The ASIDESTEPS CANON – no Jaws sequels – vol. IV

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.

41.Mission: Impossible II (2000 – John Woo)

 

Sequel to Mission: Impossible (1996 – Brian De Palma)

 

Somewhat maligned, John Woo’s deliriously hazy action movie downplays the paranoid interactions of De Palma’s opening entry but ramps up the action.  It represents the moment that Tom Cruise chose to become an action star; up until this point he was content to work with as many ‘great’ directors as possible, but he saw that come the new millennium, auteur theory was an irrelevance, and the only way to stay alive was to remain number one at the box office.  It’s a preposterous spectacle, but a spectacle nonetheless, with Cruise determined to punish his body within the red/green light of Woo’s fantasy milieu.

Mission: Impossible III (2006) has its moments, but like all J. J. Abrams’ films, one that trades on the half-remembered successes of other, better directors.

 

42. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011 – Brad Bird)

 

Fourth in the Mission: Impossible series

A film that succeeds largely with the confidence in which it defines its space.  Car parks, motorways, skyscrapers are tangible locations – fully realised, they allow the body (Cruise’s lithe frame stretching with age) to presented compulsively with danger, largely the risk of falling from a great height.  Cinema screens are so tall, it is strange that they rarely exploit the fear of falling.  In a world of quick-cut, incomprehensible punch-ups, the film becomes a treasure, a rare jewel… something coherent.

43. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015 – Christopher McQuarrie)

 

Fifth in the Mission: Impossible series

The series’ endearing commitment to employing different directors for each entry ensures a distinct identity for each film.  McQuarrie chooses to push the series as close to Bond as it can go, tuxedos, ballgowns and astonishing car chases.  The Mission: Impossible series has never crept into the hostile misogyny that creeps within every entry in their canon – despite some skeevy bikini shots, Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust is a fully realised woman, with agency and ability.  Limited only by the supporting cast lack of range (shouting is the only way to convey emotion apparently) it is an intensely gripping blockbuster.

44. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980 – Irvin Kershner)

 

Sequel to Star Wars (1977 – George Lucas) and fifth in the Star Wars series

One of the most dispiriting waves of recent cinephilia has been the glee with which the new Star Wars films have been greeted – the pleasure with which the homogenized, micro-managed Disney product is presented as having been saved from the inanity of George Lucas.

Yet Lucas is a visionary.  A pioneer of new technology, a disciple of space and form that harkens back the days of silent cinema, and a true iconoclast.  Never again will we see independent films made free from studio interference with blockbuster budgets.  The films are painfully personal – the hope of the initial entry is replaced with the disdain of the sequel once his marriage to Marcia Lucas breaks down (an individual who is key to the success of these first few films).  The later prequel series present a man fully aware of powerful economic forces and how they can control and degrade an individual.  They reduce performance to its broadest strokes, choosing instead to focus on classical movements of image, combining model shots, CGI, and reality against each other to create fully realised worlds.  It was an unpopular vision (though unsurprising – Mark Hamill is hardly a charismatic screen presence), and whilst the now annual visit to the Star Wars universe is entertaining, it will never again be visionary, and thus of limited interest outside the simplistic guttural pleasures that come from the multiplex.

It is particularly pedestrian to state that Empire Strikes Back (or Star Wars II as I sometimes like to call it when feeling particularly contrary) is the strongest entry, but please don’t write those prequels off… they’re obsolete enough as it is.

45. Psycho II (1983 – Richard Franklin)

 

Sequel to Psycho (1960 – Alfred Hitchcock)

 

With some particularly fantastic kills, and a genuinely unsettling insight into a psychopath, Psycho II is a delight, not least for the very pure pleasure of Anthony Perkins reprising his role as cinema’s most likeable serial killer (suck it Hopkins!).  Taking the intrinsic sympathy we felt for Bates as he discussed his mother with Janet Leigh over sandwiches, milk and taxidermy to its limit, we are forced to occasionally believe that this man was maybe the victim after all.  Maybe that final scene in the basement in Psycho wasn’t real?  Maybe that ridiculous explanation for his behaviour given in the parent film was a lie?  Rare that it is that a sequel so confounds our expectations for the entirety of its running time.

 

 46. Psycho III (1986 – Anthony Perkins)

 

Third in the Psycho series

Imagining living as an icon who wasn’t you.  Typecasting is increasingly an irrelevance, so desperately we adore even the most minor of a celebrity, but in the past, some actors suffered in the shadow of one good role.  Here, Perkins refuses to make it a millstone, and acts and directs in a dynamic exploration of living in the detritus of both his legendary role, and the director who begat his whole career.

47. Psycho (1998 – Gus Van Sant)

 

Remake of Psycho (1960 – Alfred Hitchcock)

 

Van Sant’s colour cover version remains interesting for the ways in which it deviates from its source text as much as follows it.  Where Psycho is a queer film made by a heterosexual (disgustingly so as it appears) filmmaker, this is a heteronormative film made by a gay filmmaker, and as such, a more accurate depiction of the reality of murder within our world.  The flashes of blue sky within the infamous shower scene underline the power of the Saul Bass structured cuts and emphasise the universality of women being destroyed by men.

 

 48. Aliens (1986 – James Cameron)

 

Sequel to Alien (1979 – Ridley Scott)

 

Cameron explores the emotional depravity that comes from returning to trauma, yet provides catharsis in the sublimation of this trauma when presented with the maternal instinct.  The Alien, the ultimate expression of both penile and vaginal horror overwhelms any construct of society, as if sex is unstoppable.  The need to procreate is necessary and instinctive and no intellectual (or religious artificial construct of asceticism found in the next film in the series) can escape it.  Cameron transforms the deliberate horror of the first film into a glorious, visceral survival story.

 

 49. Alien3 (1992 – David Fincher)

 

Third in the Alien franchise

There is a great pleasure is seeing Hollywood’s one pessimist David Fincher destroy the peace provided by its ultimate optimist (Cameron) explored in the previous film in the series. Until this point the Alien films had explored the fear of sex that many secretly feel.  So naturally a film has to come along and impose a religious doctrine upon it.  The sex/death drive is ultimately stronger than the imaginative drive that fuels religion – it occurs later in our evolutionary development as a species.  But the semi-monastic ramblings of the penal colony are unable to dominate, and even the fiery crucifixion of Ripley cannot provide atonement.

50. Prometheus (2012 – Ridley Scott)

 

Prequel to Alien (1979 – Ridley Scott)

Ridley Scott has little interest in scripts.  He takes them as they come, choosing to focus on the images he can construct for the big screen.  He is a master co-ordinator, and able to produce a big budget film at nearly 80 years of age.  As such, his films show little thematic consistency – the overt (and nauseous) Christianity of Prometheus, sits against the timid atheism of Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014).  The banal explorations of faith are peculiar within a film that features the ultimate expression of a cruel, senseless universe that seeks to kill lesser beings in the form of the Alien.  Despite this, the film has moments of extra-ordinary body horror, portrayed by a range of fine character actors.  And Noomi Rapace.

Films seen November – December (and a Top Ten for 2016)

The final straight.  A few end of year blockbusters are released, but in England we have to wait for all the awards films till the new year.  And then there’s the films I watch to catch up on before the inevitable end-of-year list… which can’t be done until the year is over.

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