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Black Sea (2014)
Voyage To The Bottom Of The Barrel, or 20,000 Leagues Sub Standard. Abysmal.
Jude Law's Scottish accent is worse than Sean Connery's Russian one, and that's the least bad thing about this heap of unpardonable dreck.
A bunch of unemployed (Jude Law gets Das Boot from his submarine-driving job) middle-aged English and Russians who ought to know better decide to make a submarine film for the Twentynoughteens, in the hope of retrieving - yes, you guessed it - Nazi gold. They fail, miserably. Not even spectacularly. The end.
Every single submarine cliché known to man. Ice Station Zebra was avant-garde compared to this. You know how they say when you're drowning, your life flashes before you? When you get to this movie you'll want to fast-forward.
You know you're watching a complete and utter load of puerile, putrescent tripe when the three crack deep-sea divers down at 95 metres -
- that's the old one with emphysema, the 17-year-old who's done a bit of SCUBA and the psychopathic one who completely predictably caused all the problems (otherwise there'd be no, y'know, drama) but still gets to lead the dive team -
- know they've discovered the U-Boat with the gold because they brush off a bit of silt and there's a huge swastika visible. No disrespect to stupid people, but that's insulting to the intelligence of stupid people, let alone U-Boat experts. (Presumably there were no U-Boat experts available for technical advice, or they all went off gold-hunting in pre-production).
More holes in the plot than the rusty old Russian sub itself. Do you know how bad this movie is? Not even Michael Caine was in a film this bad, that's how bad.
Meek's Cutoff (2010)
Slow, subtle, suspenseful. Can't wait for the sequel.
Three wagons cross the Oregon wasteland in 1845. They appear to have followed Meek, an old trail hand who knows a shortcut. We join them just as doubts about whether they are lost begin to creep in.
Gradually - and at 19 minutes, just in time - it starts to dawn on the small group that being lost isn't the least of their worries; there's water, Paiute Indians, and the fact that the men appear to be arguing amongst themselves. Then they take an Indian prisoner (brilliantly cool performance by Rod Rondeaux) and the group is really polarized. They trudge onward.
The authenticity is as if someone had found a digital camera that settlers of 1845 had taken with them. Marvelous staging and art direction, etc. The landscape cinematography is almost as good as anything Howard Hawks ever put out, too, just without the tetons. The suspense builds all along.
Spoiler: The ending? Inconclusive, but not unsatisfying. This was 2011, I daresay today we'd have a scene of vultures picking over their bones, while Emily Tetherow and the Indian ride off. As it is, a touch of 'Old West Picnic At Hanging Rock'.
Not for those expecting Lee Van Cleef.
À bout de souffle (1960)
Silly and inept.
Ok, I get it: in 1960 it was considered revolutionary to make a feature film using a hand-held camera. Kudos to Godard for seeing it through to release. But that's about it.
It's a little like, and was no doubt an inspiration for, 'The Harder They Come', the much better low-budget Jamaican film of 1973. Both tell the story of a sociopathic, narcissistic ne'er-do-well who does what he wants regardless of the consequences, and who apparently should be considered some sort of anti-establishment icon, like a John Dillinger.
'The Harder They Come' had the benefit of a killer soundtrack, a charismatic lead, and a competent editor. 'A Bout De Souffle' has the benefit of Jean Seberg, who is probably still a fashion icon 59 years later, and a few cool cars. Belmondo comes over as a complete , 'Breathless''s soundtrack is rubbish jazz, and the editor appears to have had Parkinson's disease. Not his fault, probably.
An inept mess; new wave in the way that most 'punk' music of the late 70's was an inept mess. Refreshing at the time, perhaps, but its shelf-life is long past.
Kill List (2011)
The Wicker Hitman
You'd think, wouldn't you, that with all the hard work that went into the production of 'Kill List', about two hitmen with relationship problems and anger issues, that they could have come up with a satisfying ending.
Ben Wheatley (and Amy Jump) seem to specialise in depicting unsympathetic, irredeemable characters and realistic, gory violence - and in this one a rabbit gets skinned too, which may upset some people more, since it's real. What they don't appear to be any good at at all is endings.
A fairly gripping, very dark hitman drama set the Essex end of Yorkshire that trundles along violently until the final act which is basically a version of the ending of 'The Wicker Man', complete with wicker. Nothing established in the beginning is resolved unless you imagine it's all in the main character's head (ie it was all a dream) which, Ben and Amy, is the problem.
Unless that's the idea, in which case what looks like incompetence must be self-indulgence.
A Field in England (2013)
The Definition of Turgid
Think 'A Walk In The Sun', set in 1645 but without engaging characters. MAJOR SPOILERS THROUGHOUT, which I hope will save you needing to endure this boring movie out of curiosity. It's boring because the characters are all completely uninteresting. Full exposition below:
Four very unpleasant, paranoid white men fight amongst each other during the English Civil War of around 1645. Two of them audition for 'Eastenders' (a superannuated gorblimey soap opera), two of them ineptly give it old-skool Shakespearian. After 10 minutes, I simply don't care what happens to any of them. The costumes are good (one star), the visualization itself of authentic period is pretty convincing for its budget (two stars); though the not-quite-right accents vary a lot. The fate of any of these unpleasant people doesn't interest me in the least.
After 14 minutes we start to get the reflective, expositional bit from 'The Long And The Short And The Tall'. It doesn't engender any sympathy for the characters.
Oh! There's some deliberately inept singing, which starts to fade out, thankfully. A man defecates in the field, while the inept music continues. In the interests of authenticity, we witness the defecation as it seems he is constipated. The men find some mushrooms as they cook. Authentic, hey?
They eat, noisily, They are heading for an alehouse in Monmouthshire (Wales). I still don't care about a single one of them; whether this is because their accents are unconvincing, or the characters are simply unengaging I don't care enough to tell.
It seems the mushrooms were hallucinogenic. The 4 men pull on a rope, which appeared from nowhere. 'What beautiful colours', one of them says. 20 minutes have passed, and I still have no reason to give two hoots about any of them. They've magically found O'Neill, the Irish fugitive the first man was chasing, who is being kicked to death, because, well, because.
Oh, he's not dead, they just take him prisoner. The psilocybin starts to kick in with the other three. The Irishman O'Neill is no more engaging than any of the others; he's angry, ambitious, and cynical. Apparently (after 36 minutes) he mystically reveals that the field 'holds a great treasure', which the other four must find and dig up for him. He threatens to turn one of the Eastenders into a frog. More music, with a 'Draughtsman's Contract' lilt.
O'Neill finds a tent from nowhere and synthesisers play as the apparent hero Whitehead (who's a coward) emerges from the tentin slo-mo after implied s*d*my, a rope around him.
45 minutes gone. O'Neill has asserted his dominance. I still don't care in the slightest what happens to any of them. I'm only watching to see if it makes sense (it does, but so does the Maastricht Treaty).
'Release me, I beg' pleads Whitehead. I know how he feels. They dig a deep hole, then make camp. The particularly unpleasant Cockney falls sick. Whitehead examines his todger with a magnifying glass; he's got many 17th century diseases. The suspense is nonexistent. Nearly an hour gone.
It may be the next day, maybe not. They continue to dig. Whitehead staggers into the field and hallucinates a large black sun, apparently O'Neill's scrying glass. The Cockney men fight in the hole. The third man (Cutler) urinates on them, then shoots the stupid one, who gives a very unpleasant dying speech. 58 minutes; there are four left.
They still dig. And talk (swearing, mostly). Whitehead drags the body away for a 'Christian' burial. It takes him several long minutes.
A gong sounds. It seems Cutler has found the treasure, but there was never an alehouse. The scrying glass appears again. O'Neill searches for Whitehead, gun drawn. Is this making sense to you? Whitehead eats some more mushrooms. Cutler uncovers a skeleton, and shoots at it. Whitehead stuffs his mouth with hallucinogenic mushrooms. and at 1:06 a psychedelic sequence (in monochrome) ensues. A strong wind gets up. Whitehead trips. It's a bad one. It goes on for at least five minutes. Do I care? No. The tent blows over. Cutler seems now to want to save Whitehead from the homicidal O'Neill. O'Neill shoots the other bloke, now there are three. O'Neill reloads and paces the field. Cutler retrieves the dead man's pistol. More time passes.
The stupidest man, who it seems was not dead after all, despite having bled to death, pops up energetically and gives away their position to O'Neill. O'Neill shoots Cutler from 70 yards, but only in the hip. Cutler shoots O'Neill's leg in half.
A Mexican standoff, the sure giveaway of a scriptwriter in trouble, ensues. To cut a Mexican standoff short, Whitehead shoots O'Neill's face off. The Draughtsman's Contract music crescendos. Whitehead fills the hole, bodies included, in.
8 minutes left. Whitehead makes some stew, which may be O'Neill. The music goes heavy metal-baroque. Whitehead goes back to the smoke'n'foley battle. We're back where we started, none the wiser. His three dead friends reappear to him. Is it over? Yes, thank gawd.
Breaking Bad: Epilog
The story of Jesse Pinkman after he escapes from the meth lab/welding plant, takes revenge, and finds redemption.
I'd expect that writer/director Vince Gilligan would want El Camino to stand alone, without reference to the seminal series that it is the last word on. And it does stand alone as a movie, just not as a blockbuster. For some reason I kept thinking of Spielberg's 'Duel', which is similar in that it's a small-scale, small-cast, one-track suspense story - and not a bad film.
In Breaking Bad there were many story threads to keep track of; in EC there's just one, unless you count the questions of how Todd has put on 40 pounds, and Jesse, despite being in a concrete hole for months, has filled out a bit. And in fact, that's the only humor in this movie, which doesn't spoil it, but surely accounts for its two-dimensionality. Ex-BB producer/writer Peter Gould's taken the humor in BB spinoff Better Call Saul to much higher levels.
Very much what it is: the worthy epilog to a magnificent TV show. Don't let the fact that you miss Breaking Bad make you forget that Vince Gilligan has kept faith with the fans.
PS Is it me - and this is just an observation - or is EC somewhat Latino-lite?
Ah, time. (Series One)
Bee-yootifully made, humongous-scaled family saga of a German village on the route from Paris to Berlin from 1919 to 1982, focused on the Simon family who go from being rural blacksmiths to technology/architectural salvage/avantgarde music entrepreneurs.
The heart of the family is the beautiful Maria (Marita Breuer) whose husband Paul deserts her and her 2 sons in 1929 and eventually becomes an electronics magnate in the USA. Meanwhile. she takes up with a civil engineer/Wehrmacht bomb disposal technician in WWII and has a son by him. He is her true love.
The series follows the change in the village from almost mediaeval simplicity to being a cog in the techno-industrial world of the 1980s; the characters age, die, marry, have accidents, fall out, get drunk, have festivals, become Nazis, fly planes and helicopters, etc etc.
All is depicted expertly (apart from the Focke-Wulf 190s, they're Harvard trainers) and many directorial tricks will look modern to 21st century eyes; most of the acting is first class. If you are a vintage Mercedes fan the beautiful cars will keep you going through the Kubrick-esque longeurs which occur more frequently as the series goes on.
So why not the full ten stars? If you watch the first and second episodes, you'll gasp (or you should) at the realism and depth that Heimat gives the village (Schabbach) and its inhabitants. After episode 2, Heimat slowly loses its mojo. It has truly brilliant flashes all the way through, but to me, one of the major bumps in the road was the casting of the older Paul Simon; somehow he goes from a sensitive 'All Quiet On The Western Front' type to a completely unconvincing, overbearing Franklin D. Roosevelt lookalike. And where did his black chauffeur sleep in 1949?
There are also later, deeply involved, story choices which focus on Maria's less interesting and yes, less convincing three sons. And in the end (SPOILER) it's simply a lead-on to more of the same in series two; there's no resolution or anything, which I suppose is true to the ethos of the series, but dramatically it's a big letdown.
Trying to be 'Les Enfants Du Paradis' meets 'Berlin Alexanderplatz', in the end 'Heimat' basically fizzles out. That might sound harsh, but hey; I put in 15 hours.
I Think You Should Change Channel
Just what the world needs. Puerility; whoopee cushion jokes; sketches that go on long after their only joke has misfired, relying only on the actors maintaining a moronic persona; stupid, offensive behaviour presented without irony as 'clowning'.
The bar for accepting a sketch idea in the writers' room was evidently very low.
Desperately unfunny, especially because you can see that they are regurgitating other, superior comedy setups and sketches and simply failing to come up with anything remotely as good.
At Eternity's Gate (2018)
It Certainly Feels Like It.
Obviously, Kirk Douglas in 'Lust For Life' is the canonical Vincent Van Gogh movie. AEG seems to be trying to put a few of LFL's factual errors straight. It makes very heavy going of this, and doesn't even acknowledge, as LFL does, that Vincent was articulate and knowledgeable about art.
Although it's certainly beautiful to look at from costume to set and location, and Willem Dafoe is very convincing as a 64-year-old Vincent (Van Gogh died aged 37), watching AEG is like watching somebody's holiday slides for two hours - when they are drunk, and keep messing about with the projector, at some points even nearly knocking it to the floor. That, or the cameraman was walking about on his knees during an attack of the DTs. AEG also stretches about 20 minutes of LFL's story into 111.
You will wish you hadn't bothered.
State of the Union (2019)
State of This
An *extremely* middle-class couple about to divorce meet in an extremely middle-class bar before each of their 10 marriage counselling sessions.
First of all, the divorce appears to be happening because Rosamund Pyke's character (imagine Joanna Lumley's baby sister) had an affair. So Nick Hornby (writer) establishes it's the woman's fault, when it's quite obvious that Chris O'Dowd's character is the most insufferable moron imaginable.
SOUT fails at the first hurdle, because there is absolutely nothing to like about the characters, especially Chris 'Shouty' O'Dowd's. It's like being stuck in a bar with a noisy, extremely middle-class couple who won't shut up about their impending divorce. You'd find another bar after three minutes.
The dialogue is completely unnatural, the characters are 2-dimensional and SOUT isn't a tenth as clever as it thinks it is. I'd sooner watch a Steven Segal movie.
Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000)
I just binged all 8 seasons, and - mehhhh
Larry David, who co-created the Seinfeld show, got eight, now nine, seasons of this show about him, his friends, their families and various guest stars in Los Angeles throughout the Noughties. (I missed the whole thing until 2019. It was CYE or Frasier).
Essentially, Larry plays a caricature of himself as the archetypal Jewish _schlemiel_, or irredeemably inept and (emotionally) incompetent fool who gets himself and others into awkward and embarrassing situations - though he's never once short of money. In the UK, 'One Foot In The Grave' was the same thing, without Jewishness.
Some of the gags and characters (eg Susie Essman's Susie Green, and Shelley Berman as his father Nat) are extremely funny, and if you can tune in to how deliberately unlikeable Larry's character is, it's admirable that he generally maintained a pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty high standard of script through the run. The semi-improvised dialogue works most of the time, but it gets monotonous when all the actors are doing the same shouty voice.
CYE really jumped the shark when the (black) Black family moved in - it felt like over-compensation for being about rich, privileged white people for its early seasons. The Blacks were funny and lovable, but er - what? Virtue signalling?
Towards Season 6, the ideas start to run out; it becomes a predictable and self-referential show about immensely rich, middle-aged, sexist, golfing pals who eat at fancy restaurants twice a day, and their troubles with women who are implausibly attracted to them. Still funny gags, but you can see most of them coming, and the guest stars get increasingly self-aware.
It's also obvious that the CYE team were trying to see how far they could push the bad taste envelope. Larry reading tampon applicator instructions through the bathroom door to a teenage girl having her first period? Made me squirm, not laugh.
You do not need to watch the whole eight seasons, like I did.
Starts off interesting, gets soapy, in season 2 they've lost the plot
The story of the FBI's Behavioural Science Unit, which apparently invented the term 'serial killer' back in the seventies. They start off interviewing all the hi-profile serial killers in jail, and we get to witness the mind games between a hard-bitten, chainsmoking career cop, an earnest rookie, and people like Charlie Manson, etc. These are the best bits, but once Dr. Evil from Aus**n P*wers joins the team, it starts to go off the boil.
Naturally there are girlfriends, wives, children but we know why you're here. you're sick of watching cheap serial killer documentaries on the Fr**V**w channels. What you want is authenticity.
The depiction of years gone by is quite subtle and the US-wide location jumps are interesting (together with the vintage airline stuff, cigarettes and all). Gratuitous sex scenes which add nothing to the story, dozens and dozens of vintage cars (30+ drivers in the credits) for which they must have trawled all the USA's vintage car clubs when the film unit came to town.
Drama? Character? Well, the actors do their best I suppose, but by the middle ofseason 2 Mindhunter gets completely bogged down in the Atlanta Child Murderer case. Completely. One of the main characters (Doctor Wendy) is just forgotten about. It really does bring home the tedium of police work. For several episdodes. Don't expect any variety or suspense after they go to Atlanta; it gets stuck in Serial Killer Procedureville and becomes just another cop soap, updated with gay and racial themes.
Worth a look, but bingeing is not recommended.
Wild Rose (2018)
Complete wish-fulfilment fantasy, with sponsor placement and dated music.
Rose-Lyn Harlan is an unpleasant woman who had 2 kids (whom she neglects horribly) before she was 18, who dreams of going to Nashville to be a 'country music star', and who resembles, both physically and musically (though not emotionally), Suzi Quatro, the 1970's pop singer. She also has a lot of good luck (and sponsors), otherwise this film would have no point. Her voice is good (not exceptional), but the music is very dated indeed.
She's released on a tag from prison after a year. Luckily, she's been the main draw at Glasgow's Grand Ole Opry (it really exists) since she was 14, despite fitting in two children. Luckily, her solicitor gets her tag removed so she can do evening gigs. Luckily, the Opry is packed all the time, which isn't my experience of it.
Luckily, she still has an eight-piece band, consisting of grizzled pensioners. Luckily, no-one minds when she storms the stage and takes the mic off the guy who's performing to the grizzled Glaswegian line-dancers.
She does manage to blow the gig, however. But it's really good luck in disguise, because:
Luckily, she gets a job as a cleaner with an extremely rich woman who has connections to BBC radio. Luckily, world-famous BBC DJ and country music expert Bob Harris (playing himself, woodenly) wants to meet her, so her employer gets her a first-class Virgin rail ticket to London (£244), and also luckily arranges for Rose to play at her own 50th birthday as a fundraiser to get her to Nashville. The band rehearses for a week at the Glasgow Opry. I don't know who pays for this.
When that gig goes belly up because Rose has forgotten to arrange childcare in advance, luckily her mother, who works in a bakery, gives her a large envelope full of money to go to Nashville anyway, despite having been completely opposed to her career up till then. Julie Walters, almost managing a believable Glasgow accent - which isn't easy for a non-Glaswegian.
Luckily, the USA seems to waive any checks on her criminal record to allow her into the country, despite her still being on licence from her prison sentence for handling class A drugs.
When she returns, she luckily gets a gig at the Celtic Connections 'festival', despite it being tied up tighter than a drum to non-Glasgow acts. Luckily, world-famous DJ Bob Harris from BBC radio attends, as do all her family and friends, and the eight-piece band, and it turns out to be the gig of the century, despite her singing a tiny bit flat. Luckily, everyone forgives her total selfishness from the start.
Wild Rose simply introduces one problem for Rose after another, only for it to magically dissolve and have an optimal outcome. There's enough happening for the movie to keep you watching, but ultimately it's about as realistic as The Wizard of Oz, despite being a kind of Glasgow travelogue (with very unsubtle sponsor placement throughout).
Jack Nicholson's "Spartacus"
I know nothing about unionisation in the USA between WWII and the 1970's, apart from what Wikipedia, Woody Guthrie, and this movie tells me, so I won't discuss historical accuracy or politics. What I will say is that Hoffa takes a while to get going, but develops into a worthy epic with a terrific ending - as powerful as Spartacus; and Jack Nicholson, with his false nose, tilted eyebrows, toupees 'n'all, delivers a performance that completely carries a receptive viewer along with him. JN was nominated in this for a Golden Globe and also a Razzie; how can you feel indifferent? And induced feeling is what it's about.
Hoffa is a fictionalised biography of what's known in the UK as a 'firebrand' union leader who gets too close to organised crime - but hey, in the 1960s they were paying better dividends for the pension fund than anybody else. The historical recreations are somewhat 'Broadway stagey', the lighting is completely non-atmospheric, and the soundtrack is very, very dated (you're hearing "Shawshank Redemption" instead of something that Detroit might have recognised. Motown, anybody?).
But give it a chance, it's told in "accelerating flashback" about a mythical guy who wouldn't take 'no' for an answer and stuck it to the wrong man, in the end. "Hoffa" pays off.
Not today, thank you.
The story of a less-than mediocre singer-songwriter from suburban Suffolk who becomes a world superstar through plagiarism.
No hang on, the story of an ugly nerd who nobody realises is a tribute act.
Sorry, start again. A film about how much better the film world would have been if Richard Curtis had given up and gone into teaching. It's even got James Corden, whose chin auditions for the role of Ringo's nose.
Even if you like the Beatles' songs (which I don't), you will hate Yesterday, because Himesh Patel makes such a terrible job of them.
As per usual, Richard Curtis' script sounds like it was rejected by the local amateur dramatics group who decided to put on "An Inspector Calls" again this year.
Fish Tank (2009)
Who is this for? People who aren't miserable enough?
15-year-old foulmouthed girl with toxic personality and abusive mother lives in squalid social housing scheme, aspires to be a hiphop dancer/liberate a sawbacked horse, steals money from her mother's new bf (Fassbinder, whom she fancies rotten) and that's just the first fifteen minutes. Unbearably repetitive and dismal. No discernible story, or at least any that's going to make watching FT worth your while unless you're hoping for an explicit scene, which I wasn't so I turned it off.
Is this aspiring to be a Ken Loach movie? In fact, FT's cinema is probably more verité than his - but what's the point? Just because you can, doesn't mean you should, even if you pretend to yourself it's social commentary. Actors patronizingly portraying miserable people living miserable lives. How clever.
Red Road (2006)
Well put together. Starts to drag after an hour. Ultimately nonsensical.
Jackie Morrison (Kate Dickie) is a CCTV operator ("Cityeye") in one of those bleak bits of Glasgow non-Weegies are probably better off keeping away from. And she's 'from Maryhill'. Anyway, the Red Road flats are gone now.
In a bit of character establishment, she likes dogs, and benignly follows the lives of regular observees. Shades of "Hidden", "The Conversation", etc. Incidental dialogue only; it seems that there's been a family rift of some kind, as Jackie receives a wedding invitation saying "It's been too long".
The main meat of the film is that Jackie appears to become obsessed with getting revenge on one particular resident of the area she observes, one Clyde Henderson (Tony Curran), and we have to wonder why, as various clues and red herrings are sprinkled in our path.
I guarantee that you will get up to make a cup of tea about an hour in, probably because your immersion in this naturalistic film makes it natural that anybody would want a cuppa after a while. But don't miss the very explicit sex scene.
One thing I found annoying about Red Road is that Andrea Arnold saw fit to put in explicit (feminist?) sex, but made the whole point of the story - the explanation of Jackie's redemption - completely unintelligible. This explanation, ie the reason she should forgive Clyde, is put in the mouth of psychopathic Stevie (Martin Compston, the Line Of Duty bloke), and yep, it's authentic West Scotland, but you will have to guess why it makes all the difference. I live in Glasgow; I couldn't make out his crucial words as he breaks into Jackie's flat and threatens to batter out of her, so good luck everybody else.
Spoiler: Jackie attempts to frame for rape the guy who accidentally mowed down her husband and daughter, gets assaulted in her flat by nutcase Stevie, and then decides to forget it and move on. It's well acted, absorbing enough and emotionally satisfying, but don't expect it to make logical sense.
White Heat (1949)
Rootin' for the bad guy; Cagney owns it.
James Cagney's first "comeback to Warner Bros" feature after his career had stalled somewhat. And what a comeback! Film Noir as gangster-cowboy-retro.
Story: Cody Jarrett, mentally ill Mama's boy master criminal, takes a rap for a two-stretch to give him an alibi for the death-dealing 'Tunnel Job' train robbery. Edmond O'Brien is an undercover cop who becomes his Ma-substitute in the pen in order to track down 'The Trader', who's the fence laundering his ill-gotten gains. A chemical plant payroll job gets busted wide open, but Cody doesn't appear fazed as the bullets hit the propane. Think "Die Hard" with analog FX and a lead who can act, and the baddy wins.
White Heat displays director Raoul Walsh's pre-talkie pedigree; a few of the car chases seem almost under-cranked and the plot is somewhat linear, but you can have no complaints about the characterizations both male and female; and O'Brien and Mayo have the chops to give Cagney co-stars to strike sparks off. More than a few classic scenes, more than a few classic lines, White Heat is one to rewatch every few years to remind yourself of the pacing, suspense and characterization good movie entertainment should aim for.
(Last time I watched it, I realized it was the first film I could remember watching on TV as a small kid - you know, when you still think the actors are actually getting shot).
The Looming Tower (2018)
9/11 backstory as a soap. The longer it goes on, the more padding there is.
Glossy combination of documentary, political thriller and sexy soap opera, TLT pushes all the virtue-signalling buttons, ie there are good Arabs and bad Arabs, good Yanks and bad Yanks, and Condoleezza Rice gets a worse ride than Bin Laden.
Impressive use of real footage, unimpressive shots of Jeff Daniels naked. Uncompromising use of Arabic dialogue, compromised narrative that reduces the Middle Eastern geopolitical situation to 'good guys and bad guys but the good guys hampered by old-school office politics'. Which is undoubtedly only about 33% of the real story.
Of course, 33% of the real story counts as factual documentary these days.
TLT also flawed by a distinct sexist slant; every single powerful woman is a b*tch, and every single non-powerful woman is a babe. And with the greatest respect for John O'Neill RIP, I don't think tittilatory simulations of a married, lapsed Catholic sh*gging several different women sends out the message about Western morality that the FBI and CIA profess to promulgate.
Ultimately, TLT runs out of any other story than the 9/11 attacks, and it's very clear that a lot of scenes have been stre-e-e-etched to fill the time.
Years and Years (2019)
I lasted 20 seconds
Emma Thompson doing one of her really mediocre impressions of a presumably Northern English entrepreneur who becomes a politician. We see her from the point of view of a presumably Northern English family who, despite hating her on sight (like me), can't be bothered to lift the remote and press a button.
If the BBC are to be believed, they have once again come up with a world-beating "box set". What they've come up with is another wad of cash flung at the usual Oxbridge TV production axis with the same tedious, parochial, predictable result.
"Ooh! ", they thought; "Emma can do accents!".
Nobody else cared; see the ratings.
Idi i smotri (1985)
Disturbing, vivid depiction of Nazi atrocities, without being gratuitous
A pre-Glasnost Russian movie about one of the 628 (SIX HUNDRED AND TWENTY EIGHT) villages in Byelorussia alone that were annihilated by the Nazis' 'Dirlewanger Regiment', a unit comprised of criminals released on condition that they simply executed the 'final solution' in Poland, Russia and the Ukraine. The regiment was commanded by notorious alcoholic sadist, murderer and pervert Oskar Dirlewanger, who was (probably) beaten to death by his guards in 1945.
Mainly from the POV of Florian, a twelve(?)-year-old boy who digs up a rifle in order to join the Soviet partisans. We follow his journey from greenhorn to traumatized veteran. Over a week or so.
'Come And See' isn't very explicit in its depiction of battle; the worst you actually see is a cow being hit by machine-gun fire; but the sense in which you are a witness to the insane, drunken, vicious roundup of a village into a barn which is then torched and machine-gunned is very real. What's left to your imagination - including the obvious multiple rape of the young heroine Rose, destroying any idea Florian had of a heroic partisan romance - is more than enough.
Towards the end, we see the rise of Hitler in reverse, which owes something to its Soviet propaganda origins, but this doesn't detract from the sheer emotional power of the whole film. Makes Saving Private Ryan look like Hogan's Heroes.
Good Omens (2019)
Damien Potter and the Increasingly Turgid Stunt-Cast Melodrama
And I do mean turgid. No amount of CGI, stunt casting, or provocative anti-theology can redeem this overwrought, overstretched, puerile waste of everyone's time. At first, Good Omens appeared to be an antidote to the forced life-affirmation of The Good Place. No, no. It sets its sights so much higher. It's a would-be world-history epic that has so many unrelated threads that there apparently needs to be exposition every ten minutes. It ends up a mediocre children's adventure series.
The whole story could be cut to one 30-minute episode. The novelty of seeing successively more recently-popular actors chewing the green screen wears off long before Benedict Cumberbatch does his turn as (ho, ho) Satan. The novelty of seeing child actors interacting with overblown CGI wore off in Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets. There are gags that are done to death several times over.
Technical note: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are War, Conquest, Pestilence and Death, not War, Famine, Pollution and Death. Gaiman/Pratchett couldn't even get that right. Patronizing the audience's grasp of English, I don't doubt.
I don't hate this because of the Satanist themes. I hate it because it's incredibly, deeply, crashingly boring and nobody thought to tell Douglas Mackinnon.
Withnail & I (1987)
I finally managed to stay awake till the end
1969 recreated in 1984; two unemployed reprobate actors spend a weekend in a farmhouse, after which one of them gets a job. There's a vague homoerotic theme.
Ever seen "The Young Ones", with Rik Mayall et al? It's the same joke. The Dunning-Kruger effect, or "illusory superiority", where people convince themselves that they're doing fine, when they're actually not. In Withnail and I (Marwood)'s case, as in The Young Ones, the humour is in the grossness of their incompetence while they narcissistically strive to preserve the illusion of their own wonderfulness. (For example, the rust-bucket Jaguar they drive North in).
So I get the gags, but really, it isn't until at least halfway through that any sort of suspense or drama gets going (is the price of their 'holiday' for Marwood (I) to be seduced by Richard Griffith (Withnail's uncle)? So for the first time I managed to watch W&I without falling asleep. There are a few good gags, and scenes recognisable to any English public-school child of the sixties, but not many other people.
W&I has wistful English atmosphere by the bucketload, but not much else.
Underneath, an authentic portrait of '70's London. You had to be there.
Yes, an authentic portrait of early 70's London; utterly sexist, racist, drunk, antisemitic, corrupt, paranoid, dirty, dilapidated and everyone's on the make. From the days when even cheap comic strips had a film option.
It's clear from this how Dudley Moore became a bankable Hollywood star, while his comedy partner Peter Cook never really had a movie career. Peter Cook, however lovable, couldn't act if his life depended on it. He did write this excellent gag though:
"The number of leprosy victims in London can be counted on the finger of two hands".
The climax is that old standby, "chaos on the live TV show", an ending that '60's UK comedians from Norman Wisdom to Tony Hancock were reduced to at times.
And yet: It's nice to be reminded how gorgeous Joan Bakewell was in her pomp. And Spike Milligan was a very funny man, given the right script. A few glorious moments - the two Barries (Crocker and Humphries) have a lot of chemistry, the authentic Oz attitude remains untarnished, and shots of 'Alternative London' might be the only movie record of those days when hippies had become complete cynics. The London landscape depicted here has gone forever.
But the parts that seem to have been made up in the editing room - not so much dubbing as flubbing - and some atrocious non-acting, not just Peter Cook, hole this movie below the waterline; it's a struggle to stay with.
Nostalgia in a tube.
The Perfection (2018)
Screaming melodrama. You need to be drunk or st*ned to fully enjoy it.
"The Perfection" is an old-school horror movie with advanced CGI. The story is ridiculous, the characters are ridiculous, but it's true to its own reality. Which gets more and more far-fetched as it goes on, culminating in a completely (for the movie) logical ending that bears no relation to anything that ever has happened, does happen, or will happen in human history.
Spoiler: all the characters are completely insane.