This Means War (2012)

McG directs Tom Hardy, Chris Pine and Reese Witherspoon in this spy action comedy rom-com where two CIA spies, who clearly love each other, fight over the same civilian lady.

How could you cast THESE three leads and make such a dull, rote movie?


Perfect Double Bill: Knight & Day (2010)

My wife and I do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

A Page Of Madness (1926)

Teinosuke Kinugasa directs Masao Inoue, Ayako Iijima and Yoshie Nakagawa in this Japanese avant-garde drama about a guilt-stricken man who maintains a job at an asylum with hopes of being near his imprisoned wife.

Japanese silent movies were accompanied by benshi (live narrators) to help explain the plot. The streaming version of this movie had no such accompaniment and was damn near incomprehensible. Some haunting imagery saves it.


Perfect Double Bill: I’m A Cyborg But That’s OK (2006)

My wife and I do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

A League Of Their Own (1992)

Penny Marshall directs Geena Davis, Tom Hanks and Madonna in this period sports comedy about the WWII women’s baseball league set up to entertain the folks when the boys went to war.

“There’s no crying in baseball.”

Here’s a sweet movie that’s cultural footprint is improbably bigger than the quality of the actual product itself. That’s no shade towards the sleeper hit of 1992 but its impact on popular culture seems to have outlived that of even the summer’s big hitters (Lethal Weapon 3, Patriot Games etc.) (also, no pun intended). Watching gentle feminism – somewhere between Germaine Greer and Geri Halliwell – was still a pleasant rarity in a studio release back then. Tom Hanks was taking his tentative steps away from comedy into serious romantic leads and even serious-er prestige roles. Hard to believe he wasn’t a fully fledged A-Lister at this point given the consistency of his releases. His shuffles towards mega stardom, post-Big, were subtle and faltering – irascible Jimmy Duggan was the first quantum leap that got him to the rarefied position where he still is today. Madonna also, at last, found another role that played to her strengths. So much stronger in a showy support rather than having to carry the movie. She provides a nice ballad as well in “This Used To Be My Playground.” Overall, it is a lark to watch though never rises above the set course that most sports movies run around. Watchable, afternoon friendly, but you have to wonder what the makers of Boomerang, Far & Away and Unlawful Entry feel about a slightly inferior package standing the test of time over their own 1992 summer releases.


Perfect Double Bill: Let The Girls Play (2018)

My wife and I do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

Match Point (2005)

Woody Allen directs Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Scarlett Johansson and Emily Mortimer in this crime thriller where a tennis pro romances his way into a wealthy family only for his lusts to thwart his ambitions.

One of Woody’s coldest films. It doesn’t really work as a mystery because everyone is such a selfish, grating prick that you don’t care how all the messy bonking and perfect murders pan out. Crime & Punishment for the 1%. There’s definitely a barbed subtext about the rich being less creative / infertile / incestuous that I haven’t the patience to unpack. Having said that… his London location work is splendid, ScarJo looks delectable as fuck in her pure white outfits. A regular Lana Turner. It is a class act with a hot girl, undemanding to watch even though you can tell Woody is straining towards some deeper evaluation of the human race, so bonus points for all that… Still it could do with losing twenty minutes of runtime.


Perfect Double Bill: Scoop (2006)

My wife and I do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

Electra Glide In Blue (1973)

James William Guercio directs Robert Blake, Billy Green Bush and Mitchell Ryan in this counter culture motorcycle cop thriller.

Feels like exactly the kinda movie that Tarantino might have devoted a whole essay chapter in Cinema Speculation too. A movie for us short guys… I would like to think the ultimate take home is because Blake’s ambitious, hardworking runt doesn’t have the natural physique of a fascist bully, and therefore has developed his own morality and emotions, it makes his traffic cop all the better at his job in terms of keeping his cool, engaging with people and giving the local barmaid a good fuck… She, Jeannine Riley, gets a barn storming, game changing scene at the midway point, rarely afforded the T&A of such anti-establishment flicks. The cop stuff / mystery is the least intriguing part. This is a character study, a sign of the times movie, with little dedicated bursts of chase action. Conrad Hall’s interior cinematography is fantastic, memorable framing, unusual angles… the exterior stuff looks epic. Not fully sure about Blake as a leading man (there is something creepy about him… beyond his unusual for a movie star height). Still, his character proves fantastic advertising for us little guys, certainly in terms of destroying the “short man, short temper” myth. The ending elevates the movie to a whole other level… a moment where he breaks his strict code is keenly felt followed by one of the most impressive sustained shots in cinema history. A final dolly that makes you feel all the emotions. Like an empty jug, it allows you to pour everything you’ve been thinking and feeling into a safe space.


Perfect Double Bill: Magnum Force (1973)

My wife and I do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

Hausu (1977)

Nobuhiko Obayashi directs Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo and Ai Matubara in the Japanese horror comedy where a group of schoolgirls vacation in a possessed house.

Absolutely bonkers. The Evil Dead meets some Saturday morning kids cartoon put on fast forward. Pretty much every trick shot and daft joke is plopped through the meat grinder. Exhausting but hard not to love for its bonafide cult particulars.

“Any old cat can open a door. Only a witch cat can close one.”


Perfect Double Bill: The Boxer’s Omen (1983)

My wife and I do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

The Heiress (1949)

William Wyler directs Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift and Ralph Richardson in this adaptation of a Henry James novel where a dowdy young lady of good fortune is romanced by a dashing suitor.

An interiors flick. I can’t be making too many excuses for something that feels very much like a filmed stage play… yet maybe Wyler’s reasoning for not opening the story up is to show the cloistered, choiceless environment of de Havilland’s Catherine Sloper. She is a caged bird. The extended epilogue feels suitably grim and tragic… yet maybe the ultimate message is all of us, no matter how unremarkable, deserve their chance to love, even if said chance is a mercenary expedition, otherwise we harden to romance. Clift’s motivations, whether predatory or genuine, are never revealed… somewhere in between is my interpretation… and because of that mystery, the film sings.


Perfect Double Bill: Daisy Miller (1974)

My wife and I do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

Movie of the Week: Babylon (2023)

Damien Chazelle directs Margot Robbie, Diego Calva and Brad Pitt in this epic ensemble dark comedy drama about the death of the silent movie business in Hollywood and the fallout among the decadent has-beens and wannabes.

Close-up on a gargantuan anus. It sprays shit all over us. And if you aren’t on board and cackling aloud with that first scene, sorry folks, it is uphill all the way. Overweight bellies are pissed on. A pantry with every possible narcotic is opened. Someone crashes through a window and nobody misses a beat. Excess, orgy, relentless. That is 32 minutes before the title card appears. BABYLON.

Chazelle understands pace, his education in music gifts him this over nearly any other director (Carpenter?). He is probably the finest director to have arrived in the 21st century. Whiplash, La La Land and now this are the incontrovertible evidence. He moves breakneck here, tearing up whatever rule book may exist for accessible, pleasant storytelling. Multiple characters screech and swerve around a chaotic party. The first hellish celebration of many. Babylon has party scenes like Jaws has sea bound sequences. Fuck Gatsby get-togethers. This is Anger and Arbuckle raves. Hollywood Babylon and Singin’ In The Rain are the key sources. Kenneth Anger’s unbelievable gossip book lingers about, engorged and leering back at us, in all the background details. When the USC football team turn up half naked, you wonder have they all fucked the starlet yet… as essayed in Anger’s chapter on Clara Bow… and if so, which one of the wooden nude lunks is supposed to be a young John Wayne? You need to move quick if you wanna pack it all in. Catch the rattlesnake. Let us experience the heady rush without questioning the depravity or morals or marbles or truth of the endeavour. Chazelle knows when to give pause, knows when to leap a year. The screen fills with writhing devil may care oblivion, then lingers on an exhausted face. Or a crying one. Realising there’s no way this will all ever last.

He has assembled a crack team of creatives. Some are his house band. His wife plays the small but pivotal role of established silent director Ruth Adler and she more than any cast member really understands the rhythm he is going for. Cinematographer Linus Sandgren matches Gordon Willis’s love of darkness in the night time bacchanals yet lenses the widescreen carnage of an early Hollywood shoot with an arid expanse closer to crisp Conrad Hall. Justin Hurwitz’ score is another persuasive ear worm, even if it playfully calls back to a stanza in La La Land occasionally (welcome), in the main it is its own dirty raggy, jazzy stomp that cuckolds the movie stars and possesses them.

Of the new faces to Chazelle; Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo and Li Jun Li all make their mark. You possibly want a little more of all of them out of three hours plus but they aren’t the leads and they more than serve their purpose. Adepo gets a particularly brutal moment of self realisation and spiritual compromise when he is forced to darken his skin. There are gorier, more transgressive moments but this is the one calmer scene that truly wounds. Tobey Maguire has a fantastic extended cameo as a creepy merchant of evil. His third act horror set piece shows where all this corruption goes once LA starts becoming formalised and sanitised. Underground. Yet it is Robbie who deserves highest praise… she takes that grating, sexy, unpredictable Harley Quinn / Tonya Harding energy and amps herself all the way up to blitzkrieg level. FOR. ALMOST. 180. BREATHLESS. MINUTES. Have a word with yourself Academy voters. Shame on you.

In box office and, to a lesser extent, critical acclaim Babylon has not exactly set the world alight. It is a $80 million production that reminds me in many, many ways of the self destructive hubris that ended New Hollywood. The big communal celebration scenes of Cimino’s The Deer Hunter and Heaven’s Gate instantly spring to mind. The bitter, half fat musical synergy of New York, New York and One From The Heart is definitely there. The budget churning, audience disregarding cynicism of all these productions. Bogdanovich’s Nickelodeon achieved on the scale of Apocalypse Now. Mature, ambitious, career wrecking big swings that general audiences rarely embrace on opening weekend (see also BladeRunner, Fight Club). Potential Career Enders. I see very little wrong in Chazelle’s massive vision: a blood stained love letter to every major schism in American movie making. Some quieter scenes gasp and squeak a little under the constant pressure of their neighbours and it often is branded in gross-out bad taste. I laughed my arse off. I cared when I wasn’t laughing. And when I was doing both I was utterly terrified. This is cinema! Catch it on the biggest screen, as you’ll regret listening to the naysayers and eventually streaming this at some expired date instead… kicking yourself afterwards that you missed out on the big one.


Perfect Double Bill: Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood (2019)

My wife and I do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

M3gan (2023)

Gerard Johnstone directs Allison Williams, Violet McGraw and Amie Donald in this horror where a lifelike android prototype over reaches in her protocol to be a little girl’s best friend.

Enough cool moments for a new multiplex icon to be born. The carnage takes a while to get moving, then it never exceeds the peaks teased in the trailer. Handles the tech company / killer app cliched bobbins better than most modern horrors. Fun.


Perfect Double Bill: Child’s Play (2019)

My wife and I do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

Enys Men (2023)

Mark Jenkins directs Mary Woodvine, Edward Rowe and John Woodvine in this experimental chiller where a lone woman explores a deserted Cornish island with daily uniformity.

People trust that rockabilly quiff. Yet sometimes Mark Kermode will praise to high heaven a movie that only really has a British director (who, like he, went to public school) and a Seventies vibe in its arsenal. Real slogs. And because he is genuinely articulate and passionate about all cinema – and actively doesn’t truck with Transformer movies or Roland Emmerich – the broadsheet / Radio 4 / premium podcast listening belly breathers think his opinion is untouchable. They never approach these wildly personal recommends (the impenetrable work of Carol Morley, the bang average looking Encounter) with the essential caveat of “Yes… but would I enjoy this saggy bag of pretentious bollocks over the latest Michael Bay entertainment?” ‘Cos they’ve tied their flag to one of the most idiosyncratic voices in middle class film criticism. So when they all start walking out of my screening of Enys Men half an hour in… is it really forgivable? By now they surely must know just because a film smells a bit like like Nicolas Roeg that don’t, in any way, mean the general ticket buying public will find any comforts within it. Their champion Kermode benefits from championing, his readers / listeners are unlikely to have the same motivations and immersive back stop of viewing eccentricities to fall back on. He was at the Scala in the early Eighties, crusaded to get rereleases of the original cuts of The Exorcist and The Devils. His bonafides are unquestionable but if you are only getting your film criticism from one source then chances are your cinematic palettes are a bit too stunted for Enys Men. Hence a third of the audience disrupting the mood and voting with their feet just as things were gently ramping up. C’mon guys… unexpected lichen has appeared!!! Turns out Enys Men is my kinda late night thing. I saw all its influences and its open yet obtuse intentions and I wholeheartedly went with it. The colours explode on the big screen, 5p seaside town newsagent postcards come to life. I like the forced poetry of it. The spooky, the experimental, the candle being snuffed out and the jump cut to daybreak. My take on the time slip and the apparitions and the repetitions worked for out me. I was invested in the puzzler aspect. I appreciated the mutating headfuck. Husband and wife team Jenkins and Woodvine locked me in with their hermit stylings. For me, for Mark, but for you? Make up your own mind.


Perfect Double Bill: Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

My wife and I do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here