I’m still in China as I write this, but I should be on my way home when it gets published, so I’m going to reserve any further tales of my exploits for the upcoming monthly recap that should drop this weekend, providing I don’t just collapse onto a bed when I get home and sleep for several days, which to be honest I’m not exactly ruling out.
Instead, here’s my thoughts on season 1 of The Wire, because there’s nothing better to do when you’re alone in a foreign country for an extended period of time than binge watch a TV boxset. I’m just annoyed I only brought the first season with me. I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a fairly bold and potentially controversial statement – The Wire is great. I’m hooked, I can’t wait to watch more and see what happens and where all the characters go next. It’s got this ability to make utterly despicable characters – on both sides of the law – and make them compelling, watchable and endlessly entertaining, whilst ruthlessly maiming, imprisoning and killing off other, more likeable characters, yet still keeping me engaged. Scene-wise my highlight is still detectives Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) and Bunk Moreland (Wendell Pierce) investigating an old crime scene in episode four, with the entire dialogue for the scene being comprised of “Fuck” and it’s numerous variations. I’ve gone back and watched that scene a few times and, if I can find it on Youtube once I’ve returned to a country that has access to Youtube, then it’s probably I’ll be covering on a future Favourite Scene Friday for To The Escape Hatch. There are too many great characters to list, but personally I find the law-enforcement side to be richer and more developed, even the more supporting ones like Major Rawls (John Doman) and Sergeant Jay Landsman (Delaney Williams). On the main team, it’s all about Lester (Clarke Peters), and I’m looking forward to seeing where he goes next. Criminal-wise, nobody outshines Omar (Michael K. Williams). Expect to read my thoughts on series 2 as soon as possible.
Bastille Day (2016)
Knowing that I’m a fan of films, my Chinese hosts arranged to take me to the cinema whilst I’m here. The options for available films to see were The Shallows and Storks, neither of which my hosts were interested in, Star Trek Beyond, which I’ve already seen, and Bastille Day, which I’d heard very little about but starred Idris Elba and Richard Madden, so we thought it might be worth a look. It turns out, and this should have been something of a given from the title, that Bastille Day is set entirely in France in the days leading up to the titular French celebration, meaning a lot of the principle cast – maybe 85% – were French, and as such they spoke in French. I’d estimate about 60% of the dialogue is French, with the scenes between Elba’s rogue, forget-the-book detective and Madden’s pickpocket embroiled in a terrorist plot essentially being the only ones entirely in English. Ordinarily this would not be a problem, but I was watching this in a foreign country, so whilst the French dialogue was all subtitled, it was written in a language that I could not understand. That being said, the acting of the French characters was all more than good enough for me to work out who as who and what they were doing (apparently more so than my hosts, who were very surprised at an undercover evil person that I’d picked up on when we met them), I just missed out on some of the dialogue. Plot-wise there’s not much new – Madden steals a handbag containing a bomb, thereby getting caught up in an anti-government terrorist plot Elba is trying to solve – but there’s good chemistry between the leads and I can see Madden having a career similar to Chris Pine if he can find the right roles, as he’s got some decent comic timing, and his pick-pocketing scenes are very entertaining, particularly the one in a bar, where a well placed phone and glass of red wine allow for an almost balletic theft. It’s a shame Idris Elba chose to sing the end credits song as it’s neither good nor in keeping with the feel of the film, but other than that I enjoyed myself, despite the language barrier.
Lists: 2016 Movies
Choose Film 7/10
Das Boot (1981)
September’s blind spot pick, and perhaps the best one of the year so far.
Lists: 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, Empire’s 5-Star 500, Empire Top 500, Blind Spot Movies
Full review here.
I’ve mentioned before – often, I think – that I’m a fan of the Movies By Minute format, so when I heard perhaps the best co-host of the Indiana Jones Minute show, Tom Taylor, was branching out into the Caddyshack Minute during the hiatus between Raiders of the Lost Ark Minute and Temple of Doom Minute, well I was intrigued. Caddyshack is a film I hadn’t seen for years but remembered enjoying, so this seemed the perfect time to give it another look. The parts I remembered – generally those involving Chevy Chase as a zen-like golfing maestro Ty Webb and Bill Murray’s gopher-hunting, scene-stealing groundskeeper Carl – were still very enjoyable, but I think I don’t really like Rodney Dangerfield and his comedy stylings. He’s too brash, too over the top, too out of place. I get that is his character entirely, a vulgar new-money type causing a ruckus at the otherwise civilised, snobbish Bushwood Country Club, but it’s not just in that setting, it’s in the whole movie that he feels like he doesn’t fit, and I found very few of his one-liners and offhand remarks to be worthy of even a smirk. Having listened to the first five minutes of Caddyshack Minute this is clearly an area where the hosts of that show and I disagree, as they seem to hold Dangerfield on some kind of comedy pedestal, but they also say that it helps to have seen him performing stand-up live back in the 80s, whcih of course I never did. Still, Rodney aside I still had fun with this, but I find it odd that there’s such a devoted fanbase to this film. It’d be like someone doing Rat Race Minute, although that is something I’d be very interested in listening to, perhaps even hosting myself. Hmmmm…..
Friday the 13th (1980)
I honestly don’t know why I brought this amongst the selection of films I took to China. I’ve never seen it before (or any entry in the Friday the 13th franchise) but have had it on DVD for perhaps years. It’s the classic kids-by-the-lake-getting-slaughtered slasher, but living in a post-Scream world, knowing the identity of the killer and some information about where this saga heads in the future, this just didn’t do anything for me, I think mainly because the mystery element was spoiled for me. I did appreciate not knowing who the “final girl” would be (having seen The Final Girls and seeing how much it took from this, I knew that it would absolutely be a final girl), and enjoyed ticking off the various people as they committed Randy’s sins from Scream, then just waiting for them to get killed, plus Betsy Palmer does a great and terrifying job as the woman at the end, but sadly this doesn’t hold up with too much prior knowledge. Also, the supposedly haunting score, with that tsh-tsh-tsh-tish-tish-tish noise every time the killer is around? Terrible. Ruined every scene it cropped up in.
Choose Life 6/10
Peter Ibbetson (1935)
September’s “Bad Movie” pick, perhaps one of the worst, or at least most aggravating, of the year so far.
Lists: 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, “Bad” Movies
Full review here.
Real Genius (1985)
This seemed like it’d be a fun background movie, and it absolutely was. Gabriel Jarret plays super smart high schooler Mitch, who gets fast-tracked to a prestigious technical college by his teacher, TV personality and secret governmen weapons designer Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton), only to find that college life isn’t as academic as Mitch was hoping. His room-mate is the last child genius, Chris Knight (Val Kilmer), who spends more time larking around than working on the ultra powerful laser they have been tasked with, and there’s another creepy guy who occasionally disappears into their wardrobe. Kilmer is great, on his best comedic form comparable to his turn the year before in Top Secret!, and the supporting cast ofvarious nerds and oddballs is fun too. It was a bit jarring when Kilmer essentially takes over the film from Jarret, but he is easily the more engaging lead (nothing against Jarret, it’s just that Kilmer is great), and his rivalry with Atherton, who is always wonderful as these smarmy 80s villains, is a lot of fun.
Choose Film 7/10
Seven Samurai (1954)
Watched in preparation for an upcoming Lambcast. There’s a supporting character in this called Manzo, just like Jess from French Toast Sunday, which I found very distracting every time the name was said.
Lists: 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, Empire’s 5-Star 500, Empire Top 500, Empire Top 301, Total Film Top 100
Full review here.
It’s a story based on a Michael Crighton book (that he also directed) about a futuristic theme park that goes horribly wrong – I’m shocked I’d never seen it before. There’s a TV adaptation heading this way which, judging by the trailers, looks all kinds of awesome, so I thought I’d get myself up to date with the original. Western World is one of three adult-themed, robot-filled amusement parks designed to simulate life in either the old West, Roman times or the Medieval era, where everything has been created to make you think you’re really there. In Western World you’re even given guns with live ammo, designed not to shoot at other guests via a heat-sensing trigger. Our heroes, the experienced John (James Brolin) and greenhorn Peter (Richard Benjamin) initially enjoy life in Western World, especially after Peter falls foul of the local black-clad gunslinger (Yul Brynner, excellent) and successfully dispatches him in a duel, but inevitably things turn sour and the robots, just like in Itchy and Scratchy Land, turn on the guests. I’ve complained on this site recently about films being too long, but at under 90 minutes this felt far too short. The introduction to the parks and getting used to the surroundings was nice, but the robots turning and the havoc they wreak was far too short-lived. The turn this takes from John and Peter having fun, interspersed with some tension-raising behnid the scenes, to a chase to the death was far too sudden. I feel spending a little more time in the other worlds with some of the other supporting characters would have been better. Still, the premise is great and ewll-realised (even if a lot of the sex-bot stuff seemed far more unethical than the film has any intentions of dealing with, especially with regards to one character’s infidelity), and if anything I’m now looking forward to the TV show even more.
Choose Film 6/10
The Birdcage (1996)
The Movies, Films & Flix podcast recently released an episode dedicated to the films of 1996, within which they discussed The Birdcage, which I took to be a sign that I should finally see it, because even outside of that show I’ve heard nothing but good things, and I’m happy to report they are correct. Goldman’s is a cabaret club owned by Armand Goldman (Robin Williams), whose melodramatic star is played by Albert (Nathan Lane), Armand’s husband. Before their relationship, Armand had a son, Val (Dan Futterman), who Armand and Albert raised together, whilst Val’s mother (Christine Baranski) wanted nothing to do with him, a situation that pleased everyone, including Val. Now the boy is engaged to Barbara (Calista Flockhart), the daughter of a very right-wing, morally inclined senator (Gene Hackman) and his wife (Dianne Wiest), who attempt to recover from a scandal by heading to meet the new future in-laws, only they don’t realise it’s a gay couple, and hilarity ensues. It’s essentially one big comedy of errors, especially for the entire second half dinner party, and everything plays out as you’d expect this kind of film to, but the performances and script are wonderful. Robin Williams unexpectedly takes the (pardon the pun) straighter role of the couple, leaving Nathan Lane to steal the show in various guises and levels of distress. Hank Azaria is also a lot of fun as the barely clothed, thickly accented Guatamalan butler, and whilst there’s nothing all that surprising about the whole film, it is genuinely a huge pile of fun.
Choose Film 8/10
Posts you may have missed:
Lambcast #340 Western Draft: My China adventures have kept me away from the Lambcast for a couple of weeks, but I’ve had some replacements hosting the show, firstly in the form of Nick Rehak, who hosted the Western Draft show alongside Will Slater, Kristen Lopez, DJ Valentine and newcomer Howard Casner. Head to the LAMB site to vote for which team you think is best.
Lambcast #341 TV Special: Next up, my former co-hosted Robert Zerbe got to enjoy his annual tradition of a TV-themed show with Dylan Fields, Tony Cogan and Nikhat Zahra.
Aim: Review 8 or 9 1001 List movies each month
Should be on: 75
On Track: No!
Aim: Review 1 “Bad” movie each month
Should be on: 9
On Track: Yes!
Aim: Review 1 “Blind Spot” movie each month
Should be on: 9
On Track: Yes!
Aim: Review 2 “Film-Makers” movies each month
Should be on: 18
On Track: No!