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 – no Jaws sequels – vol. VIII

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.

71. Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom (1984 – Steven Spielberg)

 

Sequel/prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 – Steven Spielberg)

 

Lucas and Spielberg’s desperate attempt to make a Bond film, this film is fuelled by a healthy dose of cynicism.  The movie attempts to distil the entire history of cinema into its running time – bickering back-and-forth repartee, dance routines and casual racism included.  Here the narrative is more stationary than its predecessor, so the action sequences can seem a little more obligatory, but when they are as excruciatingly involving as the mine cart sequence, its easy enough to allow yourself to be enveloped in its dazzling momentum.

Traditionally, this was seen as the weakest entry, but Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989 – Steven Spielberg) is a more prosaic affair, only enlivened by Sean Connery’s brusque charm.  The less said about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008 – Steven Spielberg) – personally I have an affection for the episode of the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles that features Harrison Ford – The Mystery of the Blues – which features a pretty engrossing car chase for something made on a television budget.

72. The Curse of the Cat People (1944 – Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise)

 

Sequel to Cat People (1942 – Jacques Tourneur)

 

The original invented much of the language of cinematic shock, all creeping tension and jump-scares.  This sequel threw much of its narrative out of the window, instead choosing to focus on the memetic memory of shared trauma.  We are haunted by the stories we’ve read and the traumas we see at a distance.  It is a creeping portraying of the swirling emotions of an adolescent girl, how puberty can force girls to explore the dangerous and rebel against the conformity they are being forced to adopt.  Primal experience provides a release from the patriarchy they are being groomed to work within.

 

73. Cat People (1982 – Paul Schrader)

 

Remake of Cat People (1942 – Jacques Tourneur)

Schrader’s remake is a fairly pedestrian attempt for most of its running time that simply repeats the shocks of the first film with more tits on display.  However, its ending, a depiction of sexual dominance and control, bound in a presentation of sado-masochism, is almost elegiac.  It speaks deeply to our deepest perversions, and the ease and willingness with which a man will revert to patterns of abuse if presented with the opportunity – all agency is removed from the woman in order to satisfy his sexual desires.

74. Spider-Man 2 (2004 – Sam Raimi)

 

Sequel to Spider-Man (2002 – Sam Raimi)

 

The first film, in my mind a heady mix of first dates and dropped popcorn, showed Raimi’s mix of volcanic action scenes and cheesy emotion.  The second film is pretty much in the same vein, but the pirouetting camera that swirls around some genuinely thrilling action sequences ensures that this is the best superhero film the world has ever seen.  Which is a bit like being the world’s most popular STD…

 

75. Rambo (2008 – Sylvester Stallone)

 

Fourth in the Rambo film series

Very much a companion piece to Rocky Balboa (2006), Rambo featured Stallone’s return to an iconic eighties role.  But this was a far more pessimistic affair, where good intentions proved fruitless and violence gave the only answer.  Stallone plays John Rambo as an empty shell – a logical conclusion of the events of the previous three entries in the series.  He is broken and hollowed out by violence.  He has little grip on compassion, and the film follows this path, refusing to present his adversaries with any inch of humanity.  It is Stallone’s greatest fantasy.

76. The Godfather Part II (1974 – Francis Ford Coppola)

 

Sequel/prequel to The Godfather (1972 – Francis Ford Coppola)

 

Which is often little more than the first response to ‘sequels that are better than the originals’.  I don’t think that’s a true statement, in the same way that no film adaptation is ‘better’ than the novel upon which it is based; they’re different emotional experiences.  First films have to establish tone and character and theme.  Sequels can take that from granted and build upon what has come before.  ‘Prestige’ long-form television relies on that function – unfortunately, miss-used, as it so often is by tv, the audience experiences a form of cinematic Stockholm Syndrome, whereby affection is given simply because they’ve spent a lot of time with the characters.  The Godfather Part II, does not engage with these facile assumptions, simply because it is determined to build on the first film; by both extended Michael Corleone’s descent into transgression, and by adding depth to a family business he was unable to escape.

77. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970 – Ted Post)

 

Sequel to Planet of the Apes (1968 – Franklin J. Schaffner)

 

Which takes a pulpy concept (a spaceman land on a post-apocalyptic Earth ruled by monkeys) and somehow makes it even pulpier, by throwing in psychic mutants who worship an atom bomb.  Developing a more fully designed world than its predecessor, Beneath the Planet of the Apes carefully withholds Charlton Heston’s manic screen presence to the final reel.  And what a final reel, where the Earth is annihilated by its god, only this god is an invention of man that he wished he could have forgotten, the nuclear bomb.  God isn’t that much different.

78. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972 – J. Lee Thompson)

 

Fourth in the Planet of the Apes series

After a more jovial third entry (Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971 – Don Taylor) – very much ‘The Voyage Home’ of the series, featuring drunk monkeys) the series had been boldly recast around simian protagonists rather than the humans.  By the seventies, the realisation was that the threat did not come from outside humanity, it came from within.  Here, as the continuity of the film series turned back upon itself, the series showed how our species would seek to dominate and oppress anything it perceived to be aa threat.  The only consequence, quite brutally depicted within the film, was violent insurrection by the oppressed.

79. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011 – Rupert Wyatt)

 

Seventh in the Planet of the Apes series and reboot

After a lacklustre final instalment (Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973 – J. Lee Thompson)) and an underwhelming, though not worthless reboot by Tim Burton in 2001, the series was once again restarted in 2001.  Technology had reached a point where CGI apes had a life to them, though they were somewhat unfairly cast opposite John Lithgow, who has made a bit of a career of upstaging apes of various forms.  Despite being an ostensible franchise kick-starter, Rise of the Planet of the Apes takes its time, creating an engaging drama that demands your attention.  The moment where Caesar speaks for the first time is genuinely shocking.  It was followed by a messy, ridiculous sequel, where Gary Oldman had a totally superfluous moment where he cried at the sight of a cynically product-placed iPad.

80. Beverly Hills Cop II (1987 – Tony Scott)

 

Sequel to Beverly Hills Cop (1984 – Martin Brest)

Eddie Murphy is one of the great screen presences, and Beverly Hills Cop best captured these charms – his defiant, inimitable disruption of the conventional white screen that Hollywood forces upon us.  The sequel built upon that by placing him within a fluorescent, hypnotically glossy world that appears now to be the epitome of the eighties that we see in our collective cultural memory.  Tony Scott brought a balletic grace to his action scenes, and ensured that they were as thrilling as they can be – it’s almost as if he realised no one would be able to act Murphy off the screen, so the only way to provide a credible threat was by presenting action scenes as genuinely threatening.  It was a bold move, and one that began to define Scott’s career.