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!
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.
21. The Bourne Supremacy (2004 – Paul Greengrass)
Sequel to The Bourne Identity (2002 – Doug Liman)
The Bourne Identity was a decent action thriller that was ultimately surpassed by this superb sequel. Greengrass directs with a frenetic approach to editing, as if he took the closing attack of Rear Window (1954 – Alfred Hitchcock) and applied it to a whole movie, giving the audience just the right amount of information to stay barely afloat in the plot. There are moments in the movie where you are barely keeping up, and moments when the brutality of action makes you thankful that you’re not seeing it all. Despite the tedious murder of a woman to motivate Bourne, the film features an extraordinary, attainable car chase, where the panic of taxis driving backwards through Moscow keeps you engaged and entertained.
It was followed by The Bourne Ultimatum (2007 – Paul Greengrass), a temporally complex sequel that takes place within the timeframe of this movie and continues Greengrass’ exploration of throwing the viewer into the middle of the action. From then on it was downhill; The Bourne Legacy (2012 – Tony Gilroy) featured none of the key cast or crew, and was unremarkable. These kinds of films you just sit around waiting for the second unit to take over. Jason Bourne (2016 – Paul Greengrass) returned Greengrass and Damon to the franchise; but we were all over it, and it seemed to have little ambition other than repeating the greatest hits of their previous efforts. It had a great chase sequence at the end though.
22. For a Few Dollars More (1965 – Sergio Leone)
Sequel to A Fistful of Dollars (1964 – Sergio Leone)
I once saw a sixties double-bill poster for this film and Goldfinger (1964 – Guy Hamilton) and it seemed like the greatest cinematic experience I’ve never had. Sweaty and oppressive, Leone’s westerns expose the utter compromise of America – a country that will document rights but never respect them. These films are spiritual sequels; Eastwood is imposing characteristics on unrelated men, but at this point in history we are unfamiliar with his tics and range and profound cinematic presence.
23. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966 – Sergio Leone)
Second sequel to A Fistful of Dollars (1964 – Sergio Leone)
It ends with a great moment of tension and a pure expression of widescreen cinema and how it can give scope and scale to scenes that previously would seem claustrophobic. The film is an endless betrayal set against a backdrop of men betraying each other over the most repulsive of politics. Leone had lived these politics, and sought to bring light to the easiness with which men will give their lives. We are as meaningless as dust. One day our entire epoch of civilisation will be a thin black carbon line in the rings of the world. Movies will die.
24. Goldfinger (1964 – Guy Hamilton)
Third in the James Bond film series.
The Bond films have never really been interested in making sequels. From Russia with Love (1963 – Terence Young) is a spectacular film; a straight-forward adaptation of its source text, merged with North by Northwest (1959 – Alfred Hitchcock) and a boat chase. It invents modern movie violence (from this point onwards loss-of-consciousness karate-chops will no longer be acceptable.) But it was Goldfinger that invented the Bond films as we know them. Sly, with outrageous villainy, gadgetry and poor sexual politics. Guy Hamilton moved the films into widescreen composition, ensuring that performance, action and adventure would fill the whole screen. And we can argue the toss, but Sean Connery was never bettered. He returned for four further outings – Thunderball (1965 – Terence Young) is the best of these but is let down by an incoherent, overlong undersea climax.
25. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969 – Peter R. Hunt)
Sixth in the James Bond film series.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service exists larger than in our cultural memory than you would suppose. Our understanding of sixties super-spy film comes from this film – wool jumpers, art-deco interiors, ludicrous jump-suits. Despite an underwhelming central performance, it is the only truly moving film in the series, largely due to Diana Rigg’s extraordinarily charming role. Peter R. Hunt applies his frenetic, cut-to-the-bone approach to editing to the whole mise-en-scene and crafts a lush, luxurious and emotionally complex entry in a series that was rarely any of those things.
26. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977 – Lewis Gilbert)
Tenth in the James Bond film series.
Safari suits and raised eyebrows – Bond moves into iconography. The Roger Moore films envelop the widescreen and move the films into being events. They create a genre of filmmaking – occasionally comedic action movies that are for the whole family. The Spy Who Loved Me is the one where everything worked, and surprisingly, one of the few Bond film that avoids aping whatever movie genre was at the time. The pre-credits sequence has never been bettered, and reveals the faintly pathetic, unconvincing patriotism that lies at the heart of these films. Bond is a tool, living imperialism designed to prove that British politics, culture and ethics are superior.
27. For Your Eyes Only (1981 – John Glen)
Twelfth in the James Bond film series.
Somewhat strangely, a semi-sequel to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a dead serious Tim Dalton Bond film with Roger Moore in it. With a deliriously funky soundtrack by Bill Conti, it is the only entry in this series of this period that acknowledges Moore’s increasingly embarrassing age. The Bond films are notoriously conservative, and rarely give up on something they deem to be successful. The film features a genuinely terrifying scale up a mountain that reminds us that these films are truly spectacular in a way that most movies only reach for.
28. The Living Daylights (1987 – John Glen)
Fifteenth in the James Bond film series.
Whereas this is a Roger Moore film with Tim Dalton in it. Faintly embarrassed with the cinematic pranks the screenplay is saddled with, Dalton inhabits the role in way that he is rarely given credit for – he only fails to convince as a truly sexual presence. The film subtly underlines the tricky global politics that these films trade in, that imperialism will become bedfellows with whatever suits them at any occasion. And I have no shame in loving a-ha’s theme song – watch the credit sequences one after another and it comes along as a breath of fresh air.
29. Goldeneye (1995 – Martin Campbell)
Seventeenth in the James Bond film series.
Overpraised for being more heavy handed in its faint acknowledgment of shifting global politics, Pierce Brosnan’s first outing is the only entry of his that convinces. Bringing some of the masochism implicit in previous films to fore, it creates a genuinely tantilising Bond girl in Famke Janssen. Bond films are built around set-pieces. They are designed first and the everything follows. The set-pieces are simple and physical and this is never more apparent in the opening bungee jump over a dam. It’s quite extraordinary, and a reason for visiting the movies.
30. Casino Royale (2006 – Martin Campbell)
Twenty-first in the James Bond film series.
A strange, half-hearted reboot of the film series, it remains the only time the Bond films instigated a cinematic movement (in rebooting, rather than sequelising the series). Surprising given the success of the previous entry in the series, the appalling, but disgustingly successful, Die Another Day (2002 – Lee Tamahori), and the essential conservatism of the producers in sticking with what is working. Taking its cutthroat source novel and bookending it with delirious action sequences, the film gives its central character an emotional consequence that only comes from believing it is a standalone film (/book) rather than an endless film series. And in Eva Green, it gave Bond the only Bond girl of equality – her betrayal looms over the subsequent films like a vulture.
Bond films – more than just entertainments, they are a way of life. What follows are my top five choices. This is one of those supposedly controversial lists where every film has been listed as great elsewhere even when the perception previously was that these films are misfires. I am as clichéd as any other person. Just be glad I didn’t go into any detail about my love for a-ha’s theme to The Living Daylights (1987).