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A few reviews

TM2YC

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The Whip and the Body (1963)
Disappointingly Christopher Lee isn't in this Mario Bava Gothic Horror for very long and he's dubbed by somebody else anyway (even in English). He plays Kurt, the estranged "mad, bad and dangerous to know" son of a wealthy Count, who gets bumped off in the first 15-minutes, then the rest of the movie is mostly in a holding-pattern of general spookiness, as he (possibly) haunts the occupants of the castle. The lack of any real plot made it difficult to stay awake and focused. The terrible quality print on the blu-ray I watched didn't help because I couldn't even enjoy Bava's lurid coloured lighting. 'The Whip and the Body' is notable because it features sadomasochistic themes, in which Kurt whips his lover... until her clothes fall off. The film was declared "contrary to morality", scenes were heavily cut in some versions (rendering the story incomprehensible), copies of the poster were ordered to be destroyed and the studio's press officer was given three months probation.


Kill, Baby... Kill! (1966)
A Mario Bava Italian Gothic horror in the Hammer style about a village being terrorised by a ghostly blood-letting child. The use of vivid stylized coloured lighting looks fantastic in HD. This and all the cobwebs, shadows and ominous music create a really scary atmosphere. The English dubbing on the version I watched on Amazon Prime is some of the best I've heard. There is too much going round in circles plot wise, made worse by all the sets looking kinda similar. If it had started before the main character arrived in the cursed village and then only taken us to the evil Villa in the last act, it might have felt like there was a bit more direction to the story. The sequence where the hero runs repeatedly through the same room, faster and faster, until he catches himself was very cool. I think it was done with doubles and hidden cuts.

 

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Jexi (2019)      (US Amazon Prime + 7-day Showtime trial)

 
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( Her x Weird Science x Fatal Attraction ) / The Hangover's screenwriters  = Jexi

There's a lot going for Jexi. It's short (84 minutes!), Adam DeVine is a charming comedic lead, former Storm 2.0 Alexandra Shipp is luminous, Michael Peña makes everything better, and there's a good deal of genuine San Francisco photography. What's more, the premise of a foul-mouthed, possibly psychotic female-voiced AI life/dating coach is both irresistible and rife with comedic possibilities.

Alas, all of these strengths are ultimately in service of yet another paean to cishet white male mediocrity. Once again, we get the fetid cinematic trope of a beautiful, intelligent, younger and more accomplished love interest falling immediately for the protagonist for no reason. (Trust me, as a 30-something San Franciscan myself, dating here is not that easy.) Once again, we get a Hollywood movie patting itself on the back for taking (admittedly funny) digs at the superficiality of Buzzfeed/Internet culture, while offering absolutely nothing beyond platitudes as an alternative. Had the writers bothered/been allowed to say anything challenging, as well as chosen a specific angle for the phone AI to take rather than have it bounce around all over the place, for no explained reason whatsoever, they could have made something great.

As is, the movie easily passed Dr. Kermode's six-laugh test in its first act alone, and though the middle section sags a bit, the third act has plenty of laughs, also. Like CHiPs, it got a critical evisceration, but, while definitely flawed, it's also pretty damn funny. If the premise intrigues, and you enjoyed DeVine in the Pitch Perfect movies, it's worth a try.

Grade: B-
 

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Once Upon a Time in Iraq (2020)
I thought this 5-hour BBC retrospective and dissection of the Iraq war is one of the best documentaries I've ever seen. They approach the subject in a fresh, thoughtful and powerful way, never interviewing historians, commentators and politicians to get their analysis, overview and opinions, instead they only sit people down who were really there on the ground and listen to their first-hand testimony. It features a broad range of witnesses, including soldiers, the families of soldiers who didn't come back, Iraqi civilians, interpreters, IED victims, a couple of journalists who were right on the frontline (too close to it) and even an IS fighter in chains. They found many exceptional people who speak with such anger, passion and clarity. The most memorable are the talkative chain-smoking metal musician and interpreter Waleed Nesyif, heroic secret blogger and University Professor Omar Mohmamed, the grim Lieutenant Colonel Nate Sassaman, gung-ho but damaged recon marine Sergeant Rudy Reyes and New York Times correspondents Dexter Filkins and Ashley Gilbertson. Many of the events they describe will leave you with at least a sick feeling in the stomach and probably tears in your eyes. Thankfully we aren't shown the worst atrocities but we are shown enough.  The film lays out the case for the war as an unmitigated disaster, a reckless perfect storm of hubris, lack of any planning, lack of cultural understanding and unbelievable random brutality. I'll have to make an effort to seek out Director James Bluemel's other documentaries.


 

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The official BFI 64th best British film ever made...

The Remains of the Day (1993)
A supremely intelligent, subtle and humane 'Merchant Ivory' drama mostly set in a grand English country house in the years leading up to WW2. A place where Prime Ministers, Ambassadors and the nobility meet to discuss the political situation in Europe over brandy and cigars. Anthony Hopkins plays the butler Mr Stevens and Emma Thompson plays the new housekeeper Miss Kenton. Director James Ivory and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (adapting Kazuo Ishiguro's novel) entirely trust the viewer to always understand the subtext of a scene, infer the meaning of unseen events and to appreciate the true weight of seemingly offhand comments. Nobody says what they mean to each other, or expresses it out loud but their deepest feelings are always clear to the viewer.

Hopkins is incredible as the emotionally reserved Stevens, unable and unwilling to articulate his feelings. His whole identity is derived from the proud belief that he waits upon a great and noble man, Lord Darlington (James Fox). When he's confronted by the truth that his master is fallible, he's devastated.  Lord Darlington asks Stevens to dismiss two Jewish refugee maids and Hopkins reacts with the tiniest of wobbles on his feet but for the repressed Mr Stevens character, the small reaction is like his soul has been crushed.  Even the Darlington character is a pitiable figure, a well-meaning upper class twit, seduced by the arguments of cleverer, more evil men (including an obvious proxy for British Fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley), lacking the knowledge and intelligence to counter their arguments. The unspoken love between Stevens and Miss Kenton is heart breaking stuff. I just wish there was more of Christopher Reeve. It's the thinking person's 'Downton Abbey'.


...and Time Out's 34th best British ever made...

It Always Rains on Sunday (1947)
An Ealing Studios classic set in post-war Bethnal Green, with a focus on members of London's Jewish community. It's a great "slice of life" drama, an insight into the time and place, featuring a large cast of characters of different ages and professions. The main plot concerns an escaped convict and his former lover, as she attempts to hide him from the police but we also see how all the interconnected lives of the people around them operate. Unlike many British films of the period which depict a cosy middle-class vision, 'It Always Rains on Sunday' has a bleaker, rougher and much more believable working-class attitude. The depiction of poverty, low-level black market criminality and "loose morals" (for the time) make this feel like it's probably a pretty honest portrait of what life was like back then. Even the children are open to a bit light blackmail. It's either a late British Noir, or an early "kitchen sink" New Wave film.


 

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Demolition Man (1993)


A strange flick - far too goofy to take seriously, but it keeps feinting toward social satire, with an ending ripped straight from Metropolis. The inspirations of Terminator and Total Recall are also readily apparent. It looks fantastic, with impressively immersive futuristic location shooting, and employs just the right amount of Dutch angles and comic-book poses. Alas, the 5.1 audio mix did not play nicely with my stereo audio setup, resulting in a continuous battle with the remote control to balance Stallone's mumbling with the ear-splitting action. (Hate it when that happens.)

As a sci-fi flick, it's probably more interesting than most Stallone actioners, but, while a young Sandra Bullock is charming, it's not quite as memorable as the utterly WTF Tango & Cash. Still, if you have a 5.1 audio system, or are willing to do battle with the volume control, it's a fairly pleasant ride.

Grade: B
 

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^Few things are as awesome as Tango&Cash.  The podcast How Did This Get Made did a pretty damn funny episode on Demolition Man, and they talk about a lot of the behind-the-scenes demands of Snipes and Stallone that ended up changing the script a lot.  I'd love a Burden of Dreams style documentary on the film, which would probably end up better than the movie itself.

Side note, was playing the game Deus Ex: Human Revolution, where you can break into people's apartments in true RPG style.  Though you can't actually use them, there are bathrooms in every apartment, with faucets and toilet paper and so on.  Except in one apartment I found in a posh, futuristic building, where there was conspicuously no toilet paper to be found.  Just three seashells on a shelf next to the toilet.  I laughed heartily at the developers' subtle easter egg joke.
 

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Thirteen Days (2000)

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Thirteen Days was a big movie for me in 2000. I'd seen history-based films before, of course, but this was the first to truly grab me, and, along with The West Wing, which was airing at the same time, helped kick-start my interest in political history. So, does it hold up?

I'm afraid my answer is only... "kinda." Bruce Greenwood and Robert Culp are, to my inexpert eyes, quite good as the JFK and RFK, and the production is solid. The main problem is Kevin Costner as a political aide who serves as a viewpoint character, but why do we need one? Did the filmmakers think viewers wouldn't find the Kennedys interesting enough, or did they think the audience needed their hand held? The character (based on a real person, but with an inflated/conflated role) is fine in the political scenes, but also consults on military stuff for some reason, and gives pep talks to both the brothers. (Wait, turns out the actual guy was a legit WWII veteran, but, aside from a brief mention in the movie, that is not made clear, especially when he talks with service members.) The movie would have been rather better had the character's role been reduced, a big celebrity not cast, and the valuable points he brings up shared with other aides. As it is, a fan edit might significantly improve the experience by minimizing the part.

In short, this is a respectable dramatic introduction to the subject, and an ideal watch for those of high school age especially. The Kennedy clan led such dramatic lives that a lavish HBO-level series would be an ideal dramatic treatment, with the Cuban Missile Crisis the focus of an episode. Indeed, a 2011 miniseries did just that, but at least one of its producers was a right-winger, and suspicion of the project from those connected to the Kennedy family hounded it into obscurity, apparently rather unfairly, but then, critics weren't much impressed by the final product anyhow. The later film Chappaquiddick also faced pressure and hostility. Even as a liberal myself, it's clear that any major dramatization of the family that isn't as gently idolizing as this film will require serious showbiz muscle to overcome their lingering cultural power.

Grade: B
 

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Mallrats (1995)
'Mallrats' deliberately announces it's level of immaturity and vulgarity by the use of an opening voice-over narration that instead of actually telling you anything about the plot, tells you an unrelated story about a cat being stuck up a guy's arse... you've gotta love attitude like that :D . I watched this all the time back in the 90s (probably more than 'Clerks') but not for a long while.  After 'Clerks' it's a little odd to see the same rapid-fire shlubby loser dialogue not coming outta the mouths of shlubby losers but from glamorous 90210 types. Although Jason Lee is spot on, scummy enough to be believable as such a cantankerous slob but good looking and charming enough for it to be plausible that he thinks he can get away with his bad behavior in front of his beautiful girlfriend played by Shannen Doherty. Considering how laugh-out-loud funny this movie is, it's surprising that despite being relatively low budget, 'Mallrats' bombed hard at the box office (it did well on home video though). Then again, this came out 25-years ago, in the pre-MCU, pre-internet days, when comic books and nerd-culture were still very niche things and a lot of Kevin Smith's humour assumes you've read all the comics, seen all the movies and will get all the references. Now of course, everybody does. e.g. in 1995 was everybody going to get the Stan Lee cameo? In 2020, who wouldn't? Smith was just a quarter century too early.


Le Mans (1971)
A few months ago, I watched the excellent 'Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans' documentary chronicling the filming of his 1971 hubristic flop 'Le Mans', so I was curious to see the actual movie. However troubled the doc made the production look, or how much of a failure it made the film out to be, I was still unprepared for how boring and inert this film was. It's about 90-minutes of beautiful, up-close, full-speed and dynamic 35mm car-mounted race footage with 15-minutes of barely coherent reaction shots and the most minimal amount of dialogue, trying to apply some sort of narrative and characterisation to the piece.  I feel sympathy for the editors who were handed a million feet of film and asked to make something out of it. Everybody in it looks so depressed and miserable. It's not a drama, it's not a documentary, it's not a story, it's just some footage in a sequence, that cost 7-8 million dollars to produce. Maybe if you put a propulsive, exciting, metronomic synth score over the top (instead of Michel Legrand's sparse Jazz arrangements), or added the disembodied voice of a race commentator telling you how thrilling and dangerous everything looks, or the team on the car radio telling McQueen to "push" or "conserve his tires" which would help explain the ebb and flow of the race, you just might be able to make this succeed. There is a nugget of something emotional and noble between rival racers Steve McQueen and Siegfried Rauch that nearly works. The blend of actual footage of the 1970 race and the 1971 recreated additions is totally seamless and authentic looking.


 

mnkykungfu

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Gaith said:
Thirteen Days (2000)
The main problem is Kevin Costner as a political aide who serves as a viewpoint character, but why do we need one?

My understanding is that the point of the film was exactly what you're criticizing it for.  It's sort of a proto-Bridge of Spies.  Most people know plenty about JFK and quite a bit about RFK, but very little about Kenneth O'Donnell, if they've even heard of him.  And yet he was the most influential advisor to both Kennedys, as well as a chief advisor to LBJ.  What sets the film apart from the 100s of other Kennedy pieces is that it's paying tribute to the less-glamorized everymen (of which O'Donnell was emblematic) who may've saved the US from a nuclear war.  I agree it probably doesn't resonate as it should've.  The studio probably should've leaned into it harder rather than playing it safe.  If they hardly ever showed the Kennedys on camera, kept them out of focus, had one or two more scenes of the repetition of O'Donnell heading home and hanging up his hat and greeting his family...it probably would've been more obvious what the director was doing.
 

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mnkykungfu said:
My understanding is that the point of the film was exactly what you're criticizing it for.  It's sort of a proto-Bridge of Spies.  Most people know plenty about JFK and quite a bit about RFK, but very little about Kenneth O'Donnell, if they've even heard of him.  And yet he was the most influential advisor to both Kennedys, as well as a chief advisor to LBJ. 

I'm halfway through listening to the DVD commentary, and, though the filmmakers are obviously justifying their decisions, it does sound as though O'Donnell was indeed more central and important to the history than I'd guessed. Because his particular title was Appointments Secretary, I didn't realize he was in fact the de facto White House Chief of Staff. I still suspect the movie would have benefited artistically and likely historically from beefing up Ted Sorenson's role a bit, but it sounds as though it's indeed more accurate than I initially gave it credit for.

 
mnkykungfu said:
The studio probably should've leaned into it harder rather than playing it safe.  If they hardly ever showed the Kennedys on camera, kept them out of focus, had one or two more scenes of the repetition of O'Donnell heading home and hanging up his hat and greeting his family...it probably would've been more obvious what the director was doing.

I can't agree with this, though. The scenes of his home life and long-suffering spouse are so generic and dull that they feel inauthentic even though they no doubt are very true to life. What's more, keeping the Kennedys largely off-camera would not only have been historically nonsensical, it would have built up their mystique even more. I think showing more domestic scenes apart from O'Donnell's family, from Jackie and the Kennedy kids to the other home lives, would have been more effective. We only get one scene with Jackie, and the only other person in the room is O'Donnell; the filmmakers even admit that they really only wrote that scene because audiences would feel cheated if she didn't appear. I think a private scene of her and Jack replacing one of the O'Donnells would have helped considerably, but then, as I noted, many people, especially those who lived through the time, are very protective of the Camelot mythos and aura, and may not have been comfortable prying into that relationship, even in such a non-salacious context.
 

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I'm not sure how showing more Jackie and other Kennedys helps tell O'Donnell's story, but I guess it depends on what kind of film you're looking for.  My specific ideas were just off the cuff, the point is to more clearly tell the story through the POV of a lesser-known but important individual that was central to the events.  You could do this a lot of different ways, like in Sicario, or in Blade Runner, or in Almost Famous, etc.  Admittedly, most people are probably more interested in the Kennedy White House than in O'Donnell, but any scenes not involving him or his family really move this away being unique.  (I actually think the film got very muddled results so I'm not trying to be an advocate for it, though.)
 

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The Guest (2014)
'The Guest' is a nice throwback to the era of John Carpenter horror/sci-fi and 'The Terminator', plus it's playing with some of the same chips as 'Stranger Things' (but filmed a couple of years before) including a brooding synth-wave score. Dan Stevens once again shows his versatility as David the titular "guest", a stranger who claims to be the war buddy of a families dead son. He turns up his smiling good looks and softly spoken southern charm so far that it teeters on menacing. It's best to not know anything more about the film because it goes off in some wild directions. I thought the cutaways to other people explaining David's backstory came too early and felt random and out of place, when the tension could've built right to the last act without them. I later read they were re-shoots based on test audiences wanting more exposition, a mistake in my opinion. I look forward to seeing what director Adam Wingard does with the forthcoming 'Godzilla vs. Kong'.




...and some actual John Carpenter...

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
I don't think I've ever watched 'Assault on Precinct 13' in HD before, so I was surprised by how beautiful this micro-budget movie looks on the Scream Factory blu-ray transfer. John Carpenter insisted on shooting on 35mm anamorphic Panavision because it was the cheapest way to make his first "proper" movie look expensive. Under his usual array of pseudonyms, Carpenter directed, produced, wrote, edited and of course composed the iconic sinister bass-heavy synth score. After the LA police murder members of a street gang in cold blood, the group leaders swear a blood oath of vengeance and descend on a random, soon to be decommissioned, police station and terrorise the occupants who must fight to survive the seige. It's a simple stripped down premise, so Carpenter makes it stylish, witty, action packed and populates it with bold, memorable characters.  Austin Stoker plays Lt. Ethan Bishop, a mild-mannered but tough Cop on his first day in the precinct. Darwin Joston plays the brilliantly named Napoleon Wilson, a mysterious and sardonic prisoner on his way to Death-Row. The two characters make a great hero/anti-hero team, earning respect for each other as the battle for survival intensifies.  Joston's performance is so badass, he's very much a pre-'Escape from New York' Snake Plissken type.  It's a shame this is pretty much the only major role Joston did before changing to a career behind the scenes of the movie business. There's an alternate timeline that I'd be curious to see where Carpenter never met Kurt Russell and cast Joston in all his movies instead.



I probably first heard JC's theme via it's remix from the 1989 Amiga game 'Xenon 2: Megablast':

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2w-tiRnac2k[/video]
 

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mnkykungfu said:
I'm not sure how showing more Jackie and other Kennedys helps tell O'Donnell's story, but I guess it depends on what kind of film you're looking for.

Not to belabor the point, but I'm simply looking for the most compelling examination of how the crisis was resolved. JFK was the ultimate authority on the American side, and it was his decision to secretly offer the removal of the Turkey missiles that seemed to win the peace. Given that O'Donnell argued against that gambit throughout, I don't know why one would choose to focus on him more than JFK himself. My two cents. :blush:
 

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Marathon Man (1976)
Director John Schlesinger brings nuance, visceral anger and psychological complexity to this exciting espionage/crime thriller. Dustin Hoffman plays a Jewish New York history Ph.D. student and amateur runner who becomes mixed up in a plot involving ex-Nazis, the Holocaust, US spies, his father's suicide, the McCarthy witch trials and diamond trafficking.  Laurence Olivier is absolutely chilling as Nazi 'Dr. Christian "the White Angel" Szell' who is of course a proxy for Dr. Josef "the Angel of Death" Mengele (who was still evading capture in 1976). The two scenes where Olivier performs dental torture ("Is it safe?") and his pursuit through NYC's Diamond District by Holocaust survivors are rightly iconic.  Schlesinger's documentary style, voyeuristic lens often lingers on visual reminders of German cultural presence in NYC, Bavarian restaurants, German Shepard dogs and Mercedes cars. Michael Small brooding score has a real appropriate malevolence.


The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)
A wonderfully uplifting "finding yourself" comedy drama inspired by Huckleberry Finn but also influenced by co-star Zack Gottsagen's discussions with Directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz. Zack plays a young orphaned guy with Down's syndrome (also called Zak) who has been basically incarcerated in an old people's home because the authorities don't have anywhere else for him. He makes a daring midnight escape and goes off on a cross-country adventure, meeting and befriending Shia LaBeouf's Tyler (like the Director), a troubled loner. Zak is pursued by Eleanor, a kind but sad care worker and Tyler is being chased by some gun-toting fisherman who he's p*ssed off, so they both consider themselves "outlaws". Along the way they meet all kinds of eccentric and unexpectedly beautiful people, as these three emotionally damaged people find healing chasing a silly dream. The sun lit shots of nature, backed by bluegrass, folk and spiritual music is magical.  When did Shia LaBeouf become such a subtle, yet powerful actor, it's one of the best performances of recent years.

The trailer gives away a bit too much and makes it look schmaltzy and slapstick, which it isn't really:


This scene is a better sample of the tone:


 

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21 Bridges (2019)

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Watched this one a few weeks ago, but didn't write about it because there didn't seem much to say - it's a solid and unremarkable NYC cop thriller in the vein of 16 Blocks, The Taking of Pelham 123, and goodness knows how many others. Alas, it's now rather more notable as one of Chadwick Boseman's starring roles in his too-short career. The cast is solid, with a cameo from DS9's Dr. Bashir and a standout supporting performance from Stephan James, and Boseman himself is of course a commanding presence at all times.

Grade: B
 

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^ I've been planning on watching that but I might move it to the front of the queue. I didn't realize Dr. Bashir was in it!

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Beastie Boys Story (2020)
Seemingly the only thing that would make it worth having Apple TV+ (if they weren't giving it away) is this Spike Jonze "live documentary" about Beastie Boys.  It takes the form of a chronological career retrospective, delivered in the style of a TED talk by surviving members Mike D and Ad-Rock. It shouldn't work but it (almost) does. Sometimes it's awkward but more often, it's a heart warming trip in to the past with plenty of self-deprecating humour, moving discussions about friendship and praise heaped upon departed member MCA. Stick around for the end titles because they're packed with outtakes, that honestly look more entertaining than the main film. Still, if you haven't listened to Beastie Boys for a while, this will definitely have you excitedly reaching for 'Paul's Boutique', 'Ill Communication' and 'Hello Nasty' afterwards.


Sorry We Missed You (2019)
Ken Loach's latest feels very much a companion piece to his previous film 'I, Daniel Blake' but it worked less well for me. Instead of the Orwellian nightmare of a part-privatised welfare system, it's the Orwellian nightmare of the exploitative "gig economy". The use of non-professional actors sometimes makes it visceral and truthful but other times it's just wooden. I know the events are based on the testimony of several real "self employed" delivery drivers but the catalogue of misfortune and disaster felt exaggerated for one guy, in what seemed like a few weeks. On the other hand, the portrait of his wife, a time-managed care nurse, felt completely authentic. The family relationship is beautifully portrayed too. As always, Loach's anger and compassion bursts off the screen.


 

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Midnight Run (1988)
I really should have watched this "odd couple" action adventure much sooner, I really enjoyed it. I think it was the first time Robert De Niro dipped his toe into comedy but it's extremely funny preciously because he's not playing it for laughs (like he does now), he's still short-fuse angry De Niro. He plays a bail bondsman tasked with bringing back slippery mob accountant Charles Grodin, with dim-witted gang assassins, an irritable FBI agent and a hated rival bondsman on his tail. Catching Grodin proves easy but getting him back home proves harder because he's determined to escape, or failing that just make every inch of the journey a frustrating misery for De Niro. There's a touch of Die Hard's John McClane, about the bondsman character, which coincidentally came out in the same month.


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Jennifer 8 (1992)
After making two cult-classic films in the UK for the independent HandMade Films ('Withnail and I' and 'How to Get Ahead in Advertising') Director Bruce Robinson decided to try and forge a career in Hollywood by writing/directing the crime thriller 'Jennifer 8' for Paramount. The experience was so dreadful that he decided to never direct again... although he did eventually return two decades later for 'The Rum Diary'. Knowing this, I'd always assumed 'Jennifer 8' was a heavily compromised disaster but seeing it was on Amazon Prime (in HD) I gave it a go and it's actually really good. I couldn't find much information on what went wrong, as it's quite an obscure film but I believe the studio cut as much as 20-minutes. The only time I felt something was off when it got to the end, where there's a great little shocking twist resolution, then a quick cross-fade to the characters (in an uncharacteristically sunny scene) saying things like "Well that wraps that up" and the credits roll. Robinson also had to fight the studio to have Al Pacino for the lead role and Christopher Young for the score but they insisted on Andy Garcia and Maurice Jarre. Robinson eventually got his way on the soundtrack (even after Jarre had scored the film) but not on Pacino. Garcia is really good but a few lines of dialogue hint at the character being written as older (more like Pacino's 52, instead of Garcia's 35).

Garcia plays a burned out LA cop who takes up the invitation from an old friend to join his quieter rural police department. However the instant he arrives he becomes obsessed with cracking a local serial killer cold-case when body parts are discovered and soon falls for a beautiful blind witness (Uma Thurman). Lance Henriksen is great value as his hard drinking, sarcastic partner. John Malkovich turns up late into the film to play an FBI agent grilling Garcia and just about steals the movie from everyone else. I've never seen anybody wheel around on an office chair in such an intimidating way! Robinson throws around a lot of red herrings to keep you guessing who the killer is in a Giallo mystery way. The moody cinematography by Academy Award winner Conrad Hall looks terrific. If you liked 'The Silence of the Lambs' and 'Se7en' (and who doesn't) this has the same kind of tone, from the same era and not too far away from the same quality.

 

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Narcos: Mexico S1/2 (2018-20)     (Netflix Original)

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(OG Narcos review here)

Meet the new drug war, same as the old drug war. Actually, since this spinoff series ends halfway through the time frame of Narcos' first season, as plotted by a redditor, this is the old drug war: indeed, the tale of DEA Agent Kiki Camarena, played here by Michael Peña, was told (a bit anachronistically, it appears) in an early episode of Narcos S1.

Fans of OG Narcos will know what to expect: solid performances from first-rate actors, both international stars and comparative unknowns, cinema-quality production values, and storytelling that's both gripping in its life-and-death stakes and yet somewhat blandly repetitive in its jaded cops vs. gangsters plotting. The series has yet to be officially renewed, and, what with the pandemic uncertainty, who knows what'll happen. If this is the end, it's a solid one.

I think it absurd to conclude, as a recent The Verge article does, that "Narcos: Mexico is a show for people who want the drug war to last forever." The show may not end with the actors breaking the fourth wall to extol drug legalization, but the series nonetheless makes clear that there's no end, and few victories, in sight for all this. Interestingly, showrunner Eric Newman is now working on a dramatization of how Big Pharma gave the US its prescription opioid crisis, which should provide a fascinating companion piece. I may not want the drug war to last forever, but as long as the Narcos franchise remains this strong, I for one will keep snor - er, watching, it.
 

skyled

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