Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Let's sit down to good film

Ian McKellen in wonderful form
In between recent trips to the cinema, I’ve also managed to see a few films at home, both on television channels or discs, and it seemed too good an opportunity not to do a brief round up.

First up comes Mr Holmes, last year’s take on Sherlock – this time, with Ian McKellen as an aging and long-retired version of the iconic consulting detective.

It’s the late 1940s – a world changed utterly by the atomic bomb – and, worried that he’s losing his mind, Holmes is trying to piece together the final case that led to his retirement.

At the same time, he becomes the idol of the young, precocious son of the housekeeper who looks after him in his retirement home on England’s south coast.

Beautifully filmed and wonderfully acted – McKellen is simply a joy to watch – this gentle UK-made piece is full of hidden depths and philosophical ruminations.

Well worth a watch.

Messers Karloff, Lorre and Price
Rather different – but no less entertaining (albeit for very different reasons) is Roger Corman’s The Raven, which I caught up with a couple of weeks ago.

It’s less a case of being based on Edgar Allan Poe’s poem of the same name than having been inspired by it, in the loosest sense.

In this 1963 outing, we have three sorcerers vying against each other for magical supremacy, with Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff as the trio, engaged at various points throughout in finger-pointy duels.

It’s deliciously camp, which is possibly not the first thing that one might expect from writer Richard Matheson, who penned the zombie horror classic, I Am Legend, while a young Jack Nicholson spend most of his on-screen time looking pretty much lost in such company.

Enormous fun – Price in particular had such a wonderful voice for this sort of film – and the blu ray comes with extras that includes a German documentary about Lorre.

It’s surprisingly serious in tone given the nature of the main feature, but very definitely worth watching, providing a reminder of just what a fine actor he was, and covering his relationship with Brecht as well as offering a detailed look at his breakthrough film role as the murderer in Fritz Lang’s classic of German Expressionist cinema, M (1931).

One reviewer on Amazon decided to be snotty about Lorre  ‘wasting his talent’ because of drink. It’s the point at which you decide to respond by suggesting they inform themselves better about the German exiles in the US and the problems that many of them suffered.

Doris Day and Rock Hudson suffering misunderstandings
On a completely different note, last weekend saw me slumped in front of the gogglebox, on cat cuddling duty, when up popped Send Me No Flowers, a 1964 rom-com that I haven’t seen in decades.

Starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson – with Tony Randall in the sort of friend-of-the-leading-man character that he made his own – it’s a typical farce spun out after Hudson’s hypochondriac suburbanite overhears his doctor discussing a terminal case and soon-to-be-deceased individual is himself.

Directed by Norman Jewison, this was the final of a trio of Day-Hudson-Randall outings and while it’s pleasing enough fodder, it doesn’t have anything like the zip of Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back.

Still, it was nice enough to see again one of the sort of films I feel as though I grew up with – and Day is always wonderful.

Last in this little round-up comes Paul, a 2011 sci-fi comedy road movie that I’d managed to see bits of before, but never the whole thing.

Nick Frost and Simon Pegg with Paul
Starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, it’s about two British geeks who go on their dream holiday to San Diego for Comic-Con, followed by a road trip across the US to visit various sites of importance in UFO lore.

However, their plans go awry when they find themselves on the run with Paul, a fugitive alien who is running away from plans to dissect him.

Really good fun, with a very enjoyable supporting cast that includes Blythe Danner, Seth Rogan (as the voice of Paul) and Sigourney Weaver, who subsequently described it to Graham Norton as a “love letter to sci-fi fans” (I think she said the same of the equally enjoyable Galaxy Quest).

Very good fun, pacey, with good characters – including an alien that is far from a film stereotype – plus loads of nods to other films and pop culture, what’s not to enjoy? It was the perfect way to follow a stack of the equally geek-oriented The Big Bang Theory.

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