Tag: Jeff Goldblum

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Luscious visuals, hilarious gags mix with an air of sadness and regret in Wes Anderson’s masterpiece

Director: Wes Anderson

Cast: Ralph Fiennes (M. Gustav), Tony Revolori (Zero), F. Murray Abraham (Mr Moustafa), Mathieu Amalric (Serge X), Adrien Brody (Dmitri), Willem Dafoe (Jopling), Jeff Goldblum (Deputy Kovacs), Harvey Keitel (Ludwig), Jude Law (Young Writer), Bill Murray (M. Ivan), Edward Norton (Inspector Henckels), Saoirse Ronan (Agatha), Jason Schwartzman (M. Jean), Léa Seydoux (Clotilde), Tilda Swinton (Madame D), Tom Wilkinson (Author), Owen Wilson (M. Chuck)

I wrote recently I could forgive the flaws I’ve found in Kurosawa’s work, for the majesty of Seven Samurai. I can totally say the same again for Wes Anderson. He is a director I’ve sometimes found quirky, mannered and artificial – but God almighty he deserves a place in the pantheon for directing a film as near to perfection as The Grand Budapest Hotel, a delight from start to finish, as beautiful to look at as it is whipper-snap funny, as heart-warming to bathe in as it is coldly, sadly bittersweet. After three viewings I can say it is, without a doubt, a masterpiece.

Like many Wes Anderson films, its storyline is eccentric, halfway between fantasy and absurdity. In 1932, in an opulent hotel, The Grand Budapest, concierge Monsieur Gustav (Ralph Fiennes) is the pinnacle of his trade: precise, fastidious, perfectionist, he can fix anything anywhere – opera tickets, the perfect table placement and a night of passion at any time for the elderly widows who visit his hotel. When one of them, Madame D (Tilda Swinton) dies leaving him a priceless painting, Boy with Apple he suddenly finds himself framed for her murder. Only his ingenuity, and the dedicated help of his protégé, best friend and surrogate brother/son, lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori) will save him.

You can’t escape on the first viewing that The Grand Budapest Hotel is an extraordinarily funny film. Crammed with superb one-liners, it’s a showcase for a breathtakingly, blissfully funny performance from Ralph Fiennes whose comic timing is exquisite and whose mastery of the perfectly structured monologue of flowery language is as spot-on as his ability to deliver a crude punch-line. Anderson fills the film with clever sight-gags, bounce and a supreme sense of fun. You’ll laugh out loud (I frequently do, and I remember most of the gags) and wind back to watch them again.

But what lifts this is the wonderfully evocative, elegiac piece this beautiful film is. For all its comic zip, it unfolds in a romanticised past already a relic in 1932. We can’t escape the rise of Fascism that fills the film. Jack-booted soldiers accost and hunt Gustav and Zero. Adrien Brody’s furious heir to Madame D looks like a Gestapo officer, and his vicious heavy Jopling (Willem Dafoe so weathered, he looks like he’s been beaten by a carpet duster) has a stormtrooper menace. En route to Madame D’s funeral, Zero is nearly dragged off the train to be lynched by fascist thugs for being an immigrant and The Grand Budapest is taken over by this dreadful movement, filled with Mussolini-inspired ZZ insignia and blackshirts.

Under the jokes, the world Gustav represents has already died and been buried. We are never allowed to forget we are marching, inexorably, towards a very real-world war that will rip apart this fictional country and leave millions dead. Gustav’s gentile old-school charm ended with 1920s: and he sort of knows it. Fiennes, under the suaveness, conveys a man who falls back into potty language when he can no longer maintain his assured confidence that a straight-backed, polite assurance will solve any problem or a poetic reflection will allow them to put any unpleasantness behind them. Those days are gone and it makes for a deep, rich vein of sadness just under the surface.

It’s particularly acute because it’s made clear this is a memory piece. Anderson constructs the film like a memory box. It has no less than three framing devices. It opens and closes with a young woman in 2014 visiting a monument to a great writer, the author of the book The Grand Budapest Hotel. From there we flash back to the author (a droll Tom Wilkinson) in 1985 recounting how he met the man who inspired the novel, before heading again to a flashback to the 1960s where the young author (Jude Law) meets the man we discover is an older Zero (F Murray Abraham) who recounts the story we then watch. Each layer of the film descends deeper into Anderson’s artificial, carefully structured visual style, with its heightened sense of reality.

Old Zero – beautifully played by F. Murray Abraham – is introduced as a man of acute loneliness and sadness, who tells us early on the woman his young self loves, Agatha (a radiant Saoirse Ronan) will die and shuffles around the nearly abandoned The Grand Budapest (now a concrete nightmare of Communist architecture) with only his memories for comfort. No matter how jovial and bright the events of the 1930s are, we can’t forget that these are the reflections of a man full of regrets.

When old Zero’s narration turns to remembering Agatha, the lights around him dim: Agatha even enters the narrative almost by the side door: Gustav is arrested and imprisoned before she appears, along with a series of flashbacks-within-flashbacks to Zero and her meeting and her first meeting with Gustav, as if Zero had to steel himself to remember her (as reflected in Abraham’s tear-stained face). Later, when remembering the fates of Gustav (his best friend) and Agatha (the love of his life) he almost draws a veil over it (even their final scenes in flashback play out in monochrome). There is a deep, moving sense of humanity here, a powerful thread of grief that adds immense richness.

But don’t forget this is also a funny film! Anderson is an inventive visual and narrative director at the best of times, and here every single beat of his playful style pays off in spades. The entire 1930s section of the film (the overwhelming bulk of the narrative) plays out in 4:3 ratio, which to many other directors would be restrictive, but seems a perfect fit for a director who often composes his visuals with the skill of an expert cartoonist. The frame is frequently filled in every direction when within the grandeur of the hotel, but then feels marvellously restrictive for Gustav’s prison cell or the train compartments that seem to constantly carry Zero and him to disaster.

Anderson’s wonderfully precise camera movements also reach their zenith here. His camera is deceptively static, often placed in a series of perfectly staged compositions that places the characters at their heart, frequently looking at us. But then the camera will turn – frequently in a fluid single-plain ninety degrees to reveal a new image of character. There are Steadicam tracking shots that are a dream to watch. It’s combined with some truly astounding model shots (parts of the set are not-even-disguised animated models and miniatures, adding to the sense of fantasia) and the detail of every inch of the design (astounding work from Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock) is perfection. The film is an opulent visual delight.

It’s a film of belly laughs and then moments of haunting sadness. But also, a wonderful celebration of friendship. The bond between Gustav and Zero is profound, natural and deeply moving – grounded, fittingly, in adversity from the agents of a hostile, oppressive state – and carries real emotional force. Newcomer Tony Revolori is hugely endearing as naïve but brave Zero, making his way in this new world (fitting the theme, he left his homeland after his family was destroyed by war) and sparks superbly with Fiennes and Ronan.

There is a wonderful beating heart in The Grand Budapest Hotel, amongst the farce, perfectly timed gags and cheekiness, that makes it a rich film you can luxuriate in. Anderson’s direction is faultless, Fiennes is a breathtaking revelation, both hilarious, affronted, decent and fighting the good fight. Gorgeous to look at, thought-provoking and laugh-out loud funny it’s a dream of a film.

Jurassic World: Dominion (2022)

Jurassic World: Dominion (2022)

It squeezes so many characters in, it totally forgets to make room for plot, invention or anything new at all

Director: Colin Trevorrow

Cast: Chris Pratt (Owen Grady), Bryce Dallas Howard (Claire Dearing), Laura Dern (Dr Ellie Sattler), Jeff Goldblum (Dr Ian Malcolm), Sam Neill (Dr Alan Grant), Isabella Sermon (Maisie Lockwood), DeWanda Wise (Kayla Watts), Mamoudou Athie (Ramsay Cole), Campbell Scott (Dr Lewis Dodgson), BD Wong (Dr Henry Wu), Omar Sy (Barry Sembène), Justice Smith (Franklin Webb), Daniella Pineda (Dr Zia Rodriguez)

As I was leaving the cinema, I heard a twelve-year old talking about which of the dinosaurs in the movie was their favourite. Then they said: “it was a bit samey though wasn’t it?”. I’m not sure I can beat that precocious nail-on-the-head judgement. Nothing happens in Jurassic World: Dominion you’ve not seen many times before in the franchise. Underneath the flash, Jurassic World: Dominion is a tired retread, crowbarring in references from better films left, right and centre, all to hide that there are no new ideas here.

Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) have dedicated their lives to protecting human clone Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon) from the grasp of corporations. When she’s kidnapped by foot-soldiers of clearly-evil-corp BioSyn (they even have “Sin” in their name), they pull out all the stops to get her back from BioSyn’sNorthern Italy research compound. Meanwhile, Drs Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Alan Grant (Sam Neill) are investigating genetically modified locusts which are destroying every crop in the Southern USA – except those using BioSyn seed. All roads lead to that Italian compound – where Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is employed as a contrarian philosopher – to try and stop BioSyn’s nefarious schemes.

You know what struck me when I wrote that summary? I didn’t use the word dinosaurs. The prehistoric beasties are pretty superfluous. Sure, they down a plane and our heroes dodge them in various places (BioSyn’s compound doubles as a dinosaur refuge). But, seeing as the last film ended with dinosaurs escaping into the wild and becoming part of our everyday lives… this sequel takes the concept nowhere. Bar an opening news report montage (showing, among other things, pterodactyls – yes, I know they’re not dinosaurs – stealing a bride’s bouquet) and a Star Wars style under-ground market where dino-pets and fighting-pit beasties are traded on the black market, Dominion finds almost nothing to do with this.

In fact, Dominion struggles to find anything to do at all. It’s an extremely loosely plotted mess of a film that feels like two vaguely (very, very vaguely) connected plotlines rammed together in a way designed to shoe-horn in as many legacy characters and call-backs as possible. Laura Dern gets the bulkiest (and only plot essential) role among the returning trio. Sam Neill feels dragged along for the ride (Grant serves literally no narrative purpose) and, while Goldblum gets most of the best lines (delivered in his trademark, improvisational oddness), Malcolm merely splits the role of “inside man” with another character so cursorily introduced and vaguely motivated he feels like he was only there because covid made some of the other actors unavailable for parts of the filming.

The legacy framing is so lazy that all three of these characters essentially wear the same costumes as they did in Jurassic Park. Everyone in universe seems to know who they are (Which I find highly unlikely) and the film bends over backwards to introduce clumsy links between them and the characters from the first two Jurassic World films in ways that feel forced.

The film slowly consumes itself with references back to previous films, linked by sequences that feel ripped out from other hits. Owen and Claire’s opening plotline plays out like an odd Mission: Impossible spy thriller, including a Bourne-ish roof top chase (with Owen haring away on his trademark motorbike from killer velociraptors – the film’s only exciting set-piece, and even that is ripped from other films) with Claire transformed into a semi-adept free-runner. The dino-market is essentially Mos Eisley, by way of that Kamono Dragon fighting pit from Skyfall. By the end a host of famous set-pieces from Jurassic Park and Jurassic World are effectively re-staged or openly referenced and props (such as Nedry’s shaving foam can) are reverentially pulled out.

Any interesting ideas raised are swiftly crushed. Maisie’s concern that, as a clone, she isn’t a real person is fascinating, but the film forgets it in seconds. The villain (a neat Steve Jobs parody from Campbell Scott) spends a fortune capturing Maisie – but when she escapes (thanks to a key to her cage being helpfully left on a table in front of her) he makes literally no attempt at all to recapture her. It’s stressed to us that the whole world is looking for Maisie and that if she is found it will be dangerous for her – by the end of the film she’s doing a press conference and no one gives a damn. The moral implications of a ‘mother’ cloning herself and curing her clone child of a life-ending disease in the womb, is thrown on the table and then ignored.

The whole film revolves around ridiculous coincidences. Villains run away and then helpfully return to ludicrously unsafe places, purely because the plot requires it. Stupid decisions are made right, left and centre. Plot armour ruthlessly protects the expected. The dinosaurs are just irrelevant set dressing: we are told no less than three times the Gigantasaurus is “the biggest hunter there’s ever been”: solely to build up an inevitable face-off with the T-Rex. The deadly locust plot is such a naked attempt to motivate shoe-horning in legacy characters, the film doesn’t even bother to explain what it’s about or what the baddies plan was.

At one point Laura Dern says something to the effect of “we shouldn’t live in the past, we should aim for the future”. Imagine if this slightly lumpen rehash of its better predecessors had done the same.

Jurassic Park (1993)

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Dinosaurs walk the Earth once more in Spielberg’s classic blockbuster Jurassic Park

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Sam Neill (Dr Alan Grant), Laura Dern (Dr Ellie Satler), Jeff Goldblum (Dr Ian Malcolm), Richard Attenborough (John Hammond), Bob Peck (Robert Muldoon), Joseph Mazzello (Tim Murphy), Ariana Richards (Lex Murphy), Samuel L. Jackson (Ray Arnold), Wayne Knight (Dennis Nedry), Martin Ferrero (Donald Gernaro), BD Wong (Dr Henry Wu)

Can you imagine a more exciting film for a 12-year-old boy, than one with dinosaurs walking the Earth once more? And not the sort of rubbery dinosaurs, that we always knew were really models, in classic films. I was 12 when I first saw this film, and these animals really did look 65 million years in the making: they felt real, with roars that deafened the ears and footfalls that made the cinema shake. Dinosaurs are hugely exciting, awe-inspiring beasts. So much so you can forget many of them were also ruthless killers, with really sharp pointy teeth. It’s that mixture of awe and terror that Steven Spielberg understands so well in this exceptional blockbuster, like he mixed Close Encounters and Jaws together in a lab and then let it run loose.

Boffins have worked out a way to clone dinosaurs from frozen DNA, stuck inside prehistoric mosquitoes. Naturally, what else would you do with this discovery but use it to create the most exciting theme park ever seen. What could possibly go wrong? Avuncular billionaire John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) has built the park – and he wants scientists and archaeologists Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ellie Satler (Laura Dern) and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to give it the thumbs up. Sadly however things are set for disaster during a long, low-staffed weekend when an act of industrial espionage by disgruntled employee Nedry (Wayne Knight) leads to all control over the par being lost and the dinosaurs turning on the guests.

The rights to Chrichton’s novel were sold before the book was published, and it’s classic Chrichton set-up of science trying to play God, and landing us all in a moral quagmire and massacre. But first though, let’s not forget how awe-inspiring dinosaurs actually. It’s a long wait until we see any more detail of one than a fearsome eye. But when we do, Jurassic Park knows that for that brief moment we are all children again. As John Williams’ triumphant theme thunders out, and the characters stagger with breathless, tearful excitement in its wake, a Brachiosaurus towers over the screen. Spielberg’s camera perfectly hammers home the sense of wonder at the size and beauty of this gentle giant. Sure science is arrogant, but then if it wasn’t we’d never reach the stars, right?

Spielberg’s film though isn’t just an awe-inspiring modern-day Planet Earth. Because the makers of this park also created plenty of fierce monsters, from the mighty T-Rex to the scarily smart and vicious velociraptors. And if the first half of the film is about the magic – that imperious brachiosaurus, a sleeping triceratops, a baby velociraptor emerging from its egg – the second half is about the horror of finding out what happens when man’s hubris comes back and (literally) bites him in the ass (and plenty of other places). Because when the Raptors get lose, suddenly this park isn’t magic, but a terrifying death-trap where the guests are the prey to out-of-control exhibits.

The second half of the film – from the moment the T-Rex bursts through its non-functioning electric fence to rip apart two jeeps (and of course eat a lawyer cringing on the toilet) – is a terrifying, giddy, exciting monster-chase, with a director who hasn’t delighted this much in the relentless horror of nature since Jaws. And Spielberg gets to play every game here. Huge dinosaurs stomping on cars. Velociraptors playing ruthless hide-and-seek in isolated power houses. Open spaces becoming terrifying hunting grounds and everyday ones like kitchens become terrible traps. What chance do human beings have when there are “clever girls” like the raptors running around?

Jurassic Park is singularly responsible for elevating the raptor, a previously largely unknown dinosaur, to the front rank of dinosaur fame. There is always a romantic appeal to the T-Rex. It’s the king after all, the biggest and the most famous – and its status in the public perhaps reflects the fact that the film sort of asks us to root for it. After all, it only eats the lawyer. And when the final act comes, it’s the T-Rex’s intervention that saves our heroes bacon. The real monsters are the raptors: supremely clever (they can open doors!), totally ruthless, they hunt in packs, they move super-fast and they look like a disturbing mix between bird, human and lizard. Spielberg makes them one of the most terrifying monsters in film, that more than live up to their extended build-up.

Spielberg directs the entire film with his usual devilish wit and fiendish mastery of the set-piece. The film draws some neat, if simple, story-lines for its human characters. Will Dr Grant overcome his aversion to children? Each of them gets a snippet like this. The actors are often (literally) in the shadow of the dinosaurs, but they are big part of communicating the sense of awe. Neill and Dern go through the motions with a certain charm. Goldblum steals most of his scenes as a rock ‘n’ roll physicist, riffing in the way only he can. Richard Attenborough reinvented himself from a career of creeps to cuddly grandad as a Hammond who shares nothing but his name with the book’s ruthless capitalist.

But the real stars are the dinosaurs. And even almost thirty years on, the special effects are really breath-taking here. These feel like real, living, breathing creatures, and Spielberg knows how to shoot them. Even today it still casts quite a spell. It’s telling that none of the sequels, except Jurassic World (which was made by the people who grew up on this film) gets near to matching the mix of magic and horror that this one hits. Sure, it’s a film so confident of success that it fills one scene with shots of the park merchandise (available in a shop near you now!), but then that’s because it’s got a master at the helm and the greatest attractions in 65 million years.

With its underlying plot of the dangers of mankind’s hubris – plus some rather witty criticism of how a park reliant on wild animals might have struggled to work anyway if the dinosaurs refused to emerge from the shadows of their huge paddocks for the tourists – Jurassic Park gives you something to think about, while still terrifying you with ruthless monsters. It’s a classic.]

Nashville (1975)

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Robert Altman’s sprawling classic takes on a whole city in the brilliant Nashville

Director: Robert Altman

Cast: David Arkin (Norman), Barbara Baxley (Lady Pearl), Ned Beatty (Del Reese), Karen Black (Connie White), Ronee Blakley (Barbara Jean), Timothy Brown (Tommy Brown), Keith Carradine (Tom Frank), Geraldine Chaplin (Opal), Robert Du Qui (Wade Cooley), Shelley Duvall (Martha), Allen Garfield (Barnett), Henry Gibson (Haven Hamilton), Scott Glenn (Pfc Kelly), Jeff Goldblum (Tricycle Man), Barbara Harris (Winifred), David Hayward (Kenny), Michael Murphy (John Triplette), Allan F. Nicholls (Bill), Dave Peel (Bud Hamilton), Cristina Raines (Mary), Bert Remsen (Star), Lily Tomlin (Linnea Reese), Gwen Welles (Sueleen Gay), Keenan Wynn (Mr Green)

Robert Altman’s magnum opus, Nashville has the city has its set and, seemingly, its entire population as the cast. Over the course of a few days, Nashville charts the interweaving lives of a host of people making (or trying to make) a living in the home of country and western and the hangers on and fans flocking around the edges. Meanwhile a presidential campaign plays out, trying to recruit stars as fund-raisers.

You could say that, on the surface, Nashville isn’t really about anything. Certainly, it’s plot (such as it is) is more based on observing our characters interacting with and responding to events. Wonderfully rich short stories overlap each other, the focus mothing smoothly from one and another. It’s not really grounded in an overarching plot, such as McCabe and Mrs Miller or The Long Goodbye. In many ways its more similar to M*A*S*H, an experience piece trying to capture the thoughts and emotions of a particular moment of time. It’s that which I think is the heart of it. Nashville is about very little, but really it’s about everything – and it’s one of the most enlightening and vital studies of twentieth century America you are ever going to see. A rich and fascinating insight into a particular point in history, in a country rife with tensions.

You can’t escape that Nashville takes place in an America under the shadow of traumatic events. The 1970s (and the legacy of the 1960s) has pulled America further apart than ever. It’s a country struggling with a wave of assassinations, still deeply scared by the sacrifice of JFK (several characters, most notably Barbara Bexley’s permanently intoxicated Lady Pearl, reflect on the loss of innocence that came with it). Scott Glenn’s uniform clad army private is only the most visual reminder that the country is being ripped apart by Vietnam. Bubbling racial tensions are captured by short-order cook Wade (a lovely performance by Robert Du Qui) who angrily denounces black country singer Tommy Brown (a suave Timothy Brown) as an Uncle Tom.

Politically, America isn’t heading anywhere. The film is continuously framed by a car literally driving around in circles, blaring out meaningless platitudes straight from the lips of Hal Phillip Walker a third-party Presidential candidate who is against a lot of stuff (lawyers in congress and the Election College) but doesn’t seem to be ‘for’ anything. His smooth advance man John Triplette (Michael Murphy, quietly unimpressed by the music stars around him) drums up musicians to appear at a benefit – not one of whom even ask about the politics of the man they are being asked to endorse. Nashville isn’t a film that feels particularly enamoured either with politics or the level of our engagement with it.

Instead there is a new religion in town: fame. The musicians of Nashville at the time were unhappy with the film, feeling that Altman planned an attack on their industry. Altman is, of course, smarter than this. Of course, there are some satirical blows landed – but the film has respect and admiration for artists with genuine talent. Its real criticism is for fakes and poseurs (of which more later). But for the talents at the centre, sure they are flawed – but there is a respect for their skills and genuineness that keeps the film relatable. (Altman would be far more vicious when he turned his eyes to Hollywood with The Player).

The artists at its heart are flawed but human. Haven Hamilton (a grandiose Henry Gibson) may be a blow-hard reactionary, but his patriotic pride and sense of personal responsibility is genuine (late in the film he will ignore a serious injury to show concern for others). At the film’s centre is fragile super-star Barbara Jean (a delicate Ronee Blakely), the beloved super-star teetering on the edge of a dangerous breakdown, overwhelmed with the pressures of fame and expectation. A lonely person, reduced to trying to communicate her unease to her audiences in rambling monologues. Looking for a human connection she’s unable to make elsewhere (this makes for a neat contrast with her rival, Karen Black’s bubbly but coolly distant Connie White who knows where to draw the line between public and private).

This humanity also makes for intriguing personal dilemmas. Singing trio Tom (a swaggering Keith Carradine), Bill (a frustrated Allan F Nicholls) and Mary (a saddened Cristina Raines) are in the middle of a love triangle (caused by Mary’s love for Tom, who loves the attention but doesn’t return the favour). Made more tense by Tom’s desire to go solo, the couple’s tensions are never firmly resolved – part of Altman’s avoiding of neat endings. Tom himself, in many ways a shallow lothario, is also shown to be feeling the same loneliness and emptiness as others.

It’s interesting that the film’s warmest character, Lily Tomlin’s Linnea, lies half-way between the world of the music and the world of normal life. A dedicated performer of gospel with an all-Black choir, Linnea also works tirelessly at home to support her two deaf children (who attract very little interest from their father, would-be fixer Ned Beatty). Linnea though is never portrayed as someone trapped in her life, in the way others are, but in complete acceptance – and even contentment – with her lot. Similar to Keenan Wynn’s grieving husband, desperate for his niece to engage with her aunt’s illness, the film’s real warmth is for those people grounded in real-life worries.

The film’s real fire is saved for the shallow wannabes that flock around the edges. The music stars may be flawed but they have talent (as witnessed by the film showcasing almost an hour of musical performance in its runtime – all the songs written and performed by the stars). Shelley Duvall’s would-be groupee is hilariously empty-headed and selfish. Ned Beatty’s greasy-pole climbing political animal is ridiculously pompous. At the top of the pile is Geraldine Chaplin’s reporter, an empty headed fame obsessive, hilariously fawning to the rich and famous and abrupt and rude to ‘the staff’, pontificating emptily in a car junkyard. Is she even a real reporter or just a fantasist?

Altman’s film also finds time for two very different women trying to find fame in this heartland of country and western. Sueleen Gray (Gwen Welles) is a waitress carefully cultivating all the patter of a star, but lacking the key attribute – talent. So desperate is she to ‘make it’ that she is willing to be exploited for a big chance, with only Wade having the decency to tell her she should cut her losses (advice she bats away in anger). By contrast, Barbara Harris’ Albuquerque, running from her husband to find fame, has the talent but never gets the opportunities – until of course at the very end (and it’s the result of the tragic fate of another woman whose doomed fate hangs over the film).

Nashville is a rich character study, but all these characters link back into an America at a turning point in its cultural history. Detached and disillusioned with politics, this is a country that is starting to see fame – and the indulgence of your own passions and desires – as the new religion. A religion that attracts both wannabes and also stalkers and dangerous obsessives (at least two of whom populate the film, one with fatal consequences). In this world, as idealism dies and is replaced by cynicism, people start to check out and either engage more with their own problems or yearn to change their lives and become something else. Altman’s film captures this moment in time personally, as well as being a compelling melting pot of stories. A rich, multi-layered tapestry – of which a review can only scratch the surface – it’s a great film.

The Prince of Egypt (1998)

Animated DeMille epics in the rather brilliant The Prince of Egypt

Director: Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, Simon Wells

Cast: Val Kilmer (Moses), Ralph Fiennes (Ramesses II), Michelle Pfeiffer (Tzipporah), Sandra Bullock (Miriam), Jeff Goldblum (Aaron), Danny Glover (Jethro), Patrick Stewart (Pharaoh Seti), Helen Mirren (Queen Tuya), Steve Martin (Hotep), Martin Short (Huy), Ofra Haza (Yocheved)

When Dreamworks Studio was put together by three Hollywood mega hotshots (Katzenberg, Spielberg and David Geffen), Jeffrey Katzenberg, former head of Disney, finally got the chance to make his animated version of The Ten Commandments. The Prince of Egypt was the first project under the Dreamworks animation label – and it was intended to beat Disney at its own game. It succeeded – so well that many people think it actually is a Disney film. Is that a good thing?

Anyway, the story should be familiar. In Ancient Egypt, Moses (Val Kilmer), the child of Jewish slaves, is adopted by Pharaoh (Patrick Stewart) as a baby after being found in the bulrushes. Moses grows up as brother to Ramesses (Ralph Fiennes) the future Pharaoh – until the shock of finding out his heritage leads him to flee Egypt. But an encounter with the burning bush (voiced again by Kilmer) gives him a new mission – back to Egypt to demand of Ramesses “Let My People Go”. Will he succeed? Well: There Can Be Miracles (When You Believe).

It helps you to believe in miracles when a film looks as gorgeous as this one does. The animation is amazing, not just because of its quality and richness, but the imagination of its images. From the framing of Pharaoh and later Rameses around the Egyptian architecture around them, to an extraordinary dynamic shot of Moses throwing his sandals from the room when encountering the burning bush, to the haunting interpretation of the killing of the firstborn, it’s brilliant. 

It doesn’t stop there either, with the final parting of the Red Sea awe-inspiring in its scale. But the film does equally beautiful work with the smaller, more intimate moments: each character feels real and lived in, and the film perfectly captures smaller moments of affection, love and hurt with genuine emotional force. It’s a terrifically well-made film.

And of course it has a classic story – it’s literally stood the test of time. So imaginative are the visuals – and so impressive is its scope and scale – that it almost dwarfs the DeMille style it’s quietly apeing. In fact, I’d worry whether it is a film that will have greater appeal to movie-lovers and parents than perhaps it does to children. There isn’t much in the way of humour – even the film’s nominal comic characters, a pair of cynical Egyptian priests (and near con artists) voiced by Steve Martin and Martin Short, are on the side of the oppressive baddies. There are a few decent songs in there – I rather like the Les Miserables style oomph of “Deliver Us” – and the film makes great use of the beautiful voice of the late Israeli singer Ofra Haza. But there is no getting around that this is a serious piece of film-making, with nary a comic camel in sight.

But this is no bad thing at all, and I think it stands The Prince of Egypt in good stead as it’s a film you’ll like more the older and more mature you are watching it. Not least the wonderfully complex relationship it explores between Moses and Ramesses – these two wild young men start as carefree kids (the first thing we see them do is smash up a temple building site in the film’s most cartoonish sequence, a sort of Wacky Races chariot drag race), and each become dramatically changed by responsibilities. Moses ascends to a higher plane of responsibility and humanity – but Ramesses finds himself forced into defending to the death a system of government he seemed at best disinterested in as a young man.

The film actually carries a great deal of sympathy for Ramesses. It’s in many ways a tragedy of the brother relationship between these two princes of Egypt getting shattered by events. But Ramesses is a lonely, almost needy figure, who needs Moses’ affection and respect. Ralph Fiennes mines a lot of vulnerability for this man struggling to fill his father’s shoes, who just wants Moses to chuck this whole prophet business in and go back to being his only friend. Ramesses becomes a complex, vulnerable and rather sad man – unable to deal with the pressure of his role and desperate to revitalise a lost connection with Moses, the hatred he eventually feels for his former brother born almost exclusively from rejection. 

Moses isn’t quite as interesting a character – he’s more of a waster who becomes a stand-up guy – but the film successfully builds an aura about him. It struggles a bit more with those Old Testament morals: we are meant to condemn Pharaoh’s slaughter of the Jewish firstborn that opens the film, but God’s massacring of the the Egyptian firstborn (for all Moses’ discomfort with it) is presented as being primarily the fault of the Egyptians’ stubbornness.

But then that steers us into theological territory, which no animated epic for kids can really manage to set new ground with. Instead, let’s focus on the many things the film does right. First and foremost that striking visual imagery and beautiful animation, and the depth and shading it gives to the characters. The all-star cast do extremely well – even Jeff Goldblum is fairly restrained – and it’s got some great songs. It deserves to be shown as often as The Ten Commandments on the television.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

Chris Pratt comes face-to-face with an old friend in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Director: JA Bayona

Cast: Chris Pratt (Owen Grady), Bryce Dallas Howard (Claire Dearing), Rafe Spall (Eli Mills), Justice Smith (Franklin Webb), Daniella Pineda (Zia Rodriguez), James Cromwell (Sir Benjamin Lockwood), Toby Jones (Gunnar Eversol), Ted Levine (Ken Wheatley), BD Wong (Dr Henry Wu), Isabella Sermon (Maisie Lockwood), Geraldine Chaplin (Iris), Jeff Goldblum (Dr Ian Malcolm)

I don’t care how old I get. I still love those dinosaurs. Doesn’t everyone? And of course what’s better than seeing dinosaurs munch down on them what deserves it? Well you got plenty of that in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which throws everything it can at the screen and is enjoyable enough, even if it feels a little like one for the money.

It’s been five years since the events of the first film, and the old Jurassic Park is now abandoned and the whole island given over to the control of the dinosaurs. In what you have to say is a pretty damning indictment of InGen’s planning (but then they really planned nothing well on this whole project) turns out the whole island is actually a volcano and, yup, she’s gonna blow. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is leading a campaign to win government support for saving the dinosaurs, when she is recruited by Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), chair of a charity foundation set up by ageing businessman and park co-founder Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) to lead a ‘Noah’s Ark’ mission to the island. But they need the help of Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to find Blue the last surviving member of his Velociraptor pack. Arriving on the island howeer, they find not everyone can be trusted.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom plays like a remix of events and moments from each of the earlier films. So you more or less get exactly what you might expect, and the film never really surprises you at all. You have a dangerous mission on the abandoned island (Jurassic Park III), dangerous chases in a lab (Jurassic Park), a bioengineered super dinosaur running riot (Jurassic World), dinosaurs on the main land (The Lost World) and businessmen with ulterior motives (all of them). None of the sly wit and the relatively patient build-up of Jurassic World is really present here: instead we are almost immediately thrown into an island literally exploding, and the film gets bigger and bigger from there (even if it doesn’t get better).

JA Bayona directs this with a breezy professionalism, with a decent sense of pace and some well-constructed tension sequences. There are some decent call-back jokes, not least to Claire’s far more appropriate choice of footwear. The film also gets some decent material out of exploring the back story of Owen’s bond with the velociraptor back, not least his parental bond with lead velociraptor Blue. It makes for some interesting emotional material, but it’s a shame that this never really feels like it plays back into any broader theme in the movie. There is some stuff in there about parental bonds (Lockwood and his granddaughter, Wu’s plans to have Blue “mother” his latest super dinosaur abomination) but it doesn’t go anywhere.

That’s part of the problem of this film: it goes nowhere we haven’t really been before. Even the beats of wonder as people go “oh wow that’s a dinosaur” feel repeated and tired – the first moment even revolves around a brachiosaurus, just as the same moment did in the first film. Bayona does however draw some heart rendering material from the dinosaurs running vainly from death in the volcanic eruption – most notably from a brachiosaurus tragically bellowing in despair as it is engulfed in volcanic gas. 

But it’s all pretty samey. And the plot moves at such a lick that it actually starts to feel a little bit silly. So of course Owen and Claire are persuaded in minutes to go back to the island. Of course they are betrayed in the first few minutes. Of course the island starts to erupt almost as soon as they arrived. Everything happens at this crackerjack pace, that actually starts to make things feel even more cartoonish than a film about a load of man-made dinosaurs feels like to start with.

That’s on the top of the fact that none of the new characters make any real impact – most of them might as well have “Trope” or “Plot Device” written on their faces. The villain stands out a mile away the instant he appears. His main henchman is so nakedly untrustworthy, you marvel Claire and Owen even consider going on the mission with him. The comic relief character is insanely annoying. Countering this, Chris Pratt plays off his charisma extremely well to remain a very magnetic hero, and I think Bryce Dallas Howard gets much more to play with here as a Claire far more plugged in and competent than in the first film.

But the atmosphere of affectionate nostalgia, and delight that powers the first film so well and makes it (for my generation) such a huge joy to watch, with its tongue-in-cheek but also smart and not-overly-done fanboy style, is missing here. This feels more like a film assembled by people who have seen all the films and basically wanted to box tick everything you might expect to see. It’s not really trying to do something different, it’s just treading water.

But despite all that, it’s still quite good fun.  That’s the odd thing. Yes people in it behave with staggering stupidity and the film doesn’t offer any surprises (the dinosaurs have clearly read the script when planning their meals). Yes it’s derivative and unoriginal. But I still rather enjoyed it. It’s lacking in any inspiration or (you feel) the sort of genuine affection Colin Trevorrow brought to it, but you know it’s good enough. Whether good enough is good enough is of course another question.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Donald Sutherland is lost in the soulless world of Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Director: Philip Kaufman

Cast: Donald Sutherland (Matthew Bennell), Brooke Adams (Elizabeth Driscoll), Leonard Nimoy (Dr David Kibner), Jeff Goldblum (Jack Bellicec), Veronica Cartwright (Nancy Bellicec), Art Hindle (Dr Geoffrey Howell), Don Siegel (Taxicab Driver), Kevin McCarthy (Running Man)

Sometimes, as we look around our office-based world, it’s hard not feel that most of it is taking place on a weary treadmill. That we are going through the motions with no engagement or feeling, that we are all cogs in the same machine. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, like all great science fiction films, taps into this sense of individuality being lost in our modern age, and mixes it with a brilliant dose of Cold-War paranoia. Like much brilliant science-fiction, it offers a window on our world that makes us pause and reflect on our own lives.

Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) is a health inspector (has there been a less sexy job for a hero?) in San Francisco. One day his colleague Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) confesses to him that her boyfriend, dentist Geoffrey (Art Hindle), has changed so much that he feels like a completely different person. Turns out she’s not alone in the city – many people are reporting their loved ones have become distant and changed. While Matthew’s friend, celebrity psychiatrist Dr David Kibney (Leonard Nimoy), laughs off their concerns, Jack (Jeff Goldblum) and Nancy (Veronica Cartwright) Bellicec are keen to listen – especially when they find a copy of Jack growing in their home. Can the people of San Francisco really be being replaced by copies in an alien invasion?

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is not just a great remake, it’s a great piece of film-making in its own right. It takes the ideas of the original and ramps them up into a Nixon-era paranoia fest, to create a creepy and unsettling film. It’s a film that perfectly understands the one thing all people value, perhaps more than any other, is their individuality and ability to feel and experience emotions. These are the two things the Pods take from you – in all other respects, the people are unchanged, they’re just unfeeling drones. 

What Philip Kaufman does really well is fill the film from the start with unsettling moments, and hints that things are wrong. The film opens with eerie visuals as the Pods arrive from space and slowly infect the vegetation of the planet. Unusual camera angles and lingering shots pick out people in the frame, behaving suspiciously robotically. Robert Duvall has a wordless (uncredited) cameo as a priest on a creaking swing in a playground – the sound and visuals both insanely unnerving, especially considering Duvall’s wordless intense stare. 

Pod people go about their work of taking over the earth with a relentless, eerie silence. Do they cling to silence so much, so that their piercing screams when they detect a rogue human can be heard? Late in the film, we see several instances of Pod people, freeze, point rigidly at an unconverted human, and then let out an inhuman shriek (it’s unsettling beyond belief). When pursuing humans, the run with a wild pack abandon. Throughout the film, the camera hovers on moments or scenes, asking us to wonder what’s going on. A floor cleaner mindlessly moves his cleaner across the floor and the camera lingers on him for what feels like ages – is he a pod person? Or is he just an ordinary Joe going about his work? Kaufman sprinkles moments like this throughout the film.

He and screenwriter WD Richter also tap into a sadness of the late 1970s – the world of the hippie, where it felt the world might change, is passing. Matthew, David and Jack all feel like old college buddies – you can imagine the three of them hanging out at Woodstock. Jack and Nancy have clung to their hippie lifestyle, but are reduced to running a mud-bath and trying to peddle Jack’s poetry to the bored and uninterested. David has repackaged himself into a soulless, impossibly vain and self-important TV psychiatrist, dishing out cod-advice and lapping up praise at swanky book launches. Matthew is a slightly grubby civil servant. Kaufman and Richter do a great job of suggesting the younger, more idealistic roots of these characters with minimal dialogue and action. It adds a rich theme to the film – are the Pod people and their mechanical, soulless routine just where the human race is going anyway? Is it any coincidence that the invasion takes places in hip San Francisco?

Kaufman shoots the film with an eerie off-kilterness, helped a lot by Michael Chapman’s excellent cinematography. Ben Burtt’s soundscape is also brilliant – from the creak of the swing at the start and the shriek of the Pod people, to the deafening silence late in the film of the almost completely converted San Francisco, as the Pod People go through the motions of their old lives, devoid of emotion. The design of the pods, and the growing replacement humans, is horribly eerie. This creepiness helps hammer home the sense of paranoia as more and more people are replaced by Pod people – leaving us, like the characters, constantly questioning who is “real” and who isn’t? Who can we trust?

Donald Sutherland is the perfect lead for this – he has both a slightly ground-down world-weariness but also a strong sense of maverick individuality. He’s an interesting, challenging actor and he’s very easy to empathise with. A lot of the film’s emotional force comes from the deep friendship (which could perhaps be more) between him and Brooke Adams (also very good). Leonard Nimoy offers a subtle inversion of his Spock persona, taking elements of Spock’s logical coldness and inverting them for both maximum smarm and creep. Goldblum and Cartwright are just about perfectly cast, with Cartwright especially good (and reaffirming her scream-queen skills) as a woman with a surprisingly sharp survival instinct.

Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers is easy to overlook in the list of great American 1970s thrillers due to being both (a) a remake and (b) a science-fiction film. But this is an unsettling investigation of an America on the verge of changing from one type of generation to another. It’s unsettling, intriguing and gripping – wonderfully made and very well acted. It’s a film that understands paranoia, isolation and our love of our own individuality more than many others I can think of. It’s one of the great American 1970s films.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Thor and Hulk: It’s the buddy movie you’ve been waiting for

Director: Taika Waititi

Cast: Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Cate Blanchett (Hela), Idris Elba (Heimdall), Jeff Goldblum (Grandmaster), Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie), Karl Urban (Skurge), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/Hulk), Anthony Hopkins (Odin), Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange), Rachel House (Topaz), Taika Waititi (Korg)

The Marvel franchise is now on to 17 films. That’s 17 films all in the same universe, with at least three more to come in the next year or so. The weight of franchise backstory has started to feel overbearing, with so many other films to tie into and characters to set up that the individual film itself is left with barely any identity or purpose. How refreshing then to have a film that cuts loose and takes a slightly different tone: a genuine action comedy. Thor: Ragnarok is so tonally different from the other Thor films (let alone the other films in the series) it actually manages to feel like its own beast – it’s as close to a director-led vision as the franchise has got.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been all over the universe, working to stop Ragnarok (the prophesised end of Asgard). Returning to Asgard, he unmasks his troublesome step-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) who has been disguised as Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Travelling to Earth to rescue their dying father, they arrive in time to see his death. Unfortunately, this releases their elder sister Hela, Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett). While Hela ruthlessly conquers Asgard, Thor is trapped on the planet Sakaar and forced to enter a deadly gladiatorial contest – against his Avenger ally the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) – all while trying to escape back to Asgard to stop Hela.

Thor: Ragnarok has a plot that ambles at points rather than sprints. But this hardly matters, as its main focus is on entertaining the audience. Waititi creates a sort of punk 1980s wildness, mixed with a fun-loving wit. The result is a film with action, and high stakes – but never takes itself too seriously. It perfectly understands how to puncture grandeur or pomposity of the Asgardian gods with a neat one-liner or a bit of everyday conversational inanity (a lot of the latter comes from Waititi himself, hilariously playing chilled out rock gladiator Korg).

Waititi also allows Hemsworth to let rip with his comic timing rip in a way he’s scarcely been allowed to do since Branagh’s original. It drops the faux-Shakespearean seriousness of Thor: The Dark World, and Hemsworth repositions the character in a more relaxed and charming style. From his opening introduction, undercutting the monologing of a fire demon with a dry series of puns while dangling from a ceiling in chains, he finds a neat balance between seriousness and charisma. Waititi is also (like Branagh) not afraid to let Asgard’s mightiest warrior be the butt of a few sight gags – one laugh out loud moment involving a very strong window is a stand out. Hemsworth demonstrates here he’s a far more accomplished comedian (physically and verbally) than he gets credit for.

This more relaxed Thor is perfect for the rock-and-roll feel of the film. Expertly scored (there is particularly fine use of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song) it has a groovy, 1980s feel. The planet Sakaar is a primary-coloured, odd-alien filled, campy explosion of energy and vibrant punky fun. Said planet is run by the Grandmaster, played by Jeff Goldblum at his most Jeff Goldblumiest ever – if you can picture that you’ve got the tone of the whole planet. This neon lit style is reminiscent of everything from Flash Gordon to The Last Starfighter

The film’s loose comic style also allows a series of fun match-ups, from Thor and Loki (a wonderfully weaselly, fun Tom Hiddleston – still one of the best things in this whole franchise), to Thor and Strange (a lovely cameo from Cumberbatch), Thor and Valkyrie (a neat mixture of drunken self-loathing and female Thor-ness from Tessa Thompson) and lastly Thor and Hulk. The latter provides a lot of the film’s comic gold, the Hulk finally turned into some sort of character with achildish vulnerability and swagger (though the film still finds time for a Hulk penis gag). Waititi also throws in some nice call-backs to previous films – the bunch here set themselves up as the Revengers, while there are multiple references to the mantra used to calm the Hulk in Avengers: Age of Ultron – without making it feel in-jokey. 

There is so much fun in the film, you almost forget the main plot of the film is fairly heavy-going, end-of-the-world stuff. For a Marvel film there is a large body count of recurring characters (at least four bite the bullet here), while Hela’s plot encompasses mass slaughter and destruction. Scenes with Hela are kept short (structurally the film effectively strands her on Asgard to contain her invincibility), so it’s just as well the part is played with such charismatic dryness and imperious arrogance by Cate Blanchett (easily the best Marvel villain since Loki). She’s ably backed up by Karl Urban, adding a lot of complexity to reluctant cowardly turncoat Skurge. Waititi shoots Hela’s rampage of destruction with an exciting dynamism – it’s an action scene that feels different, no mean feat in a franchise that has had so many fights.

In fact most of the action feels very fresh, the fights never out-stay their welcome, and there are some brilliant visual flourishes – the final battle in particular throws in some almost painterly images as Thor and his allies take on Hela’s zombie army. The arena fight between Hulk and Thor is about a million times more interesting than the dull Hulkbuster battle between Iron Man and Hulk in the past Avengers film as Watiti keeps the focus on character rather than pummelling. The film also manages to keep the stakes high – there are always innocent people our heroes fight to protect.

Thor: Ragnarok might well be the most entertaining, fun film Marvel has produced. It’s almost certainly the best Thor film. While The Dark World failed dismally to build on the mixture of earnestness and comedy in Branagh’s original, this one feels like a natural progression of the first, amping everything up into a vibrant, 1980s styled cocktail of action and fun. It’s terrifically entertaining, well paced, anchored in characters we care about, and it just wants to entertain the viewer. You’d have to be pretty cold for it not to succeed.

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

Independence Day 2: Not a Resurgence but a wake.

Director: Roland Emmerich

Cast: Liam Hemsworth (Jake Morrison), Jeff Goldblum (David Levinson), Jessie Usher (Dylan Hiller), Bill Pullman (President Tom Whitmore), Maika Monroe (Patricia Whitmore), Sela Ward (President Elizabeth Lanford), William Fichtner (General Joshua Adams), Judd Hirsch (Julius Levinson), Brent Spiner (Dr Brakish Okun), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Dr Catherine Marceaux)

Sometimes your first instincts in films are great. They help you to try new things and unearth new favourites that can find a place in your heart. And sometimes your first instincts are bollocks. You see a film and, for whatever reason, you were in the right mood and you think “well that was great!” Then you come back to watch it a few months later and your second reaction is “What the hell was I thinking?”. Such a film was Independence Day: Resurgence for me.

The plot is alarmingly simple. Probably because it’s essentially the same plot as the first film. Twenty years after the events of Independence Day, mankind lives in peace and prosperity and has rebuilt the world, with a new global military armed with alien technology ready to repel any future attacks. Of course the attack comes… Soon mankind is on a ticking clock (“We were wrong. We only have 1 hour left to save the world!”)…

Okay. I did enjoy this in the cinema. I confess. Then I watched it again and released it was complete bollocks. Totally pointless sequel that adds literally nothing to the first film.

First off this film is essentially a remake rather than a sequel. A first alien ship (different species) arrives and there is panic. An attempt at communication rebuffed (theirs not ours this time). Warnings about an imminent attack are ignored. The aliens destroys several cities (mankind has been busy, as many of the landmarks destroyed in the first film have been reconstructed in perfect detail to get mashed again). A human counterattack ends in dismal failure. Even the goddamn ending of the film is once again a final battle at the salt flats, with the clock ticking. One of our heroes sacrifices themselves. It’s the Fourth of July – need I go on?

The only things that they haven’t carried across are the charm and thrills of the original. In fact there is nothing here to interest anyone who doesn’t have fond memories of the first film: the new characters are largely forgettable, most of the sequences are commentaries on the first film. Resurgence captures none of the twisted sense of awe and wonder of the original Independence Day – the shock of seeing aliens arrive, the terror they unleash, the helplessness of mankind. The action sequences (particularly the assault on the alien spaceship) have none of the sense of danger that makes the same sequences in the original so exciting – it just makes you want to re-watch the first film but not in a good way.

Instead the film aims BIG. Everything is BIGGER. Mankind has planes that fly in space, ray guns and moon bases. The aliens have a ship that’s not the size of city, but the size of a continent! Half the world is wiped out in minutes! The alien attack all takes place in one day! We’ve only got one hour to save the world from having its core drained! It’s all pushing to make the film more EXCITING! It fails. Not only is everything familiar, but everything is so rushed that there are none of the moments for reflection the first film has. Half the world is wiped out in this film and no-one takes even a minute to think about the impact of that.

It’s not just content from the last film that is familiar. This film reveals the aliens are a sort of hive mind with – you guessed it – a Queen. Is it essential for every single bloody alien film to have a queen? Ever since Aliens the idea has been done to absolute death. Needless to say, our heroes (having seen films before) work out that if they take down the Queen, all the other aliens will shut down. Familiar? Only to everyone who has ever seen a film before.

The film’s sexual politics are also all over the shop. It proudly boasted in advance it would feature a gay relationship. But the gay couple in this are safely sexless: not a single line of dialogue hints too heavily at their homosexuality and the closest they get to showing physical affection is to hold hands briefly (the point being of course, if they were too gay it wouldn’t sell abroad).

Secondly, and even more uncomfortably, at some point it was clearly decided a cross-racial relationship wouldn’t play well either. It would make sense to me if the two children from the first film had grown into love interests for each other – and if they were both white I am certain this would have happened. But this film introduces a whole new (white) suitor for Whitmore’s daughter. Hiller’s adopted son? No love interest for him at all. In fact Dylan is relegated to the role of the charisma-free straight-shooter, with Liam Hemsworth given the coveted role of the charismatic maverick who has the courage to think outside of the box and save us all. This is even more cowardly than the film’s shyness around its gay characters.

Independence Day: Resurgence is a lifeless film. It has just enough fun about it for those who remember the first film to watch it with a sense of nostalgic glee. But it has none of that film’s wit, none of its tension, none of its sense of mankind overcoming impossible odds. Despite all the hand-waving towards the unity of the world, even more than the first film this might as well be “America Vs. Aliens”. It caught me in a good mood at the cinema, with the right nostalgic mindset. But whereas Jurassic World(for instance) mixes nostalgia with genuine wit and excitement, this is a film that never comes to life. It’s DOA. Far from a resurgence, it’s a wake.

It’s also pretty hard to forgive it for this marketing abomination. Daley Blind for starters has not won twenty league titles. As for Wayne’s acting. Jesus Christ…

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

Some of the costume choices in this image probably help you to see what oddness you have in store…

Director: WD Richter

Cast: Paul Weller (Buckaroo Banzai), John Lithgow (Dr Emilio Lizardo/Lord John Whorfin), Ellen Barkin (Penny Priddy), Christopher Lloyd (John Bigbooté), Clancy Brown(Rawhide), Jeff Goldblum (New Jersey), Vincent Schiavelli (John O’Connor), Robert Ito (Professor Hikita), Carl Lumbly (John Parker)

Okay so watching that was strange. If you looked up “cult movie” in the dictionary you would probably see an embedded video of this film. It’s so cult it has literally no interest at all in appealing what so ever to anyone outside of its established sci-fi crowd. If Star Wars was sci-fi for the masses, this is camp sci-fi for the cultish elite.

The plot is almost impossible to relate but Buckaroo Banzai (Paul Weller) is a polymath genius – surgeon, rocket scientist, rockstar – who perfects a device that can travel through solid matter and dimensions. But creating the device makes him a target for a race of aliens, led by Lord John Whorfin (John Lithgow) who live in the gaps between dimensions and want to use the device to escape.

The film is part straight-laced 1940s sci-fi serial, part tongue-in-cheek romp, part comic book, part satire. In fact it’s nearly impossible to categorise, which is certainly in its favour: you’ve certainly never seen anything like it before. It’s bursting with ideas and straight faced humour and clearly had an influence on sci-fi still today (for starters there are more than a few beats of Moffat-era Doctor Who here, while Banzai himself would fit in as The Doctor). It bursts out of the screen with a frentic energy, not massively concerned with narrative logic or consistency, its solely focused on being entertaining. It throws the kitchen sink at the screen with all the passion of fan fiction.

Despite all this I think you have to have a very certain sense of humour and set of interests to really enjoy it – and I’m not sure that I did. If you don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of comic books and sci-fi you’ll probably feel like you are missing something (and you probably are). I’m also not sure there is much there to attract the “muggle” fan – Weller plays the lead with a smoothness and a charming straightness but he’s not the most interesting of characters (to be brutally honest). Lithgow counter balances him by going utterly over the top in a performance of ridiculous Mussolini-like bombast. But it’s not completely engaging. Basically if you don’t love it within the opening 25 minutes, you aren’t going to won over by anything else that happens. Every frame of the film is setting itself up as a chance for cult fans to speak to each other.

It actually rather feels like you are being invited to a party but then are left with your nose pressed up against the window. All the actors are clearly having a whale of a time with the other-the-top setting and bizarre half-gags. But I’m not sure all that enjoyment really travels across the screen to the viewer. While it’s sorta sweet in it’s almost sexless innocence (Birkin plays the lost twin of Banzai’s wife but there’s never a hint of real sexual buzz anywhere). Characters sport guns and hang around in a nightclub, but Banzai’s gang are essentially a group of 11 year olds who have taken adult form. So it’s gentle and has an innocent chumminess, but also a bit hard to engage with it.

I think in the end I just found it a little too eager and straining to be an outlandish, deliberately cultist film – it’s like an inverted elitest piece of modern fiction, that uses narrative tricks, devices and style to make itself harder for the regular viewer (or reader) to be part of its experience. So while this is something very different and almost insanely off the wall, it’s also something that is never going to move you or appeal in the way Empire Strikes Back will do.