John Landis

The Blues Brothers

18/06/20

Netflix

Continuing our (very ) occasional reappraisal of classic movies, I find this beauty lurking on Netflix and immediately feel a powerful need to reconnect with it. The Blues Brothers first emerged in 1980 and I know I watched it in the cinema on its release, but, nearly forty years later, I can no longer recall exactly where I was at the time, nor which particular establishment I viewed it in. No matter.

John Landis’s film came hot off his success with Animal House and is very much a love letter to rhythm and blues. It features a whole host of celebrated performers in cameo roles: Cab Galloway, Ray Charles, James Brown, Aretha Franklin; they are all trotted out to perform a song apiece as ‘Joliet’ Jake (John Bellshill) and his brother Elwood (Dan Akroyd) go about their ‘mission from God,’ trying to raise $5000 dollars to save the orphanage they grew up in from being closed down. $5000 dollars probably seemed a lot of money back then.

The overall feel here is of a cartoon made flesh. No matter what outlandish events befall our heroes (they are shot at with bazookas and flamethrowers and, at one point Elwood’s entire apartment block collapses around them), they don’t even raise an eyebrow – and they never remove their sunglasses, even at night. Well, apart from one famous bit…

The action sequences are amped up to eleven. You want a car chase? Sure, but why use four vehicles when you can use one hundred and four? You want to destroy an entire shopping mall in the process? Go on, the budget’s right there, spend it!

Much of the fun here is in revisiting those glorious set pieces. As somebody who played in bands throughout much of my youth and who often found himself performing in unsuitable venues, I will always relish the BB’s comeback gig where they are obliged to take the stage at a country and western bar posing as The Good Ol’ Boys. When their opening number, Gimme Some Loving, causes a riot, they are reduced to bashing out a version of the theme from Rawhide, swiftly followed by a tearjerking Stand By Your Man. Priceless. And of course, who doesn’t relish the scene where the boys drive straight at a group of Nazis forcing them to jump off a bridge into a river? 

Carrie Fisher makes a memorable appearance as the woman who Jake left at the altar and who has pledged to destroy him and his brother, by any means possible.  Something I didn’t expect when rewatching this film was to notice how many great movie actors featured here are no longer with us – and how much I miss them.

Sure, you can argue that the film is decidedly rough around the edges. Many of those featured musicians can’t act for toffee and the guest appearance by Twiggy (who presumably just happened to be around) feels entirely gratuitous. Some of the special effects are very much of their time, i.e. not that special.

But nevertheless The Blues Brothers still rocks, still makes me laugh out loud and provides a perfect tonic for these troubled times. And who could ever forget that famous quote, which in the 1980s, we repeated again and again?

Elwood: “There’s one hundred and six miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

Jake: “Hit it!”

4 stars

Philip Caveney

 

The Mummy

10/05/17

When I heard this was looming on the cinematic horizon, my first thought was, ‘What, again?’

But then I realised it was actually as far back as 1999 and 2001 respectively that Steven Sommers enjoyed box-office hits with his two instalments of sarcophagus-bothering and, as it transpires, this is something rather different: the opening salvo in a series of ‘Dark Universe’ films. Inspired, no doubt, by what Marvel and DC are currently doing with their back catalogue, the bigwigs at Universal have clearly decided to raid their vaults and resurrect some of their most celebrated monster-themed hits. This initial offering has Tom Cruise attached, which is probably as close as you can get, in these troubled times, to a guarantee of bums-on-seats.

Here, Cruise plays Nick Morton, a not altogether honourable guy, who spends his time in war zones, ‘liberating’ antiquities (i.e. nicking them and flogging them on the black market). In war torn Iraq, with his sidekick, Chris (Jake Johnson), he stumbles upon a tomb – an Egyptian tomb, which is around a thousand miles away from where it ought to be. The audience has already been tipped off in a pre-credits sequence as to the provenance of said tomb (there’s a lengthy preamble about crusaders and murdered pharaohs), but what Nick doesn’t know is that this place is actually a repository for the undead soul of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutell), who has been waiting five thousand years to be reborn. What’s more, one glance at Nick and she’s smitten by him – probably because, just like her, Cruise is somewhat older than he looks and incredibly well-preserved.

At any rate, Nick quickly finds himself possessed by Ahmanet and suffering from confusing visions of shifting sands and a mysterious jewel-handled dagger. Antiquities expert (and convenient love interest) Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) promptly whisks him over to London for a meeting with Dr Jekyll – yes, that Dr Jekyll (Russell Crowe) and many supernatural shenanigans ensue, replete with all the usual suspects – rats, spiders and scarab beetles.

This is actually a bit of a romp and, though there are some fairly grisly sequences, scattered throughout the proceedings, the accent is mostly on humour. Director Alex Kurtzman keeps the pot bubbling and never lets things get too bogged down in detail. The film occasionally borrows quite shamelessly from other hit movies– a repeated trope with Nick talking to an undead companion could have been lifted directly from John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London – but there is at least a decent script that actually displays a modicum of knowledge about Egyptian mythology. The more eagle-eyed viewers may spot items on display in Dr Jekyll’s laboratory that hint at other Universal products waiting in the wings for their chance to step back into the spotlight. Is that a vampire’s skull in a glass jar? I wonder, who can that belong to? And that scaly hand… The Creature From the Black Lagoon? At any rate, next for this treatment is The Bride of Frankenstein, so don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Horror movie purists will undoubtedly find themselves disappointed by The Mummy – it never really conjures up enough menace to totally creep you out – but those who, like me, go along with very low expectations, could actually wind up pleasantly surprised by what’s on offer. Give it a chance. It might be just your cup of mercury.

4 Stars

Philip Caveney