Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Rob's Amazing Film Collection - Part Five: The Beyond to The Blues Brothers

For some reason I'm putting my film collection online and talking about it. Even though

a) There's literally no reason why anyone should care

b) A lot of these films I've either not seen in ages or - worse - never seen ever, despite owning for years

c) A film collection is a constantly shifting thing. There's already stuff in "A" that wasn't there when I started this. 

d) I'm so lazy, there's no way I'll get to Z before I die. 

But here we are anyway. 

The Beyond

This is a super weird Italian horror film from the early 80s. That's my absolute favourite period for horror, and this film exemplifies exactly why. 

It's batshit crazy, with a plot that makes zero sense, but it's so visually compelling and furiously inventive that you simply don't care. The imagery has this kind of austere bleakness: part art film, part documentary. The early 80s didn't seem to care where 'horror' fit in with the other genres. It just played by itself, doing its own macabre things. 

As a result, it ends up having a sense of both absolute silliness and pervasive dread. Amazing. 

The Bicycle Thieves

Well I hope you enjoyed all the things I had to say about that last film, because we're about to go through a phase of "I literally can't remember anything". 

I watched this so that I could show it to some film students and say, "How would you like to study Italian neo-realism, everyone?" Their answer was silent, but definitive. They would not like to watch any more films like this, thank you, and god damn me for even considering it. 

I was secretly quite glad. I didn't really enjoy myself watching this, and had my students liked it, I would have had to buy loads more films like it, with their total lack of spaceships or zombies, and they would sit on my shelves to this day, silently judging me. 

The films, not the students. 

No, I haven't watched it since. Why do I keep it? Because.. I don't know. It's art or something?

Big Night

Haven't watched it. Bought it because it was cheap. It looks good, and I'm sure I'd love it.

I pick it up occasionally, and think, "Yeah - I should watch this. I bet it would be fun."

But then I don't. Why don't I? Have I been subjected to some kind of hypnosis? It's the only possible explanation. 

The Big Sleep

Film Noir is, I'm afraid, always going to be a historical period for me, more than a genre. It's films are documents of time, not things to be enjoyed in their own right. 

I envy those who do enjoy them, and I can see why they are attractive. But I've never been able to emotionally engage with them. It's like jazz. I'd like to be one of those people who love it. But it looks like a lot of work to get to the point where it starts being fun. 

Last time I tried to watch this I genuinely fell asleep. I feel sleepy thinking about it. It's the word 'sleep'. It's an excellent word, which really carries the essence of its meaning. Don't call films "Sleep" if you want me to stay awake during them. 

Big Fish

I haven't watched this for a while. I seem to remember it being a perfectly enjoyable and visually pleasing piece of work. Is it Tim Burton? I'm going to go and check. You stay there. Don't do anything weird in front of Ewan. 

It is Tim Burton. I had a feeling it was, but then another part of my brain kept saying, "How can it be? It's good."

He used to be good, didn't he, Tim Burton? Before he filled his veins with sticky, sweet CGI and became obsessed with putting Johnny Depp in an increasingly bizarre series of hats. 

Billy Elliot

You'll be relieved and delighted to find that I've watched this quite recently. And I can report that I found it "good".

Looking back now, it seems like part of a mini genre, that sprang up around the mid to late 90s. Full Monty, Brassed Off, that kind of thing. Working class, socially active cinema that managed the neat trick of having some mainstream quirk without selling out its ideals.

The 'miners on strike' edge of it seems more sad than angry, and I found more relevance this time in the sexual politics of the thing. For the most part, the challenging of gender roles is done really well, and with some subtlety. It did stick out a bit that they gave him a camp, gay best friend, to point out how not camp and gay Billy was. But otherwise, pretty nuanced, and full of heart. 

The Birds

It's been a while since I saw The Birds. I think every time I consider watching it, I just go, "Well, why watch that, when I could watch Psycho?" And so I watch Psycho. 

I know. You can watch more than one thing. And I promise I'll get onto it.  I can't remember most of the plot. Surely there's more to it than people going, "Oooh, that's quite a number of birds, isn't it? More than usual. Gosh, what a lot of birds!" and then being eaten. 

Doesn't it end with them just driving off, slowly, so that the birds don't see them? That's the sort of ending you write when you've run out of time to finish your homework.

The Birth of a Nation

I've never made it all the way through this film. But it's not like all those others I've not seen, where I was just too lazy, or tired, or got distracted by computer games. No. This film offers many compelling reasons to leave it unfinished, namely:

i) It is nearly 3 hours long. No film is meant to be that long. 90 minutes is ideal, and I'll allow 2 hours before I start looking at my non existent watch, and coughing loudly.

ii) It is in black and white, and silent. Which means I get distracted and start doing my own dialogue. This entertains me, but does tend to mean I lose track of what's actually going on. 

iii) It is super racist. It was made in olden times, when you could just be openly racist in films and everyone had to say, "Well, this seems fine." It is not fine. 

Black Dynamite

I like the fact that this film lives next to The Birth of a Nation on the shelf. It's like a sitcom about a really racist DVD who finds that a black couple have moved in next door. 

This is a film bought for me by my friend Andy, who is constantly trying to get me to look at new and interesting things, and stop just watching Total Recall again. I resisted for ages, until he became furious and demanded I watch it with him.

He was right and it's very good and funny. 

Black Hawk Down

To my recollection, this is just a film about a helicopter crashing, and then everyone getting shot at for about two hours. I don't think anything else happens. It might be based on a true story, but that's not really an excuse for just hitting me with noise and editing for ages. 

I think it might be trying to create sensation, rather than develop plot. You know, making me feel what it was like. Well, yes, if that's the case, well done. I did feel trapped and sad and assaulted. But I don't think my suffering really compared to that of any actual soldier, and I was mostly bored. 

Chris Nolan's Dunkirk tried a similar thing. I cunningly did not buy it, having learned my lesson here.

The Black Hole

Now we're talking!

The Black Hole is very odd. It is, in almost every sense, a kids Disney space film, with cute robots and exciting space battles. That's why I went to see it in 1980 and I very much imagine it came into being entirely as a way to grab the attention of Star Wars obsessed child geeks like myself. 

However. While it is all of the above, it is also, somehow, a trippy, existential journey into the screaming void of madness. It's like Event Horizon for kids, or Heart of Darkness with lasers. A madman commands a ghostly space hulk, manned by living corpses! A man is torn apart by spinning knives! They get sucked into hell, possibly!

It's amazing, and a bit rubbish, and beautiful. I had all the toys, and loved making them fight, but I was also drawn to the sheer darkness of a film where the heroes struggle against the terrible pull of the universe itself, and fail. 


This is a super great film and I was very much in love with it when I saw it. Did it win the Oscar? I bet it didn't. It's too good. I've not seen much Spike Lee, and that's something I need to rectify. 

I very much liked how brazen the politics were. At first you think, "Oh, this is a clever, de-contextualised way of discussing the issues of race that have come to the fore under the Trump administration". Then the film says, "I am talking about Trump! Donald Trump. He is racist! I mostly mean him! Trumpy Trumpy Racisty Trump!"

I feel very woke for liking it, obviously, but am also consumed with fear that I have accidentally transposed the photo for this with the one for Black Dynamite, and that I am secretly racist.

Black Panther

A film I've watched very recently, as part of a full Marvel watch-through. Yes, that's what I do when I should be watching Big Night and educating myself in Film Noir and Italian Neo-Realism. I watch superheroes hitting each other. 

Well I've no defence, really. I like 'em. And this most recent viewing of Black Panther came, as chance would have it, on the day that Chadwick Boseman - the eponymous King Cat himself - passed away. This had the unavoidable effect of making the whole thing much more poignant. 

It's hard to know if things like this should be disassociated from a film or not. A film should stand on its own, really. Black Panther was already in an impossible place in that regard, of course, bearing as it did the weight of  First Black Superhero Movie (even if it wasn't, really). It is a really good film, but it will never be just a film. Certainly not now its young and beloved star died so young. 

We're kidding ourselves, of course, if we think any film can be divorced from its context. And I'm impressed with Black Panther for grasping the horns so comprehensively, and going "I am about race and the historical context of identity! Deal with it!" I just feel like I'll never quite *see* this film.  

Black Sheep

This film is not, to my knowledge, about race at all. Unless there's some subtext I've forgotten about. It's about zombie sheep.

I can't remember if it's any good. I've seen it once, quite some time ago, and I seem to remember liking it. But then I get very giddy about zombies, so am not necessarily the best judge of quality in this regard. 

Black Swan

One of those films that I will watch only very occasionally, but very much appreciate every time I get down to it. It's a very peculiar tasting film. Bitter, and with flavours that don't seem to go together. Like if someone put garlic on a Curly Wurly. 

This is a very powerful and scary piece of work, that makes great use of the medium to play games with your brain. It's quite a trick to make you unsure what you just saw, but still invested in the outcomes. 

It's about ballet, but otherwise good. 

Blade Runner

When I first saw Blade Runner I did not like it. 

Same for the second, third and fourth times. Did. Not. Like. But, somehow, I knew I was wrong. That's weird, isn't it? Most of the time when I dislike a film I'm in no doubt about who is to blame. It's the stupid useless film's fault for being boring or too long or suggesting there's going to be nudity and then not having any.

But even at 14 or thereabouts, I sensed that Blade Runner was good, and I was dumb. 

In my defence, it was widely advertised as "That guy who plays Han Solo and Indiana Jones chases robots in flying cars!" Which doesn't really prepare a young man for the ponderous arty concoction of owls eyes, enhanced photos and a villain who is defeated when he decides to give up, sit down and ramble on about the Shoulder of Orion. 

It's a film that grows in stature every time I see it, and I love it very much. Well done young me for persevering.

Blade Runner 2049

A film that breaks many rules. It's really long, but it earns its length. It's a belated sequel to an outright classic, but it manages to build on the original without cheapening what made it work. It stars Jared Leto but it isn't a horrible stupid test of your patience and will to live.

I'm a big fan of this film for many reasons. The colours. The humour. Ryan Gosling's adorable little jump when he's surprised. What I like best, though, it the way it skilfully subverts audience expectations and deconstructs the kind of hero myths that we take for granted, but probably shouldn't.

The Blues Brothers

Finally, for this little run, is another film I used to watch a lot as a child. 

We must have recorded this off the TV, onto the family Betamax. I watched it endlessly. It's one of those films that's not-very-good-really, for lots of reasons, but also perfect, for exactly the same reasons. I get the feeling it's not very beloved these days, probably due to endless annoying people quoting the lines, and also middle aged men dressing up and doing bad covers of the songs. 

Plus it's not really a film, but an exercise in showing off famous people in little set pieces. I still don't quite get the genre of "Look, it's people from Saturday Night Live - are you not entertained?" It seems a bit self satisfied. 

As a kid, though, none of that mattered. I didn't know who these comedians were. I didn't really know that the musicians were famous, either, or that I was meant to be impressed just by them being there. And I certainly didn't care about structure. It was just a cool film about lots of funny things happening to some guys. 

Wouldn't it be nice just to see a film, and enjoy it without context?

Well, that's it. Thanks for sticking with me through this nonsense. See you next time, if you can stand more. 

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Time is Relative - The Android Invasion

Good evening and welcome to another ramshackle account of the adventures of TV's Doctor Who. Oh sure, other people can give you accurate information about the episodes, or offer informed commentary on the themes. 
But can they do it with such a thrilling disregard for what actually happened in the story?

I doubt it. 

This week, Doctor Who lands on Earth and so of course he goes straight to the pub. His face wears a look of grim determination, as if he's already mapped out the next four days worth of drinking, and has clear targets for what will constitute an acceptable hangover. 

The pub is mysteriously deserted. Which suits Doctor Who fine, but is kind of weird. It's the 70s, after all, and drinking during the day is not so much frowned upon as actively encouraged. 

Eventually a bar guy turns up, and so Doctor Who instantly starts being weird at him and playing with his things. The man does not really react with any surprise, which means either 

a) this is not really Earth, but a fake version without any of the nuances of the real thing, or

b) this man has met Doctor Who before.

Quite soon, Sarah Jane trips and falls down a hill, and her face comes off. It turns out she's a robot or something. Albeit one that comes to bits quite easily. 

I don't think she's always been a robot, in all the previous stories. I think this is just a pretend version, that turned up recently. Otherwise, it's a marvel her face hasn't come off a number of times already. She does do a lot of falling off things. 

Also, Doctor Who would be furious to find out that he had a super killer robot with him all the time, and she never said anything. All that running away, when he could have just been shouting, "Murder Davros, Sarah! Crush his ugly green skull with your metal hands!"

Sarah-Robot soon gets on with the business of trying to kill Doctor Who. She doesn't seem to mind that her face is still off, and that she looks both nightmarish and faintly ridiculous at the same time. 

You'd think that if you programmed a robot to impersonate someone, so closely as to fool their very best friends, that you'd give it some fairly clear instructions. Like, "Try to speak with the same mannerisms," and, "Don't mention anything about our plot to destroy the humans," and, "If your face falls off, make sure to put it back on."

Doctor Who is starting to think that he's not really on Earth. There is no beer in the pub, and everyone is being really boring and not reacting to any of his hilarious attempts to confuse them. Plus there's the thing with Sarah's face coming off.

He's very keen to get back to normal Earth, where he can start being wilfully eccentric and get a proper reaction out of people. Oh, and warn them about the invasion of killer robot duplicates. Probably. If he gets time. 

This is the King Alien, who is in charge of all the robots. He's a Kraal, and his main thing is building robots and doing invasions. His face wears the familiar expression of someone who has had his afternoon ruined by the madcap antics of Doctor Who. 

He's hanging out with his little human mate, who he clearly despises. Human Guy is pathetically desperate to impress King Alien, and has gone to such desperate lengths as accidentally betraying Earth, helping out with the invasion and trying to look cool by wearing an eyepatch. 

Having said all that, they do appear to be holding hands, so maybe it's just one of those bitchy relationships that works despite itself. 

Real-Sarah has been captured and is hanging out with the aliens. Except look - it's Harry! We thought he'd left. 

Well, it turns out it's not Harry. It's a bad Robot doing a disguise. Sarah can tell right away, even without Harry's face coming off. He's scowling. you see. Real Harry would never scowl. 

I think, even if he was about to murder you, real Harry would look, at worst, slightly apologetic, as if he was about to ask you to give back that five pounds you borrowed. 

King Alien captures Doctor Who as well, and ties him to a big stone thing in the middle of town. He's off to invade Real Earth now, you see, so he's going to blow up the pretend one. Which seems short sighted. Guaranteed the minute he destroys it, he'll think of something that it would be really handy for. 

This would have been a good argument for Doctor Who to make. "Don't blow everything up - you might need it later." But no. He just does his usual thing of taunting the villain and being really rude about his personal appearance. 

Have you ever stopped to think, Doctor Who, that maybe if you weren't so petulant and borderline racist all the time, and stopped calling everyone ugly whenever you disagreed with them, then maybe they'd stop tying you to bombs? 

Doctor Who escapes, of course, and ends up having to hang out with Eyepatch Guy. This does not appear to fill him with joy. 

I think they're on the way to Real-Earth. Eyepatch guy talks excitedly for the whole journey about how ace it's going to be, and how everyone's going to really get on with his Alien mates, and what does Doctor Who think people will make of his cool new image, with the eyepatch and everything?

Doctor Who has clearly developed an instant hatred for this man, and expresses it by telling him that his Alien mates are evil, and he's betrayed Earth, and everyone who dies is his fault, and his eyepatch is the only thing he could imagine that would make his already stupid face look stupider.

Doctor Who eventually gets to Earth and starts to give some thought to stopping the invasion. There is a lot of exciting running around, featuring these Space Suit Robots, who shoot people with their fingers!

Doctor Who looks quite disbelieving here, and with good reason. Sure, the Robots might have super cool finger-guns. Or, perhaps more plausibly, they might have forgotten to bring their guns, and be trying to style it out. 

There's more zany fun later, as Doctor Who meets a Robot version of himself. He's not bothered, obviously, and is clearly focusing less on the prospect of imminent death than on the excellent possibilities this will afford for skiving work.

The existence of a Robot Doctor Who does raise the question - what were the aliens hoping to achieve with this? Let's say the Robot version successfully takes the place of the real one. What then? No-one ever listens to him anyway, and he's always getting arrested and called a spy and nearly killed. 

I give it three days before Robot Doctor Who comes back to the office, crying and saying he doesn't want to do it anymore and can he just be a photocopier or something please?

The story ends with victory for Doctor Who, or possibly his Robot duplicate. One of them goes off into space, with Sarah. 

Or possibly her Robot duplicate.

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Time is Relative - The Pyramids of Mars


Well if it isn't you, with all your hair and face and loveliness. Welcome, once more, to my half remembered ramble through the history of Doctor Who. This week, the Pyramids! Of Maaaaaars!

This story finds Doctor Who peering out from under his hat to see if anyone has noticed how unusual he's being. 

People are not paying enough attention to him, so he's putting a lot of effort into being extra weird and alien. Apparently the massive scarf and nonsensical hat aren't enough to signal "Look out, here comes someone with one heck of a personality." So he's thrown "moody sulking" into the mix. 

The story, when finally Doctor Who deigns to glance its way, is very exciting. This guy, in the super excellent fez, lives in a house full of Egypt stuff and and maybe is Egyptian himself, even though they all live in England for some reason.

I like how casual he is about it all. If I get a new poster on the wall I basically spend all day hopping up and down waiting for someone to comment on it. But this guy is all "Yeah, I've got a massive sarcophagus in my lounge. It's no biggie."

It all kicks off big time when - hurray! - some giant evil Egyptian Mummies burst out of the woods and start murdering everyone.

These are a truly excellent design and look very much like they mean business. I think even a Cyberman would do a gasp if he saw these two lumbering out of the dark. He'd think, "I know I don't have any emotions, but I also know that Cybermen aren't meant to wee in their suits, and I've definitely done that."

The Mummies are chasing this guy. He was just wandering around near the house, and now he's having to run away before he gets hit to death by the Mummies. 

I don't know why they're so keen to kill him. Maybe they're just angry, because they've woken up confused, like wasps. "Why are we in England? Why am I covered in bandages? What's going on?"

The guy has fooled the mummies, by the cunning plan of standing next to a tree. This has totally foxed the Mummies, and they are absolutely at a loss what to do next. 

I think the guy is meant to be a poacher. I've never come across these characters except 

a) being murdered by aliens in Doctor Who and 

b) selling eels to Withnail and I. 

As I understand it, they are some kind of wood dwelling vagabond. This one has quite snappy dress sense, though, I think, for someone who lives in a ditch.

Soon the Mummies catch the poacher guy, and squash him to death between their angular bosoms. 

It will later transpire that the Mummes are really robots. I can only assume, then, that these strange, protruding chest things are specifically designed for slicing off people's heads. Otherwise... I mean, what's the thinking? Who designs a big killer evil Mummy thing, and then gives it a giant triangular chest? 

Or are they... are they meant to look sexy? Is that why the poacher looks so distraught? He's thinking, "I hope they kill me before anyone sees us and thinks we're friends."

Doctor Who and Sarah eventually turn up and start to dick about with all the Egypt things. They haven't even bothered to find out what's going on, they just think "Oh look, someone's doing something - let's fiddle with it and break things and move stuff and put it somewhere else."

What if it's a nice thing, Doctor Who? What if it's a surprise birthday party and you've ruined it? What if the poacher guy was a heroin smuggler, and the Mummies are just two really unorthodox cops who don't play by the rules?

Meanwhile, these two guys are having an argument. They are brothers, so this isn't too unusual. This isn't like that argument I had with my brother, though, which ended with me pulling off Boba Fett's head and laughing while he cried. No. 

This one basically goes:

Pathetic Moustache Brother: "Why are you being so weird and murdery since you got back from that Mysterious Tomb in Egypt?"

Cadaverous Clearly Evil Brother: "Why do you prattle so, puny human? I mean... nothing's wrong, I've just been driving all day.  How's mum?"

He murders him, obviously.

Meanwhile, in space, this guy is watching everything and going, "Yeah!" He's the main bad guy, and he's called Sutekh. He lives on this chair, and he's been stuck there for ages because, years ago, he was a massively evil space-jerk and all his friends ganged up on him and stuck him to a chair forever. 

All the stuff with the Mummies and Egypt is his idea. He wants to get off the chair, and so he keeps shouting things like, "Do my bidding!" and "Make evil happen!" and "Kill more poachers!"

Apparently this will help.

The Mummies build a big space rocket. At least that's what they tell everyone. It doesn't really resemble a rocket at all, does it? This would explain why they are all standing in such defensive 'hard man' stances, as if daring anyone to say, "Why have you built a big vinyl tent in the garden? Are you having a pretend festival?"

I think it's meant to go to Mars, and set Sutekh free, or something. If it destroys... something... then he... gets out of the chair. I'll be honest, I've never really paid much attention to what's happening. It's all too exciting and scary for me to properly settle.

Evil Cadaverous Brother turns out to have the rather mundane job of bossing the Mummies about. You can tell that he's a bit deflated by this. He was clearly expecting bigger things from his job as Villainous Ghoul than 'supervise the efficient loading of a rubbish looking rocket, on schedule and without damaging the original wood flooring of the house."

He's a good villain, but he needs some underlings that he can yell sarcastic insults at. The Mummies have excellent upper body strength, but they don't really listen, so it's impossible to make them sad.

Kaboom! Shoot!

I don't know what Doctor Who has been up to in this story, but it's clearly not much. For all the difference Doctor Who has made, this might as well be called "The Amazing Sutekh Show - episode five, Everyone Nice Gets Horribly Killed".

Sarah has clearly had enough, and has found herself a massive gun. It was only a matter of time, really, before she tired of Doctor Who's idiosyncratic approach to evil. "Ooh, let's talk to it. Let's wave jelly babies in its face. Let's try to see the good in it until it dies of shame! Let's press a button and hope it makes the story end for no reason."

Towards the end of the story, everyone goes to Mars. Here we see Evil Cadaverous Brother poking furiously at one of the many puzzles that you apparently have to do if you want to see Sutekh. 

He is definitely not having a fun time. It was good earlier, when he was strutting around being the embodiment of evil and murdering his brother, and watching the Mummies charge excitedly after people. Now literally everyone he could conceivably kill is already dead, and here he is, frustrated by this nonsense.

What's next? A huge sudoku? Evil Candy Crush? 

The final test for Doctor Who and Sarah is when they meet these fancy Bling Mummies and have to play stupid logic games with them. It's one of those "If I'm telling the truth, but my mate says I'm lying, but then I say I'm not..." things, where you've got to use clever thinking or Sarah Jane will suffocate in her big tube.

Sarah looks very concerned, and with good reason. She's realised that Doctor Who has, right this very second, run out of enthusiasm for this story. If she's lucky, he'll tell the fancy Mummies the answer to their stupid quiz before her lungs explode, but then there'll be no getting anything useful out of him for the rest of the day, and they might as well just go home. 

As I recall, that's pretty much what happens. Sutekh does escape, and vows to destroy all living matter in the universe etc. But Doctor Who defeats him by getting out a device no-one has ever seen before and pressing some buttons.

It's a poor ending to an otherwise delightful story. Ah well. You can't have everything. 

See you next time, for more, similar nonsense.