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 April

Life (2017 – Daniel Espinosa)

Which people try to disparage as an Alien rip-off.  As if that’s a bad thing?

A lovely (though completely faked) single-shot sequence opens a film follows the standard formula of a likeable crew (Reynolds, Wilson, Gyllenhaal) being murdered one by one.  So what – it’s a nominal plot?  There are fascinations of my childhood – dinosaurs, space travel, steam trains – that remain with me to this day.  I love them, regardless of the context.  The conviction of the cast in this film and the claustrophobia of a zero-gravity space station adds a level of true hostility to the proceedings; we rarely get to see utter terror in our lives, so it is exhilarating to see it performed.  But the ending – a glorious, defeatist conclusion, which dooms both our heroes and the whole of humanity – pushes this film into something quite thrilling.  I could do with one of these films a month.

A tiny, shitty screen with broken chairs and an obnoxious audience at the Cineworld Leicester Square (formerly the Empire).  If I wasn’t in a good mood, I’d have properly resented the experience.  Ticket was about £12.

Free Fire (2017 – Ben Wheatley)

 

Six films in, and he’s no closer to a masterpiece.  The breadth of Wheatley’s career is more something to admire than love (Steven Soderbergh suffers from the same affliction).  There is an almost desperate, and quite cynical, tendency within his films to create something ‘cult’.  He is a poseur trying to be alternative.  Every moment of Free Fire seems designed to be regurgitated by some inexperienced nineteen-year-old in a university halls of residence; and maybe it will be.  But there is nothing in this film that is even remotely dangerous or surprising.  It is an utterly safe film.  It is a tedious trawl through an approximation of ‘interesting’; actors little more than E.R. guest-stars perform paper-thin characters spouting dialogue that is not once amusing or quotable.

I think there is nothing more dull in modern cinema than the choice to ironically re-appropriate a popular, if slightly naff, pop song.  Ben Wheatley probably considers it to be an ‘edgy’ choice.

 

A small screen at the Bluewater Showcase… which was completely deserted of anyone other than myself.  I suspect they released it on too many screens following the relative success of High Rise (2016).  I’m not sure how the BFI can justify financially supporting a release on this level.  I can never work out in these situations (and for the record, it’s happened twice before – at Ponyo (2008 – Hayao Miyazaki) and Much Ado About Nothing (2012 – Joss Whedon)), whether I’m essentially in a private screening or very, very lonely.  Ticket cost £9 or so.

 

 

Raw (2016 – Julia Ducournau)

 

Which is one of those films where I spent a significant part of its run-time not actually looking at the screen, such was the unpleasantness on display.  That’s not a criticism – I find the deliberate ambiguity that drowns modern art-house cinema far more distasteful than any depiction of cannibalism.  But I can’t love a film like this – all effect, and little substance.

 

Screen 3 at the Odeon Covent Garden.  Ticket cost £10.

 

 

Grindhouse (2007 – Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez)

 

We never got the chance to see this movie as originally intended in the U.K. and I occasionally claim that Death Proof is one of my favourite films ever, so the chance to see all three hours or so of this film was most welcome.

 

Seeing it with an audience was thrilling, and it’s fair to say that for many there the fake trailers were the highlight of the evening.  The ‘missing reel’ moment in Planet Terror absolutely killed; when Tarantino tries the same effect in Death Proof it seems muted and diluted.

 

Rodriguez and Tarantino were reaching for different things in their movies.  Rodriguez saw it as an opportunity to indulge in his trashy impulses, whilst Tarantino, always more concerned with his own auteurship, directed a new project, albeit one which took some of his textural indulgences (black + white sections, chaptered storytelling etc.) to an extreme.  The latter is a better film – not unsurprisingly – but its pleasures are less obvious, and in the double-bill format, the audience is exhausted by the time the final thrilling car chase erupts onto the screen.  You could feel the fatigue in the room.

Sold out showing on the upstairs screen at the Prince Charles Cinema.  Fantastic audience.  Ticket cost £8 (I think…).  35mm showing – though it’s hard to notice here, given the deliberate grottiness of the image.

 

 

The Fate of the Furious (2017 – F. Gary Gray)

 

As I’m currently serialising a series on The Fast and the Furious films, I’ll reserve the majority of my thoughts until I publish the piece in June.

But suffice to say, it was the weakest instalment of an occasionally extraordinary franchise.

 

Huge screen at the Bluewater Showcase, slightly dampened by the fact that I had a killer migraine whilst watching it.  Ticket cost £9.

 

 

The Red Shoes (1948 – Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger)

 

Which I often claim to be my favourite film.  I’m not sure I feel that way right now; like most favourite films, the allegiance towards a director usually means affection shifts from one film to another as time goes by.  Once upon a time, Raging Bull (1980) was my favourite Martin Scorsese film; nowadays Taxi Driver (1976) is more affecting.  I suspect that one day I will find The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) or The Small Back Room (1949) to be more compelling pictures than this.

But for now, The Red Shoes remains one of the most important pieces of art in my life.  To watch it is to understand part of my soul in a way I find quite hard to vocalise.  The same applies for some Tony Scott and Michael Mann films.

And like all art that affects us, like all truly great movies, every time I watch it I find something new within in it.  This time, I seemed to experience it as some great queer masterpiece; Lermontov, with his noticeably highly feminine sunglasses, is a great camp queen.  His interest in Vicky is not sexual; it is ascetic, a temptation to reject the limited satisfaction offered by the heteronormative existence with Julian, and share in his indulgence of the creativity of talent and art.  You can read the closing sequence as a mythical re-enactment of Hans Christian Andersen’s story or the suicide of a woman torn between two men, neither who can satisfy her, and who both want to control and limit her ambitions.  But this time, it was an act of freedom, a passionate moment of emotion, from a woman who was so close to choosing to never experience it again.  Few films are this powerful.

 

Upstairs screen at the Prince Charles.  Slightly sniffy audience, including one douche who sniggered at any display of emotion in an attempt to prove how sophisticated he is.  There is a special circle in hell for the smug cunts who come to these screenings.  Ticket cost £8.  35mm showing of the most recent restoration.

 

 

Alien (1979 – Ridley Scott)

 

And another all-time favourite film, seen on the big-screen for the first time.  It is a relentless and horrifying and a masterpiece of design, performance and escalating tension.

If we’re talking about the new things we see in beloved pieces of art – for me this viewing converged the mutual obsession of this film, and that of Psycho (1960 – Alfred Hitchcock).  Ripley’s pleading with Mother recalls Norman Bates’ fractured psyche; there is no reasoning with this destructive impulse.  It will dominate our existence.  In this regard, the xenomorph is an inhuman extension of Bates; simultaneously masculine and feminine, unfeeling and relentlessly homicidal.

 

Seen on the Sigourney Weaver screen at the Picturehouse Central.  It was an extraordinary 70mm print – speaking to the staff afterwards, the quality of the print was almost neon when they got it, but the projectionist team were able to show it as something beautiful.  Truly one of the best cinematic experiences of my life.  Ticket only cost £8.

 

 

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015 – George Miller)

Aware that when I first saw this film I was massively hungover, but still loved it (it was my favourite film of 2015), I jumped at the chance to see this again on the big screen.

Now I’m all for arbitrary indulges in movies.  I adore alternate cuts, franchises with different chronologies to production order – you name it, I will go there.  I’ve watched Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 – Steven Spielberg) in black and white because Steven Soderbergh told us to, I’ve watched all three different versions of Legend (1985 – Ridley Scott) for the sheer hell of it.  So I went to see the Black and Chrome version of this film.

But a huge part of the appeal of this film was the extraordinarily vivid colour palate.  It seems masochistic to deny ourselves that appeal.

Downstairs screen at the Prince Charles Cinema.  Ticket cost £10.  Despite my misgivings about the visuals, the soundtrack sounded phenomenal – they really have an excellent audio set-up down there.

Win it All (2017 – Joe Swanberg)

 

I think it goes without saying that anything I watch at home is going to have less impact than something I see on screen.  There’s too many distractions, too many opportunities to look away from the visuals, and turn to the phone or laptop.  The cinema is my church; home is my prayer (the mind wanders from what it is meant to do.)

… but I really liked the onscreen text of this film.

 

Watched on Netflix.

The ASIDESTEPS CANON – b-sides vol. II

The Canon. One hundred films with nothing from the top 250 Sight & Sound poll. These are the b-sides; un-canonised, free from decades of perception and discussion, but great films in their own right. No apologies, no pretensions.

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A Matter of Life and Death (1946 – Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger)

David-Niven

It begins with the infinite and quickly comes to an end.  It will continue like this, disorientating you, never letting you rest.  One moment you’re in a garden and the next you’re in heaven.  Life is like that.  To anybody else you’re just walking down a street, but in your mind (the only true place), you’re so far away.  Black and white becomes Glorious Technicolor™.  Heaven is in black and white – after all, its ethics are that much more manageable than what we have to live with here on Earth.

Here we have to fall in love.

Continue reading “A Matter of Life and Death (1946 – Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger)”