The Fountain 2006 ****

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Sometimes, a film is worth some second thoughts; first viewers of Darren Aronofky’s sci-fi epic The Fountain were quick to point out that this was not a commercial proposition; for sure, watching one of the main characters becoming a tree during the finale didn’t suggest the public would be champing at the bit. So it’s probably for the best from the POV of Warner Brothers that Aronofsky’s original $70 million version starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett didn’t happen, but this discount $35 million version has much to comment it. Three stories are intercut, one involving Conquistadors, one involving a scientist who, tending to his dying wife, resolves to cure death itself, and one involving a space traveller. Hugh Jackman does what he can with various characters which are little more than ciphers, while Rachel Weisz has even less to play with as the object of his love. This is not the sci-fi universe of lazer-guns and action, but more of a Last Year in Marienbad-style mind-zonker, and judged within the latter terms, The Fountain works really well, with unique micro-photographed visuals and a Clint Mansel score. When discussing the film after the Venice Film Festival premiere, Aronofsky and Weisz seems to be not quite on the same page when discussing the film’s meaning, and critics were in the same boat; seen at a decade’s distance, The Fountain is a highly original if compromised artwork that should be retuned and revised. For those interested in spirituality, and re-incarnation in particular, a single viewing is not enough for this strange, mind-boggling epic, one of the greatest, grandest follies of recent cinema.

Robin Hood 2018 ***

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The so-bad-it’s –good file is already groaning, but there’s always room for a project as fatally misbegotten as Robin Hood. As always, it takes a number of simultaneous failures to create a truly awful film. First up; Taron Edgerton, who gained some kind of fame as the yob made good Eggsy in the juvenile, misogynist Kingsmen films. Sure, he made a passable Elton John in Rocketman, but under those specs and outfits, there’s barely a performance to see, and he’s physically nothing like John at all and makes no effort to emulate him. Throw in a phoning it in Jamie Foxx as Little John, plus Ben Mendelsohn hamming it up in his umpteenth villain role in a row, and you have an uninspired cast in a reboot that no-one asked for. Robin leaves home for the Crusades, or at least some kind of archery inspired Call of Duty video game, and returns to seek his rightful place against the usurping sheriff (Mendelsohn). Whatever the high-concept was doesn’t land, leaving a stew of CGI fights, woeful set-pieces and laughable world building. Otto Bathhurst’s period romp went straight down the tubes on release, and a cheap streaming option (99p over in the UK right now, which is about 98p too much) gives us bad movie gannets the chance to see exactly why in this roaring dumpster fire. What a decent comic like Tim Minchin is doing in here, only his agent knows.

Solo: A Star Wars Story **** 2018

When this Star Wars spin-off debuted, Ron Howard hailed the opening weekend $100 million US debut as the best of his illustrious career.  Yet Solo is regarded as a flop and a misfire, with well-publicised negativity stemming from the firing of the original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Away from the hoopla, Howard’s finished film doesn’t bear much evidence of different cooks at work; it’s a Star Wars film, but it’s more of a small-scale character study that a multiple-story epic, and presumably that’s what put the public off; the whole film builds to an off-screen shooting rather than a interplanetary battle. Aiden Ehrenreich is fine as Han Solo, and it’s fun to see how her meets up with Chewbacca and falls under the mentor ship of Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson).  Equally, it’s nice to see a young Lando (Donald Glover) and catch the moment that Han wins the Millennium Falcon from him. In fact, pretty much all of Solo works, it’s just not cut from the same cookie-cutter template as every other film in the franchise. Wouldn’t it be great to make a film like The Friends of Eddie Coyle but set in the Stars Wars Universe? Sure, but don’t expect anyone to turn out to see it. Perhaps Star Wars fatigue was inevitable with this film released while The Last Jedi was still in cinemas; either way, Howard’s amusing film deserves better than it’s franchise-killer reputation.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword 2017 ***

kingGuy Ritchie made his name with geezer gangster movies which dated quickly; there’s not much to be said for his take on The Man from Uncle or Aladdin other than he does a workman-like job. But give him $175 million and carte blanche to indulge himself and you get King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, a steaming tower of excrement that’s so monumentally bad it’s pretty much a must see movie. Charlie Hunnam is King Arthur, introduced fighting some giant creature out of a Godzilla movie. His opponent is his Uncle Vortigen, played by Jude Law. Vortigen has a castle under which he keeps a three-headed woman who also appears to be an octopus, and which he summons for advice by ringing a little bell. Sound ridiculous? Throw in David Beckham with his Minnie Mouse-on-helium voice as a bystander as Arthur pulls a sword from the stone, and chuck in some Oceans 11 heist scenes too. King Arthur lost a fortune at the box office and deservedly so; watching it is a car-crash of enjoyable hubris, smashing down to earth in a dollop of half-finished CGI.

Ben -Hur 2016 ***

BEN-HURFor many fans of bad movies, an initial taste was found watching the thud-and-blunder epics of the 1950’s and sixties. The 1959 version of Ben-Hur was a perfect example; it may be a spin-off from The Bible in the form of Lew Wallace’s source material, but it’s pure Hollywood all the way. In it’s own way, Timur Bekmanbetov’s much heralded flop is the same; Ben-Hur’s story is now formed almost entirely around a chariot race viewed in a Fast and Furious fashion, and Morgan Freeman is on hand to explain a winning strategy that’s remarkably similar to the one featured in Tokyo Drift. Despite pallid leads in Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell as the brother estranged by fate and circumstance, there’s a full and groaning buffet of delights for bad movie fans. Jesus is treated like a minor character who might get his own franchise one day, popping up in the background to comic effect. There’s a stupendous sea-battle full of expensive money shots, not least when James Cosmo’s galleon-master gets pinged off by a giant oar like a rubber band. Ben-Hur; Full Throttle Drift Racer might have been a better title for this big, daft but undeniably amusing epic.

Black Robe 1991 ***

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Bruce Beresford’s film would make a good double-bill with Roland Joffe’ s The Mission; with Jesuit priests as their main characters, both films explore the difference between heaven and earth with skill. Adapted by Brian Moore from his own novel, set in 164 Quebec, Father Laforgue (Lothaire Bluteau) sets out across snowy wastelands to establish contact with a remote mission, only to find the superstitions amongst his party tearing it apart. Based on a true story, Black Robe contrasts the beautiful but deadly vistas of remote locations with the physical and mental tortures that men exert on each other; it’s a darkly spiritual film that repays patient viewers.

https://www.amazon.com/Black-Robe-Lothaire-Bluteau/dp/B001CJFTWW/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=black+robe+film&qid=1563460260&s=gateway&sr=8-2

Exodus 1960 ***

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Like much of Otto Preminger’s work, his 1960 epic of Jewish empowerment, Exodus, has largely been consigned to the sidelines of cinematic history; long and serious, it’s a high-minded blockbuster that deals with the founding of the state of Israel. Paul Newman is agent Ari Ben Cannan, who steps up to the plate to take charge when a boatload of Jewish people is refused port by British authorities. Dalton Trumbo adapts Leon Uris’s book at a hefty 208 minute length, and although momentum is lost when the ship is parked around the halfway mark, it’s easy to see why Exodus is a key film in Jewish and Israeli culture; despite a hackneyed romantic subplot, there’s an underlying excitement about the political opportunities of a new state, and Preminger’s film is required viewing for anyone interested in exploring the various sides of the on-going conflict.

https://www.amazon.com/Exodus-Paul-Newman/dp/B07HS4VBX1/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=exodus&qid=1563359976&s=gateway&sr=8-1