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A few reviews

TM2YC

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Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019)
A very interesting retrospective of the horror genre viewed from the intellectual and thematic perspective of black film-makers, actors and audiences. The only problem is that at 83-minutes it's too short, so there were some points when I was thinking they'd missed out discussing certain films e.g. there's plenty of time for 'Night of the Living Dead' but little for 'Dawn of the Dead' and it occured to me that things like 'Deep Blue Sea' might've been an interesting subject for the kind of protagonist genre conventions and their later subversions being highlighted.




Birth of the Living Dead (2013)
I’ve watched a number of docs about George A. Romero’s "Dead" films but this is one of the best. There’s nothing fancy to it, mostly it’s just sitting lovely old Romero down and having us listen to his anecdotes. It also points out all the extra behind-the-scenes jobs that the various zombies did and discusses the political and racial context of ‘Night of the Living Dead’. Some of the points were well worn but many were fresh takes on the subject. The contrasting of the movie's faked news footage against real news footage from the late 60s was particularly effective.

 

TM2YC

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Topsy-Turvy (1999)
'Topsy-Turvy'
is always a pleasure to revisit but even more of a treat on the beautiful looking Criterion blu-ray transfer. All the period costuming, makeup and set dressing is a feast for the eyes. It's mostly wonderfully comedic, with much of the humour being at the expense of preening, pompous actors (performed by a self-aware all-star cast of British actors), or the English being reluctant to communicate their deepest feelings directly (to the point of insanity), or their naive but earnest Victorian views on Japanese culture. The scene where Gilbert and Sullivan (Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner respectively) are having an intractable argument without raising their voices, or facing each other and talking politely in the third person is terrific stuff. I'd forgotten how sharp a turn it takes into melancholy once the 'The Mikado' has been successfully performed, showing the spiritual cost of such all-consuming creative exertions. IIRC, the film features no exterior scenes whatsoever, it doesn't need them to add any more "production value" and keeps us within the feverish world of the theatre.

 

TM2YC

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Lincoln (2012)
This is my third viewing of Steven Spielberg's masterpiece. It's less a biographical drama (as the title suggests) and more an exciting political thriller about the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment. Of course that depends on you finding politicians sitting in smoke filled rooms debating the finer points of law, liberty and morality for 2.5-hours as exciting as I do. Tony Kushner's script is densely packed with poetic Shakespearean dialogue and gives exposition and historical context refreshingly short shrift. I love witty lines like "Why is this thus? And what is the reason for this thusness?". It's a film about the courage of compromise, the power of moderate and persuasive language and having empathy for those you wish to persuade, clearly a pointed lesson in an age where it seems such things are a cardinal sin. We see how Daniel Day-Lewis' Lincoln brings men with unshakable principles, plus those of no fixed ideal together. His subtle, softly spoken performance is matched by those of a steely Tommy Lee Jones and a delightfully roguish James Spader. I'd much rather spend another couple of hours re-watching actors of this quality trade words, than any number of action scenes. (of which 'Lincoln' has none, despite being set during a war).

 

Gaith

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^ Surely you mean it's a masterpiece apart from the weird-ass opening scene, which is seemingly there only to crowbar in some lines from the Gettysburg Address, and very distractingly make the old man look like his future monument statue, while also featuring Harry Osborn 2.0 himself? ;)

(And one could make a great argument for fading to credits with Lincoln walking off after staying he'd rather stay, but at least the final scenes are based in actual history.)
 

TM2YC

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^ Surely you mean it's a masterpiece apart from the weird-ass opening scene, which is seemingly there only to crowbar in some lines from the Gettysburg Address, and very distractingly make the old man look like his future monument statue, while also featuring Harry Osborn 2.0 himself? ;)

(And one could make a great argument for fading to credits with Lincoln walking off after staying he'd rather stay, but at least the final scenes are based in actual history.)

I think the former is there precisely to suggest he's already seen as a "monument" and is uncomfortable with being viewed that way, as he can still speak humbly with the common man. The scene worked for me and David Oyelowo delivers the speech well. Maybe Oyelowo is playing the great-great-grandfather of his role as MLK in 2014's 'Selma'. Part of the emancipation-cinematic-universe... and James Spader is doing the same for Ultron ;) .

The second point is a really good one. Because I hadn't seen the film in about 6 years, I did think that walking shot was the end... then the movie goes on for a bit more. You're right, it could've easily ended there.



A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
I’ve always thought Steven Spielberg’s ‘A.I. Artificial Intelligence’ was good (if flawed) but I was quite entranced and very impressed this time. The first section had me utterly gripped, it’s tender and horrifying in equal measure. The production design of the Swindon home still looks subtlety futuristic and believable 20-years later. The point were perfection begins to crumble is when Gigolo Joe is introduced. We just awkwardly cut to him in the middle of a story otherwise told 100% from David’s perspective. We should see the world through his “child” eyes. This coincides with a switch to a naff looking, sub-Mad Max world with ridiculous looking neon bikers, it is not believably futuristic. The zany Chris Rock and Robin Williams voice cameos stand out a mile. I never understood before that the beings at the end are not "grey" aliens but an advanced terrestrial machine race. IIRC that’s never explained in the script but this time I noticed the electrical impulses underneath their “skins” on a larger TV screen and so finally worked it out. Thematically that makes much more sense! My lip wobbled quite a bit during the last part. ‘A.I.' doesn't always hit the high mark it's aiming for but more often than not, it's genius.


 
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TM2YC

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Munich (2005)
I was rewatching 1973's 'The Day of the Jackal' a few weeks back and thought "You couldn't make a film like this today" but I'd obviously forgotten this fantastic throwback political/espionage thriller from Steven Spielberg, which is timeless and could easily be a film from the 70s era in which it's set. 'Munich' is a slow and fascinating character study, an engrossing examination of moral grey areas and a masterclass in sustaining tension during many assassination scenes. This time I noticed how often dialogue takes place across a scene of communal eating and drinking, drawing us in to the world of the characters. It's something Francis Ford Coppola often does but I hadn't observed Spielberg doing it so prominently in his other movies. She's not in the film for very long but Lynn Cohen's portrayal of Israeli PM Golda Meir is so powerful, yet softly spoken (I notice she sadly passed away exactly a year ago). For all the shocking, bloody and realistic (and historically real) violence in the film, it's the group's assassination of a female fellow assassin on a houseboat that really disturbs me. It seems to disturb the characters too, something abut the way they take away her dignity as well as her life. I was going to say that the 2.5hrs fly by but this time I did think the final introspective act dragged a little. Even so, this is one of Spielberg's greatest films.

By the way, it's entirely coincidental but this spy thriller has got two Bond villains and a pre-Bond Daniel Craig in the cast... and I almost forgot that one of them (Michael Lonsdale) also stars in 'The Day of the Jackal'.

 
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TM2YC

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12 Monkeys (1995)
Last time I rewatched ‘12 Monkeys’ I was getting a little tired of Brad Pitt’s zany and shallow performance but this time any deficiencies from him were easily eclipsed by enjoying the controlled, complex, multi-layered, subtle, shifting turn from a never-better Bruce Willis. The story was even better, viewing it from a post real pandemic perspective. I’d somehow never twigged before that the "insurance" lady briefly seen on the plane at the end was one of the scientists from the future, demonstrating that Cole had completed his mission, however unintentionally. A more conventional way to do this story might have been to restrict the viewer's perspective and so make Cole's sanity ambiguous for us but Terry Gilliam goes the more interesting route of making it clear that he is not mad but having him doubt his own sanity by having his multiple planes of experience closely mirrored by production design and camera angles. It’s a shame that Gilliam has never had the stars align as well as they did here, a critical win and a box-office smash without ever feeling like a compromise of his eccentric visual style, wild ideas and macabre humour.

 

TM2YC

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Escape from New York (1981)
John Carpenter’s
film is slower paced than I remembered but it makes up for that by giving you time to really soak up the menacing atmosphere. The footage of Snake running the dark streets of NY has the same sort of sound, look, score and energy as 1984’s ‘The Terminator’. You know James Cameron must've been taking notes from Carpenter, JC did do models and matte paintings on this film after all. The supporting characters are quite thinly drawn, yet so outlandishly memorable and roguishly likeable that you feel sad when they bite the dust. It’s interesting that this and the 1st two Mad Max movies were made at the same time because they have a similar vision of flamboyant punk gangs controlling a decaying lawless society, short on resources. Although I suppose they both owe a debt to 1979’s ‘The Warriors’ and 2000AD.

 

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Niagara (1953)


Don't let the black and white trailer fool you, this movie is in gorgeous color!

I heard about this movie because it was on a few lists of "Hitchcockian" films and sometimes I enjoy hunting for the hidden gems than watching the gold standards. SIDE NOTE: 23 Paces to Baker Street is another that pops up on these lists and it is a REALLY solid Hitchcock feeling movie!

So, outside of Marilyn Monroe catching the eye of every man she walks by, including the insufferable husband in our young-couple-that-gets-caught-up-in-the-plot, she does a pretty ok job trying to sell everyone on the idea that her husband is crazy (but in reality it is seemingly PTSD from fighting in Korea) so that she can help sell her own plot to murder him with the help of her boyfriend.

Under the direction of Henry Hathaway, he really didn't seem to know what to do with this film. We can see that Marilyn is the main character, but when you take a step back, we spend equal time following her, her husband and the young "newlywed" couple that it just doesn't flow all that well. Way too much time was spent with the young couple and they really don't contribute much to the plot (and the husband rarely stops smiling, so it made it entertaining to pick out how many times you actually spot him not smiling than giving a crap about his job and getting in touch with his new boss). Marilyn was sorely underutilized here and when it was over I told my wife what I thought was going to happen and how it would play out and she got wide eyed and said that that would've been a lot more interesting than what we just saw. With such a mess of who to focus on, I didn't particularly care about anyone except the young wife of the newlywed couple (well, it took them 3 years to go on a honeymoon).

Interesting setup, gorgeous shots of the falls, poor execution, pretty decent climax.

DEFINITELY skippable unless you are channel surfing and nothing else is on.
 

TM2YC

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The Hateful Eight (2015)
I think this is the 1st time I've watched 'The Hateful Eight' since the cinema, so I'd happily forgotten enough of the plot specifics to still find it nail biting. It's masterful the way Quentin Tarantino builds characters and the tensions between them. The last part when all that creeping build-up has dissipated is less exciting though. QT plays on our shifting sympathies for the characters, our expectations of star casting and our familiarity with hero/villain tropes like a conductor. It's fun on a second viewing to catch all the little looks from Samuel L. Jackson and Jennifer Jason Leigh's characters as they are silently working things out. God that threatening main theme from Ennio Morricone is so addictive. This time I watched the extended 4-part Netflix version but I didn't notice anything obviously different. Unfortunately the poorly done digital colour grading (oversaturated and with blacks rendered as dark blues) is present in this version, the same as the theatrical digital cut. The 70mm "roadshow" cut was apparently handled photochemically from start to finish, it's weird that Tarantino cared so much about that version (which hardly anybody saw) and doesn't seem to give a sh*t about how these other much more prevalent versions look.

 

TM2YC

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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
It’s unbelievable that a film so perfectly constructed to appeal to a wide audience, to delight families of all ages, to make the emotions soar, to lift the spirits, put a song in your heart and transport the viewer into a world of magic could’ve been a box office bomb but apparently it was. What exactly was so distracting for viewers in 1968, that seeing ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ was nowhere on their list of priorities? The other interesting aspect of the production are it’s numerous links to the Bond film franchise. The script is by Roald Dahl, based on a book by Ian Fleming, the same pair who wrote 1967’s ‘You Only Live Twice’. It features a gadget laden car (built by the same prop guy as the DBD5), spies, supervillains, a heroine with a double-entendre name, the sets are by Ken Adams, it’s produced by Cubby Broccoli, it’s got Q in it and of course the baddie is played by Goldfinger. Most of the songs are total classics. I watched a full “roadshow” version including overture and entr’acte, it looks stunning and rich with colour.

 

The Scribbling Man

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Script by Roald Dahl, eh?

rob lowe GIF
 

ArtisDead

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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
It’s unbelievable that a film so perfectly constructed to appeal to a wide audience, to delight families of all ages, to make the emotions soar, to lift the spirits, put a song in your heart and transport the viewer into a world of magic could’ve been a box office bomb but apparently it was. What exactly was so distracting for viewers in 1968, that seeing ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ was nowhere on their list of priorities? The other interesting aspect of the production are it’s numerous links to the Bond film franchise. The script is by Roald Dahl, based on a book by Ian Fleming, the same pair who wrote 1967’s ‘You Only Live Twice’. It features a gadget laden car (built by the same prop guy as the DBD5), spies, supervillains, a heroine with a double-entendre name, the sets are by Ken Adams, it’s produced by Cubby Broccoli, it’s got Q in it and of course the baddie is played by Goldfinger. Most of the songs are total classics. I watched a full “roadshow” version including overture and entr’acte, it looks stunning and rich with colour.

That was a horror movie for me as a kid. The child catcher guy gave me the creeps...that nose...ick!
 

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I've always loved Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Yes, as a kid the child catcher gave me the creeps (still does, just less so now). In watching all the extra material with the Bond movies, I'm amazed at all the links between this movie and that franchise.
 

TM2YC

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The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)
This benefits from continuing the storyline of the last movie, having the same cast (mostly), the same director and writer and being produced just a year after the much maligned 'Dracula A.D. 1972'. 'The Satanic Rites of Dracula' isn't a masterpiece but it's a solid horror adventure mystery, with a splash more sex and violence that some previous Hammer outings. Peter Cushing is terrific value as Van Helsing, investigating a cabal of Satan worshipping peers of the realm, with the help of his granddaughter (now played by the classy Joanna Lumley). Christopher Lee has little to do as Dracula, so I can see why this was his last. Thankfully the misguided diversion into 70s funk from the previous score has been replaced by a more traditional spooky soundtrack. I've really enjoyed this watch/rewatch through the 8-ish Hammer Dracula films... so maybe I'll watch the 9th non-Dracula Kung Fu Vampire flick too.

 

TM2YC

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Bananas (1971)
As a big Marx Brothers fan, Woody Allen's 'Bananas' has always been something to cherish as perhaps the closest thing to recreating their madcap spirit. Allen does for unstable 60s/70s South American right-wing/left-wing dictatorships (and CIA policy), what the Marxes did for fragile 20s/30s European autocracies in 'Duck Soup'. I wish he'd aimed his sights a bit closer at that topic though, as the film often goes way off into other tangents. There some classic sequences, like; the real Howard Cosell commentating on assassinations, executions and marital consummation as if they were sports events; Allen trying desperately to not notice an old lady being attacked by a thuggish Sylvester Stallone on the Subway; the massive sandwich deli order/heist; and best of all the insane trial sequence at the end, including the brilliant "A mockery of a sham!" tirade, a mad J. Edgar Hoover and Allen cross-examining himself. I hadn't realised before that that courtroom scene isn't just a homage to Chicolini's trial in 'Duck Soup' but a fairly direct satire of the notorious 1969 'The Trial of the Chicago 7', which was dramatised by Aaron Sorkin in 2020.




Starman (1984)
The only downside to rewatching this John Carpenter masterpiece is knowing I'll be walking around humming the magical theme music for a week or two. 'Starman' can be viewed as a deep meditation on life and loss, random human cruelty and selfless kindness, or just a lightly comic sci-fi adventure road-movie. The Christ allegory and Native-American commentary can also be appreciated, or equally not noticed. One of the most beautiful sequences is where Jeff Bridges' "star man" brings a deer back to life, unable to understand why the hunter character has made it dead and why the guy violently attacks him for doing so. It's also the moment where Karen Allen's protagonist realises he isn't someone to fear but a gentle being who needs her help and protection to survive another 48-hours in America. Through him she learns to love life again and accept the death of her husband. Bridges performance is incredible, he genuinely looks like an alien not understanding how to manoeuvre a human body and endlessly fascinated by the everyday, such as how Velcro works. It's got great humorous touches like the awkward way he runs when trying to do something as simple as remaining out of sight, or him kissing Charles Martin Smith's scientist Shermin full on the lips to say thank you. Another fun way to enjoy the movie is seeing it as a "prequel" to 2014's 'Guardians of the Galaxy', pretending "Star-Lord" is the son of "Star-Man"... it's even got a raccoon in it!


 

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I take a medication that can elevate the levels of potassium in my blood in some cases so I'm supposed to keep a small eye on the amount of it i intake. Do you think the film Bananas is safe for me to view?
 

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Munich (2005)
I'd obviously forgotten this fantastic throwback political/espionage thriller from Steven Spielberg
I've loved this film from the get-go, and always held that it's his most underrated movie.

The Hateful Eight (2015)
It's masterful the way Quentin Tarantino builds characters and the tensions between them
I dunno...just seemed like a whole lotta d**k-swaggering to me, and the second half totally deflates because he lays all the cards out and you know pretty much exactly what's going to happen. Would've been a lot tenser if he gave up on Tarantino-ing the chronology of the film and just played it straight imho.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
The other interesting aspect of the production are it’s numerous links to the Bond film franchise.
You Only Live Twice is the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang of the Bond films.
 

TM2YC

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Dark Star (1974)
I was hoping a rewatch of John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon's 'Dark Star' would finally give me a "oh now I get it" moment but no, it's still dreadful. The only bit that made me laugh was Pinback's diary entry and I suppose O'Bannon's prissy voice for the uncooperative bomb computer was mildly amusing too. The film does succeed on one level, it makes the viewer fully share the astronaut's boredom and desperation for it all to be over. To me it feels like the later 'Red Dwarf' and 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' sci-fi comedies, if all the humour, plot activity and clever ideas were removed. I thought 2001's 'Ghosts of Mars' was easily Carpenter's worst film but I've changed my mind after this rewatch of 'Dark Star' because at least that had me absorbed in trying to fathom how the once great JC could've failed on every creative level. 'Dark Star' is at least technically admirable for a no-budget, first-attempt student film.

 
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