Ghost (1990) As is often the case with the romance genre, no one was predicting Ghost to be the box office sensation it became. Much the same was true of Pretty Woman earlier in that year. There was no hype behind either of them, and the leads didn’t exactly sell tickets. With Woman it was (relatively) unknown Julia Roberts and past-it Richard Gere. Ghost had Patrick Swizzle (okay, I’ll give you Dirty Dancing) and ex brat packer Demi Moore. And then there was the director. One of the guys who made Airplane!? None of the omens were good, but somehow alchemy occurred. Even the Academy wanted in; Ghost was nominated for
Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021) Say what you like about the 2016 reboot, at least it wasn’t labouring under the illusion it was an Amblin movie. Ghostbusters 3.5 features the odd laugh, but it isn’t funny, and it most definitely isn’t scary. It is, however, shamelessly nostalgic for, and reverential towards, the original(s), which appears to have granted it a free pass in fan circles. It didn’t deserve one. The casting of Finn Wolfram and Hart may have been an early tell that Sony was attempting to swathe over the backlash against the Femmebusters with a similar void of inspiration, that of a pint-sized next next generation. Afterlife is
Beyond Tomorrow (1940) This one’s definitely a Christmas curiosity. With such a premise – including throwing in a “twist” halfway through, assuming you haven’t seen the movie poster (bottom of the page) – and a surer hand at the tiller, you suspect it would have played like gangbusters. Dusted off and spruced up, it might even be an evergreen, ripe for its own remake: a kind of Yule Ghost, with a couple’s happiness at stake. The divine intervention – or from beyond, at any rate – and holiday season theme would later become central to the ultimate entry in Beyond Tomorrow’s
The X-Files 6.6: How the Ghosts Stole Christmas One of the worst things that happened to X-Files producer Chris Carter, output-wise, was witnessing the often very funny, witty contributions of his more comedically minded peers – Darin Morgan, Vince Gilligan – and deciding he’d have some of that. Because Carter’s best contributions as writer – and even, initially, as director – to the show’s early period, tended to be honed, tightly constructed mythology builders or punchy standalones. He dipped his toe in more frivolous waters with 3.13: Syzygy and failed to garner the plaudits he likely felt were due, such that he didn’t
Ghosts of Mars (2001) I might have more sympathy for John Carpenter’s protests that Ghosts of Mars was misunderstood if the content did more to support the idea that it was intentionally over-the-top and tongue-in-cheek. Such as silly/amusing plotting and characters and campiness instead of scares. It does rather come across, as per his defence of Escape from L.A. being better than the original, as trying to cover the ineptitude of the production with the old “It was meant to be ‘so bad it was good’; it was self-consciously, post-modernly bad” excuse. To be fair to JC, I’m going by the Wikipedia quote, which is not unexpurgated, and
Doctor Sleep (2019) Doctor Sleep is a much better movie than it probably ought to be. Which is to say, it’s an adaption of a 2013 novel that, by most accounts, was a bit of a dud. That novel was a sequel to The Shining, one of Stephen King’s most beloved works, made into a film that diverged heavily, and in King’s view detrimentally, from the source material. Accordingly, Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep also operates as a follow up to the legendary Kubrick film. In which regard, it doesn’t even come close. And yet, judged as its own thing, which can at times
The Avengers 5.7: The Living Dead The Living Dead occupies such archetypal Avengers territory that it feels like it must have been a more common plotline than it was; a small town is the cover for invasion/infiltration, with clandestine forces gathering underground. Its most obvious antecedent is The Town of No Return, and certain common elements would later resurface in Invasion of the Earthmen. This is a lot broader than Town, however, the studio-bound nature making it something of a cosy “haunted house” yarn, Scooby Doo style. Mrs Peel: Do you believe in ghosts, Steed? Steed: Someone does. Others to mention in the same breath are Castle De’ath (apparently spooky goings-on
The Fog (1980) The Fog has its fans, but I tend to concur with Carpenter’s acknowledgement of the movie’s issues; it represents his first serious stumble, lacking both the sure, driving pace of his previous horror classic and its sense of humour (despite a surfeit of in-jokes, mostly on the character name front). This is a short movie, but one that never really hits its stride. What The Fog undoubtedly has going for it, though, is superb, highly memorable and evocative photography from Dean Cundey – it’s no coincidence that, when he stopped working with the director, the latter’s days delivering the goods were
Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell, as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such. Not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And, in Peter Hewitt, it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick. Evil Bill: First,
Sole Survivor (1970) I’m one for whom Sole Survivor remained a half-remembered, muddled dream of ‘70s television viewing. I see (from this site) the BBC showed it both in 1979 and 1981 but, like many it seems, in my veiled memory it was a black and white picture, probably made in the 1950s and probably turning up on a Saturday afternoon on BBC2. Since no other picture readily fits that bill, and my movie apparition shares the salient plot points, I’ve had to conclude Sole Survivor is indeed the hitherto nameless picture; a TV movie first broadcast by the ABC network in 1970
Maps to the Stars (2014) David Cronenberg’s typically twisted dissection of Hollywoods and would-bes gets under the skin like nothing he’s made in a decade. If the hermetic cocoon of Cosmopolis represented a return to the territory of less grounded narratives after a series of (for him) formally concrete pictures with Viggo Mortensen, Maps to the Stars seals that deal. An exploration of superficiality and emptiness, and the darkness that lurks within, his film from Bruce Wagner’s screenplay is very much not a Tinseltown satire, although it nevertheless conveys the requisite barbs and props. Rather, Maps to the Stars is a claustrophobic horror, its jaundice deriving from the
Scrooged (1988) If attaching one’s name to classic properties can be a sign of star power on the wane (both for directors and actors), a proclivity for appearing in Christmas movies most definitely is. Just look at Vince Vaughn’s career. So was Bill Murray running on empty a mere 25 years ago? He’d gone to ground following the rejection of his straight-playing The Razor’s Edge by audiences and critics alike, meaning this was his first comedy lead since Ghostbusters four years earlier. Perhaps he thought he needed a sure-fire hit (with ghosts) to confirm he was still a marquee name. Perhaps his agent persuaded him.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) Reworking a classic of literature to accommodate a popular star or franchise is sometimes the first sign of desperate measures, an attempt to artificially inflate their waning status. Sometimes it’s purely about the easy cash grab. What studio doesn’t want the pay-off of a Christmas perennial? That this (fourth) big screen Muppets outing was also the first significant incarnation of the characters following the death of their creator might have been a portend of woe (albeit, the idea was Jim Henson’s, in the wake of Disney’s purchase). Yet The Muppet Christmas Carol might be the best.
The Amazing Mr. Blunden (1972) What with that title, you’d be forgiven for thinking this family movie was a ropey Mary Poppins cash-in. Fortunately, it is entirely misleading as regards the pervading presence of Mr Blunden himself. He’s integral, of course, but he doesn’t float around on an umbrella, perform magic tricks, or do anything really amazing. Indeed, it’s more amazing that his circumstance is rather tragic. The Railway Children was a much-loved staple when I was wee, but somehow Lionel Jeffries’ follow-up entirely passed me by (despite, by Wikipedia accounts, having a firm place in the nation’s hearts). I was also familiar with
A Christmas Carol (2009) With the possible exception of Polar Express (which doesn’t really have a reason to exist in any form), it’s difficult to see why Robert Zemeckis chose the form he did for his all-CGI, motion capture movies. Other than not wanting to venture outside to make them. If we leave aside the uncanny valley aspects of the virtual cadavers that populate this retelling of Dickens’ tale, what’s most striking is that the rendering is so lacking in imagination. Sure, there’s a surfeit of virtual camera swoops and 3D giddiness… if you happen to be watching in 3D. Otherwise,