January. The time when the prestigious films of the previous year in Hollywood get released in the UK. There can be several releases each week, all of which are desperate for acclaim and praise. It can be hard to navigate this bounty and identify the films that have any worth, rather than the bland, desperate fare that clogs up the cinema screens. I do love that challenge (as I love the wealth of choices I have available to me), and this is what I ended up with. Brief reviews recorded for posterity.
The Hateful Eight (2015 – Quentin Tarantino)
No filmmaker has ever believed the hype more than Tarantino. Understanding that sometimes you can feel claustrophobic in a cathedral, Tarantino takes us from the wide, white wasteland exterior into a dark dank crowded room, that feels so small no matter the size of the screen. His work is always appealing for the ‘openness’ of the text – character’s backstories, missing reels, narrative paths hinted at but never explored (in particular here the rope path to the outhouse that is set up but never mentioned again). Here, the flashback with Channing Tatum seemed to make the story smaller. But, if the greatest asset to a movie is always its cast, this film excelled, Walton Goggins and Jennifer Jason Leigh in particular imbibing their characters with a charming glimmer of the insane.
Royal Circle at the Odeon Leicester Square. 70mm Roadshow presentation. Ticket cost £25, but included a free programme. Worth it.
Creed (2015 – Ryan Coogler)
A thoughtful reflection on the everyday self-destruction we all engage in. The Rocky movies have always engaged with this, how we casually wreck our lives and chances, through pride, narrow-mindedness and selfishness, because the world we operate in ensures these characteristics are essential to prosperity. The trick is to manage them just enough to ensure you have some meaningful relationship at some point. Stallone portrays a man, who despite being surrounded with affection is always alone. But the film belongs to Michael B. Jordan, who with a quiet determination ensures that the whole audience is on the side of the young upstart stealing a franchise away from a legend.
Large screen at Bluewater Showcase. Ticket cost £8.55. Watched through misty, tearful eyes.
The Assassin (2015 – Hou Hsiao-Hsien)
Slow deliberation. Some fantastic aspect ratio and colour changes that suggested a far messier film was to follow. A film where performance (and person) slip into the beauty we construct (candles and silk) and the beauty we inhabit (forests and lakes). Rich colour ensured a screen that was alive wherever you looked – the performance often dared you to switch your focus elsewhere, but kept you gazing knowing something was coming.
Screen 2 (?) at Curzon Soho. Ticket cost £15. This is the film that set the tone for the year – the ticket cost as much as the new Blu-Ray will of this film. The screen was the size of a small wall. There is a tipping point, because as much as I love seeing something on the Big(!) Screen, here I felt ripped off.
13 Hours (2016 – Michael Bay)
John Krasinski is not a movie star, he just drowns in this film. A film that is plain that you apply whatever politics you want to it (apart from an understanding that America is thoroughly mediocre), the film flourishes once it moves into total siege mode as the contractors defend their fortress. There’s no regret to any death within this film and no understanding of the responsibility involved.
Medium sized screen at Bluewater Showcase. Ticket cost £8.55.
Knight of Cups (2015 – Terrence Malick)
I’ll reserve judgement on this one.
(Which is to say that I found it a little dull despite being a card carrying Malickite/Malickian/Malickie. But it’s me. I know. I’ll come back to it at some point).
Watched on Blu-Ray imported from Germany because the rumours are that it’s going straight to video here and I couldn’t be bothered to wait.
The Big Short (2015 – Adam McKay)
Written in more detail here: https://asidesteps.com/2016/02/21/the-big-short-2015-adam-mckay/
Bone Tomahawk (2015 – S. Craig Zahler)
Like Hateful Eight, this western is more concerned with interiors than exteriors. It’s designed within an inch of its life to be a ‘cult’ film (horror elements and character actors galore). But you can’t design a cult film anymore. The audience for these films are too powerful, too mainstream and too vocal for these films ever to go underground and be discovered or rediscovered. People discuss films now in the time leading up to release, rather than passionately half remembering it afterwards. Film culture is all about anticipation and not reflection (think about how those bloody Marvel movies are all about exciting the audience about what’s coming next rather than letting them dwell on the fact that they were just ripped off for two hours.)
If the audience has access to every piece of media ever at the click of a button (a gross generalisation) this is a film that be accessed after reading one tweet sent in a second. So this is the film in its peak. There is no ten years down the line for it. The few that watch it now, will be the few that remember it forever. It’s destined to be the second most successful Kurt Russell western in 2015 (which is unfair as it’s a stronger performance in this film).
Phoenix screen at Curzon Bloomsbury. Ticket cost £9.50. Despite being a small cinema, the screen was a decent size and you are able to sit close to it in comfortable chairs.