Back to the Future Part II (1989) This first sequel deserves full credit for pushing concept to the foreground and in so doing making the frequent failing of a continuation – the essential dilemma of the original has been resolved – much less relevant to its success. On its initial release, I was even willing to credit Back to the Future Part II as being on a par with the first film, albeit an altogether different beast. It’s actually very far from that, but it is, on its own terms, one of the more fascinating and worthwhile sequels to
Seven aka Se7en (1995) It figures that the profoundly nihilistic – in terms of cinematic sensibility, rather than necessarily his deepest philosophical beliefs – David Fincher should have wanted the even bleaker ending of Seven. That would be the one without that “worth fighting for” hint of grace he was persuaded to include. It’s the one glimmer of light in this rain-lashed dystopia, and of poetic flair in an otherwise (typically) meticulously controlled movie. In fairness, there’s a lot more humanity on display here than one probably recalls, leading the way as it does with its suffocating atmosphere, but
Black Adam (2022) So, is the future of DC being nudged forward by The Rock, desperate to claim his latest movie was a hit, actually – sure, it’ll scrape its costs back through ancillaries, but that’s hardly something to crow about – or is it in the hands of dead James Gunn, hailed by fans dismissing all those tweets he deleted as nothing to get concerned about, who plans to thoroughly disembowel the last remnants of the Snyderverse under the banner of offering a united DCU across all platforms? Which means, what, giving DC more product in the vein
Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves (2023) The most impressive thing about Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves is that someone clearly thought it could be a major hit. Unless they were angling for a major tax write-off. Investing $150m in a property – a well-known property, but one boasting a prior, infamous failure in adapting it – is likely going to require in the region of half a billion takings to make a profit, and as breezy as this movie often is, it’s closer to the ’80s cartoon series in tone than the sombre Warcraft a few years
Labyrinth (1986) You know, I had it in my head that Terry Jones directed this, in his typically slip-shod, cheerfully imprecise manner. It turns out the Python only furnished the screenplay, and Jim Henson was responsible. This was his third and final feature, following The Great Muppet Caper and The Dark Crystal. If the latter suggests someone who could successfully conjure worlds, we have to remember it was co-credited to Frank Oz (also fairly restricted as a stylist, and most au fait with the comedy genre). The real point of Henson directing his creations is that he can concentrate
Panic Room (2002) David Fincher at his most pragmatic and ruthlessly efficient. You won’t find many of his favourite themes here – not a serial killer in sight, just a deep-fried American psycho – but he’s here to do a job this time, and he makes sure you know it, complete with sufficient bells and whistles to keep him happy. This was, after all, a practical exercise, an illustration of bankability after the failure of Fight Club (regardless of its burgeoning afterlife). Consequently, while one may overlay a variety of readings – feminist, surveillance state – Panic Room’s status
Babylon (2022) “Fin de cinema”? So states one of Babylon’s final montage of clips depicting the expanse of Hollywood’s century-plus output, and there is a sense that Damien Chazelle’s picture – a resounding flop – which shines a light on La La Land’s depraved underbelly, is sounding a death knell. As a Hollywood White Hat, previously responsible for oblique Moon landing movie First Man, Chazelle’s message is presumably the thing, but Paramount surely hoped for a marginally more enthusiastic reception. At least the French love it. I was mixed, but more because he fails us with his main characters
The Fabelmans (2022) Dead man directing. One might choose to appraise The Fabelmans in several different ways. The first is as quite a proficient movie, given the auteur it’s credited to is no longer with us. The second would be that whoever did direct it (presumably in a Berg clone suit) has doggedly followed the anaemic “autobiographical” model of many a moviemaker who mistakenly believed their formative experiences held some degree of wider fascination for audiences, not to mention dramatic import. Occasionally, just occasionally, such assumptions prove justified: Hope and Glory. More often, we get an aroma of Roma.
Kubrick Ranked Worst to Best Ah, Stanley. The man whose greatest directorial work – or at least, most paradigm-influencing – is yet to be granted formal recognition. But enough about the Moon landings. Kubrick has been analysed like no other, both for his unparalleled martialling of cinematic language and for the seemingly endless variations of esoteric nutrition his work conceals. What he was saying does not, necessarily, present a unified vision, however. Express (and hidden) intent, perhaps, but at some point – it seems during the decade following his Apollo 11 mission – he recanted the dark side and
The Godfather Part III (1990) It’s a shame the weight of attention directed at The Godfather Part III related to that casting decision, because in terms of plot, if not so much its execution, this is the most fascinating of the trilogy. Michael Corleone thinks he’s finally out of the life of crime, but the further he scales the pyramid of the respectable world, the more unconscionable he realises it is. Weaving in real-world conspiracy is perhaps Francis Ford Coppola’s trump card here, and this would surely have merited more discussion – or an audibly uncomfortable silence – had all
The Mask (1994) The movie that confirmed Jim Carrey as a megastar. There’s probably a groundswell of opinion that The Mask hasn’t aged well, owing to a combination of special effects and Jim fatigue. Coming back to it, however, confirms it as a frequently very funny picture, one that might even go down better now, shorn of all the surrounding hype. It’s Carrey’s Nutty Professor, essentially: a meek and mild nobody transformed into an uber-confident smart mouth. The only caveat being that, unlike Jerry Lewis, Carrey isn’t quite downtrodden enough as bank clerk Stanley Ipkiss; there’s already clearly a quipster in there.
Jurassic World Dominion (2022) “Jurassic World? Not a fan.” You said it, Jeff (well, Ian Malcolm). I can’t say I’m really a Jurassic Park fan either, although I do respect the skill and efficiency involved in several of the first two movies’ set pieces. And more perversely still, unlike many, I wasn’t actively antagonistic towards the first Jurassic World, probably because I didn’t venerate its predecessors. Fallen World, while much better directed than Colin Trevorrow’s movie, and with a couple of leftfield ideas, simply wasn’t much cop. Jurassic World Dominion – per critics’ takes – isn’t much cop either, and furthermore, it isn’t very well
The Exorcist (1973) Vast swathes have been written on The Exorcist, duly reflective of its cultural impact. In a significant respect, it’s the first blockbuster – forget Jaws – and also the first of a new kind of special-effects movie. It provoked controversy across all levels of the socio-political spectrum, for explicit content and religious content, both hailed and denounced for the same. William Friedkin, director of William Peter Blatty’s screenplay based on Blatty’s 1971 novel, would have us believe The Exorcist is “a film about the mystery of faith”, but it’s evidently much more – and less – than that. There’s
The Lost City (2022) Perhaps the most distressing part of The Lost City, a Romancing the Stone riff that appears to have been packaged by the Hollywood equivalent of a processed cheese plant lacking its primary ingredient (that would be additives), is the possibility that Daniel Radcliffe is the only viable actor left standing in Tinseltown. That’s if the suggestions at least two of the performers here – Sandra Bullock and Brad Pitt – are deep faked in some way, shape or form, and the other name – Channing Tatum – is serving hard atonement time. If the latter’s choices generally weren’t
I Love You to Death (1990) At the time, the sheer broadness of Lawrence Kasdan’s comedy came as something of a surprise; his previous picture was the well-regarded, Best Picture Oscar-nominated The Accidental Tourist, and yet, here he was, taking someone else’s script based-on-an-actual incident of a wife employing hit men to kill her unfaithful husband, and delivering a knockabout romp wallowing in farting, fornicating and foul play. Critics found it on the coarse, unfinessed side, and audiences didn’t find it all. I Love You to Death may not be a forgotten gem, but it is often very funny, in its shambolic way, and
Do you know how you sound, accusing the owner of a Fortune 500 company of being some kind of occultist?
Archive 81 (2022) The latest in Hollywood’s apparently unwavering appetite for Lovecraftian horror, Archive 81 is also diligently magpie with regard to scooping up cinematic influences in the same. It’s nearest relative and Netflix stablemate is thus probably Stranger Things, with its parallel realms to our own nursing unspeakable horrors of an anti-life nature (that series’ Rebecca Thomas directed half the episodes here). On top of the HP source, Archive 81 embraces the found-footage conceit, one that has been very variable in value – The Blair Witch Project being the most prolific and most vastly overrated – and is employed here via a set of logistical
Batman Forever (1995) In theory, Joel Schumacher ought to have been the guy to take up the bat-on, embracing the spirit of ’60s Bat campery as a “new” take after Tim Burton turned Warner Bros off by making Batman Returns a little too twisted. But being versed in camp doesn’t necessarily extend to delivering successfully delivering the same. Batman Forever can boast overboard design work and gaudy excess, but it singularly lacks the presiding sense of humour that might have allowed it to attain a personality. Schumacher might have seemed like a reasonable choice on paper to plug the gaps in Burton’s approach; the latter
Oscar Winners 2021 Well, at least this year’s Oscars gave everyone something to talk about, so let’s hear it for Chris Rock and Will Smith. We’re obviously at a stage where the entire ceremony and its participants could, if it was so desired, be virtually simulated, so this incident at least sparks the possibility that everything we’re seeing right now, even or especially in the world of celebrity, isn’t scripted, by whichever side that may be at that particular moment. Indeed, this altercation could surely only be topped by Sean Penn publicly “smelting” his Oscars for the Academy’s crime
The Dark Knight (2008) More than the sum of its parts, mostly due to its rightly celebrated performance of central villainy, The Dark Knight is nevertheless an unwieldy mixture of the inspired and strictly functional, assembled by a director entirely lacking cognisance of his own limitations. As a result, it manages to be both a formidable experience and an overrated one. But then, how could it not be the latter… The movie was a rare phenomenon, a billion dollar-plus grosser when such things weren’t yet ten-a-penny (only the fourth to do so, not accounting for inflation). A superhero movie that could be taken
Wrath of Man (2021) Guy Ritchie’s stripped-down remake of Le Convoyeur (or Cash Truck, also the working title for this movie) feels like an intentional acceleration in the opposite direction to 2019’s return-to-form The Gentleman, his best movie in years. Ritchie seems to want to prove he can make a straight thriller, devoid of his characteristic winks, nods, playfulness and outright broad (read: often extremely crude) sense of humour. Even King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has its fair share of laughs. Wrath of Man is determinedly grim, though, almost Jacobean in its doom-laden trajectory, and Ritchie casts his movie accordingly, opting for more restrained performers, less
Fierce Creatures (1997) “I wouldn’t have married Alyce Faye Eicheberger and I wouldn’t have made Fierce Creatures.” So said John Cleese, when industrial-sized, now-ex gourmand Michael Winner, of Winner’s Dinners, Death Wish II and You Must Be Joking! fame (one of those is a legitimate treasure, but only one) asked him what he would do differently if he could live his life again. One of the regrets identified in the response being Cleese’s one-time wife (one-time of two other one-time wives, with the present one mercifully, for John’s sake, ongoing) and the other being the much-anticipated Death Fish II, the sequel to monster hit A Fish Called Wanda.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn.* His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive
War of the Worlds (2005) Spielberg’s adaptation of HG Wells’ best-known work struck me as a lazy move at the time. As slickly made as it undeniably was, it left me resoundingly underwhelmed. Shorn of period accoutrements, the director’s latest SF extravaganza was revealed as a thin, pedestrian wallow in grimdark. But it seemed to strike a chord, earning a raft of strong critical notices and an appreciative audience response; as a result, it would be the penultimate time the Beard scored a place in the annual worldwide box-office Top 10. How does War of the Worlds’ depiction of nationwide
Contagion (2011) The plandemic saw Contagion’s stock soar, which isn’t something that happens too often to a Steven Soderbergh movie. His ostensibly liberal outlook has hitherto found him on the side of the little people (class action suits) and interrogating the drugs trade while scrupulously avoiding institutional connivance (unless it’s Mexican institutional connivance). More recently, The Laundromat’s Panama Papers puff piece fell fall flat on its face in attempting broad, knowing satire (in some respects, this is curious, as The Informant! is one of Soderbergh’s better-judged films, perhaps because it makes no bones about its maker’s indifference towards its characters). There’s no dilution involved with Contagion,
Reign of Fire (2002) There was good reason to believe Rob Bowman would make a successful transition from top-notch TV director to top-notch film one. He had, after all, attracted attention and plaudits for Star Trek: The Next Generation and become such an integral part of The X-Files that he was trusted with the 1998 leap to the big screen. That movie wasn’t the hit it might have been – I suspect because, such was Chris Carter’s inability to hone a coherent arc, it continued to hedge its bets – but Bowman showed he had the goods. And then came Reign of Fire.
Soul (2020) Pete Docter was doubtless aware that, with a title this presumptive, Soul was asking to be written off with “It ain’t got none”. But he probably also knew that, excepting something going fascinatingly wrong – The Good Dinosaur – Pixar movies tend to get a free pass, from critics and audiences alike. And Docter, responsible for telling kids it’s good to be scared so that benign invisible monsters can feed off their loosh, or – hey, why not, if it’ll make them feel better about it – their laughter, is guilty of the same plodding literalism of all Pixar pictures. It’s
The Mandalorian Season 1 A few weeks back, I mooted the unlikelihood that I would succumb to Disney+ – I mean to say, nothing good can come from all those tunnels under Disneyland, can it? Since then, I reconsidered, on the basis that a month’s subscription amounts to little more than a rental (remember, back in the old days?) I know, I know, that’s how they suck you in. But there really is very little I’m hankering to see in their wonderful world. This mainly, since it will probably be the crack of doom – definitely, since that’s looking sooner rather than
So, you’re telling me that NASA is going to kill the President of the United States with an earthquake?
Conspiracy Theory (1997) Mel Gibson’s official rehabilitation occurred with the announcement of 2016’s Oscar nominations, when Hacksaw Ridge garnered six nods, including Mel as director. Obviously, many refuse to be persuaded that there’s any legitimate atonement for the things someone says. They probably weren’t even convinced by Mel’s appearance in Daddy’s Home 2, an act of abject obeisance if ever there was one. In other circles, though, Gibbo, or Mad Mel, is venerated as a saviour unsullied by the depraved Hollywood machine, one of the brave few who would not allow them to take his freedom. Or at least, his values. Of
The Truman Show (1998) I’d had it in mind to revisit The Truman Show for a while now, and it seems many are rediscovering the picture with fresh eyes amidst a plandemic and the implications that holds for our paradigm. It’s a film I’ve never quite been able to embrace. There’s something about it that’s a little too facile, a little too on-the-nose. And I say that as an unabashed Peter Weir fan. Even with a few new angles to bring to the picture twenty-odd years later, I find that take hasn’t really changed. I mean, its main characters are called Truman and Cristof! But
Trading Places (1983) It’s incredible to recall that Eddie Murphy was only in his early twenties during his first flush of success (48 Hrs, Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop). And not, like contemporary Tom Cruise, playing teenagers, but rather adult roles, roles where age wasn’t an identifier. Here, he co-stars with the decade-senior Dan Aykroyd, but let’s not pretend Eddie isn’t the lead and main attraction. Director John Landis’ retro treatment of Trading Places, which Pauline Kael unflattering described as “a time warp… with its stodgy look, suggesting no period of the past or the present”, adds to the sense that the
The Neon Demon (2016) I found the first hour of The Neon Demon mesmerising, an elliptical, synth-driven fever dream and tonal cousin to Beyond the Black Rainbow, ostensibly charting the seductive and destructive path to success in the superficial world of modelling but possibly being about something very much more than that. By the end, however, it had diminished somewhat in my estimation, its cool, retro poise reframed by the most OTT, Grand Guignol, head-on charge. I was left with a shrug, rather than the rapt sense of having been fed through a wringer of revelation. And that’s even with Nicolas Winding
Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) With the odd exception (Band of Brothers), Spielberg and TV don’t mix. Ironically, as that’s where he started out, and given one of his best pictures is a TV movie (Duel). The collection of half-arsed small-screen fare trumpeting (or should that be trumping) his name is extensive, and there’s a raft of beleaguered series that struggled to a couple of seasons based on his name alone. It’s still going on (Falling Skies). His big-screen version of The Twilight Zone happened several years before he had a good scratch at his anthology itch (Amazing Stories), and given
Lolita (1962) I haven’t read Vladimir Nabakov’s novel, nor have I seen Adrian Lyne’s 1997 adaptation, so I won’t attempt to compare their merits or otherwise with Kubrick’s film. But the divergences from the novel are relevant in considering the motivations for the changes made by Kubrick, which were in part due to the requirements of the censors. This and A Clockwork Orange were Kubrick’s most controversial films, and Lolita still holds considerable power fifty years later. Perhaps more so, as there is arguably less appetite to indulge its content (35 years on, Lyne’s film stirred up controversy all