Films seen July

Baby Driver (2017 – Edgar Wright)


One of those films that gets inordinately over-praised because it is an ‘original idea’, Baby Driver had a few decent car chases (but don’t get carried away – these weren’t anything special) and a jukebox, almost musical, feel to the soundtrack.  But aside from Jamie Foxx, the film struggled to find a single decent, engaging performance.  Kevin Spacey sleep-walked, John Hamm was woefully out-of-his-depth (the man is little more than a small-screen actor) and Lily James took a role that could have been performed by any one of the attractive, capable performers that flood into Hollywood.  But most egregious was the central performance from… christ, I can’t remember his name.  And I am tempted to google it – as I have been tempted to research as to why exactly he was foisted upon us, given that I have never seen him before (is he on telly or something?) – but I can’t find the willpower, given how irritating his performance was.  Much is made out of the fact that ‘Baby’ doesn’t talk much, but the reality of the film was that he wouldn’t shut up.  His performance was needy and inhuman, so committed was he to dancing and prancing and posing in any conceivable situation.

In short; there was a much better film here if only there had been a decent cast.


Seen on a large screen at the Bluewater Showcase.  Ticket cost £11 or so.



Song to Song (2017 – Terrence Malick)


In the UK this film has only been released for a two-week engagement on one solitary screen in London… so of course I went to see it.

By now, the critics have turned on Malick, and with the same level of predictability, a few lone voices have rushed to his defence.  Both groups are as frustrating as the other, because this was a moderately engaging film that seemed to explore two ideas with a degree of inscrutable intensity.  Firstly, that it takes an awful long time to figure out who you are, what your values are, and how you want to live in the modern world.  And that secondly, during this process of figuring yourself out, you will make some compromises that you will live to regret.

Now, neither of those ideas are particularly earth-shattering.  Nor are they permissible by those who see themselves surrounded by a generation of fecklessly indulgent millennials getting very passionate about various meaningless ideals (foremost of which are their own identities.  Second of which is Buffy feminist?).  But they are truthful (if not particularly honest) ideas, and this film, clearly suffering from Malick’s usual affectations, excavated them within a non-linear, but easily pieced together, narrative.  I liked it.

(Plus, I took the day off work to see it, and movies are always better when you are playing truant.)


Seen on the upstairs screen at the Prince Charles.  Ticket cost £4.50.



The Road Warrior (1981 – George Miller)


There’s only so much exploitation I can handle in my life, and Ozploitation can’t quite reach the upper echelons of my interest.  I think it’s something to do with the insincerity of the accent.  But this sequel becomes something radiant; a sweaty, almost impossible car chase that is littered with leaking petroleum and mangled carburettors.  It presents the utter hopelessness of dystopia; where the last remaining semblances of dignity and compassion have been abandoned, and only the survival instinct remains.

Seen on the downstairs screen at the Prince Charles.  Ticket cost about £8.50.  35mm screening – a lovely print (that called it Mad Max 2)



The Warriors (1979 – Walter Hill)


Wonderful to see, not least because I’d only ever seen Walter Hill’s very silly director’s cut before.  The heightened horror of New York City felt more and more perverse on the big screen… though I can’t help but feel that the ending just comes out of nowhere.  It almost feels like the budget just ran out at some point.  It doesn’t hold the same passion for me as some of Hill’s contemporaneous works, but it was still a delightful hour-and-a-half.


Seen immediately after the above on the downstairs screen at the Prince Charles.  Ticket cost £8.50, though why this wasn’t a double bill, I don’t know.  35mm screening and a lovely print.



The Beguiled (2017 – Sofia Coppola)


I had, rather shamefully, put an awful lot of hope into this film, such was my mealy-minded dismissal of some of the sexual politics at play in Don Seigel’s version of the same film.  But those criticisms (available here) were shallow in their thinking, and susceptible to the quick condemnation of art that plagues my generation.

Because those hopes were ultimately misguided.  This was a beautiful film, and full of some rich performances, but it was a superficial affair.  Coppola displayed little inclination to examine any of the sexual (or indeed, racial) politics that are inherent to the set-up.  Moments of heighted tension in the original film, such as the visit from the confederate soldiers and the destruction of the tortoise, seemed limp and lacklustre in this version.  A beautiful waste.


Seen on one of the small, but still bigger than most, screens at the Bluewater Showcase.  Ticket cost £9.



Dune (1984 – David Lynch)


You’re struck by just how fully realised the world the Lynch created on screen.  It may be a little ridiculous in places, but you never feel that any performance or detail of set design is drawing attention to the unreality of it all.  Everyone is fully committed to the world; a world that is clearly as much of a nightmare as the one presented in Eraserhead (1977 – David Lynch).  This is not true of most science-fiction.  These kinds of stories rely on an almost biblical sense of prophecy and world-building, and Dune is no exception.  So much time is spent establishing the messianic journey of Paul Atreides, that his ultimate fulfilment of his potential seems a little rushed.  It’s a film that makes you pine for a series of increasingly desperate sequels.


Seen on the downstairs screen at the Prince Charles.  Ticket cost £11.  70mm screening!



Eyes Wide Shut (1999 – Stanley Kubrick)


I was very hungover when I saw this.

(Which is to say that it remains my favourite Kubrick, but the uncomfortable exploration of sexual desire that haunts this film was lost on me as I fell asleep on several occasions whilst watching the film.  What I will say is that the quickly issued dismissals of certain affected aspects of Kubrick’s style, such as his use of rear projection, were almost unnoticeable when viewed on a big screen from a celluloid projection.  It’s one of those many instances where the clarity of home viewing, and the easily accessible pause button, do no favours to a film.)


Seen on the downstairs screen at the Prince Charles.  Ticket cost £8 or so.  35mm screening – lovely print.



War for the Planet of the Apes (2017 – Matt Reeves)


Planet = good

Beneath = brilliant lunacy

Escape = bit dull

Conquest = oooh, this is really quite good

Battle = yawn

Planet = affection for, given this is the first one I saw in the cinema

Rise = much, much better than it deserved to be

Dawn = awful hideous mess

And now War which was pretty decent, but no matter how good the CGI gets, and no matter how manipulative the plots of these movies are, I can’t help but get distracted by the fact that I am watching a bunch of cartoon monkeys on screen.  I suppose that at the end of the day I am going to root for a drunk, malicious Woody Harrelson over a bunch of anthropomorphic pixels.  He’s a better special effect at the end of the day.


Seen on a medium-sized screen at the Bluewater Showcase.  Ticket cost 6.50.



My Cousin Rachel (2017 – Roger Michell)

Another film dampened by a particularly wet performance – this time from some overpromoted posh boy actor (whose name is also not worth looking up) – who struggles to bring any shade to his character.  This is all that more pathetic when you consider that he essentially wants to sleep with his mum.  It is the weakness of the film that his character is placed at its centre, when the interesting person is Rachel Weisz’s eponymous cousin Rachel.  Indeed, Roger Michell’s (an above average director who always includes at least one breath-taking sequence in each of his films) direction only comes to life when she is on the screen.  Beyond that, the film is little more than the extreme competence of mumbling yokels and lavish production design that comes with any British costume drama.


Seen on the small, but adequate screen at the Panton St. Odeon.  Ticket cost £6.50.



Unstoppable (2010 – Tony Scott)


I just get really sad when I see a Tony Scott film.  Because it just breaks my heart that I’ll never have a new one to see.  He was (and is) my absolute favourite director, and…  it’s really difficult to get this down.

Like, I accept that there will be a lot of art that I will never get on top of.  I will never read all the books that I should read, or want to read.  I get that there will be James Bond films made long after I die, and therefore, there will be Bond films I don’t get to see.  But Tony Scott is finished.  His work is accomplished.  And there is part of me that desperately wants it to be unmanageable.

Because Unstoppable was so full of life and so focussed that you feel things would have started to turn around for him.  The critical establishment (which had been very sniffy about the last decade of his work) would have been presented with a series of deliberate, spectacular thrillers.  It felt like we were just about to enter a new phase of his work, that would have been as distinct as his 2000s work was from his nineties work.

The painterly exploration of image and editing had been mastered.  And what strikes you when you see these films on the screen is how controlled the shots he uses are.  He’s not cut-cut-cutting in that way that we simplify his style to; instead he only brings in the multiple camera presentation at moments of high tension, where he uses them to draw out the suspense and prolong the nervousness we feel whilst we watch the spectacle on screen.

And the film contains everything we love about him.  The texture of celluloid.  The verisimilitude of exact details within the production design and script.  The dedication to practical effects.  The central performance of such charm and charisma from Denzel Washington.  It makes you wonder how some films still manage to be good without any of those ingredients.

Unstoppable is Scott’s exploration of how competence is something essential that we don’t value enough.  We’re all looking for people with flair, but the reality is that it is the people who can get the job done, without fuss or arrogance, are the ones who ultimately prove to be exceptional.

Seeing this film made me go home and watch several other Tony Scott movies.  Hell, I watched Man on Fire (2004) twice in two days.  It’s that good.  He was that good.

And god, I miss him.


Seen at the NFT screen 1 at the BFI Southbank.  Ticket cost £8.  35mm screening – beautiful print.

The ASIDESTEPS Canon – b-sides vol. III

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.


  1. The Last Movie (1971 – Dennis Hopper)


Because movies are an addiction.

It was a film I had to hunt down, having only seen moments of the movie within a documentary.  It became a high I was desperate to seek.  Still hidden, it remains one of cinema’s greatest buried treasure, a painfully honest excavation of ego (and the demise of it) at the height of a decade of American auteurism.  Hopper was determined to collapse any expression of his perceived ‘genius’, and few films capture such unrelenting self-destruction.


  1. The Bling Ring (2013 – Sofia Coppola)


Because this is the future.


Unlike most films that seek to divide young people, this film demonstrates the bliss of forming deep friendships at that age (and the absolute freedom that comes once one of you has a car.)  Dismissed, by men, as superficial and indulgent, The Bling Ring follows children overwhelmed by the beauty of the world they live in and explores their absolute intention to live a life that matters.  Did we really all become that much better when we grew up?  Shouldn’t we return to those feelings of such intensity we knew at a young age?  Wouldn’t that put an end to all the apathy we experience in the face of such evident cruelty in the world?


  1. Light Sleeper (1992 – Paul Schrader)


Because we’re searching for moments of peace.


Pauls Schrader’s spiritual sequel to Taxi Driver (1976) continues a running theme of individuals dislocated from society around them, and the unavoidable descent into violence that occurs once you try to take control of your life.  There’s an earnestness to Schrader’s work which is so charming… like he has no ability to express love so can only steal sex scenes from Godard and grace notes from Bresson.  But it is a film of utterly sweet queerness, as if sex can never enter the frame.  Even the final expression of love comes with the understanding that there will be no physical contact for years.


  1. Thief (1981 – Michael Mann)


Because the understanding the individual is key.

Michael Mann is a man who is excavating his themes to their fullest extent.  He will uncover that skeleton.  Key to his work is understanding how he explores the ability of the individual to maintain control over his life – to maintain a work/life balance with his family in Manhunter (1986), to maintain control over a profession in the face of overwhelming love in Miami Vice (2006) – and here, how an individual maintains his individuality and integrity when a corporation disrupts his existence.  With a richness of colour, a depth of shadow and a soundtrack that elevates the film to something eternal, Thief is an artist laying out a stall that we will return to again and again.



  1. Déjà Vu (2006 – Tony Scott)


Because you would do anything for love.

There’s a moment when Denzel Washington looks at an image of a woman and decides he will go back in time to save her life.  And in that moment his face flashes with fear of the consequences, terror at the force of his conviction and absolute determination to do the right thing.  Tony Scott directs with his kaleidoscopic approach to montage, allowing fragments of images, colour and performance to fill the screen, forcing us as a viewer to become more engaged, to invest more and to stretch our minds by constantly stitching together images.  It’s a stimulating visual pleasure.


  1. Event Horizon (1997 – Paul W. S. Anderson)


Because some images haunt your mind

Cinema is superior to television in many ways (performance, direction, inventiveness) but no more so than in how it has appropriated science fiction concepts and reduced it to the background.  Ideas litter the frame, rather than dominate the conversation.  Event Horizon explores the horror of space travel, the limited movement, lack of freedom, lack of company in an environment that will kill you in an instant.  This film features a truly disturbing vision of hell that plagues my mind from time to time.


  1. Play Misty for Me (1971 – Clint Eastwood)

Because sometimes you can’t escape.


Clint Eastwood begins a career of exploring how he does not understand women.  But he is never content to simplify women (or indeed, ever cast conventionally Hollywood type actresses) allowing for portrayals of a complex, yet ultimately terrifying femininity.  Even at this relatively early stage of his career he realised that he was greater than a star – he was already an icon – and his future years would depend on threats causing his iconic body crumble and the ultimate dominance of his face and voice when films required it.  The first half of the film is imbibed with a sense of dread, that manifests itself in genuinely unhinged acts of mania.  Eastwood’s first film remains his most invigorating, in the same way that Duel (1971) is for Spielberg.



  1. Groundhog Day (1993 – Harold Ramis)


Because sometimes you can’t escape.


One of the most beautifully enjoyable films ever made, Groundhog Day is about the serenity found in accepting that you cannot affect the world or the people around you, you can only affect yourself.  A film of blissful humour and a typically laconic central performance from Bill Murray that plays off his peculiar blend of sweet frostiness, it is only in the moments after the film that you realise that Phil Connors relived the same day for a millennia or two.



  1. Jaws (1975 – Steven Spielberg)


Because there is no point in life which wouldn’t be made better by watching Jaws.


For a film that supposedly invented the blockbuster, Jaws takes its time to get to the shark.  Spielberg demonstrates the purity of his eye, his subtle ability to place figures in a frame and move the camera only at moments of great effect.  Demonstrating how physical strength and intellectual stamina are both required to survive, he demonstrates how man’s inventiveness and ability to create tools allows us to dominate, and destroy, nature.



  1. Shock Corridor (1963 – Samuel Fuller)


Because independence is worthwhile.

With a purity of expression, Samuel Fuller explores humanities dirtiest little secret… our minds.  Hidden from everyone else, our perversions, delusions, and fantasies fester away.  Occasionally they break through, and then we have a mental health issue, but this is too much.  And mental health must be as hidden as the thoughts themselves.  So the struggling individual is placed in an institution, where expressions of control and sanity are ignored as moments of confusion.  And all the dirty little thoughts bubble up in racism, cruelty and violence.

Great American Directors – Sofia Coppola


Mascara runs down her cheeks.  Alexis Neiers is recording a voicemail.  “Twenty-nine dollars!” shouts her mother in the background.  “Everytime you yell, I have to re-record it!” screams Alexis, just a shade off incoherence.  We watch her record and re-record this message four times; in every instance her meandering soliloquies (full of self-affirmation and aggression) are interrupted by her equally tearful mother.  The ridiculousness of the scene is only heightened by the modulated high-pitched voices of Alexis and her mother that the uploader of the video to Youtube has imposed upon the episode in order to avoid copyright infringement.

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