Bumblebee (2018)

bumbDescribing this as the best film of the Transformers franchise is likely the very definition of faint praise, but there you go, and here it is- Bumblebee, the best film of the increasingly moronic franchise. That being said, the film is still dreadfully formulaic with a predictable plot and tiredly formulaic characters, but at least it has heart, in a reasonably affecting lead and some great ’80s songs (even if that is, hey, so Guardians of the Galaxy, isn’t it?).

So the biggest question about Bumblebee is, what is it about the 1980s? You know, films either made in the ’80s or set in the ’80s, they seem to be in a league of their own, they just seem to have a headstart on any film set in, say, the present-day. Is it all just heady nostalgia? If it was just that, sure, films like Bumblebee and television shows like Stranger Things would appeal to people like me (hey, the clue is in the name of this blog) but would it really spell huge mainstream success or critical appeal? The ’80s were quite awhile ago now, and the young ‘uns going to the cinema these days weren’t born back then. So what makes the 80s so cool, and is it just that the fashions and the music were actually better back then? Is that a fact now?

Is it the escapist appeal of a simpler world that is without the internet or mobile phones or social media which so inconveniently complicate  the scripts of films set n the present day? 

I don’t know, really, but as Frank Finlay’s character noted in Lifeforce (hey, itself of the ’80s – even the bad films from that decade are great) I sense a pattern emerging here. Or a disturbance in the Force (hey, another ’80s film –  I think I should stop now).

Perhaps I should condemn these ’80s-set films for following the JJ Abrams School of Film-making, which is to just simply steal the tropes of so many Amblin/Steven Spielberg films of that decade and try to get away with it by saying “oh, it was INSPIRED by” or “I LOVE those old movies!”. Maybe I should condemn modern audiences for flocking to the familiar and encouraging said practises by making such films and TV shows such successes. Maybe there is really nothing new under the sun. 

In any case, Bumblebee proved pleasant enough fluff; indeed mostly harmless. If I were scoring films with stars these days, the film would almost get five for the scene where Bumblebee spits out the cassettes of The Smiths and Rick Astley, when the film avows that we have to have some measure of integrity when fawning over ’80s pop culture.  

Rim of the World (2019)

Another Netflix Original but, er, not one of the good ones. Its harmless enough I suppose, and is an affectionate low-budget nod to the Amblin films of the 1980s, but very often when I watch these kind of things, well, I have to wonder, shouldn’t modern stuff have a voice of its own? Why the need to keep on looking back on the past, particularly those genre films that fans remain fond of that are perfectly fine left be? Rim of the World only proves that, well, whatever See You Yesterday or the Back to the Future films might say, you really can’t go back.

Rim of the World is The Goonies versus the Space Aliens, or Stand By Me: Alien Invasion Edition. Or Explorers: The Ugly Aliens Found Us. That’s about it. I suppose there’s nothing particularly wrong about that, but when composer Bear McCreary’s end-title of the film begins with an obvious nod to Jerry Goldsmith’s Explorers score, I just thought it was a bit much after nearly two hours wondering down Amblin Memory Lane (its doubly unfortunate, as Bear’s score is otherwise quite fine and enjoyable).

We’ve been here before, and thats really the problem- these Amblin productions that the film-makers here are so indebted to are, what, 34 years old or older? Nostalgie is fun I suppose and while I’m really not the target audience –  its really aimed squarely at kids of 8 -14 – can I just be the grumpy old sod in the corner who points out that, well, instead of watching substandard stuff like this (as sincere or well natured with the best of intentions as it may be) the kids would be best off watching those Amblin originals instead?

Mirage (2018)

mirage1.jpgThis Spanish production now airing on Netflix as a Netflix Original (original title Durante La Tormenta) is a surprisingly satisfying entry in the time travel genre. As usual for these time travel/alternate timelines/time paradox movies, its very difficult to summarise the plot without it seeming too convoluted and/or, well, just plain daft. The trick with the best of them is to just suspend your disbelief enough to hook you in, and that’s what this film does quite well.  Maybe the fact that its a Spanish film with subtitles actually helps, because although the film has inevitable nods to 1980s Amblin films and Back to the Future in particular, it still looks and sounds very European, thereby maintaining a sense of originality and keeping some distance from the American genre that partly influences it.

So do I risk trying to unwrap the plot somehow without it seeming ridiculous? The basic premise concerns a strange electrical storm that settles over a suburban area in 1989, lasts for three days and then returns some twenty five years later, setting up a loop in time through which a young mother, Vera (Adriana Ugarte) is able to warn a twelve-year old boy, Nico, of an impending accident in 1989 and thus save his life. Unfortunately, her good deed of saving the boy has set up a new timeline, and she awakes no longer married to her husband and no longer the mother of a daughter. Indeed, while she has memories of her original timeline’s life, she has no memory of her ‘new’ life, and is desperate to somehow re-set the timeline and get her original life back- and more importantly the life of her daughter, who no longer exists. Complicating matters somewhat is a murder connected to the original death of young Nico, which threatens to dilute the central drama of the film with what initially seems a rather superfluous plotline that ultimately ties it all together.

On the whole its a successful yarn, albeit with a few plot contrivances that don’t really hang together too well in hindsight, certainly when given examination afterwards, but hey, at least this is a film that leaves you thinking by the end.  It handles its inherent paradoxes pretty well, and is an entertaining film- indeed, the cynic in me ruefully expects an American remake would have been on the cards had this not appeared on Netflix giving it the wider exposure it has no doubt received, making that Hollywood treatment largely redundant. Its a pretty good time travel adventure which is maybe a little overlong (suffering from trying to manage all those seperate plot threads, no doubt) with an emotional pay-off that doesn’t really connect (well, it didn’t with me) but up to that, its involving and has plenty of twists. Well worth a watch.

 

The Delightful Sherlock Potter

young-sherlock
See that kid shopping for wands across there…?

2017.12: Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)

I never got around to watch this movie, one of those that slipped through the net even over so many years (thirty-plus years, where have they gone?!), and as a Spielberg-produced Amblin film from the mid-eighties, it’s always been on my to-watch list. So when it was screened over the Christmas holidays I took the opportunity to record it on the tivo and have finally gotten around to watch it.

And you know what? I’m watching it and I’m too distracted to really enjoy it on its own merits, and why? I’m watching it thinking I’m watching a Harry Potter movie.

Its all there. Sherlock and Watson, two boys in a fancy English boarding school, forming a trio with a young girl, Emma. There’s a fellow schoolboy with blonde hair who is a sneak and no-good rival to Holmes. There is a central mystery that unfolds that only our daring trio seem to be aware of or willing to tackle. The schoolboys have meals at long tables in a grand hall with the teachers at the head on a special table, and one of those teachers turns out to be the main bad guy. With all respect to J K Rowling, this was a surreal and bizarre experience. Young Sherlock Holmes is like some prototype Harry Potter movie.

On its own merits, Young Sherlock Holmes is a delightful old-school kind of movie, the kind we had so many of back in the ‘eighties that we took them for granted, back when Lucas and Spielberg and Dante and Donner were making family movies. Blockbusters with intelligence and heart. The music score is bold and full of melodic material giving the film a sense of self-identity that music scores so seldom do these days,  and the setting is lovely and full of character. The pacing is steady and the effects rather restrained in hindsight (at the time, they may have seemed a bigger deal, but it pales in comparison to the number of effects shots thrown into so many blockbusters these days). The acting is pretty fine throughout the cast. I can well understand why it has its fans, and it’s sad that it didn’t gain enough of an audience at the time to justify what was no doubt intended to be a series of Young Holmes movies. If only the studio had risked another film, they may have had better success- indeed, these days I’m fairly certain, given Hollywood’s keenness for franchises, that the film would have gotten a sequel whatever its lacklustre box-office. Maybe sequels were a tougher sell back in the ‘eighties.

But that Harry Potter thing. Its weird.

sherl2One last note, and this regards the cast. You know how it is, watching a film, particularly one a fair few years old as this,  you see someone’s face, and you think, ‘where have I see that face before..?’  It’s the kind of thing that could drive you crazy in the old days, but thanks to IMDB its a mystery easily solved. During Young Sherlock Holmes, it was the actress playing Mrs Dribb, a school nurse and (apparently) minor character in a neat piece of misdirection that I won’t spoil here. Anyway, the actress was Susan Fleetwood, likely familiar from Clash of the Titans and some tv work during that decade. Unfortunately my discovery was one tinged with some sadness, as I learned the actress died in 1995 aged just 51 years old. This kind of thing has happened before to me, watching films and looking names up on the IMDB. You see a fine performance frozen in time like that and then discover the person has died in the years since, and you can read their entire life in a biography of a few paragraphs. Its a terribly sobering thing.