MAD: Home Alone
Dec19

MAD: Home Alone

(1990 20th Century Fox/Watched on Netflix and then resumed on DVD when I realised it wasn’t in HD for some reason) I do wonder if this film would still be as beloved as it is without the John Williams score. He really does draw you in, with playful, somewhat mysterious orchestration not a million miles from Harry Potter, (also not coincidentally directed by Chris Columbus). Plenty of other 90s family movies have been forgotten in the 26 years since this became a hit. Imagine a George of the Jungle where composer Marc Shaiman was replaced by Williams. Better, more abiding movie, no matter which way you slice it. Home Alone just about manages two complex balancing acts, for the two age groups of kids and adults (especially parents), delivering first for the kids a rebellious, mouthy protagonist in Kevin who gets to do exactly what he wants at last, then begins to act like a grown adult and take care of himself, still being precocious little gobshite to the grown ups he meets. Then, when he sets the wily (and let’s not forget life-threatening) traps for the Wet Bandits he gets to effectively beat the living crap out of a pair of despicable antagonists. This is a stocking full of endlessly appealing candy for the kids, but since Kevin is on a journey from helplessness to independence the candy is served in distinct and varied courses and is of some nutritional value. Now for parents the danger is that Kevin will be too odious at the beginning and I’ll confess wanting to ground the little bugger for a week for his rude and unhelpful behaviour, which even aged ten when I saw this the first time I always thought was a little too far (and I was a problematic child). If you are able to hang on through his obnoxiousness you get to empathise with Katherine O’Hara’s harangued mother character as she deals with more than a dozen selfish family members stampeding around her house. Two of the most stressful occasions a family can go through are of course Christmas and going on vacation, so when the McCallisters prudently decide to combine the two it’s frankly astonishing one of them doesn’t wind up a corpse. But as adults you feel the responsibility and tension when Kevin is accidentally left… as the title states, and John Hughes’ winning script reinforces the tensions in a believably snappy way. Honestly, this man was a treasure and I miss him every day. Ditto john Candy who makes a brief polka-based cameo. Those guys should have done more, and they should have done more...

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MAD: Scrooged
Dec18

MAD: Scrooged

(1988 Paramount/Watched on DVD) Bill Murray is on fire (at one point, literally) in this updated, slywinking adaptation of A Christmas Carol. The 1980s with its high-flying Manhatten executives proved to be the perfect allegory for Dickens’ Victorian London. Their sharp-suited mastery of the pinnacle of civilisation was maintained, not despite their lack of empathy for the poor and needy, but *because* of it. The 1843 book was written to lend some perspective to the wealthy as they basked in the warmth of their fires, whilst far too many outside went hungry and slowly froze to death. They needed to pity first the poor of London and then Ebeneezer himself, the better to see that should they continue only serving themselves, their lives may wind up just as pitiable in the end. This is a tale that unifies us by drawing attention to our mutual journey towards the grave and the importance of what we do on the way there. Somehow this movie manages to reference, send up, subvert and confound almost every aspect of the original book, assured that its audience knows every beat, whilst at the same time remaining completely faithful. This is a balancing act that most parodies can never achieve. The result is as heartwarming as any previous or future version, mostly down to the ferocious, hilarious and unhinged performance by Murray, who winds up tearful and repentant to the same extremes. The ghosts who visit him are by turns gruesome, scary, violent and hilarious, prodding, kicking and biting at the newly unguarded raw nerves of his psyche. What’s always fascinated me about the core story is that it was written as a complete mental collapse and re-evaluation of one man looking back on his wretched life in the darkest hours of the holiest night. It was penned decades before Freud gave psychology form, and since this version heavily features the making of a TV production of the original it actually makes perfect sense that this is the form Frank Cross’s breakdown and return takes. Far from being contrived it makes his protesting against terrifying life change all the more clear. And Karen Allen, makes for a wonderful, kind female counterpart from his past, the best version of himself that he lost touch with when he set aside human decency. Seeing her rendered as heartless and cruel as Nicholson’s white-faced Joker in Frank’s exaggerated nightmare 80s vision of Christmas future is maybe the most upsetting of losses. His influence (at least in his own mind) was such that rather than cultivating and spreading kindness he was able to somehow kill it and spread an infectious,...

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MAD: Doctor Strange
Oct27

MAD: Doctor Strange

  I will keep the details of this one close to my chest for the next few weeks until our podcast. It’s not my new favourite, it’s by no means a missed opportunity like Thor: The Dark World. In terms of hero introductions for the MCU it’s maybe up there with Ant-Man for me. Listen to this as you read. First and foremost, as I had long suspected I might, I wish they hadn’t appointed Scott Derrickson the director of proven unexceptional horror and sci-fi movies (Sinister, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Devil’s Knot, Deliver Us From Evil) as director. That makes the film feel like a horror movie over and over again. Magic isn’t cool or fun, it’s terrifying, which is not ultimately what will make the kids love Strange the way they love Iron Man. However, when it IS cool and fun with a serious weight (which happens) it finally fits neatly in with the rest of the MCU. Derrickson watched Batman Begins and Inception at least five times each before directing this and he definitely thinks Christopher Nolan is cool, but that doesn’t give him the directing abilities of Christopher Nolan. The lighting, appropriately for an unexceptional horror movie is dingy and colours have to struggle to the surface. The glowing magic succeeds here where clothing looks a little inappropriately colourful and outlandish for the dour atmosphere, whereas the multitextured and luxurious lighting scheme of a Del Toro would make those costumes fit perfectly with the world we’re presented with. So I hope Doctor Strange 2 has a different director, if not my dream of Del Toro then Matthew Vaughan would be rather perfect. Cumberbatch is perfectly cast, no argument there. The man is a star who has been waiting for his own A-List screen series to headline. He is great in the film, but not superb; meaning he’s not Downey’s Iron Man (the guy he’s effectively replacing). Arguably if Cumberbatch were allowed to speak in his natural accent and if he were given some world class material to chew through he WOULD be superb. Sadly this this is what happens when you get John Spaihts, a man proven for writing only lame sci fi (The Darkest Hour 3D, The original stupid script for Prometheus before it was given a pass to make it appear superficially intelligent by Damon Lindelof) to write your screenplay and toss out a bonus accent that’s would have classed up your major new star. Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is the match for Downey’s Stark. The silver lining is that this Strange with a great screenwriter might be that very match. He is...

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MAD: The Force Awakens
Jan09

MAD: The Force Awakens

This first bit is in response to people still having a problem with that crossguard.     I’ll keep this short, because I could talk about Kylo all day. Firstly it’s symbolic of a character who has forced himself down one rigid path, one of brutality and zero compromise. Secondly every fighter in Star Wars had one style and stuck with it. I won’t look up the form names but Luke used his like a baseball bat, Vader thrashed his opponents like he was holding a riding crop, Obi Wan did that spinny business, Maul used the moves of a trained athlete showing off with a Bo staff, Anakin chopped firewood, Mace flung his arms about and pulled faces, Dooku adopted the body of a man forty years his junior and Yoda and Palpatine became formless CGI blobs that ignored gravity and helicoptered through the air, screaming. Quite aside from the fact that he used them to cruelly pierce Finn’s shoulder during a deadlock and win that fight, would it really, genuinely have benefited the character of Kylo Ren within this film if he didn’t have those vents, blasting off the excess energy? Would you not say in fact that it makes his character distinctive? More memorable? That the vicious, holy Templar aesthetic plays into everything he’s trying to be? Look at his ragged cloak, the hood, the blackness behind the visor. Think about what that says in our collective minds about what he has had to sacrifice to obtain this terrible, stalking power. Here are the three biggest issues that seem to keep turning up in the criticism of The Force Awakens… It’s just a remake of Star Wars Kylo Ren is a Weak Villain Rey is a Mary Sue Let’s take these three as major positives. For the first you need to jump outside your age and go back in time. If you’re 45 years old and were there for the original in 1977 then you will simply have to peel away everything that came after and focus on that initial feeling. If you are any younger you’re going to have to somehow go zen and forget the prequels, Return of the Jedi and even The Empire Strikes Back. Think about that big, blank canvas. Part of it beautifully covered in the epic first outing, with courageous heroes and dastardly villains rendered almost unilaterally in black and white, though not, notably coding either extreme solely in the positive or negative. Evil white Stormtroopers were fascinating, as was swaggering black-vested Han Solo. Take a look at this Kenner 12 figure card back from early 1978, less than a year after...

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