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.)

Top Five – Michael Mann films

Walking out of The Counselor (2013 – Ridley Scott), I had to bite my tongue.  I had just seen an oppressive thriller, where every note of dialogue indicated a heavy sense of the inevitability of death.  The film was living, breathing dread, and it had captured my heart in a way few films do.  Those strangers around me, more fascinated with updating their facebook status during the viewing, muttered about whether they could ask for their money back.  Moaning about a film is the least interesting thing you can do (even when the film is genuinely terrible).  Discovering lost masterpieces, passionately advocating for personal favourites, speaking up for the underdog are some of the most delightful aspects of cinephilia.

This is not the most appropriate introduction to a list of favourite Michael Mann films, given the absolute adoration in which he is held by many (mainly male) cinephiles, but when I saw Miami Vice it grabbed my heart and I could not for one second understand why it had been so critically neglected upon release (a critical consensus that I shamefully heeded at the time).  The film has become a call to arms, one of the clearest indicators of the way ahead for cinema in the 21st Century.  I’m not spoiling things by saying it is one of my favourite films of all time.

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  1. Collateral (2004)

 

Mann has long explored the dedication to which some men hand over to their professions.  Here, that dedication overwhelms even the most benign of daydreams.  Jamie Foxx is a fantasist; in Mann’s world if he was meant to own a limousine, he would do so already.  His words are not reflected in actions (a key defining characteristic of Mann’s protagonists, often identified by their refusal to use contractions in speech).  That honour is given to Tom Cruise’s contract killer – defined as atagonistic to Foxx.  In Collateral, Mann takes the dual leads of Heat and places them in opposition.  Instead of equals, the killer holds the position of power, not only through the threat of violence, but through his wealth and the oppressiveness that this brings him as he occupies the role of consumer.  He manipulates the idle dreams of the working man, using his financial dominance to move Foxx into compromising his integrity.  He dies, defeated not through any implicit physical superiority, but by running out of bullets.  His wealth is spent.  The digital filmmaking is sometimes overstated on this film, but does allow for some extraordinary moments when nature disrupts the frame.  Some things cannot be bought.

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  1. Heat (1995)

There’s a whole film within this film about the desperate, miserable relationship between Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) and his wife Justine (Hanna).  It contains some of my favourite writing by Mann, as he explores the collateral damage wrought by the dedication Pacino has to his career.  “You live among the remains of dead people,” she tells him trying to communicate with him how he looks at her like she’s a ghost, and later, “This isn’t life.  This is leftovers.”  It is a brutal exploration of how living with murder robs a person of their essence, their ability to connect with others.  In the end, all they see are cadavers.  The fact that this is not the heart of the film, and just one of many small elements, shows how complex the construct of this film is (perhaps due to the fact that this is one of those few occasions where a filmmaker was giving the material a second shot, here a few years after the TV movie L.A. Takedown).  It goes without saying that the downtown shooting is as extraordinary as action cinema ever got.

 

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  1. Thief (1981)

 

Mann’s superb examination of how the individual can struggle to survive in the face of a corporation has an obliqueness of image and sound that belies the genre trappings in which it operates.  There is an emotional honesty, a directness, to the work that is quite charming.  Ultimately, the individual can survive, but only through a level of self-delusion.  They have been bought, their values destroyed by simply operating within a capitalist marketplace.  We all know this – I write this typing on a computer, wearing clothes that are accessible only through slave labour.  Mann tried to show the universality of James Caan’s predicament by applying a fantastical Tangerine Dream soundtrack; the fact that the film, packaged and commercialised as the movie industry does so often, was simplified into a neon-lit, rain-drenched neo-noir speaks to how pervading corporations are.  They even bought this film’s truth.

 

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  1. Manhunter (1986)

 

‘It’s you and me now sport.’ mutters Will Graham (William Petersen) as he looks through a reflection that he no longer recognises.  In Mann’s greatest exploration of the fragility of mental health, Graham’s complete empathy for the sick and murderous becomes a virus, one that consumes his very notion of who he is and what and why he loves.  Mann never shies from displaying horror; he does not protect us and deny us the full extent of man’s capacity for destruction.  Death is everywhere.  He knows how the deliberate constructs we create to help us find peace, those of family and responsibility, can be disrupted by the sadistic impulses of the deranged.  It is a violence we cannot escape, and one we relentlessly vicariously explore through the movies.  Manhunter is the greatest exploration of this impulse committed to celluloid.

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  1. Miami Vice (2006)

And here, Mann’s opposes that view, by exploring how family and responsibility can be disrupted by complete, uncontrollable love.  It is a film of moments; of glances and touch and micro-gestures that betray the true emotions we seek to bury.  Filmed with an immediacy, a kaleidoscopic montage of alien colour and stolen looks, Mann shows how little we are able to control the world around us.  For a man who is so dedicated, so knowledgeable, so prepared for the films he makes, he has tirelessly delved into the brutality of existence, and the fact that we cannot keep these little castles we build in life forever.  The film shone the way forward; it showed us that we were capable of extracting narrative from flashes of images and meaning from half-formed words.  He created a panoramic world, one where culture and geographical location was simultaneously the most and least important thing.  And no one listened.  The lessons were never learned.  We couldn’t let go.

It’s important to note that at one point every Michael Mann fan has watched The Keep (1983) hoping to find a neglected masterpiece.  It’s not.