Monday, 25 April 2016

The Living Daylights (1987)

"We've nothing to declare!"

Before I go on to praise this splendid film... I may get one last blog post out tomorrow on the train- we will see- but after that there won't be anything more until after my big exam on Tuesday 3rd May. It's a week of hardcore revision for me to look forward to. Still, expect a flurry of new blog posts in the couple of days after the exam, probably.

Anyway, I loved The Living Daylights even if it didn't feel much like a Bond film when watched in context. It's a strange thing to say for a series of spy films, but Bond hadn't done a proper Cold War thriller before and only now, in 1987, the very last opportunity there would ever be, do we get one. And yes, I know we have an American chief baddie as a fig leaf so they can deny that this is a straight ahead Cold War spy film with the Russians as the baddies so as not to offend the real world USSR but, well, they're fooling nobody.

And so we have a tale of defections, crappy police cars, secret police arresting pretty girls in the exotic surroundings of, er, Bratislava, and that classically Cold War locale that is Vienna and a Ferris Wheel that immediately evokes The Third Man. Mind you, nothing has dated quite as much as showing the Afghan Mujahideen as the good guys. I'm no useful idiot, far from it, but Najibullah (not a nice man but no one deserves to die like that) was much better for Afghanistan than what came after.

Timothy Dalton... let's actually mention him, shall we? He's obviously a fine actor, easily the best so far, far more technically competent and nuanced in his portrayal than Connery or Moore. I like him. And yet... he's genuinely charismatic, yes, but less so than either of the two aforementioned, both of whom oozed it, and for me he doesn't quite convince as a ladies' man- well, womaniser. He's too sensitive. Still, a promising debut. 

Maryam d'Abo makes a good, and refreshing Bon-bimboesque, Bond girl, and we get good performances from John Rhys-Davies, Art Malik and the ever-reliable Desmond Llewelyn, in a good film for the gadgets.

This is the best film of the '80s so far, let down only by a mildly disappointing theme song from a-Ha, even if it isn't as awful as Shirley Manson of Garbage notoriously said it is. After the problems of A View to a Kill we now have a younger Bond and a witty script, and as a result there's not a lot wrong.

Monday, 18 April 2016

9½ Weeks (1986)

"I almost waited too long."

Oh dear. I've blogged some bad films in my time but this is by far the worst, committing that most unforgivable of sins: dullness. Even the sex scenes are as slow and boring as the film itself.

For what it's worth, both Kim Basinger and a pre-plastic surgery Mickey Rourke actually bother, for some reason, to give interesting performances, but sadly this does not detract from the fact that nothing seems to happen over two whole hours. The conceit, which is nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is, is a sexual attraction between two urban and alienated individuals who proceed to have various kinds of mildly interesting yet ultimately meaningless sex, yet ultimately fail to develop a proper relationship because of the lack of anything deeper to the relationship. That's it. Really. No need to watch the film now that you've read that. Even the sex scenes really are as slow and boring as everything else.

Part of the problem is the interminable pace, which is the director'a fault for the most part- so many slow scenes of people looking at each other across a room and doing nothing- and part of it is a total lack of charm or humour within the script: this doesn't exactly qualify as a "romantic comedy".

Having said all that, at least the wife and I were amused by the ending and its "walking away music", just like with Bill Bixby at the end of every episode of The Incredible Hulk...

Friday, 15 April 2016

Most Popular Posts...

Just for the hell of it, here are the ten most popular posts on this blog, a pleasingly random bunch... 


1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Freshman

2. Nosferatu (1922)

3. Bride of Chucky (1998)

4. Seed of Chucky (2004)

5. Doctor Who: Resurrection of the Daleks

6. Drop Dead Fred (1991)

7. Alice in Wonderland (1999 TV film)

8. Torchwood: Exit Wounds

9. The Simpsons Movie (2007)

10. Mary Poppins (1964)

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Ted 2 (2015)

"Piss off- I don't want to get any jizz on me..."

Ted 2 is much like Ted, which is no bad thing. And that is to say that it feels like an extended episode of Family Guy right up to the point of reusing a skit about donated sperm. But, again, this is no bad thing. Seth MacFarlane may not be quite in the very first rank of comedy film-makers, but he can certainly be relied upon to be very funny indeed.

This time the plot is about Ted's legal crusade to legally prove that he's a person while much weed is smoked by all, but this is just an excuse for the one liners that we know and love, and the stand-up style observational comedy that we expect from MacFarlane. The pop culture references abound again: Sam Jones is back, while Michael Dorn's character goes to the New York Comicon dressed as Worf...!

Also, Sam is cool: an idealistic and very intelligent lawyer, an attractive female character whom we can actually respect for her brains and her principles... and she smokes a lot of weed. It seems that young Americans do a lot of that these days. 

This is a film that will surprise no one who knows the slightest thing about Serh MacFarlane, and I for one have no problem with that. I'm hoping for another sequel.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

A View to a Kill (1985)

"Well my dear, I take it you spend quite a lot of time in the saddle."

"Yes, I love an early morning ride."

"Well, I'm an early riser myself."

Meh. This isn't quite the worst Bond film so far- that would be Thunderball- but it's certainly the very dampest of squibs. Roger Moore, at 57 and suddenly looking it, is by now absurdly too old to be convincing in the part, but ultimately the problem lies with the script. The plot is fine, but the dialogue is functional and lacking in wit, and as a result the film fails to come alive. That's a shame, as an actor like Christopher Walken deserves a much better villain to play. Still, he deserves much praise for triumphing over a crap script to give us a memorable Max Zorin regardless.

The film also suffers from that perennial problem of Bond films set largely in the United States: what is Bond doing there when the Americans have agencies of their own? Still, Duran Duran give us a decent theme tune and it's always good to see Patrick Macnee, even if his character does spend his final few hours alive being ordered about by Bond. Grace Jones is good as May Day but, again, wasted, as indeed area many of the set pieces which seem to be shot rather unimaginatively. Still, I enjoyed the finale with the airship on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Not a good swansong, then, for the suddenly much-aged Roger Moore: he should have left on a high with Octopussy. It's goodbye too, though, for Lois Maxwell, the only cast member who's been there since Dr No.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

"You're not my father!!!"

Harrison Ford has aged nineteen years since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, so it's 1957. McCarthyism, rock 'n' roll, "I like Ike", flying saucers, Indy having the Fonz for a son. Yep, it's the '50s, all right. And it's a good and entertaining film with a nicely twisty-turny plot. Except... is it just me who thinks Cold War Russians just aren't the baddies that the Nazis were?

The film also suffers from the fact that Denholm Elliott is dead and Sean Connery has retired, leaving Ford and Karen Allen as the only characters from earlier film, although John Hurt and Ray Winstone ably fill the British-character-actor-shaped hole. Cate Blanchett is a good baddie, the locations and set pieces are great, and even Shia LaBeouf is mostly acceptable. It's nice to have a film in this series that deals with El Dorado and the mysterious cities of gold (a phrase that puts the theme tune to a certain '80s cartoon in my head!!!). And it's an enjoyable tour of '50s tropes, with the artifacts this time being alien in nature (Erich Von Daniken a decade and a half early) and even a nuclear test befitting the Atomic Age. It's a shame Indy will eventually get cancer.

But something stops this film from being great instead of just very good. Perhaps it's a lack of polish to the dialogue but I rather suspect it's the lack of Nazis..

Friday, 8 April 2016

Ask Father (1919)

I'll admit to not much liking the only Harold Lloyd short I've seen previously but this was genuinely funny and, like all silent comedy shorts, a huge and obvious influence on Warner Bros cartoon shorts and the like. Harold Lloyd has an amazing propensity for physical comedy and the conceit- Lloyd faces increasingly absurd obstacles in getting to see his intended's father to ask for her hand- is a good one. The ending is funny too- when his second choice for fiancée says that her father died many years ago he is overjoyed!

I suppose this is typical of a good silent comedy short, but what surprised me was a short sequence in which he scales a building from the outside, a harbinger of the much longer scene in Safety Last.

Like all films of this age it is pleasingly free of copyright and there to see on YouTube (other media are available). It's only thirteen minutes long. Why don't you watch it now?

Thursday, 7 April 2016

The Night Manager: Episode 6

"You'd buy that girl for $300 million?"

Wow. I'll be honest: most final episodes of TV miniseries are mildly disappointing. This one is far from that- gripping, full of twist and turns, reversals of fortune and starring roles for everyone. Roper's comeuppance is perfect: yes, Angela and Jonathan get him bang to rights- but he will probably be released in days. But that brief moment of captivity makes him vulnerable and he is killed by a man he has offended with his racism and hubris. 

Hugh Laurie is great at the end and, indeed, throughout, but I have to admire the way the character of Roper has been written: it's a fine line between making him seem too gullible and allowing Pine to fulfil his plot function, a line that is straddled well. And Roper is made here to thoroughly deserve his comeuppance. His treatment of Jed is horrifying.

Angela, too, is a magnificent character, and Olivia Colman a superb actress, finally getting into real danger while heavily pregnant, giving all, probably including her career, to get Roper. And Tom Hiddleston's principled Pine is the still point at the centre of it all, even in his worst moments, a true hero. 

This is an extraordinary finale to asserted that may not have been great from the beginning but certainly became so by its end.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

The Night Manager: Episode 5

"They didn't watch the cups, you see."

This penultimate episode sets things up for a tense final episode, with Roper ascendant, Angela in disgrace after being outwitted into crying wolf, and Jonathan seemingly abandoned and trapped inside Roper's inner circle. All this, and they return to Cairo.

Still, Jonathan now has Jed on side after a full disclosure (Will they or won't they? There's a definite spark between them although, of course, there's no guarantee that both will survive.), and the tension between him and Corky has ended with the latter's death, which is a shame: Tom Hollander's performance was enormous fun. But, yet again, Hugh Laurie is extraordinary as the charismatic sociopath, Roper, who sees the chaos and suffering in Syria as a business opportunity.

Meanwhile, Angela gets told that Britain's collusion with Roper is all "in the national interest", and vital for maintaining Britain's place at the top table. I'm sure this will come to the fire in the final episode. The Night Manager has just got better and better after its underwhelm start.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974)

"Why is everything so hard for me? Why can't I play the piano like I can breathe?"

I've been fascinated by the story of Kaspar Hauser since I was a child. Was he a fraud? Why was he brought up in such bleak captivity? Did he really subsist for twelve years on bread and water? It would be cool if he were indeed the rightful Duke of Baden as many say, much as I'm wary of conspiracy theories: I'm not one of those who think the Moon landings were faked or any of that silliness. But the 2002 DNA test results are interesting.

Anyway, Werner Herzog doesn't really dwell on the conspiracy theory angle: he's not Oliver Stone. Instead we get a meditation on innocence, beauty, a twisted kind of childhood and the strangeness of religion to one not indoctrinated, all anchored by Bruno S as Hauser who, bizarrely, was in his late thirties at the time. Even the English title is misleading: the German title translates as Every Man for Himself and God Against All.

This very Bavarian film is an utter triumph for Herzog, the world's most avowedly Bavarian filmmaker. From the classical soundtrack to the visuals to the poetic stories told by Hauser- his deathbed story is pregnant with meaning- this is an extraordinary film and a beautiful work of art. Just don't expect any real focus on the mystery.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Never Say Never Again (1983)

"Now you're on this, I hope we're going to have some gratuitous sex and violence."

And so we come to the second Bond film of 1983, and a very unofficial one. It has a sparkling Sean Connery who, though 53, is still younger than Roger Moore, and it also has the sole rights to Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Unfortunately it lacks the rights to an awful lot of things, including the rights to do anything other than a remake of Thunderball, the only Bond film up to this point that ice actively not enjoyed. So is it any good?

Well, actually, yes. It's certainly more humorous than any other Bond film but not, I think, to an excessive degree; it's a proper Bond film, not a spoof. Connery is on particularly fine form and the script has a lot of witty fun with what turns out to be a very loose remake.

The film takes advantage of having to recast roles, with Edward Fox giving us a grumpy new M while the new Q, "Algy", is a chirpy cockney whose department is much reduced. No fancy gadgets here. Kim Basinger makes a splendid Bond girl and it would have been quite, quite wrong if Max Von Sydow had never got to play Blofeld.

It's a very different Bond film and yes, the computer game sequence is dated and weird, but this is a perfectly fine Bond film.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

The Story of O (1975)

"You're very lucky. They'll be more severe with you."

I've blogged a lot of geeky films lately: time for another subtitled foreign film, I think, and after blogging nearly 300 films it's about time I got round to a French one. So how about The Story of O? It's very continental, very controversial and banned in the UK for a decade and a half. So what's it like?

Well, er, very Seventies. I know it's sold as a French version of Fifty Shades of Grey, but this is 1975 and the source material is not, apparently, straightforwardly about what these days we would call BDSM but saying that women are naturally submissive to men, which is more than a little dodgy. Still, none of that is apparent from the film, and it's made explicit throughout everything that happens unambiguously consensual. More surprisingly, although a lot of fairly rough stuff happens, it happens largely off camera, and there's precious little sex either. This is soft porn to the extent that it's porn at all: indeed, the direction is somewhat arty, with a definite dreamlike effect which echoes the narration.

This being the Seventies, the clothes are bloody awful although, on the evidence of this film, the interior decor could be utterly gorgeous and not brown or orange at all, at least in Paris, while still being thoroughly if the decade. Bizarrely, though, all the cars seem to hail from about three decades earlier- was France going through a vintage motors phase at the time?

The film is utterly fascinating as, anchored by an appropriately impassive performance from Corinne Clery, it traces us into a world of submission, whippings, Seventies fashion photography, emotionally fraught polyamory, lesbianism and bad hair. From an opening reminiscent of the video to John Lennon's Imagine to its ambiguous ending its a compellingly weird feast for the senses. Still, one is left with the general question of why the more well-known films featuring bondage and submission always seem to show women in the submissive role and not vice versa.

The Lego Movie (2014)

"Wiping your bum with a hook for a hand is really hard.."

This is the perfect Lego movie. Not only does the all-Lego animation look great (even the water in Emmett's shower is Lego!) but the message is perfect and splendidly anti-conformist: don't just follow the instructions- build whatever the hell you like. But preferably spaceships.

This being a Warner Bros films we get cameos from Star Wars characters (the Millennium Falcon gets gobbled up by that asteroid beast from The Empire Strikes Back) and DC characters are available for a bit of mickey taking, especially Green Lantern whose film recently flopped.

The baddie, President Business, as well as being improperly linked to business for a politician (ooh, but of politics there), has a secret agenda to glue everyone together as per the instructions for all eternity, a fate worse than death. Against him are a random assortment of "master builders" including Batman(!), a very sensible spaceman who wants to build spaceships, quite sensibly, and whose family has the crack at the bottom that Lego spacemen always have.

There's also Vetruvius, half Gandalf and half Obi Wan Kenovi who, in the funniest scene, comes back as a ghost for some very serious advice for Emmett and then flies away with a "woo-oo"!

I loved this film, and I don't even like Will Ferrell. It's probably my favourite animated movie of recent years and definitely a must-see.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Grimm: Map of the Seven Knights

"You killed my uncle. You shouldn't have done that."

Yay for badass Monroe!

This is an exciting and pivotal episode, albeit a pivotal one. Monroe's previously unmentioned uncle, an antiquarian books expert in Leipzig, comes across a load of Grimm books which could entirely replace the contents of Nick's burned-to-oblivion trailer and wants $100,000 for them, but is killed by Occultam Libera before this can happen and thus the priceless artifacts are acquired by the gang. Amongst them is a third of the seven keys to the map, enough for Monroe to work out roughly where X seems to mark the spot. Everybody's off to the Black Forest...

There is character stuff, of course. We begin with the gang all seeing Nick's and Adalind's new fortress home for the first time, and Nick confesses to Monroe his complex feelings towards her.

In other news, Eve's awesomeness continues to be gradually revealed- what's this new levitating power? And her interrogations are.. nasty. Sean shows a similarly dark side as he and his lover persuade their Portland mayoral candidate, Andrew Dixon, to use dirty tricks against his opponent.

It's an exciting episode, though because of the big revelations rather than any inherent brilliance: the beats are predictable. There are also some historical howlers surrounding the 1204 Siefe of Constantinopke and, according to an HW computer screen, there is apparently still a country called "Czechoslovakia". Still, none of that detracts from the general awesomeness.

Friday, 1 April 2016

A New Episode of the Doctor Who Pubcast

Nick and I are back with more Pubcasty goodness...

Grimm: Star-Crossed

"These people are insane!"

This time the story of the week is a disgusting and apparently ancient Wesen ritual involving crucifixion, linked to Occultam Libera and all that, for the purposes of making it rain. It's all a bit by-the-numbers, based in a very Wikipedia view of history and the ending is rushed but it's entertaining enough, I suppose. Disturbingly, the mention of the Greek origins of the "Order of the Golden Dawn" reminds me of today's Greek Nazis.

In arc news HW continue to put pressure on Nick and the gang, while Sean is revealed to be sleeping with Andrew Dixon's campaign manager. And the bloke who's been writing to Rosalee- Tony- rings get this time before getting rebuffed. He'll be back.

Otherwise there's not a lot to say about this episode, filler that it is. It's obvious that big things are poised to happen, but not yet. I couldn't stop noticing, though, that the episode features a highly dangerous demagogue called Donald...