Entrapment (1999)

Jon Amiel directs Sean Connery, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Ving Rhames in this heist thriller where an aged art thief plans a job with a supple young insurance investigator.

Flat and rote, lacking peril, glamour or romance.

2

Thunder Road (2018)

Jim Cummings directs himself, Nican Robinson and Jocelyn DeBoer in this comedy drama where a simple and frustrated small town cop has a series of breakdowns after his mother dies and his ex-wife sues for sole custody of their daughter.

Essentially a series of one-man show monologues from an awkward, desperate soul we are supposed to find sweet and endearing. While there are other characters and jolts of action, this most often feels like a one-man piece of Fringe theatre cinematised. If you go with it you’ll find its manipulations and indie palette pleasing. I found Cumming’s delivery of intense, haphazard, half sentence monologues draining by the end of the first scene. Not entirely sure I had much sympathy for a uniform policeman prone to violence and self delusion nor the particularly bad taste device that is kickstarted in the final scenes to set his life back on track. I can see what it was going for, see why people like it, but it wasn’t for me.

5

I’m All Right Jack (1959)

Roy Boulting directs Ian Carmichael, Peter Sellers and Terry-Thomas in this British satire where a hapless posho finds himself infiltrating a factory union.

I had higher hopes for this. I just expected, given its classic status, it might have been laugh out loud funny. There’s a stellar cast of British comedy stalwarts and a fair bit of sauce. It often feels like a slightly more intelligent Carry On film. The unsung Irene Handl and Liz Fraser make the best impression as Seller’s dotty but wise wife and their glamorous sexpot daughter. And the satire swipes in every direction. The owner class happy to destroy workers’ rights, productivity and the economy to make sweat free short sighted profits rings true still. The union of professional skivers dodging any and all work has an Only Fools and Horses cheekiness to it but does feel like punching down given the plummy tone of the direction.

6

Oklahoma (1955)

Fred Zinnemann directs Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones and Gloria Grahame in the Rogers and Hammerstein musical about cowpokes duking it out over a belle.

Bright, jaunty technicolor larks on the surface but a toxic darkness lingers underneath. Two men fight for ownership of a lady while Grahame’s simpleton slut (a highlight) creates her own love triangle. It is big and distracting but has not aged particularly well in pace or politics.

6

Movie of the Week: The Killer (1989)

John Woo directs Chow Yun Fat, Danny Lee and Sally Yeh in this Hong Kong Gun-Fu action classic where a classy hitman falls for a singer he accidentally blinds in a hit and catches the attentions of a philosophical cop.

Possibly the first foreign language film I fell in love with as I became a movie fanatic. Relentless balletic shootouts, stylised editing, wonderful sentimentality. YES, PLEASE! A lot of Woo’s trademark flourishes now seem like camp cliches. But here they have a true poetry among the brutality. Is it unintentionally homoerotic? Yes… very much so… but Chow Yun-Fat is a mystifyingly attractive movie star – gorgeous, suave, a little clownish. This is his signature turn. No wonder everyone in the film wants him – gender and sexuality be damned. But it is the action that has aged the best. Woo is an artist with chaotic squibs, a master with hectic speed. I was a little disappointed the subtitle translation for this DVD had been sanitised / made authentic. I grew up with far dafter names attributed to the leads on the Tartan VHS I cherished. I mean… Who the fuck is “Ah Jong”? I want Jeff. Jeff the badass with a sniper rifle and a fake moustache. Jeff was the absolute boy.

10

Cats (2019)

Tom Hooper directs Francesca Hayward, Jennifer Hudson and Judi Dench in this big screen adaptation of the Broadway / West End smash about cats having a competition over who deserves to be top cat.

I don’t really do schadenfreude. If everyone says a movie is terrible I don’t buy a ticket hoping to rubberneck. I’ve never been to see The Room, I enjoy Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glen Or Glenda for their enthusiasm and DIY ambition, I really, really rate Batman V Superman as an overlooked modern classic. I go in to damaged goods hoping for a unique experience, and while I’m unwilling to be contrary for the sake of it, very few movies are beyond redemption, especially pre-ordained massacres. Cats has some nice misty neon set design, if you watch it with soft eyes rather than harsh eyes, there are visual pleasures lost in the poor FX work… Listen, there’s a very camp Night Train cat who tap dances a bit of spunk into proceedings long after you’ve given up. And that’s about all I can salvage from this monstrosity.

How can something so awful be so boring? The plot is “Meet a singing cat, now meet another singing cat, now meet another singing cat, and a pair of singing cats, and just one more singing cat… ok… meet eight more singing cats… just meet them one at a time…!” What significance do all these Cats have on the story? There isn’t one. Some Cats are horrendously miscast (Idris Elba and Ray Winstone), others have the dead eyed look of having been in one of these familiar doomed productions before (Dench and Ian McKellen) and you can see them gritting their teeth, counting their money in their head and motoring down their efforts to an uncommitted minimum. The lead Cat has nothing to do, barely any lines, except to continually be pushed aside by the next arrival and convulse out the occasional incongruous pirouette.

Any film with both of the blunt force trauma personalities of Rebel Wilson & James Corden in prominent roles is going to struggle to align itself with audiences. I know Hollywood has a semi for both of them but their continued employment is one of those aberrations that will be difficult to explain to future generations like Brexit, climate change denial and Ladbaby. And they prove unavoidable in this repellent stain. Interestingly, their CGI is the worst, so I’m guessing the highly paid MoCap animators couldn’t face another month looking at their bludgeoning performances and gave up adding convincing fur and whiskers.

What about the singing powerhouse talent? Taylor Swift and Jennifer Hudson are the poorest beggars at the rotten feast. T-Swift gets late drafted a duff, unmemorable number. They play their queen piece of casting when she has no power. Hudson meanwhile has to perform with a distracting slug of snot permanently on her top lip. She gets the only banger in the song book, Memories, but it is delayed and interrupted. Like The Last Jedi’s epic final battle you are way too knackered by all the unnecessary preamble to appreciate it. Like Aquaman, everything has all been so fake, trite and forced that you have no investment in the conclusion. For a film to squander its best show-stopping song through sheer grinding boredom is quite the feat.

Cats should never have been made, some sensible executive, studio head or creative should have figured out no element translates well to contemporary cinema. At least the hipsters have something to bray about. Blood in the water that is more than just chum. There’s a sack of struggling Cats for the snark sharks to devour. The rest of us just wanted a gaudy musical.

2

Jojo Rabbit (2020)

Taika Waititi directs Roman Griffin Davis, Sam Rockwell and Scarlett Johannson in this WW2 comedy where a little lad in the Hitler Youth imagines his best friend to be Adolf himself.

A colourful romp that hits loads of lovely laughs in its first hour but maybe lurches into tragedy and self-importance a little too heavily for the final act. I get it. We are dealing with big issues here – fanaticism and doing the right thing when you’ve been brainwashed otherwise. Ethics. Morals. Big chew aside, it is at its best when just being exuberantly daft. It showcases another brilliant Sam Rockwell turn and a great one scene comic masterclass by Stephen Merchant. Scarlett Johannson is zippier, maturer and warmer than is her norm. The kid performances are sweet but CBBC-esque with only Thomasin McKenzie from Leave No Trace showing any dramatic range. As for Hitler himself, Waititi leans into the buffoonish hubris well. Selling him as a Beatles equivalent rock’n’roll icon in the opening credits is a master stroke of scene setting – he understands the pull of hype, pageantry, mass hysteria and branding.

7

Little Women (2019)

Greta Gerwig directs Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh and Emma Watson in this modern adaptation of the classic novel about four sisters growing up in Civil War Massachusetts.

I must have read a babyfied abridged version of Louisa May Alcott’s classic as a child. The adored story’s turns and moments are so familiar to me and they felt familiar back during the Winona Ryder adaptation in the 1990s. This approaches that over squeezed text with energy and verve. Equal parts reverential and inventive. Boring, dated and overplayed elements are shuffled around and diminished or refashioned. It says a lot about Greta Gerwig the director that you knew what her intentions, strengths, worldview and personality were straight off the bat during Lady Bird. That she felt like the directorial real deal in her debut. A fully formed auteur. The fact she has taken a dusty, twee yet cherished text like Little Women and breathed the same kind pump into it without adulterating the original source is fine testament to her cinematic talents. Long may she continue to partner up with impeccable Saoirse and perfect Tracy Letts. A few winsome stars aside, I loved how all the cast were deployed. The sequence where a book comes to life (intentional ironies) is wondrous. The minor melodrama of the March’s aren’t my traditional choice of tale yet Gerwig ensnared me into their dreams and tribulations as much as this old grouch could ever be entangled. More than I expected. Just because it isn’t my kinda movie, doesn’t mean it ain’t a good’ un.

7

Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)

Renny Harlin directs Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia and William Sadler in this sequel to the action disaster movie where off duty cop John McClane finds himself up against terrorists who this time had the gall to take over the airport his wife’s plane needs to land at.

I find people are very binary when talking about sequels. A sequel has to be better or it is shit. No middle ground. Die Hard 2 is a superb action flick, epic entertainment… just not quite as perfect as the original Die Hard. The issues are minor. It is unlikely (and jokingly addressed) that McClane, Holly AND Dick Thornberg would all find themselves in the same lightning strike situation twice on a Christmas Eve. The support players lack the rich joyful detailing that the ensemble of the first adventure did (though John Amos, Franco Nero and especially Denis Franz have nice character moments other actioners wouldn’t waste time affording them). McClane can free roam more and has access to more weaponry, taking away a smidge of the improvisational Boy Scout McGuyver desperation that motored the original. There are montages in the first act that lack personality and feel a bit more like disaster movie stock footage rather than determined storytelling. Quibbles. This has truly fantastic in-camera action, tremendous stunts and spectacular carnage. Willis quips and endures and goes hell to leather in a way you never see him do anymore, not even in a Die Hard cash-in. It also has the most romantic ending to a Hollywood movie ever… any Hollywood movie ever! Considering the amount of pithy motherfuckers and gleeful gore thrown about mere minutes before, that’s quite a feat to pull off. Not as diamond standard as Nakatomi Plaza? Fair comment. One of the best action sequels ever? You motherfuckers are spoilt.

9

Junior (1994)

Ivan Reitman directs Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito and Emma Thompson in this comedy where Arnie’s scientist impregnates himself to test his fertility drug.

Oh sweet, strange, glossy movie, why don’t you have more jokes? The oodles of plotting ain’t important?! Six more laughs and you’d be worth remembering. DeVito subdued, Arnie uncomfortable, only Pamela Reed brings any pep.

4