Films seen May

Mindhorn (2017 – Sean Foley)

 

Which is a film that is not Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013 – Declan Lowney).  It’s a film that repeats many of that much better film’s beats, but you just don’t care here.  Without a history of multiple television series, Richard Thorncroft is just another man, and only the broadest of jokes land.  And there’s a point where the plot just takes over from silliness and jokes, which in all these films, Alpha Papa included, feels sluggish and wearisome.  At the end of the day, you can’t escape the feeling that you’ve wasted your time watching this film.

 

On the weirdly shaped Screen 1 at the Odeon Covent Garden.  Good sized screen.  Ticket cost £10.50.

 

 

A Canterbury Tale (1944 – Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger)

 

For a large part of the film you forget quite why you love it so.  It’s all a bit aimless, and beyond the pleasure of seeing the part of the country you live in and around as it was during the war.  And then you remember as the final twenty minutes are this elegiac journey of recovery for our four protagonists.  It is such a perfect sense of grace… one that is ever-so-slightly bittersweet with the foreknowledge that many of these characters may be dead within a few months.

There was a moment watching this film, as the black and white beams of light shone through a half empty theatre on a grey Saturday afternoon that I felt a similar sense of grace.  For a few moments I felt I gained an insight into what cinema must have meant in 1944; how essential it was to wisdom and comfort and calm.

I reminded me why movies are my religion and cinema is my cathedral.

 

The screening was meant to be in 35mm, but got switched to digital.  Almost didn’t go as a consequence, but I was up in town anyway.  Screened on the lovely NFT 2 at the BFI Southbank.  Ticket cost £12 or something.  Shown w/ Westward Ho! (1940 – Thorold Dickinson) – a short film about the evacuation of children during the war.  Got a little frustrated when I got the BFI as it was heaving… later I realised Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg were all there for a screening, so I retrospectively forgave everyone.

 

 

Alien: Covenant (2017 – Ridley Scott)

 

The film breaks down into four sections:

  1. The opening receive-a-distress-call-and-decide-to-investigate section, which when the film is over, you can’t quite believe you had to sit through. It takes half-an-hour to do what Alien (1979 – Scott) did in five minutes.  Characters are drawn with the thinnest of personalities (Danny McBride wears a hat…) and James Franco’s cameo is entirely distracting (I hadn’t realised it was him being burned up in the cryogenic pod at the start, and I saw it on a screen as big as a house.)

  1. The second section sees the crew land on a planet and investigate the crashed engineer ship from Prometheus (2012 – Scott). Visually it’s quite beautiful, and it’s bringing a woodland aesthetic to a series that had never explored this terrain before.  There’s a growing (if somewhat obvious) sense of unease and a fantastic attack in a wheatfield.

  1. A section set in the engineer’s city where Michael Fassbender hams it up as David – which feels as if it is drawn from Vincent Ward’s abandoned version of Alien3. It’s easy to denigrate this section as slightly flaccid, but it relies on the understanding that:
  • David was the morally uneasy protagonist of Prometheus rather than Noomi Rapace.
  • All Alien films depend upon a nightmare logic, where characters make terrible, and stupid, decisions in the face of danger.

David is clearly coded as H. R. Giger, fantastical and slightly psychopathic, but it’s hard to believe in a sincere conflict between him and Fassbender’s dual portrayal of Walter, who is a blanker slate.

  1. The final section plays as a hyped-up hybrid of the Alien hunting scenes from Alien and the final conflict in Aliens (1986 – James Cameron). It is wearisome on reflection.

So Alien: Covenant feels like a meal reheated in a microwave, and the opening and closing half hours lack any real invention.  But… but… I liked it.  I just have to accept that I adore these films in the way that some people adore Marvel movies.  Was it better than Prometheus?  Yes, but I quite liked Prometheus?  Do I really need gaps in narratives filled in?  No; I’d prefer a more original idea that uses the Alien.  Was this film initially overpraised in some quarters and then over-criticised by others in reaction?  Yes, but isn’t that true of all cultural commentary nowadays.

What you’re left with is a film that is the fourth or fifth best entry in a very good film series.

 

Treated myself to the IMAX screen at Bluewater Showcase.  It’s not the biggest IMAX screen in the world, but it’ll do.  Ticket cost £15.

 

 

Malcolm X (1992 – Spike Lee)

 

Which is a long film and I’m not convinced by how much time is spent exploring Malcolm X’s childhood and early adulthood.  But I get why Lee did it.  The thrust of the narrative is that for a man who was mostly presented as aggressive and obstinate, Malcolm X responded greatly to the world around him, and would regularly modify his views.

I’d seen it before, but was glad to luxuriate in the big screen.  This film feels most alive when Lee indulges in his visual inventiveness, tracking shots and extraordinary Nelson Mandela cameo conclusion in particular.

 

Shown on 35mm on the Sigourney Weaver screen at The Picturehouse Central – beautiful screen.  Ticket cost £8 and they helpfully changed my seating when requested.  It was an organised event and there was a panel discussion afterwards, but I couldn’t hang around as I had to go see…

 

 

Brainstorm (1983 – Douglas Trumbull)

 

So it’s a pretty silly movie, and one where the main appeal stems from the ‘directed by Douglas Trumbull’ credit.  Which seems appealing, until you remember that he only really directed one other film, Silent Running (1972), and that’s a film that rarely rises above ‘okay’.  And you remember, it’s his effects work that you love.

Brainstorm doesn’t feature half as much effects work as you’d like.

But it is enjoyable, and having only seen it on a letterboxed blu-ray previously, it was revelatory seeing it in 70mm.  The aspect ratio changes are so integral to the plot (and you notice on the big screen the moments where Trumbull makes reality break down in a way you never could on telly), and when it is fully anamorphic, it is astonishing.  One of those cinematic experiences I’m really glad I had, and one where seeing a film in a cinema really deepened my appreciation of the film

I have a lot of 70mm showings booked for the next few months.  Excited!

 

On 70mm on the downstairs screen at the Prince Charles.  New seats; very comfy but you can’t sink into them in the way you used to.  Ticket cost about £10 (I’m going to get membership soon).

 

 

Colossal (2017 – Nacho Vigalondo)

 

I think this was one of the ones we were meant to be excited about, revelatory performance from Anne Hathaway and all that.  But Christ.  It was dull.  And seemed to work to its own very specific logic for creating an avatar, which was kind of baffling.  I liked it for its deconstruction of two ‘nice’ guys, both out to save a woman whose only major fault was an itchy head.  But when those two guys are played by Jason Sudeikis and Dan Stevens, you are only waiting for them to be physically injured.  And it was a tedious wait for that to happen.

See, I wasn’t desperate for an Anne Hathaway renaissance.  I’ve being saying she was good in Rachel Getting Married (2008 – Jonathan Demme) for nearly a decade now.  And she was good in this film… it’s just it was so monotonous, that makes me doubt my feelings towards that film.  Colossal undermined my very certainty in my established critical opinion.  Just not in a good way.

 

Screen 4 at the Odeon Covent Garden.  Ticket only cost £6.50.

 

 

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977 – Lewis Gilbert)

For Your Eyes Only (1981 – John Glen)

 

When watching the two of them back-to-back, it’s clear the latter is a better film, but the former is more enjoyable.  There’s a seriousness to For Your Eyes Only that predicates the most satisfying entries in the series, such as the Timothy Dalton and first two Daniel Craig films.  But after nearly four hours of Bond in action, the comedy Maggie Thatcher scene killed.  The Spy Who Loved Me is sillier and rife with uncomfortable sexual and racial politics, but indicative of the real strengths of the Moore Bonds; the effortlessness with which they entertain an audience.  There is no ambition to bring ‘depth’, no unsatisfying attempt to delve into backstory, just a particular mix of ambitious stunt work, a winningly charming central role, and a sense of humour that captures the whole audience.

(One thing I did notice that the two films share is that Bond is definitively a widower in both movies.  Strange that nearly ten years later, and with an entirely different lead actor (twice) they were still dwelling on plot points from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969 – Peter R. Hunt))

 

Charity double bill at the Odeon Covent Garden Screen 1 in memory of Sir Roger Moore.  New 4K transfers.  Ticket only cost £7 (for two films!).  Enthusiastic audience too!

Films seen February

After Hours (1985 – Martin Scorsese)

 

My monthly cinema treat was a showing of this on 35mm at the BFI.  It’s one of my favourite Scorseses – his immediately lightweight, Hitchcockian one man’s descent into unreality film made in the wake of the collapse of his initial Aiden Quinn/Sting version of The Last Temptation of Christ.  It’s a delightful film, one that explores how fear, sex and prejudice can cause people to do very strange things and its always been quite refreshing to watch a movie that says you shouldn’t step out of your comfort zone.  You shouldn’t be impulsive and disrupt your carefully constructed life.

 

35mm screening at the BFI in NFT 1 – which is a pretty crappy theatre for what it is.  Ticket cost about £11 and was preceded by his early short What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (1963)

 

 

Prevenge (2016 – Alice Lowe)

 

Written about, in a round-a-bout way here: https://asidesteps.com/2017/02/22/a-new-england/

 

Seen on Screen 1 – a perfectly decent small screen – at the Odeon Panton Street.  Ticket cost £11.  Someone needs to write a book about the stinky old bad ladies that come into London screenings and eat curries.

 

 

Moonlight (2016 – Barry Jenkins)

 

It was a wonderful film, but I can understand why it is not loved in the same way that La La Land appears to be.

Much of this had to do with having three different actors play the lead role, ensuring that we didn’t build a connection to the film in the way that we could have.  Most independent cinema doesn’t always appreciate the value of charismatic central performances.  And everyone is quite correct when they say that Naomie Harris’ performance is a bit out of sync with everything else going around it.  There were cheers from the crowd when the bully was hit with the chair.  It is also a film completely directed by a heterosexual man, such is the passivity and tastefulness of the sex act.  We needed a blow-job at the very least…

But (and I have tried to check my privilege on this) I think this is a film not about homosexual and black experience, but of childhood trauma.  The repression (both verbally and sexually) that the character experiences later in life, stems from the abuse and lack of acceptance that he suffered when he was young.  2/3 of the film portray him as a child; quite why this element has been drowned out in all the chattering, I’m not sure.

 

Seen in a packed screen at the Odeon Covent Garden – it’s one of my favourite London cinemas as the screens are all of a good size and the tickets often only cost – as they did here – £6.

 

 

John Wick Chapter 2 (2017 – Chad Stahelski)

 

Keanu Reeves is in this film doing a performance that is almost note-for-note the same as Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea.  Except with more guns.  Only one of them was nominated for an Oscar…

By that, I mean he is a highly traumatised individual completely out of touch with those around him.  Reeves is always an intense screen presence, relying on small emotions and inflections to convey meaning, but here he is deliberately offset against campy, stylised actors such as Lawrence Fishburne.

The action scenes were terrific, especially once we passed the 1 hour mark, where it was moment after moment of unrelenting pressure.  The film moved away from the electro-synth pop of the first film, which suitably complementing the neon lit, pitch black lighting scheme it employed, and the opening car chase was a bit weak, but generally this was a thrilling experience and it made me genuinely excited for a third entry.  This is the new Fast & Furious – and initially dismissed action movie that ultimately becomes one of the most thrilling franchises on the screen.

 

Seen on a huge screen at Bluewater Showcase.  Ticket cost £9, but I had a voucher.

 

 

Fences (2016 – Denzel Washington)

 

Which never lets you forget that it is a play – even the blocking of scenes (hushed whispers in corners) seem to have had little embellishment from a bettered wooden floor in some creaky theatre.  Washington wisely employs a strong use of close-up, knowing that this is one advantage this medium has over the other, and it goes without saying that the performances are whole-heartedly excellent.  Washington is perhaps more adventurous on the stage that on the screen in his choice of characterisation – his patter, charm and arrogance are the same, but he is playing a thoroughly unlikable character here in a way he would never do in most movies.

But it is long, and the final scene (which lasts 20mins) seems superfluous in any other context than the generosity as Washington as a performer to allow his fellow actors time to demonstrate their ability.  But his final moments are powerful, and a bolder, more selfish director would have ended the movie there.

 

Seen on a decent screen at Bluewater Showcase.  Ticket cost £9, but I had a voucher.

 

 

Network (1976 – Sidney Lumet)

 

Christine (2016 – Antonio Campos)

 

There was a time when Network was one of my favourite films.  Which is to say, that it is one of those pictures that I have lived with a long time now – and like all good films of that nature, you notice new aspects on each viewing.  This time, it was the revelation of just how many outstanding monologues there are in this film, far more than just Peter Finch’s and Barbara Straight’s and Ned Beatty’s…

I’ve long moved past the point at which I believed this to be a stunningly prescient insight into the role of the media (Aaron Sorkin has never managed to move beyond that insight.  But then what should we expect from a man who includes the most basic of email circulars in his dialogue.)  Instead, I see it as a deconstruction of the selfishness with which we behave, the way we flit into other people’s lives for work, and sex and approval.  Television has always been so desperate because it chases those fickle gods without pausing for breath.  The film is exceptional, genuinely funny, and treats its audience with a degree of respect.

 

Rebecca Hall’s performance in Christine is superb, and the one desperate moment where she berates her mother for not accepting her with her weak mental health is superb, and speaks so truthfully to the complete lack of understanding that many display during these periods of ill-health.  Crazy that it hasn’t got more recognition than it has.  Too many good movies around at the moment

 

Double-bill at the Regent St. Cinema – a really lovely screen.  Ticket cost £16.  Which was all good, but the screening of Network was projected from a Blu-Ray… which was a shame, and I’m not really sure why I should pay for that privilege.

 

 

Patriot’s Day (2016 – Peter Berg)

 

It’s a film you can’t help but be caught up in, such is its celebration of the industriousness and ability of ordinary working people in the face of catastrophe.  And it moves at a fair pace (as did Berg’s film last year Deepwater Horizon).  Like all great adaptations of true life events, it revels in the moments that never made headlines – murderers popping out to get milk, police chiefs hurdling fences to tackle terrorists.  Which of course makes any moment with Mark Wahlberg’s basic, overly emotive and completely fictional character seem all that more absurd in this context.

 

Seen on a huge screen at Bluewater Showcase.  Ticket cost £9, but I had a voucher.