know what this is about: The American Civil War is fought at first for the Union then for Emancipation, the North wins, the South loses; Southern Negroes are turned from being absolute slaves fighting for freedom to being US wage-slaves fighting for jobs, which is a much cheaper option for colour-blind capitalism. The film itself is competent and cogent with excellent direction and photography for the time, and the first part is fairly straightforward. The contentious part is the Reconstruction, in which several Liberties were taken by the author and acquiesced to by the producers. All very unnecessary and nasty! The message appealed to a vast white market at the time, a market that still exists - although I very much doubt any of those many supremacist Chelsea fans on the French train barring entrance to a single black man recently had even heard of this film or the Ku Klux Klan! The actual reconstruction was a gruesomely complicated affair and not easy to glamourise by Hollywood, although its overall image of the South certainly was – I always found the apparently acceptable Gone With The Wind just as racist as this only glossier. But as for that so-called wonderful comedy Blazing Saddles, which black people tend to appreciate more than white - so much for Time healing all wounds!
I'm sure there were many vindictive Northerners and ex-slaves back then just as I'm sure there are many vindictive present-day antiracists; not only racists have agendas. Griffiths "may not have feared censorship" and lamely disclaimed on the intertitles that the picture was "not meant to reflect on any race or people of today" and afterwards came up with a movie with the scope of Intolerance as a possible atonement but will this continue to be remembered by the current crop of egalitarians. Will copies of this nasty yet revered fiction film be allowed to exist outside of the Library Of Congress in another century's time? It's interesting tripe - I simply don't see it as either enriching or enhancing in any way but refuse to worry about it or advise anyone else to be worried by it.
I'm never too fussed with realism or realistic special effects in movies – after all, similar to millions of other people I only watched a two-dimensional series of images under Persistence Of Vision on a flat screen telly in a corner of my front room tonight. I wasn't actually "there" or wanted to be either and I have no intention of reading Einstein or praising or dissing him afterwards either. I wouldn't even bother to create a loop by promising not to denigrate with a So What that this apparently was a film produced and finished on film too.
It's a 21st century cgi cartoon update on When Worlds Collide which was a much artier and worthier film than 2001, with a nod to Close Encounters and its breathtaking nonsense taken for sage symbolism again. Convoluted plans coalesce to populate foreign countries, sorry, galaxies as the Earth or at least the American Midwest is slowly dying. It involves going through a Saturnian wormhole in much the same style as a Cosmic Pinball Wizard picking from a list of possible habitations given to "Us" by "Them", whoever that lot were. Oodles of human schmaltz is ladled on the concoction for good measure as a counterpoint to inter-dimensional gobbledygook to ensure some people's eyes don't glaze over. A few points: Playing Love Is All Around instead may save a lot of time for impatient people; director Christopher Nolan used grizzled Michael Caine yet again, he must be a really big pal; Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet seemed incredibly dexterous and more anthropomorphic in comparison to the clunky TARS & Co. on display as AI in here; on that bloody icy planet cool customer Matt Damon certainly had his plans well laid for saying he didn't expect to be ever opened up again; I ask again why is it so fashionable to growl and grunt colloquial dialogue in guttural whispers – I don't expect everyone, or anyone for that matter to be up to Laurence Olivier's standard of diction but we're not all Kings Of Leon fans; somewhat flat when it finally came the long expected but still creepy farewell between father and daughter! The money shots for me were the emotional and fraught Lander craft re-docking with the Endurance scenes, however it was taken so slowly I thought for a while Anne Hathaway had fainted. The cartoonery is routinely spectacular, at eye-cutting edge.
Basically: as with Inception this involves a huge leap of faith from the er well-grounded but unwary viewer; get over it and it's entertaining hokum to be watched with a tesseract of salt – I switched on, switched off and enjoyed it. Way too long though, it seemed to last decades.
L'eau à la bouche (1960)
More mouth-extending than mouth-watering
I saw this many years ago but was too young or slow to know if it meant anything or was worth re-watching sometime; the answer a few decades later imho is No on both counts. It's classically pointless, coldly stylised and as arch as the lie that the flatlining plot depends on. I admit it was certainly good to look at and dreamily contemplate upon over the top of a glass! But, this is a motion picture not a tone poem, right?
After a stylish opening credit sequence it all begins with a rather corny "It all began a month ago" to flashback back to the beginning at the end. Unseen old grandmother dies, (some) of her relatives 2 men 2 women gather at a fantastic looking château in the Pyrenees for the reading of the Will and then indulge themselves languorously in humourless routine sexual horseplay in her memory. Although they then thought it was 1960 and frank and free there were only a few arty nude scenes; thankfully a full-frontal four-way was then out of the question for all of the libertines associated in the production of this - other masterpieces from the era such as L'Avventura, La Dolce Vita and Bout Le Soufflé were similarly hidebound by such convention too. The splendid château and the atmospheric black and white photography of it are the only things I can recommend the unwary to watch this particular film for. The naughty shenanigans and sly frisson continually going on are utterly childish and are pointless diversions - from a purely artistic study of all the eye-watering architecture and all those paintings and statues of naked women! Milena says goodbye twice to Robert but then they get it on; Miguel has it bad for Milena but services Fifine who has it bad for Robert; dear Prudence has it away with Cesar, a man she thought a pig a few hours previously; yawwwwn. And as for the Lie itself: what was the point in it, in revealing it, in ignoring it? It was extremely well-made and got the languid ambiance over perfectly but apart from that the only point I could see in it was that I was watching six sex-mad human animals in a precise arty romp for precisely no reason at all.
La chatte (1958)
The Cat and the Dog fall in love, to the misfortune of the Wolves and the Sheep
Francoise Arnoul plays a French resistance heroine with bewitching sexy eyes just about says it all. The flimsy story hangs limply around her performance, which managed to update the War to include a feisty Bardot-like character for a new generation.
An alluring and compact young patriot Cora is used by the Resistance to steal the Nazis plans for a new rocket but she unwittingly falls in love with a tall German spy Bernard, and vice versa; somewhat as a slinky Cat and a faithful Dog. Will Love conquer All or be conquered by War? It's all done nicely and cheaply and the grimy monochrome photography, sets and acting are passable, the music sounds like sci-fi FX only because there was no budget and not to lend period atmosphere – it's just the plot was rather feeble. If it was meant for a deep probing of relative human moral values under internal and external stress then it was far too superficial – and almost as if they were making it up as they went along.
To whom would this film appeal to in the main? As still being a red-blooded male I have to admit that if it hadn't been for Arnoul I probably wouldn't have bothered with it at all – and I almost switched it off after a few doses of director Henri Decoin's personal perversions sledgehammered out by Gestapo and Resistance alike. He made quite a few good films in the discipline of the Golden Age, especially a handful starring his then wife Danielle Darrieux - with this though he gave me the overwhelming impression of a dirty old man director and Arnoul apparently only too eager as usual to co-operate. But again I regret to admit I was extremely interested to know where she was supposed to be hiding the flashlight radio! Sadly the only things the film has left me wondering is can a tub of alcohol really burn with vim for hours on end and how on Earth does the sequel pick it all up again? Overall though, an interesting time-passer.
The Halfway House (1944)
Well worth a visit
This was the first Ealing film I saw, knowing it was an Ealing film, because it was shown as part of a long Ealing film series on UK BBC2 from May 1977. I thoroughly enjoyed it, although then at 18 years old the wartime propaganda element of it paradoxically irritated much more than it does forty years later. Is it blood running cooler or a more resigned luxury of perspective in operation? I feel I have to repeatedly point out with British films made in wartime that present day allowances must be made: if the people in this movie had lost the war they were fighting I wouldn't be here writing this nor you reading it. But if the people who made the film could come back would they think their efforts then were worthwhile is another matter though
Every week during that TV series my admiration and awe grew until I realised that British cinema would never again match the art and craft displayed by Ealing at their peak in the '40's and '50's; and by now I've watched some of their classics over a dozen times. However I find that I've seen The Halfway House for only the fourth time - maybe it was meant to be revisited only once in a while, like the ghostly inn itself.
A group of relatively unhappy temporal travellers find themselves drawn to and ensconced in a weird country inn in Wales complete with an unsettling landlord and his daughter who cast no shadows but end up casting large ones over the guests (and us), and for their own good. They were all fighting their own battles and problems but I admit! the biggest problem was that mine host Mervyn Johns was so firmly robotic in his anti-Nazi propaganda and posturing that his imperiousness ultimately became unconvincing and tiresome. It's a very gentle ghost story but at least it wasn't a musical like Brigadoon. Rather moralistic too and there's an array of familiar faces in here to back it all up: Tom Walls, more taciturn now; Alfred Drayton, Joss Ambler and rakish Guy Middleton, all as sharp as ever; Esmond Knight, in rural Wales one year before he memorably played a village idiot and a psycho in rural England; Sally Ann Howes, so posh you realise what today's inclusive society has lost or gained depending on your own prejudices. Sure that's not Wylie Watson playing one of the Welsh porters? There's plenty of beautiful atmospheric photography amid some lovely country and excellent sets. Favourite bits: Johns in a remarkably underplayed scene of mirror-trickery and his daughter Glynnis – like Peter Pan, in a clever for the time scene of shadow-trickery; the extended dinner conversation.
There's a few trite moments mainly involving the belief in the afterlife and the acting is rather stagey at the best of times but all in all it's still great escapist entertainment, which has imho er withstood the test of Time. And to hopefully echo back to the cast Glynnis's gentle farewell: good night to you all, see you in the morning.
Dracula Untold (2014)
Like a Batty Hobbit
Not knowing the minutiae of the Vlad The Bad history I can only guess the truth has been falsified for the sole purpose of creating a fantasy fiction film with the ultimate aim of financial gain. I've never heard of such a thing before - I've just been watching a film with the main character morphing into thousands of bats and vice versa and I thought this was all well detailed as solid fact in the history books. What a swizz!
Medieval Prince Vlad - played by Luke Evans fresh from Hobbit 3 - who is self-styled The Impaler, thinks up a novel way to try to save his family and his people from the onslaught of the naughty Turks by well, selling his soul to the Devilish. A lot of people nowadays probably would do that for a pack of cigarettes or a good mobile connection. Evans is OK even if on the insipid side for such a virulent character, but Charles Dance has found his most unlife-like role to date; roll on Drac's Back! Maybe the biggest preloaded spoiler possible with this movie: whatever they do in here everyone knows that in our Universe Vlad becomes a vampire, so his "survival" is guaranteed, come what cgi cartoon mayhem is thrown at him and the rest of us. I idly wondered if the millions of bats conjured up by Vlad would kill the millions of attacking Turks by dropping millions of tons of guano onto their hapless heads – after all, isn't that what happened in reality? There were a few gruesome cgi bits dreamed up by the usual movie psychos, none of which were a big problem to me (and little kids will probably erm lap it all up) – I had more of a problem with the sound quality, or lack of. I hope all of the actors had a good supply of Strepsils handy to be able to gutturally whisper for so long - maybe it would've been better titled as Dracula Ungrowled.
So just between us, bat to man, it's all nonsense, like all Dracula films have always been and always will be. It was a well-made and enjoyable, concise and imaginative romp and if there's a new rebooting of the franchise by Universal I only hope erm it carries on in this vein.