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: 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.