No Time To Die (2021)

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As I’ve mentioned from time to time, the only films I always make a point of seeing at the cinema rather than waiting for them on home media are the latest entries in the Star Trek, Star Wars and James Bond franchises. With the first two currently on cinematic hiatus and focused on small screen spin-offs it leaves Bond as the last man standing, but with coronavirus still looming large in the mind and given the eye-watering price of post-pandemic movie tickets I was genuinely unsure if I would maintain my four-decade long tradition of seeing the latest instalment on the big screen.

In the end that enduring emotional commitment won out, aided by the wide diversity of critical and fan reviews that has made it impossible to get a consensus view on whether No Time To Die is any good or not. With verdicts ranging from “a masterpiece” to “a complete dud” it resembled On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (the previous entry in the series that it arguably most closely resembles) in running the full gamut of responses. Having seen it, I would argue – much as I always have with OHMSS, actually – that the truth lies away from the extremes and somewhere in the middle. To put this into the context of the five Daniel Craig films: it’s a considerable improvement on Spectre let alone the universally (if somewhat unfairly) derided Quantum of Solace, but falls short of matching Casino Royale let alone the pinnacle of the entire 007 series that I judge Skyfall in being. Anyone driven away from the midline response toward one end of the spectrum or other is probably doing so in response to the way the film tackles head-on various controversial aspects of the Bond mythos often raised by fans, such as whether the character could ever be played by a woman or by a person of colour.

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Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase 2

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Contains some spoilers, but tries to avoid the really big ones

Longtime readers of this blog may recall my problem with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in that I fell so far behind in the unrelenting run of films that I eventually gave up and just let the MCU ship sail on without me. However I did make an attempt to get back on board by watching all of the seven Phase 1 films (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger and Avengers Assemble) in the first half of 2019, with the full expectation and intention of moving on to Phase 2 later in the year or early in 2020.

Unfortunately that didn’t happen. You’d think that the advent of coronavirus and the global lockdown would have made this easy to do, but in fact the reverse was true. Thoroughly distracted by real life, I never got around to watching any more MCU films during that period. But finally, with things returning to normal in the world, I once again felt the pull of destiny to get me back on target with the next sequence of Marvel’s superhero juggernaut. Surprisingly this consists of just six films in total, of which I’d actually previously seen and reviewed two. But let’s start at the beginning, which returns to the safe shores of the very first entry of the MCU franchise…

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Tenet (2020)

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Contains some spoilers

Given the impact of coronavirus on the entertainment and hospitality sectors, it’s no surprise that the film industry has been particularly badly hit since March. Some films have had limited runs in socially distanced cinemas while others have been released on streaming services, but the overwhelming majority of studios have pulled first-run films hoping for better conditions in 2021. Among those playing safe is the new James Bond film, originally scheduled to come out in April, then pushed back to November, and now hoping for a release in 2021. As for Marvel? No superheroes for us anytime soon it seems, they’re sitting the pandemic out.

The one blockbuster that dared stick its head above the parapet and go for it this year was Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, a high-concept genre film in the style of Inception and Interstellar rather than the more conventional Dunkirk, and sharing those films’ fascination with playing with time – something that goes back to Nolan’s first full-length feature film Momento. I confess that Tenet didn’t tempt me back into the cinema at the time, but the home media release came just in time for Christmas and so that was my choice of viewing over the holidays while others watched Strictly Come Dancing and Call The Midwife.

There’s a strong case that Tenet is best experienced with as little advance knowledge as possible, and to an extent I agree. However I also find that a lack of basic information about a film puts me off going to see it. And in the specific case of Tenet, one of the big complaints is that it’s so complex and baffling (and with sections of hard-to-hear dialogue) that it’s impossible to understand on first viewing, so perhaps a little briefing ahead of time is a good thing. It’s your call when it comes to deciding whether or not to read the reist of this review. Read the rest of this entry »

Quantum of Solace (2008) [Blu-ray]

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The 2008 film Quantum of Solace is probably my least-watched entry in the James Bond franchise. The earliest films – Connery and Moore – I must have seen dozens of times each, but with Quantum it’s possible that I haven’t viewed it since I was profoundly disappointed seeing it at the cinema at the time of its original release. I’ve felt no need to revisit it, because it had been such a disappointing experience first time around.

But this week I did finally get around to watching the film again. And I’m going to do something I rarely have cause to do here on Taking The Short View, which is: to change my mind quite radically, with an apology to the film for more than ten years of ill feelings that it turns out – much to my amazement – it didn’t altogether deserve. Read the rest of this entry »

The Empire Strikes Back Hits 40!

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The news that this month marks the 40th anniversary of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back would definitely have made me feel very old, if only I hadn’t already felt positively ancient long before this. Can it really be four decades since one of my all-time favourite films first premiered? In my mind I still think of it as being “the new Star Wars film” even after all these years!

Naturally our friends over at Generation Star Wars are celebrating the occasion in their usual understated fashion, bouncing around the place like a bunch of three-year-olds overdosing on industrial quantities of Haribo. Or maybe that’s just down to me feeling old again? Baby Yoda is proving to be a particular troublemaker, I can tell you!

Happily, I was honoured to be asked to contribute to a discussion with long-time friend of Taking The Short View and frequent collaborator John Hood to discuss our memories of the film – possibly the best cinematic sequel of all time? – as well as what we remember of the first time we saw it, and some of the happy days we had with all those 1980s toys and merchandise.

Read the full post on Generation Star Wars here

Back to the Future (1985) [Blu-ray]

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Despite the fact these days that it’s a truth universally acknowledged that Back to the Future is one of the all-time classic movies of the science fiction genre – of which I was a huge fan, especially in the 1980s – there’s nothing particularly unusual or especially noteworthy in the revelation that it was a film I completely missed out on seeing at the time in the cinema. The same thing happened with Raiders of the Lost Ark after all, and in both cases I ended up seeing their sequels on the big screen years before finally catching up with the originals. In fact it took me almost 20 years before I finally got around to watching the first Indiana Jones film properly; and the truly horrifying admission is that it’s taken be almost twice as long to finally get around to cueing up Back to the Future for viewing.

I’d always intended to watch the film one day. It’s just that ‘one day’ didn’t come around until this week, nearly 35 years after the film’s original theatrical release. And it’s not like I have a good excuse for my tardiness: the film has been endlessly rerun on television and easily available on home media for decades. As a result of cinematic osmosis over the years I’ve become familiar with all its key ingredients: from Marty McFly to Doc Brown, the time travelling DeLorean and the flaming tyre tracks, the small-town square with the eternally stopped courthouse clock, and the accidental invention of rock ‘n’ roll at the school dance. In fact in many ways I ended up knowing the film too well despite never having seen it. Instead I developed a version of it in my own mind that was exclusive to me: it was just something that we used to do things back then, in the days before ubiquitous home media availability made that sort of memory reconstruction and retention surplus to requirements.

Perhaps that partly explains why ‘one day’ was pushed further and further back, for fear that watching the real thing wouldn’t measure up to the idealised version that lived in my head. But still, I’m the first to admit that leaving it 35 years was really getting a bit ridiculous. It’s a longer gap in time than Marty McFly travels into the past in the film itself! So this week I retrieved the Blu-ray that’s been sitting on my shelf for the last ten years (and which in turn had replaced an earlier, similarly unwatched DVD boxset), inserted it into the player and finally pressed ‘play’ with crossed fingers that after all this time and anticipation it wouldn’t turn out to be a crushing disappointment. Read the rest of this entry »

Knives Out (2019) [DVD]

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They really don’t make films like this anymore. And I mean that quite literally. Once upon a time cinema was full of crime stories, film noirs, paranoid suspense thrillers, police procedurals and whodunnits. But those days are long past and today such fare has been consigned to the small screen, replaced by explosive blockbusters, bombastic superhero films and dazzling science fiction franchises. When stalwarts such as Sherlock Holmes or Hercules Poirot do venture back into cinemas it’s invariably as radically amped-up versions of their old selves possessed of near-superhuman mental and physical prowess.

Knives Out is testament to writer-director Rian Johnson’s current standing in Hollywood, that he was able to get this relatively small scale passion project off the ground and to bring such an impressive Hollywood A-list cast along for the ride. And you can see why something so comfortingly familiar, small-scale and old-fashioned would appeal to Johnson as a way of recovering from the critical bruising he took from his work on the divisive Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi.

The film is firmly and knowingly located in Agatha Christie territory, harking back not just to the Finney/Ustinov Poirot films of the 70s and 80s but also the likes of the socially biting Sleuth and the playful Deathtrap. and more recently with Downton Abbey forebear Gosford Park. Each of these films delivered a murder mystery with a healthy side serving of comedy, and it was indeed in the comedy category that Knives Out won a handful of Golden Globe Awards in 2019. But here the humour is generally subtle and wry (one scene has a suspect in back of shot trying to throw away a key piece of evidence, only for a friendly guard dog to see it as a game of fetch and dutifully return it to the crime scene) and not nearly as broad as, for example, Neil Simon’s Murder By Death which comprehensively parodied and skewered every known detective archetype then in existence. Read the rest of this entry »

Ad Astra [2019]

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Contains some spoilers

As regular readers of this blog will know, I don’t tend to get to the cinema that often these days, outside of the latest James Bond, Star Wars or Star Trek instalments. But I do try and make an effort for a certain strain of intelligent science fiction films, such as Arrival or Gravity, which really do require a big screen viewing to see them at their best. A few months ago I figured that Ad Astra would be worthy of such an out-of-the-usual theatrical outing, especially since it was getting four- and five-star reviews from critics and was being talked about as a possible Oscar contender.

Sadly, I was badly mistaken. And sure enough, that Oscar buzz also soon fizzled out entirely to the extent where even a pity nomination for sound mixing seems overly generous.

But let’s start at the beginning: Ad Astra is the latest high-concept film to use a spectacular science fiction backdrop to undertake a significantly more intimate discussion about more down-to-earth human issues. In this case, it boils down to Major Roy McBride travelling halfway across the solar system to take care of his daddy issues, which have left him emotionally repressed and unable to sustain mature, intimate relationships with his estranged wife (Liv Tyler). But on the other hand his extraordinary calmness in extreme conditions has done wonders for his professional life, as demonstrated in the thrilling opening sequence which is probably the most successful of the entire film. Read the rest of this entry »

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

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Longtime readers of Taking The Short View will know that I don’t get to go to the cinema very often these days, but that solid exceptions to the rule are the latest entries in the James Bond, Star Trek and Star Wars franchises. The latest of the latter series – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – opened just before Christmas but it’s taken until now for me to actually get to see it. Miraculously I had managed to avoid any major detailed spoilers, and it’s in that same spirit that I offer this review although those seeking an entirely spoiler-free review may care to look elsewhere – just a gentle advance warning.

I confess, I’d been a little trepidatious about this movie. Partly that’s due to all the expectations riding on it as the climax of a series that has captivated me and millions (billions?) of other fans who have been on this journey since 1977. But it’s also because the few comments I did hear about the film in advance of seeing it suggested that the studio had given into agitated fans who had been vicious about the previous instalment. They suggested that Star Wars: The Last Jedi had been effectively erased from canon existence and retroactively rewritten to placate that section of fandom unable to deal with anything new and challenging and only want something warm, cosy and familiar. That really annoyed me, as I had genuinely loved and respected the previous film for trying something new and different. Now I feared that the ninth episode would capitalate and retreat back into the safety of being yet another tame refurb of the original movie, as Star Wars: The Force Awakens had largely been.

My viewing of the film this week did not start well. Read the rest of this entry »

Universal Horror: The Invisible Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Old Dark House

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When it comes to my home media collection, the Universal Horror franchise is probably one of the longest ongoing ‘relationships’ that I’ve had, perhaps second only to the decade and a half spent picking up classic Doctor Who stories on DVD.

I originally watched the 1930s and 40s horror classics when I was a teenager, when they were shown as a series of late night double bills on Channel 4. Sadly they then disappeared from the schedules (too hokey and creaky for modern audiences, no doubt) and it wasn’t until 2004 that a DVD boxset of 14 assorted Dracula, Frankenstein and Wolf Man films plus one-offs from The Mummy, Phantom of the Opera, Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Invisible Man was released which I eagerly picked up despite the frankly exorbitant price. The rather excellent busts of the three top monsters included in the set actually made it worthwhile, and they still have pride of place on my shelf to this day.

After that it was nearly a decade before Universal released eight of their main classic monster films on the Blu-ray format as the Essential Collection (see review). The high definition restorations were truly spectacular, and far beyond what I had thought possible given the age and quality of the original materials. The only problem was that a lot of my favourite sequels such as Son of Frankenstein that had been in the original DVD boxset had been omitted. Read the rest of this entry »

Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase 1

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Regular readers of Taking The Short View can hardly have missed my many mentions of how far behind I have fallen in my viewing ot the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. For the record, those are the 22 movies to date that have been produced by Marvel Studios in-house since 2008, as opposed to those made under license by other companies such as Sony’s Spider-Man entries and Fox’s X-Men, Deadpool and Fantastic Four films.

After falling off the MCU wagon very early on, I was never quite able to catch up and climb back on. I always intended to do so when I had the time, but the longer it went on the bigger the task became and the more I put it off – especially when the films accelerated from at most a couple per year to the current three or four in rapid succession. The latest, Avengers: Endgame came out just six weeks after Captain Marvel while its predecessor was still in the UK Box Office top three.

Locked out of the main continuity I limited myself to watching those films such as Guardians of the Galaxy that didn’t connect directly into the overarching MCU narrative. But they became few and far between, and when I finally totted up which of the MCU films I had seen, the situation was even worse than I had realised: of those 22 films, I had seen … Four. Ouch. Or epic fail, you might say. Clearly something had to be done! So the last few weeks I’ve been trying to address the situation, viewing an MCU film on average every other week with the aim being to get through the first six films which between them comprise what is currently referred to as Phase 1 of Marvel’s remarkable franchise.

And now I’m here to send dispatches from the front line of that ongoing catch-up campaign. I should add that there are spoilers, but given that these films are so old that they are practically historical texts I dare say that this won’t trouble any up-to-date reader. Read the rest of this entry »

Golden Oldie Movies: Khartoum, The Night of the Generals, The Andromeda Strain, Horror Express

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I’ll be honest, I’ve gone off modern day big screen entertainment in the last couple of years and haven’t made a trip to the local Odeon since Solo – A Star Wars Story. Recent films just haven’t appealed to me, bearing in mind that I’m so far behind in watching Marvel Cinematic Universe films that pretty much the whole genre of superhero films is out-of-bounds to me at this point.

But in recent weeks I realised that I have instead been watching a number of films on Blu-ray from the late 60s or early 70s. That’s around 50 years old in other words, which is actually too far back to have been films I remember from my childhood since I wasn’t nearly old enough to see such fare at the cinema back then – if I’d even born at all!

I thought I’d write up brief reviews of four of these films, which are quite varied in nature while also very much of their time. They certainly won’t be for everyone but hopefully there’s be at least a little something for everyone with the selection… Read the rest of this entry »

Annihilation (2018) [DVD]

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Contains some mild/implied spoilers

I’m a huge fan of writer-director Alex Garland, whose Ex Machina was one of my favourite films of 2014. So I was a bit irked to find that I’d missed his follow-up offering Annihilation which for the life of me I couldn’t remember doing the rounds at the local cinema.

I was somewhat mollified to find out that in fact the film apparently bypassed a theatrical release in the UK and was offered here instead exclusively via Netflix. Since I’m not a subscriber to that particular streaming service, I would have had to wait for its release on old fashioned DVD and Blu-ray home media in any case, which it turned out happened to be earlier this month.

The film, based on a novel by Jeff VanderMeer, features Natalie Portman as Lena, a former US Army soldier who is now a leading cellular-biology professor. She’s in mourning for her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) who left on a top secret covert military mission a year ago and hasn’t been heard of again since. Except now he turns up, a shell of the man she remembers and also seriously ill. Lena sets out to find out what happened to him in the hope that she can find a cure, and her search takes her into a strangely warped area of Florida land in which the natural laws of reality no longer apply after a meteorite impacted the shoreline three years previously. Read the rest of this entry »

The Snorkel (1958)

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Hammer is best known for its decades of hugely successful horror output including the genuine classics Dracula and Curse of Frankenstein, but it wasn’t always like that. The studio had been set up in 1934 and produced a long line of largely unremarkable British movies, before developing a penchant for making film versions of hit television shows.

One such was Nigel Kneale’s BBC serial The Quatermass Experiment which proved Hammer’s stepping stone into the horror genre. But in 1958 this direction was far from set in stone, and the company was still producing films in many different genres including crime and psychological thrillers.

One of these was The Snorkel, and the ludicrous title is probably the reason why you will not have heard of it before – I certainly hadn’t. It completely fails to convey the fact that this is a gripping and actually rather dark affair which if you approach in the right spirit and stick with it to the end proves remarkably tense and chilling. Read the rest of this entry »

Solo – A Star Wars Story (2018)

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Contains no plot spoilers

Long time readers of this blog, if there are such things, will know that I rarely go to the cinema these days. The only films that can tempt me back to the multiplex tend to be the latest instalments in the Star Trek, James Bond and Star Wars franchises and then mainly for sentimental reasons – not having missed a new theatrical release in any of the three series since the late 1970s.

I was starting to think that Solo – A Star Wars Story was about to be the one that finally got away. A busy period of work meant I didn’t have time to get to the cinema for several weeks after it came out (and is also the reason for the lack of new posts here, for which I can only apologise), and its growing reputation as a commercial flop for Disney meant that it was already being ushered out of the local Odeon in favour of evermore superheroes and dinosaurs.

This week was probably my final chance to see Solo on the big screen – and to be honest, I was sort of non-plused about the whole idea anyway and not even sure if I wanted to make the trip. But I did, and I’m glad I did, because I can report with no little relief that I enjoyed the film. Read the rest of this entry »