Monday, 28 August 2017

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

"Polite persons do not take their supper in the nude!"

 Well, there's a surprise. Oddly enough this is quite a departure from Tim Burton's usual directorial style, even if the subject matter is very him, but it works. The very English early twentieth century fantasy feel- never mind it's based on a series of American novels whose author is younger than I am- is a perfect fit for him and is done well, even if it doesn't necessarily feel very Tim Burton. And it's most odd to see neither head nor hair of either Helena Bonham Carter or Johnny Depp.

The cast is superb, though. Eva Green is the obvious highlight but Samuel L. Jackson deserves particular praise for portraying a fantasy villain very much out of his normal kinds of parts, and doing it with aplomb. Even the many child actors are at least ok, but Ella Purnell is a revelation.

Mostly, though- and I haven't read the novel and so cannot comment on how it's been adapted- the film succeeds because of the superbly imaginative and original fantasy world it presents to us from the pen of Kick-Ass' Jane Goldman, a kind of wartime X-Men with magnificently imaginative powers, extra timey-wimeyness ( I love the loops) and some particularly fearsome monsters and fantasy creatures that are superbly recognised, in some cases by mock stop motion. Very much an enjoyable film and one much better than its puzzlingly mixed reputation.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

The Godfather (1972)

"He made him an offer he couldn't refuse..."

There's a school of thought, one I'm sympathetic too, that says this is the greatest film ever made, and that's a heavy burden to bear. Can any film survive such expectations? Best to ignore the whole question, I think, and just say that the film is superb.

Few films are as well directed as this, with every shot framed beautifully, and incredible cinematography. Marlon Brando and Al Pacino are both, of course, sublime. And the script is the perfect take of both the Mafia and of the Italian (or Sicilian) immigrant experience in America.

There are so many iconic scenes, from the infamous horse's head to the moment when the murders of all Michael Corleone's enemies are juxtaposed with him affirming his Catholic faith at his nephew' christening. But the scenes hang together perfectly in a tale of how war hero Michael, at first intended to be kept away from the business of the family, is slowly drawn in and takes over from his imposing yet declining father and his fatally hot-headed brother Sonny. The change is convincingly and carefully shown, with a brilliantly inscrutable performance from Pacino. The film pretty much centres on the tension-filled scene with Michael slowly retrieving the gun from the restaurant toilet, ready to Kill for the first time out of family revenge. A film right up there with the very best.

So, yes- this is quite the contrast from Barbarella!

Friday, 25 August 2017

Barbarella (1968)

"Decrucify the angel!"


"Decrucify him. Or I'll melt your face!"

What the Hell have I just watched?

This is quite possibly the weirdest film I've ever seen, pleasant though Jane Fonda is to look at; a bizarrely kids' TV looking futuristic sci-fi sexual fantasy that features an angel, a villain called Duran Duran, a character called Professor Ping portrayed by Marcel Marceau, a pink girly spaceship, and a ship computer that says "confirmed" a lot and is a blatant influence on Zen from Blake's 7. That's a lot to take in. There's a sort of main plot but it's all very picaresque, moving from one set piece to another with our heroine managing increasingly random escapes from increasingly bizarre perils. Highlights include being pecked to death by budgies, death by orgasm and being bitten all over by creepy kids' dolls with sharp metal teeth. Ouch.

It's all exploitative stuff for the lads, of course, with Jane Fonda being somewhat comely, and you can hardly deny the blatant sexism that's everywhere, but it's hard to mind; it's all so good-natured, stoned and innocent.

There's little point in critiquing the acting, effects or decor and, not being stoned, I'm not sure I'm entirely qualified to give an opinion or, indeed, to know what to think. The music, the sparkliness, the clash of kids' TV and free love- wow. But what can you expect of a film featuring a major character called Duran Duran? I am bamboozled by Barbarella.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

"You always were a cunning linguist, James."

I know, it's been a while since GoldenEye. But it took a while before I could face another Bond after that, and it was with all due trepidation that I sat down to watch this. It's a relief to say, then, that Brosnan is better, if still hardly my favourite Bond, and that this is a good if not great Bond film- it says a little in the middle, perhaps, and the whole thing is an extremely formulaic Bond-by-numbers but done well enough, and I think that's what's required at this stage. This is only the second film after a large gap, and there's a need to re-establish all the many tropes.

So we get a notable return to tradition after GoldenEye's sometime iconoclasm, with a notably less spiky relationship between Bond and Judy Dench's M. But we get a decent pre-titles- the Russians are goodies; it must be the '90s- and a mildly disappointing theme tune from Sheryl Crow, and off we go.

This film's Bond villain is the media mogul Eliot Carver, played with splendidly scenery-chewing relish by Jonathan Pryce as he arranges conflict between the UK and China purely to make money. He gets lots of zeitgeisty speeches about the power of the media that date the film enormously; it won't be long until the Internet starts to topple the likes of him off their perches. And I notice that Bond has his first mobile phone, although from the dependably sarky and now octogenarian Q, who has been there since From Russia with Love.

We get a splendid cast as usual, even with the likes of Jason Watkins, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Gerard Butler and Hugh Bonneville with small parts as naval officers. This is hardly one of the greats, but Bond is back on track.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

The Punisher (1989)

"Who sent you?"


I was pleasantly surprised by this film, I have to say. Not that it's any good, of course; it's a trashy '80s action film starring Dolph Lundgren and is neither big nor clever. What it is, though, is highly entertaining in all it's glorious trashiness throughout. A melodrama may be all it is, but it works.

The film starts with a crude but efficient combination of set piece and exposition which introduces us to Frank Castle, what he does and his backstory. The character isn't very deep, so an actor like Lundgren is all that's required and, moreover, the opening set piece features a doomed baddie who is portrayed with enormous quantities of ham. But the film soon settles down into it's entertaining Mafia vs Yakuza plot, with a bit of buddy buddy cop stuff thrown in there too. The film is well enough shot in its Australian locations and Jeroen Krabbe is also good enough as the mob boss forced to work with Castle. Even the child actors are mostly adequate.

It's all very late '80s, of course, from the music to the hardline attitude to crime, and one thing that really dates it is the subtext (probably not intentional; the film isn't that clever) of Japan gradually overtaking the USA economically, as everyone seemed to think was happening at the time. There's lots of martial arts action, with even the opening titles looking a bit like a martial arts film.

I like Snake too, a much needed comedy character and someone there to remind us of the extremely dodgy ethics of vigilante murder and how it's victims are not only the guilty; the film is hardly philosophical but it avoids presenting the Punisher as a hero, and I like that. The film is what it is, but for me it was both enjoyable and, ignoring small details, a more or less faithful rendering of the comic book character. This is more worth watching than you probably thought.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017


It's my brother's wedding at the weekend and I'm currently writing a best man's speech, so don't expect much (if anything) in the way of blogging until Monday onwards. Then the usual pace will resume...

Saturday, 12 August 2017

The Day of the Jackal (1973)

"How did you know whose telephone to tap?"

"I didn't. So I tapped all of them."

 I read the novel in my teens, and very quickly. It's not just that it's a somewhat unputdownable thrilller with no pretensions to literary ambition, but the prose was extraordinary basic: bare, functional, impossible to praise or criticise. Indeed, probably the best adjective for Frederick Forsyth's prose is "absent" but it does its job for what is probably Forsyth's best novel in a series of ever-diminishing returns.

I mention this because the film is an extraordinary faithful adaptation. Fred Zinnemann shows admirable restraint in following the style of the book and allowing the narrative to do its natural job with no unnecessary directorial flourishes to take us out of the style. He's unafraid to have long periods of silence if that's how best to tell the story and ends up producing a film that is slow, unhurried yet pacy. That's as much of a talent as any directorial trick.

Edward Fox is superb, of course, playing his rather flat cipher of a character, and the same is true of the impressive cast of largely British character actors. But what makes this film is the story- a slow, methodical look at how a high profile assassination is carried out in a pre-digital, pre-surveillance age that is little more than a decade before my time; I can still remember those French bank vans from trips to France as a young child in the early '80s. This is an age where it is relatively easy to fake documents yet the French state still practises both torture and judicial killing. Social attitudes may have improved since 1963 but it's easy to be jealous of the privacy that could be enjoyed back then.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Fifty Shades Darker (2017)

"I hope you're not a sore loser."

"That depends on how hard you spank me..."

I've already gone into detail about my misgivings about the abusive relationship at the heart of this trilogy- and again, it isn't the BDSM part that's dodgy- and nothing has changed on that front. But this film, admittedly, is less dull to watch and somewhat more entertaining, not that it's particularly good.

On the positive side it doesn't feel so much like a sequel as the middle portion of the story, and one which doesn't have to introduce any of  the characters and can just get on with it, avoiding the common fate of sequels. The directorial style, too, is different; James Foley hasn't quite given us the stylishness of Sam Taylor-Wood but the colours are not so washed out, which is definitely a good thing.

It's still a bit problematic to have a rich man as a wish-fulfilment figure, though, even if the BDSM takes a bit of a back seat in favour of a mild kinkiness- but it's disturbing to hear Grey state that he's not so much a dominant as a "sadist" who had a dodgy childhood and gets off on hurting women who remind him of his mother. In fact I'm not sure that this kind of background is at all conducive to being a suitable dominant. In real life I'd have a hard time seeing a relationship with any such figure as anything other than decidedly dodgy, however much money was sloshing around.

The film is well-acted. especially by the extra star wattage of Kim Basinger as Elena, however shocking her plastic surgery may look. This is not exactly a film with a great deal of intrinsic merit, but at least it's made well and is a marked improvement on its predecessor.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Jessica Jones: AKA The Sandwich Saved Me

"Patsy taught me to hold the remote with one hand and box the bald-headed bishop with the other."

Narratively there was always going to be an episode at this vague point where Jessica and Trish try and fail to capture Killgrave; what's more interesting is what it reveals about the characters in another excellently written, acted and directed episode.

I really haven't given enough credit to Krysten Ritter as Jessica, playing a complex but likeable character. This episode, with flashbacks showing a pre-PTSD Jessica before she met Killgrave, shows the subtleties of her performance.And, of course, we see the moment when briefly superheroic Jessica first meets the man who will ruin her life as with so many others.

One of these lives is Malcolm's; it has become horribly apparent that this man we have dismissed as a junkie is only that way because Killgrave needs to keep him dependent in order to spy on Jessica for him. The junkie isn't who he is. It turns out we don't know him at all. And there are signs of hope that the cold turkey may actually work.

The episode shows us how Jessica, a self-doubting Trish an a newly initiated Simpson work together, giving us hints that Simpson may be prepared to go too far. Mostly, though, this episode more than any other shows us how evil Killgrave he is and how he ruins lives, including a horrible scene of Hope being beaten up in prison.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Jessica Jones: AKA 99 Friends

"You are coming across as distinctly paranoid."

"Everyone keeps saying that. It's like a conspiracy."

No Luke this episode,  and no Killgrave, although he pervades everything. No; instead Jessica gets a divorce case that isn't a divorce case, showing us the hostility that there is towards "gifted" people following all that CGI in The Avengers, and perhaps more importantly how easy it is for people to blame easy targets for their loss. Jessica distracts herself from guilt over Luke by setting up a support group for people controlled by Killgrave in the past, while Trish grows reluctantly closer to Simpson, the guilt-ridden cop who thought he'd killed her.

It's a quieter episode where the characters get to breathe, so we get to more fully explore the effects of PTSD on both Trish and Jessica, who are both very different, while we get out first
inklings of just how messy Hogarth's divorce is likely to be. The slow pace suits the style, and direction and narration style are, as ever, excellent in what is shaping up to be a very promising Chandleresque tale of domestic abuse.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

"I'm having woman cramps..."

Meh. Is that it? That was decidedly, boringly average, but then this is 2012 and Sony have to crank out any old Spider-Man film every few years. Still, those of us who have seen Fox's 2015 Fantastic Four know it could be much worse.

Not that this is a bad film, you understand. It's well-shot, adequately plotted and scripted, Andrew Garfield is a good-enough Spider-Man in spite of being blatantly too old, and the whole "cross-species" thing is a clever way of tying together the origins of Spidey and the Lizard. No; what's annoying is that they're doing that damn origin again, and Sam Raimi made that film in 2002.

Oh, they try to make things different- there's an emphasis on Spidey's dead parents. We get Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane and there's a twist at the end where he seems to decide not to dump her for her "own safety" after a promise to her dad in which two men agree her future between them. Patriarchy much? Still, at least this time it's subverted, even if the trope of Peter Parker's girlfriend always being a character integral to the plot is becoming a little groanworthy. We also get a more streetwise, skateboarding Peter whose academic geekery is downplayed, in spite of the fact that this time we get actual web-shooters. But we still get that damn origin story again, and the whole thing feels so uninspired that even a hilarious Stan Lee cameo can't save this film from mediocrity.