Monday, 28 November 2016
*and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
Watching and ranking every film Alfred Hitchcock directed (as I did last year) is all well and good, but it does leave you in the depressing position of not having any Alfred Hitchcock films left to watch. Fortunately Hitch predicted that this fate might befall me, so he kindly directed eighteen shorter films to help ease my withdrawal symptoms, and called them "television programmes". These he buried within the 361 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, broadcast between 1955 and 1965, a decade when Hitchcock was arguably at the height of his fame and powers.
By their very nature, these TV episodes were hardly the ideal platform for Hitch to replicate the kind of magic he was then working on cinema screens. Restricted by budget and time, he saw the series more as a lucrative opportunity to expand the Alfred Hitchcock brand, work with some of his favourite casts and crew and, with luck, discover new talent. So while there's none of Rope's technical showboating, or North By Northwest's meticulously devised set-pieces, or Vertigo's chilling psychodrama to be found in these episodes, they do offer the chance to ruminate on where Hitch was at that fascinating stage in his career, which stories appealed to him as a director and where he left his grubby, incriminating fingerprints.
Like much of the series, the episodes Hitch directed often featured murder, crimes of passion and marital woes; usually all three, if possible, glued together with sticky black humour. Short of that, though, it's tricky to identify the director by watching the episodes. Hitch biographer Donald Spoto noted that a handful of them have characters deliver "the stare of madness" - that vacant gaze, assumed while something deeply unpleasant was going on either physically or emotionally - but that's about as Hitchcockian as we get. Even the series' best-regarded episode, The Man From The South (starring Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre), was directed not by the chubby fella with his name in the title but by frequent Hitchcock collaborator Norman Lloyd.
Script: Marian Cockrell Story: John CollierHitch launched the second series of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in incongruously dull fashion, with an episode that ends so drearily he has to rewrite it in his closing monologue. Rope’s Cedric Hardwicke plays a devious patriarch forced to protect the daughter he despises after she murders a lover; John Williams (no, not that one; the moustache-combing inspector of Dial M For Murder) is the unfortunate patsy who Hardwicke incriminates. Hitch directs Tita Purdom and Jerry Barclay to play Hardwicke’s grown-up children as irritating imbeciles so we identify with the exasperated father, but he’s no less annoying than they are, and you wish the whole family had been bludgeoned with a croquet mallet.
Script: James P Cavanagh Story: Arthur WilliamsThe Manchurian Candidate's Laurence Harvey deploys his voice of silk and poison to narrate the story of how his sociopathic character dealt with a particular irritant (the solution involves hungry chickens and an industrial meat-grinder). A pre-Avengers Patrick Macnee co-stars, and the two men make an otherwise rote episode worth watching. That and the unintentionally comical sound effect used to denote the death cry of both a chicken and a human, despite sounding nothing like either.
16. I Saw The Whole Thing
Script: Henry Slesar Story: Henry CecilJohn Forsythe heads up an uneventful courtroom drama (never Hitchcock's forte) as a man accused of manslaughter after a hit and run accident. The only fun to be had is from the performances of the five witnesses, each of whom Forsythe must attempt to discredit: a dizzy blonde, a drunk, an obstinate war veteran, a pompously righteous berk and a sad mom. The twist is a bit shit and nobody seems to give a stuff about the poor bastard who died, but at least John Forsythe wears some nice jackets.
15. Lamb To The Slaughter
Script and Story: Roald DahlBarbara Bel Geddes wallops her old man to death with a leg of lamb the size of a small child, then cooks it and serves it up to the investigating police. And that’s it. There’s a distinct whiff of Lamb To The Slaughter being written because Roald Dahl thought the phrase was amusing, which is a shame given his usual skill at weaving tales of the unexpected from humble beginnings. This was Hitchcock's favourite of all his TV outings, but while it makes for an amusing anecdote it's not quite meaty enough to fill half an hour of telly.
Script: Francis Cockrell Story: Samuel BlasHitch kicked off his big TV project inauspiciously, directing an unengaging whodunnit with an improbable climax and a predictable twist as the very first episode. Ralph Meeker and Vera Miles are newlyweds; he comes home to find her unconscious after a mysterious attack. Typically Hitchcockian police incompetence leads Meeker to take matters into his own hands, with hilarious consequences (lol j/k, the consequences are tragic). The staging is vaguely cinematic and the episode benefits from repeat viewings when you care less about the payoff, but there's little Hitchcock magic here. Only really notable for being the first time Hitch would work with Vera Miles (a professional relationship which would shape his entire future), Revenge is the kind of opener that would get a series axed before the first ad break if it ran today.
13. Banquo's Chair
Script: Francis Cockrell Story: Rupert Croft-CookeA wily copper sets up a dinner party with the specific intention of eliciting a murder confession from one of the guests in this rather humdrum tale. The twist is as old as time (or maybe it originated in the source play, written in 1930), and isn’t particularly well staged by Hitchcock, but just about makes the episode worthwhile. Also features one of many missed opportunities in the series for John Williams – more or less reprising his Dial M For Murder character here – to give his moustache another cheeky comb.
12. The Crystal Trench
Script: Stirling Silliphant Story: AEW MasonThe crystal trench of the title refers to a glacier, which claims a victim in Act I and spits it out again forty years later in Act III, along with an unwelcome secret. An unexceptional episode, made even more so by charisma-free leads James Donald and Patricia Owens, this is nevertheless notable for a) a cameo by an almost unrecognisable Patrick Macnee as a suspiciously accurate forecaster of glacial movement (he predicts the emergence of the body to within a few hours, four decades in advance) and b) bearing a striking resemblance to the premise of 2015 rom-dram 45 Years.
11. Mrs. Bixby And The Colonel's Coat
Script: Halsted Welles Story: Roald DahlMarital infidelity is the catalyst for a gentle but amusing episode in which the titular Mrs Bixby receives the titular coat from the titular Colonel, only for Roald Dahl to twist events towards a satisfying bit of petard-hoisting. Hitch keeps things light and breezy despite a lengthy prologue in which he promises another season of amateur murders, and - considering how Hitch's subversive women usually end up - the episode lets Mrs B off lightly.
10. The Case Of Mr Pelham
Script: Francis Cockrell Story: Anthony ArmstrongNotable for being based on the same story as Roger Moore’s undisputed masterpiece The Man Who Haunted Himself, this episode sees Tom Ewell as the businessman discombobulated by the unwelcome appearance of his doppelgänger. Ewell is suitably mousy and nervous in the role (talking to himself only slightly less than in The Seven Year Itch), but his implied degeneration into madness isn’t given enough time to fully convince, as it does in the feature-length version. The premise is nice and creepy, more Twilight Zoney than Hitchcockian, but there’s little for Hitch to get hold of and make his own.
9. Dip In The Pool
Script: Robert C Dennis Story: Roald DahlA morality tale which proves cheats never prosper; nor, for that matter, do gamblers, liars, bad husbands, boozehounds or men in loud jackets, as one poor sap who happens to be all of the above discovers on a cruise ship. Keenan Wynn plays the improbably-named Mr Botibol (thanks, Roald Dahl), a walking compassion repellent who nevertheless doesn’t quite deserve the fate dealt to him by the story’s final twist. Hitch enjoys shifting our sympathies though, and knows full well we wanted Botibol to get everything his dispassionate creators could throw at him. Anybody would think we’re the bad guys here.
Script: Francis Cockrell & Louis Pollock Story: Louis Pollock
Joseph Cotten plays a stone cold bastard in Hitchcock's second episode; when a car crash leaves him paralysed he soon learns the value of emotions. Wait, come back! It’s much better than that sounds. Hitch busts out some welcome formal experimentation, telling the story almost entirely through Cotten's internal monologue, and you can sense his mischievous glee at taking an actor of that calibre and having him do nothing but stare blankly into space for twenty minutes; this is Spoto's "stare of madness" extended across an entire story. Minus points for the world’s worst coroner though, who can’t distinguish between a corpse and a breathing man with a pulse.
7. The Horseplayer
Script and Story: Henry SlesarHitch takes the opportunity to have a primetime pop at hypocrisy and moral lapses in the Catholic Church, and in the process slips some decidedly irreverent entertainment under the noses of God-fearing viewers everywhere. Claude Rains is, obviously, eminently watchable as the priest trying to plug the holes in the chapel roof, and his furtive glances skyward when presented with a less-than-holy solution are delicious.
Script: Casey Robinson Story: Roald Dahl"There’s a snake in my boots!" says nobody in this episode, because the snake is actually in Harry’s pyjamas, and he daren’t move lest it sinks its poisonous fangs into his gut. Harry’s pal Timber spends the evening deeply unsympathetic to Harry’s plight, so let’s hope for his sake their roles are never reversed, hmm? Hmm? Hitchcock enjoys wringing tension out of both the unseen critter in the bed and Timber’s hair-pulling ambivalence, and Roald Dahl gives his characters enough backstory to lace their words with sinister meaning; seems the poison was there long before the snake was.
5. The Perfect Crime
Script: Stirling Silliphant Story: Ben Ray RedmanAn overly talky two-hander, but when one of those talking hands belongs to Vincent Price you can forgive Hitch for having him yammer on for an entire episode. Price plays a Holmesian detective whose cunning is challenged by a visiting lawyer; while the episode plays out like a Conan Doyle short story for the most part, its climax takes a decidedly Hitchcockian turn. Like John Dall in Rope, Price gets to ruminate on murder as a statement or an art form, but as the director reveals in a typically droll epilogue, there’s never a perfect crime in Hitchworld.
4. Mr Blanchard's Secret
Script: Sarett Rudley Story: Emily NeffJust two years after Rear Window, Hitchcock directed this lesser tale of a nosey parker with an overactive imagination who suspects the neighbour of offing his wife. Hitch enjoys the repeated setups and debunkings of each far-fetched theory, and encourages the audience to suspect everyone in the story of some crime or other at some point. A gentle episode with a darker edge provided by our own expectations, Mr Blanchard’s Secret throws a metatextual light on the effect of crime fiction on suspicious minds.
3. One More Mile To Go
Script: James P Cavanagh Story: FJ SmithThree years before Psycho, Hitchcock directed this eerily familiar episode about an ordinary citizen who commits a crime in the heat of the moment. Unequipped to adequately deal with the consequences, their getaway is hindered by a traffic cop who doesn’t realise their darkest secret is in the car with them, and things only go less smoothly from thereon after. Hitch plays to his silent era strengths in the dialogue-free first act, and obviously enjoys the motif of a troublesome wife who becomes no less troublesome despite her cadaverous status.
2. Bang! You're Dead
Script: Harold Swanton Story: Margery VosperFive-year-old wannabe outlaw Jackie is wandering around town with a gun which he thinks is a toy, but we know he's inadvertently picked up Uncle Rick's loaded revolver. From that simple premise Hitchcock stretches out the tension to snapping point, and he delivers in spades the very lessons in suspense he's been preaching on the big screen for years. A terrific episode, marred only by some bungled editing at the climax which carries a strong whiff of network censorship. So strongly did Hitch feel about the subject matter that his usual flippant closing monologue is replaced with a sombre public service message about gun control in the presence of minors. That was 1961; in 2015, 265 under 18s in the US picked up a firearm and accidentally shot someone. 83 of those shootings were fatal.
1. Back For Christmas
Script: Francis Cockrell Story: John CollierBoasting a loveless marriage, a long-planned murder, genuine comedy suspense and a lip-smacking twist, this episode is the first Hitchcock-directed story in the series to actually feel like a mini Hitchcock film. John Williams is the hen-pecked husband with a flawless plan for a wife-free retirement which, obviously, isn’t quite as flawless as it seems. Williams and his screen missus Isabel Elsom are great, and Hitch magics seat-squirming fun out of a hole in the ground and a rickety stepladder.
Huge thanks to Fabulous Films. Every episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour is currently available on DVD.
Friday, 11 November 2016
When it was announced, then, that Abel Gance's five-and-a-half-hour 1927 biopic of the short dead dude would be screened at the Royal Festival Hall with a full live orchestra, I grabbed the opportunity to reduce my Napoleonic ignorance to socially acceptable levels. My expertise on the subject would still be limited to what somebody kindly placed on a massive screen in front of my face, but at least this new information would be French in origin, and therefore more credible and slightly classier.
Proof that I am not making any of this up
If you're unfamiliar with M. Bonaparte's life story (hahaha you uncultured MORON), allow me to recap the events of Gance's extraordinary film and at the same time highlight some of its, uh, highlights. This post might look like quite long but then people said that about the film, and yet nearly a century after it was made we're still talking about it and celebrating it as a monumental achievement. Sometimes genius takes effort, that's all I'm saying. Let's march into history!
This photo of Wes Anderson may seem incongruous but I saw him just before I took my seat and I really want you to get a sense of what it was like to be there
THE FIRST EPOCH
ACT Iwang hat), as he is for the majority of the film. This makes him easy to spot among the rest of the brats, which is vital when Gance suddenly launches his camera into the fray on a toboggan or whirls it round his head like a loon. There is some seriously innovative shit going down in this scene, not least some frenetic editing, and it very quickly stops feeling like a 90-year-old film and captures the breathless freshness (and showy-offness) of the likes of Hitchcock or Tarantino.
Team Nap win the snowball fight, despite the enemy secreting rocks in their snowballs, thanks to the young leader's preternatural strategic nous. You'd think this would make him popular, but in fact he remains about as well-liked by literally everyone as a baked shit in a croque monsieur. His only friend is his pet eagle; I don't know if most French kids in those days had large, powerful birds of prey as pets but there's a suggestion that the eagle might be some kind of metaphor so I won't dwell on it. Shortly afterwards, Napples gets into a massive scrap with his entire dorm, which is so chaotic it splinters the frame into nine separate images, and it's completely brilliant.
How Michael Bay sees the world
The Napster returns to his homeland of Corsica, which - much to his horror - is about to come under English rule. He stresses the need for the island to remain French, and thereby once again annoys pretty much everyone. A price is put on his head and he is forced to escape to the coast in an amazing sequence which features horse-mounted cameras and all sorts of kinetic whizzbangery that shoves you right into the middle of things. Pausing only to steal a giant Tricolour from the town hall, Napoleon legs it to the sea where he finds a boat with no oars or sail, and in a crowd-pleasingly triumphant moment of unlikely genius he rigs up the flag and uses it as a sail to power his boat away from the army on his tail. I'd like to believe this scene was the inspiration for Roger Moore's Union Jack parachute in The Spy Who Loved Me, and frankly I think Carl Davis missed a trick by not having the orchestra burst into the Bond theme at this point.
Meanwhile, as Napoleon is tossed on the waves of a storm in a jaw-dropping example of early cinema, France is undergoing its own political storm. Fearing that 1920s audiences may not have grasped the allegory, Gance helpfully points it out in an intertitle which may as well have included the phrase "Do you see what I did there?". Not long after, Napoleon drops one of its best gags (of which, surprisingly, there are many) as a coincidentally on-the-scene Horatio Nelson is denied permission to blow Napoleon's boat out of the water. It's funnier in the film, trust me.
INTERMISSIONFeel free to go for a wee at this point, or alternatively do what the large gentleman at the end of my row did and remain in your seat without moving to let anyone past, thereby forcing us all to clamber down a row in order to get to the ruddy bog.
Napoleon's is on the right
END OF THE FIRST EPOCH
You now have 100 minutes to pop next door to Giraffe for dinner or, if money is no object, get a sandwich from the Royal Festival Hall. You are also free to take this opportunity to go home if you're not enjoying yourself, as at least eight people did who were sitting near me. This was great because the old couple next to me had been alternately providing a running commentary on the film and audibly sleeping, so I was glad to see the back of them. Wealthy middle class pensioner audiences in all their Marks & Spencer finery are the absolute worst, they really are.
THE SECOND EPOCH
There's a lot of chit-chat and argy-bargy and ooh-la-la in whatever the French equivalent of the Houses Of Parliament is, and it's tricky to keep track of who's on which side. At some point the general public turn on the revolutionary leaders for overthrowing all the toffs and then sitting on their fat arses eating Camembert, and quite rightly too. Imagine if our leaders presided over an enormous political upheaval and then didn't have a single fucking clue how it was going to work! Why, we'd show them who's really in charge by writing pithy comments of 140 characters or fewer and distributing them to people who thought exactly as we do. That'd show 'em.
Napopo gets disappointingly little screen time while all this is going on. Poor and hungry, he's asked to contribute a plan for invading Austrian-occupied Italy but his ideas are rejected for being too stupid, so he uses them to paper over missing panes of glass in the windows of his Napshack. Not sure what he was intending to do when it rained, but he's the master strategist so I'm sure his little bit of paper will keep him dry somehow. Then, shortly after the Thermidor comes the Vendémiaire (if you don't know what I'm talking about you really are a massive thicko), and Napoleon steps up to lead the revolutionaries against an uprising of Royalists. He does this so sexily that he catches the eye of Josephine, and at a party celebrating his victory he wins her in a game of chess, or something.
The lengths you had to go to to get a date pre-Tinder
Eventually Napoleon and Josephine marry. I was waiting for an amusing wedding-night use of the phrase "Not tonight, Josephine", but evidently Gance hadn't done his research thoroughly enough and it never came (and neither did Josephine, ZINNNNG!). At the same time Violine, a childhood friend of Napoleon's who has fancied him since, like, forever, cries into the definitely-not-weird Napoleon shrine she's constructed in her bedroom. Later on Josephine will discover this shrine in a creepily effective handheld POV scene, the likes of which you rarely see in early cinema. The evidence that Abel Gance visited the future looking for filmmaking tips is stacking up and I am yet to be convinced by his defence, which is simply that he is some kind of genius.
make u think
Nearly there guys. You've got this far so you may as well carry on. Do what I did and get a coffee from EAT to keep you going, but don't do what I did and spill it down your trousers because that's the shittest way to end an experience like this.
ACT IVThe Napman sets off to the Alps to do some hardcore war, but stops en route at the now-deserted Maisons de Parliament, feeling nostalgic for all the great times that were had there. The ghosts and echoes of dead revolutionaries pester him with interview-type questions about his intentions, and he responds with a rousing speech that elicited a spontaneous round of applause in the Royal Festival Hall, particularly this bit:
LOL as if
The pro-European sentiment went down well with the crowd (especially as I'd pegged most of them as Leave voters), although I felt like people seemed to miss the irony in the fact that Napoleon was literally yelling into an echoey chamber like an 18th century French Armando Iannucci on Twitter.
To the Alps, then, and the funnest stretch of this wild and crazy Bonaparty. As Napoleon gives the obligatory rousing pre-battle speech, Gance goes absolutely fucking mental and triples the width of the screen by shooting with two extra cameras. The triptych, as I believe we must call it, is absolutely first class for three reasons: firstly, when the image is expanded it allows a literally wider scope for Gance's remarkable vision; secondly (and thirdly), when Gance places separate images onto the three screens it facilitates clever visual juxtaposition while effectively allowing us to watch an hour of footage in twenty minutes, thereby bringing the prospect of hometime much closer to a reality. Maybe if Gance had deployed this technique earlier I wouldn't have missed Planet Earth II, and would have understood what all the tweets about iguanas and snakes meant, but again I shan't dwell on his faults because he isn't here to defend himself.
ERROR: Triptych is too amazing for blog. Please crop it or reduce resolution
It's a minor disappointment that we see a lot of the buildup to and aftermath of the battle in the final act and not many actual killings, but it hardly matters. Carl Davis' score has gone into full-on pomp mode by now and the triptych has been tinted blue, white and red and everyone in the Royal Festival Hall is in the latter stages of crazed, cabin-fever-induced ecstasy, as no doubt you also are by this point. And so with a final appearance by Napoleon's possibly imaginary eagle and its deeply unconvincing shadow leading the troops home, Abel Gance's Napoleon comes to a rousing climax (unlike Josephine, ZINNNNG!). I sucked myself out of the me-shaped dent in my seat and, following in the diminutive footsteps of Napoleon Bonaparte himself, headed for a rendezvous with destiny at Waterloo. (walked to the tube station)
Clearly this isn't quite the end, because I need to tell you some more things. Firstly, although Carl Davis won't be dragging the Philharmonia Orchestra to selected cinemas across the country, you can see this quite incredible film and hear his score at a film-o-plex near you from today (assuming you're reading this on November 11th 2016). And if you'd like to be able to watch it naked but your cinema of choice frowns on the freedom to bare all, it's out on Blu-ray and DVD on November 21st. The home entertainment release is a thing of immaculate beauty, and although it does not contain this blog post as a special feature (too highbrow for the "BFI", no doubt), it does include the following:
- A lovely interview with Carl Davis about how great he is
- A featurette on the restoration presented by a BFI archivist who, fantastically, wears a white lab coat with three pens neatly clipped into the breast pocket
- A 1968 BBC documentary on Abel Gance which, amazingly, features actual behind-the-scenes footage of him directing Napoleon in 1927. Why didn't Hitchcock do that? Slacker.
- Some stills and what have you
- A commentary (which, at five and a half hours, I confess I haven't listened to in full. Or at all)
- Most excitingly, each panel of the triptych is presented by itself on a disc of its own. This means that if you can find three DVD players and three 4:3 TVs you can, in theory, line them up and play the final act as it was meant to be seen (not on three 4:3 TVs you understand, but with the extended width and no loss of height).
OK, that's definitely the end now. Well done if you made it this far. As a reward, here's my favourite picture of Napoleon. À bientôt!
Friday, 4 November 2016
See if you can guess where I'm heading with this.
Spectre was a big deal for me. Skyfall seemed to get so much right in terms of balancing old and new, tradition and surprise, character and Massive Fuckoff Explosions, that to get Sam Mendes back for another go seemed like an idea that could not possibly fail. Furthermore, through a combination of incessant Bond waffle from my direction and sheer dumb luck, I found myself reporting on the film from the Mexico set for Empire magazine, a bucket-list event which to this day I can't quite believe actually took place. But it did, I've got hundreds of photos to prove it. Come round one day, we'll have a slideshow.
He was even happier to see me than Pierce Brosnan was that time
I outlined a lot of what Spectre gets calamitously wrong in my immediate reaction, bashed out after a preview screening just over a year ago, so I won't repeat myself here. Not much, anyway. I saw the film again a few days later at the premiere, and, having dramatically lowered my expectations, found it just as flawed but not quite so distressingly average. But in the past twelve months I haven't been able to face it again. In fact such was its impact on me that, aside from a desperately needed go on Licence To Kill to remind myself why I love James Bond, I haven't watched a single 007 adventure in all that time. That is unheard of in these parts, let me tell you.
So exactly one year to the day since my first viewing, I gave Spectre another go. Surely, with a year's distance between us, the Bond films and I could reunite, rediscover what we did for each other and enjoy some unbelievable yet firmly metaphorical make-up sex. When I casually mentioned on Twitter that I was planning a rewatch, I received a smattering of ambiguous responses:
@IncredibleSuit I tried recently. Gave up after the opening.— Olly Gibbs (@ollyog) October 22, 2016
@IncredibleSuit Yeah good luck with that.— Gray (@gray) October 22, 2016
@IncredibleSuit Sorry, Neil. It'll still be shite.— Matt Bone (@BoneyAbroad) October 22, 2016
@IncredibleSuit it's shit. Accept it.— James Catton (@jimmycatton) October 22, 2016
@IncredibleSuit just no.— Alex Beattie (@alexpcbeattie) October 22, 2016
@IncredibleSuit It's bad. Hope that helps— Tom Court (@machotrouts) October 22, 2016
I felt like people were trying to tell me something, though I couldn't quite put my finger on exactly what it was, so I pressed on with an open mind and a full wine glass. Alas (and I wish Twitter had made some effort to warn me), it turns out Spectre is still a distressingly average film, and therefore an unacceptably substandard Bond film. I'll be surprised if I ever get round to watching it again. So what went wrong? Apart from - as mentioned in my previous review - the monotony of the narrative, the awful theme song, the unsettling location-hopping, the appalling treatment of Monica Bellucci, the shittest henchman since the one nobody remembers from Tomorrow Never Dies, the sterile fights and chases, the cack-handed retconning of the previous three films, the repetitive guff about the 00 section being obsolete, the inexplicable volte-face of Madeleine Swann's attitude to Bond, Christoph Waltz's bored performance and Thomas Newman's unforgivably lazy score? I could go on, but I won't.
Like most Bond films, Spectre gives its opening sequence everything, and I do love that four-minute unbroken shot, despite the knowledge that it was stitched together from four takes, shot weeks and miles apart from each other. But like the building Bond manages to blow up, the film comes crumbling down around his ears from there on. The helicopter sequence is the first warning sign: the fight choreography is dull; you can practically see the green screen out of the window; the lack of music under it removes any sense of danger (and when the score does begin it's a cue lifted directly from Skyfall); the much-trumpeted loop-the-loop is shot as if by a bystander on their phone (obviously not the Sony Xperia Z5) and cuts away before it even finishes. And then Sam Smith comes along to squeak a strong contender for the series' worst theme song over some mild tentacular erotica, as if everyone involved in the film has lost their fucking mind.
There's some enjoyable, albeit brief, fan-service in the first act: the first antagonistic meeting between Bond and M in a wood-panelled office since The Living Daylights is most welcome, and only the third recorded sighting of the inside of Bond's flat is a fun bit of production design. Intended to mirror the psyche of Craig's Bond (sparse, functional, unemotional), the set does a similar job to those that reveal Connery's 007 in Dr. No (classic, angular, golf-oriented) and Moore's in Live And Let Die (vulgar, gadget-obsessed, bit porny). Even the Order Of Temporary Guardianship Moneypenny drops off is worth pausing the Blu-ray over, containing as it does the names of Bond's Aunt Charmian and Hannes Oberhauser, both characters from Fleming's books (although Oberhauser was never Bond's legal guardian and he certainly didn't have a snot-nosed son called Franz who went mental when James turned up).
After that, sadly, everything else is lacklustre and uncharacteristically inert, as if someone's forgotten to wind the film up before letting it go. Much of Bond's dialogue consists of clipped, cursory answers like "I can hardly wait", "That sounds marvellous", "I completely understand" or "Of course", delivered in a way that's meant to sound sardonic but just comes across as bored. Rubbish thug Mr Hinx has the mysterious power to make all the extras in his set-pieces disappear (where is the population of Rome at midnight? What happened to all the people on the train?). The biggest explosion ever captured on film somehow manages to be so flat that it barely ruffles Léa Seydoux's hair.
But Spectre's biggest crime is its feeble attempt to slot into the plots of the previous three films; a device so lame in its inception and execution that it is an unfathomable mystery why nobody in the film's production ever stopped to think about just how dumb it was. Oberhauser / Blofeld's "It's always been me" speech is such absolute bullshit it makes me cross just thinking about it. It makes literally no sense that he was in any way behind any of the events of Casino Royale, Quantum Of Solace or Skyfall, and the very notion not only makes Spectre look stupid, it retroactively renders those three films nonsensical too, which really is quite the achievement. And let's not even get into Blofeld's dunderheaded plan to tell Bond everything, then make him forget everything (wuh?), then kill him (eh?). People complain about the villain in Quantum Of Solace, but at least that guy wasn't a total fucking moron.
That said, it could have been worse. Spectre's script was notoriously leaked during filming, and while I would never condone obtaining and reading it, I did somehow come across a bunch of other ideas intended to demonstrate how Blofeld had been the author of all Bond's pain. They didn't make it into the finished film, but maybe they should have:
Ten more examples of Bond's pain which were authored by Blofeld:
From now on, then, I would like to impose a rule on the James Bond films: each new actor who plays Bond must do three films in ten years. No more, no fewer. A cursory glance at the Bond back catalogue demonstrates the genius of this idea: no Thunderball, no Moonraker, no Die Another Day, no Spectre, plus we'd have had one more film with Timothy Dalton in it (ignore George Lazenby, he buggers up my otherwise foolproof plan). As much as I've enjoyed Daniel Craig as Bond (he's far and away the best thing about Spectre, even when he's at his most monosyllabic), I think it's time he went. And he can take the bloody DB5 with him.
And finally: There is no 'And finally'. As if to hammer its rubbishness home, Spectre doesn't even have a decent double entendre making reference to James Bond's penis. What a load of old cock.
BlogalongaBond might return
What the hell is BlogalongaBond? I'll tell you.
Wednesday, 19 October 2016
Well that's that for another year. The 60th London Film Festival is over, and so is my all-encompassing coverage of 4.9% of all the films it had to offer. Join me again next year when we hope to break the magic 5% barrier!
Lonergan's skill is in making the everyday dramatic without ever tipping into melodrama, eschewing formalities like distinct acts or character arcs that might lead you to believe you're watching a movie movie. His knack for writing, directing and editing scenes of superficial tedium which are never less than compelling is uncanny, and he's aided enormously by Affleck and Michelle Williams, who - despite essentially replaying her Blue Valentine character here - is literally incapable of being unwatchable. Kyle Chandler, too, threatens to typecast himself as the go-to big brother seen in two series of Bloodline, but he's forgiven because he's exactly the big brother you'd want. On a personal note, if you're going to double-bill Manchester By The Sea with La La Land like I inadvertently did, watch this one first. The other way round is like eating dessert before the main course.
Written and directed with quiet intensity by Gareth Tunley, The Ghoul is an unsettling depiction of a troubled soul, and dares to tackle a subject all too rarely examined in mainstream cinema. What begins as a modern-day Holmesian detective yarn swiftly mutates into something else entirely: a weird, woozy headscratcher that probes the darkest corners of its protagonist's psyche and presents its findings with appropriately disorientating perplexity. While it suffers from the odd casting decision that can only have helped it get made in the first place, Tunley's film is a layered, metaphor-laden, smartly-constructed puzzle which loops around on itself like the Möbius strip motif at its core. If you can, once the credits roll, watch the beginning again and see if you can spot where the story ends. Good luck.
For a high-profile proponent of the mockumentary style, Guest just can't seem to be arsed with it this time. A smattering of faux-interviews are about as mocku- as it gets, the rest of the film shot in the style of any other bland and unspectacular comedy. The only thing that's consistent is that blandness, which characterises every joke in the script: attempts to skewer political correctness are weak; a British entrant in the competition is a poor man's David Brent; Guest briefly reprises his role as Waiting For Guffman's Corky St Clair, an appalling gay stereotype who, in one shot, is seen doing needlepoint AND THAT'S THE JOKE. Every film I've seen at this year's London Film Festival has been funnier than Mascots, and that includes the one about the dying parent and the one about the suicidal newscaster.