The 2020 List: July

Well, there goes July, and what a month that was. I saw some absolutely fantastic movies and few real stinkers (I suppose Rambo: Last Blood was the worst). For another month, television shows took a back seat to films, and bucking current trends, of the 20 new films I watched, 7 were on disc, which might not seem many, but really, with how things are going, its really something of a blip.  Not something unnoticed by my wallet either (I feel on the edge of a slippery slope; just as well the sales seem to have dried up).


121) Brooklyn Nine-Nine Season Seven

125) Cardinal Season Four: Into the Night


109) Out of the Fog (1962)

110) Where There’s a Will (1955)

111) The Uncanny (1977)

112) The Invisible Man (2020)

113) The Brigand of Kandahar (1965)

114) Klute (1971)

115) The Hunter (1980)

116) Rambo: Last Blood (2019)

117) Detour (1945)

118) Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

119) The Big Combo (1955)

120) Force of Evil (1948)

122) Elstree 1976 (2015)

123) The Anderson Tapes (1971)

124) Midway (2019)

126) Play Misty For Me (1971)

127) The Old Guard (2020)

128) 7500 (2020)

129 ) Dark City (1950)

130) Blood of the Vampire (1958)

The Abort Button

None- for the second month in a row, I chose wisely, as that bloke in that Indiana Jones movie said.

Dark City (1950)

dark1You waited long enough. Why Now?  Well, this film first came to my attention just a year or so ago, when I noticed that Arrow had released a Blu-ray of it- since its a film noir, and stars the man-mountain that is Charlton Heston, it stayed on my radar, and I actually came close to buying it when I noticed it in a sale. Anyway, it turning up in the Talking Pictures schedule this week finally sealed the deal with an offer I couldn’t refuse. Yes, I know I’m 70 years late to the party, but I have the excuse I wasn’t born back then. Also, films like this don’t appear on the networks at all often, even though they patently should do.

So whats it about, then?  Charlton Heston plays Danny Haley, a small-time bookie whose operation is shut down by the police one time too many, leaving him keen to get out of town and try his luck elsewhere- if only he could get the money to do it. Danny thinks his luck has at last changed when he stumbles across Arthur Winant, a businessman from Los Angeles with too much money in his wallet. Danny and his work associates sucker Winant into a series of poker games where they fleece him of all his money- including $5000 that isn’t his. Winant staggers off distraught and the next morning the hustlers learn he has killed himself in shame; Danny and his cronies try to cover their tracks but later learn that Winant had an older brother who is out for revenge.

Any good? Perhaps not a classic, definitive film noir but very good nonetheless. Its curious seeing a young Charlton Heston channelling a sulky, moody character struggling with right and wrong and lashing out at the world- there’s clearly all sorts of nascent Ben Hur bubbling away here, and isn’t it strange, with this film featuring a “Introducing Charlton Heston” credit, that that most famous of all epic movies was released in 1959, just nine years later. What a meteoric career Heston must have had. That being said, I’ve noticed on IMDB three earlier credits for Heston so perhaps the credit referred to it being his first starring role in a major studio picture or something.

So worth waiting for? Crikey, yes. Some of these film noir are just fantastic, full of mood and atmosphere and menace, and they manage to spring twists and surprises, even for old jaded fools such as I, who’ve seen too many films and rarely get surprised anymore. Modern films tend to telegraph things too easily, I guess, and I’m pretty certain that script-writing is something of a lost art. As a movie buff, seeing such an early film for Heston is particularly fascinating too- like Clint Eastwood in bis early films (like Play Misty For Me a few days back), its clear this guy was destined for movie stardom.

Worthless observation? Co-star Lizabeth Scott, who plays Fran, a singer hopelessly besotted with Danny, was no stranger to noir films (that’d be her husky, too-many-cigarettes-voice, I’d imagine) and later starred in an Elvis Presley movie (Loving You, 1957)). And its great, also, to see Dean Jagger as wise cop Captain Garvey; he was a very fine character actor who I recently also caught in Hammer’s X: The Unknown. Yeah, sometimes its a small world watching films from a certain era. Finally, no, this film is not to be confused with the 1998 Alex Proyas sci-fi thriller that borrows so many noir tropes itself.

The Old Guard (2020)

old1You waited long enough. Why Now?  What? This thing only dropped on Netflix 16 days ago. I know most people these days only seem to have very limited attention-spans, but this impatience for reviews of new content is getting a bit nuts. I was 41 years ‘late’ with my review of Play Misty For Me yesterday; I figure 16 days is bang-up-to-the-moment of whatever cultural zeitgeist Netflix is. Unless The Old Guard really is distant history already. I can’t keep up, frankly.

So whats it about, then? Ah, well, to go into any detail on this threatens some spoilers, although I have to wonder if I’m spoiling anything when the film’s trailer/teaser pretty much does it anyway. About fifteen or so minutes in, there’s a ‘twist’ or event that lays out the central premise of the film and… well, if someone went into the film blind they’d be gifted a genuine surprise, and as such things are bloody rare in film etc these days, I’ll make this effort to assist it (we’ll add a Spoiler section down the bottom? Okay then I’ll see you down there). Basically, its about Charlize Theron and her team of heroes shooting the shit out of bad guys.

Any good? You know, I thought it was- Charlize Theron is beautiful and a great actress and she can really do these physical movies very well. I remember first seeing her in the Mighty Joe Young remake back in the R1 DVD-import days, in 1998/1999. She’s come a long way since then. The fact that she was so wasted in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is a constant bucket of ice-cold water down my pants. The Old Guard‘s action sequences are great, not terribly over-the-top or frenetically edited with shakycam, the cast is great, the story genuinely interesting with a few surprises and tantalising possibilities. The bad guy probably isn’t all he could have been, but the teaser at the end of the film hints that a sequel won’t have that particular problem.

So worth waiting for? What? It came out on July 10th, we already went over this (calm down ghost). I will just say this- in this era of Covid 19-induced lockdowns and cinemas closed for months everywhere (and film releases getting delays upon delays, to the point I’m actually getting concerned for Villeneuve’s Dune in December) its a strange sign of the times that a film like The Old Guard with a cast such as it has, with a budget of some $70 million and international shooting locations, can be made/purchased by Netflix and just casually dropped onto the service, into people’s homes ostensibly ‘free’.  Of course many people will be rushing back to cinemas when they reopen, but one has top wonder if this pandemic has been a huge opportunity for platforms like Netflix and Amazon to push the entertainment history further towards the inevitable streaming future.

Worthless observation? Well I might have already made such an observation in the paragraph above, but as usual of late this is another film based on a comic or graphic novel, so inevitably is a little immature and aimed clearly at a teenage/young audience. Which is fine, its a little disguised but it is clearly a superhero movie (see spoilers below), so one gets used to making allowances, you know? The Old Guard is a fun action film with a neat premise, its just such a shame that novel premises seem to be the domain of comic adaptations these days, and that film producers don’t look at actual old-fashioned books for ideas. There’s plenty of great science-fiction books from the past twenty years that would make for great science-fiction movies, for instance, and I’m sure authors are still writing great westerns etc.

(And a final warning!) Go on then, where be the Spoilers? They are IMMORTALS! There is a great scene early on when the team goes into a stockade in Sudan to free some abducted schoolchildren and it turns out to be a trap and the team are massacred. But then after a few moments they get back up and wreak bloody revenge on their ‘murderers’. Its a good scene that has lost much of its impact simply because the trailer gives the premise away, but, you know, that’s… tricky, I mean how else do you sell this movie? Seems to me that the graphic novel series is clearly indebted to Jack Kirby’s The Eternals from the mid-seventies (one of my favourite comics, can’t wait for the Omnibus later this year – although that is likely to slip to 2021, I suppose, damn you Covid 19) and that this film possibly steals a little thunder from Disney’s movie adaptation.

Play Misty For Me (1971)

misty1You waited long enough. Why Now?  Well, that’s the funny thing with some movies, even the ‘classics’ is that you just don’t get around to them, for one thing or another. I’ve seen pretty much all of Clint Eastwood’s films (the only others I haven’t seen, that I can recall off the top of my head, are The Bridges of Madison County and White Hunter, Black Heart but I’m sure there’s a few others). Play Misty For Me is a film I’ve obviously heard about over the years, and is notable because its also the first film he directed.

So whats it about, then? Clint plays a radio disc jockey, Dave, in the coastal town of Carmel, trying to break into the big-time while enjoying himself having casual encounters/affairs with women. Unfortunately one of his female admirers, Evelyn (Jessica Walter) is a bit more, er, obsessed with him than is healthy for either of them. Its a bit of a precursor for films like Fatal Attraction or Basic Instinct, but I’m sure it had plenty of antecedents. I imagine the film must have been a bit of a shocker back at the time.

Any good? Clint was 40, I think, when he shot/starred in this film, and clearly at his prime, coming off the Sergio Leone westerns and busy forging his career as a film-maker/actor away from them- Dirty Harry was also released in 1971, as was The Beguiled. I only note this because its fascinating, really, to see him in something ‘new’ when he was clearly physically in his prime- his screen persona and charismatic relationship with the camera is so assured, its something almost magical: this guy has Movie Star all over him, its obvious. The film itself is very effective- I’m not totally convinced all the directing choices were wise (a coastal/woodland interlude between Dave and his ‘true love’ Tobie (Donna Mills) feels like its from some other movie) but I did appreciate much of it. The fact that the film is book-ended at the same location (the cliff-side wooden decking balcony at his girlfriend’s home) is a nice touch, with the film ending with a reverse helicopter shot that mirrors an approach shot during the title sequence. Its no big deal, and possibly something that doesn’t even register with most, but I was quite taken by it. There you go, we always get struck by the smallest things.

So worth waiting for? Yeah, its a very good film. I always find a certain appeal in 1970s American movies, there’s something about the filmstock/lighting/pacing of those films, and of course the fashions of the time – sure, some of it hideous, like an orange jacket that Clint sports during the film, but the cars, the scenery, the decor… its just so cool. To me, anyway. I think a lot of it is seeing the fashions of all those 1970s tv shows I watched as a kid, the nostalgia of that. Jessica Walter is absolutely brilliant as the demented Evelyn; shes clearly got a few screws loose from the start but you can see why Dave succumbs to her advances – that said, Dave isn’t the most likeable character really. He’s too loose and easy bedding women, one suspects, and it seems inevitable he’s going to pick up the wrong girl eventually – I mean, hasn’t he seen Fatal Attraction? (you’re some kind of idiot, ghost, and you need an editor). Dave’s not really a sympathetic character in that respect- I always thought that he only had himself to blame but times were different back then, I guess (or maybe times haven’t changed, and its just me). Play Misty For Me is a very effective thriller, a little movie that packs a bit of a punch -especially, I’m sure, back when it first came out.

Worthless observation? I visited Carmel some twenty years ago when I was on holiday on the West Coast (really must dig out those old photo albums). I had no idea that it was the location for Play Misty For Me at the time, naturally, but I enjoyed some of the familiar scenery of the film – the coastline, the beaches with those trees. Clint Eastwood still lives there I think, and was of course the mayor of the town for a time in the mid-eighties.


Be careful the endings you wish for?

fugitiveWe were over my mother-in-law’s yesterday delivering the weeks groceries (she’s shielding during the Covid 19 troubles – yes there’s another dishonourable mention for that bugger we’re all so weary of), when during a commercial break there was a spot announcing the commencement of a complete re-run of the old 1960s tv series The Fugitive, which starred David Janssen.  I asked if that series -immensely popular at the time- ever had a proper ending. Turns out, it did- a two-part finale at the end of its fourth season concluded the series with an actual ending, which was quite unusual at the time. Television shows used to come and suddenly just go, when ratings suffered enough to warrant a show’s cancellation. The crew of the Enterprise never completed their five-year mission in Star Trek,  the family Robinson never returned to Earth (or found Alpha Centauri) in Lost in Space, the two doctors trapped in time in The Time Tunnel never found their way back home either.  Fans of these shows and so many others would be just left hanging; their investment in the shows frustrated by open endings.

Its something which we thankfully are usually spared these days. Babylon 5 had an ending, the BSG reboot did, Fringe did, Lost did… Game of Thrones did. Of course, sometimes fans didn’t get the endings they wished for- Game of Thrones being the most obvious example of a show that didn’t stick the landing (and indeed in that particular case the crash proved particularly ugly). Part of the morbid pleasure of sticking with shows these days is the oddly perverse pleasure of seeing how they finally end, whether its a satisfactory conclusion or not. Partly that was why I stuck with The Walking Dead through some nine seasons, until I realised that thing is NEVER going to end, but yeah, surely one of the main reasons to stick with Westworld is to just see how they manage to wrap all that up.

Mind, the movies are catching up- just look how satisfyingly Disney concluded the Skywalker Saga with The Rise of Skywalker… Maybe those 1960s tv shows were onto something.

Cardinal Season Four: Until the Night

cardinal4This post is proving a little bittersweet: anyone who has read this blog over the past few years will possibly remember my positive reviews for the past three seasons of the Canadian crime drama series: season one here, season two here, season three here and I’m pleased to say I think that the fourth season, Until the Night, is possibly the best of the lot. Unfortunately it also appears that, by all reports, season four is the final season, which sets up that quandary where its great for a show to go out on a high and leaving fans wanting more, but its naturally sad to see a show end when its so good.

I’m not really much of a fan of these crime dramas- I think they universally suffer from a propensity for a genre-wide crime drama escalation war, in which the serial killers get smarter and more cunning and the murders more elaborate and gory until it approaches the level of farce- I think much of this is due to the continuing impact of films like The Silence of the Lambs and Seven. Its a bit like the Lord of the Rings films ‘needing’ bigger and louder battles and Star Wars films needing bigger and more spectacular space battles, until it all collapses under the excess. Certainly the second season of Cardinal suffered from that, and the third to a lesser extent. Fortunately Into the Night dials things back considerably, and while still quite complex, at heart its a pretty basic tale of revenge, and one with some emotional gravitas too. Sometimes less is more, and I certainly that is true of this fourth season. Besides that, this is just simply a damned fine story with great writing and sense of drama/mystery/tension, with a bit of horror thrown in.

Billy Campbell again returns as Police Detective Cardinal, a man haunted by his past who with his younger partner Lise Delorme  (Karine Vanasse) investigate crimes in the fictional city of Algonquin Bay – an area of great beauty on the edge of the wintry wilderness. This season emphasises that wintry aspect, with a series of deaths unfolding in which people are abducted and then left to die of exposure in remote isolated locations. The detectives have to find some link between the victims and a pattern to the locations of their deaths, and the complicated but professional nature of the abductions quickly lean them to suspect these are contract killings. Who hired the killer, and why, becomes as much the focus as the identity of the killer himself.

As usual the show is beautifully shot – you can feel the cold just from the snow-swept imagery and it conveys a wonderfully tactile, atmospheric sense of being there. The script is tight and rarely wavers into the ridiculous – often if I watch these crime dramas I suffer a few moments of ‘WTF?’ that breaks the tension/sense of reality (again, that pressure to ‘better’ past dramas and raise the stakes post-Seven etc). The two leads are as great as ever (can’t understand why we don’t see more of Campbell, and Vanasse is surely destined for more success) and this season even throws in a regular face from The Expanse. I left the show with a sense of satisfaction at a great season but yeah, some considerable sadness if this is indeed the end. You never know of course, never say never and all that.

Midway (2019)

mid1Its the damnedest thing- after Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, and so many other cautionary, war-is-hell movies (which I would describe as sophisticated, grown-up war movies), I would have thought that a revisionary, brutal and sobering film about the war in the Pacific and in particular the battle at Midway would have been timely. Pick two characters, maybe a pilot for the air battles, and a naval gunner or engineer to depict the sea battles between the carriers/destroyers, and show the film from their perspective, focus purely on them. What they can see, what they can hear, what they feel. Forgo all the military planning, all the top-brass material, just show what it was like for the grunts following the orders and trying to do their job and somehow survive. I suppose what I’m suggesting is something akin to Dunkirk, but more focused and minus all that three-timelines nonsense.

And drop all the CGI hysterics, you’re going to need it obviously, but show it sparingly and effectively- narrow it down, less of the wide-angle video-game stuff and more of the brutal, vicarious you-are-there-and-its-bloody-scary stuff.

Anyway, I don’t know why I’m writing all this down, because Roland Emmerich’s Midway is not that movie. Its practically a pseudo-sequel to Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour from 2001, as if that film was critically lauded and wildly successful and everyone demanded a follow-up.  It has the same silly virtual camera moves and video-game CGI and clunky dialogue, and like Pearl Harbour, rather feels out of its time and awkwardly ill-judged. Sure, its a noble and well-intentioned effort but it just feels… wrong. Midway had the opportunity to be the anti-Pearl Harbour and blew it, pretty much giving us more of the same, as if that were A Good Thing.

Besides which, its clear that the more CGI you have in your film, the more the quality level falls and it becomes more just, well, an animated movie. Some of the visual effects/CGI in Midway is very, very good (some shots are breathtaking) but some of it is quite poor. It just seems inevitable, and some of the CGI in this is surprisingly woeful (some panoramic shots, for instance one during burials in particular, look like pre-vis work rather than completed shots). The CGI can be wonderful and enable shots/sequences impossible before but should be used sparingly to ensure impact and moreover help with the quality levels.  Naturally you lean less on the CGI and maybe you have more time for character study and acting performances and good writing… and maybe that’s why they lean on the CGI so much, because good writing appears to be unfashionable in film these days.

Anyway, suffice to say that Midway was everything I expected, its not a complete disaster and no doubt was well-intentioned, but a great cast is pretty much wasted,  some pretty banal dialogue at times doing them few favours, and, er,  leave it at that.

MIdway (2019) is currently streaming on Amazon Prime



The Anderson Tapes (1971)

andersonCan’t say I really ‘got’ this film at all. I quickly figured out its a crime thriller whose central conceit was surveillance and how intrusion of privacy using then-cutting edge technology was something to get worried about back then, with CCTV cameras and tapping phones etc- how lucky we now live in more enlightened and private times, ho, ho (did my webcam just blink at me?).

Unfortunately I kept on waiting for a twist that never came. Sean Connery’s John “Duke” Anderson, a safe-cracker, is released after ten years in prison and almost immediately decides to burgle the entire luxury building in which his girlfriend Ingrid (Dyan Cannon) lives. He doesn’t know, however, that he is subject to surveillance by law authorities who  soon get wise to his (apparently doomed) scheme. We follow Anderson getting financing and a team together and the authorities recording his actions, but… I don’t know. I expected Anderson to pull a bait-and-switch in a twist, to reveal he’s realised he was being spied upon and that he was playing to the cameras/audio equipment, that it was all a subterfuge on his part and his team actually hit a bank while the cops wait at the apartment building in vain. Maybe I would have enjoyed the film more had I not been expecting any twist.

Instead, the mysterious teams doing the surveillance don’t actually act upon the intelligence they are marshalling in order to scupper Anderson’s plans- instead the cops are put onto the burglary while it is in progress via a call from the public, and Anderson gets foiled by them instead. Maybe I’m missing something, but the actual ‘Anderson Tapes’ do nothing to stop the burglary and prove something of a red herring. Maybe the fact that the surveillance teams were willing to ignore the burglary plans in order to go after the ‘bigger fish’ that they are tracking (presumably the mobsters who are financing Andersons operation) was some kind of message about ‘greater evil’ and the duplicity of the law offices.

Anyway, I was glad to have finally caught up with the film- amazed to see it featured the first film role of Christopher Walken, no less, who looks impossibly young here, as if he’s hardly started shaving. He actually looks cute- its like some kind of incredible visual effect that current CGI is unable to achieve..