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:
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!