The Dig (2021)

the digSelf-taught archaeologist Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) is hired by Suffolk landowner Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) to investigate large mounds on her property in Sutton Hoo. Brown’s suspicions that it may be the site of an Anglo-Saxon burial rather than of the Viking-era are eventually vindicated, but time works against them as Britain nears the outbreak of war.

As Netflix Originals go, this might be the best I’ve yet seen (admittedly I may have missed a better one somewhere, but if I have, its well hidden). This is a great  little movie; perfectly cast with superb performances, excellent art direction and simply gorgeous cinematography. Its gentle and languid regards telling its story and maintains a sense of the intimate throughout, with genuinely interesting characters caught up in truly fascinating/life-changing events while a wider canvas of general history (the beginning of the Second World War) plays out around them.  Its based on a true story and is respectful and fairly authentic in telling that story: its nod to dramatic license (a fleeting romantic interlude between supporting characters) being the films weakest link.

The word delicate fits this film like a glove. There is a sense of time and place that is quite intoxicating, characters dwarfed by vast English skies and the landscape that surrounds them (there’s something delightfully reminiscent of Malick in this films visuals). Edith’s struggles with her own mortality as her health fails, her doubts about what comes after, strike a poignant chord with their reflections as the centuries-old secrets of the Sutton Hoo find become apparent. What do any of us really leave behind, for how long will we be remembered and why? As news of the find spreads, and professional archaeologists move in and take credit for the find, Brown’s own place in history becomes threatened (“Mark my words…  I won’t receive any credit. I won’t even be a footnote”). Fiennes is wonderful in a subtle, understated performance and Mulligan continues to impress (is it really fifteen years now since she appeared in the BBC’s Bleak House adaptation?).

If only Netflix could concentrate more on films such as this rather than compete with Hollywood with big overblown action films. I just hope that The Dig is popular enough with subscribers that it encourages Netflix to perhaps look at making more films like it. You know, maybe there’s something to films with a fascinating story and realistic, interesting characters and yeah, maybe there’s some traction to having some real drama that doesn’t involve wild stunts and explosions. There’s something delightfully old-fashioned regards The Dig and I really, really enjoyed it. One of the films of the year, I have no doubt.

 

Morning Glory (2010)

morningAh, I know- what in the world was I doing even watching this? I can’t say. Worlds fail me. But its a strange world, you just wind up watching the oddest films sometimes. Hey, sometimes they can surprise, but, er, this one didn’t really. You can easily see why people didn’t race to the cinema to go see this one.  

Girl gets a job as producer of a struggling Breakfast TV show. Girl improves the lives/careers of all her workmates (well, except one guy who she fires, but maybe she was doing him a favour). Girl has faith in childhood hero-figure/cranky old guy. Girl’s faith in cranky old guy is tested but ultimately redeemed. Girl meets perfect guy. Girl gets guy. Girl saves Breakfast TV show. Morning Glory is one of those films that you can predict its every turn, its every beat, and its end is certain from the very beginning. But some people like that in movies. They find it reassuring, maybe. Its not a very reassuring universe really (as evidenced by me somehow watching this film) so hey, its clear some people get their reassurance wherever they can get it. After 2020, good for them.

Rachel McAdams. There was a time when she seemed to be in all sorts of stuff. She was pretty great in that season of True Detective that nobody seemed to like. And she was okay in that Game Night film, although I’m not entirely sure comedy is good for her, whatever her agent says. She’s really wasted in stuff like this.

Mind you, on the subject of wasted- Harrison Ford. Well, one has to remember this was released back in 2010, back during that period of his career when he seemed to have given up, How else can one explain it? He plays this old, surly, cranky “third-worst-person-in-the-universe’ guy in the twilight of his career left behind by his industry and its almost like an ironic casting  statement. Honestly,  it seems like Ford’s not even trying, it hardly rates as a performance at all. Maybe he thought his old natural matinee-idol charm would get him by, but at that point such times were over. Looking at him in stuff like this, its an absolute wonder he was so good in BR2049. I suppose he’d suggest its all about the material, and that Morning Glory warranted the performance it got from him, and who could argue with that? 

How NOT to watch Blade Runner

Reaction videos/reviews on YouTube are an oddity I really try to avoid (clearly, most are simply monstrous, evidently staged) and I absolutely cannot fathom people’s fascination with them, I mean why would anyone want to watch someone else watch a movie? So yeah, don’t worry, you’re never likely to see my mug on your screen anytime, ever, I promise, but I did stumble upon one such reaction video in which two guys watched Blade Runner for the first time. Naturally, I was curious about what young turks of a new generation might take from my old  favourite film watching it for the first time. Out of respect I won’t mention the guys by name or link to the video in question, but I was quite taken aback by one of them totally misreading the film in a way I didn’t think possible. He seemed to think the photo Rachel dropped in Deckard’s apartment (“Its me, with my mother”) was the same photo Deckard puts in his Esper to ‘see’ inside Leon’s apartment and get the clue to Zhora, which set the guy off thinking Rachel was one of the four Replicants. On the one hand, I was thinking PAY ATTENTION TO THE GODDAM MOVIE and on the other I was just blown away by someone even thinking/seeing that. It bugged me for days. Just so bizarre.  

So anyway, this makes me wonder, when people watch movies, do they really WATCH the movie? 

Der Glückspilz, or, The Fortune Cookie (1966)

fortuneYou never know, with how physical formats are these days, if foreign releases of some films are the only way of ever getting hold of them, which may themselves go OOP by waiting too long (it doesn’t seem possible to buy the Italian Blu-ray of How to Murder Your Wife, which I purchased a few years ago, any longer, for instance). No doubt a Eureka! UK release of both that and The Fortune Cookie will be announced soon now that I bought this German edition from Amazon Germany shortly before Christmas (doubts regards the Brexit deal at the time swung me into buying it, and it does seem importing stuff into the UK even with a deal is more difficult/slightly more expensive now). Regular readers of this blog will know of my passion for the films of Jack Lemmon- well, the best of them, anyway- and its been something of a mission of mine to buy copies on DVD and now Blu-ray when the chance arises, which is all too rare to be honest. Barring a few examples mostly dictated by the vagaries of region coding, I have most of the films starring Lemmon that are available on Blu-ray, but to be honest there’s few of them. Certainly far fewer than there should be.

The Fortune Cookie, from 1966, is a film I first caught on a lazy afternoon network airing some decades ago now. I really enjoyed it at the time, and have watched it several times since- in all honesty its a lesser Billy Wilder film that lacks the sharpness of The Apartment, and Jack Lemmon himself is hardly stretched at all, not having any opportunity to really shine as he should or bring any of his special qualities to it. I think both issues are, ironically, caused by Walter Matthau stealing the film- Wilder seems distracted  by him to such an extent he’s more interested in Matthau’s scheming, conniving lawyer and Lemmon just seems happy to sit back and let Matthau get on with it.  To be clear, Lemmon may get star billing, but its Matthau’s film and it only really seems to come alive when he’s on screen, which is a pity almost because it leaves those scenes featuring Lemmon and Ron Rich (as the unfortunate football player Luther ‘Boom Boom’ Jackson) feeling flat and uninteresting, as if Wilder’s attention is already on the next scene when Matthau’s going to be on set (Matthau actually went on to win a few awards for the film, notably an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor). 

fortune 2That being said, even a lesser Wilder film is better than most director’s finest efforts, and the on-screen magic of Lemmon and Matthau together onscreen is a veritable feast. There’s just an unfortunate suspicion that this film could and should have been better; it just lacking a certain spark. Whether its, as I have noted, a lack of the sharpness of The Apartment or the wackiness of Some Like It Hot, I can’t say. Not all films are equal to the sum of their parts and I think The Fortune Cookie is one of them. Its not a total miss-fire and certainly has its moments but… could have been better. Lemmon and Matthau would next appear together in The Odd Couple (1968) a far better film (albeit not directed by Wilder), which is much sharper and wittier and focused on getting the best of both of them. 

There’s quite a few Lemmon films available on Blu-ray in Germany- why Germany and not here I cannot fathom, but naturally the Blu-ray is UK-friendly with English soundtrack and boasts an image, as one would expect, much more crisp and detailed than my previous DVD copy from several years back. Special features are limited to the film trailer (how ironic many much more well-featured releases lack trailers) and a stills gallery that is actually quite illuminating, featuring press materials and all sorts of odd international film poster designs.  A reversible sleeve naturally keeps the German title but loses that ugly green certificate rating.

3022 (2019)

3022aIf this film was from the 1970s, back in that post-Star Wars sci-fi boom, it would have been fine. Had it been a straight-to-VHS 1980s cheap-and-nasty knockoff of Ridley Scott’s Alien, as so many flicks were back then, again, it would have been fine. But 3022 isn’t. 3022 was released in November 2019 (oh dear) and is so unforgivably stupid and derivative its really something of a travesty. They shouldn’t be making genre films as bad as this in 2019 or 2020 or anytime post-millennium; there’s simply no excuse for it.

Let me be clear: I blame my wife. I’d have pressed the abort button on this travesty inside of thirty minutes but Claire was in some kind of mischievous mood, enjoying my pain and misery. By the end of the film I was a wailing wreck.

So its the year 2190. Yeah, I know, the title of the film is 3022, and everyone seeing that will naturally expect a film set in 3022, but that’s how silly this film is- the title actually refers to Day 3022 of a space mission. Most of the film is set in flashbacks with mysterious scenes presumably from day 3022 bookending scenes which  are the reminisces of a lone crewmember. Its all very vague and unexplained and I suppose is some kind of stab at being sophisticated. A Corporation has set up a colony on Jupiter’s third moon, Europa, and the Space Station Pangea is placed at the midpoint between Earth and Europa to serve as a refuelling station. Of course none of this actually makes any sense, why ships from Earth or returning to Earth would require refuelling or where Pangea gets replenished with said fuel is not explained. Nor why Pangea needs a crew of four to maintain it and nor why this crew has to serve tours of ten years stuck on board a steel can that looks like an art-directors worst nightmare of the Nostromo. We got shafts of light, dark gloomy corridors and rooms, steam and pipes and valves to turn and metal sheeting over floors and across walls and I swear one expects Giger’s creature to pop its head around every corner asking if its stumbled onto the wrong set.

3022bNow this crew of four is a particularly  messed-up and unlikely bunch of misfits. They look like space truckers (oh yes indeedy more Alien), the commander is shagging the engineer who is guilty she left her teenage daughter back on Earth, the doctor/psychiatrist is a crazy loon suffering from Space Madness (which is little wonder, the station is dark and gloomy and really nothing like what space stations are ever likely to look like outside of a Ridley Scott Alien flick), and the fourth crewmember is, well, I’m not sure who or what she is but she’s a young pretty cutie taken with kicking a football around does little else before being the first to fall. In fact none of them seems to do anything other than gradually unravel. Its not as if any ship even comes by for a refuel. They all sit around a table eating and smoking and drinking… yeah, these guys have ten year’s worth of ciggies stashed and no concerns for fire control or air scrubbers. Anyway, at one point in year four (or five? I was past caring) with the commander starting to suffer Night Terrors, they lose contact with Earth- the crazy shrink sees a flash of light where Earth should be and a shockwave damages the station turning their tour into a life and death fight for survival.

Its the End of the World and these fools are marooned on a space station falling to pieces as much as they are. Which possibly makes the film sound more interesting than it really is. Although ANYTHING makes this film sound more interesting than it really is. If this was some kind of comedy like the far superior Dark Star it might have been somehow amusing but its so deadly serious, so utterly deadpan and full of its own righteous self-importance… I didn’t even mind the godawful visual effects (which are woefully inferior to those of the low-budget Dark Star from 1974 (!)). A dramatic genre film can get by with horrid visual effects, I can forgive any such stuff, bad effects, bad acting, hokey sets,  in favour of a tight, plausible script but this… this was so bad. So bad. Its enough to give me my own Night Terrors, my own Space Madness…

This thing is streaming on Amazon Prime here in the UK. Avoid. Avoid at all costs.