08 August 2021 – The Suicide Squad

I’ve been trying not to write about relatively new films so I can avoid spoilers but here’s your spoiler alert for “The Suicide Squad”. I’m not going to ruin things but I’m going to talk about the film so read at your peril.

Here’s the poster for the film. It’s here to give you time to process the spoiler alert.

From the beginning, it’s important to make the distinction between “The Suicide Squad”(2021) and “Suicide Squad”(2016). “The Suicide Squad” is billed as a standalone sequel to “Suicide Squad” but it was also referred to as a “soft reboot”. So it operates in an in between space, not quite a proper sequel but not an independent event.

I went to see “The Suicide Squad” in the IMAX in Odeon in Blanchardstown on Monday. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I was definitely impressed. I knew that James Gunn was involved but I had very little faith in DC to get it right. I guess I was probably expecting something like “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2” crossed with “Deadpool”. At this point the charm of “Deadpool” has well and truly worn off and the second Guardians film, while better on the second viewing, was a weaker sequel. I had seen the trailers and they were pretty good, but I was confused as to why this film was being made at all.

The first Suicide Squad film was shit. It looked crap. There was all that nonsense with Jared Leto as the Joker. It seemed like it was more focused on seeming gritty than actually doing anything. It felt wasteful to use so many characters so badly. When you hear the criticism from the writer and director, David Ayer, it all kinda makes sense. Too much messing around, too much changing track midway. It’s just disjointed and if not for the cast and the promotion of it, the film would be very forgettable.

So since that was so bad, why make a sequel? There was some positive feedback to Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn and they made the “Birds of Prey”. That was an alright film but not really a success financially. It really felt like they had a bad film in “Suicide Squad”, tried to milk what was good from it in “Birds of Prey” and at that point it should have been time to quit. There just didn’t seem like audiences would have an appetite for it. I definitely didn’t think I wanted to see a sequel.

But it’s great. It’s very funny. Plenty of proper laugh out loud moments. The characters are great. The characters are from source material so that might not seem like something that “The Suicide Squad” deserves credit for, but “Suicide Squad” managed to fuck up pretty cool characters so we can’t take that for granted. The cast are pretty solid and everybody was good in it. It’s always great to see David Dastmalchian. He’s very entertaining as Polka-Dot Man. John Cena kinda steals the show as Peacemaker. It’s probably Idris Elba’s best performance in a while. He’s a weird one. He was great in “The Wire” and I’m sure he’s had some other good roles since then, but it mostly seems like his acting has been limited to putting on glasses to show that he’s smart. He’s good in “The Suicide Squad” though.

One of the biggest things that I liked about the film was that it made pretty brave choices. I’m not going to get into details because that’s spoiler territory, but bravery is one of the most important things in film making in my opinion. The other DC films have been relentlessly cowardly in their approach to everything. The changes in direction; the casting in some cases; and even just the fucking storylines have not been brave enough to warrant the films being made. The last Wonder Woman film is the best example. Just unambitious crap. And the truth about it is that a film that doesn’t make brave choices is a film that has been made in an attempt to trick an audience. They’re not working hard to be original or interesting because they think that audiences are stupid enough to go to anything if there’s enough promo behind it. “The Suicide Squad” is trying to do more than that and I liked that about it.

The interesting question from watching “The Suicide Squad” is: has there been a better sequel that should never have been made? Despite the philosophical debates around whether “The Suicide Squad” is a pure sequel to “Suicide Squad”, the fact of the matter is, from the studio’s point of view, this was a sequel. It’s the same source material, same cinematic universe, same characters and even the same cast. The consensus is that sequels are usually worse. There’s a laziness to sequels as a concept and they have a vibe of selling out. So the opposite is interesting. A lazy film with an ambitious and interesting sequel. I would be interested to know if this has been through hard work and vision from someone over at Warner Bros. or if it was just a case of the stars aligning after successive blunders.

Is this how “The Suicide Squad” came into existence?

However “The Suicide Squad” came into existence, I feel like it was a great film. I could very easily see myself going to see it again this week. Lots of laughs, great action, great characters. Just an all around great time. Very much worth a watch.

08 August 2021 – The Suicide Squad

25 July 2021: Jack Nicholson (Part 3)

So this is the third and final Jack Nicholson post. You know the deal. I’m going to move into the films quickly because there’s going to be some wrap up at the end.

“The Shining” (1980)

I really like “The Shining” and Jack Nicholson is an undeniable force of nature in it. It’s an iconic role and an iconic film. I genuinely don’t think anyone else could have done what he did here and I think everyone who has played a manic and sinister character since “The Shining” has probably ripped something out of Nicholson’s Jack Torrence. It’s hard to put a finger on what is so good about his performance as opposed to what is so definitively him about it. He manages to create this character that seems menacing, but also kind of beaten down. He’s got a smarmy, everyman cheeriness that hides a shitty husband and a disconnected father.

My memory of it before rewatching it this week was of a less supernatural film. I remembered it as purely psychological piece. It is very open in it’s flirtation with the supernatural and it is quite obvious that something else is at play and I really enjoyed that this time around

“About Schmidt” (2002)

“About Schmidt” is a good film and Jack Nicholson is very good in it, but I really don’t like his character and I think it shaped the way I think about Jack Nicholson as a man when I saw it first. His Schmidt is a nightmare of a character. Just a helpless bastard. I guess in my mind, I felt that it was probably an easy role for Nicholson to play because he was starting to look like his character in real life.

So I’ve watched a bunch of Jack Nicholson films and I think it has changed my opinion of him. I didn’t get the hype and now I do. Even though there were films of his that I had always enjoyed, I didn’t really give him the credit he deserved. In particular, “The Shining” and “Chinatown” are two of my favourites. He has played some great roles and put in some iconic performances. Wikipedia claims he’s considered one of the greatest actors of his generation and I’m not going to disagree with that. He obviously had some misses and I think his really good performances seem to trail off towards the end of his career, but I give him credit for retiring when he did. There’s an honesty to not making films for the sake of it.

So Jack Nicholson passes my test. If there are any good Jack Nicholson films that I missed, I would love some recommendations, or if there’s terrible films that might are so bad they might change my mind, I’d like to hear about those. I’d also be interested to hear suggestions on other actors who should be put to the same test.

25 July 2021: Jack Nicholson (Part 3)

18 July 2021 – American Psycho

I rewatched “American Psycho” last night. It’s very good but it’s definitely a tough watch. It’s unbearable at times. Just very intense. There’s a bunch of things that I like about it. I love the music. Christian Bale is incredible as usual.

The thing that struck me when I watched it last night was the supporting cast. I think Christian Bale is exceptional and that’s been explored before, but the supporting cast are all very good as well and there are a whole bunch of people I’d forgotten about.

Jared Leto is in there as Paul Allen, an even more grotesque Wall Street bro than Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman (Bateman’s external persona that is). His hair is even worse than Bateman’s. He’s smarmy and unpleasant. Jared Leto does a great job. He’s an odd dude, but he often crops up very good films. His appearance here made me think about his appearance as the Joker and made me wonder about Christian Bale as a possible Joker. His Bateman is definitely a decent blueprint.

Chloë Sevigny is very good as Bateman’s assistant, Jean. I think that because the viewer can see how bad he is, it’s useful to have someone like her there. She’s not like the other Wall Street people and she obviously has positive feelings towards his, somewhere between worship and attraction. She’s a sweet character and she’s a good contrast to compare Bateman to. She also helps to highlight the way he’s teetering on the brink, starting to spill over but clinging on.

I also liked seeing Justin Theroux in there as the only person that Bateman finds interesting, Timothy Bryce. He actually has one of the best scenes, it’s like two back to back great moments, the discussion of the repercussions of AIDS and then the conversation about the strength of their cocaine. Check that out here.

Then you’ve also got Reese Witherspoon and Willem Dafoe in there giving decent performances.

I feel like “American Psycho” is in the same category as “Fight Club” of films that certain men love but I think it deserves the praise it gets. I really like Bateman’s obsession with pop music. I appreciate the competition around business cards. It’s a wild ride with some wild characters and some great performances.

18 July 2021 – American Psycho

12 July 2021: Jack Nicholson (Part 2)

So I took a weekend off for my birthday accidentally. I hadn’t planned to. I feel like the older I get, the less important I think birthdays are, but then I also feel that I need to make the most of any chance to celebrate. Twenty nice is a weird age. There’s been a couple of jokes about getting close to thirty, but I think worrying about getting older only makes sense when things aren’t working out. My life is pretty sweet and things are really going to plan for me right now. So roll on twenty nine.

While I did take a weekend off, I want to make up for my skipped longer post. The song of the day posts are important but I can afford to miss one from time to time. I think it’s important to get my weekend long posts in. So I’m back to the multipart from two weeks ago, discussing Jack Nicholson. Just as a reminder, I’m looking back at some Jack Nicholson films to see if I can consolidate the respect he seems to get with my own opinion on the performances I have seen.

“The Last Detail” (1973)

“The Last Detail” is an odd film. It’s slapstick and meandering. Jack Nicholson has the more senior role which was different to “Easy Rider” and “Five Easy Pieces”. For some reason this was one of the first older Jack Nicholson films I watched and I wasn’t completely convinced by him. It’s worth a watch but it’s very much the Jack Nicholson I expected based on the way he is now.

“Chinatown” (1974)

“Chinatown” is a tough film to sell to anyone who hasn’t already seen it. Roman Polanski is an admitted child rapist and his work shouldn’t be celebrated as a result, particularly while he is still alive and can make money from it. However, it is a great film. Nicholson is great. He suffers my favourite film injury. It’s a cool story and it might have been good without Nicholson but he definitely adds to it. I’m very conflicted about liking the film, but it is a win for Jack Nicholson at the very least.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975)

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is the very good and very much a Jack Nicholson film. I must admit to only seeing it for the first time recently. I think for a long time I was put off by Jack Nicholson. I just didn’t want to watch it. It’s an odd film. There’s a fairly decent sized red flag in that his character is in prison for statutory rape. I think the character is likeable and is intended to be, so it’s a little unsettling for that to have been his crime and for him to be kind of proud of it. He is very entertaining though and he plays it well. There is something very cat and mouse about the conflict between Nicholson’s McMurphy and Nurse Ratched and it’s probably the blueprint for petty tit for tat battles in film from that point onwards.

I have two more Jack Nicholson films to write about so I’m going to end Part 2 of the look at Jack Nicholson there in order to keep these posts as reasonable sizes.

12 July 2021: Jack Nicholson (Part 2)

04 July 2021 – Coco

My original plan was to write the next part of my look at Jack Nicholson, but I want to rewatch “The Shining” first and that became complicated because I think it would be interesting to look at “The Shining” and “Dr. Sleep” as well. I spent too long thinking about that idea and not enough time actually watching either film so that hasn’t progressed any further. In the meantime, I watched “Coco”.

“Coco” is a spectacular film. It was my first time watching it and I’m really not sure why. Over the last few years, I haven’t seen a couple of Pixar films. I think it’s to do with cinema times. I generally go to see films at night and I don’t think they schedule as many animated films for that late. Shóna has started working full time now so maybe now that we have our weekends back we’ll be a bit more flexible about when we go to the cinema.

“Coco” looks fantastic. The colours are brilliant and the backgrounds in every scene are wonderfully detailed. At the time, I didn’t feel like the music was great, but now I think that’s probably unfair. Not every animated film can have a soundtrack like “Moana”. I think I just had higher expectations for a film where music was a part of the storyline. I think that’s my only complaint and I think that’s not so much a complaint as a separation between something being really good and something being perfect.

The storyline itself is great fun and I really liked Miguel as the main character. There’s a real goofiness to the humour which I enjoyed. I think there’s some suggestion that the shoe making family is based on an actual family and Pixar haven’t admitted that. It’s important to give credit for ideas, but the family are one of the best details to the film. Their workshop and home has a kind of a compound feel which works really well with the idea that they’re trying to keep music out. There’s a real siege mentality to it. I think the idea of presenting the Day of the Dead to kids is a nice idea. I think it’s a nice relationship with death, focused on celebration and memory. Kids’ films have so many lessons about all kinds of shit that they shape the way people develop so dealing with death is as valuable a lesson as any.

So that was “Coco”. Good times for sure. My mission for this week is to get back to my Jack Nicholson piece and keep up with my songs of the day.

04 July 2021 – Coco

27 June 2021: Jack Nicholson (part 1)

I’ve had an idea for about six months about a concept that I’ve been referring to as cultural consciousness. It’s probably not the correct terminology but it seems like what I would intuitively call it. The idea is that there’s an age at which a person becomes aware of culture – art, music, film, on a larger scale. At that age there are concepts that are already established and others that are developing. I think the age at which this happens is probably different from person to person and the concepts will be different for different generations. The elements of this that I find interesting are ideas of respect or consensus and then contradictions or inconsistencies within those. So, like all things on this blog, I’ve been thinking about this in relation to my own little brain. I reckon my point of cultural consciousness was around the year 2000 when I was 8. Everything to this point has been very abstract so I’ll move onto my first example.

One of the established concepts that I felt existed at my point of becoming culturally conscious was that Jack Nicholson was a big deal as an actor. In my lifetime, Nicholson’s career wound down and he apparently retired in 2010 with “How Do You Know”, but he never looked great. In my lived experience, he’s always looked hungover and pretty confused and the films he’s made in the time that I’ve been aware of him have all seemed pretty lame. I hadn’t seen a lot of his films but his reputation and my perception of him didn’t really add up. So over the last while I’ve been working through his filmography based on recommendations and what I felt were considered classics to see where I would stand on Jack Nicholson having given him a fair chance.

“Easy Rider” 1969

“Easy Rider” is terrible and fantastic at times, but the big thing that I feel having watched it is that Jack Nicholson lifts it for the time that he’s in it. It’s mostly nonsense. I like the idea that Peter Fonda was involved in writing the film and how in every scene women are falling in love with him. Dennis Hopper’s direction is odd and his performance reminds me of Noel Fielding’s Spider Dijon character in the Mighty Boosh. The two are riding motor bikes from California to New Orleans and encounter Jack Nicholson’s character. He’s a mad character. He wears a big American football helmet while on the back of a motorbike. He’s very entertaining. He might be elevated by being the highlight of an otherwise strangely thrown together film, but he does a good job with what he’s working with and his absence is felt in the latter part of the film.

“Five Easy Pieces” 1970

“Five Easy Pieces” was one of the first films I watched in the earliest incarnation of this idea. I wasn’t thinking about the conflict of my own perception and what I saw as the common consensus at that time. I was just curious about Jack Nicholson. He plays a terrible bastard. He’s terrible to his girlfriend and his family. As a story, it’s similar to lots of stories from the middle of the 1900s, talented man is unfulfilled and treats women badly. Jack Nicholson is good at that though. You can see how unpleasant he is in the famous diner scene. By the end Nicholson manages to change the audience’s view of his character from seeing him as a prick to seeing him a a man who is angry on the outside and sad on the inside and the final scene is quite powerful.

This is going to be at least a two part post so check back next week when I’ll be writing about some more Jack Nicholson films that helped me arrive at a conclusion.

27 June 2021: Jack Nicholson (part 1)

20 June 2021 – Back to the cinema at last

Cinemas finally reopened last week. Since they’ve been open, I’ve been to see two films. The first thing I saw was “A Quiet Place Part II” and then, more as an excuse for a cinema trip than any interest, I went to see “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard”. Getting back into the cinema was fantastic. I love the cinema experience. I think because it’s loud and you’re in the dark it can be a nice break for the brain. There’s no space for thinking about stress or going on your phone. It’s an almost meditative act. The film has your full undivided attention.

The two films I saw were a quick reminder of all the good and bad of the cinema. As with all sequels, the originality of the first film is lost by the time we see “A Quiet Place Part II” We’ve seen the monsters, we expect the moments of sneaking and then accidentally making some noise and then a hectic chase. We know that the girl is deaf. Seeing those things in the first film was something new. It felt like a bad situation that kept getting worse. This time around, we’re used to all that. The truth is it doesn’t up it’s game this time around. It probably could have ended at the end of the first film and been a very solid and complete story. But the best trailer for a film is a successful prequel so they had to make a second one. I also think the film wasn’t as brutal as the first. It has one initial gruesome shock but I think the first one was less worried about offending audiences with shocking choices.

It seems weird to have a film that leans so heavily on a deaf character for drama and tension but then isn’t released as subtitled. It kinda undermines all the positive work that the film and the team behind it are trying to be seen to be doing. There’s probably a lot more to that than I know, but it seems weird.

All that being said, “A Quiet Place Part II” was fun to see on the big screen. Millicent Simmonds is great and probably overtook Emily Blunt to take the leading role. It was great fun to hear jump scares in the cinema again and enjoy the shared experience of watching films together with strangers. It amplifies the tension. I also enjoyed the short cameo appearance of Scoot McNairy, the actor with the best name in Hollywood. It’s definitely worth watching. My complaints aren’t really with the film itself, but more with sequels in general and the person at Paramount Pictures decided not to subtitle a film with a deaf protagonist.

While my complaints with “A Quiet Place Part II” are ideological, my complaints with “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” are much more straight forward. It’s just not good. It’s a real case of a film being propelled forward by it’s cast and it’s capacity to advertise watches and gin. It’s terrible with some funny moments, but those moments are like reminders that people were paid money to make this so they had to do something. This is not going to be anyone’s favourite film and I hope I forget about it soon.

So my first trips back to the cinema were a pretty good reminder of what we’ve missed. Some trash, some good times, but it’s all worth it to get to sit in the dark for a while and eat popcorn.

20 June 2021 – Back to the cinema at last

13 June 2021 – Looking back at Tropic Thunder, Dodgeball and Zoolander

There’s a lot of conversations about how comedy has changed . Lots of talk about how cancel culture and political correctness make making comedy impossible. Todd Phillips spoke about it when he was making “Joker”. Graham Linehan has talked about it recently about “Father Ted” having some episodes labelled with racism warnings by Channel 4. Times change and trends in humour change. These people like to talk about how they couldn’t make various things now and maybe they’re right, but if they want to be involved in comedy they need to keep up with the times. And maybe they shouldn’t be trying to make the same kind of comedy twenty years later.

I think we’ve all accepted that lots of films from before 2000 are politically incorrect but they can have a place in culture when we accept that these things aren’t ok. It’s the same caveat that we apply to classic literature like “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”. For films made since the millennium, it’s a little trickier, because lots of the makers of these films are still around making films and it’s difficult for some people to admit they did problematic shit and made money off the back of it. At the same time, when we revaluate these films, it’s worth considering that some of them have aged terribly and just aren’t funny anymore, irrespective of being un-PC.

This week I watched some of the comedies that I really enjoyed in my teenage years based around the “Frat Pack” of Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, etc. I watched some of my favourites to see if they actually stand the test of time and to see how politically incorrect they were. This will probably be a topic I’ll return to and I’ll try and put together a graphic of good/bad, funny/lame as time goes on. I’m going to discuss them in the order I’ve watched them recently.

Tropic Thunder (2008)

“Tropic Thunder” is towards the end of the period where I felt like the Ben Stiller was funny. He was making sequels to “Meet The Parents” that nobody asked for. “Tropic Thunder” is one of the main films that people say couldn’t be made anymore and maybe they’re right. It has blackface and extensive use of the R-word. The blackface is at the expense of actors rather than at the expense of black people so there’s an argument for its inclusion, but I understand that it’s offensive so I feel that people have a right to avoid it based on that. Amazon Prime had a censor label to say that the film contains blackface when I watched it which I think is appropriate. The whole Simple Jack bit has continued aging badly and I don’t think it works.

Overall, a lot of “Tropic Thunder” is still funny. Tom Cruise and Matthew McConaughey are good. There were plenty of laughs and they’re mostly at the expense of actors which is always a decent move. Jack Black’s character’s fake trailer before the film was one of my favourite parts. It advertises a film were Jack Black’s character plays all characters and the whole film is based around farting. It’s such a gross idea for a film that would seem unbelievable if we hadn’t all seen Eddie Murphy make those kinds of films for years.

Is it still funny? Mostly very funny, but occasionally not

Could they make it today? They probably could try but I don’t think anyone would try to make it as it was. I don’t think the problematic parts would get the same laughs that they did.

Dodgeball (2004)

“Dodgeball” was always one of my favourites but it hasn’t aged particularly well. Vince Vaughn is pretty lame and I felt like Ben Stiller carried the film for lots of it. It’s making fun of super gyms and that whole superficial culture but it still makes jokes at the expense of a teenage girl with hairy arms among others. It’s not necessarily politically incorrect so much as just unpleasant.

Ben Stiller as White Goodman is a masterpiece. The clothes and hair are top notch. The scene where he’s stuffing pizza down his trousers is magical. I also love Jason Bateman as the co-commentator Pepper Brooks. The wrench throwing and traffic dodging is still funny. Overall though the story is kinda weak and it doesn’t live up to the memories.

Is it still funny? In parts hilarious, in others, unpleasant

Could they make it today? I don’t think it would work today. The story isn’t good enough and Vince Vaughn isn’t a good enough lead. I don’t think the issue is political incorrectness, more using people as the butt of jokes in a mean way.

Zoolander (2001)

I was a little surprised, but “Zoolander” actually stands up the best of the three films I watched this week. In terms of political correctness, it’s not the worst. I’m not sure about the conversation about bulimia, that wasn’t great. In terms of comedy, it’s still very funny. There are a lot of great scenes – the gasoline fight, Ben Stiller’s Derek Zoolander returning to his roots in the mine and Will Ferrell as Mugatu is a work of art. I love when Jerry Stiller is in Ben Stiller movies and he’s great in this as Maury Ballstein. The cameos are fantastic. Some are very obvious like David Bowie and Billy Zane, but my favourite is Justin Theroux as the evil DJ.

Is it still funny? Yes. Absolutely.

Could they make it today? Yes and that’s part of the problem. They tried to make it again and it’s meant to be terrible. I haven’t watched the sequel because I don’t want to be sad.

13 June 2021 – Looking back at Tropic Thunder, Dodgeball and Zoolander

07 June 2021 – Total Recall (1990) and Total Recall (2012)

This week I watched Total Recall (2012) and Total Recall (1990). I had spotted the newer one on Netflix and it was stuck in my head for a few days so I gave it a go. It’s not good. Afterwards, I had to go back and rewatch the original to see what had made them think it was a good idea. I can definitely see the appeal of the old one but they didn’t seem to capture any of that in the remake.

Total Recall (1990) is mad goofy. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a maniac and a terrible actor. His screams in this film are a work of art. That’s kinda the charm of the film though. It’s fun, it doesn’t take itself too seriously and it’s got a hectic energy. I think everybody in it is good at what they’re doing. Arnie has some top notch nonsense one liners. Michael Ironside is great as Richter. I saw Arnie talking about how good Sharon Stone was and I think she does a solid job of facilitating Arnie as a phenomenon. Also, I liked the world creation on Mars. The planet is cartoonish. There always seems to be drilling machinery appearing out of nowhere. The mutants remind me of the sewer people in Futurama.

Arguably the highlight of the original film.

I’m not sure how a person could have watched the first version and then wanted to make the 2012 remake. The whole thing is confused. The Wikipedia entry for the film makes the production look like a mess. Apparently, Jessica Biel told people it wasn’t a remake of the film but an adaptation of the short story by Philip K. Dick that Total Recall (1990) was based on. That doesn’t really make sense though because her character doesn’t exist in the short story. I’m also not that sure why they would keep the name Total Recall if it’s not supposed to be a remake.

The fun goofiness is gone. It’s all very serious. Colin Farrell is phoning it in. His accent’s all over the place. He seems to have moved away from doing this type of thing. He doesn’t seem to want to be a leading man in big blockbusters. He seems like a likeable guy but he has a lot of shitty films under his belt. Jessica Biel is pretty forgettable. Pretty much the only person who comes out of this looking ok is John Cho as the Rekall rep. The dialogue is pretty weak and clunky. For a film that’s supposed to be all action, it’s pretty boring. I started to fall asleep so I had to watch it over 2 nights. In his review of the remake for Time, Richard Corliss wrote about the idea of subtraction. It only varies from the original by taking away from it. The charm is gone, the fun is gone, Mars is gone, the mad drilling is gone. The only addition is a stupid tunnel through the centre of the earth.

I feel like remaking a film should be an ambitious undertaking. You should be looking at an existing film and hoping to improve, modernise or translate it in a new time or setting. The minimum requirement needs to be to be at least as good a film as the original, because you’ve already lost any hint of originality. Total Recall (1990) was silly and entertaining. Total Recall (2012) seemed to have no ambition to do anything interesting and, ultimately, it’s zero craic.

07 June 2021 – Total Recall (1990) and Total Recall (2012)

23 May 2021 – This Is England

This week, the YouTube algorithm decided I was going to be obsessed with “This Is England” for a few days. I watched the film years ago and remembered it as being very good but I had never watched the TV series that followed. YouTube recommended the “Shaun meets the Skinheads” clip. It’s a great clip, a great introduction to the characters and a really good example of the dialogue and chemistry of the film. It’s been a long time since I’ve properly binged anything but that clip kicked off an urgent viewing of the film and series and a lot of shitty promo interviews.

I really like the whole series. The characters are great and the stories work really well. I love the exploration of subcultures and the creation of worlds in stories in general and “This Is England” is a really immersive series for that. The cast are very solid and the acting is very natural. I think that’s something that’s missing from most film or TV with very young casts. The improvisation element to the acting obviously helps with that but that’s a bit ask of young actors so it’s a real testament to all the performances. That ties the actors to the characters very closely and I wonder if that is part of why so many of the cast have had low key careers outside of the show despite their obvious talent. I would hope that it’s by choice and that young actors don’t want to stay in acting when they grow up, but I can see how they could become typecast since there are so many iconic roles in the series.

“This Is England”(2007)

I think the film is great because it sells you these characters. As I said above, I had seen the film but not the TV series that followed, but I was sold on the characters based on the film, I would have watched anything they did next. The characters are so natural and real. The atmosphere is is quite light to begin with. The scenarios are childhood scenarios. The group of skinheads are actually quite sensitive. Then when Stephen Graham appears as Combo, there’s a real tonal shift. Things get very tense and a little scary. Suddenly, Thomas Turgoose’s Shaun is a mini grown man. More than that, he’s a tiny evil racist. There’s brain washing and angry men dealing with their emotions terribly, on an individual and national political level. The soundtrack is also solid, I have a lot of time for those Toots and Maytals hits.

“This Is England ’86” (2010)

My hopes for the TV show were very low. As the writer and director of the series, Shane Meadows, has said, the bar was pretty low at this time for movie from film to television. And there were some big changes to the show. The focus shifts from Shaun to the wider cast a bit more. It follows Woody, played by Joe Gilgun, and Lol, played by Vicky McClure, more closely. It deals with that phase where those two in particular are supposed to be growing up. There’s much goofier moments. Meggy and Banjo, who were Combo’s henchmen, seem to become a comic relief duo. Meggy’s heart attack is played for laughs and a distraction from other growing issues. There’s also much grimmer moments. The tension isn’t as scary, it’s more a sense of dread as things fall apart. There are two very disturbing scenes however towards the end which are very tough to watch and link back to the gruesome pinnacle of the film.

“This is England ’88” (2011)

This season is super fucking grim. There’s something about basing it around Christmas that multiplies the bleakness. It’s a very honest season. Everyone is heartbroken to some degree. It’s tough going because they’re all characters that I had come to love. There’s lots of exploration of the break up of romantic relationships in art, but the break up of friendship is always one that gets me.

“This is England ’90” (2015)

’90 is a great season as someone who enjoys the subcultures. Gadget, played by Andrew Ellis, has always been the best cultural indicator character and I really appreciated his Madchester look. The extremes of the show get more polarized. The goofiness of Flip and Higgy is cranked up and the the bleakness of Combo’s return is incredibly tough going.

There’s been talk of another series and lots of talk about it being finished and it’s a dangerous thing. The series has been fantastic and it’s been amazing to follow characters as they grow, but there’s a real balancing act in giving an audience what they want and the the integrity of it all. It can’t and shouldn’t go on forever and there’s a lot of merit in ending on a high.

23 May 2021 – This Is England