Life (2017 – Daniel Espinosa)
Which people try to disparage as an Alien rip-off. As if that’s a bad thing?
A lovely (though completely faked) single-shot sequence opens a film follows the standard formula of a likeable crew (Reynolds, Wilson, Gyllenhaal) being murdered one by one. So what – it’s a nominal plot? There are fascinations of my childhood – dinosaurs, space travel, steam trains – that remain with me to this day. I love them, regardless of the context. The conviction of the cast in this film and the claustrophobia of a zero-gravity space station adds a level of true hostility to the proceedings; we rarely get to see utter terror in our lives, so it is exhilarating to see it performed. But the ending – a glorious, defeatist conclusion, which dooms both our heroes and the whole of humanity – pushes this film into something quite thrilling. I could do with one of these films a month.
A tiny, shitty screen with broken chairs and an obnoxious audience at the Cineworld Leicester Square (formerly the Empire). If I wasn’t in a good mood, I’d have properly resented the experience. Ticket was about £12.
Free Fire (2017 – Ben Wheatley)
Six films in, and he’s no closer to a masterpiece. The breadth of Wheatley’s career is more something to admire than love (Steven Soderbergh suffers from the same affliction). There is an almost desperate, and quite cynical, tendency within his films to create something ‘cult’. He is a poseur trying to be alternative. Every moment of Free Fire seems designed to be regurgitated by some inexperienced nineteen-year-old in a university halls of residence; and maybe it will be. But there is nothing in this film that is even remotely dangerous or surprising. It is an utterly safe film. It is a tedious trawl through an approximation of ‘interesting’; actors little more than E.R. guest-stars perform paper-thin characters spouting dialogue that is not once amusing or quotable.
I think there is nothing more dull in modern cinema than the choice to ironically re-appropriate a popular, if slightly naff, pop song. Ben Wheatley probably considers it to be an ‘edgy’ choice.
A small screen at the Bluewater Showcase… which was completely deserted of anyone other than myself. I suspect they released it on too many screens following the relative success of High Rise (2016). I’m not sure how the BFI can justify financially supporting a release on this level. I can never work out in these situations (and for the record, it’s happened twice before – at Ponyo (2008 – Hayao Miyazaki) and Much Ado About Nothing (2012 – Joss Whedon)), whether I’m essentially in a private screening or very, very lonely. Ticket cost £9 or so.
Raw (2016 – Julia Ducournau)
Which is one of those films where I spent a significant part of its run-time not actually looking at the screen, such was the unpleasantness on display. That’s not a criticism – I find the deliberate ambiguity that drowns modern art-house cinema far more distasteful than any depiction of cannibalism. But I can’t love a film like this – all effect, and little substance.
Screen 3 at the Odeon Covent Garden. Ticket cost £10.
Grindhouse (2007 – Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez)
We never got the chance to see this movie as originally intended in the U.K. and I occasionally claim that Death Proof is one of my favourite films ever, so the chance to see all three hours or so of this film was most welcome.
Seeing it with an audience was thrilling, and it’s fair to say that for many there the fake trailers were the highlight of the evening. The ‘missing reel’ moment in Planet Terror absolutely killed; when Tarantino tries the same effect in Death Proof it seems muted and diluted.
Rodriguez and Tarantino were reaching for different things in their movies. Rodriguez saw it as an opportunity to indulge in his trashy impulses, whilst Tarantino, always more concerned with his own auteurship, directed a new project, albeit one which took some of his textural indulgences (black + white sections, chaptered storytelling etc.) to an extreme. The latter is a better film – not unsurprisingly – but its pleasures are less obvious, and in the double-bill format, the audience is exhausted by the time the final thrilling car chase erupts onto the screen. You could feel the fatigue in the room.
Sold out showing on the upstairs screen at the Prince Charles Cinema. Fantastic audience. Ticket cost £8 (I think…). 35mm showing – though it’s hard to notice here, given the deliberate grottiness of the image.
The Fate of the Furious (2017 – F. Gary Gray)
As I’m currently serialising a series on The Fast and the Furious films, I’ll reserve the majority of my thoughts until I publish the piece in June.
But suffice to say, it was the weakest instalment of an occasionally extraordinary franchise.
Huge screen at the Bluewater Showcase, slightly dampened by the fact that I had a killer migraine whilst watching it. Ticket cost £9.
The Red Shoes (1948 – Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger)
Which I often claim to be my favourite film. I’m not sure I feel that way right now; like most favourite films, the allegiance towards a director usually means affection shifts from one film to another as time goes by. Once upon a time, Raging Bull (1980) was my favourite Martin Scorsese film; nowadays Taxi Driver (1976) is more affecting. I suspect that one day I will find The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) or The Small Back Room (1949) to be more compelling pictures than this.
But for now, The Red Shoes remains one of the most important pieces of art in my life. To watch it is to understand part of my soul in a way I find quite hard to vocalise. The same applies for some Tony Scott and Michael Mann films.
And like all art that affects us, like all truly great movies, every time I watch it I find something new within in it. This time, I seemed to experience it as some great queer masterpiece; Lermontov, with his noticeably highly feminine sunglasses, is a great camp queen. His interest in Vicky is not sexual; it is ascetic, a temptation to reject the limited satisfaction offered by the heteronormative existence with Julian, and share in his indulgence of the creativity of talent and art. You can read the closing sequence as a mythical re-enactment of Hans Christian Andersen’s story or the suicide of a woman torn between two men, neither who can satisfy her, and who both want to control and limit her ambitions. But this time, it was an act of freedom, a passionate moment of emotion, from a woman who was so close to choosing to never experience it again. Few films are this powerful.
Upstairs screen at the Prince Charles. Slightly sniffy audience, including one douche who sniggered at any display of emotion in an attempt to prove how sophisticated he is. There is a special circle in hell for the smug cunts who come to these screenings. Ticket cost £8. 35mm showing of the most recent restoration.
Alien (1979 – Ridley Scott)
And another all-time favourite film, seen on the big-screen for the first time. It is a relentless and horrifying and a masterpiece of design, performance and escalating tension.
If we’re talking about the new things we see in beloved pieces of art – for me this viewing converged the mutual obsession of this film, and that of Psycho (1960 – Alfred Hitchcock). Ripley’s pleading with Mother recalls Norman Bates’ fractured psyche; there is no reasoning with this destructive impulse. It will dominate our existence. In this regard, the xenomorph is an inhuman extension of Bates; simultaneously masculine and feminine, unfeeling and relentlessly homicidal.
Seen on the Sigourney Weaver screen at the Picturehouse Central. It was an extraordinary 70mm print – speaking to the staff afterwards, the quality of the print was almost neon when they got it, but the projectionist team were able to show it as something beautiful. Truly one of the best cinematic experiences of my life. Ticket only cost £8.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015 – George Miller)
Aware that when I first saw this film I was massively hungover, but still loved it (it was my favourite film of 2015), I jumped at the chance to see this again on the big screen.
Now I’m all for arbitrary indulges in movies. I adore alternate cuts, franchises with different chronologies to production order – you name it, I will go there. I’ve watched Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 – Steven Spielberg) in black and white because Steven Soderbergh told us to, I’ve watched all three different versions of Legend (1985 – Ridley Scott) for the sheer hell of it. So I went to see the Black and Chrome version of this film.
But a huge part of the appeal of this film was the extraordinarily vivid colour palate. It seems masochistic to deny ourselves that appeal.
Downstairs screen at the Prince Charles Cinema. Ticket cost £10. Despite my misgivings about the visuals, the soundtrack sounded phenomenal – they really have an excellent audio set-up down there.
Win it All (2017 – Joe Swanberg)
I think it goes without saying that anything I watch at home is going to have less impact than something I see on screen. There’s too many distractions, too many opportunities to look away from the visuals, and turn to the phone or laptop. The cinema is my church; home is my prayer (the mind wanders from what it is meant to do.)
… but I really liked the onscreen text of this film.
Watched on Netflix.