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Bradshaw Watch – ‘Withnail & I’ (1987)

For anyone struggling to get through Peter Bradshaw’s single-paragraph review of Withnail and I (1987) in The Guardian, here is a rundown of his thoughts on the film – minus bluntly-stated plot details he could have copy-pasted from Wikipedia:

  • One of the film’s stars, Richard Griffiths, died last year
  • Peter describes the film as a “brilliant fin de siècle comedy” – a term encompassing artworks and ideas associated with late 19th century France. It is almost completely meaningless in this context, perhaps meant to allude generally towards a feeling of decay and bohemian squalor. The main reason for its use here is, of course, to sound a bit clever
  • The film was directed by Bruce Robinson
  • The film has been re-released in cinemas
  • The film also stars Richard E Grant and Paul McGann as “the eponymous Withnail and I”
  • “Every line” of the film, according to Peter, is “a quotable joy” – though he neglects to give a single example. He does paraphrase one line, describing the recent death of actor Griffiths as “the ice in the cider of [his] enjoyment”
  • The film also stars Ralph Brown as a “lugubrious” drug dealer, a character who has ascended to “legendary status”. There may be reasons for this rise to fame – aspects of Brown’s performance, or of the character as written – but, if there are, Bradshaw chooses to leave them entirely unmentioned (as is his right!)
  • Peter is envious of people who are about to see the film for the first time – his concern for these lucky individuals is most likely why he is so very, very careful not to reveal any details whatsoever of the film’s underlying ideas, or details of the actors’ performances in his 148 word writeup.

DO NOT BE FOOLED. IF YOU THINK YOU HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO COUNTERFEIT FILM CRITICISM, CONTACT YOUR LOCAL POLICE STATION – OR LEAVE A TESTIMONIAL ON FLICKBOOK.WORDPRESS.COM

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TV Recap: ‘The Strain,’ Loved Ones

I sit in front of my laptop, Robinson’s squash at the ready. Chilling music rings out. A chilling montage of blood and tiles fills the screen. That chilling font reveals itself, emblazoning the show’s title across my monitor: The Strain. “I am watching The Strain again,” I think to myself. “And indeed,” I think a few moment later, “why on earth not?”

To say that The Strain was created by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan is only half of the mystery. To say that it stars Corey Stoll, David Bradley, Mía Maestro, Kevin Durand, Jonathan Hyde, Richard Sammel, Sean Astin, Jack Kesy, Natalie Brown, Miguel Gomez, and Ben Hyland gets us some way towards an idea of what the show is. But is it, in the final analysis, really enough? To discover the mystery of what is ailing this patient, we must snap on our treated, latex surgical gloves, select a gleaming instrument of metallic precision from our tray of instruments, and make a deeper incision into its underlying mysteries.

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Bradshaw Watch Classic – ‘Mission: Impossible 2’ (2000)

Roughly a decade ago, there was a film critic called Peter Bradshaw whose reviews for The Guardian crackled with opinionated passion and carefully-worded analysis. His full archive is available to read online, and it’s a genuine pleasure. His review of John Woo’s bizarre misfire Mission: Impossible 2 (2000) contained the following insights – leaving out basic details of the plot:

Mission_Impossible_II_38636_Medium– The film’s official title is presented as the “techno-key abbreviation” of M:i-2, which Peter suggests may reflect a sinister trend in the film – the “elision and omission of all ordinary human motivation, characterisation and, indeed, the banal requirements of physics and gravity”

– Peter notes the controversy over whether or not Tom Cruise performed his own “free-climbing” stunts which, according to the producers, were “the real thing”. He states dryly that “the production’s insurance brokers must have been very understanding” if that was the case

– Director John Woo makes “very different demands on his leading man than Stanley Kubrick or Paul Thomas Anderson,” devoting the film to pure action scenes, “devoid of the conventional solvents of thought or conversation”

– While some of the film is set in Spain, co-producer Tom Cruise ensured that most of the filming took place in Australia – possibly due to low production costs. The films makes good use of the conflicting environments offered by “glitzy urban” Sydney, and the “scrubby brush” of the wilderness

– Peter notes that the eccentric device of using latex masks as a disguise (which, he says, harks back to the original TV show) is here used “incessantly” by heroes and villains alike, almost giving the impression of watching a stage farce “from another century”. However, the gimmick “does not serve to advance or complicate the plot in any normal sense,” he says, but merely creates “little stand-alone moments of astonishment”

– Peter observes that there aren’t many actual gadgets in the film – and that even the presence of laptop computers, “a staple of the first film and of techno thrillers throughout the 90s,” is pretty subdued. He suggests this might be because “there isn’t anywhere obvious for hi-tech innovation to go” in action movies, now that audiences have become used to seeing them peppered with cutting-edge modern technology

– Peter asserts that the film’s chief appeal is Cruise himself – both his physical appearance (“swervy, bendy, agile”) and the personality he projects through his performance (“taut, genial self-possession”). Bradshaw notes that an insult aimed at Cruise by the film’s villain (accusing him of “grinning like an idiot every 15 minutes”) is a bit close to the bone, and then goes off into a tangent about Cruise’s ever-present grin – noting that it becomes “disconcerting once you see that his upper row of teeth is not quite square on his face, and the gap between his two front teeth clearly to the right of his nose”

– Peter laments that the movie takes nothing from the original Bruce Geller show except the bombastic intro and Lalo Schifrin’s theme tune, which he feels is underused on the film’s soundtrack. The screenplay is by Robert Towne, and contains “few droll moments”

– Dougray Scott plays the villain as a “cool dry Scot” whose “dark, brooding machismo” reminds Peter of Sean Connery as Bond – an association he feels was probably deliberate. Thandie Newton struck Peter as “heart-stoppingly beautiful,” and her role as an international jewel thief “wonderfully old-fashioned”

– Peter refers to Cruise and Newton’s love affair as a “tendresse,” trying to give his words a flavour of romance themselves (incidentally, it’s a word he clearly relishes – a quick Google search for “peter bradshaw tendresse” will show at least 11 separate Guardian reviews in which it is used)

– Despite his obvious enjoyment of its silliness, Bradshaw dismisses the film as a “plotless romp,” which in the final analysis is “utterly devoid of real risk, real sweat or real danger”

DO NOT BE FOOLED. IF YOU THINK YOU HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO COUNTERFEIT FILM CRITICISM, CONTACT YOUR LOCAL POLICE STATION – OR LEAVE A TESTIMONIAL ON FLICKBOOK.WORDPRESS.COM

Bradshaw Watch Classic – ‘American Beauty’ 2000

Roughly a decade ago, there was a film critic called Peter Bradshaw whose reviews for The Guardian crackled with opinionated passion and carefully-worded analysis. His full archive is available to read online, and it’s a genuine pleasure. For example, his review of Sam Mendes’ breakthrough hit American Beauty (2000) contained the following insights – leaving out basic details of the plot:

American_Beauty_jail_cell– Before being released in the UK, the film had already garnered a reputation as “the first bang-up classic of the new decade,” winning Golden Globes and hotly tipped for the Oscars

– The film debuted in the UK at the London film festival, where Peter personally had the opportunity to see the “stunning impact” it had

– The whole cast give “superbly modulated” performances, but Annette Bening stands out for her portrayal of a depressed, self-loathing housewife – her “bright, chipper keeping-up-appearances smile [causing] her crow’s feet to crinkle and clench almost audibly”

– Bening also starred in a film called The Grifters (1990), which Peter previously considered to be her best performance

– As well as praising Mendes for his “precocious mastery of technique,” Bradshaw makes sure we remember to give credit where it’s due by citing the director’s “canny reliance” on the established, talented cinematographer Conrad L Hall

– Peter predicts that the film’s erotic dream-sequences will strike some as contrived and artificial, confessing that he thought the roses which act as their central motif were “stagey, pedantic, and a bit soft-core”

– Peter criticises the film at large for “elements of redundancy and naivety,” and traces of “saccharine,” holding up Todd Solondz’s Happiness and Alexander Payne’s Election as films which scrutinise the underbelly of American suburbia with far more “power and conviction”

– Peter notes that there is “a structural problem in the fact that a scene has been cut from the end,” referring correctly to the deleted backstory of Lester’s murder. As he points out, this cut radically altered the overall shape of the film, leaving a number of loose threads

– Peter likens the film’s atmosphere of suburban breakdown to Nabokov’s Lolita, citing the author’s description of someone who “accidentally sweeps the refrigerator and defrosts the driveway”. In fact he is misremembering the text, in which the narrator refers to someone who “watered his car, or, at a later date, defrosted his driveway” – the gag being that the actions being described are ordinary and familiar, but rendered alien by inserting the wrong verbs. However, despite the slip, Peter’s version is typically apposite and lyrical in its own way.

DO NOT BE FOOLED. IF YOU THINK YOU HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO COUNTERFEIT FILM CRITICISM, CONTACT YOUR LOCAL POLICE STATION – OR LEAVE A TESTIMONIAL ON FLICKBOOK.WORDPRESS.COM

Bradshaw Watch – ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ (2014)

For anyone wondering why Peter Bradshaw gave Guardians of the Galaxy four stars in his Guardian review, here is a rundown of Peter’s thoughts on the film – excluding bluntly-stated plot details which could have been copy-pasted from Wikipedia:

guardians-of-the-galaxy-new-set-pictures+(1)– The film features a “retro playlist”. Peter has also seen the film X-Men: Days of Future Past, which had one too

– One of the film’s stars, Chris Pratt, was also in a TV show called Parks and Recreation

Peter has also seen a film called Star Wars, and thinks Chris Pratt’s character is a bit like Han Solo

– Peter is, or was once, acquainted with a “very prominent British producer” who explained to him that only big film studios can afford the copyright fees to use classic pop tunes

– The film’s environments put Peter in mind of “classic photorealist sci-fi paperback covers”

– Peter has read a book called The Lord of the Rings, and thinks the character of “Groot” – a giant, talking tree – is a bit like a character in that, who is also a giant, talking tree

– Peter is also familiar with the Christian Bible, and remembers the name “Gomorrah” from it

– The film also stars Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana and Bradley Cooper

– The animated raccoon in the film reminded Peter of two other animated animals – Timon from The Lion King (who, he notes, was voiced by Nathan Lane), and “the meerkat in the TV advert who says ‘simples'”. On Peter’s behalf, I shall note here that the meerkat in question was called “Aleksandr Orlov,” and was voiced by Simon Greenall

– Peter feels that the film “pulls off the difficult trick of combining sprightly self-satire combined with that operatic self-belief that superhero stories need”. The insight here lies not in the sentence itself, but in its repetition of “combining” and “combined,” which indicates that Peter didn’t re-read even the last words he typed before filing his copy.

DO NOT BE FOOLED. IF YOU THINK YOU HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO COUNTERFEIT FILM CRITICISM, CONTACT YOUR LOCAL POLICE STATION – OR LEAVE A TESTIMONIAL ON FLICKBOOK.WORDPRESS.COM

‘D8ted’ #4

Next part of an hilarious webcomic, for the 2.0 generation!1!
(Click to expand)

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Tim Kelleher

‘True Grit’ – false Coens?

True Grit (2010) was always going to get good reviews with such prestige at both ends of the camera, although despite the timing it doesn’t seem like a film with any major awards ambition.  Unlike the strategically kooky Oscar-seeking missile deployed recently by Aronovsky and Hershlag, this is a work of genuine creative vision which deserves its hype.  What’s interesting is that even the positive reviews are chiefly united by a sense of surprise, even confusion, that the Coen brothers’ latest follows the Western’s tracks so closely.  It has been called “the first straight genre exercise in their career”, “probably the least ironic picture in the Coen Brothers’ worthy canon”, and even “just a couple bloody gunfights removed from an old-fashioned Disney yarn”.  Ethan Coen himself has claimed that it was partly conceived and could be viewed as a Christmas movie (hopefully TV schedulers will take him at his word come December).

SUBTEXT IS FOR PANSIES

If the definition of “A Coen Brothers’ movie” is that it be relentlessly sardonic, and dementedly hostile towards genre convention, the consensus seems to be that this is the least “Coen Brothers” the Coen brothers have ever been.  Despite the praise there seems to be a sense in some quarters that, in making a film people can easily understand, the filmmakers have failed to fulfil their duty to be as difficult and inscrutable as possible.  The St. Petersburg Times‘ reviewer sums up this sense of betrayal, pointedly judging that “True Grit is a very good movie that might be more embraceable if we didn’t know who was pulling the trigger”. Continue reading