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.)

The ASIDESTEPS CANON – b-sides vol. VI

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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 51. Certified Copy (2010 – Abbas Kiarostami)

 

Because truth rarely matters.

 

I live inside this movie.  I walk its streets.  I reflect on what is true and what is not.  It’s a film where you can’t help but reflect on it and parse the slightest gesture, the muttered comment.  But it exists as more than a puzzle because of the truths it speaks to.  There is a moment where an old man tries to impart all the wisdom he has gained and shows that meaning can come from the smallest movement – placing a hand on a shoulder.  Cinema is a Frankenstein medium, all art steals, but this shows the worth that comes with stealing.

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 52. The Silence of the Lambs (1991 – Jonathan Demme)

 

Because reading films is worthwhile.

It’s a gripping film, confrontational in its direct, head-on style of shooting.  But it’s a film that has been drowned in budget price impressions and reactionary readings.  It can be saved.  Clarice is implicitly queer, she has few interactions with men, when they objectify her, she resists.  She is always a little too close to her dorm-mate.  Lecter is her campy queen, he sits back and amuses himself as she navigates the heteronormative world.  A world never more evident when men do horrible things to women.

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 53. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 – Steven Spielberg)

 

Because my eyes were opened.

 

I’m not thankful for parents for much… but showing me this film when I was seven years old is one of them.  I can’t express how much I loved this film, clambering over climbing frames in public parks using a rubber snake as whip.  You can keep your Star Wars (1977 – George Lucas), it was Indiana Jones for me.  And as an adult, I love it just enough, it’s action-every-ten-minutes setpieces, its wit.  And as Steven Soderbergh told us, you can turn the colour down and watch it in black-and-white and it’s just as good.

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 54. Streets of Fire (1984 – Walter Hill)

 

Because everything’s better with a Jim Steinman soundtrack.

 

Walter Hill thought that this film was the future, a post-apocalyptic urban comedy western.  Musical.  It’s a musical.  Whose songs were written by Jim Steinman and Stevie Nicks amongst others.  I spend a good few minutes each month thinking about what society would make these songs popular.  Taking the glorious neon light from 48 Hrs. (1982) and stretching to create an entire cityscape, Hill injects a romanticism into his brutal, pared-down scripts.  There is a moment where Michael Pare turns ‘round to see his love before he leaves her life… he can barely do it… every inch of him wants to stay… and he turns, and leaves.  It’s the most heart-breaking moment in cinema.  To think, Hill imagined that this was the first part of a trilogy…

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 55. Blow Out (1981 – Brian De Palma)

 

Because we all live with ghosts.

There’s an illicit thrill in De Palma’s pervy, trashy profoundly queer thrillers, but here we see him in a far more sombre mood as he details the limits of obsessiveness.  In what is one of John Travolta’s finest performances, we see his inability to escape the forces of politics and the overwhelming death drive.  Ultimately, he chooses to use his trauma as an anecdote, a resource in the cheap emptiness of his profession.  Hopelessness has never felt closer.

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 56. Legend (1985 – Ridley Scott)

 

Because some worlds are better than others.

 

Ridley Scott’s fourth film is a profound exploration of world-building.  Here the rich luxiourisouness of design and storytelling create a mise-en-scene where emotion is pure and on the surface.  There is an exhilaration to this film, as we radiate in the delight of a world quite unlike our own.  If only evil was as transparent as it was here.  There are three substantially different cuts of this movie, and unfortunately it is hard to recommend one over any of the others; each as its own strengths of score, pace and performance.

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57. Bigger than Life (1956 – Nicholas Ray)

 

Because we all see flashes of red.

 

Ray’s presentation of a fragile psyche demonstrates the limits of any individual.  Even the people we trust the most, who we invisibly rely on to maintain the decency of society – our teachers – are susceptible to poor mental health.  But this film is from the fifties, and poor mental health is not presented as anything prosaic.  Instead, it is an opulent mix of hysteria, colour and religion.  Society’s maintenance is paper-thin, it will take very little to destroy it.

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 58. California Split (1974 – Robert Altman)

 

Because it’s worth the risk.

 

With an output as prolific as his, it is often hard to navigate the waters of Robert Altman.  But California Split remains a cinematic love-letter to his profound love of acting profession.  He allows some deeply charismatic individuals to fully inhabit people, free of the responsibility of close-ups and holding attention.  It is up to us to seek them out, find them within the frame and indulge in their make believe.  I can sit on a train, and every other person is as real as I am.  There is a horror to that that we refuse to explore, but Altman was a director fully capable of capturing the significance of every soul in a frame.  A story is never complete within one of his films, only abandoned.

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 59. Days of Thunder (1990 – Tony Scott)

Because I feel the need for speed.

 

Tony Scott’s opulent, hazy mix of colour, sound and speed is a textural delight.  Every second of screen buzzes with excitement, as we piece together information in our minds from milli-seconds of image.  There are directors who spend lifetimes seeking to capture perfect images and Scott would throw them away in a moment.  And then cut to another deeply moving echo of reality.  Supported by a truly epic soundtrack that blends wailing guitars, synthesisers and arrhythmic percussion, and a script that is openly honest in its representations of ambition and belonging, it is a visual masterpiece, and speaks to something quite deep within myself.

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 60. The Innocents (1961 – Jack Clayton)

 

Because there’s nothing better than a ghost story.

A profoundly unsettling film, both for what is said and unsaid on screen.  For what is said, we get a deliberate unravelling of multiple fading cuts, inexplicable images and a wonderful central performance from Deborah Kerr, who gives her a governess a virginal certainty and sexual repression that allows us to explain her hauntings as hysteria.  For what is unsaid, we see the inextricable entwinement of sex and death, and the horror that unravels when this is directed at a child.  It is an abusive, ambiguous masterpiece.