It's thoroughly of its time, from the drugs-fuel of the 1960s obsession, to the cutting edge of the New Hollywood era where daring-do was the order of the day. It's a shame that such risk taking is rarely seen these days - could you imagine a film being made today about a country boy looking to 'make it big' in New York as a male prostitute, only to fail miserably and end up living in squalor, and at the same time be weirdly funny about it all? I don't think so.
Part of BBC4's horror season, and in-connection to the first episode of Mark Gatiss' "History of Horror" documentary, I was really surprised by how utterly, utterly dull this film is. Aside from a couple of decent scenes of suspense (the bus, the pool, the office), three-fifths-of-sod-all happens for 70 minutes. The opening half an hour is painfully dull, and painfully dated - in that 'oh my darling, I've known you for five minutes and I love you so, let's get married' kind of way that's unbelievable rather than charming. Each to their own and what not, but I think I'll side with John Carpenter on this one - it's naff.
I Walked With A Zombie:
From the people that brought us the dreadfully dull Cat People the year before (Director Jacques Tourneur and Producer Val Lewton, but with different screenwriters), comes this tale (again with corny 'oh I hardly know you at all, yet I want to marry you' tacked-in 'love' subplot) of a nurse brought to a beautiful-but-deathly island to look after a rich white man's zombified wife. The rich white folk view any suggestion that the native rituals and beliefs might actually hold sway over this woman's plight with condescension and mockery, but the curious nurse is keen to investigate. The pacing is far, far superior to Cat People. Stuff actually happens for one, we also see things for two, and the emaciated, bug-eyed zombified local who appears twice is genuinely creepy. The lush visuals and the intriguing plot smooth over any out-dated world views, and it was well worth a watch. I was quite charmed by it.
The Battle of the Bulge:
Only a few years after the genuinely brilliant and involved epic that was The Longest Day, came this cheesy epic. It's nowhere in the same league as the former, it's too long-winded and far too "movie!" about everything. It feels more like a kid's action man comic book than a revered take on true-to-life (and, then, recent) events.
The trailer made this look genuinely funny and entertaining, but the set-up is only good enough for a trailer really as it is stretched mercilessly thin across 90 minutes. The 1950s-on-an-alien-planet-where-a-homosapien-astronaut-is-the-actual-alien angle is charming, and initially quite amusing, but then a wafer-thin 'run around for a bit, get into some scrapes, get captured, escape, run around some more, learn a lesson, say goodbye' plot turns a nifty idea for a short subject into far-from-Pixar fare. It has some nice moments and a few good chuckles, but it's undercooked and disappointing in the end.
A Serious Man:
Unapologetically Jewish, if you don't know your goys from your barmitzvahs, then too bad (but it's all the better and individual for it). Fortunately the classically-Coens plot filled with dilemmas, oddballs, and morals galore keeps things moving for the uninitiated. I much preferred the likes of No Country For Old Men, Fargo and The Big Lebowski, but the Coen charm holds it all together. Not one of their greats, but quite possibly one of their most personal efforts.
Away We Go:
An indie-vibes comedy drama from Sam Mendes filled with supporting oddball repulsives and depressed drones, about a young couple who aren't far from becoming a family for the first time, and they're looking for a place to settle. There's not an awful lot of meat to chew on, or gravitas to engage with, but it's just a really nice film to watch. The central pairing are sweet and nice. Their problems aren't demanding to the viewer, their happiness isn't overplayed or saccharine, but aspirational and a perfect balance for a succession of guest-star segments, the most notable and entertaining of which features Maggie Gyllenhaal as a mind-numbingly awful, smug, rabidly left, and forceful hippy. Do you want a happy little flick with two charming protagonists? Have a gander at this.
The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard:
Featuring a whole host of "oh that guy/chick from that comedy show/movie" actors and actresses, the first half an hour is slick and fast paced with 'the funny', but the remaining hour gets slower throughout as the basic plot movements have to get untangled, solved and wrapped up inside the 90 minutes running time. A decent comic diversion for a Friday or Saturday night - it's the sort of film you'd rent or watch on Sky Movies with a couple of friends and a couple of cans.