At last (?) the Action Hero

actionheroThe Last Action Hero, 1993, 130 mins, Amazon Prime

Practically thirty years after its original release, I’ve finally gotten around to watching John McTiernan’s The Last Action Hero, a thoroughly peculiar film that maybe performs better today than it did back in 1993. Or maybe not. On one level the advantage of watching The Last Action Hero today is that it has now become, after close to thirty years, a nostalgia-fest for how action films and also television shows like The A-Team were back then. More than that, its a nostalgia-fest for a time when movies were projected on reels of film and the idea of a magic ticket pulling us into the screen has that analogue charm lost in these days of digital movies on hard drives: these days a film like this would conceivably be more something like Tron, a character pulled into a digital world. Where’s the romance in that?

At any rate, The Last Action Hero isn’t a very good film; its clearly something of a folly, one of those films that has too many cooks and a script that was still a draft or two away from being a good shooting script. Its always a wonder to me, the chaotic way some films get made, there’s definitely eerie echoes in The Last Action Hero of the ill-fated genesis of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and the bizarre way studios mandate premiere dates that just can’t be possibly met. Here’s another film without a proper final cut, rushed into cinemas not properly finished or fine-tuned.

The real problem for The Last Action Hero is that’s practically two different movies itself. In one its a kid’s adventure film with a child becoming a part of one of Arnie’s onscreen adventures, a kind of wish-fulfilment for film lovers of all ages who would love to have that magic ticket to transport us to our favourite film universe, while in the other, its a self-knowing send-up of action movie tropes and movie violence. Its likely that if the film were made today it would be two movies- it seems a perfect premise for a Part One/ Part Two, the first film featuring the kid going into the movie world and the second film with the movie characters brought into our world. Doing both in one film leaves it pulling in two seperate directions, from which so many of the film’s problems arise.

In its movie in-jokes and self-aware humour, it does seem rather prescient, but I can’t decide if its references to other films/characters -cameos for Sharon Stone’s Catherine Tramell (Basic Instinct (1992)) and Robert Patrick’s T-1000 (Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)) amongst others- is either a reference to the conceits of Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) or instead offering a glimpse of something like the multiverses becoming so popular these days in genre offerings. Are the in-movie mythologies referenced in The Last Action Hero an anticipation of how Matrix: Resurrections references earlier Matrix films, to the point of even projecting clips from them around on-screen characters, films within films? Or is it a prediction of the film multiverses such as we have seen in Spiderman: No Way Home which retcon earlier films/reboots into their narrative to such an extent that it actually becomes the narrative. Films are so meta now. They used to be just movies.

A dreadful proposal: Deep Water

deeplyDeep Water, 2022, 115 mins, Amazon Prime

A very silly film, this, about a toxic marriage that… well, I suppose this kind of thing trended well back in the 1990s; indeed, director Adrian Lyne had great success with this sort of tosh with Fatal Attraction (1987) and Indecent Proposal (1993), but while Deep Water is competently made and shot (as one would expect from someone like Lyne) its just.. so silly it borders on parody.

This time around its Vic (Ben Affleck) a fabulously wealthy and handsome husband of beautiful and sultry Melinda (Ana de Armas) who is strangely bored with her marriage and her fabulously wonderful daughter Trixie (film-stealing Grace Jenkins). Melinda fools around having successive affairs and Vic sleeps in the spare room getting increasingly suspicious of her late nights and drunken behaviour at the fabulous parties they keep going to. Melinda isn’t in the slightest bit discreet regards her affairs, even inviting each beau to the next party they are at, raising embarrassed glances from party-goers and freinds. Vic of course is beefed-up like he’s ready to appear in a Batman movie so when Melinda’s lovers each disappear… well, it wouldn’t take the Worlds Greatest Detective to deduce who the prime suspect is, so a local author, Don (Tracie Letts) realises there might be a great book in what’s going on in the neighbourhood.

Its pretty nauseating nonsense, really. The fabulous lives of the fabulously attractive and fabulously wealthy elite have nothing at all in common with my everyday experience: as we Brits say, its all bollocks. I’m supposed to feel sympathy with fabulously wealthy Vic married to fabulously beautiful Melinda with fabulously perfect daughter Trixie? I’m supposed to maybe understand fabulous Melinda’s boredom and promiscuous nature? Melinda is a beautiful trophy-wife but a frankly hideous character. Meanwhile, I’m not supposed to laugh at Vic’s preposterously odd hobby of raising snails/slugs in his garden shed/Batcave mancave? Moreover, I’m not supposed to be too concerned at an apparent lack of screen chemistry between the two leads?

To be fair, Ana de Armas plays a fabulous drunk and she exudes sensuality etc fabulously (she’s certainly not reticent regards shedding her clothes in films). Ben Affleck broods well but we knew he could manage that from his Batman role, and here he just looks too… well, handsome man-mountain- he’s hardly an Everyman, in just the same way his wife is hardly an Everywoman. Is this the fabulously toxic marriage we ordinary folks are supposed to aspire to? Affleck’s best moments are when he’s showing some genuine warmth, mostly those scenes he shares with the delightful Grace Jenkins, who genuinely steals the film from her adult stars. Highlight of the film is her singing in the back of the family car, reprised in the films end-credits for a bit of outtake fun, but a sexy thriller is in trouble when its stolen by its child actor and the best scene in the film is during the end-credits.

At any rate, the film gradually descends into farce and features the mother of all contrived coincidences once author Don stumbles upon Vic’s final (?) crime. I mean, that entire final reel is so audacious it almost deserves to be applauded, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. It deserves some kind of award. One of those fabulous raspberries, probably.

Schrödinger’s party: Coherence (2013)

coherenceCoherence, 2013, 89 mins, Amazon Prime

Oh this was a strange one: imagine a streaming app. There’s a film on that app, that may or may not be any good. If Erwin Schrödinger was a film reviewer, he might suggest that, until that film is actually watched, it actually exists in two states: its a one-star film, and its a five-star film, at the very same time. Its the act of observation that determines whether a film is any good or not. Hang on. I don’t need high-end Quantum theory or a professor to tell me that I need to watch a film to discover if its any good or not.

Coherence is a film that is very preoccupied by Schrödinger’s thought experiment about his cat in a box.  In fact, its the films central conceit. Eight freinds attend a dinner party at one of their houses while a comet dominates the sky and news headlines. Peculiar things start to happen; the lights go out, there is a loud banging at the door. The street outside is in blackness, except for a house down the street that has its lights on. Two of the freinds go out to that house, looking for a working phone. Two freinds come back. But they might not be the same freinds. Turns out the house with the lights on is identical to the one where they are having the party, and through the window they could see guests identical to those freinds they had left behind. But maybe there are more than two identical houses, more than two sets of eight identical party-goers.

Ironically, the film becomes less coherent as it progresses. This might well be deliberate. Initially its premise is very interesting, even unnerving, and the cast pretty great in what I suspect were mostly ad-libbed scenes other than whenever a key plot-point had to be thrown in to move things forward. Its an extremely low-budget production, mostly an ensemble piece set in one place, very much like a theatre play and that elements works best, with some nice character work and rising friction. Oh, and it features that guy from Buffy.

Its essentially a Twilight Zone-like piece, an exercise in rising paranoia which unfortunately just confuses more and more as it goes on. I can’t really say I even understood the ending, it throws a weird tangent right at the end which rather undermines everything before (an unconscious body left in the shower seems to have disappeared and there is some vague twist about a phone call that is meant to mean… what, exactly?). Its either one of those films that is too clever for its own good, or not as clever as it seems to think it is- or maybe it just lost its way in execution. I should need a diagram to understand a narrative? This is a film that possibly needs an internet FAQ (no, I haven’t looked) to explain it all- not a Good Thing, really.

It’s the Final Countdown

final1The Final Countdown, 1980, 103 mins, Amazon Prime (HD)

Is it unfair of me to ask; does The Final Countdown really qualify as a film at all? If I had a stopwatch and rewatched the film again, and counted how many minutes of footage consisted of all the hardware porn courtesy of the US Navy, compared to the actual time spent in traditional dramatic scenes with, like, people etc and dialogue and plot… what would the ratio be? 60/40 or even 70/30?

Not that there’s much of a plot. Or character beats, for that matter. Or tension. Sure, the film tells a passable time travel story but there’s no explanation for why a bizarre weather event should suddenly whisk the USS Nimitz from 1980 to 1941, or conveniently turn up again to whisk the aircraft carrier back to the present day before any harm is done. And certainly the footage of all the US Navy hardware is very pretty, and I’m sure it all looks lovely on that 4K UHD that came out over in the States a little while ago…

(and while we’re on that, what is going on with all these odd choices for films coming out on the ‘prestige’ 4K UHD format? The Final Countdown? Lifeforce? The Sword and the Sorcerer? Hardly a week goes by these days when some boutique label fails to announce a 4K UHD release that has me shaking my head in disbelief. I suppose I should accept it as a positive and something keeping physical media relevant, but some of the choices of films coming out on the format are, to be charitable, niche, to be honest, appalling)

But anyway, back to The Final Countdown… and by the way, what does the title even mean? What does it have to do with the plot? What’s the countdown it refers to? The deadline of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour I guess, but its a bit of a stretch as regards what’s so ‘final’ about it. The most frustrating thing regards the film is that the basic premise is really pretty neat, and there’s an awful lot one could do with it. Let’s say the Kirk Douglas’ character Capt. Matthew Yelland had a father who died at Pearl Harbour, or one of the crew did and they went AWOL to go save him, and the crew had to go chase him down and stop him from changing the timeline and destroying the 1980 they left behind. You know, SOMETHING that meant tearing the director and cameraman away from all that Navy hardware and, you know, get on with making a proper dramatic film. Because The Final Countdown isn’t a ‘proper’ dramatic film. Events take passive characters back in time and subsequent events return them to their present. The End. There’s a nagging feeling that some producer struck a deal to shoot lots of footage of the US Navy’s new flagship and then had to come up with a plot as some excuse to use all that footage.

To be fair, there is one dogfight sequence of F-14’s and Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero’s duking it out in the skies that looks pretty astonishing and maybe suggests how good the film could have been, but otherwise there isn’t much indication of ambition to be anything but a recruitment film for the Navy.

Frankly, the original Twilight Zone series did this kind of time travel thing much better and much more cheaply. So did Somewhere in Time, now that I think about it…

Magnum Farce

MCDCOPS EC004

Copshop, 2021, 107 mins, Amazon Prime

I’ll cut Joe Carnahan some slack, as I’ve enjoyed many of his films, like Narc (2002) and I adored his darkly meditative The Grey (2011), and even rather liked Boss Level (2020) -so much so that I’ve already watched it twice|- and there’s much to like in Copshop. Indeed, the film starts with such a brazen sense of attitude, using Lalo Schifrin’s theme from Magnum Force over its opening, that I dared think this might turn out to be great… but alas, it turns out its a bit of a dud, the use of that music just hinting at how much this film is an exercise of style over substance. Some people will love it, no doubt, but it just wasn’t for me, really.

Which is such a pity, because the film features a pretty great cast. Gerard Butler plays Gerard Butler as usual, but Frank Grillo is pretty great, demonstrating again that he surely deserves better projects. Alexis Louder is very good but the script is so preposterous regards her character she has an uphill battle (more of which below), but the star performance of the film is that of the great Toby Huss, largely a tv actor who was so good in the (probably largely forgotten) tv series Carnivale back in 2003/2005, and more recently Glow (2019)- here he plays a psychotic killer and he enlivens the film tremendously, indeed almost saves it.

Copshop is a largely derivative… well, okay, its Carnahan, so lets play nice- Copshop is an affectionate nod to 1970s thrillers and exploitation films, hence its use of the Magnum Force theme and 70s funk songs on its soundtrack. Its indebted to John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, clearly, in its isolated police-station under siege, and it has a lot of mileage from that sense of 1970’s ‘cool’ that provides much of the fun of the film. Its the kind of film I’m quite inclined towards, but like so many thrillers and action films these days, it just doesn’t know when to stop. I’m not sure when it happens, but at some point it moves from being fun to being silly. Maybe its when Louder’s Valerie Young is bleeding out from a gunshot one minute, is strapped up the next, and then survives a brutal gunfight in spite of a shotgun blast to the chest (yo for Kevlar!), and after being quickly ‘fixed’ by paramedics steals their ambulance to go chase after Gerard Butler’s assassin as if she’s fresh as a daisy.

Okay, okay, maybe it is just the daft fun of the film but the appeal of the 1970s films which this film so craves is that they felt grounded and real, even while they were cool- but films like Copshop just don’t know where to stop. Its like those excesses of Marvel films leak into every bloody film these days, and the days of genuine realistic human characters with natural physical limits are plain gone, and its spoiling so many films now, I’m no longer surprised anymore, I’m appalled.

Last Week: one film leads to another. Endlessly.

they live byReal-life distractions got in the way of posting reviews last week, and it was a pretty weird week all round. I watched Nicholas Ray’s noir thriller They Live by Night having recorded it off a film channel on the cable box- not the best quality, and certainly no doubt far inferior to the Criterion Blu-ray which I nearly bought in their last sale several months back. Well, next sale-time I’ll be rectifying that mistake, because it was an outrageously great film and one I want to watch again in better quality. It really was one hell of a film.

Its a funny thing- for some reason, this particular January is actually becoming one of the best months I’ve had for catching really good films, although it is also becoming a little expensive purchasing catalogue titles on Blu-ray: my problem is how films seem to endlessly lead to others. You see a great film by one director and it leads to looking up what else he/she directed, or you are impressed by an actor so you look up their filmography. Sometimes it is the featurettes on a disc that do the deed, referencing films that I haven’t seen, which is great if they are accessible on streaming services but frustrating if it requires purchasing titles on disc. For example, a featurette on Indicator’s The Reckless Moment disc -and that’s another great film I need to post a review of soon- referenced James Mason and some of his films made around the time The Reckless Moment was made- one of which was Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out, which from the scenes shown in the featurette looked interesting enough to get me buying it on a Blu-ray from network, but which itself somehow then led me to another Carol Reed film, The Fallen Idol, which again looked really interesting, and as both that and Carol Reed’s The Third Man are in a sale at both HMV and Amazon….

scarlst2Back to The Reckless Moment though, because I was so impressed by Joan Bennett in that film that I went looking at her filmography. Fortunately Fritz Lang’s noir Scarlett Street which starred Bennett was on Amazon Prime, and while it wasn’t the best quality (its obvious streamers dump these older films on their services without much attention to print quality etc), at least it was in its original black and white. Unfortunately, the edition of Lang’s The Woman in the Window, another noir starring Bennett, which is  available on Amazon Prime, is a colourised version (I thought those had been outlawed long ago, but colourised movies somehow still seem to be surfacing). My goodness its unwatchable, I switched that travesty off within minutes of it starting, so my only current avenue for that film seems to be a Blu-ray from Eureka. Oh my wallet. I did spot another Joan Bennett on a cable movie channel so have recorded it – The Woman on the Beach, which I’ll give a try, if only because it also features Robert Ryan- yeah, him. Again. Mind, goodness only knows what films both The Woman in the Window and The Woman on the Beach possibly lead to.

Strangely enough, I found myself watching two more episodes of 1970s popular cop show Starsky and Hutch last week. I don’t know why I’m so cruel to myself, but nostalgia can be a rude mistress. Anyway, one of these two episodes in particular was of some passing interest- the third season episode The Action, from 1978, featured an extraordinarily young Melanie Griffiths in a guest role, and also M Emmet Walsh (only a few years away from Blade Runner) and James B. Sikking, later of Hill Street Blues fame and parts in both Outland and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. That episode seems ridiculously overloaded with notable guest stars. The second episode I watched was a late fourth-season episode, with the series clearly on its last legs,  my attention drawn by the episode title (Starsky vs.Hutch, which was intriguing but the actual episode quite another matter). I stuck with the episode because of it featuring an unrecognisable Yvonne Craig (Bargirl sorry, Batgirl, in the Adam West Batman tv show) in a very minor -insultingly so, really, I has a hard time tracking her down- role, and the great Richard Lynch as the villain. Lynch played a psychopathic Vietnam veteran who hated blondes, hunting a dating bar/dance hall – only the brunettes were safe (but he wasn’t fooled by blonde wearing a dark wig, the cunning bastard). Lynch seemed to be a regular bad guy in television shows of that era (Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The A-Team, you name it he was a villain in it) and he had a notable turn in the fantasy flick The Sword and the Sorcerer (a poor-mans Conan which I gather is getting a 4K release before the John Milius film, somehow. Crazy world.).

On a curiously related note, I did see the very end of Conan The Barbarian during the week, catching the last moments of a showing on television when flicking the channels late at night. Every time I catch the end or mid-point of a film I have on disc -the Dirty Harry films were on over Christmas, so those are a few others- showing on the telly late at night, I think, wow, I’d love to sit and watch this right now, but its always at some ungodly hour. I must have had more stamina for late, late movie watching in the old days. I just can’t do it anymore.

Friday of course brought the final-ever episode of The Expanse (I’m still hoping that Amazon or Alcon Entertainment or the showrunners are bluffing us about it being The End). I had a long day work-wise on Friday (not helped by an eleventh-hour report of sickness re: our old nemesis, Covid) so had to bide my time until late in the evening before I could watch it. It was a bittersweet experience- a great finale, certainly, but we all know there’s three more books waiting to be adapted (as well as a few novellas) so we know the story isn’t complete and indeed, the seeds laid at the start of each of this season’s episodes for what happens beyond this final episode only added to the frustrations of all fans, I expect. But yeah,  its clear that the sixth book was a good cutting-off point (in the books there is a 30-year gap between books six and seven) so it makes some kind of sense. Anyway, Expanse Season Six is another post in the queue list. It seems a long time since I wrote about its first season, years ago; I just can’t believe I’m now writing about its ending.

More Coming Attractions

I already seem to be falling behind on posting reviews, but here’s what I’ve been watching and will hopefully catch up with over the next week (mind, there’s still The Crimson Kimono and Ride the High Country already waiting..).

underworldusa

reckless

scarlet

indytemp4k

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dreamscapeposter

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom  and Star Trek: TMP are the 4K UHD editions finally caught up with, and Dreamscape… well, seeing Kate Capshaw in Temple of Doom reminded me I’d never seen that one- and really, I wish I still hadn’t seen it; horrible. Mind, its similarities to Inception not withstanding (could Christopher Nolan actually be a fan?) it did remind me of just how good Brainstorm is, for all its faults. I know, I know, going into other peoples dreams and a machine that records experiences aren’t the same thing but both films were made pretty close to each other and… well, one of them was pretty good. Why anyone want to buy, let alone own, a copy of Dreamscape for repeat viewing is quite beyond me, but I guess every film has its fans. Somewhere.  I just keep looking at that Dreamscape poster thinking, ‘that’s just not the same movie I just saw’.

Hollywood can sell ANYTHING.

The Protégé

ProtegeThe Protégé, 2021, 109 mins, Amazon Prime

Enlivened only by the winning performances of both Maggie Q and Michael Keaton, The Protégé is a typically nonsensical action flick that becomes increasingly preposterous as it goes on. It really makes me wonder where action movies go from here on, as they all seem to be becoming increasingly daft – The HItman’s Bodyguard films seem to be self-aware enough to be mocking their own silliness, but films like The Protégé, which seem earnestly serious, are in a celluloid dead-end now. For how long can we expect to see spies and killers and hitmen and thugs managing superhuman feats more suited to DC and Marvel heroes, and for how long can we suspend our disbelief watching wafer-thin beauties beating the shit out of gigantic assassins?

These action films seem to have become caught for several years now in an endless cycle of bigger and ever-more sophisticated stunts and feats of astonishing skills and its really in the arena of the superhuman now: indeed they have, I think, been infected and ruined by the comicbook capers dominating the box-office. Which is perfectly fine if you have a DC or Marvel logo at the head of the film, because at least then you know what you’re going to see is hyperbolic nonsense, but otherwise… well maybe a reset is in order.

I should at this point describe the plot of The Protégé, but its so unrelentingly stupid and even generic that it feels pointless. A young child, Anna, is saved and raised by an expert killer and naturally becomes a deadly assassin herself, as devastating with her fists, feet etc as she is beautiful… (broken bones and bullets don’t seem to stop her- maybe the bad guys should have tried kryptonite). When the killer that raised and trained her, played by no less than Samuel L Jackson – yes the casting is THAT generic- is murdered, Anna sets off on a mission of revenge and meets a male operative that seems her equal and one that she can respect, but is working for the other side. Dramatic, ain’t it? Okay that’s it, that’s enough of the plot, such as it is, albeit I didn’t mention the clunker of a twist that is possibly one of the biggest wtf moments that I will possibly be forced to stomach all year.

We really deserve better folks.

The 2021 sort-of Statfest and my Top Ten

greenknightWell, 2021 is drawing to a close (or has already passed, depending upon when you’re reading this) and I had a few genuine questions myself regards the year’s viewing. Primarily I was curious regards the years of the films I was watching- it seemed like I was watching quite a lot of ‘old’ films this year, mostly because of lots of catalogue disc releases and my increasing fascination with all things noir (yeah, that kind-of blew up my attempts to curb disc purchases this year), and I was wondering how it all measured up.

So anyway, I went through my list of films I watched for the first time in 2021 and how they split up across the decades and here’s how it pans out-

1920s films- nil

1930s films- nil

1940s films- 13

1950s films- 23

1960s films- 10

1970s films- 3

1980s films- 2

1990s films- 1

2000s films- 2

2010s films- 27

2020s films- 42

Its inevitable that the 2020’s dominate- that’s mostly films from this year premiering on Netflix and Amazon Prime, or films caught on disc which I missed at the cinema such as the latest Bond, so films in this group were always going to be the biggest number. What did surprise me, frankly, was the paucity of 1970s/1980s/1990s films but upon thinking about it, it made sense. As I grew up in those decades my viewing experiences have primarily been of films from those years so there’s few left that I want to see that I haven’t seen. Which is nonsense, I’m certain that are great films from those decades I have yet to see but its really a case of stumbling upon them now, and most of the films I missed during those years was from choice as they didn’t appeal to me then and few of them do now. 

The second-largest group of films is from the decade prior, the 2010s, and again, that’s mostly Netflix and Amazon Prime. I think its fair to say the majority of content on the streaming platforms is post-Millennium stuff as that is what is perhaps most relevant to viewers, rightly or wrongly. Its certainly pressing upon me just how old today’s generation seems to think the films I grew up with are; to me they actually still feel recent, but its an inescapable fact that a film from 1982 is as old to viewers today as the Errol Flynn-starring The Adventures of Robin Hood was to me when I watched Star Wars back in 1978. Or another way of looking at it- Star Wars is as old today as the 1933 King Kong was back in 1977. 

the killers3The biggest other decades of films that I watched for the first time in 2021 date from the 1940s and 1950s, and this is where all those noir box-sets and other boutique Blu-ray purchases kick in. There’s some absolutely brilliant, classic films amongst this bunch that I had never seen before and feel all the better for having finally caught up with. Films of the 1940s like The Killers, Criss Cross, Gun Crazy, and films from the 1950s like The Garment Jungle, The Lineup, and Pushover to highlight just a few. Its clear to me that the films from these decades are generally of a much higher quality than the films from the 2020s., a group littered with soulless Netflix Originals and typical by-the-numbers blockbusters. I can certainly imagine re-watching many of these 1940s/1950s films next year whereas most of the 2020s films are better soon forgotten.

Which brings me to my favourite films of the year; I don’t usually do a Top Ten but I thought I’d give it a shot. I’m not going to list them in preference as getting a list of ten films is bad enough, actually narrowing it down to an actual order of favourite is just a nightmare. So in no order, here’s ten films I consider my favourite, most enjoyable discoveries from my 2021 viewing-

Nobody (2021)– my favourite action film of the year featuring the unlikeliest actor in an action role, Bob Odenkirk, absolutely nailing it and proving the sorcery that is casting. If films were cookery recipes, this one one would obviously be ounces of John Wick mixed with ounces of Taken and a dash of Die Hard etc thrown in- its not too far removed from any film starring Liam Neeson these days so while its nothing astonishingly original it distinguishes itself apart from what is fast becoming a derivative genre by just being… well, quite brilliant. It just works in the same way as Die Hard does; its a little bit of cinematic perfection. 

Dune (2021)– a film spoiled badly by its sudden (albeit inevitable) ending, which only gets healed in a few years when Part Two arrives. The irony that what makes it so great (being shot as two films rather than try squeeze too much into one film, as Lynch had to do in 1984) is also what handicaps it so badly, isn’t lost on me. Even as it is, the film felt too short, still having to cut out so much material (which hopefully may feature in Part Two). I loved the cast, I loved the huge sense of scale, the cinematography and the brutalist art direction… Villeneuve’s Dune does so much so right, but totally fluffs the ending. I still can’t work out what they were thinking. Villeneuve hates streaming and seems to dislike the Marvel method, but releases a film that screams modern-blockbuster tease as loud as any comicbook caper and seems designed for the streaming boxset experience. Maybe he was in a no-win situation, but I think I’d have preferred more screen time pre-Harkonnen attack and actually end the film with Paul and Jessica fleeing into the desert, with Paul maybe vowing revenge and closing with a triumphant Baron over the Duke’s dead body. Imagine that.

Red Notice (2021) – nah, only kidding.

The Green Knight (2021)– I really enjoyed this, it felt like a modern-day revisit of John Boorman’s Excalibur, historical myth as dreamlike fable that isn’t intended to wholly make sense or purport to be anything like reality. It looked absolutely gorgeous and would love to own it on 4K disc someday. There’s every chance subsequent viewings won’t be as rewarding, but when I watched this it just blew me away, it was so strange and unusual, with some arresting moments that took my breath away- so it qualifies for my top ten.

Hidden Figures (2016)– there must be a sub-genre now of films about the Apollo missions and everything that led up to the landing on the moon, and this film is one of the finest on the subject that I’ve yet seen. It works as an (unintended) companion piece to Damien Chazelle’s First Man and Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 in such a wonderful way; blessed with a sharp script, and heartfelt performances from a simply marvellous cast. So good I had to go buy the 4K disc almost immediately, a disc I really should watch soon. A fantastic film.

strangers1Strangers When We Meet (1960) – One of the discoveries of this year for me was Kim Novak, an actress I knew from Hitchcock’s classic Vertigo but little else, other than the 1980s Falcon Crest television series (which in particular would hardly suggest anything positive). Well I was doing the actress a genuine disservice, and this film in particular may have been one of her best roles. I found this to be a profoundly sad film; a drama about a married couple having an affair, it probably wasn’t scandalous in 1960 never mind today, but it certainly hasn’t dated as much as one might think, and what made it work for me was the real-life reputation of womaniser Kirk Douglas and the wholly sympathetic performance of Novak. The vividly-captured world of late-1950s America, on the cusp of the 1960s is one of the films charms (see also as a counterpoint the late-1960s drama The Swimmer, starring Burt Lancaster, another film whose appeal is partly the whole milieu of a surprisingly distant world). Douglas is fine, and possibly admirably stretching himself, but Novak is just brilliant in this though, a beautiful woman trapped in a distinctly man’s world. 

The Killers (1946) – Watching the first ten minutes of this Robert Siodmak film is almost the very definition of falling in love with a film; it starts in such a dark and moody fashion and masterfully sets up a mystery to grab hold of. This mystery, gradually solved by flashback accounts in a Citizen Kane fashion, doesn’t really live up to that opening section, but The Killers remains a tight-packed, very noir drama that blew me away. They really don’t make ’em like they used to. 

crisscrossCriss Cross (1949)– Which brings us to Criss Cross, reuniting Burt Lancaster with director Robert Siodmak in a clear attempt to recapture the success of their earlier film. I actually preferred this over The Killers – it features another Burt Lancaster character who is doomed but I found this actually more successful, possibly because its narrative was generally more traditionally told in linear fashion but mostly because the characters were more convincing. Its a tragedy writ large in noir black and white, with a brutal ending that is… well I’m still recovering from it. They don’t end ’em like they used to.

The Lineup (1958) -a film that starts out as one thing, but then becomes another- that kind of spin always appeals to me. Its rather like having the rug pulled from under your feet, something all too rare. Here Don Siegel transforms what is essentially an unremarkable police procedural in its early stages into a haunting nightmare of crazy hitmen loose in a San Francisco mostly lost now (the film almost as much an historical document as it is a dramatic piece, featuring landmarks now gone). Eli Wallach and Robert Keith as the psychopathic killers are something of a revelation, and its true, you can fall in love with a film just from one shocking moment – here one featuring a wheelchair and an instant of violence shocking and unexpected and, well, perfect. 

On Dangerous Ground (1951) – Alongside ‘discovering’ Kim Novak, this year seems to be the year I wised up to the genius of Robert Ryan, who just seemed to turn up in so many of the films I’ve seen this year (Crossfire, House of Bamboo, The Racket, Born to be Bad). Here he’s a bitter detective who has been brutalised by his job, having seen too much of the worst of humanity, who finds salvation in the love of a blind woman whose brother he is hunting down. Like The Lineup, its a film that seems to be one thing which then spins into something else- in this case, a thriller turning into a romance. It seems unlikely but it works, and much of this is thanks to Ryan’s performance. Ryan was wildly successful in film, in a career that lasted over three decades until his too-early passing at the age of just 63, and I gather he was disappointed in the roles given him, but I think he’s been quite brilliant in every film I’ve seen him in. There’s a dark intensity to his face and performances which left him largely cast as a villain and not the leads he felt he deserved, and he might have been right, but it seems he left a formidable body of work that I’ll hopefully discover more of in 2022.

gia2The Garment Jungle (1957)- I’m not sure why, but this film left such a mark on me. Perhaps its the performances, as it features Lee J Cobb, Robert Loggia and Kerwin Mathews in brilliant form in a tense noir with genuine twists- its certainly a solid film. But perhaps its more the haunting beauty of Gia Scala, an actress whose life is one of those Hollywood tragedies that lingers on because they are frozen in time in celluloid. Just on the strength of her role here, one would think Gia would have become a superstar, but due to real-life problems with depression (and, I gather, alcohol addiction, oh so Tinsletown) it was not to be, and she was found dead from an apparently accidental overdose at just 38 years in 1972 (although her sister would contest her death as suspicious, in similar manner to how some consider Marilyn Monroe’s death). Watching her frozen in time in The Garment Jungle, so talented and beautiful with the world surely at her feet, is a rather disturbing experience knowing what befell her later. She deserved better, but in life and Hollywood there is no ‘deserved’, there is just ‘is’; a fittingly noir thing to contemplate as I round off this top ten with another noir. One last thought- were women simply more beautiful back then in that era?

So that’s ten favourite films. Whether its even THE top ten of 2021 is another matter, but looking through my list of what I’ve watched this year, it looks about right regards which films I enjoyed the most. A pretty good year of films, really. I think its inevitable that I find more recent viewing (The Last Duel, No Time to Die for instance) hard to qualify as I haven’t absorbed them enough or had the time to properly judge them, whereas many of the films in that top ten have been bouncing around in my head for months in that way only the best films and performances do.  

 

The 2021 List: November

I think it’s time we blow this scene, Get everybody and the stuff together
OK, 3, 2, 1, let’s jam!

ahem. Sorry about that, I think my head has been rewired from watching all of that tv show over just four days. Here’s what was the good, the bad and the ugly of November-

Television

155) Cowboy Bebop (2021)

Film

135) The Village in the Woods (2019)

136) The Brothers Rico (1957)

137) The Contract (2006)

Sneakers (1992)

138) Major Dundee (1965)

139) Crossfire (1947)

140) Red Notice (2021)

141) Scandal Sheet (1952)

152) Carmilla (2019)

In The Mouth of Madness (1994)

153) Reminiscence (2021)

154) Born to Be Bad (1950)

Spider-Man (2002)

156) House of Bamboo (1955)

157) Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

One television show. Its funny, there’s quite a few television shows out right now that I haven’t gotten around to yet, and worse still, plenty I’ve missed over the past several months, but my focus of late still seems to be predominantly movies, and hey, films on disc even! Six of the above, in fact were on Blu-ray or 4K disc.  

Sadly, the worst of the bunch was the more recent ones- The Village in the Woods, Carmilla, Reminiscence and Red Notice… no, nothing much to see amongst that bunch (I think Reminiscence the best of a bad selection), and instead I was better rewarded by old films on catalogue releases (some more from that last Columbia Noir box, and Arrow’s Major Dundee, Masters of Cinema’s House of Bamboo) and a few noir dug up from obscure corners of cable channel scheduling and Amazon Prime. Amazon seems a surprisingly good source of old films, albeit they can be a little hard to dig up: I imagine most of them have monthly streaming figures lower than the fingers on my right hand, or the hits on my posts. 

Curiously, I did also manage to re-watch a few films I haven’t seen in awhile: I finally bought John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness on a German Blu-ray (so that’s the UK 4K release announcement due any day now), and I also bought Film Stories’ Blu-ray edition of Sneakers, a film I hadn’t seen since back in the cinema, and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, which I noticed last weekend had just three days left on a 4K presentation on Amazon Prime, intended to just watch the start and then two hours later wondered where the time had gone. One of the rare unplanned viewings that just happen: right film, right time… I was surprised how well it still held up. And of course horrified that the film is nigh on twenty years old already. That kind of thing is happening all the time now, I notice films I watched at the cinema or had on DVD and they feel quite recent initially, but when you dare look at release dates… well its true; ignorance is bliss, I’d be better off not looking.