E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial – Review

Cast: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Robert MacNaughton, Peter Cyote and Dee Wallace
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Melissa Mathison
Length: 115mins

Back in 1981, E.T. may have perhaps been considered among Steven Spielberg’s crowning achievements. The director was thirty five at the time of its release, but already had an impressive back-catalogue containing ‘Jaws’, ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ and the first Indiana Jones film to boast. However, ‘E.T.’ showed for the first time a true understanding of childlike wonder which would later define much of Spielberg’s work. The doe-eyed expression displayed by Elliott throughout most of the film, as he gazes with a mix of wonder and fear at the possibility of a new friend who he’s discovered, but one that looks different enough to warrant a degree of uncertainty, is how so many of us would have seen the world at that age, and tenderly pulls the audience back towards their childhood, whether they were born in the eighties or any other era. That’s why, fourty years on, Spielberg’s filmmaking has the ability to draw in viewers with equal captivity, as they lose themselves in this fantastical tale once again.

Known for his striking visuals and symbolic compositions within films, Spielberg remains on top form throughout ‘E.T.’. Moments of uncertainty are quite literally shrouded in fog, whilst the threat of an unknown government agency, set to steal Elliott’s friend away from him appears as anonymous and sinister, as each shot with adults shown spends the entire scene ensuring that they’re hardly present. There’s a huge emphasis on a childlike perspective on events, and by telling a story through a symbolic approach to visuals, rather than simply just how they play out, the film develops an added layer of complexity to what could be a light-hearted and fairly simple tale, much like ‘The Goonies’ a few years later. (Not to say ‘The Goonies’ could ever be improved in any way, that film is perfect exactly as it comes.)

Although the edges around E.T.’s prosthetic complexion may now show up as a little more unbelievable than viewers might have taken the time to notice back in 1981, and the visual effects may leave a great deal to the imagination, it’s the motivation behind these moments which matter more than the actual visuals themselves. To see a gang of biker kids having their wheels lifted from the ground appears so exciting to the audience because they understand the joy that such a moment would have inspired in them at that age, rather than being brought down by any slightly dated effects. 

‘E.T. the Extra Terrestrial’ was a massive hit upon its release in the early eighties, and has clearly had a great impact on popular culture, with TV shows like ‘Stranger Things’ in recent years taking so much inspiration from the film that Spielberg probably deserves a writing credit. Whilst a modern viewer might write it off simply as another dated nostalgia-fest, there’s a great deal more to enjoy about ‘E.T.’ than you may first think, and to go back to the cinema and see it all play out on the big screen is something absolutely worth enjoying.

See How They Run – Review. 

Rating:12A                                                                                                                                                       Cast: Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, David Oyelowo, Ruth Wilson, Harris Dickinson and Pearl Chandra.                                                 Directed by Tom George.                                                                                              Written by Mark Chappell.                                             Length: 98mins. 

See How They Run is a brilliantly likable whodunnit spoof centred on Agatha Christie’s long running play, The Mousetrap. It is expanded as a brutal homicide takes place backstage in its London West End theatre in 1953 during a party celebrating 100 performances. 

The concept see’s a brash Hollywood director (Brody) who plans to transition the famous play to a movie who, after seeing him upset one or two of our company, is murdered in the costume department. Sam Rockwell is brought in as lead investigating officer with an overeager, movie loving assistant (Ronan) to take charge of the situation and solve the murder under the scrutiny of their seniors. 

There’s a very entertaining silliness to See How They Run and I actually think it’s a brilliantly clever idea. While widely described as a spoof – it takes itself very seriously which is the main reason it works, there’s no slapstick here. Director Tom George appears to deeply trust his script, written by Mark Chappell, and allows the humour to flow from the dialogue, of course, through deeply hilarious performers – particularly Ronan with her doe-eyed expressions, innocent optimism and wonderful comic timing. With the confidence in the dialogue, it allows the director to really play with the cinematography which has a kind of Wes Anderson feel to it.  

Saoirse Ronan and Sam Rockwell are a duo that work wonderfully well together, two very experienced actors who throw everything into the quirky characters that they have in front of them. The ensemble cast is not lacking in experience either – David Oyelowo fits beautifully into his role as the scorned writer, Brody seems to enjoy his time as the cocky director turned victim and honestly there’s not really a weak link in the whole cast. 

Part of this movies genius is that it’s not trying to trick the audience. The villain isn’t necessarily obvious, but you can comfortably walk down the path they lead you and probably work it out before the big reveal – allowing the audience the satisfaction of feeling a part of the mystery without having to pay too much attention and to enjoy the moments of poking fun at perhaps more serious films in the same genre. 

This is an easy film with no pretensions, entirely without the deadly seriousness with which Agatha Christie is now adapted and is the opportunity to watch some world class performers having a bit of fun. It’s nice to see Tom George making some creative choices that aren’t necessarily the obvious ones and is well written by Mark Chappell. I would absolutely recommend going to see this film in the cinema, particularly for a bit of a laugh and a solid dose of escapism.  

Pistol – Review

Cast: Toby Wallace, Anson Boon, Louis Partridge, Christian Lees, Sydney Chandler, Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Tallulah Riley
Directed by Danny Boyle
Based on the novel by Steve Jones
Length: 270mins

I’m sure if you asked any of the members of the Sex Pistols back in 1977 what they thought of Disney, there’d most likely follow a string of profanities too lurid to be repeated amongst the pages of such an innocent blog as this. The punk band which formed amongst a culture of truly unique characters, with genuine belief in what they stood for, and the energy to fight what they stood against, the Pistols made their mark on British culture in a way many would compare to that of a teabag left too long upon a newspaper. But in truth their revolutionary attitudes, style and most importantly, music, has influenced generations to follow. Of course, no such historical event can take place without a fictionalised account being retold within the annuls of film or tv history, meaning the story of a truly radical group has been left in the entirely opposingly sanitary hands of conglomerate Disney, as well as revered director Danny Boyle, who may still find traces of dirt beneath his fingernails from the grit of his early films.

There’s a lot to tell in a story such as this. Guitarist Steve Jones’ maintains the basis of the plot this time round, but when placed beside previous films about the era – Julien Temples’ enigmatic ‘The Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle’, or the desolation of Alex Coxs’ ‘Sid and Nancy’ – the truth can become more of a forgotten commodity. Despite this, the six fourty-five minute episodes manage to cover most of the key events – John Lydon’s infamous jukebox audition in Viv Westwoods’ ‘SEX’ shop, the truly unforgettable Bill Grundy interview, as well as later acts of anarchic wisdom, such as the House of Commons-adjacent boat trip performance by the band. It’s such a rich story, filled with history in the forms of people, clothing, attitudes and sound, that these key elements of the story can all be utilised to draw in the viewer, allowing them to understand in greater detail why such a rebellion in the late 1970’s came into being.

As an actual TV series, ‘Pistol’ does take an episode or two to find its feet. The opening feels as if it caters far too much to an audience overly-familiar with the shortcomings of social media. Over-dramatised police chases and unrelated party sequences are delivered through an unrelenting average shot length of probably around one second. Each beat overloads the audience more and more, whilst romanticising what would have been a desolate, post-war London landscape, to be a time of excitement and constant rebellion. However, as the band begins to take their place, and the settings establish themselves more clearly, the show really falls into a groove which carries through until the final curtain. John Lydon was the first to say that the creators hadn’t done it my way, but overall the six episodes deliver a story which informs those unfamiliar with the band on what they really represented, as well as delivering an entertaining and entrancing reimagining of this long since passed era to Pistols fans worldwide.

Particular standouts lie in the performances of Johnny Rotten imitator Anson Boon, as well as ever-punchable Thomas Brodie-Sangster reincarnating the sleaze of band manager Malcolm McLaren. The sound production is also a highlight, with each performance given by the band feeling as powerful as first recordings, matching the energy of later-spliced in original performances from shows of the time. Such a story also couldn’t get away without being commented on unless the fashion was mentioned. Vivianne Westwood’s iconic approach to clothing is perhaps what ties the entire late-seventies punk movement together. No scene through the series is complete without a band member or two adorning a purposefully provocative or obscene shirt. Jackets and trousers that your parents would either be horrified by, or become the root of their envy saunter through London streets, carrying within them the grand cast of characters who are set to make history.

The Sex Pistols are no British secret. Their lives and musical story is known amongst a great number of people, and most of those who have at least a vaguely decent interest in the band will probably look upon a Disney+ limited series telling their tale as only greater evidence that nothing good can last. However, although this is most likely true, there’s something to be appreciated about the shows’ ability to revive this past era, taking us back through the lives of Steve Jones, John Lydon, Paul Cook, Glen Matlock and Sid Vicious one more time.

Fisherman’s Friends: One and All – Review.

Rating: 12A Cast: James Purefoy, Sam Swainsbury, Dave Johns and Richard Hainsworth. Directed by Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcroft. Written by Piers Ashworth, Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcroft. Length: 111mins. 

Fisherman’s Friends: One and All is the follow up to 2019’s surprise hit ‘Fisherman’s Friends’, the tale of a group of rough and ready fishermen who become recording artists after a music executive spots them while on holiday in Cornwall. Based on a true story it was just so very British – it was nice, featured a few catchy tunes, saw normal people succeed and gave a gorgeous glimpse into the Cornish coast and coastal life. While the first film sat nicely with audiences, was there enough story to make a sequel? 

In short, probably not. But that hasn’t stopped audiences attending the cinema for a pleasant viewing – and that’s what you get. I can’t imagine anyone watching expecting a blockbuster.  

The story picks up where the first left off. The harmonising fishermen have a top 10 album and a sell out show under their belts but with their record label asking questions over the chances continued success, some members of the group (and their families) struggling with minor fame and the group leader, Jim, in the midst of grief for the loss of his father. The premise is relatively simple; the group need a new member who once joins clashes significantly with Jim and Jim faces personal issues around substance abuse. 

It’s a little scrappy and with a moment of high tension involving an accident at a derelict mine which seems random and a little out of place, it manages to maintain some of the charm of the first film but lacks a little magic ‘something’. While breezing over the themes of bereavement, substance abuse and male mental health issues it doesn’t really address anything and feels slightly like some issues were thrown in to appear progressive but just back out of any commitment to in depth themes. It was almost an interesting conversation where they matched small town, coastal folk with traditional opinions faced with a chance to learn about contemporary societal issues however, again, it felt like they took the safe route and backed out, throwing a bit of humour around the subject and trundling on through. 

Its heart is undoubtedly in the right place but is quite predictable and the clash between simple fishermen and sharp London suits running the record label was covered in the first film. Having said this, it is an easy watch. The music is still entertaining and the light hearted nature of the film is just ‘nice’; a word often used as a negative but sometimes ‘nice’ is what we need.