The 2020 List: March

Covid-19 already makes an impact on my viewing figures with a busy month in March. Twelve films and six television shows, raising my 2020 tally to 48 already (this point last year I reached 42).

Five of those television shows are sitcoms, and its pretty clear to me that this is a direct response to all the stress about the virus outbreak. Claire’s being getting very anxious and we’ve pretty much stopped watching the news coverage, retreating to the dumb and fairly mindless sanctuary of the sitcom. Its an escape I guess.

Meanwhile as of this week, I’m now working from home. Its not ideal, and I can imagine some rough weeks ahead trying to get work done whilst isolated from the rest of the team and the convenience of the proper dedicated workplace environment, but at least I’m fortunate that I can still work. Some folks aren’t as lucky. Times such as these we need to maintain a sense of perspective and, really, be thankful for what we’ve got.

There are tragedies unfolding everyday. They’ve just announced on the radio the UK’s latest daily total of 393 people dying of the virus, the biggest daily total yet. Its impossible for me to get my head around a total like that. You can’t imagine the loss and grief of so many people who must be affected by each death, each individuals story- to be frank, the sheer unwarranted untimeliness of each death. These were people who might otherwise have had years ahead of them, who should have had those years; all those months and weeks and days, those sunrises and pretty sunsets that we see and take for granted. These poor souls were robbed of them because of this horrible virus that until a few months ago we’d never heard of.

Anyway, returning to the sanctuary of much more mundane things, here’s the list for March 2020:

TV Shows

31) The Thick of It Season Four

32) The Windsors Season Three

42) Friday Night Dinner Season One

43) Friday Night Dinner Season Two

46) Star Trek: Picard Season One

48)  Friday Night Dinner Season Three


33) The Aeronauts

34) The Report

35) Doctor Sleep

36) Midsommar

37) Brightburn

38) The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll

39) Snatch

40) Remember the Titans

41) Le Mans ’66

44) Judy

45)Torn Curtain

47) Visa to Canton

Torn Curtain and the Shelf of Shame


So here we are with another riveting instalment of the Shelf of Shame, an irregular series of posts about me finally getting around to watching discs that have stood gathering dust on the shelf for far too long. Something tells me that over the coming weeks/months I may be making ever-deeper incursions into this particular territory.

Hey, I’m trying to take something positive from this Covid-19 thing…

So today’s post is regards a disc I bought back in 2013- Torn Curtain, one of a number of unwatched flicks in a Hitchcock box (one of which is Family Plot, a film whose reputation has not escaped me and will linger on that shelf of shame somewhat longer still….).  Torn Curtain dates from 1966 (hey, its as old as me (but I like to think I’ve aged better)) and is regarded, perhaps wisely as latter-day, lesser Hitchcock. Its like comparing the Ridley Scott of Alien or Blade Runner fame to the Ridley Scott of Alien Covenant, er, fame, or the Steven Spielberg of Jaws or Raiders fame to the Spielberg of, er, The Post, er, fame. I mean, no-one can be expected to churn out classics forever, Billy Wilder didn’t manage it so its hardly surprising that Hitchcock couldn’t, either. Partly it would seem to be a case of the changing times finally leaving Hitchcock behind- Torn Curtain really feels like it would seem an old film even back in 1966 when it first came out, and the fifty-odd years since haven’t helped, either. Which is a little odd when one considers that Pyscho, which really was something of a shocker and a game-changer, dates just six years before, which might suggest HItchcock still had greatness in him, but Torn Curtain certainly doesn’t prove it.

If anything, the film suggests that perhaps Hitchcock was tired of such thrillers (it was his fiftieth film): the staging of sequences (barring one long murder scene that clearly intrigued him) seems perfunctory and uninspired, the characters don’t really engage and the music score feels ill-judged. The latter point is interesting, because this was the last time Hitchcock and Bernard Hermann would work together, the two allegedly falling out with each other over Hermann’s rejected score, and it cannot be over-stated how important Hermann’s scores were to some of Hitchcock’s best movies. Ironically, Hitchcock dropping Hermann’s score suggests he was looking for something different, as if he knew he had to break the mould, so to speak, of what his films were supposed to look and sound like; concious, perhaps, that the times were indeed a changing and he had to try change with them. Or maybe it was just their personalities finally winning out over their professional relationship.

torn2While I suppose I enjoyed the film, its weaknesses are all too evident and I really can’t imagine me ever really returning to it. Paul Newman is quite good as the American scientist Michael Armstrong defecting to the Iron Curtain, but the film undermines him throughout, as the script never really convinces that he’s a despicable cad betraying his country.  Julie Andrews suffers from a terribly under-written part as his assistant and fiancée, Sarah Sherman, torn between the love for her man and her love for her country, coming across as rather weak and vapid with little to really do. Maybe its me looking at this from a modern-day perspective, but a bit more anger and fire from her once she realises he is defecting would have helped raise the tension no end; instead when she realises what he is really doing (pretending to defect in order to contact a Russian scientist who has info he needs) her blind faith in her lover is limply rewarded. It just doesn’t, any of it, feel real, something absolutely damaged by the lack of chemistry between Newman and Andrews. Newman lacks any of the charm of Hitchcock’s past leading men and Andrews is perhaps oddly too pure, lacking any of the fire and passion her character needs. With such ill-judged (some might suggest disastrous) casting the film was doomed from the start, and likely Hitchcock knew it, explaining how the film seems an example of directorial boredom (other than, again, that lengthy murder scene).

Considering James Bond was all the rage when this film came out only exemplifies how dated it likely seemed, even in 1966. Newman is handsome, Andrews is beautiful, but its hard to raise tension from a bus route when Sean Connery has been battling the agents of SPECTRE in Dr No’s lair or escaping Goldfinger’s fiendish laser device. Instead Torn Curtain feels like a film clearly lost and out of time even when it came out over half a century ago.

Picard hits rock bottom

“This is your Star Fleet Pizza delivery service- who ordered the meat-feast?”

Well its over.we can be thankful for that, at least, but frack me, it somehow managed to get even worse with its grand finale. The crass stupidity of the writing and direction, well, it beggared belief, frankly, and at the end I actually felt insulted. There’s no other word for it, as a Star Trek fan since a young kid, this current incarnation of the show was actually insulting- insulting my own intelligence as a viewer and insulting the history and legacy of the Star Trek franchise itself. The writer/s, producers and director/s have mugged everybody: I was shouting at the screen at several points, and actually stopped and rewound sections just to be sure I was seeing what I was seeing and hearing what I was hearing. If I had the time I would re-watch the whole thing again just so I could run through it and record here all the magnificently farcical stupidity for posterity.

Biggest example of the stupidity: that bloody magic gadget they had to instantly fix the engines by thinking about fixing the engines and also able to create a vast fleet of projected spaceships to fool EVERYONE by just thinking about a vast fleet of spaceships. I couldn’t quite figure out why, when Picard finally collapses, dying in some vain attempt by Patrick Stewart to finally get off the show, the dumb doctor didn’t just use the magic gadget to miraculously cure him (instead Picard is transported down to the surface for an interminably long death scene infront of his crew who wail like lifelong freinds but who mostly only met him a few days before). And of course, Picard is then dead and then he isn’t. Its quite the pathos of Pantomime. They aren’t telling some grand emotional story, they are taking the piss.

It was the sheer stupidity that angered me. The crass self-confidence that whoever wrote this rubbish thought they could get away with it by frantically rushing through the scenes and distracting viewers with flashy effects- its all smoke and mirrors, no substance at all, like most JJ Abrams stuff. If I were the studio, I’d have sacked these clowns from the show mid-season, and certainly never let them work on one again.

The dialogue made George Lucas’ writing on the Star Wars prequels seem genuinely Shakespearean: at one point a character yells “Planet sterilisation pattern number five!” 

Who. Writes. This. Shit.

They even get Riker away from his retirement cooking pizza to actually put him in command of a rescue mission (they literally reprise the hoary old chestnut of the cavalry saves the day); its some of the most crass and blatantly moronic fan-service I’ve seen in years, and God only knows we’ve seen some fan-service in geekdom lately.

Are audiences so mindless now that they just accept this rubbish (I see a second season has somehow been greenlit, presumably with the same creative team of talent-less jerks behind it)? How is anyone actually still watching it? I mean, other than us sad fools whose morbid curiosity saw us through to the very bitter end, who else actually managed to watch all ten episodes? I wonder what the drop-off rate was as the season progressed? Who was left watching at the end? And how many even cared?

Scariest thing of all- did someone actually watch this feast of garbage and actually like it?

Flee to the Movies… but not The Omega Man (obviously)

omega1Listening to Horner soundtracks in my car, commuting to work. Every day a new score, every day less cars on the roads, less people on the streets, the world slowly becoming more The Omega Man. Its funny how the routine drive to/from work that was once pretty changeless day to day, week to week, month to month, has suddenly been so transformed. It was getting so I could drive to work and judge whether I was running early or late by at which point on my journey I would pass by certain pedestrians walking on their regular routes to work or shop etc. I drive alone in my car but the familiar faces almost seem like partners on my journey. A woman who I have figured out to be a teacher at a nearby infant school (regular as a watch term-time, absent during the holidays), or an old man with a hunched back walking his dog… both gone now, and so many others. Suddenly that whole landscape has changed. Call it Covid-19 Blues, a lonelier car journey than usual.

Has anyone else noticed the horrible feeling of reality come crashing in, when you’ve just watched a good film and then its over and -boom- you’re back to the Real World with all this Covid-19 nightmare going on? I suppose its all a part of the escapist appeal of movies anyway, but its pretty horrible, lately, coming out of a great movie and suddenly realising whats really going on. There’s a moment of ignorant bliss, basking in the ‘reality’ of the film before that glow fades and reality bites. Anybody else pointedly looking at watching more positive/escapist films than stuff, like, say The Omega Man or Soylent Green etc? Its funny how, when life is fine, you don’t mind dipping into something Dystopian or dark, but when everything in the world turns lousy, that stuffs just plain too horrible to bear and you need something rosier, happier.

There was a time, back in 1982, when I remember Blade Runner seeming dark and moody and Dystopian. Its practically a Utopian Ideal now.

I hadn’t listened to Horner’s scores for awhile. I stumbled into it by accident, my USB stick on random suddenly dropping onto the Main Title of Brainstorm, and that was it, I was hooked, the random function deactivated, listening to the whole album. Brainstorm is such a clear, fresh and astonishing work: the first James Horner score I ever bought, on a TER vinyl that I feared I’d wear out (a few years later it would be one of my very first purchases on Compact Disc, an expensive Varese import). Pretty much every day I would be driving to a different score, my USB stick going alphabetically through the ones I’d put onto the stick a few years back: Braveheart, Cocoon, Glory… the latter in particular bringing incredibly vivid memories of distant days, of blasting out Charging Fort Wagner racing through Cannock Chase in my first car (a banged-up old death-trap posing as a Mini Cooper) with my mate Andy: sun-drenched forest and Horner in his prime, glorious indeed. Its funny the things you remember like yesterday, when yesterday can be such a blur.

Mind, the last several yesterdays don’t deserve remembering at all, do they, so I welcome forgetting the details, the general darkness enough to send me scurrying for something pleasantly positive from my shelves of discs. I re-watched Gladiator the other day (albeit a 4K-UHD edition I bought in a sale a little while ago) and it was great, held up pretty well. Oliver Reed is magnificent in that; every time I watch Gladiator I wonder at what the hell happened with that guy, what amazing roles/films we missed out on because of what I assume were his personal demons. I don’t know much about him- its a funny thing, mind, how he seems to turn up in quite a few of the Hammer films in the Indicator box-sets (he even has a turn in The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll that I watched a few nights ago: there was the weird feeling, seeing him in Gladiator, so old worn-out looking, shortly before his death,  while in Jekyll, so young and handsome (I guess the women in the audience adored his angry charms) with his whole life and career ahead of him.

johncAnother film I watched the other night, well a part of it, anyway, as I stumbled on it channel-hopping just prior to going to bed, was John Carter, Andrew Stanton’s wonderfully evocative love-letter to the old sci-fi pulps that Star Wars etc summarily ‘homaged’. Hadn’t seen it for awhile, I really enjoyed  what I saw and really need to find out my Blu-ray copy for a proper re-watch at a more civil time. It still seems mightily impressive,  looking gorgeous and sounding even better, with that fantastic Michael Giacchino score. That was a film from just before Disney purchased Lucasfilm (indeed, John Carter was killed by that particular deal) and you know, it was pretty clear to me from just watching half-hour of it, that the film was better than any of the Disney Star Wars films that replaced it. Whenever I see John Carter I wonder about all those other adventures on Barsoom we were robbed of. There ain’t no justice.

Ugh. I feel my mood slipping darkly. Maybe its time for The Omega Man after all… if you can’t beat it, wallow in it.

Le Mans ’66 – 4K UHD

lemans66Our UK title for the film known more prosaically as Ford v Ferrari in many territories (something that sounds foreign no doubt proving a hard sell to American audiences), this film was great- brilliant even. A breath of fresh air, really; a rather old-fashioned kind of film- you know, great cast playing memorable characters, a tight script that alternates between drama and warmth and humour effortlessly, a story with a beginning, a middle and end, and all told with all the embellishments modern film-making can afford, such as fantastic sound design and flawless visual effects. The nostalgia of the film was as much from its Old School sensibilities as much as its richly recreated period setting. In all honesty, I was absolutely buzzing after watching this, that kind of high when you know you’ve watched a film that just works, just clicks in all the right places, a film I can imagine myself watching years from now.

Indeed, maybe it was the chemistry between Matt Damon and Christian Bale, and the male bonding of the characters they so memorably played, but I find myself comparing this film to The Shawshank Redemption. Its that good. Sure, it doesn’t break any rule-books or offer anything particularly new, but what it does do is look simple when its nothing of the sort, and moreover it knows what it is, and delivers. Like The Shawshank Redemption, its a film with a great story and great characters within it.

It can’t be any accident, for instance, that the film is currently scoring a critics score of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, with an audience score of 98% – with those kids of numbers, you’d be forgiven for thinking this film had been an Oscar contender and a huge box-office success. Regards the latter, it was regrettably not so, grossing just $225 million worldwide on a $97 million budget, so likely not even breaking even. Another similarity to The Shawshank Redemption, then, and I suspect the film will gain more success at home from word of mouth in just the same way as Shawshank did At the Oscars it deservedly won two technical awards, but not any of the biggies. Shame that; I’m not going to suggest the film possibly really does enough to garner a Best Picture award, but then again, that award went to Parasite, a film which I’ve not seen yet but and okay, possibly a more deserving film from what I’ve heard, but…  a dark horse like the Old School Le Mans ’66/Ford v Ferrari would still have been great, sending a message to Hollywood that the Box-Office didn’t: more of these please.

But of course, in truth that Box-Office probably did send a message to Hollywood, just not the one I’d prefer- I really don’t know if the studios look much beyond those figures towards audience reception. Certainly the film seemed to have pretty much pleased most who’d seen it- the problem was just getting them in to see it. I won’t pretend that the film is perfect but I’ll easily forgive any of its slip-ups just for being what it is: a great, old-fashioned movie that deserved better at the cinemas. Oh well, there’s a long line of discs on my shelf that share that same description, and I’ll always return to them more often than many of the box-office blockbusters so quickly forgotten.

I’ll reserve final judgement until I’ve seen it a few times/digested it awhile, but really, this could be one of my favourite movies someday, sitting alongside Shawshank on the shelf.

The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll

2facesbPart of Indicators fourth Hammer box-set, Faces of Fear, The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll is the last of the set that I have watched, mostly because I thought it was the lesser film of the four (the others being The Revenge of Frankenstein, Taste of Fear and The Damned), and I’ll be honest, I was pleasantly surprised by the film. It actually turned out to be a quite sophisticated retelling of the Robert Louis Stevenson tale: less of the monster movie I expected, and more a tale of decadent excess and sexual politics. Like their 1958 Dracula (also directed by Terence Fisher) the old familiar tale is updated by Hammer for contemporary audiences – Hammer certainly seems to have been more ambitious with these movies than I thought. These Gothic horrors tend to be talked about with some disdain nowadays, considered to be horribly dated by some, and indeed much of my own affection stems from childhood viewings on the old Friday night horror slots on television in the 1970s, but there does seem to be more to them than might initially meet the eye. These Indicator box-sets (a fifth, likely final set, is due next month I think) have really taught me a lesson or two about just how good Hammer films were, proving to be an institution we Brits really should be more proud of (or at least be afforded more respect today).

2facecSo The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll is certainly a very surprising film. Paul Massie stars in the dual role of the ill-fated, foolish Doctor Jekyll and the charming Mr Hyde. Dr Jekyll is an introverted, obsessed scientist rather withdrawn from society- indeed, neglecting his wife Kitty (a fabulous Dawn Addams) so much that she is off having an affair with his best friend Paul Allen (Christopher Lee in, for me, one of the best roles I’ve seen him in), who keeps coming to Jekyll for money as he is always getting into debt from his extravagant excesses.

The main Hammer ‘twist’ on the familiar old tale is that Jekyll is portrayed as a backward, almost monstrous figure in appearance, and middle-aged (something the make-up isn’t really up to, failing to convince and looking odder than intended), and his alter-ego Hyde is a young, dashing, and charismatic socialite. Jekyll is emasculated and unable to satisfy his wife (or moreover apparently unwilling), his eventual overtures towards her awkward and ham-fisted, rendered impotent. Hyde is all confidence and charm, wit and virility, totally shameless and without the self-loathing that Jekyll inflicts upon himself. “I’m free!” Hyde repeatedly announces, the film clearly showing how he feels unchained by the limitations of Jekyll’s own psyche. As Hyde exerts more control, Jekyll begins to visibly age, as if Hyde’s domination is draining him of life.

2facesThe world that Hyde revels in is one of all-night debauchery, pleasures of the flesh (after an argument with Kitty, Paul casually turns to two prostitutes for his diversions) and gambling and drink. Everyone seems bored, eager to find some new thrill and fascination. An exotic dancer Maria (Norma Maria) becomes a particular draw, a raven-haired beauty whose erotic dance with a snake ends with a few shots overloaded with such innuendo that it makes me wonder how it got past the censor. Thwarted by Kitty’s fascination with Paul, Hyde turns to Maria who is bewitched by his unwavering confidence and charm- a woman, of course, who wouldn’t consider Jekyll for an instant.

Of course, the tale does not end well for anyone at all- indeed, there is an almost noir-ish feel to the film as each character seems to hurtle towards oblivion, trapped by their own urges and obsessions. Kitty is doomed by her foolish love for Paul, Paul is doomed by his gambling and debts, Maria is doomed by her fascination in Hyde, and Jekyll doomed by his hubris in pursuing his scientific experiment. . Sure, the pacing betrays the films age somewhat, but on the whole its very well made with great art direction and cinematography. The very good cast actually raises the films quality above what it might otherwise have been, making the very most of the script- Christopher Lee, as I have already mentioned is an absolute joy to watch. I found it a thoroughly enjoyable, richly rewarding film. Bravo, Indicator, yet again- I’m certainly looking forward to that fifth volume in this series of box-sets.

In Brief: Brightburn

“Its either homework or kill someone, whats a kid to do..?”

Brightburn is one of those clever ideas that possibly deserved better realisation. Portraying the dark side of the Superman origin mythology, it postulates that some alien kid crashlands on Earth to be raised by a doting family but instead of the kid growing up to be a champion of truth, justice and all good things American, he, er, turns out to be more of a Lex Luthor kind of guy, or that Zod fella. What are you going to do, some kids turn out bad, its not always the fault of bad parenting. Unfortunately this film  is hampered by both a budget a little too low to really do it justice, and moreover an obvious intention to lead into further movies, that old gripe of mine. Yet again a modern film is blighted by a need to end teasing another movie rather than, well, deliver an actual ending. Perhaps I’m being somewhat unfair, I mean, I quite liked it, but it did prove a little annoying overall, especially when it ended and I felt like I’d been ‘had’ yet again. Anyway, I’m keeping things brief, so yeah, I liked it, but I’d have liked it better with a proper ending. One day film-makers will be more honest, ending films with a text card saying things like “this story actually ends in Brightburn 2! See ya then!”

In Brief: Midsommar

“It’ll be over soon, won’t it?”

This hopelessly pretentious modern-day remake/variation of The Wicker Man is so monstrously derivative of older, better movies that if it had more lens-flares I could have mistaken it for a JJ Abrams joint. What is it with so many movies now just re-purposing old movies in new clothing?  I think this one tries to excuse its horrible writing and character motivations and acting by saddling it with myriad arthouse sensibilities and social/political commentary, but for me that just makes it worse, it drags it out to something like two and a half hours of excruciating twaddle. I hear there’s actually a longer directors cut, which sounds to me akin to torture and something to really be afraid of. Anyway, I decided to keep this brief so that’s about it: no, I really didn’t like it.

Midsommar is streaming on Amazon Prime (for all intents and purposes for free, thankfully, for those of us who have Prime, because if I’d paid to see it I’d have felt robbed). 

Picard nears the bottom, at last

“wtf Patrick, no money is worth this!”

I don’t really want to waste my time writing this or your time reading it, but suffice to say the penultimate episode of Star Trek: Picard, having somehow crawled to its ninth interminable instalment, has somehow outdone itself in its gradual plunge into the very depths of diabolical badness. At this point, recalling its first episode, its almost become some other show entirely, with character actions that defy continuity or logic, plotholes so wide you could fly a Borg Cube through them, and so many wtf face-palm moments that its positively unhealthy from a Covid-19 standpoint. This isn’t Star Trek. I’m not sure what it is, but it sure as hell ain’t Star Trek.

Its really horrible and only morbid curiosity (and my own stubbornness) has kept me watching. Its a sad turn of affairs for Trek and I really struggle to imagine a way out of this really, other than putting the whole franchise into cold-storage for a decade or two. Mind, if I had my way, that’s what they’d also do with Dr Who; it seems everything is going to hell in a genre hand-basket of late and its thoroughly depressing, as if Real-World events weren’t depressing enough.

Regards those Real-World events, I hope all my readers are safe and healthy and we all get out to the other side of this relatively unscathed. Blogs such as this really seem quite inconsequential compared to whats going on but maybe what we love and enjoy is all the more important at times like this. Issues quite unrelated to Covid-19 has enforced a hiatus for me over the past week or so, and none of us know whats ahead of us particularly in times such as these, but hopefully I can get back to writing and posting for whatever that’s worth. Just hope I’m writing about better stuff than this Picard rubbish…

Doctor Sleep = Shining Chills

drs1All being well I’ll post a review tomorrow, but having just seen Doctor Sleep, I just wanted to post my initial feelings: the spookiest thing about this film is how much it reminded me of BR2049. There were moments in Doctor Sleep -music cues, aerial shots details of which shall remain spoiler-free – that frankly gave me chills, and had me thinking about similar sentiments regards BR2049.

Denis Villeneuve’s film was that most miraculous thing, after so many decades, of being a perfect sequel to a film that never needed one. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was as different to its source novel as was Blade Runner from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, both films were met by fairly negative (scathing at times) critical response and subject to critical reappraisal over the years after, and both were self-contained and not in the slightest bit needed a sequel. Indeed nobody, I’m sure, ever really expected one for either film.

Yet here we are, both films have gotten really fine, respectful and sincere sequels that expand upon the original work while each treading a new path. Decades after. Its almost beyond bizarre. In a similar way to how BR2049 returned to the original source novel as well as the 1982 film’s rather distant adaptation of it, so does Doctor Sleep return to the original source novel of The Shining as well as the Kubrick film – in some ways both films turn the tone and themes back to the source in ways that enrich original and sequel. Of course Doctor Sleep is itself based upon Stephen Kings own sequel novel to his The Shining book, and I haven’t read either King book in all honesty, but it seems clear to me that this film is not simply that book, its clearly a sequel to both the widely different King book and Kubrick film, as well as the King Doctor Sleep book, and manages a brilliant balancing act.

It was just the strangest thing; watching BR2049 I had this sensation of the hair on the back of my neck standing on end, a kind of magical meta-reality going on, returning to that Blade Runner world after so many decades, and it feeling so authentic. I had that exact same feeling with Doctor Sleep, particularly two-thirds in when there are suddenly a few shots which… well, lets stay spoiler-free awhile yet. But wow. What a feeling. Its when pop-culture becomes something rather more than just pop-culture, when years in the real world are mirrored by years in the artificial film world, and there’s this weird clarity, almost, a feeling of meta-reality.

Anyway, I liked it.