Film

Passengers (2016)

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Without a doubt, Passengers is a beautiful film to look at. Great care has been made by director Morten Tyldum and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto to ensure that every frame is a joy, and the human stars are just as pretty and perfect as the set design and the special effects. But underneath the polished surface veneer there are problems to be found, both in the story by Jon Spaihts and in its on-screen execution. Read the rest of this entry »

The Farthest (2017)

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Today it seems like we have always known what Jupiter and Saturn look like close-up. Open up any book on astronomy, or watch any TV documentary about space, and their iconic appearance is readily available in up-close high definition detail, as familiar to us as any holiday beauty spot on Earth. Read the rest of this entry »

A brief tour of Universal’s monster horror legacy

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Almost five years ago I wrote enthusiastically about the release of Universal Studio’s Monsters – The Essential Collection, a boxset of eight of its most famous golden age horror movies from the 1930s and 1940s. It was the first time these iconic movies had been officially released in the UK on Blu-ray in newly remastered high definition versions, and they were a glorious sight to behold

At the time I penned gushing reviews of Dracula and Phantom of the Opera. As it happens I recently rewatched the original 1931 Frankenstein film and was astounded all over again – both by the flawless and beautiful monochrome restoration of a film that’s now nearly 90 years old, and also by how terrific the film itself still is, and how brilliant Boris Karloff’s portrayal of the monster remains to this day. My only criticism is that it’s so short and over all too quickly, the Monster no sooner brought to life than he is running amok and being hunted by a pitchfork-wielding mob of angry villagers. The clarity is so vivid, you can clearly see the folds and creases in the cloth backdrops used for the sky and clouds.

The Monsters – The Essential Collection boxset was one of my favourite purchases of 2012, and the only drawback to it was that several of the later movies from the Universal horror franchise were not included, among them some of my favourite if lesser-known genre films of the period. I confidently predicted that it surely wouldn’t be long before a second volume took care of that omission; alas, I waited in vain for years for such a boxset to materialise here in the UK, and it never happened. Until now. Well, sort of. Read the rest of this entry »

OJ: Made in America (2016) [DVD]

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A year ago, I found myself unexpectedly drawn into watching the first season of American Crime Story, which dramatised the story of the 1994-5 OJ Simpson trial. While I didn’t specifically follow the original case at the time, it was impossible not to be aware of the key points given the saturation coverage of it in the media at the time. Much of what was shown in Ryan Murphy’s The People vs OJ Simpson turned out to be remarkably familiar to me, and I was surprised by quite how many details I had retained.

The advantage of a dramatisation is that it can take you behind closed doors where cameras were never allowed at the time; and it is also able to shape the narrative into a more understandable format to make the events easier for the layperson to understand compared to the miasma of contemporary news reports and frenzied speculation. That said, a dramatisation does leave you wondering just how much or what we see and hear has been invented, however well-meaningly. You’re left wondering about some of the performances and some of the weird wardrobe and make-up decisions, such as why David Schwimmer is made up as a Word of Sport Dickie Davies lookalike, and why they cast such a bad actor in the role of OJ’s live-in friend Kato Kaelin. That’s because we’re far more critical of the authenticity of a drama in ways that we would never question live television news footage, which confirms that Bob Kardashian really did have a ‘skunk stripe’, and that Kato actually was that weird and the actor totally nailed the portrayal after all.

Even so, much as I liked The People vs OJ Simpson, after ten episodes of OJ drama I had absolutely no appetite to seek out another seven and a half hours of viewing on the subject, factual or otherwise. But then ESPN’s epic OJ: Made In America won the Best Documentary Academy Award in February, and I heard such good things about it that I felt an itch that needed to be scratched – maybe not least because having seen the dramatised version, I now wanted to see how reality measured up. Read the rest of this entry »

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

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rogue-1Almost exactly a year ago, the Star Wars saga was triumphantly rejuvenated by the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, a film that I really enjoyed and was happy to call “almost certainly the best Star Wars film that anyone could possibly have made in 2015,” despite being somewhat frustrated by the sheer metric tonnage of nostalgia and fan service it contained and just how far it was content to ride on the coattails of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. The film’s best assets were its new cast and characters which offered an injection of new life and new hope to the franchise, but The Force Awakens itself was too busy revisiting the past and reheating the same themes and plots of the original trilogy to really get the best out of them. Still, it set things up nicely for Episode VIII assuming that the filmmakers can take advantage of what they now have in their arsenal.

Before that film, however, comes a cinematic intermission in the form of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story which clearly positions itself as being a tale from and about the Star Wars universe while not being a part of the main saga itself. Such anthology tales could prove to be the future of the franchise as a whole, with new films headlining Han Solo and Boba Fett already in production, so the importance of Rogue One to the health and wealth of Star Wars can hardly be understated. Read the rest of this entry »

Arrival (2016)

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arrivalThese days, my forays to a multiplex to see a film in its natural habitat are few and far between, and usually limited to a triumvirate of franchises (James Bond, Star Trek and Star Wars) on largely nostalgic grounds. Trips to the cinema outside that are exceptional, and for films I similarly hope to be exceptional in and of themselves. Looking back, my last non-franchise theatrical outing was Ex Machina in January 2015 and it didn’t disappoint. It certainly sets the bar high for Arrival, which opened in cinemas this week and had me duly paying my money at the local Odeon after reading uniformly excellent reviews.

Arrival is the kind of film that simply can’t be described: to try to summarise its storyline would be a truly terrible thing, since it must be seen to be properly experienced. To put it in the simplest and most abstract terms, it’s the story of linguist Dr Louise Banks who is called upon by the military to lead a team trying to establish a dialogue with a mysterious spacecraft that has shown up over Montana, one of 12 such UFOs that have arrived on Earth. Unfortunately no one thought to pack a universal translator and Banks is faced with the impossible task of trying to converse with a lifeform that shares none of our common cultural or language touchstones. As the process drags on, frustrations on both sides build to the point where increasing suspicion and misunderstanding threaten a catastrophic outcome. Read the rest of this entry »

The Take (a.k.a. Bastille Day) [2016]

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bastilleWhen this thriller was released in cinemas in April it went by the title of Bastille Day, but its story of bombings and racial riots on the streets of Paris became uncomfortably close to subsequent real life atrocities in France and it was even pulled from theatres after the Nice attacks in July. The home media release of the film was delayed and a new title, The Take, applied – all of which is really very unfortunate. Not only does that change cut the DVD release off from any positive word-of-mouth it might have garnered during its box office run, it also leaves it with a dull and unmemorable new name that makes it look like every other bit of sub-standard direct-to-video fare out there. Which is really rather unfair. Read the rest of this entry »

The Keeper of Lost Causes (2013) [BBC Four]

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A slightly late (and brief) review of a new entry to BBC Four’s Nordic Noir slot on Saturday evenings.

keeperEntitled The Keeper of Lost Causes, this 90-minute feature film from Danish production company Zentropa is based on a book by Jussi Adler-Olsen featuring Detective Carl Mørck, the head of a new cold case unit working in Copenhagen. Mørck is there in disgrace after his rash actions in a previous case left one partner dead and another paralysed, so his current team now consists of one administrative assistant – a Syrian immigrant named Assad – and it’s presumed that Mørck will see out his time rubber-stamping old casefiles until he quits. Naturally he doesn’t, and instead becomes obsessed with a case that Assad has unearthed about the disappearance and presumed suicide three years ago of Merete Lynggaard (Sonja Richter), an up-and-coming female politician. The original investigation was sketchy to say the least and so Mørck digs deeper despite warnings from his superiors to drop it. Read the rest of this entry »

Our Kind of Traitor (2016) [DVD]

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Apologies for the unexpected hiatus of Taking The Short View over the last month and a half. The simple truth is there’s been a strange dearth of things of late that have inspired me to write reviews, despite the start of a brand new season of television shows.

traitorBut let’s rectify the situation and get things back on track with a review of a film released earlier this year and now available on DVD. It’s an adaptation of a John Le Carré novel, following in the footsteps of other recent films based on the authors work such as 2011’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and 2014’s A Most Wanted Man, not to mention the phenomenally successful television mini-series of The Night Manager.

Our Kind Of Traitor starts off with husband and wife Perry and Gail McKendrick (Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris) taking a holiday in Marrakech seeking to repair their troubled marriage. Instead they get caught in the orbit of the flamboyant Dima (Stellan Skarsgård) who is a money man for the Russian Mafia who now fears for his life and that of his family. He asks Perry to take a memory stick back to London to hand over to British intelligence represented by Hector (Damian Lewis) and Luke (Khalid Abdalla), but it doesn’t stop there and the McKendricks find themselves getting sucked deeper and deeper into a deadly game of undercover work. Read the rest of this entry »

Star Trek Beyond (2015)

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startrekbeyond0August is invariably a quiet time for Taking The Short View in terms of items to review, the TV schedules having been swept clear of new material and left devoid of anything anything much worth reviewing, especially in a summer dominated by the Olympics. While I could have used all this sudden free time to go to the cinema instead, I increasingly find it difficult to find anything worth getting excited about in this age of big-spectacle but empty-headed superhero blockbusters.

However, there are always exceptions. Ever since I was a young kid, I’ve had a steadfast tradition of going to see the latest movies in three franchises in particular the minute they come out in the cinemas: James Bond, Star Wars and Star Trek. It was the turn of the latter to premier a new instalment this month and sure enough I maintained my tradition and saw it shortly after it came out. Which was, of course, some weeks ago now.

Why the delay in posting a review? I could say that an unexpected spike in work in the meantime has thwarted my attempts to write up a review, and there would be some truth in that, but it would only be part of it. The wider answer is that after seeing the film I just couldn’t get up enough enthusiasm to write anything, and that admission probably speaks as eloquently as to my feelings about Star Trek Beyond as any words that follow. Read the rest of this entry »

The Rocketeer (1991) [DVD]

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rocketeerNews this week that Disney is developing a sequel to its 1991 cult classic The Rocketeer reminded me that in 25 years I still hadn’t got around to watching the original. That’s despite the fact that it was adapted from a comic book which in turn was based on a 1940s Saturday morning serial called King of the Rocket Men that I remember absolutely loving when it was rerun on BBC television during the school summer holidays of the 1970s and 80s.

At the time of the film’s release The Rocketeer was something of a disappointment, opening to mixed reviews and lukewarm box office returns. However it certainly seems to have found its place in the home entertainment market and has since picked up a lot of enthusiastic fans who clearly hold the movie close to their hearts. Unfortunately from what I can tell it’s a case of ‘you had to be there to get it’, because coming to this movie so late in the day I have to say that I found myself almost entirely resistant to its supposed charms. Read the rest of this entry »

Young Frankenstein (1974) [DVD]

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yooung-frankensteinMel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein is widely hailed as one of the greatest comedy movies of all time, and has been deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” by the United States National Film Preservation Board which means that it has been selected for preservation in the Library of Congress National Film Registry.

Unfortunately I’ve never really appreciated Brooks’ brand of comedy – no, not even for films such as High Anxiety or Blazing Saddles, his pastiches of Hitchcock and western films respectively. Young Frankenstein, as you would probably expect from the title, is another of Brooks’ genre homage/send-ups, this time taking aim at not only Universal Studio’s 1930s franchise of films starring Boris Karloff but also harking back to Mary Shelly’s original novel on which the entire Frankenstein mythos is founded. Read the rest of this entry »

Solace (2015)

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solace-movieApparently Solace originally began life as a script for sequel to David Fincher’s classic film Se7en – but don’t let that get you too excited, because there are only a few echoes of that masterpiece to be found in this terminally average B-movie effort.

To be fair the first half of the film shows promise. FBI agent Joe Merriweather (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is investigating a series of killings involving heavily staged crime scenes. To the annoyance of his partner Katherine Cowles (Abbie Cornish) he decides to bring in help from an old friend with psychic powers of clairvoyance by the name of John Clancy, played by Sir Anthony Hopkins. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hateful Eight (2015) [Blu-ray]

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hatefuleight-0If I’m being entirely honest, I’ve always been somewhat ambivalent about Quentin Tarantino’s films. I loved his début feature Reservoir Dogs, admiring its lean simplicity and its bold and innovative approach to filmmaking. But when it came to Pulp Fiction – a film beloved by pretty much everyone else in the known universe, it seems – I was already tiring of his stylistic tics and a tendency for his films to overstay their welcome. That direction of travel continued through his two-part revenge epic Kill Bill; and even though his more recent films including Django Unchained and Inglorious Bastards have aimed for more serious subject matter and a weightier feel, they’ve still not convinced me that Tarantino is the cinematic genius that he and so many other fans and critics like to claim that he is. Read the rest of this entry »