Saturday, September 28, 2013

Could do better

American Gangster: Disappointing film loosely (very loosely) based on the life of Frank Lucas, a black gangster who made good in the drug trade of 1970s New York. Unfortunately the decision to portray him as a cultured, noble, even heroic man, and to downplay the appalling way he treats his subordinates and family members, means that what could have been an interesting and complex exploration of how intelligent and ambitious members of minority groups are drawn to crime (q.v. Scarface), instead winds up giving a pass to a deeply awful human being. The period detail is nicely done, though.

Kick Ass II: Disappointing adaption of the comic, which strips out the wicked subversiveness and just presents us with a right-wing nerd fantasy.

Movie count for 2013: 53


Sharknado: Likely to be voted badflick of the year; Birdemic-level plotting, acting, direction, CGI and continuity (the use of stock footage to simulate a flooded-out Los Angeles means the water levels apparently rise and drop dramatically from one second to the next). But then, that's about to be expected. Bring popcorn.

Ghost Shark: A surprisingly better movie than the above (and as such a worse badflick, but never mind); there are some decent touches of direction, and, for a change, we get to see the shark victims' families grieving instead of having them just treated as targets. However, there's enough sketchy CGI and daft continuity to keep fans of the genre happy.

Movie count for 2013: 51

A Hitch in time

A Field in England: Psychedelic tale that might be about a group of deserters during the English Civil War who take drugs and go mental, or might be about the Devil, or might be about the nature of English identity. Either way, it's brilliant.

Telstar (The Joe Meek Story): Biopic about the early experimental-pop pioneer, his temper and his misguided relationship with a blond would-be music star. The music is good, the story is tragic, and one can have great fun spotting the BBC sitcom stars dotting the supporting cast.

 Public Enemies: Inexplicably boring story about the pursuit and eventual shooting of John Dillinger. Also with some deeply dodgy gender issues regarding Dillinger's relationship with his girlfriend; the way he treats her, the only way she'd stay with him that long is if she's some sort of emotional cripple a la Natural Born Killers, but instead the whole thing is played just as her being naturally attracted to a strong man.

Hitch: Entertaining biopic about Alfred Hitchcock and his wife Alma during the making of "Psycho", focusing on Hitchcock's personal doubts and fears and Alma's frustrations as the aide-de-camp and primary collaborator of a great director. Not deep, but literate.

The Girl: Appalling biopic about Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren, which somewhat unbelievably portrays Hitchcock as a sexually rapacious bully who was obsessed with Hedren and never made a good movie after she quit (OK, "Topaz" was terrible, but "Frenzy" and "Family Plot" weren't bad). Completely undermined by any documentary about Hitchcock and/or Hedren ever.

Also went to a free screening of "Skyfall", but was rained out halfway through.

Movie count for 2013: 49

Monday, September 02, 2013

Clashing symbols

Clash of the Titans: Cheerful abuse of the legends surrounding Perseus and the Medusa, motivated by the success of the Star Wars franchise and in hope of sparking a Harryhausen revival. The stop-motion animation is brilliant in places (nobody can fault the Medusa sequence, even now), but they upstage the principal actor, and there are some particularly bizarre moments (what exactly was the business with the giant vulture all about?). Sian Phillips had, not so long before, told Gareth Thomas that he was "prostituting his art" for appearing in Blake's 7; presumably her presence here is simply because she was told she'd be acting with Sir Lawrence Olivier, Maggie Smith et al.

Movie count for 2013: 44 plus A Field in England.

Never having to say you're sorry

Natural Born Killers: Movies don't come much more Nineties than this, with everything from the visuals to the casting to the story being as postmodern as possible. It's like a strangely fun drug trip overlaid on a grim reality of child sexual abuse, murder, rape and grievous bodily harm, but as such, and as something that could probably never have been seriously made in any other time period, it works.

The Abominable Dr Phibes: Continuing the theme of film and period, this is an enchantingly beautiful example of the early-Seventies horror film, with stunning design, amusingly Clouseauesque policemen, an Edwardian setting with unremarked anachronistic touches, Vincent Price conducting an engaging and believable performance while only speaking about four times in the whole film, and a zany plot involving murders based on the Plagues of Egypt. The only problems were 1) that I clearly know more about biology than the film's intended audience, so I just found the killer fruitbats and brown-painted lab rats way too cute; 2) the really awful burn-victim makeup on Vincent Price at the end of the story and 3) Phibes' assistant Vulnavia getting murdered at the end (which was rather nasty, and unnecessary-- I'd been pretty sure up till that point that she was an android).

Dr Phibes Rises Again: Inevitable disappointing sequel to the above. The policemen are correct and present and Vincent Price is still brilliant, but there's no real theme to the murder spree this time, Dr Phibes talks so much you wish he'd just shut up, Vulnavia turns up played by a different actress and with no explanation as to why she's not dead, and the plot holes a lot less easy to gloss over. No wonder there was never a Phibes III.

Love Story: 1970s version of a kitschy Victorian novel: two students meet and fall in love, he defies his parents to marry her, she supports him through his law degree, and then dies of a wasting disease which might possibly be leukemia, albeit without the more gross symptoms. I might have felt sorry for them if they weren't both such irritating entitled jerks.

Movie count for 2013: 43 (plus A Field in England)