Spike Lee directs Denzel Washington, Ray Allen and Rosario Dawson in this basketball movie where a convict is given a week out of prison to persuade his estranged son to sign up to a certain college’s team.
A seemingly forgotten movie which is a true shame as it sees Denzel and Spike doing some of their best work in the moments. It is a celebration of basketball. Untethered to plot and reality at points but always transfixing. Some experiments work better than others; the mix of Public Enemy and orchestral work by Aaron Copeland means the soundtrack is never hidden away in the background. The finale embraces the mythic and the epic in a way that is truly affecting. Only Milla Jovovich’s subplot as a sad hooker ruins the flavour. She cannot match the calibre of Denzel’s powerhouse and their scenes together drag. I think Spike included her to offer some redemption to his lead’s crime against his wife but it just doesn’t click and would have benefited from being hacked out. Minor gripe as most of this is powerful stuff and a love letter to the young athletes who make the sport.
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett direct Melissa Barrera, Jack Quaid and Jenna Ortega in this late sequel to the self aware slasher phenomenon where a new series of murders pull characters new and old back to Woodsboro.
I like scary movies and I love Scream movies. This scratched a slasher itch in a way little has over the last decade. The new director team really understand the slow menacing physicality of Ghostface, the sad power that impassive plastic face has when it is inches from you, being the last thing you see before the final knife stabs in. The whodunnit aspect was solid, it certainly looked like a Scream movie and I chuckled at the self referential stuff. Nothing too unpredictable happens and the set pieces lacked Wes Craven’s mastery of the form but they were impish rehashes of what we need from this series. It would be unfair to accuse a Scream episode of being too self aware but the winks to the originals play better with the fanbase than the slightly clunky “re-quel” commentary. It is admirable how effortlessly this tries to reset the format back to what worked in 1996 when the rule book was celebrated and canonised. If this is your first visit to the cinema to watch a Scream I reckon you’ll have almost as big a blast as I did when I was teenager. The returning players are cleverly rationed carefully throughout the later sequences, giving the newcomers a chance to shine early on. David Arquette’s Dewey proves MVP again with a decent amount of meaningful screentime. The killers are probably the highlights of the new cast but I’d happily see the survivors try and carry Number 6 on their own and let those old hands get on with their lives. Or at least have one spree off before being drafted back in.
Lana Wachowski directs Keanu Reeves, Jessica Henwick and Carrie-Anne Moss is this meta legacy sequel to the dystopian sci-fi trilogy where Thomas Anderson is a game designer forced to revisit The Matrix universe where he made is name.
Who’d have thunk the most coherent Matrix entry would be the most fun? I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t a tad bored in the middle, which still has that unsanitary blend of spectacle smothered in endless exposition, but the finale was slambang big screen entertainment. A remix of the original key kinetics with a lot more sheen and oomph. And even when the cyphers are prattling endlessly on at least nobody this time sounds like they’ve swallowed a thesaurus. Keanu and Carrie-Ann look fantastic for their age but Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris and even Jessica Henwick also manage to make a positive impression. Not being an ardent fan of this cycle of movies I’m not sure whether me saying “it was alright” really matters but… it was alright.
Paolo Sorrentino directs Toni Servillo, Anna Bonaiuto and Giulio Bosetti in this character study of corrupt Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti.
Cold and compelling central performance from Servillo. I don’t really know enough about Italian politics to follow all the characters we are introduced to but their abundance and grim fates at least let’s us know just how vast this corruption was. Information overload but how else do you tell a tale where one man’s grasp on every corner of the Italian system was so total. As you’d expect from Sorrentino, the movie looks like great art, there are moments of magical realism that really shake you. The soundtrack is particularly devilish, the montage where we are introduced to Andreotti’s inner circle is scored to a distant whistle and sounds ominous as fuck.
Steve Miner direct Bridget Fonda, Oliver Platt and Brendan Gleeson in this monster movie where a massive alligator terrorises some middle aged nerds.
The kinda monster movie where nobody wants to kill the predator. Operating just a quaver above what it can get away with. The script is just a smidge smarter than it needs to be, the cast just a smidge more established than is the norm, the jumps just a smidge more unexpected. It is not perfect and certainly never breaks form but you can have forgettable fun here.
Harold Ramis directs Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo and John Candy in this classic hit comedy where a disastrous all American family go on a road trip across the US of A.
Holiday ro-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oad! Massive affection for the first two movies. They were family favourites growing up despite the risqué content. This is a little less broad and a little more dusty than European but hits the spot all the same. Even when the gags fail, Chase and D’Angelo win you over with their energy and chemistry. Chevy is a clown screen actor with two settings… slapstick gormless and smug over confidence. Vacation leans into the former with still a unique pinch of the latter. Beverly must be the hottest ‘mom’ ever to play the wide eyed, big hearted straight man in this kind of endeavour. “Oh Sparky…”
Perfect Double Bill: National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985)
Robert Schwentke directs Jodie Foster, Peter Sarsgaaard and Sean Bean in this Hitchcockian thriller where a bereaved airplane designer’s daughter vanishes mid-flight and no-one on board believes her.
Jodie frantic, trapped, hoodwinked and resourceful. Slumming it in glossy sub-Hitchcock homages for big paydays. The paranoia of 9/11 is draped all over this, using new security procedures as a psychological assault course for Foster to contort through. You can’t help but love her even if this mystery gets stuck in a holding pattern quite soon after it takes a potent turn. The finale is nowhere near as intense as the set-up and there’s just too much dead air in the second act. Yet Flightplan proves an ideal hotel room movie, it passes the time with a slick appealing averageness. There’s a sterile luminescence to the lighting. Everything is illuminated but cold and way too smooth. Undemanding but Jodie always deserves better… always.
Bernardo Bertolucci directs Debra Winger, John Malkovich and Campbell Scott in this epic tale of an unfaithful American couple who travel off the map into the Algerian desert.
Not entirely sure this movie would have been made any time other than the early Nineties. Erotic but tasteful, epic but distant. That distance seems to cause issues for the fans of the book, a cult literary item by Paul Bowles who appears and narrates here. They expect an internal, metaphysical story but Bertolucci recreates the plot pretty much at face value. Incident without comment. You’d be hard pressed to say the cast are stretched. Winger and Malkovich are characters with no idea of what they want, no destination in mind, who carry further on into the wilderness and oblivion. Their blankness again is ambiguous and intriguing if you are approaching this fresh with no fealty to the source material’s grander themes. And the North African shoot looks fantastic. A glow of arid red and browns, tanned skins and shaggy camels. Orientalism – again a mode that was out of fashion only a few years later.
Wong Kar-wai directs Tony Leung Ka Fai, Leslie Cheung and Brigitte Lin in this Hong Kong martial arts adaptation where various assassins, their loves, employers and targets cross paths at a desert inn.
Best of luck following this. Beautiful but featuring only one very quickly pared down fight sequence. Made me realise that an egg in its own way is a birdcage. Not the deepest philosophical realisation ever but tells you where my mind was when I gave up trying to follow the half realised subplots.
Henri-Georges Clouzot directs Michel Auclair, Cécile Aubry and Serge Reggiani in this early French noir where a resistance fighter falls for a good time girl who strings him along in pursuit of a life of riches and immorality.
Strange little French thriller. It starts as a wartime romance and eventually becomes a near existential survival tale but in the main and in the middle it is a noir that avoids crime. Like I say… Strange. The central romance between the venal Manon and her naive suitor never solidifies. You certainly wouldn’t call it idyllic. The coquettish Cécile Aubry is a girly grifter but with just enough innocence for you to doubt her insincerity. No matter how beautiful she is, our sap protagonist (‘hero’ is definitely the wrong word) should check out after various first act alarm bells are rung. We find ourselves following an obssessed slave who must know in his heart of hearts he has been strung far far away from his resistance fighter ideals. Both by his amour and the urbane hustlers and predators she makes him fall in with. The sexual frankness and edging towards a moral oblivion recall what Hitchcock tried to do in his later career but struggled spectacularly to marry up to his long set in stone style. Then there’s the extended epilogue which openly references the plight of the Jewish refugees wading through the North African desert. So much sand is kicked up that is only tangentially related to what has gone before. It makes for a stark shocking finale that feels like it has arrived from a completely different movie. More Wages of Fear than Les Diaboliques. Personally I wish Clouzot focused on his pet themes of jealousy, kink and marital conspiracy. I know the other stuff here is iconic but it makes Manon way too unsettled a work to ever fully love.