The Fisher King


Viewed – 16 April 2019. Blu-ray

After the sad passing of gifted comedienne and actor Robin Williams in 2014, I think it’s taken me until now to watch one of his movies again. Yet having sat through this, everything I loved about him came flooding back. He certainly was one of the most likeable and versatile presences in anything he appeared in and this 1991 fantasy-drama is no exception.

Directed by master visionary Terry Gilliam (Twelve Monkeys) this has Jeff Bridges as a shock-jock radio DJ who’s outspoken show inadvertently leads to a shooting in a local restaurant. Disgraced, Bridges falls on hard times and stumbles upon the plight of local ‘bum’ Perry (Williams) who comes to Bridges’ aid after some youths attack him. However, Perry isn’t playing with a full deck and believes the Holy Grail is held in some wealthy tycoon’s house in the middle of New York.

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This is quite mad-cap stuff with Gilliam at full tilt delivering fantastical yet captivating imagery (grand central station turning into a ballroom) and filling the movie with a wealth of oddball creations. Yet this is also a story of redemption and salvation and Williams delivers a laugh-out-loud zany performance that’s also filled to the brim with heart. Bridges is also on fine form (with hints of ‘the dude’ prior to The Big Lebowski) and goes on a real character journey.

At times Gilliam’s direction and emphasis of the weird and bizarre gets a bit ‘much’ and takes a little bit of adjustment to fully appreciate. However at its core the movie is equal parts magical, heart-breaking and feel-good making for a genuine cult classic.

The Blu-ray release from the U.K. division of Criterion boasts a pleasingly crisp and vibrant image. Although mostly filmed in a subdued style, various details make it look more expensive than its low budget origins, helped I’m guessing by Gilliam’s unique eye. A noticeable shimmer does rears it’s head now and then though. The 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack is also clear and effective-enough, if not particularly showy. Extras consist of several worthwhile featurettes, although none new for this release. A highlight though is Terry Gilliam’s commentary from the 90’s. There’s also a poster-like booklet with its own write ups on the movie. Solid treatment for a still very unique and enjoyable movie.

Verdict:

(the movie) 4 /5

(the Blu-ray) 4 /5

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Blackkklansman


Viewed – 05 February 2019 online rental

An African-American cop in the 70’s infiltrates the Klu Klux Klan in a bid to expose them and prove himself at the same time.

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This movie had a really strange vibe. Lead actor John David Washington stood out like a comedy actor in a straight movie who still thinks he’s in a comedy. The subject of racism and the KKK is clearly being satirised but sits uneasy with such a serious, sickening subject. This is not helped by the movie eventually throwing in shocking real-life footage to hammer home its point. Director Spike Lee has always been one of the strongest voices for black culture and black cinema but here his intentions feel misguided. The story based on a book isn’t as compelling either and I came away wondering just what had the main character achieved? Star Wars’ Adam Driver is decent as a fellow detective and performances overall are fine. Lee has delivered a stylish, authentic looking movie yet also fills it with some odd music cues with an overall 70’s blaxploitation feel.

As a different take on the subject of racism and as a movie that certainly has some fun and intriguing moments it’s worth a watch … I just think it would have been more impactful played either entirely comedic or entirely straight.

Verdict: 2.5 /5

Stan & Ollie


Viewed – 16 January 2019  Cinema

It seems long overdue a movie being done of the classic comedy duo Laurel & Hardy.  I vaguely recall catching either old movies or shorts on TV as a kid and loving their rather innocent and charming approach to often slapstick humour.  Both of them had a great personality that worked well together, and seeing anything they did even now still raises more than a few chuckles.  There is something timeless about them that I think unlike many other acts like Charlie Chaplin or the Three Stooges, hasn’t aged all that badly.

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This movie follows the comedy duo as they reunite after a period of retirement to do a tour around England and Ireland in an attempt to finance a new movie.  However following an incident during the height of their career, it soon becomes obvious there’s some bad blood between them.  Steve Coogan and John C Reilly take on the rather intimidating task of bringing such figures to life and I am both happy and amazed to say they achieve it to an incredibly uncanny level.  Coogan nails the expressions, the mannerism and even the walk of Stan Laurel and Reilly is just perfect as Hardy despite some prosthetic make up effects (which are done brilliantly).  The relationship between the two is perfectly observed, touching, a little sad but also amiable and funny.  You get a good idea who these guys really were and how they both respected each other, at times loathed each other but ultimately loved each other.  Set mostly in England you get none of the Hollywood glamour and more so the has-been stage of their lives, of two stars struggling to hold onto the magic and keep themselves relevant.  A squabbling duo of wives adds some fun personality, a money hungry agent also adds flavour and overall this is a charming and fascinating movie.

As a Laurel & Hardy fan I would have appreciated more of a glimpse into how they came to be, or just a snap shot of their fame.  The focus on the later part of their career makes for a good story that granted, tugs at the heart strings … but as much as I really enjoyed this, I came away feeling it wasn’t the full  package – especially for those unfamiliar with their legacy  Otherwise a heart-warming, funny and brilliantly acted look at two comedy legends.

Verdict:  4 /5

The Incredibles 2


Viewed – 22 December 2018  online rental

I don’t watch as many animated movies as I should be, and realize I’ve missed out this year some big hitters.  However on browsing the latest rental releases, this took my interest as I recalled really enjoying the first movie.  This long time coming sequel pretty much picks up where we left off, with our super-hero family having to go about their crime fighting adventures in secret, with a law having been passed outlawing people with powers.  This brings in a wealthy brother and sister who propose to change things for the better by hiring Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter) to showcase just how good super heroes are to the masses.

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I’m a little bit sick of this concept of the public unsure of or shunning super heroes.  They almost becoming the enemy when there’s all too many actual enemies out there.  A similar plot device was used in Captain America Civil War and Batman V Superman.  Why does Hollywood think we want our heroes being portrayed with such distrust and fear?  Aren’t they meant to be the heroes?  Thankfully this admittedly very entertaining and visually arresting movie jumps between such plot threads and a twist on family responsibilities and throws in plenty of spectacular action.  The villain though is sign posted a bit too well and I guessed their identity easily.  Also there’s a clear feminist slant to the reversal of roles and some of the dialogue and themes, which yeah is everywhere right now.  As unnecessary as it clearly is in a movie that was never just about the male lead anyway.

The voice work is top notch though including a welcome turn from Breaking Bad’s Bob Odenkirk, and Pixar’s animation is as gorgeous as ever (even if the character design is a bit ugly … what’s with Elastigirl’s massive ass?).  Overall and considering the long wait for this, I was expecting a bit more … the villain is forgettable and cliched and the story adds nothing to the formula.  As it stands though, this is still a lot of fun regardless of wasted potential.

Verdict: 3 /5

The Christmas Chronicles


Viewed – 16 December 2018  Netflix

In hindsight, Kurt Russel makes for a perfect Santa Claus, but as I sat down to watch this I thought … really?  I’ve been a fan of this guy for a long time (Kurt I mean, although who doesn’t like Santa?), and this story has two kids on Christmas Eve out to catch him in the act of delivering presents, and unwittingly sabotage Christmas when they stow away on his slay.

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It’s a fairly typical Hollywood rendition of a Christmas movie and focuses on a family who have since lost the children’s father who was a fire fighter, and we get a stereotypical moody teenager on the brink of going off the rails with the wrong crowd, and a spirited younger sister who still believes in the magic of Christmas.  I’ll admit the somewhat motor-mouth young girl playing the sister got irritating fast, and the squabbling between her and her brother was cliched as hell.  Yet this is Kurt Russell’s movie and showcases an actor, who let’s agree hasn’t been in that big a stuff of late, seriously on top of his game and makes an initially grumpy Santa very likeable and fun.  The movie’s budget sadly shows cut backs in the CGI department, with the elves looking like Minion rejects, and overly this isn’t that flashy or visually creative.  A small twist towards the end involving Santa’s hat doesn’t make much sense either.

However for a perfect getting in the mood for Christmas experience, this does the trick, is funny, exciting in parts and delivers one of the most endearing Santas I think I’ve ever seen on screen.  Worth a watch.

Verdict:  3 /5