Films seen June

In the Cut (2003 – Jane Campion)

 

Campion’s deeply sexy neo-noir is one of those films that was initially glimpsed whilst flicking through the channels on late night television.  It’s a film whose reputation preceded it, so inextricably linked to the collapse of Meg Ryan’s stardom following some rather minor indiscretions and awkward Michael Parkinson interviews.  On that initial viewing, it was quite breath-taking, so rich was the texture of the impasto cinematography.  Over the years, the pleasure has only grown.  There’s a bitter-sweet intensity to finally seeing it on the big-screen (on celluloid no less) knowing that the colours, the shadow and depth of sensation is unlikely to ever be as vivid as it was on this night.  It is unpatronising, considered and features an extraordinary central performance from Ryan.  Until this point she was not a naturalistic performer, but here, not only is she acting with a high degree of realism, she also effectively presents a barrier between herself as a performer and the audience.  We are never entirely sure of her thoughts, never certain of her intentions, and as such, it is utterly beguiling to watch her.

 

Seen on Screen 1 at the Curzon Soho.  Ticket was a fairly hefty £17.  35mm presentation (absolutely beautiful print!) by the Misc. Films collective followed by a fascinating Q&A by Jane Campion.  Highlights included: her utter generosity when answering heavily loaded questions from the audience, a hilarious mix-up between Tinder and Kinder and a standing a few feet away when she was asked to dinner by a complete stranger in the audience.  Good times!

 

 

Wonder Woman (2017 – Patty Jenkins)

 

So it’s a very important movie for a lot of people, and I enjoyed it an awful lot.  There are moments – such as the exposition heavy recap of the history of the Amazonians – which are presented with a grace that is rare in big-budget cinema.  And the emotional honesty – the non-patronising affection Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor displays for Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman (a superb mix of naivety and elegance) – is quite brilliant.  These DC movies are so good, and so much better than their Marvel equivalents, because they reframe human emotion into fantastical settings.  The Marvel movies are just a bit basic in comparison.  And they’ve ploughed this very modern idea of superheroes having no obligation to save humanity to an admirable extent.  I accept that I will never find this movie as powerful as others do because I have never wanted for cinematic role-models, but we just need to get to the stage where this is everyday, rather than uncustomary.

 

A huge screen at the Bluewater Showcase.  Ticket only cost £6 or so because I was able to go on a Monday.

 

 

The Mummy (2017 – Alex Kurtzman)

 

I mean, look, it’s a Tom Cruise film.  I’m going to see it on its opening weekend.  And, y’know… um… this was not a good film.  I laughed out loud when I saw their ‘Dark Universe’ logo and it was downhill from there.  (and Jesus… ‘Dark Universe’… because I get it, every fucking film needs to be a franchise nowadays, but if your solution to bring together a number of steadfast properties as Frankenstein and Dracula – all of which have managed to sustain dozens of films over the history of cinema – is to create literally the dullest secret society imagined, you need to take a long step back from making movies.)

The appeal of a latter-day Tom Cruise film is his absolute dedication to performing a stunt or sequence that is innovative and breathtaking.  And there are good moments in this film – there’s an underwater sequence that is particularly engaging – but they aren’t anything special.  For the first time in forever I feel I watched a Tom Cruise film that was just treading water.

  • By my count this is the third out of his previous four films that was filmed in part in England.
  • Jake Johnson as a sarcastic haunting is a brilliant idea… that is just dropped. Why would you choose to negate the most charismatic idea within your movie?
  • Annabelle Wallis brings little to the movie, other than an underwhelming ability to repeatedly utter the dialogue ‘Nick?’ about fourteen-thousand times.
  • Russell Crowe manages to do two bad English accents in this movie – his standard cod-Shakespearean accent as imitated by Chris Hemsworth in his Thor appearances, and his new working-class-cockney voice.

 

A good-sized screen at the Bexleyheath Cineworld.  Ticket cost £11 or so.

 

 

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (2017 – David Bowers)

 

There are tonnes of these fairly worthless kids films in cinemas all over the land, and if you’re a parent, you probably see them all the time.  I’m not.  But I’ve been showing the kids I work with Harold Lloyd movies over the past few weeks and it’s completely blown their minds.  I mean, they scream and laugh as they watch them and then immediately want to see more.  They can name Safety Last (1923) and Feet First (1930).  I don’t really have a point to this, other than to say, can’t we just aspire to something more.  Why do we insist that children’s movies have to be safe and patronising and sentimental?

 

A medium-sized screen at the Bluewater Showcase.  On the plus side, it was free as I took fifty eleven-year-olds to see it.  On the down side, I spent 30 minutes trying to get to the bottom of who hit who in a fight that broke out before the film.

 

 

Streets of Fire (1984 – Walter Hill)

 

I’m going to write about this film at considerable length in the months to come.  Suffice to say, it is an all-time favourite.

 

Seen on the upstairs screen at the Prince Charles Cinema.  35mm showing – every reel of the film was in a different condition – some looking pretty good, some were neon pink.  That’s the joy of these celluloid screenings; watching a film on Blu-Ray will ensure the experience is consistent.  On celluloid, it is vibrant and alive and will be truly different each time you see it.  I had a shitty day at work, but the audience were really into the film and I loved every minute.  Ticket cost £11, but came with a beer and a slice of pizza.

 

 

Transformers: The Last Knight (2017 – Michael Bay)

 

Which is a beautiful mess.  Because for a lot of the running time you’re trying to figure out what is going on (and who is voicing the violently obsequious robot British butler), but it doesn’t really matter, because every thirty seconds you’re blown away by a shot of absolute breath-taking beauty.  It’s that construction, that deliberate location of shot following shot to overwhelm and outstand the viewer that is the signature of Bay’s artistry.  Anthony Hopkins has been going around on the press tour calling Bay a true master of the medium, and most interviewers have treated these statements as nigh-senile ramblings, but he’s not wrong.  Bay is propelling cinema forward, forcing the viewer to become more active, more engaged in what they are watching, and despite the speed of his editing, he is still composing highly-classically beautiful shots.  We will talk about Bay in the terms we reserve for Hitchcock in the years to come.

It’s a brilliant film because there is a short sequence where a homicidal Transformer annihilates a horde of Nazis during the Second World War…FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER.  And, love it or hate it, that is movies at its best.

 

Seen on a huge screen at the Bluewater Showcase.  Ticket cost £11.40.

 

 

Aliens (1986 – James Cameron)

The traditional view of Aliens is that Cameron took Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror and turned it into a sci-fi action picture.  I don’t think I’ve ever questioned this opinion, but seeing it for the umpteenth time, I was struck by how limited a reading this is.  Not only is there far less shoot-em-up action than you remember, the majority of the film is a deliberate reflection of Scott’s entry (some shots are deliberately paralleled).  The creeping tension of an incoming unstoppable killing creature intent on destroying you is as prevalent here as it was in the first film, and the sadistic corruption of pregnancy perpetuated by the xenomorph stand in contrast to Ripley’s essential nurturing nature.

70mm showing of the theatrical cut on the downstairs screen at The Prince Charles Cinema.  The experience carried a certain bittersweetness whenever Bill Paxton appeared – he really was an extraordinary screen presence.

 

(I was also due to see The Beguiled (1971 – Don Siegel) on 35mm at the Prince Charles, but it was during the heat-wave and melting points caused the trains to go up the spout and I didn’t make it in time.  Disappointing.)

F5 – Fast & Furious 6 (2013 – Justin Lin)

Giselle

Fast & Furious 6 is less about repositioning characters and more about appreciating the history the series has built up at this stage.  The escalation of Toretto’s criminality – from trafficking portable DVD players to crashing planes – is explicitly referenced, and there is a real benefit to the real-time aging that the characters have experienced.  When Brian and Mia become parents, it is touching that we remember their juvenile infatuation and how things have messily progressed since then.  It is less touching when we remember that Jordana Brewster brought real intelligence, and the possibility of stardom to The Fast and the Furious; now she is window dressing, removed completely from the main plot until the final moments of the film.

Moving away from the drug barons that have provided the series’ main antagonists until this point, Fast & Furious 6 begins the franchises’ adoption of comic-book cliché supervillains.  Here we have the mirror opposites of Dom’s crew, each a twisted reflection of our beloved heroes.  Surprisingly, amongst them is Michelle Rodriguez, making a welcome return as Letty.  Seeing Rodriguez in this film, and others such as Avatar (2009 – James Cameron), I am struck by how charismatic a movie star she is.  Here she is so good as a woman who doesn’t know who she is, much like Brian had been up until this point.  Fatherhood brings him  a sense of peace and of understanding of who he is.  In a crew dominated by a lot of mouthy know-it-alls (and make no mistake, Dom Toretto is the biggest one of these), he is the rock, the voice of perception.

Seen in the light of their darkened reflections, the rest of the crew begin to come into their own.  Dwayne Johnson begins to assert himself over the narrative, and makes a character point of Luke Hobbs’ willingness to leap from moving vehicles.  Giselle and Han give a touching portrayal of a genuinely supportive, trusting and understanding relationship – one that makes you wish for a spin-off starring just the two of them.  Giselle’s death is genuinely moving, and one that underlines just how capable Gal Gadot was in giving strength to a paper-thin character.  And Tyrese Gibson just (just) about manages to stop Roman Pearce becoming a walking stereotype.  Pearce is obsessed with money, sex and often seems to exist simply to make jokes, all attributes often offensively given to black actors.  But his charismatic reading of his lines give the impression that he is the only one in the room who understands how ridiculous this all is.

(And it is ridiculous… this a series that tries to get you to take Vin Diesel as a romantic lead seriously, after all.)

Since the successful introduction of Dwayne Johnson in the previous movie, the franchise starts to make a point of casting established action stars with each film.  Gina Carano (best known for Haywire (2011 – Steven Soderbergh)) and Joe Taslim (seen in The Raid (2011 – Gareth Evans)) are brought in as bad guys and bring with them an astonishing physicality.  The fight between Carano and Rodriguez on the London Underground is as nasty and vicious as anything seen within action cinema, and an example of two highly capable stars pushing their bodies to the limit in their verisimilitude and desire to show the punishment of violence.

The setting of London is not just a pretty backdrop for the action, another stop on their global adventure.  Despite the rather messy geography used in the film (knowing a city well makes it harder to fudge how they got from point A to point B, a fact we must assume to be true for every other location in the series), the film takes an admirable approach to the CCTV culture of the U.K.  The country is the most surveilled population in the world, since the nation’s gleeful adoption of the technology in the wake of the truly shocking images discovered as part of the Jamie Bulger murder investigation.  The horrific images of a small child being led away by other small children led the population to accept mass surveillance regardless of any infringement of civil liberties.  In this film, the technology is used to track and locate opponents easily on several occasions.

What makes Fast & Furious 6 so good though, is its continual employment of action.  In previous films, the action sequences, be they fist-fights, car chases or heists have felt very much like sequences.  Here they become a very fabric of the movie, intrinsically woven in.  The film has a constant forward momentum, and avoids the lazy trap of having character sit around in rooms of various sizes and talk about their emotions.  In previous films, these always brought the plot to a grinding halt; here Dom convinces Letty of his love through action (leaping from a bridge to catch her), rather than words.  And they are extraordinary action scenes.  Justin Lin regularly employs a helicoptered camera to capture motion, and there is a suplex move involving Toretto and Hobbs against a man-mountain of an opponent towards the end of the film, that is something quite astonishing.  It’s a brilliant movie and a high point of the series so far.

And there is a gripping post-credits sequences that significantly reframes the events of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.  Better watch that film after all!

 

 

Fast & Furious rankings:

 

  1. Fast & Furious 6
  2. Fast Five
  3. The Fast and the Furious
  4. 2 Fast 2 Furious
  5. Fast & Furious
  6. Los Bandoleros
  7. Turbo Charged Prelude

 

 

Brian & Dom street racing scorecard:

 

Brian: III (I read the opening dash to Mia’s hospital as a street race… Brian convincingly wins, even though it is not commented upon)

Dom: III

 

 

Heavy-‘Han’ded references to Tokyo:

 

2 (again! Giselle asks ‘What’s our next adventure?’ before being told Tokyo by Han, and at the end of the film he says he has to go to Tokyo… FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER!!!

 

Best line:

 

There are several contenders but Ludacris’ ‘We need more alphabets!’ is a strong second place.

 

Winner has to go to Roman Pearce’s insouciant comment ‘Why do I smell baby oil?’ as Luke Hobbs enters the room behind his back.  Possible one of the greatest lines in cinema, full stop.