Friday, December 31, 2010

The Repeated Meme: How did we do?

Those of you who follow this blog's Doctor Who: The Repeated Meme series will recall that every episode, I made a prediction on the Item Most Likely To Wind Up as a Toy. Now that it's Christmas sales season, let's see how well I did:

The Eleventh Hour: I didn`t exactly predict that one, as the sonic screwdriver and Matt Smith dolls were released almost as soon as it premiered. Nice to see them adding Prisoner Zero to the line, though.

The Beast Below: I predicted Smilers. We got Smilers.

Victory of the Daleks: I predicted Daleks (no prizes for guessing) though I didn`t expect the Bracewell figure-- and they did include the cool-looking Dalek as well as the fake-looking ones.

Time of Angels: I predicted, obviously, angels. We got them, in three different flavours.

Flesh and Stone: I predicted glow-in-the-dark Crack in the Universe stickers for your wall. Don`t know if it counts, but there was a Facebook fad for adding the Crack in the Universe to your profile picture for a while.

Amy`s Choice: I predicted a limited-edition Amy Pond Up The Duff. Not yet, but it`s early days. In the meantime, you can make your own with a regular Amy Pond figure and some plasticine.

Vampires of Venice: I predicted either a generic vampire girl or else Rosanna. Surprise, it`s Francesco.

The Hungry Earth: I predicted Silurians with noses and honkers. We got not one, but two. Silurians, that is. Not honkers. There were four of those. Ahem, I`d better stop.

Cold Blood: I predicted Silurian ray-guns. Alas, thus far `tis not to be, which is a shame as they were really the only good thing about the design of the Silurians with Noses and Honkers.

Vincent and the Doctor: I predicted the Invisible Chicken Monster. However, as it`s invisible, we`ll never know if they released it or not.

The Lodger: I predicted nothing. We got nothing, and mercifully no six-inch articulated James Cordens.

The Pandorica Opens: I predicted a coin bank based on the Pandorica. Thus far, I`m still waiting, though the MP3 CD cases which come with the Pandorica Figure Collection do come together to form a Pandorica-like box which I suppose you could keep things in.

The Big Bang: I predicted a stone Dalek; in fact, we got a stone Roman soldier and a stone Cyberman.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Madre de Dios

Treasure of the Sierra Madre: Three men go prospecting for gold, find it, and also find that, out in the stark wilderness and with the temptation of incredible riches in front of them, the basest impulses, most venal suspicions, and deepest greed can emerge. Two of the men are ultimately saved because what they want the gold for is essentially benign purposes-- the old prospector wants to have a comfortable retirement, the young one wants to buy an orchard and start a family-- and both lose the gold, but get their wishes. The third one, Dobbs, played creepily well by Humphrey Bogart, wants the gold for creature comforts and to be able to lord it over other people, and he ends up getting all the gold, but losing his life.

Movie count for 2010: 130

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Comedy of Errors

The Human Comedy: 1943 Mickey Rooney film which I saw through no fault of my own on TCM. It's an example of that kind of American nostalgic-picture-of-village-life genre, along the lines of Our Town, Meet me in St Louis or To Kill a Mockingbird, though unfortunately lacking the bite of all three of these. Rooney is the middle male sibling of a small-town Irish family with a deceased father (who narrates, irritatingly, throughout); the younger one appears to have some sort of mental disorder, the older one is in the Army and quite visibly destined to die heroically in action before the end of the story, and Rooney spends his time failing to pay attention in class, winning school track and field meets, and Learning About Life through his after-school job as a telegram delivery boy. Mainly worth watching for the rather peculiar lesbian subtext revolving around Rooney's sister and her best friend, and there's a cute if sappy big-up for the Alternative Family at the end of the film as the Irish clan, by implication, take in the older sibling's now-disabled army buddy as a kind of adopted child. Oh, and there's a before-they-were-famous cameo from Robert Mitchum, of all people. Relentlessly sentimental and propagandistic, but peculiarly fascinating in that car-crash way.

For some reason this won an Academy Award; clearly talent was rationed that year.

Movie count for 2010: 129

What She Drewe

Tamara Drewe: Stephen Frears continues his exploration of different aspects of British life with an adaptation of a Posy Simmonds comic which continues her exploration of the foibles and hypocrisies of the literary and academic worlds. The film tells the story of a journalist (Tamara) who returns to her native village and finds herself at the centre of a tacit conflict between the reality of rural village life (represented by two poisonously bored teenage troublemakers, and a cute hunky farmhand) and fanciful interpretations of it by city-dwellers (represented by a literary couple with a deteriorating relationship, and the various writers and lecturers attending a writers' retreat at their farmhouse). The film portrays this conflict well, and through excellent casting and design captures the feel of the comic impeccably. Unfortunately I didn't think the film was quite as successful in portraying the pretentiousness of Tamara and her London boyfriend (which the comic does by interweaving excerpts of Tamara's facile Polly-Filla-esque newspaper column with her experiences).

Movie count for 2010: 128 (still debating whether to review the Mickey Rooney film I sort of watched the other night).

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Top Tati

Playtime: A wonderful movie about the essential inhumanity of modernism, which celebrates its destruction at the hands of simple human fallibility. Bear with me on this. Tati serves up a series of coldly beautiful Sixties Modernist cityscapes called "Paris"-- an airport, an office building, an exhibition centre, a block of flats, a restaurant-- and then into this throws a simple man in an overcoat, who manages to hurl whole systems into chaos simply by walking through the wrong door at the wrong time, and yet who also never quite manages to overcome the sheer weight of the surrounding bureaucracy. The screen is always relentlessly busy with action, and Tati never actually uses any of the conventional cinematic cues to "tell" you what you should be watching, so it can be difficult to realise what's actually going on in any scene until you figure it out for yourself. But then again, perhaps the sheer randomness of it all is the point.

Movie count for 2010: 127.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Jungle VIP

The Jungle Book (1967): Not the best Disney cartoon feature, but in its defense it's trying to weave together a coherent plot out of a series of loosely-linked short stories, and also trying to make a crowd-pleasing kid-friendly film out of a pair of books which are, essentially, about colonialism and the loss of innocence, and rather disturbing in places. The two main points in its favour are a) Baloo, who is really seriously cute, and b) the "I Wanna Be Like You" song and dance number, with jitterbugging monkeys and a scat-singing orangotang. The close-harmonising vultures based on The Beatles, though, have not exactly stood the test of time.

Catch Me If You Can: Reasonably good Spielberg film; the father issues are strong with this one, but it does actually work pretty well in this case, as Spielberg interprets the case of Frank Abagnale Jr. as being about a young man with an inadequate father; he first denies and then tries to make up for his father's inadequacy through impersonating authority figures and engaging in successful cheque fraud (as contrasted with his father's failed tax evasion), but he only achieves closure by recognising, in Tom Hanks' FBI agent, his true spiritual father and giving up a life of crime for an even more lucrative legal job.

The caveat, though, is that the whole thing is relentlessly cheery and feelgood, even though I kept having fridge moments afterwards about the people damaged by Abagnale's schemes. What about the college girls he, at one point, duped into believing they'd won a competition to be stewardesses and then, apparently, dumped in an airport somewhere? What about his fiancee, who accepted him in good faith as being someone he wasn't? Or her father, who helped him through his bar exams and took him on into his law firm? We're never actually shown any of this, and yes, this does bother me, in that it means we're continually being given an image of Abagnale as a likeable, lovable sort, and never asked to consider the harm he's done beyond the financial.

Movie count for 2010: 125 (both Spielberg and Disney in the same post, the very evocation of the Hollywood commercial juggernaut.)

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Potentially Good, the Sadistic and the Mildly Repellant

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Woot, I finished the "Dollar" trilogy before the end of the year! Despite coming third in order, this film is actually a prequel to the other two: firstly, it is only at the end of the film that the Man With No Name gains his trademark poncho, which he wears in the other two films, and also only then that he becomes genuinely The Good. Likewise, there is nothing to entirely deny the possibility that Lee van Cleef's Angel Eyes (The Bad) is in fact Colonel Mortimer from For a Few Dollars More: in the latter film, Mortimer admits to having done some pretty bad things in earlier years; Angel Eyes is an officer in the Union army; Morricone's score plays the Mortimer clock-chime theme over the climactic standoff between the three protagonists of TGTBATU; and, although Angel Eyes is apparently shot dead at the end of the film, it's possible that he was in fact only severely wounded, and survived to team up with the Man With No Name years later (though the name "Mortimer" suggests the living dead, and it wouldn't be the only time a character in a Leone Western turned out to be a vengeful ghost; not insignificantly, the hoard of gold which the protagonists are after is buried in a grave marked UNKNOWN, also linking the Man With No Name with wealth and death). Finally, The Ugly, a comedy Mexican bandit of dubious loyalty, can be seen to foreshadow the more serious Mexican bandits of the other two films.

TGTBATU is a good film which would be an excellent one if it could lose about thirty minutes; part of its conceit is to weave the action in and around the American Civil War, which, while it nicely contrasts the absurdity, brutality and venality of the protagonists' pursuit of riches with the absurdity, brutality and venality of war and allows Leone to explore his trademark bleakness-of-the-West theme (never before has a Western included so many amputees), also leads to a couple of set pieces which slow the main action down far too much. If you're rewatching this, fast-forward through them and you'll probably enjoy it more.

Movie count for 2010: 123

Friday, December 10, 2010

Gangsters Hieronymous

In Bruges: Contemporary low-budget Britflick in which two Irish gangsters, following a hit gone wrong, are ordered by their boss to hole up in Bruges. The Cultured One thinks this is fantastic and goes on a tour of the canals; the Rough and Ready One is bored and goes off in pursuit of a pretty local woman. It sounds like the setup for a thriller-comedy, and indeed it starts off being one, but as the story progresses the revelations get darker and the scenery gets weirder, ending with Bruges transformed into Hieronymous Bosch's Last Judgment as the consequences of the botched crime and the strict moral code of the boss bring everything to a surreal climax. It's set at Christmastime, too, making it perfect holiday viewing if you're already sick of syrupy family films.

Movie Count for 2010: 122