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Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)
I've always loved 'Die Hard 2: Die Harder' and not just for the tongue-in-cheek flair of the subtitle. I'm not saying it's better than the first near-perfect classic but it's close enough that I really have to think about it. I probably watched this more than the original when I was a teen, perhaps because it just seemed to be on TV at Christmas more. Double the budget gives a bigger scale, larger canvas, higher stakes, wall-to-wall action, blockbuster FX and glossier cinematography. Okay the script is a pretty obvious rehash of the first film, rushed out within a year of 'Die Hard' but it's one of those cases where if this was the only 'Die Hard', people would hail it as a masterpiece of the action genre and not dismiss it as an imitation (which it is). It's actually got the chutzpah to wink at the audience with the "How can the same sh*t happen to the same guy twice!?" line. This time I was appreciating how "Hong Kong" the action scenes looked and sounded. Especially the "annex skywalk" sequence with squibs and bodies flying everywhere, 10 bullets when 1 would've done and McClaine doing those 'The Killer' type moves. I also hadn't noticed the 'Jaws' vibe to the plot, with Dennis Franz's airport police chief Lorenzo as "the mayor of shark city" to McClane's 'Brody'. Although he's more likeable because you can sympathise with all the provocation McClane throws at him and he does have the guts to admit he's wrong in the end. All the characters are equally well defined (or cliched but in a good way), the plucky young reporter, the stern control tower boss, the kooky janitor and the sassy stewardess. Tweaked a bit more and they'd be into 'Airplane!'s"Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue" territory. The best support and comic relief comes from the sparring between William Atherton's amoral reporter and Bonnie Bedelia's Holly.
The villains aren't on anywhere near the same level, writing and acting wise, as Alan Rickman's 'Hans Gruber' but they make up for that in the greater threat posed. One example being the story beat where Gruber shoots 'Mr.Takagi', is replaced here with William Sadler deliberately murdering a plane full of delightfully British families arriving for Christmas, just to prove a point. Gruber's gang are just after money, posing as terrorists threatening one room of coked-up executives, these guys are actually terrorists prepared to kill thousands, free a murderous dictator and change the world order. The pre-911 airport security is ridiculous but the terrorists do comment on it's laxity. Like the first movie, McClaine operates as the inverted antagonist, for the meticulously planned operation of the protagonist bad guys. You almost feel sorry for them, as he starts mucking up all their schedule the instant they step foot into the airport. I loved the moment when an exasperated official asks McClaine "What are you gonna do?!?" and he just replies "Whatever I can" it's low-key every-man action-hero gold. The "Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker!" line hits so hard when McClane casually takes out a jumbo-jet with his Zippo lighter.
Fear and Desire (1953)
The limited funds for Stanley Kubrick's first feature were raised from his uncle, other family and friends. It's an anti-war drama shot entirely in the place many no-budget movies go... the woods. Soldiers of one unidentified nation, try to survive behind the enemy lines of another unidentified nation. This is both a comment on the meaninglessness of war and a handy way to not have to bother with expensive and accurate uniforms for the actors. Some of the editing is very ropey, the quality of acting is inconsistent and the post-sync sound is rough too. I'm not surprised Kubrick the perfectionist was a bit embarrassed by this relatively sloppy first effort and allegedly sought to have copies destroyed, saying it was "a bumbling amateur film exercise". Still, you can tell there is the brain and eye of an artist at work in the way violent killings are intercut with a meal being dashed onto the floor, or in the way Kubrick's camera films a terrorised girl and in the bold choice to have the same actors play the protagonists and antagonists (another money saver). This one is only for completists of Kubrick's filmography.
Included on the Fear and Desire blu-ray were Kubrick's three newsreel shorts...
Day of the Fight (1951)
A Stanley Kubrick 12-minute black & white docu-drama newsreel about New York middleweight boxer Walter Cartier preparing for a fight. The direction is mostly unremarkable and Cartier looks uncomfortable pretending to be himself for the camera. The actual fight is well shot in a pre-'Raging Bull' type of way.
Flying Padre (1951)
A Stanley Kubrick 9-minute black & white docu-drama newsreel about Catholic priest Fred Stadtmueller who ministers to his remote parishioners via his light aircraft. Although it's about the life of a real guy it looks very phoney and staged. Only the final long receding tracking shot gives a glimpse of Kubrick's future direction.
The Seafarers (1953)
A Stanley Kubrick 30-minute colour puff-piece documentary made for and about the 'Seafarers International Union' (SIU). It was filmed between 'Fear and Desire' and 'Killer's Kiss', to raise money for the latter. The narration grates due to it stating the name of the SIU to an almost ridiculous extreme like "At the SIU, members of the SIU meet in the SIU hall to discuss SIU business with SIU officials". You'll be left in no doubt as to the glorious wonders of the SIU! Despite that, this was the only one of Kubrick's three shorts that I actually enjoyed because it's a fascinating 30-minute window into a place, a time and a group of people I didn't know before.
^I've always thought people were pretty harsh on this film, but after re-watching last year, a lot of the criticism clicked for me. Part of the great appeal of the first film is a lot of what you mention that's different here. McClane ISN'T an action hero, jumping sideways with two guns and so on. And it's NOT a huge film with one guy taking down military commandos. Die Hard has a stripped down location, villains who would be happy to ignore him if possible, and a hero who doesn't care about looking cool. Die Harder is much more cookie-cutter action fare that succeeds because Willis and co. pull it off DESPITE the key differences from the first film, not because of them. (This is from a guy who worships the first film and watches it every Christmas though, so take my opinion for what you will.)
I'll agree with you that they handle Holly and the reporter really well though, actually an improvement from the first film!
^ The first 'Die Hard' is indeed "a perfect movie" (my review: https://letterboxd.com/tm2yc/film/die-hard/) but I do love the first sequel. The rest of the series goes down hill exponentially IMO. 3 is fantastic until the weak last act (both versions), 4 is barely tolerable and 5 is an atrocity.
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The Fountain (2006)
Sorry Darren Aronofsky fans but I found this third feature from him to be boring and pretentious twaddle about religion, death, love, immortality, or something? Hugh Jackman plays a 16th Century conquistador, a present day scientist and a lone tattooed bald man in the far future travelling through space in a transparent sphere with a tree in it... all who are in some way obsessing over Rachel Weisz (entirely understandable), who plays a Spanish Queen and the scientist's dying wife. Normally I love both actors but here they each seem to be engaged in a contest of overacting, out doing each other scene-by-scene. There's lots of shouting, throwing papers on the floor, smashing objects etc to subtly convey their inner feelings. The golden Cinematography by Matthew Libatique all looks stunningly beautiful, it's got some cool transitions and it's visually and narratively very creative, so if you are prepared to go with the heightened melodrama, you might be very taken by the film.
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The Ward (2010)
After 2001's 'Ghosts of Mars' in which John Carpenter appeared to not just have lost his mojo but had completely forgotten how to make movies all together. So it's a relief that his return to the Director's chair with 'The Ward' is at least technically well handled, displaying the artful scope compositions he's known for and I was glad to see he still shot it on 35mm, a decade after digital had arrived. However, it's all pretty unremarkable and feels similar to other mental-hospital set Horror/Thriller movies (e.g. 'Shutter Island' from the same year). The cast are mostly fine, lead by Amber Heard, the build toward the twist ending is well handled (although somewhat predictable) and the way the "monster" appeared to have black worms crawling under it's skin was really icky. It'd be nice if Carpenter's illustrious film career had gone out on a higher note than this satisfactory movie but it was better than ending with the sh*t-show that was 'Ghosts of Mars'. I'm looking forward to listening to the commentary Carpenter did with actor Jared Harris... JC commentaries are usually a real treat!
Face (1997) Antonia Bird's British gangster drama is kind of 'Brassed Off' meets 'Reservoir Dogs'. Robert Carlyle is a former left-wing campaigner, who has given up his principles in the "New Labour" era and turned bank robber. After a job doesn't quite come off and the loot is stolen his gang played by Ray Winstone, Steven Waddington and Philip Davis begin to suspect each other. The four men are really interesting characters full of contradictions, unexpected little quirks and different views of the society they operate in. The performances are all solid but it's Phil Davis' unpredictable Julian that steals the show. The jukebox Britrock and drum'n'bass soundtrack is a bit dated now but the twists of the plot and heated drama still hold up. 'Face' has a lot more to say than your average cockney gangster genre flick and arrived a year before 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' re-popularised this type of film. I hope this gets a Widescreen HD transfer someday because the SD pan&scan copy I watched looked poor.
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ToryBoy The Movie (2011)
Life-long UK Labour Party voter and film-maker John Walsh took a break from making Ray Harryhausen documentaries/books to try and get elected as the Conservative Party (aka "Tory" Party) candidate for the Northern English city of Middlesbrough in the 2010 General Election. It's a place that has always voted Labour and maybe always will, so perhaps inevitably he finds the 30-year incumbent candidate Sir Stuart Bell is complacent, arrogant and so absent and unaccountable that he doesn’t even bother to turn up to election debates. Despite Bell's thuggish son being caught stealing from the taxpayer and the rundown nature of the constituency he still gets elected every time. Walsh mostly takes on this "David vs. Goliath" challenge with a softly-spoken, good-natured determination and ironic wit but frustration with what he finds does occasionally bubble over into anger. 'ToryBoy The Movie' is a comedic documentary very much in the Michael Moore mould. Considering this was conceived and filmed before the Tory victory in 2010, Brexit in 2016 and Labour's absolute drubbing in 2019, it looks very prescient and "finger on the pulse" stuff, when you accidentally chance upon it on Amazon Prime 9-years later.
A rewatch of '1917' on the 100th anniversary of the burial of the "Unknown Warrior" in Westminster Abbey. On the first viewing, you couldn't help but notice the many bodies of soldiers abandoned and littering the battlefield, almost unidentifiable as humans in the mud and rubble. It's shocking, especially reflecting on a day like this. Some films you forget bits after a while, even if you love them but I could still remember every moment from '1917', I'd don't know if that's because it's truly memorable, or a side-effect of the continuos one-shot (ish) construction. Thomas Newman's wallpaper score really grated on this 2nd viewing. It's like a videogame soundtrack that ramps up and down in time with your actions (coupled with the already game-like visual style). So as I knew what was about to happen this time, I could just hear the score building towards those moments, telling you exactly when to feel something and when to relax, it totally destroys all tension. I'd love to hear this movie with no score, just the haunting sounds of the desolate landscape. Again I thought the one-shot device was wasted in the second half, along with the lack of forward momentum but by then you've bought into following the main character.
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Director Francois Truffaut's 1966 book of the same name and the preparatory interviews he made with fellow director Alfred Hitchcock, form the starting point for this documentary about Hitchcock's filmography. It's a bit loose and directionless but the discussions are all fascinating. It would've worked better if they'd stuck closer to the original interview format, ditched the talking-heads from other directors, used more voice-over and hadn't entirely skipped over many significant and formative Hitchcock milestones like 'The 39 Steps', 'Rebecca', 'Lifeboat', 'Strangers on a Train' etc.
2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)
I was never that big a fan of '2001: A Space Odyssey' so this patchy sequel isn't that far below the Stanley Kubrick one for me but for different reasons. Story wise it makes an illuminating companion piece, completing and explaining some of the more oblique plot points of the first one. The developments to the HAL9000 story are really interesting, emotional and dramatic and put a totally different but satisfyingly logical spin on the events of the first. Most of the film takes place aboard the Soviet spaceship 'Alexei Leonov', which is sent to Jupiter to investigate the disappearance of the 'Discovery', nine years earlier. Roy Scheider leads a trio of American astronauts (including HAL's designer) in cooperation with the Russians (featuring Helen Mirren as the Leonov's Captain, in her Hollywood debut), just as the "Cold War" is heating up back on earth. The interplay between the two groups, sometimes distrusting, sometimes warm and friendly, sometimes just pragmatic, is really good. I love the utilitarian design of the 'Leonov' exterior and not just because it was the basis for the cool 'Omega Class Destroyers' in my favourite TV show 'Babylon 5'.
The closing monologue is rather beautiful and full of promise. Unfortunately that ending is perhaps the only bit that manages to be as poetic, enigmatic and expansive as Kubrick's film. The FX, some of the interior designs, the build quality of the sets and costumes, range wildly from good, to barely acceptable, to just plain bad and look a bit embarrassing next to the perfection of Kubrick and Douglas Trumbull's visuals. Some early CGI was utilised which might explain some of the mismatch in the composited elements, some grainy and sharp, some smooth and fuzzy. The black levels are often all over the place between the different FX elements, destroying visual cohesion. The spacesuits and interiors are b-movie level and the attempts at simulating zero-G don't work. The actors look like they are in pain and struggling in the rigs, things that should be hidden by editing. Perhaps the lack of polish is down to Director Peter Hyams also acting as Producer, Writer and crucially, Cinematographer, when another pair of eyes was needed for quality control. On a side note, I really appreciated that the blu-ray retained a vintage "Diamond Jubilee" MGM studio card (even though it looked like sh*t), instead of replacing it with a clean, modern, digital one. It's a nice bit of film history.
I think somebody could make an ambitious combination fanedit of 2001 & 2010 intercut together. For example, when the 2010 characters board the deserted Discovery, we move backwards in time to see how it became deserted, or when HAL is powered back up, it's blended with him powering down, or the 2010 explanation of HAL's behaviour, could directly follow him killing the crew in 2001. You'd have to edit out the scenes featuring characters that were recast but those scenes probably aren't essential anyway.
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Body Bags (1993)
This John Carpenter anthology horror is worth seeing just for Carpenter's own linking performance as a cadaverous coroner dropping blackly comic jokes and twisted puns about the stiffs in his morgue. He introduces three tales, two from himself and one by Tobe Hooper. 'The Gas Station' is a really effective and simple setup about a college girl working a night shift at a petrol station, terrorised by a serial killer but also just by the weirdos and misfits who are up at that time wanting fuel and smokes. 'Hair' is the most interesting of the three, featuring a self-conscious balding man, who tries out a new miracle hair growth treatment, with freaky results. Hooper's segment 'Eye' isn't as good, featuring a very predictable horror plot "man gets transplant but... surprise! It's possessed by a killer". The fact that it stars Mark Hamill as a man who receives a facial injury in a traffic accident, threatening his career, unless he can have restorative surgery, is pretty close to Hamill's real life. The whole thing is packed with other famous actors in small roles and funny little cameos by Horror movie stars, such as Wes Craven, Sam Raimi, David Naughton, Sheena Easton, David Warner, Greg Nicotero, Deborah Harry, Twiggy and Roger Corman. It feels like everybody involved including Carpenter had a blast making this.
Killer's Kiss (1955) 'Killer's Kiss' was Stanley Kubrick's first studio film (for United Artists), after his self-financed and disowned 1953 debut. He still acted as director, co-producer, co-writer, editor and cinematographer. It's clearly done on a modest budget, runs to only 67-minutes, includes no stars (that I recognised), has some occasionally rough post-synced sound and one or two rough edits. However, Kubrick is already using his trademark symmetrical compositions, long tracking shots and his Noir lighting is stunning in every shot, so it doesn't look like a B-movie. The simple story is about two sad-eyed big city losers who make a connection, a defeated Boxer and a beautiful girl working in a seedy dancehall, after he intervenes between her and her violent boss. There are some distinct touches like Kubrick shooting through a broken picture on the wall, or doing a dream sequence in negative (which has echoes of his later "stargate" scene), or the fight in a mannequin factory, or having the heroine narrate the story of her sister's suicide, accompanied only with footage of the sister ballet dancing on a spotlit stage. Gerald Fried's Jazz score adds to a feeling of melancholy and shattered dreams. Apparently the studio insisted on a more upbeat ending but it felt just right to me and earned by the characters, so perhaps they were right? I think this film might be more celebrated if it wasn't a mere footnote in the career of a director who went on to bigger and better things.
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As the original story of 'Noah' is essentially "1. Build Ark, 2. Profit", writer/director Darren Aronofsky fills his film with as much incident, false jeopardy and half-baked inter-personal conflict as he can. All the problems he puts in the way of the characters, play out for as long as they are needed to fill a gap in screen time, then he solves them with magic. He doesn't stick to his own established internal logic, he's quite a poor director of action, the dialogue is leaden and cliched and the characters are one note. The leaf-based pregnancy test is unintentionally hilarious. It's mostly done in the style of the 'Lord of the Rings' films, which was a bad choice in my opinion. Aronofsky's talents would've better suited a more poetic, phantasmagorical approach, it probably could've been done without dialogue. The "let there be light" animated evolution sequence is so stunningly beautiful and creative that I'd recommend sitting through the rest just to see it. When he lets his imagination lose it works best, the physically tortured fallen angel/rock creatures looked great and it could've done with more dog/lizard hybrids.
A Hidden Life. The true story of an Austrian farmer, Franz Jägerstätter, who becomes a conscientious objector to the Nazis in 1943 due to his Catholic beliefs. I must admit I was distracted early on by the fact that it was filmed in the Italian Dolemites where we were this past summer (my own pictures of the Valley below). Then I was trying to place how I recognized the lead actor. I quickly remembered August Diehl as the excellent adversary to Fassbender in the cellar pub in Inglourious Basterds.
This movie was recommended to me by my father-in-law because we are living in Germany. But my wife is not a fan of Malick-esque films. Long lingering, mediative scenes? Nope, not her thing. But me, I like that kind of thing. So, despite the recommendation from HER dad it took a while for me to find the time to watch it without her. Though, as she caught glimpses of the movie, places we had been, she got sucked in and ended up watching it with me.
As one would expect with Malick, it is absolutely gorgeous to look at. Though it was not shot by regular Malick collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki but rather Jörg Widmer. They almost downplay the beauty of the Dolemites but it is still brilliantly shot with Malick’s trademark natural lighting. I admit I haven’t seen a Malick movie since Tree of Life, but this is definitely a return to more traditional filmmaking if what I’ve heard about the intervening movies is true. This follows a more or less traditional storyline. It feels like Malick but more like Thin Red Line Malick. The lingering camerawork, the natural lighting, the breathy, poetic voiceover is all there. But it feels like a traditional narrative.
It is absolutely the best depiction I’ve seen relating how good people could stand by while the Nazis did what they did. The hero of this movie, Franz, is a hero because he is incredibly brave and strong in resistance of the Nazis. And we feel that because we also feel how tempting it is to look the other way, to save yourself. Highly recommended.
Black Swan (2010)
I think Natalie Portman is usually a bad actor, who seems to think crying hysterically is what it's all about, I never believe a word of it. It's probably what put me off watching this acclaimed Darren Aronofsky film for so long. Her role as Nina, a mentally and physically tortured ballet dancer requires a heck of a lot of crying, break downs and hysteria, so for once I thought she nailed it. There are definite parallel's with Powell and Pressburger's 'The Red Shoes', although this is more overtly a horror film. Injury to fingers, toes and especially nails really disturbs me and 'Black Swan' has a lot of it and a general theme of self-harming. That and the simmering sexual harassment threat from Vincent Cassel's creepy ballet impresario, had my stomach in knots all the way through. The black against white production design is dazzling, the subtle CGI body-horror looks totally real (and unreal at the same time) and the decision to shoot scope but on 16mm, gives the film a widescreen glamour, mixed with a documentary low-budget grit. Aronofsky resists confirming for the viewer what, if anything, is real, through the paranoid delusions of Nina. I think the film failed to convey why Nina actually wants to be a top ballet dancer so desperately, against all opposition and misery, it's just something you have to go with.
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Someone's Watching Me! (1978) John Carpenter wrote and directed this horror TV movie for WB/NBC a couple of weeks before starting on 'Halloween'. The music and Saul Bass style opening credits announce this is going for an Alfred Hitchcock vibe, well before we get into the 'Rear Window' type plot. Lauren Hutton plays Leigh, an LA live-TV director living in a high-rise apartment, who becomes the subject of stalking, phone calls and surveillance by an unknown man in the building opposite. Carpenter cleverly establishes early on that Leigh is a quirky character who jokes to herself and talks out loud, so it feels natural as she narrates what is happening in the scenes where she is all alone. To mirror the theme of a voyeur observing her, Carpenter often shows random men around Leigh observing her when she's not looking and has her being subjected to tiresome low-level sexual harassment in the workplace. Carpenter kept me guessing right 'til the end who the antagonist was, plus who he wasn't. If it didn't have flat TV lighting and included an ominous Carpenter synth score, this could've been up there with his very best.
Dark Waters (2019)
If you're the type of person who is paranoid and worried about the effect of things like drinking water, air pollution, phone signals, processed foods and additives on your health, then this legal-thriller/horror-movie will probably tip you over the edge. It tells the story of corporate environmental attorney Robert Bilott's battle to expose the DuPont chemical company's (and 3M's) knowledge of the hazardous side-effects of the chemicals used in the manufacture of Teflon (and other products). Something that practically every human on the planet has in their blood now. The passage of time is portrayed particularly well through little details and changes to society around the main characters. This is actually Mark Ruffalo's 2nd DuPont based film after 2014's 'Foxcatcher', where he played wrestler Dave Schultz, who was murdered by DuPont's heir. Ruffalo's understated, internalised acting style is terrific as usual but casting Anne Hathaway as his wife was a mistake because she's very melodramatic, the exact opposite to him. I get that the film is supposed to look dark, sickly and green, as if the medium itself has been poisoned but it was too dark for me, I could barely tell what was happening in some shots. I liked the way some of the supporting characters didn't play up to the conventions of this type of "uncovering the truth" legal genre film, they actually seemed like real people.
The Devil We Know (2018)
This documentary makes a good companion piece to Todd Haynes' 'Dark Waters', filling in a few more details, featuring many of the same real people and largely backing up everything that film portrayed. The most shocking parts are the on-tape depositions with DuPont lawyers and executives. The level of cynicism is extraordinary, at one point they are squeamish about reading out a swear word, even though it's from a sentence they themselves wrote in a DuPont document, along the lines of "F**k the guy who is complaining because we fatally poisoned him". The title is taken from a DuPont internal memo suggesting that although they knew the discussed chemicals were killing people, they're "The Devil We Know" because if they withdrew them, they could end up replacing them with something even more toxic (the title of course has other meanings). Again it's not the kind of film you want to watch if you don't want to start panicking about every product in your house.
I'm not a fan of the low-contrast murky look and wholly unnecessary use of CGI in David Fincher's films beginning with 'Zodiac' and 'Panic Room'. However, he can sure martial an engrossing, complicated, sprawling, forensic, ensemble, period crime drama, with total authority. 'Zodiac' is like 'All the President's Men' meets 'The Silence of the Lambs', chronicling the hunt for the titular real-life serial killer, although it's less about that investigation and more about it's heavy cost on the men tasked with finding the killer. It all appears well researched and fact based from what I've read. Jake Gyllenhaal plays newspaper cartoonist turned amateur sleuth Robert Graysmith (who wrote the book that the film is based on), Robert Downey Jr. plays loose-cannon crime reporter Paul Avery and Mark Ruffalo plays police investigator Dave Toschi. Gyllenhaal is all nervous energy and Downey is off-the-chart as only he can be but it's Ruffalo's more subtle, determination that held my attention most. Fincher and screen-writer James Vanderbilt somehow succeed in making the story of an unsolved mystery feel completely satisfying in the end. I liked this film on the first watch and I liked it even more this time. The only criticism is with Chloe Sevigny's character. She's relegated to the "whiny unsupportive wife of the selfless male hero" trope, mostly just standing in back of shot, rolling her eyes and looking pissed off, although I understand the marital strife in question is based in fact.
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The Love Witch (2016)
Apparently this erotic black-comedy was one of the latest and last films to actually be shot, processed, printed, exhibited and physically cut on 35mm film. Director Anna Biller also wrote, produced, did the music, sewed the costumes and built the props, it's crazy! The look is like nothing else made this century, Biller and cinematographer M. David Mullen perfectly recreate the contrasty lighting and powerful colours of a 1960s Roger Corman, or Mario Bava film and they go to the extent of using vintage rear projection photography for the driving scenes. It goes beyond just the visuals, the actors also perform in the style of that era, they even throw punches in a 1960s way and Biller uses a harpsichord and bossa nova soundtrack. Star Samantha Robinson is amazing and mesmeric, as is Gian Keys as her love interest, a chisel-jawed cop hilariously called 'Griff Meadows'. Robinson plays the title character, 'Elaine' a witch trying to attract a man with her spells, while semi-accidentally committing a few murders along the way. 'The Love Witch' features a discourse on feminist sexuality, intercut with a burlesque strip show, naked magick rituals and a fanciful wedding at a Renaissance fair. I've been wanting to see this for ages and I'm glad I did, even if I didn't understand everything it was trying to say.
The Assistant. This is a love it or hate it movie, with most critics falling into the former category and most audience members the latter. I’m with the critics on this one. Taking place over a single excruciating work day in the office of clear surrogate for Harvey Weinstein (though never seen nor mentioned by name), we follow the activities of Jane, the lowliest of his employees. Played to perfection by Julia Garner, a standout in the Netflix series Ozark, Jane is an aspiring producer locked in a demeaning job. She is not a victim of her boss’s sexual predation, but rather a victim of insidious manipulation. She wants to do the right thing and she knows that almost everything around her is wrong, but she’s also ambitious and seemingly alone with her coworkers laughing off their boss’s behavior. I was reminded of the Enron documentary The Smartest Guys in the Room by how characters just laugh in the face of activities they clearly know are wrong.
I’m going to put the rest in spoiler tags.
The climax comes in the form of Jane’s visit to HR. The way it unfolds is just amazing and the HR exec is played perfectly by Matthew Macfayden. It almost seems like something from a horror movie. In fact it could easily be a Jordan Peele-esque horror film if it wasn’t so frighteningly real. The phone call with her father that follows is so heartbreaking I could barely take it.
My only small complaint is that by making this a Weinstein surrogate, we focus solely on that case rather than on the fact that this sort of behavior is all-too-common.
It is stark and slow (which is crazy for a 90 minute movie) and uncomfortable, but it is brilliantly made and acted and one of the best movies of recent years.
The Clovehitch Killer (2018)
The title and promotion kinda suggests this is going to be some sort of cheap Blumhouse-type jump-scare horror film but it's a actually a really high quality, provocative, psychological drama. Charlie Plummer plays the son of a small-town Kentucky Scout leader in a very Christian neighbourhood but slowly he begins to suspect his father might be a serial killer. Dylan McDermott performs the father to perfection, the more he plays him as wholesome and kind, the more sinister he appears. The film raising questions of whether his conservative Christian faith has effected the father positively, or negatively. Director Duncan Skiles uses long takes, a still camera and cinematic compositions. 'The Clovehitch Killer' switches gear halfway through, which really ups the drama and certainly drops the jaw but it also dissipated the riveting suspense I was enjoying up to that point.
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Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992)
Another one of John Carpenter's later critical and commercial failures, although I thought this was actually pretty good. It was a Chevy Chase vehicle that he'd been trying to make for 5 or 6 years with Ivan Reitman attached. The sticking point might have been Chase's desire to play it seriously, when he was known as a comic, so unsurprisingly there are some tonal problems. I found it hard to tell if the ever present throwback Noir voiceover is meant ironically, or genuinely... but I think it's the latter. Chase does play Nick (the victim of a lab accident) very well and the overall tone is quite dark and concerned with the existential terror and problematic nature of being invisible to others and oneself, so the sporadic goofy humour is off putting. For example, there's an impressive FX shot of Nick running on a beach where we can only see his sweatband and running gear. A funny visual but it's a comedy cutaway inserted into a whole sequence of scenes about him trying to keep hidden and evade capture, so it feels disconnected and makes no sense. All the FX are very cool and inventive, especially the building that is randomly half visible, half invisible. Sam Neill is brilliantly creepy as a shadowy government agent trying to track Nick, to use him as a spy asset, or just dissect him. 'Memoirs of an Invisible Man' is either a drama with too many jokes, or a comedy with too few jokes... either way it's a thought provoking and entertaining 'North by Northwest' type adventure. I don't think it deserved to bomb as badly as it did.
Always had a soft spot for Memoirs growing up. I agree that tonally its not quite right, as its clear (like you said) they didn't know how to approach the film properly. If they had gone all in on the comedy it might have been better received, though I feel Chevy gives one of his better performances in the film and Daryl Hannah goes a good job as the romantic lead throughout. As mentioned, Sam Neil is definitely the stand out in the film, almost sort of a Robert Stack-like performance that gives the government character a little edge.
Feels Good Man (2020)
A documentary about the softly spoken, sweet natured, slightly naive cartoonist Matt Furie, the creator of a comic series called 'Boy's Club' that features a frog called 'Pepe'. Matt's a hippy-ish, family man (he reminded me a bit of Daniel Johnston somehow) so he was horrified to discover his beloved character was being used as a meme by neo-Nazis. The film follows his attempts to understand how this happened, learn more about intellectual property law and discover what, if anything, he can do personally to stop it. I thought the question of why the hell tech companies are just allowed to let this kind of open law breaking (never mind the horrible abuse) happen on their platforms with little to no response from governments wasn't properly addressed. 'Feels Good Man' is a stark warning about how lawless and crazy the internet is, where people can make huge sums off of a character they don't own but the actual creator somehow loses money. The animations in the doc (which I assume are directed by Furie?) are really beautiful.
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Holmes & Watson (2018)
I thought the trailer was funny, I love all things 'Sherlock Holmes' and I really liked Will Ferrell's last movie 'Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga', so I still quite fancied watching this one despite the 10% Rotten Tomatoes score. You certainly can't fault the beautiful costumes and set design, rendering a glamorous version of Victorian London but everything else is a mess. Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly's English accents are terrible, even Kelly Macdonald's Scottish accent sounds shaky... and she's Scottish! Most of the humour aims very low but there are enough funny moments to make it fun. I liked Watson repeatedly offering people Heroin/Cocaine like they were a cup of tea and him whipping a pistol out at the slightest provocation, the mickey-takes of the Robert Downey Jr. style time-freezing was well done and the "oh look it's Billy Zane!" moment in the Titanic scene was so silly it made me chuckle. The laziness of the writing is obvious in the way it ignores the basic ideas of how Holmes solves crimes (wild theories are the opposite of his method) and them sticking Queen Victoria onboard the Titanic, when a basic grasp of history would tell you she died over a decade before it was constructed.
Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)
Between 'Assault on Precinct 13' and 'Halloween', John Carpenter had this script directed by Irvin Kershner, which was pre-viewed by George Lucas, convincing him that Kershner was right for 'The Empire Strikes Back'. Faye Dunaway plays a top fashion photographer who controversially styles her models in violent crime scene poses, taken from visions she claims to be having of a serial killer's POV. It's very much an American "Giallo", with the unseen slasher and large cast of all too plausible suspects. Great actors like Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif, Rene Auberjonois and Raul Julia all had enough mystery and duality about their performances to make me totally convinced they were the killer at various points, plus a few others and of course Dunaway is a suspect herself. The 70s fashions and haircuts on display are jaw droppingly awful. 42-years later, it was difficult to tell if they were supposed to be absurd, crass and vulgar, or genuinely desirable and cutting edge 1978 chic (or both?). New York itself looks like a rotting cesspool, with the actors having to jump over piles of rubbish to get about and even the panoramic view from Laura's high-end waterside apartment is obscured by windows streaked with scum. I do enjoy movies set in this 'Taxi Driver' era NY. 'Eyes of Laura Mars' is a really sharply written, directed and edited thriller.
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Circus of Books (2020)
Director Rachel Mason's Netflix documentary about the lives of her parents, leading up to the final closure of their West Hollywood book store. No ordinary store, "Circus of Books" was a hardcore gay pornography vendor and cruising spot, improbably owned by this quiet looking couple, one of which was a member of a conservative Synagogue. It's a reminder that the 60s counter culture freaks are pensioners now, so that little elderly couple you see on the bus just might have once been a porn distributor, worked with Larry Flint, been raided by the FBI, did FX work on 'Star Trek' and '2001: A Space Odyssey' and hung out with Jim Morrison! 'Circus of Books' is a wonderful, uplifting film about family and humanity and how you can find really good, thoroughly decent people in the most unexpected places. I loved that Mason didn't remove herself from the story of her family, her crying during the interview with her brother and her mother repeatedly criticising her film-making decisions, were some lovely, very human moments. There have been some damn fine documentaries this year but this might be the best one.