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The Shallows (2016)
Shallow Film Making
Warning: spoilers ahead.
The Shallows is a dreary girl in peril film with one dimensional human characters and a non-scary CGI shark. The director ensures that the male teen viewers are kept happy with lingering shots of heroine Blake Lively and gives the required amount of gore moments to satisfy that market too.
The usual bucket load of character dumb actions are required to move the film forward. Not equating a dead whale in blood drenched waters with a high likelihood of excited feeding sharks close by. Packing everything to visit an isolated beach except a GPS watch. Having a friend back at the hotel who doesn't think to raise the alarm when the heroine doesn't return. Surfers in tropical waters arrogantly oblivious to threat of sharks.
The worst aspect by far is the arrogance of the film makers that the shark has to die. That shark had every right to be swimming in those waters and did nothing to threaten the surfers until one got too close to their feeding zone. Great Whites have also vulnerable species protection and it was the dumb actions that led to the human peril, not those of an indigenous creature going about its business. Dumb peril films about killer sharks is Hollywood at its laziest and sharks will be forever hunted as trophies as long as these films carry on.
Gilmore Girls (2000)
The Gilmore Girls - A Life Without Consequences
Warning: spoilers follow. Please only read if watched all seasons and only looking for another perspective on the show.
The Gilmore Girls is a good old fashioned family drama centred around the different generations of the Gilmore family. The Mother Daughter relationship forms the emotional core and how they interact with family members and the local community around them. The supporting characters, like Kirk, will grow on you as the series develops whilst others, like Michel, you will find irritating for the entire seven series.
Compared to much of the other dross you find on TV there is a lot of quality in this show with solid acting, funny and sad moments and good storylines. Sadly if you binge watch via Netflix, you will find yourself start to feel more and more irritated by the lead characters as the series unfolds.
The greatest source of irritation is the obsessive way the series creators/driving force The Palladinos protect the main characters Lorelai and Rory from any consequences for their actions.
The examples of this are many; both are able to eat copious amounts of junk food with no impact to their stick like figures. The Palladinos are essentially saying that if you are attractive, intelligent and sassy that you are immune from obesity. It is inverted snobbery of the highest order. Interestingly Sookie the non-threatening simple larger friend is never filmed eating loads but clearly in Palladinos eyes doesn't possess the intellectual capacity to be spared weight gain.
Other examples: Lorelai leaves fiance Max just before the wedding and goes on a road trip instead. Once back, she is spared the expected showdown with Max and instead moves to the next guy. Its only about Lorelai with no consequences for her selfishness. She then ultimately bounces between Luke and Chris, dropping one for the other depending on who meets her demands best.
Rory is no different; she breaks up an ex-boyfriend's marriage and then is rewarded with a new millionaire Yale boyfriend. She leaves her mother's home with no warning and is rewarded with a place at her millionaire grandparents place. She leaves the grandparents with no warning and is rewarded with an emotional homecoming to mother with no requirement for a clear the air discussion most of us would have. The one concession to consequences which is a clear the air dinner at the grandparents which provides the type of depth and accountability which the series often lacks.
All the way through the show we are continually told what a golden child Rory is because of her supposed intelligence. Her every whim is indulged by Stars Hollow. However, her friend Lane has twice the amount of emotional intelligence and overcomes a stifled childhood and a strict mother but this is never appreciated by the town in the same way.
At the centre of the family dynamic are the grand parents Richard and Emily who are both brilliantly written and the characters casting is perfect. The Friday night family dinners provide the best dialogue moments of the whole series as rifts are exposed and worked through. The interplay between the four leads is impeccably written and performed.
Another interesting aspect is that whilst Lorelai mocks her parents and their lifestyle, when it comes to being part of their dinners, parties and get togethers, she fits in effortlessly; she dresses the part, acts the part and generally feels completely at ease. Lorelai may have escaped a life of privilege but she is essentially still a product of that privileged world.
Talking of the grandparents, how Kelly Bishop who plays Emily did not win an Emmy over the seven series is a total mystery. She steals every scene and her portrayal of a life of privilege is an acting masterclass in itself.
The reunion series A Year in The Life clearly was conceived with good intentions but very badly executed. The four extended epsoodes contain weak storylines, scenes that drag on forever and have awful self-indulgent moments like the Stars Hollow musical. Old cast members return but with storylines of no substance. They almost look embarrassed to be returning to their old characters looking so much older. Rory's behaviour throughout the follow up is dreadful on both job and relationship fronts but of course the Palladinos ensure there are no consequences for her as ever. The one storyline of any depth is the therapy sessions between Lorelai and Emily which are abruptly halted and never followed up. The final moment is ill conceived and turns the series into soap opera cliffhanger mode.
Overall, the Gilmore Girls is well worth watching and maybe if I had watched one episode per week over seven years then the series irritations would not have been so noticeable. In short, I blame Netflix !
Let's Do The Time Warp Again
Warning - spoilers ahead.
I'm a huge Halloween fan including all the sequels through to Resurrection. I never bothered with the Zombie re-makes as i don't need to lift the lid of a trash can to know what it's contents are.
When i heard about Halloween 2018 I thought here we go again with another xerox MM copy to boost the Akked family's bank balance. Finding out also that we should consider it a direct sequel and should ignore every other sequel annoyed me as i saw it as an insult to every fan who supported the sequels at the box office, DVD buying and who visited conventions. I'll happily forget the sequels if JC/JLC return the proceeds they made from them.
But once a Halloween fan always a Halloween fan so I bought my ticket and prepared for another instalment.
The pre-titles sequence is pretty dull with typical Hollywood style English actors of no fixed regional dialects who play journalists taunting a mental health patient under the watchful eyes of his doctor. A whimper rather than a bang to start things off. However it gets really going with the titles, they are a triumph and almost brought a tear to my eye.
Sad to say that this is where the movie for me peaked as the rest of it was a tired disappointment. I can forgive cardboard 1D teenagers (Allyson made it to 2D but more could have been made of her character and contribution), improvised bland dialogue and unnecessary humour to break the non-existent tension. What I cannot forgive is the main thing JC didn't forgive Rosenthal for in making H2 in 1981, it just was not scary at all. Not one bit of it. Not even a single eerie or suspenseful moment was to be had.
The first half plods along and then the second half ramps up the slayings. Its at this point Myers becomes Jason Vorhees and selects victims based on proximity rather than for purpose. Its bloody, its ferocious in places but most of all its yawn inducing.
JLCs character becomes the grand dame of the piece, sort of a mouthy Charles Bronson. She bumbles about with guns forgetting the fact that 6 bullets in him didn't stop Myers the first time around. Her interplay with Judy Greer was flat and unconvincing as mother and daughter and I thought Greer just did not suit the role as daughter of a survivor. There was also a perfect opportunity to pair Laurie on the chase with the one 3D character in Sheriff Hawkins to flesh out her character and give her structure to her revenge motive but this was lost to a ludicrous sub plot involving Hawkins and a dodgy shrink.
Being Halloween fans, we ask our questions. Why did no one spot Myers donning his mask at a busy petrol station in the middle of the day ? What was the point of the cop in the stetson apart to say corny lines delivered woodenly ? Why did Laurie build her compound just outside of the town which gave her nightmares ? How did Laurie afford the high tech security measures if her life was such a mess ? What made Myers go back to Haddonfield given his family ties were removed for this film ?
The one aspect that kept me interested was the nods and homages to Halloween and its sequels gone by, even though the sequels are not supposed to exist ! Thanks guys for that, it was special for us fans. The classroom scene in particular was an exercise in nostalgia delivered with poetic restraint.
So enjoy counting the money JC JLC and Malek. See you all again for Halloween H60. If at that point you need me to forget this sequel was made then I'm happy to oblige.
I am in fact your Guru
Having been aware of the mystique surrounding Tony Robbins as the king of motivational speakers but having never seen him in action, I was very curious to watch I am not your Guru to understand more about the man and his methods. Having now watched it a few times, I am still not fully sure what to make of the film or Tony himself.
On the one hand, the $5,000 cost and week-long commitment to his Date With Destiny event means that it ensures that only those who are serious about making changes to their lives attend. You can see from the audience reactions to his teachings that they buy into the programme 100% but the problem for me is that although he claims not to be their Guru, that is exactly how they respond to him in their physical and emotional reactions. They hang on his every word and there is no sense of anyone ever challenging aspects such as his excessive language, provocative methods and "make your life a masterpiece" fortune cookie type sentiments. An example of this is the German teenager who has clearly been let down by everyone around him in his life (his parents, educators and peers) that he felt compelled to travel half way round the world to have Tony spend 5 minutes telling him it was all going to be ok with no substance behind it. The teenager just looked into Tony's eyes and received the reassurance he needed. Tony was his Guru and if that helped him then fine.
I am not saying that the participants are just compliant sheep; there is clearly a lot of people with promise and talent in the audience who just needed that push or reassurance. The section devoted to the brave Dawn underlines this; her opening up to Tony and just having faith in knowing that whatever happens next can only bring a better life for her and others around her is definitely the highlight of the film.
Other participants featured have less inspirational outcomes. A woman breaks up with her partner in front of 2500 people only to reunite after the event finishes. A married couple re-connect but you are left feeling that a decent marriage counsellor could have done the same thing for them at a fraction of the cost. The lack of inspirational outcomes just makes you feel the event serves as a placebo for many participants until returning to real life.
The film has a documentary feel but the lack of challenging of Tony's methods by the Director Joe Berlinger reduce it instead to a free advertisement for Robbins Incorporated. This needed a Louis Theroux style approach as he would have got under the skin of participants and Tony. The event is very professional and the army of support teams (warm up guys, counsellors, event managers etc) Tony uses does ensure that participants are looked after during the week. You can also see why its $5000 a person as these people also need to be paid.
I have always found with motivational speaking or training in general that you only take from each event small elements which over the years build into an overall library of learnings. I will definitely take away some elements of Tony's philosophies learnt from I am not your Guru. Would I fly half way round the world and pay $5000 to experience it for myself ? No I wouldn't but I can see why some people would.
Pitch Perfect 3 (2017)
A Pitch Perfect Mess of a Film
I am a huge fan of Pitch Perfect; it is that rare film where you can watch countless times and always be entertained by the brilliant cast, writing, songs and general feel good that surrounds a movie where all involved know they are creating something special.
Pitch Perfect 2 pretty much drained all the good will I had for the series; a real let down.
When I saw there was a Pitch Perfect 3 I was really suspicious but we movie fans are sentimental at heart; we want to see the good in a franchise that provided such a great first film. So I bought my ticket and then proceeded to watch what I confidently predict to be the worst film I will watch this year.
Pitch Perfect 3 is a great example of how franchise owners foolishly believe that a returning cast can re-create magic time after time, even when given a lame plot, script and new weak supporting characters. This film only shows how wrong this approach is. The brilliant Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins are recycled, only this time with truly awful lines. Rebel Wilson was clearly considered by the producers to be a comic genius in the first film but clearly gave us her best lines (about 2 of them) back in the first film. Even Anna Kendrick cannot save this film. The basic problem is that in trying to go out on a high, the discipline of the first film is lost to self-indulgent terrible ad libbing and a weak plot centred around Wilson as an action hero.
Ok so what would I have done differently? The re-uniting for the USO tour could have focused much more on cheering up battle scarred troops which would have added some much needed depth to the film. There could have been a great opening to the film starting with Beca visiting each character in their new ordinary lives to persuade them to return to the group. The DJ competition should have been ditched completely. They should also have paid any money to have Adam Devine and Skylar Astin to reprise their roles as their relationships with the girls provided so much to the first film's success. Aubrey's relationship with her father could also have been explored in much more depth and Fat Amy with a half decent script and solid soldier character support could have been the love interest this time.
Despite all of the above, I will always be thankful to the cast and crew for bringing the original Pitch Perfect to the screen. It will always be a go to movie for when I need cheering up. I really hope that all concerned know that its time for the series to say goodbye.
Watching The Detectorists
The Detectorists is a gem of a television series featuring beautifully observed and well written characters. The interplay between mates Andy and Lance keeps each episode filled with wit and charm, helped along by well written supporting characters who all contribute to the unfolding events. The strength of the writing of the supports means that they can have their own stand alone segments such as when Russell and Hugh search for the mayor's gold chain in the dodgy car park.
The series is a homage to metal detectoring and is careful to be respectful to a pastime almost universally considered naff by the outside observer. It still manages to poke gentle fun but never crosses the line into simply just being disrespectful. There is numerous swearing but spoken by characters you have come to appreciate so it becomes the type of swearing you hear your real- life friends say and do not take offence to. There is also pathos amongst the humour; witness Sheila's lament to Lance for the child she never knew. The series is beautifully photographed and the choice of medieval style music is inspired.
There are also moments where characters just use facial expressions or glances to purvey how they are feeling which is a wonderfully observed feature of how English culture operates. Toby Jones in particular plays this aspect so well. The casting of Rachael Stirling and Diana Rigg as mother/daughter is inspired and is never played as though a series in-joke.
By series 3 the proceedings start to stretch a bit and repetition does creep in, for example references to Varde's "chattiness". The decision to have Sophie's character air brushed from series 3 is also a shame given that she was a good foil for Andy & Lance in the first two series.
Mackenzie Crook deserves all the plaudits available for the work he has put into this series. He has put his stamp over every aspect – acting, writing, direction, music, photography – and he clearly has a passion for history and for the preservation of artefacts left behind by those who came before us.
We now live in an age where it is possible to be a TV star whilst possessing no talent for anything at all. So in a way we as viewers have now become detectorists in our own right; we search through the pages of our channel guide trying to find something which is neither utter dross or something repeated for the endless time. The moment anyone discovers The Detectorists in their TV guide is the moment when they know they have found their own gold.
Battle of the Sexes (2017)
God bless Billie Jean King
Being too young in 1973 to understand the social and political significance of the tennis match played between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, I watched this film to understand more of the context in which the match was played. Both Emma Stone and Steve Carell play their roles very well and you really feel you are watching the embodiment of the characters of Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.
The film's pacing does drag in the love scenes especially as the viewer was enticed originally to buy their ticket for the tennis match than the love story. Billie Jean's sexuality is important to understanding her character progression but the long lingering dreamy shots of Stone and Andrea Riseborough just go on a bit too long.
The film comes alive with the match build up and the grainy film and hand-held camera technique for the tennis scenes give the film a nice sense of sports documentary realism. The match itself was filmed brilliantly well and is thrilling to watch.
The supporting cast do a good job but this is ultimately Stone/Billie Jean's film. Just imagine what it must have been like for an independently minded sports woman in 1973 battling sexism from all quarters including her own fellow players like Margaret Court and Chris Evert who predicted Riggs would win. The fact that Billie Jean conducted herself during the build up to the match (Riggs playing every sexist card he had during it) with grace, warmth and charm is a feat in itself.
The Battle of the Sexes is a really important film. Billie Jean King changed forever women's tennis by challenging the sexist status quo of women being paid a fraction of the amount paid to the male players. She did this by sheer force of will and had to overcome the tennis authorities and the sporting elite of the time.
The only criticism I have of the film is why did it take 44 years for this important historical event to be captured on film?
Modern female tennis players owe everything to this tenacious feisty warm woman.
The Night Manager (2016)
Bond by Committee
Beware spoilers please.
In an age of repeat showing, catch up and on-demand TV, somehow I managed to miss The Night Manager series. The main anecdotal feedback was Hugh Laurie's masterful performance as the main villain and the quality of the drama itself. I finally bought the DVD and sat down to watch what I expected to be a masterpiece.
The Night Manager can be considered a masterpiece if you compare it to most of the dross played daily in multi-channel TV land. But judged alone, it certainly is not a masterpiece, instead it is average at best mainly due to those who managed the creative process.
There are some decent moments; the weaponry display, the Egypt crowd opening and the interplay between Tom Hiddleston and Aure Atika. It is a shame that Atika's character is not developed as she has great screen presence and was a worthy foil for Pine.
The problems essentially stem from the presence of 10 executive producers who have proceeded to produce the inevitable camel instead of the thoroughbred horse. The plot whilst proceeding at a fair enough pace, is full of holes and many times you will need to forget you have an IQ to find watch you are watching believable.
Examples ? Pine returning to the Egyptian hotel where he spent 5 years working at and be recognised by no-one. A heavily pregnant character managing to evade pregnancy flying regulations whilst simultaneously putting her unborn child in mortal danger while carrying a gun she managed to get past Egypt airport security. My particular highlight is that in the digital age, Roper still prefers having print outs of highly sensitive information which would be ruinous for him if discovered, which he then keeps in in a desk drawer in his office.
Hugh Laurie's supposed famed performance provides instead the most frustrating aspect of the series. The mistake made was to not have him do anything bad at the show beginning to establish his villain credentials. Instead, we witness a bumbling fool who will trust a complete stranger over his closest ally. His lines also completely remove any air of menace; the more he witters on, the less chilling he becomes. If the Director had wanted him to purvey menace, she should have watched Michael Corleone in Godfather Part II. Corleone says only the minimum amount required and is all the more chilling for it. Laurie instead waffles on and on. Laurie was not also helped by the script giving him henchman called "Frisky" "Corky" and "Tabby"; names which do not strike fear in the heart.
Tom Hiddleston is not much better; this is the only role I have seen him in and from the look of it, it feels he spent his whole time at drama school perfecting his icy stare. His character also suffers from a lack of a decent back story and which means his motivation to become a Night Manager and to then remember he has Bond like qualities are not explained and therefore not appreciated by the viewer.
Supporting characters do not compensate; Tom Hollander's character delivers lines as though playing a bitchy celebrity hairdresser. He is also supposedly a fearsome operator who then proceeds to lose badly the only fight he enters into. Olivia Colman delivers her lines as if she is playing a West Country School Dinner Lady whose kitchen has run out of carrots. There simply is not any trace of top civil servant in her portrayal. I would have much preferred someone like Anna Maxwell Martin or Vicky McClure in the role.
Given the sheer scale, cost and complexity of the whole series, this really needed a strict Director. Instead we got direction based on long lingering shots of Elizabeth Debecki in various states of undress (odd for a female Director to do) and Hiddleston's supposedly smoldering eyes. Action shots were generally handled well but the party scenes just had that hideous feel of British thespians having a jolly good time rather than receiving tight direction.
The BBC is now under serious competition in the quality drama stakes. The Crown is a great example of what the BBC used to produce but now the independents have stolen their thunder. If the BBC wants to do more Bond style drama then it needs its creatives to be tougher with each other on what is needed to deliver quality output.
Stranger Things (2016)
The Duffer Brothers vs The Monster - a review of Stranger Things 2
The following is a reflection of Stranger Things 2 from a fan's perspective. It is full of spoilers so only read if you are a fan looking for another opinion on the show.
For fans like myself of Stranger Things Series 1 (ST1), it represented more than just a TV show. ST1 celebrated those that prefer chess club/D&D to rugby/baseball or Phoenix Arcade Game to Drama club. In the world of ST1, it was the nerds who saved the day, not the cool kids. The Duffer Brothers (TDB) including references in the series to Tangerine Dream, John Carpenter films, Jaws and Arcade games was just heaven for me. Tangerine Dream then returning the favour by remixing the ST theme for their Particles album made it even more special.
Given all this, it's really disappointing to have to write a negative review for Stranger Things 2 (ST2). The fundamental issue for TDB is that with the runaway success of ST1 is that they have inadvertently created their own monster in the basement. ST2 suffers the same problems as other sequels of successful films/series; bigger budgets delivering lesser outcomes, new characters adding nothing, current characters not developing any further and hitherto unknown actors now performing in their current guise as established TV stars.
Examples? In ST2, the creepy top secret scientific military research establishment is now essentially a tourist attraction where anyone can visit to know what is going on and even take a tour of the labyrinth. The sinister main scientist brilliantly played by Matthew Modine in ST1 is now replaced by a cuddly local doctor figure whose point of being in the show I am still not sure of. It's like Jaws 2 replacing the original giant shark with Flipper the Dolphin.
Other new ideas simply do not work. The new characters half brother/sister bring nothing and in the case of Max is a big disappointment as it could have been a great opportunity to have another kid with some kind of extra sensory powers. Instead she is a love interest and a weak one at that. Bob is also introduced and we enjoy watching his character develop until he is then deemed expendable. The breakaway episode with Eleven just looks like an extended Duran Duran Wild Boys video with really poor acting.
The dynamic between the kids is also less convincing this time and the decision to only have Mike and Eleven come together in the last episode was a big mistake as their interplay was one of the central success features of ST1. The kids are now stars and this seems to show in their performances (except Finn Wolfhard). Strangely the actor playing Will, Noah Schnapp, who never seems to be on the celebrity circuit with the others, actually delivers the strongest performance of all the kids. The adult performances are not much better and Winona Ryder in full distressed mode now just comes across as hammy and over the top.
The Snow Ball ending felt self-indulgent, almost as if TDB were trying to re-write their own Snow Balls but this time they get the girl. I don't blame them as there are 1980s 6th Form Discos I would happily re-write the ending to.
I sincerely hope that as I write this that TDB are revisiting all the successful elements of ST1 as they develop Stranger Things 3 (ST3). The monster they have created is growing larger and larger and if changes are not made in ST3, taking on board the lessons of ST2, then my biggest fear is that the season finale of ST3 could well be TDB getting eaten by the monster.
Goodbye Mr Bond
Please do not read this review if you have not seen the film already
Spectre continues the Bond tradition of a beautifully made film awash with glamorous locations, luxury cars, London & Rome at their finest and Monica Bellucci. As a spectacle it gives the casual viewer the basics needed from a Bond film.
But what to make of Spectre from the Bond fan's perspective ? A likely last outing for Daniel Craig who demonstrates a Bond weary from previous events. Mr Craig in Spectre is a more considered Bond who now listens to reason, thinks before charging in and prefers to save the world wearing Tom Ford. There is also a wink from him to the audience of just how ludicrous the whole Bond as world saver is; witness the handy sofa in the pre-titles sequence, finding time to call the office during the Rome car chase and a finale almost copied from Grease.
The Plot Spectre has a plot which on paper looked a fine piece of work by writers Logan Purvis Wade & Butterworth (LPWB). Bringing in a shadowy empire ruled by a despot, whilst a giant cliché in the Bond franchise, at least reflected our current global world which in reality is controlled by a handful of giant corporations (who supply our phone, coffee, shopping and internet browsing). The problem unfortunately for LPWB is that the plot unravels before our very eyes as we watch Spectre portrayed in the film pretty much as a team of bumbling incompetents led by a man dressed in posh carpet slippers. Christophe Waltz whilst starting out well, gradually goes downhill as an evil mastermind and by the end we are almost laughing at his ineptitude. It also did not help that Waltz decided to make adverts in the UK at the same time resulting in the supposed head of an evil empire also convincing us to buy broadband.
The Girl Spectre also brings Bond a new love interest. Bond has essentially fallen in love in 3 of his 26 missions. The first was with Tracy (OHMSS) who represented the finest ever Bond girl to the point that it is almost an insult to describe her as one. Any self- respecting Bond fan knows just how influential she has been to the series which has reflected in both direct or indirect references to her in at least 5 Bond films up to TWINE ("have you ever lost a loved one Mr Bond?"). The second was with Vesper Lynd who whilst not as rounded a character as Tracy was at least involving enough to the viewer in that we mourned her passing with Bond. The big problem with Spectre is that Bond falls in love for the third time, this time with Madeline, but LPWB do not spend any time developing her character so we essentially do not care about either her or the love affair. Madeline is maudlin, aloof and we do not understand what Bond sees in her.
The Car Note to the Bond team; the reason why the DB5 has remained the ultimate Bond car is that it was not unceremoniously dumped in a river 10 minutes after its first car chase. This film's Aston Martin never had a real chance to prove itself a classic.
Other forgettable moments The casting of the wrestler Bautista who smirks in every scene as though he cannot believe his good fortune at landing the role. He simply has no presence and this is really evident during the Q scene on the cable car when a similar henchman sits opposite him and fixes him an expressionless look of an assassin. The actor playing the role brings a real sense of menace in these 2 minutes versus Bautista's silly grin but sadly the scene ends before real drama can be played out.
Blowfeld's evil lair is also something out of Austin Powers and is so hopelessly under fortified that Bond destroys it within 2 minutes. The finale is a Die Hard rip off without any suspense. Torture scene was inappropriate and parents who consider to let their children watch Bond films (let's face it, we all watched Bond as kids) will definitely need to fast forward through the dentist chair scene.
The Theme Great song by Sam Smith but sadly Sam let slip that he wrote it in 20 minutes. At least an hour would have suggested you needed a second go at it.
The Heritage One truly admirable aspect of the Broccoli & Wilson (B&W) stewardship of the Bond canon is their dedication to preserving the Fleming heritage. Witness the small but highly involving scene filmed in Rules restaurant with M and the supporting players. Only in a Bond film would there be such a pause for reflection, amongst the explosions, in the heart of Fleming/Bond's Mayfair London.
If Daniel Craig does walk away, he can be very proud of his contribution to the series. The problem for B&W is how on earth does Bond remain relevant in a world where the real villains are nothing that Fleming wrote about. James Bond will return but whether he the man needed to take on today's problems is anyones guess.
The Thing (2011)
It must have been some Thing it ate
Warning: this film contains spoilers and is designed to be read by someone who has watched the film and is looking to reflect on it.
The Thing is a film made with great integrity. It features a good cast and concentrates on the back story to the 1982 film; how the Norwegians came to implode once they had unleashed an alien creature from its icy arctic depths. However, after watching it, I was mainly left with a flat feeling in that I had just watched a film which missed many opportunities to become as good as John Carpenter's masterpiece.
There is much to admire; the concentrating on the detail of the research station which the 1982 crew found – the axe in the wall, the man frozen with his wrists cut, the empty ice bath. No continuity detail is left unturned and it can truly be considered a prequel in that respect. The cast is commendably mostly Scandanavian and the director seems to really care to be as faithful to the first film as possible.
The main problem with the film is two fold; firstly a large amount is a re-tread of the first which as a sequel would have been fine but as a prequel does not make sense. Thus scenes such as where the main character Kate Lloyd is trying to determine who is alien/human is undermined by our feeling of "been there done that" in the first film. In addition, suspense often gives way to gore (gore isn't scary, suspense is) and the second half becomes a series of running away from the gooey monster.
Secondly, a fine cast is just simply not given enough to do in the dramatic stakes. Brilliant Scandanavian actors like Trond Espen Seim and Carsten Bjornlund (both brilliant in The Legacy) are simply wallpaper whilst we wait for them to be munched by the monster. Even Mary Elisabeth Winstead (brilliant in Final Destination 3) who to be fair has a lot of dramatic chase scenes just does not involve the viewer to care that much. The best example of this is when she confronts Carter in the snow-cat; this should have been a really dramatic moment but the lack of focusing on having built a meaningful relationship between them means you're not that bothered when she presses fire.
The one truly stand out brilliant moment is the helicopter chase of the dog at the end which also gives us back Ennio Morricone's original score which was sadly not used at all in this film.
I would also have given this film a better title, something like "The Thing: Beginning" to better differentiate it and give it its own identity.
So for me this film is a chance missed to build a really excellent back story and a warning that character building and spending time on interweaving relationships between characters is as important in a horror film as the scary monsters and the super creeps.
The Woman in Black (2012)
A Crime Against Scary
The Woman in Black has run for years and years as a successful stage play in the London West End. I have had the privilege of seeing it twice and each time the superb staging and acting has blown me away. The stage play is based on the classic "less is more" theory and the moments of scary are limited to a few times but when they come they are nothing less than chilling and downright terrifying.
By contrast, The Woman in Black film is not scary in the slightest and the basic reason why is that we are bombarded scene after scene with "scary" faces and ghoulish spectres. It literally becomes a matter of going "oh look another ghost and so what?" The location are well thought through but the haunted house is one giant cliché. The acting is OK but the script gives them very little to work with. Daniel Radcliffe seems a really nice chap but he was miscast as a tragic widower as he cannot muster any emotion beyond "mild alarm".
Delivering such a poor film with such great source of material is one heck of a feat but the Hammer team manage to do this magnificently.
The last great act of the Hammer Company was in 1980 with the TV Series "Hammer House of Horror". Most episodes were really scary and one in particular "The Two Faces of Evil" was just about the scariest TV programme ever to grace our screens. I watched it as a 12 year old in 1980 and then as a 42 year old 30 years later. Both occasions were a thing of sleeping with the lights on afterwards. The Hammer team that made Woman in Black should all sit down and watch this episode and then hang their heads in shame.
American Hustle (2013)
Watch it and weep
Spoiler alert – I really dislike films with improvised dialogue, in fact I downright hate them. Yes I know there is the odd gem like Spinal Tap but for the most part they just make cringe worthy viewing.
American Hustle should have been a thing of genius. It has an excellent cast, great story (plot details are in the title), brilliant production design and attention to detail. So for this reviewer it is just a massive shame that the prior mentioned ingredients are ruined scene after scene by the cast's improvised dialogue.
Instead of sharply observed insightful gripping scenes, we have the cast repeating the same thing three times just to make the point. When they don't know what to say, hell, they just say the first thing that comes into their heads.
The worst part is that I don't know who to blame – the cast for arrogantly thinking they are script writers, the director for not taking a tougher stand or the producers for just allowing the thing to evolve in the way it did.
American Hustle will win Oscars, not because it deserves to, simply because it has that awful thing called the big momentum. For me, it is simply the emperor's new clothes circa 1975.
We've been expecting more Mr Bond
With every new release of a Bond film there are two predictable events. Firstly, that some journalist will proclaim it the best Bond ever. Secondly, that the marketing campaign for the film will be the equivalent of a continual sledge hammer hit over our heads for a full month with no hiding place. The result of these two events is that in the minds of the Bond fan and any other interested film goer that the film they are about to see had better be damned good.
And so we have Skyfall. As you have seen through your perusal of the other hundred odd reviews, opinions vary from an absolute triumph to a colossal turkey. In my opinion it is neither as Skyfall is a mixed bag of a film. The plot is weak and changes tack half way through and the villain a poorly thought out one. However, in places the film shines from a script clearly written by intelligent writers as there are some really well delivered dialogue scenes. The action scenes are not particularly exciting and we are "treated" to maybe the worst one in the series – the crashing of an empty tube at London rush hour. It also suffers from an M who is clearly past pensionable age and a supporting cast of forgettable characters (Q is a wise cracking "yoof", Tanner a grey bureaucrat more suited to managing the staff car park etc.) The shining light is the introduction of Ralph Fiennes character who will be a big asset for many Bond films to come.
So the best Bond film? Definitely not. Did it merit the relentless PR machine? Count the numbers and see. But it is possible to see a next film delivering more but only with the following provisos:
1. The next film must be developed around a credible villain. The "crazed individual" approach has had its day. There are plenty of villainous governments out there for Bond to fight against. Bringing back a SPECTRE style approach would also work as countries form alliances with each other. 2. Daniel Craig needs to learn how to do suave. Mr Craig brings everything to the Bond role except this and it makes for a poorer Bond. This aspect is important as it has always formed part of the reason why men want to be Bond and not the Terminator or Rambo. 3. Make the most of Ralph Fiennes – he is the only credible supporting character and is capable of making any scene involving for the viewer.
There will always be a Bond and there will always be the machine that delivers it. The trick for those operating the machine is to deliver that special quality that makes us still want Bond fighting our battles. As Sheryl Crow once said, you are not the only spy out there.
Barnaby and Me (1979)
Good fun, endless charm and a talking Koala
Growing up in the UK in the late 1970s meant many a summer holiday morning filled with classic children's' TV programmes. You could start with The Banana Splits then move onto The Flashing Blade, Why Don't You and finally a TV-movie like Barnaby & Me.
Barnaby & Me is a cheaply made but utterly charming TV-movie. It concerns the adventures of a conman (Sid Caesar) just arrived in Australia who finds himself ejected the hard way from a merchant ship after cheating the crew at cards. He ends up destitute in the garden of Juliet Mills who takes him into her small family which includes a Koala Bear named Barnaby.
They all then proceed to various adventures involving "Happy Bars" (would have a different connotation these days), dodgy businessmen and Russian defectors. A tennis match featuring an old Australian pro also makes it into the mix.
The whole thing is handled with gentle care and affection with some good comic moments provided by the ever reliable Caesar (who afterwards confessed he had no recollection making the movie) and also Mills provides the emotional backbone necessary to give depth to the family aspect. Barnaby the Koala provides the narration and before you groan and think of Look Who's Talking and Babe, honestly, this is done in a witty and sarcastic delivery style (think Phil Silvers/Bilko). Look out for when Barnaby berates the Props Department and you'll know what I mean.
You will not find Barnaby & Me on DVD, it is simply too dated and old fashioned for these Pixar times. But if you should come across it in your programme guide, do yourself a favour and hit the record button and then sit down and watch it as a family. You will all find Barnaby & Me as warm and as sunny as those endless summer days you remember from the long ago.
For Halloween devotees only
I hope it is not too much of a spoiler to say that the resourceful Mr M. survives the events of Halloween 4. He is wounded though and is nursed back to health by a vagrant who is rewarded for his efforts with Michael's trademark gratitude. It is then a return to Haddonfield, more menacing of Jamie his niece (traumatised following events of 4) and other teenagers while we also watch Dr Loomis try to catch him again. A sub plot concerning a mystery but clearly thrifty visitor (he arrives by coach so not much of a mystery to the other passengers and driver) doesn't do anything but set up things for a next film.
If this was a silent movie, it wouldn't be a bad effort. The director clearly loves his set pieces and creates mood, tension as well as employing some dazzling camera angles with light and shadow. But it isn't a silent movie and this is where things start to go wrong as the dialogue is just awful most of the time.
Whereas Halloween 4 took its time with the menace, Halloween 5 just starts off nasty and continues in the same vein throughout the film. It has a new group of teenage fodder all of whom cannot act for toffee and you will simply not care about their fate. In fact in the case of Tina, you will hope Mr M. meets her as quickly as possible.
Danielle Harris does a remarkable job as Jamie; for a child to have such a large amount of harrowing scenes (trust me some are really unpleasant) must have been a tough job. Donald Pleasance delivers his usual eye rolling and hammy dialogue and frankly probably had a better time spending the cheque.
What is truly unforgivable is the treatment of Rachel's character who also returns. The idea that the Rachel of Halloween 4 would leave Jamie alone on Halloween night while she goes to a party is frankly laughable. Rachel's overall treatment in this film is an insult given what she contributed to the success of the franchise's make or break return in number 4.
So for the budding film directors out there, see this film to learn about light and shadow. The rest of us will just have to wonder what kind of film the Halloween team could have made if they had just taken more time and care over this film.
Time to go home again Michael
Halloween 4 welcomes back Michael Myers to the proceedings having been incarcerated in a top security mental hospital for ten years. Unfortunately someone at head office decides he should be transferred to a normal prison and the transfer process doesn't exactly end well, especially for the nurses on duty.
Thereafter he heads back to his hometown for the usual mayhem and this time he has further connections to Haddonfield via his niece who has to share Halloween night with her deranged uncle and Donald Pleasance's returning Dr Loomis.
Halloween 4 is a great horror film; it has the requisite amount of suspense and gore and also satisfies its teenage audience with attractive leads. What makes it great though is that it has a well written script, a real family you root for (the Carruthers family) and in Ellie Cornell's portrayal of Rachel, a heroine with real depth and character.
Director Dwight Little does a cracking job to preserve the series traditions (the music, the title cards, mood and suspense rather than gore) and Alan McElroy's ten day written script (due to writer's strike) manages to deliver genuine heartfelt family moments as well as the carnage.
Clearly the Halloween team realised that for the series to have a future that Michael Myers had to return as its central core. Luckily for us they proceeded to deliver a film which brought our unhappy anti-hero back in a way that respected the needs of the heritage, the fans and the money men all at once.
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
A wonderful gentle film
I recorded this film from Film4 showing at 3am. In reality this is a film perfect for BBC2 on a Sunday afternoon. It is a gentle comedy with beautiful interplay between the two leads and also adds pathos, wit and charm.
The supporting cast do their job well and add to the story.
There is also a lot of depth, most evident when the shop owner is subtly trying to find someone to spend Christmas day with and ends up with an unlikely companion.
A film from a bygone age when all that was necessary to deliver perfect entertainment was a talented cast, a clever script and a warm delivery.
I thoroughly recommend it.