Films seen August

Dunkirk (2017 – Christopher Nolan)

 

There was a lot of talk about this film, but really, when it came down to it, it was utterly thrilling.  I was completely gripped by the whole thing.  Easily Nolan’s most proficient film by a considerable distance, Dunkirk seemed to capture a nostalgia and dignity for a time that only exists in the most patriotic fantasists.  The brutality of war and the hopelessness of survival were buried under a British reserve.  But this all seems far away… thought the deliberate refusal to refer to Germany or Italy or any other of the Axis powers in the opening crawl did seem to suggest that all-consuming capitalism and the fear of offending these potential markets has managed to trump an antiquated notion of decency.

But there is moment where Tom Hardy looks at his fuel gage and realises he now has to choose whether to turn back home or stay in the air and defend British ships in the Channel.  And there is fear and deliberation and finally resolve… all performed solely with his eyes.  It is the most exquisite piece of acting I have seen for many years.  The best special effect in cinematic history.

 

Seen on 15/70mm at the BFI IMAX.  Ticket cost £18 or something like that.  There was a typical backlash against the fetishisation of release formats that accompanied the release of this film, but it really did benefit from being seen on this huge, all-encompassing screen with extraordinary sound.  The experience was slightly let down by my neighbour referring to me as ‘middle-aged’ though!

 

 

The Conversation (1974 – Francis Ford Coppola)

 

I don’t think I knew that the dream sequence in this movie was the result of an abandoned waking chase scene that Coppola didn’t have the time to shoot completely before he began shooting The Godfather: Part II (1974).  I mean, I probably did know it once, but had forgotten it.  My memory sometimes feels like a cinematic dream sequence, desperately clutching onto thoughts and images that have some meaning.

I don’t think I understood Harry Caul’s paranoia the last time/first time I saw this movie.  I certainly didn’t know the solitude he had imposed on himself.  But as I get older, the dislocation he senses within himself towards the surrounding world feels more profound.  It is a deeply unsettling film; one that masterfully indicates how our own perceptions shape our senses and a film that technically anticipates the digital revolution a few decades before it arrived.

 

Seen on 35mm on the main screen at the Curzon Soho followed by a gracious and intelligent Q&A with Walter Murch.  Without any justification, the fact that the film was projected from 35mm was described as being inherently better by the event’s organiser… a statement slightly deflated by Murch’s stated wariness of film projection a few minutes later!  Ticket cost £18.

 

 

A Ghost Story (2017 – David Lowery)

 

I liked it at the time, but I can’t remember much of it now.  I think I wanted a nastier ghost.  Or a ghost that didn’t experience all that silly going forward and backward in time towards the end (that felt like a little too ‘narrative clever, clever’ where an early moment of confusion is later revealed to be the action of a character we see on screen.  It’s a little too pretentious and tidy for my liking.  And not very impressive anymore.)

But I wish I never found out that Rooney Mara had never eaten pie before her traumatic gluttony.  It’s the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard.  Who goes their life without eating pie?  What miserable, self-denial of happiness convinced her that that was an acceptable life choice?

Can I recommend a good steak and kidney Rooney?  It’s what I turn to in moments of grief/boredom/Tuesdays.

 

Seen at the Curzon Soho on the large screen.  Ticket cost £10.50.

 

 

Big Wednesday (1978 – John Milius)

 

Meditative and full of the lost highways and broken relationships that are scattered about our lives, it’s easy to see why Spielberg and Lucas thought that Milius was the real deal in comparison to them.  From the start, Milius imprints himself upon the film; you wonder whether he realised the brokenness of his central characters and the substantial limits they place upon their existence.  The violence is ridiculous, the draft-dodging scene is offensively hilarious and the surfing shots are beautiful.  A great, contemplative movie.

 

Projected from 35mm at the BFI Southbank on Screen 3.  Like all screenings in London, there was a homeless man in the audience.  Ticket cost £8.

 

 

Atomic Blonde (2017 – David Leitch)

 

It’s such a boring movie revolving around such tediously predictable spy tropes (the MacGuffin is a list of undercover agents for Pete’s sake)… which becomes understandable once you realise that the film is an adaptation of a comic book.  And it was probably one of those lowest common denominator comic books that was made solely for the purpose of selling off some film+TV rights.  The shallowness of it all is only underlined by some of the most basic music cues committed to celluloid.

But, in the middle of this film is the most extraordinary fight scene I have seen for many years.  Shot to simulate a single take, it is a thrillingly brutal scene of Charlize Theron murdering henchmen in a stairwell.  It is everything you want in a fight scene.  It has verisimilitude, stacked odds and amazing choreographed performances from a stunt team.

And so you’re left with a boring movie with one exceptional scene.  And you have to ask yourself… is it worth it?

 

Seen on the decent-sized Screen 3 at the Odeon Covent Garden.  Ticket cost £6.50

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Love Streams (1984 – John Cassavetes)

 

It’s just a film with such empathy.  And two profoundly different portrayals of individuals suffering from mental health issues – Cassavettes all crashing and burning  and chequebooks and pens and Rowlands nervy and impulsive.  There’s an extraordinary couple of dream sequences – an amazing car crash and a dance on stage that may or may not have been directed by peter Bogdanovich in a desperate attempt to save himself from his depression.  I love how you feel they only figured out that they were siblings after several weeks of shooting.  It’s delightful to spend time amongst the clutter of their house, so familiar it is to us from their previous movies.  It’s immediate – Cassavetes’ desire for truth sees him include shots where camera crews that are visible.  And it’s utterly hilarious – the scene where Rowlands tries to get home whilst abroad is possibly the funniest thing ever.

It contains pretty much everything I have ever loved about movies.

Seen on the downstairs screen at the Prince Charles.  Projected from 35mm.  Had a migraine, but still enjoyed myself.  Ticket cost £4.50.

 

 

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974 – Tobe Hooper)

 

Throughout the runtime of this film there was a man sitting behind me laughing every thirty seconds.  The Prince Charles is an amazing cinema, but it does frustratingly encourage this behaviour with its knowingly ironic screenings.  And I gave this dude the half-turn… and then the turn, but it had no impact.  I’m not the most intimidating fella.

And as I walked out I heard him turn to his friends.  ‘You see’ he sneered ‘I think it’s meant to be funny.’

Well, it’s not you absolute cockhead.  It’s a horrifying movie.  The soundtrack of the second half of the film is a never-ending cacophony of guttural screams and the grinding a whirring of a chainsaw.  That in itself is as unsettling as cinema ever got, and that’s before you mention the inevitable dread of the hitchhiker, or the sudden violation of the metal kitchen door slamming shut out of nowehere, or the…. I could go on.

It’s a terrifying movie.  It’s not a comedy.  And you are not worthy of watching it.

 

Projected from 35mm on the downstairs screen at the Prince Charles.  Print seemed to originate in France.  Beautiful condition.  Ticket cost £6 or thereabouts.  Obviously a screening that gained some retrospective poignancy after Hooper’s recent death.

 

Tom of Finland (2017 – Dome Karukoski)

 

Which is an ‘18’ for some reason.  Someone needs to let the BBFC know that we can all cope with seeing a few drawings of penises.  Because it deserves a wider audience.  It’s a joyous film that encountered much of the gay experience of the second half of the twentieth century; repression, violence, S&M, the gradual slipping out from the closet, desire and HIV.  A lovely little film.

 

Seen on one of those awful little small screens at the Curzon Bloomsbury and I had to pay £10.50 for the privilege.

 

 

Out of Sight (1998 – Steven Soderbergh)

 

About half an hour into the film, there was a moment where I suddenly became profoundly aware of how much I was enjoying myself.  It’s a great, big pleasure of a movie, and more and more, I realise what a rarity that is.

I’ve been thinking of the nineties quite a lot recently – the decade in which my burgeoning cinephillia blossomed – and a time when we were all told that The Usual Suspects (1995 – Bryan Singer) was an important film.  And a little bit pathetically, I feel nostalgic for it, remembering how surprising it must have been to hear the Coen Bros. for the first time.  But there are real mainstream gems from that era, and Out of Sight is at the forefront of that, so drowning in acting talent is it.  I don’t think I’d ever realised that Albert Brooks is a major part of this film!

 

Projected from 35mm on the downstairs screen at the Prince Charles.  Ticket cost £4.50.

 

 

Logan Lucky (2017 – Steven Soderbergh)

 

Which I watched with a huge smile on my face.  It was just wonderful to watch all those modern actors who I actually like – Tatum, Keogh, Waterson etc. – in something enjoyable for once.  A real favourite already (which as I type I realise isn’t as a powerful statement to make… in September!)

 

Seen on a big screen at Bluewater Showcase.  Ticket cost £9.

 

 

American Made (2017 – Doug Liman)

 

It’s just Tom Cruise and I love Tom Cruise and this is Tom Cruise in a comedic twist on a sub-Goodfellas (1990 – Martin Scorsese) fall-from-grace.  I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again – hell, I barely remember any of it now – but I loved every minute of watching it.  Great stuff.

 

Seen on a pretty big screen at Bluewater Showcase.  Ticket cost £9.

 

 

Detroit (2017 – Kathryn Bigelow)

 

It was a surprisingly tame film… which seemed to only make the case even more convincing for a more ethnically diverse directorial landscape within mainstream cinema.  Because this film seemed to pull its punches, in a way that made me suspect that it was fearful of being perceived a racist itself.  And I get it… no-one wants to have the dodgy racial politics of Quentin Tarantino, but it was a horrific moment in history, and it needed to be horrific, not unpleasant.

And this only adds to the case that John Krasinski is not a movie star.  He totally derails the final half-hour of the movie.  What is it with Bigelow and her desire to cast mediocre television stars in her films.  John chuffing Barrowman is in Zero Dark Thirty (2012) for christssake.

Seen on a huge screen at Bluewater Showcase.  Ticket cost £6.50.

The ASIDESTEPS CANON – no Jaws sequels – vol. VI

Sequels, prequels and remakes.  One of the greatest pleasures of movie obsession is seeing the films you love reimagined, seeing how different directors bring their own peccadillos to the proceedings.  Remaking movies is as old as cinema itself, so quite why the concept is so frowned upon nowadays, I have no idea.  Anyways.  These are my personal favourites (though it bears underlining that in nearly every case the original movie is superior.)  No Jaws (1975 – Steven Spielberg) sequels though because they’re all terrible.

51. Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990 – Joe Dante)

 

Sequel to Gremlins (1980 – Joe Dante)

 

Whilst Gremlins is a reasonably entertaining film (the appeal of which is fuelled by Christmas sympathy… I don’t get it, why do people need special films at Christmas?) its sequel is an extraordinarily energetic romp that brings Joe Dante’s manic, animative vision of cinema to the forefront.  Admirably taking aim at corporate cruelty, it features a typically charming performance from Christopher Lee.  Now some the puppet related gags can seem a little trashy, but there is an energy, a sense of anything-could-happen that is so rare, it’s impossible not to get engrossed in the movie.

52. Batman Returns (1992 – Tim Burton)

 

Sequel to Batman (1989 – Tim Burton)

 

Back in the day we would get annoyed by this film.  “Burton doesn’t get Batman,” we would wail and moan.  But the kink of this movie combined with the genuine interest in exploring the psyches of the freaks who choose to dress as animals rather than attend therapy is a delight in the face of the monotonous, focus-grouped fan-service that passes for superhero films nowadays.  Never again would these movies feature such bold set-design, unhinged performances and dance routines.  And sex.  Superheroes should all be about sex, so concerned are these individuals with their bodies… but no… Ant-Man doesn’t fuck.  Put the leather back on Bruce.  We need to see it.

53. Batman Begins (2005 – Christopher Nolan)

 

Reboot of the Batman film series

 

I remember taking respite in an air-conditioned cinema on one of the hottest days of the year and watching this film.  It was the first time that I truly realised that I lived in the era of DVDs and that I would be able to watch this film again and again.  In retrospect, I should have been more aware that choosing to be in a cinema on my own on a beautiful day was the start of a lifetime of solitude (but the things I’ve seen in those darkened halls…).  I think I’ve only watched the film once or twice since, and the fight scenes are nominal at best, but the sincerity of the performances from a tremendously talented bunch of actors ensure that this film has an appeal beyond those around it.

It was followed by two sequels – The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – which continued the trend of very talented actors being super serious within constantly shifting aspect ratios.  Screen-writing was transformed forever as subtext became text and every theme of the movie was announced by the cast.  At length, on boats, surrounded by TNT.

54. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016 – Zack Snyder)

 

Sequel to Man of Steel (2013 – Zack Snyder)

 

After nearly thirty years of making these movies, you’d get a headache if you tried to work out the relationship of all these Batman and Superman movies.  Ostensibly this film is a sequel to Man of Steel (itself a reboot of the Superman franchise, that came after the failure of Superman Returns (2006 – Bryan Singer) which was a sequel to Superman II (1980 – Richard Lester) that ignored Superman III (1983 – Richard Lester)).  On the Batman front, it is in part a reboot of the character, but could equally be seen as a spiritual sequel to the Nolan Batman films (which were a reboot of the Burton/Schumacher series).  The film also seeks to launch a whole bunch of other superheroes ahead of the forthcoming Wonder Woman (2017 – Patty Jenkins) and Justice League (2017 – Zack Snyder) films.

 

Which is to say that there is a lot going on here.

Man of Steel had an appealingly direct sense of character with heavy Christ overtones and a radical aesthetic that presented fight scenes that had the dynamism of a video game.  It took an interesting approach to the central character, bringing him into the new millennium.  Raised by American farmers, Superman could no longer believe in altruism and selflessness, instead, he was a figure of confused, roaming morals.  He had no recognisable ‘truth, justice or American way’ to follow.  Batman v Superman continued this exploration, working with characters who could only fin redemption in violence.  The film is a mess, but it is a glorious, visionary mess where nightmares play as extended IMAX fight scenes set in Apocalyptic futures.  Male bodies are presented simultaneously as cattle and objects of desire.  And Jeremy Irons plays Alfred as freakish pervert.  What’s not to love?

 

55. Superman III (1983 – Richard Lester)

 

Third in the Superman film series

 

Part of the appeal of writing about all these film series is how growing up, you are presented with the received wisdom of which ones are good and which ones are bad.  And how as an adult, you are able to challenge and deny these presumptions.  Nerds have a tendency to regulate and determine the source text that they are so deeply in love with.  ‘Richard Donner was a good director whose vision was denied by the very silly Richard Lester,’ we are told, as if this opinion was scripture itself.  It is, of course, nonsense.  Lester had the good sense to believe that costumes and effects and even superheroes themselves are ridiculous, and the best special effect a move can have is an actor.  Richard Pryor is a better special effect than all of these ruddy superhero films put together.  He’s more energetic, more entertaining and more endearing than any guardian of any galaxy.  The nerds didn’t deserve him.

 

56. Friday the 13th Part VI – Jason Lives (1986 – Tom McLoughlin)

 

Sixth in the Friday the 13th film series

 

The Friday the 13th films are from the start, virtually worthless.  They are misogynistic, anti-disability and woefully acted.  They trade in half-remembered Psycho (1960 – Alfred Hitchcock) moments, all gratuitous shower scenes and screeching violin strings.  They can feature grisly, inventive kills, but some of them don’t even feature that (Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985 – Danny Steinmann) is a particularly egregious example of this.)

And then along comes the sixth entry in the series, and finally, finally, the films have some wit.  It plays as a pure vision of what these films could be – meaningful kills, deliberate, widescreen composition, and ninety minutes of pure terror.  This is a film where two children can cower under a bed, knowing they are going to be murdered and joke about what they were going to be when they grew up… and it not destroy or damage or pull you out from the narrative of the film.  It is masterful in that regard.  And this film features an extraordinarily good Alice Cooper song over the closing credits.

 

57. The Wolverine (2013 – James Mangold)

 

Sixth in the X-Men film series

The X-Men films feel as if they come from a whole other world, such is the emphasis on geographically coherent fight scenes and black leather alien to today’s films of yellow spandex and incoherence.  They have a tendency towards messiness, each film rewriting over previous entries.  What isn’t always understood is that the appeal of cinema is not down to which minutely-differentiated hero is on screen, it is who is playing them, and at least Hugh Jackman has some charisma in the face of the multitude of bland Chrises that populate this films.  Combined with decent fight scenes and a rare, non-offensive approach to location and local populace, The Wolverine is a worthwhile watch, in a largely worthless film series (though I do hold a modicum of nostalgic affection for X-Men (2000 – Bryan Singer) and X2 (2003 – Bryan Singer)).

 

58. Kill Bill vol. 2 (2004 – Quentin Tarantino)

 

Sequel to Kill Bill vol. 1 (2003 – Quentin Tarantino)

 

I know that Tarantino claims they’re one film, but I had to pay twice, so…  Moving away from the forward momentum of the first film, this second half goes deeper into Tarantino’s novelistic approach to cinema, backwards, forwards, sideways into the lives of the people on screen.  It takes a less elegant approach to violence, eschewing the stylised choreography of the first entry for brutal street-fighting messiness.  It’s as if The Bride is exhausted by the task she has undertaken, and the catharsis of her revenge is destroying every inch of her physicality.  Plus, it has an ‘amazing buried’ alive sequence.

59. Fast Five (2011 – Justin Lin)

 

Fifth in The Fast and the Furious film series

Quietly, The Fast and the Furious films have become some of the most exciting action films in the world.  From auspicious Point Break (1991 – Kathryn Bigelow) rip-off beginnings, that was followed by dull, barely rising above DTV sequels, it has become a series of physically-grounded, culturally vibrant action films.  Fast Five is the most exciting entry in the series, where any pretence of street racing has been shrugged off for a dynamic heist film, and the addition of Dwayne Johnson provides some much needed compulsion to a series that has not exactly been drowning in star power.

60. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986 – Tobe Hooper)

 

Sequel to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974 – Tobe Hooper)

Look, the truth is that for many of these film series the initial entry is a masterpiece, which is followed by a series of increasingly desperate cash-ins.  The Texas Chain Saw/Chainsaw series is utterly indicative of this trend.  Admirably, this film doesn’t try to repeat any of the appeal of the first film, instead choosing to be the darkest of comedies.  It’s as if the terror of the first film is so horrible to revisit we can only find catharsis in humour.  The original entry was full of surprising beauty, and this film can’t play the same trick again, so every square inch of scenery and performance is twisted and vile.  If you eat that much meat, you start to become all the people within you.  Simultaneously.

Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990 – Jeff Burr) is a surprisingly effective piece of filmmaking, but from then on, the films struggle to amount to anything.