The 2019 List: June

Another month of just one television show (Killing Eve Season Two, which was brilliant, but has not yet gotten a review), and this time ten movies, in which the best one (to my utter astonishment, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) also hasn’t yet gotten a review.  The worst one, Skyscraper, absolutely did get a review, and I don’t know what that means- except maybe it’s easier to write a post about a bad movie (because, lets face it, I get a hell of a lot of practice at it) compared to writing a positive review about a good one.

But hey, we’re six months into the year and I’ve hit the big 83 already.

TV Shows

75) Killing Eve Season Two


73) Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom

74) The Meg

76) The Perfection

77) A Quiet Place

78) Blood Father

79) Skyscraper

80) Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

81) The Doors

82) Shaft (2019)

83) Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile




Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

extremeWell, Ted Bundy; bit of a catch, wasn’t he, both for the women that loved him and the enforcement officers that caught him. I think that’s the curious dichotomy of this film- it isn’t at all about the heinous crimes that the monster Bundy committed, but rather the weird charisma and charm about the decent-looking guy Bundy appeared to be. So anyone looking for a procedural crime thriller like Zodiac or Seven is going to be disappointed, but others might find it refreshingly different. Indeed, there is something even more monstrously scary about a normal-looking, charming guy like Zac Efron’s Bundy being such a terrible serial killer than, say, what movies usually portray as a ‘creepy-looking shady loner by day, ruthless monster by night’ kind of trope, and indeed it continuously subverts expectations by dialing down details of disappearances/murders in favour ordinary living/romantic involvements. Of course, all that ‘ordinary living’ and romance is really a study in manipulation and lies when you really think about it.

Part of the fascination, I think, regards serial killers is the whole ‘monster amongst us’ angle- the idea that we don’t really know who might be walking by us in the supermarket or casually saying ‘hello’ to us in the street. Bundy was certainly a monster, but what repeatedly fascinates is his charm and charisma, his fairly relaxed social eloquence and his impressive intelligence. You can understand how he fooled everyone, including the women who loved him and the women he preyed upon. He looked normal, pleasant, safe- nothing like how such killers are supposed to look, at least according to so many movies with their disfigured monsters as twisted on the outside as they are on the inside.

The irony is that Bundy chose a life of killing women rather than becoming a politician, because his skill set would suggest a success at both. Why exactly he felt compelled towards the former is still a mystery- or at least, its a topic this film is not at all concerned about. Instead it follows the point of view Liz Kendall (Lily Collins), a lonely single mother who falls in love with Ted (brilliantly played by Zac Efron, I felt) and her life with him, her doubts and fears when he is caught by the police and protests his innocence, and the trauma of discovering she has been living with a monster.

It is indeed something of a romance picture, at least at the start- but of course, we know full well the truth about Bundy, so perhaps the film loses some effect of surprise. On the other hand, this is one of those ‘so bizarre it cannot be true’ sort of stories, which lends it a certain fascination anyway. While we  don’t really get into the psyche of Bundy or explain his actions, it is peculiarly intriguing to witness his charm and disarming character, how he manipulates and seduces everyone around him.  I must confess to quite liking him at one point, and even rooting for him, which suggests that perhaps a hidden agenda of the film is for Bundy to charm the viewer as much as the people portrayed within it. At the end when the names of his victims are put up on screen, that empathy for him is rudely undermined in a sobering reminder of what horrors he had actually done.

Shaft (2019)

“it’s your duty to please that booty”

shaftWith the caveat that this is nothing at all like the 1971 original, if you’re in the mood for a Friday night comedy/action flick that harks back to the cop shows of the 1970s then you’ll likely enjoy this. It really does have this strange television-show feel, particularly towards its finale, so it’s possibly best not to think of it as a ‘movie’ but almost as a tv-pilot instead. Its funny, its slick, it’s got Isaac Hayes’ iconic Shaft theme playing on the soundtrack and Samuel L. Jackson chewing up the scenery dropping f-bombs everywhere. Beautiful women, rough streets, a cool car, shoot-outs, fights, a plot that feels pretty immaterial to the set-pieces and comic one-liners, sure, its decidedly lightweight, but it’s harmless fun. It’s even got original John Shaft, Richard Roundtree in it. What’s not to to love?

Well, there’s the rub. I am sure the pc-liberal brigade will have something to say about a Shaft that habitually treats women as sex objects, drinks too much, is a lousy dad, is homophobic, breaks the law at every opportunity, swears all the time, acts like a thug- Shaft is suddenly the poster boy for everything the pc-friendly modern world seems to despise, then has the affront to wrap it in a package oozing ‘cool’. Yeah, I’m certain many will find this film despicable and offensive. I’m sure some furious reviews are being written and posted right now. Its almost odd how divisive I’m sure this film will prove to be, considering its so light and conventional.

I was struck by how much it reminded me, of all things, of Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, in how its plot featured our cool hero (Indy/Shaft), the appearance of a long-lost son (Mutt/ Shaft jr), and an ex-lover (Marion/Maya), the whole dysfunctional father/son dynamic getting healed by the end and an inevitable reunion for the ex-lovers. There’s nothing strange about this, I guess, considering it is also a franchise spanning decades/generations and the latest entry also serves as a ‘passing of the torch’ kind of thing. It that respect it’s cynical and manipulative, but I think Shaft succeeds where Crystal Skull failed, in that somehow there’s some fun, some laughs, fewer ‘what the f—?’ moments. Mind, I can imagine many fans of the original Shaft movie will consider this Shaftlite as some kind of betrayal, as comparing this film to the the 1971 original is indeed like comparing a light romp like Spider Man: Homecoming to, say, The Dark Knight or that Logan movie.

If nothing else, it was great to see Luna Lauren Velez again, so great in Dexter so many years ago, here sadly reduced to pretty much a one-scene cameo as a baddie smouldering at both Shafts. Maybe the writers/producers missed a trick there. I’d have loved to have seen her given a better role, perhaps as the main villain, and certainly a woman giving Samuel L Jackson’s foul-mouthed Shaft a beating would be something even the pc-brigade could applaud.


The Doors

doors1.jpgHmm, I’m indeed late to this one- Oliver Stone’s The Doors dates back to 1991, between his Born on the Fourth of July and JFK, and it’s the lesser of the three by some margin. I really didn’t enjoy it- so much so that it actually bored me, and I’ve never been bored by an Oliver Stone film before. Well, there’s a first time for everything I guess.

Something was missing- the film really didn’t seem to show me anything new. Jim Morrison took a lot of drugs, drank a lot of alcohol, had a lot of sex, and died an early (if not really surprising, considering his lifestyle) death. I can’t say the film really explained much to me about the appeal of The Doors or their music, other than perhaps that it was of its time and you really had to be there. In that respect, the film does a reasonable job of recreating the ‘sixties and the mood of the times, but not in any way I hadn’t seen before. In anycase, I always felt the film was an unreliable narrator, in a sense that I don’t think it ever got me inside Morrison’s head, that I never really understood him or where he was coming from, what he was doing. He took a lot of mind-altering substances and all the excess fucked him up, basically- but I knew all that before I saw the film, and I can’t say I was ever a fan of his music enough to really care.

It felt like the film was a failure, on Stones’ part. It didn’t really work, to me. Indeed, I’m surprised we never saw multiple subsequent cuts trying to fix it as Stone did with his Alexander years later, and that film was never, in any version, as messed up and broken as this one felt. Clearly I’ve therefore missed something because Stone was evidently happy enough with it to live well alone.

But yes, something was missing for me- we’ve seen stories of these self-destructive, narcissistic superstars before – perhaps the point of the film was that, in this respect, Jim Morrison was the Real Deal, while most pop stars only play the part. But the film didn’t explain why he was that way, what made him. As a child he witnessed some car crash in the desert that in some way impressed him or marked him- but beyond that ‘revelation’ what really explains it? And was that a fiction of the films unreliable narrator or was it something that Morrison himself revealed? I don’t know. Whatever Stone was trying to achieve, it didn’t work for me, and all the odd ghostly reprises of Native Americans from his childhood experience just seemed clumsy and forced. Not Oliver Stone’s finest hour in my book, and not a film I’m ever likely to rewatch.

Old Faves Making Another Comeback

pris1Its a funny thing, as far as collecting films is concerned, how you keep on getting suckered in by the same old movies, it’s like the bastards are relentless. I’ve rebought films like Alien, CE3K and Superman: The Movie in 4K, and it seems it’s a pattern that will just endlessly continue. Which is funny, considering I was happy enough with them on VHS back in the day – the temptation of better quality seems impossible to resist but I sincerely hope that 4K is the last time; even to this old fool this is starting to get ridiculous. I suppose it’s harder to resist with old favourites simply because we have all those emotional connections and the element of nostalgia, indeed maybe it’s an attempt to recapture something from years ago that’s always out of reach, no matter how good the quality gets (but we keep on trying).

This week I’ve ordered two faves from America, simply because that’s the only way to get hold of them. Which makes them more expensive than I’d like, but, what you gonna do? How can I resist an upgrade from DVD to Blu-ray for one of my Jack Lemmon faves, The Prisoner of Second Avenue, a film that I have mentioned before here over the years and which just seems to get better the older it gets? Its a lesser known title that is hardly likely to ever get a blu-ray release over here (I’m not certain even a DVD release ever happened here in the UK). Likewise I’ve been waiting for a few months now for Universal to announce a UK release of its 4K UHD upgrade of Field of Dreams, another of those films from 1989 getting anniversary releases in 4K. Seems Universal can’t see the point of it getting released over here, no doubt another indication of the decline of the physical formats (mind, you watch, soon as they pop through the letter box the announcement will come of a 4K UHD Field… from Universal in the Autumn and Arrow Films licensing Prisoner of Second Avenue for a HD release).

pris2Prisoner of Second Avenue on DVD was a R1 import which I can’t play anymore (last time I watched the film was from my Tivo box, having recorded it off the telly- how retro is that?) so that’s certainly reason to upgrade to a region-free Warner Archive release.  As for Field of Dreams, well, although I had it VHS/DVD and later Blu-ray, it was always a problematic transfer across the formats, and apparently the 4K is a great upgrade with the best picture its ever had. I was listening to James Horner’s sublime soundtrack again the other week and it just had me falling into the mood to rewatch it again. God knows I’ve watched too many bad ‘new’ films of late so its about due that I returned to the comfort of old favourites. My wallet tells me there’s no fool like an old fool but my heart tells me its going to be great watching two of my favourite films looking better than ever. I shall post a report no doubt in a few weeks time.


There’s one thing you should know first… I’m behind you!

sky1The image above is pretty much everything you need to know about Skyscraper. If you’re thinking, “wow, that looks cool!” then yes, this film is for you. If you’re thinking, “wtf?” then do yourself a favour and never let this film anywhere near you, because preposterous eye-candy is the least of this films problems.

I’m sitting here struggling to write anything about this. I guess it’s the blogging equivalent of being rendered speechless. I do think I’ve seen more than my fair share of bad films lately. This one may not be the worst but… I mean why even bother spending my time writing anything about this? Its your typical overblown action extravaganza with a derivative plot and very unimaginative casting, it’s just laziness to the extreme.

For example, at the very start of the film, Will Ford (Dwayne Johnson), leader of some hotshot FBI hostage rescue squad, is involved in a hostage situation in rural America that goes horribly wrong with the deaths of a family, including children, and some of his own team. Its inevitable, right from those opening minutes, that the end of the film will feature a reprise of that hostage situation but now involving one of his own kids. Can he learn from the mistakes of the past and shake off all the guilt he has carried with him for the years after? Take a guess.

Its inevitable, right from a little later on when he instructs his wife that the best way to fix anything, particularly her mobile phone, is to switch it off then back on again, that when near the end of the film the authorities are perplexed at how to fix the fiery buildings fire defense systems, she steps up with the suggestion to switch it off then on again, thus rebooting the system.

Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

Infact, I’ll be as lazy as this movie is, by simply stating that Skyscraper is Die Hard by way of The Towering Inferno with a bit of Cliffhanger thrown in (all three much better movies) and they even sneak in a bit of Total Recall that cues the misdirection signalled by the quote headlining this post (and possibly facepalm moment of the year). And if I dare suggest it is extra cynical by being set in Hong Kong with a mostly Asian cast in an effort to break the Asian market and all its foreign money, how far wrong could I be? Well, domestic US box office was $68 million, foreign box office totaled $236 million. Welcome to the future: Universal Pictures China is possibly as inevitable as all the telegraphing this film engineers in its hokey script.


Jumanji (1995)

Every film is a roll of the dice

jumnji1James Horner brought me here.

You see, I’d never seen the original Jumanji. Don’t know why, it’s just one of those films that seemed to pass me by. It was a popular enough film at the time, I believe, and I used to go the cinema all the time back then, in 1994/1995/1996, but somehow I didn’t go see it. Maybe I’d read some negative reviews. The real curio is that somehow I never even got around to it over the years since, on tv or disc releases. When the remake/reboot was released in 2017 and got some positive reviews, I refrained from watching it because I hadn’t seen the original (I’m old-school enough to think it’s best to see the original before watching a remake/reboot).

So why don’t we watch some films, but watch others instead? Is it simply because, one day we finally get around to it, and it’s the right time? Or maybe, somewhere, there is a really great film but we’ll never get around to it, like it’s that love of our life that we just missed by crossing over the street at just the wrong time? Maybe there’s a film out there that I’ve never even heard of, maybe its a foreign film, but its a film thats just perfect for me, that I would fall head over heels for and simply adore if only I could see it, but I never will?

Well, thats life, I guess. But the romantic in me, the romantic lover of films in me, anyway, would like to think we see the films we deserve and we get to see the best as well as the worst. But maybe there is always the chance that there is something better, that the best, the most perfect film for any of us, might still be out there. Maybe it’s waiting for the right day for us to finally discover it. Maybe it hasn’t been made yet, but someone’s writing the script right this minute, or the lead actor/actress is just leaving drama school ready to make their mark. That we ain’t seen nothing yet.

Anyway, Jumanji isn’t that film, clearly, but I’m glad I finally got around to it.

Maybe in back in 1996 (Jumanji was released late 1995 in the States, but reached UK early the year after) simply wasn’t the right time. Robin Williams still had other, and greater films ahead, James Horner still had many scores to write, including Titanic ahead of him, and back at the very beginning, really, of things, Kirsten Dunst had a whole career ahead of her. Sitting here in the dark days of 2019 though it seems like a wonderful bubble of nostalgia, a reminder of the good old days, a moment in time lost to us now. I think the James Horner score is a big part of that, which, as I say, is what got me here. I never bought the soundtrack album (it must have been just around the time I’d stopped blind-buying his scores) so I wasn’t at all familiar with it, but when I saw the 4K disc in a sale a few months back (I think it was about £8) it was the fact it was a James Horner score on it that swung me into buying it.

Its certainly a rarity now, seeing/hearing a film for the first time with a James Horner score, a special treat. Just watching it and hearing Horner’s old familiar tropes, so irritating at the time, honestly (Horner became notorious, especially later in his career for almost plagiarizing himself with scores), is almost endearing, now.

Naturally much of the charm of this film is simply because of the time the film was made and the talent involved. Joe Johnson, the director, fresh from Disney’s brilliant (albeit ill-received at the time) Rocketeer movie (and there’s a blu-ray I need to watch sometime soon). Robin Williams, in nicely restrained mode here, what a talent he was, so able to channel a wonderful childish element into his performance as a man who has grown up trapped in a game. Jonathan Hyde, like James Horner, had James Cameron’s Titanic just ahead of him. An incredibly young Kirsten Dunst, fresh from Interview With a Vampire. Bonnie Hunt, who would later appear in The Green Mile but spend most of her career in voiceover work and television shows. And there’s Beatrice Neuwirth (always Lilith from Frasier to me). And of course ILM. I guess it could be argued that ILM was as much the star of the film as any of the cast, it’s so dependant on its visual effects, which naturally as the film dates from the early days of CGI effects haven’t aged too well.  But like blue screen bleed and dodgy matte lines and paintings, its all a part of its time and its charm- all part of the learning curve that gets us from Jurassic Park to, well, Jurassic World, or T2 to, er, Terminator: Dark Fate, which is not an endearing way of suggesting we have traveled far and gotten precisely nowhere.

So anyway, I finally got around to watching Jumanji, and it turned out I possibly caught up with it in the best way possible, on a 4K UHD disc that displayed all the best (and possibly its worst) in great detail in widescreen rather than VHS pan and scan, and uninterrupted by ads or people getting up during the cinema presentation to rush to the loo. You know, all that stuff we put up with, or used to in the old days.

And now of course I can appreciate the James Horner score all the more simply because his scores simply are no more. And I can watch Robin Williams and smile and appreciate his talent and the loss, and wonder at the sadness that would one day overtake him. Films are not seperate from real life, although they are microcosms of time, bubbles of moments, in this case, a bubble of 1995. Yeah, Jumanji is great fun, in some ways it seems like its from some more innocent and simpler time, but in other ways it’s clear that so little has really changed.




In Johann’s Endless Pause

endlessIt seems I am endlessly reminded of the loss of the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, whose sudden passing last year still feels like some kind of shock. I suppose it’s because I keep on returning to his music, and the kind of melancholy that infused so much of it. For the past few days I’ve been listening to In the Endless Pause There Came The Sound of Bees, one of his early albums and the soundtrack to a little-known animated short film titled Varmints. Its a short album – the original animation is less than thirty minutes long- but it is full of al kinds of beauty and tenderness, a really deceptively complicated soundscape with fragile melodies and textures. I discovered the album back when I first became besotted with Jóhann’s music through his Fordlandia album and became obsessed with discovering his past albums, scouring the internet for copies where I could. In the Endless Pause is a really fine soundtrack, so much so I would not be at all surprised to find some fans of his music consider it their favourite. It is so subtle and otherworldly, using electronics, organ and choir and solo voice to weave some particular magic that only Jóhann could really manage, somehow- and a sober reminder indeed of what we fans lost. Everytime I listen to some of his music I wonder at his talent at what what may have lay ahead of him, what fine music we will never hear, what films may have benefitted from his touch. I listen to his music now and feel like I and his music are held in some endless pause- as if some divine ‘pause’ button was pressed too soon, and I’m waiting for someone to press the ‘play’ button, so somehow he’ll be back, and there will be more of his beautiful music in the world.

To give readers unfamiliar with either Jóhann or this particular album an idea of what this music is like, here’s a link to the film/album’s End Theme.

Its a fine gem of an album indeed and perhaps surprisingly upbeat. Jóhann’s music has a reputation for being moody and sombre, and much of it is, but I don’t think that necessarily means its dark or depressing- I suppose it’s the Icelandic in his soul. I think ‘fragility’ is a word I’d prefer to use, or ‘intimate’.

The album was rare when I bought it, years ago, but can be found now on a Deutsche Grammophon anthology, Retrospective 1, which contains seven of his early recordings (a second Retrospective collection is due next year, likely collecting his later and more commonly found works). The Varmints film itself came be found on Youtube too and is well worth a watch, and I believe can be purchased on itunes.

Empire Jazz

rempire jazzI used to have this album. Back when The Empire Strikes Back came out, thanks to the huge success of the Star Wars OST and associated releases (cover versions, Meco’s album etc) the label that had the music rights for Empire, RSO, went all-out on Empire-related vinyl. We had the soundtrack as a single album, a double-album with gatefold/booklet, a story-of album, Meco’s ‘inspired by’ album, a disco album by Boris Midney, and this, a jazz album from Ron Carter. A laid-back Jazz rendition of the Imperial March had to be heard to be believed. I hated it at the time (I was, what, 14, a sucker for anything Star Wars and the cover was strangely cool, but every kid has his limits) and changed it for something else, which at the time made perfect sense but something I regretted has years have gone by. Not that I expect I would ever have really fallen for the music, but as a piece of nostalgia, sure, I wish I still had it with my other Empire albums. Its one that never saw a CD release, or even a digital release, so it’s pretty rare. You can hear it on Youtube, naturally, and it still sounds pretty odd (jazz is an acquired taste certainly and Yoda Jazz even more so), and it was years before Twin Peaks made this kind of stuff cool to us dumb geeks.

So anyway, here’s a link I found to a Youtube video of the entire album. Just imagine my 14 year-old-self hearing this for the first time back in 1980. No wonder I freaked….


Blood Father

Chew on this you drug-pushing scum

blood1Hey, Mel Gibson’s back. Well, of course he is, I’m sure plenty of you have seen him in other stuff recently (didn’t he make some comedies?) since he upset people shouting his mouth off in the ‘real world’ about things he shouldn’t have, but this here must be the first thing I’ve seen him in since Edge of Darkness in 2010- no, wait, he was in The Expendables 3, wasn’t he (good grief I’d almost mercifully forgotten that). So anyway, for me its been awhile (my favourite Mel film is Payback, I think, although Braveheart is unabashedly daft fun).

And what do you know, Blood Father turned out pretty good, in a sort of check your brain at the door, soak up the action, kind of way, when I’d expected some pretty dismal, straight-to-video stuff from the premise. Its b-movie, but classy b-movie, I suppose, if that’s even a thing.

Mel is Link, ex-con and recovering alcoholic, running a tattoo business in a trashy trailer melting in the desert sun in a god-forsaken middle of nowhere, when suddenly his long-lost daughter, Lydia (Erin Moriarty, the weak link (sic) of the film), from an earlier failed marriage rings him begging for help, having gotten mixed up with the wrong sort of drug-dealing scum. Well, you can guess where this thing is going, I suppose Liam Neeson must have been busy. Link drives off to rescue her and gets her back to his trailer, but she’s not being 100% honest with her long-lost dad because she’s being hunted down by pissed off drug-runners/dealers/bandits and a super-assassin too. And they soon come calling.

But Link is pretty bad-ass himself, and while he’d prefer to maintain his quiet life and ‘enjoy’ his parole, long-lost daughters in trouble come first. So of course it’s not long until all hell breaks loose.

To be honest, Mel dominates this film, carrying it all by himself, indeed in spite of Moriarty, who is a) too pretty and b) not in the slightest bit convincing, as his daughter. Her casting and indeed her character is all some kind of bizarre throwback to a 1980s movie starring that Seagull sorry Seagal fella – it’s like the last thirty years never happened. Physically Mel is pretty formidable, all bulked up and craggy and rough and yes, quite a convincing action figure for a guy who turned sixty when this came out, but it’s the performance that counts, almost demanding the camera’s sole attention in every scene he’s in- shades of Lethal Weapon etc.  Its a suggestion he may yet have great, even career-best things ahead of him yet.

Its pretty formulaic otherwise , but there’s a pretty impressive cast shuffled in behind Mel (William H Macy, Michael Parks) and there’s plenty of action to hold attention between the talky bits and Moriarty, bless her, trying to derail the enterprise with every scene she’s lost in.