Film, James Bond, Partisan Cinema

Partisan Cinema: OCTOPUSSY (1983) – From Orlov to Putin

In a recurring feature called Partisan Cinema, I look at movies from a political slant, gleaning insight from them about how they relate to society then, and indeed now…

Just this last weekend, as of writing, I ticked another milestone off my cinematic bucket list. In this case, it was watching Octopussy on the big screen.

Much like catching Pokemon, my intent is to try and see every James Bond film on a cinema screen across my lifetime, especially those which were released before my birth. Octopussy was the first Bond movie filmed after I was born, shot during the same summer I came into the world: 1982. The 13th Bond film, and Roger Moore’s penultimate outing, Octopussy is considered outside of 007 die hards such as myself a cinematic relic. It would never make any film critics list of the greatest Bond pictures. For many, it is a creaking, close to pastiche example of Bond lethargy as Moore’s ageing lothario limped toward old age.

While especially catching it on a broader canvas made apparent that John Glen’s picture is rather critically underrated, and deserved of some level of reappreciation, Octopussy also stands out on a political level. Though 007 producer supremo Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli might have long protested that the Bond pictures were apolitical, he was lying to himself first and foremost. Every single one of them made before 1995 reflected the Cold War, with Octopussy no exception. Yet in this film, the political scheming by forces within the Soviet Union, Britain and Bond’s seemingly eternal geopolitical nemesis, is far more overt thanks to the inclusion of one character: General Orlov.

Looking back now, long after the end of the Cold War, with almost 40 years distance, what fascinates is not just how much Orlov stands as an artefact of a lost era, but rather how his Russian zealotry makes Octopussy far more relevant in 2022 than anyone might have expected.

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Causality Loop, Star Trek: Picard

Causality Loop: Schrödinger’s Guinan in STAR TREK: PICARD

In this semi-regular column looking at time travel in fiction, Causality Loop explores the interesting paradox of the Guinan character in the recent second season of Star Trek: Picard

BEWARE SPOILERS for Picard Season 2.

A tried and tested Star Trek trope, time travel is the principal gambit behind the second season of sequel series Picard.

The mechanics of how it works are largely a magical combination of Star Trek mechanisms, from the slingshot effect around the Sun first seen in 1986’s fourth movie with The Original Series crew, The Voyage Home, with a liberal dose at the same time of the Borg Queen’s temporal vortex abilities we saw in the Next Generation’s second film First Contact. It’s all designed deliberately to evoke the nostalgia of those earlier means of time travel without needing to delve into any kind of logical temporal theory.

Where things get complicated is over the question of Guinan. One of TNG’s most beloved supporting characters, played with enduring mystery by Whoopi Goldberg since the late 1980s, we see her return in season premiere The Star Gazer in the early 25th century before, once the La Sirena crew go back to the year 2024, she gets a new bit of youthful casting in Ito Aghayere, portraying a Guinan who hasn’t yet met Jean-Luc Picard in the early 21st century.

Does this contradict Star Trek canon and the established timeline? Possibly. Possibly not. Let’s just call her, for now, Schrödinger’s Guinan.

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Film, Reviews

THE BUBBLE is a vapid mid-pandemic dearth of wit or ingenuity

We haven’t quite entered the post-pandemic phase of movie making either creatively or indeed in how storytelling and Covid intersect. The Bubble, for our sins, will go down on record as one of the first examples.

Conventional wisdom since 2020 has been that audiences wouldn’t want to see Covid-19 reflected on cinema screens or generally in entertainment and are reaching for escapism. The world is too grim, too real, too tragic and desperate, that we want movies, TV and so on to not remind us of that. Rentals of Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion might have spiked during lockdown but only thanks to how prophetic it turned out to be. Audiences, at that stage, the thinking went, didn’t want to see Covid beyond news pieces.

The climate now has started to change. Soderbergh’s Kimi, for instance, recently gave us a de Palma-style taut thriller in the shadow of the pandemic. Filmmakers and creatives are beginning to appreciate the possibilities, as Covid evolves into a virus the West learns to live with and adapt to, in reflecting how the pandemic has perhaps permanently changed our psychology, our habits, our world. We can likely expect across this decade a raft of projects that shine a light on Covid in myriad ways, be it drama, horror, science-fiction and, yes, comedy.

Which brings us back to The Bubble, a film that would not exist were it not for Covid. Another thing we have the virus to blame for.

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Film, Reviews

DEEP WATER un-erotically fails to recharge a lost genre

If there is a film genre that has gone the way of the dodo in recent years, it is the erotic thriller which Deep Water director Adrian Lyne practically solo-propagated between the 1980s-1990s.

He lensed some of the best and most renowned. Fatal Attraction, probably the signature example of the genre that isn’t Basic Instinct. 9 & 1/2 Weeks which turned Kim Basinger into the Hollywood sex symbol of that decade. Indecent Proposal, which did similar for Demi Moore at the turn of the 90s. They are films which even if people haven’t seen these days, they are ubiquitous cultural touchstones within cinema that recall a different age. You might have flickering memories of Moore being seduced over a pool table or Glenn Close the bunny boiler.

Lyne last made a film, a lesser well known vehicle in the genre called Unfaithful, twenty years ago exactly, at a time not just cinema but media at large was undergoing the early beginnings of the metamorphosis we have seen in the 21st century. Some critics have suggested the decline of the erotic thriller, both Lyne’s classier big budget efforts but equally a litany of cheap, fairly sleazy soft core knocks offs which now litter Amazon Prime Video, was down to the internet’s proliferation and liberation of pornography out of the back alley stores and onto people’s desktops and laptops.

There could well be some truth to this. Are we aroused in the same way as we enter the 2020s? Lyne’s return with Deep Water looks to answer this question.

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Film, Reviews

FRESH is a ghoulish gourmet of dating horror

Online dating has been ripe for the horror treatment for a good few years now and while Fresh takes an, if you will, fresh approach to such a world, it builds on pictures that came before.

Go as far back as 1999 and you have Takashi Miike’s Audition, which surely put a legion of would-be romantics off seeking solace in dating websites ever again. 2017 was a banner year for this, giving us It Follows, where Maika Monroe is punished for sexual freedom by a terrifying force, and also Get Out where Daniel Kaluyya’s online-met girlfriend turns out to be part of a deeply white supremacist American family. To date online in the world of cinema, outside of the rom com, is to abandon hope all ye who enter.

Fresh, therefore, becomes part of a lexicon of films that square the focus on the peril young women face from not just online dating but toxic misogyny and the underlying fear that men are dangerous. As a fellow captive tells Daisy Edgar-Jones’ unlucky in love Noa, “it’s not our fault… it is always theirs…”. Mimi Cave’s directorial debut nonetheless takes a scalpel to what could have been a rather dour and conventional, exploitative tale and peppers it with strangely romantic & twisted black comic gusto.

Even if it doesn’t turn you off online dating forever, it might make you think twice about swiping right next time.

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Film, Reviews

THE ADAM PROJECT is the derivative, sentimental Netflix algorithm hard at work.

We sure did something to warrant two films in the space of a year starring Ryan Reynolds and directed by Shawn Levy, but what that is remains an open question.

The Adam Project arrives hot foot in the wake of Free Guy which, last summer, projected Reynolds into the virtual reality world of a plucky NPC who gains self-awareness, free to evolve into a slick action badass able to win the heart of Jodie Comer’s gamer girl. Free Guy had something of an old-school blockbuster about it, fuelled up with 21st century visual aesthetics, and though not always successful in the ambition it had, Reynolds was compelling and enjoyable in a role that, to a degree, cast him against type.

Arguably, ever since Deadpool turbocharged his career after the failure of Green Lantern and a fairly plodding cycle of comedies and action vehicles, Reynolds has understood that the best on-screen persona is one combining his natural propensity for all-American sarcasm with an ironic self-deprecation, even geeky subtext, which endears him to an audience beyond his matinee idol good looks. Levy understood this equation in Free Guy. He doesn’t quite get it with The Adam Project in the same way.

This is not as successful or interesting a film. Indeed, The Adam Project is yet another example of how the Netflix algorithm just isn’t to be trusted.

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Film, Reviews

THE BATMAN thrillingly provides a Gotham and Dark Knight for a whole new generation

There was a moment during The Batman in which it became clear the film was a great piece of cinema.

Following an attack that almost kills him, Batman is cornered by aggressive police officers looking to blame him for the Riddler’s reign of terror before he is assisted in an escape in which he rappels up through Gotham PD headquarters, crashing through to the roof before he abseils down into the murky city below. In and of itself, this could be a sequence from any Batman film since 1989 but it was the point where it dawned on me just how well Matt Reeves’ latest take on the Caped Crusader was working.

Because, let’s be honest, everything was stacked against this. DC Comics, one or two outliers aside, have had a torrid time of it in cinematic terms since the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s towering Dark Knight trilogy a decade ago. Ben Affleck essayed a fine Bruce Wayne across two (and a bit) dreadful Zach Snyder-led movies but Batman remained in the shadow of Nolan’s modernistic take on Gotham’s corruption and Bruce’s tragic heroic myth that felt, in many respects, quite definitive. There are always fresh avenues to take with a hero who has frequently reinvented himself but where could you go after those films and it have the same scale and impact was the burning question.

Snyder’s answer was bigger, louder and universal. Reeves provides a more satisfying response with The Batman by far.

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Film, Reviews

DEATH ON THE NILE takes us on a pretty but vacant mystery tour

In some ways, Death on the Nile feels like a film that came out years ago.

Originally slated to arrive ‘P-C’, ‘Pre-Covid’, in December 2019, a slew of delays followed as the pandemic rocked the cinematic world and further pushed back Kenneth Branagh’s follow up adventure as the self-styled ‘world’s greatest detective’ Hercule Poirot, after his successful and largely critically praised debut in Murder on the Orient Express, until finally it has arrived—perhaps more appropriately—on Valentine’s weekend some two and half years, almost, late.

The project since then has been lurking in the press for all of the wrong reasons, be it Gal Gadot’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflictArmie Hammer’s blacklisting thanks to some troubling sexual peccadilloesor Letitia Wright spouting full blown anti-vaccination nonsense (which she denies). Some even wondered if the film would ever see the cinematic light of day or end up sent to the streaming doldrums of Disney+ as some kind of ‘premier exclusive’. Perhaps wisely, perhaps not, that didn’t happen.

Branagh’s film is undeniably a cinematic experience but that, nor the delay, prevent the finished product being a frustrating disappointment.

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Film

Top 10 of 2021: MOVIES

Happy New Year!

I’m starting 2022 by looking back at my top 10 choices for the best movies of 2021, the year in which we rebounded from the ever present Covid threat by returning to cinemas, allowing us to experience the kinds of pictures we were spared of in 2020.

It’s been a fascinating year and, as always, film choices subjectively differ among many a reviewer. Here were the pictures that both affected me the most, and seemed to contain the greatest artistic measure, from 10 through to number 1.

Would love to know your thoughts as to your top 10 choices…

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Film

Film Review: SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (2021)

There is a debate coming about Spider-Man: No Way Home, set to go down in cinematic lore as both the end and a new beginning for Tom Holland’s Peter Parker. A debate around just how much fan service has now arrested control of popular cinema.

While No Way Home will almost certainly do gigantic box office business, even by the metrics of the hugely successful Marvel Cinematic Universe, not everyone is going to embrace the ambitious steps Jon Watts’ film takes. This isn’t, after all, simply the concluding beat of a three-film trilogy, such as we saw in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 (and let’s not forget there was talk of a fourth for a time afterward). No Way Home is the conclusion of seven previous Spider-Man adventures, not to mention Holland’s web as a character within the wider MCU itself.

In that sense, Marvel have crafted a sequel quite unlike any other here, by tapping into the burgeoning concept of the ‘multiverse’ in the way audiences have previously understood to be the point of parallel universe stories: to depict alternate versions of the same characters. The MCU has thus far established the concept on more of a conceptual level in outings such as Loki, or even irreverently in the last Spider-Man film Far From Home or in elements of WandaVision. Here, the franchise goes for broke in providing audiences with long-standing closure that, had the MCU not been as rampantly successful, would never have happened.

For some, like this writer, the result is joyful. Others will find it infuriating and strangely reductive. And either way, No Way Home could be a sign of times to come, should it be the huge success people are predicting.

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