Movie of the Week: Annie Hall (1977)

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Woody Allen directs himself, Diane Keaton and Tony Roberts in this Oscar winning romantic comedy about a writer remembering his relationship that fell apart. 

Annie Hall starts really bitty and even ropey. There’s great stuff in that first half hour… Allen’s warped childhood memories and moments of fourth wall breaking. But it all seems to be delaying, circling like a weary boxer even, what he wants to get to. Letting the clock run down so he can look over a failed relationship as quickly as possible. Like pulling a plaster off swiftly over an hour. Reveal his controlling behaviour and disappointment that he lost something he can never find again. The jokes are still there. They are sometimes delightfully experimental (subtitled doubts while flirting), other times broad (cocaine sneeze). But it is the loss we are left with. Allen looking at us dead on as another girlfriend / actress can not recreate the magic of the earlier scene with the lobsters.  Empty seats in a cafe, the traffic moving on uncaringly. “Seems like old times.” Diane Keaton at her best, broad rim hat and waistcoat, you’d want to make a break-up movie too.

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Holidays (2016)

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Lots of directors direct Seth Green, Lorenza Izzo and Jocelin Donahue in this horror anthology based around days where you might receive a card.

Only the creepy Father’s Day and Easter segments stand out. Fast forward to them and then tap out. The rest are dross and filler with a particularly nasty Kevin Smith entry bringing the par down.

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American Animals (2018)

 

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Bart Layton directs Barry Keoghan, Evan Peters and Blake Jenner in this true crime story of bored students who plan a rare book heist worth $12 million.

Visually experimental and dropping in not just talking heads but the ghostly presences of the real life thieves into narrative scenes, Bart Layton makes American Animals stand out. It is an aggressive and memorable piece of filmmaking. I have to admit I enjoyed it more during camaraderie of the planning stages rather than during the nauseous fallout of the crime. It is hard to feel sorry for people so morally bankrupt, even their “guilt” feels like a calculated survival technique rather than a genuine emotion. The movie hints at bigger themes. A youth abandoned to replicating other generations’ past glories. They’d rather homage a fake life of crime movies and lost adrenaline now the world has been tamed and their place in society is mudanely set. American Animals didn’t entirely seduce me but I’m keen to rewatch.

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The Predator (2018)

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Shane Black directs Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn and Thomas Jane in this sci-fi action sequel where the alien “bass fisherman” of genre legend takes on a bunch of mentally unstable veterans, a kid with Asperger’s, a sexy expert, a government conspiracy and a bungalow sized security guard from his home planet. 

There are two ways you can approach this particular Predator movie. 1. Like a dickhead who has watched too many Cinema Sins YouTube clips. Or 2. As a fan who accepts for every tight ensemble special effects thriller with Arnie, you get 5 or so yardie versus cartel, Adrien Brody as an action hero, please stop adding Aliens, beer and a pizza sequels. Crack open a crate, call Papa Johns… as Schwarzenegger is not in this one.

Lowering your standards means you can accept this for what it is… a series of silly, cool, gory, silly moments strung together with a bare shoestring of a plot. Not “There’s something out there and it ain’t no man” mythic but certainly on a par with the dreadlocked slaughterer who loop pedals kids saying “Want some candy?” I love me some Predator 2. I really like me some Predators. The Predator comes in at the lower end of the quality scale of that last one. But only just lower. Acceptably lower.

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There are undeniable problems. Some of the second half CGI is rushed and ropey… but I’m never a fan of CGI I can notice. The Predators seem to abandon their long established modus operandi and let easily killable humans with weapons survive quite a lot in the middle section. There’s kinda, sort of a narrative reason for this but it still doesn’t sit well within the philosophy of the franchise. Some of the set pieces are overly dark and chaotically edited. One major character dies in the blurry background and I had to check Wikipedia when I got home to see if he actually did meet his maker.

There are other cast members and subplots abandoned by reshoots (what happens to Gary Busey’s son, the FBI Agent who collects Munn’s scientist, Yvonne Strahovski’s house arrested Mum and what is going on with that Jacob Tremblay obsessed normal dog?) but not as many loose strands and plot holes as the critics’ review suggests. Shane Black has always been a fan of coincidences and half mentioned asides motoring entire plots. As beloved as Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys are, their mysteries are rushed and coincidental to the action. A second watch smooths out a lot of what seems like random occurrences. That happens here also.

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No… Holbrook’s lead doesn’t dumbly directly send his son alien tech, the PO box subscription he hides it at runs out. Olivia Munn isn’t just in the mix for sexist reasons. Munn clearly adds some glamour to the proceedings but she does figure out major plot points that move things forward, gets funny lines and is an active combatant in the set pieces. She’s not just tits in a lab coat. Yes, the tall predator and his dogs are a bit ridiculous looking but they fit in with the caste system and ecology suggested by Robert Rodriguez’s threequel. The final coda teeing up a continuation you know damn well will never be explored is awkward. Neither will that intriguing pirate’s musket that ends 2 or the fate of Brody and Braga’s off world mercs. It is this particular franchises style that we end on a glimpse of a greater narrative just before the credits roll, one that is never revived in sequels. Did Arnie’s Dutch retire, recuperate or was sectioned after the end of Episode 1? It is not that kinda of series. Homage is paid (did I mention Jake Busey plays Gary Busey’s son in this?) to the past but cliffhangers aren’t revisited.

So The Predator is messy, even a little obvious reshoot incoherent on a first watch. Who cares about clean? I for one didn’t turn up to a Predator flick for neatness. I turned up to watch cool stuff happen in a bad taste adult environment. The first half builds nicely. Space chase gives way to Holbrook’s sniper being introduced mid mission in a kinetic cold open. By the time he’s on the run with alien tech in his backpack and tequila on his mind, I was sold. He’s been good before in Logan but here he projects a capability and a goofyness that reminded me of Mel Gibson at his best. He undersells Black’s frenetic, foul mouthed dialogue nicely. I’m keen to see what he does next. Black’s witty and dirty approach of constant banter works for me. It works for his better-than-B-movie standard cast too; giving Sterling K Brown, Munn and Strahovski brighter moments to shine here than more prestigious projects their agents have forced on them recently ever did. Trevante Rhodes has brilliant chemistry with everyone he interacts with. Thomas Jane’s Tourette’s suffering basket case is the highlight though. 10 years ago, he’d have been the go to lead for this sort of reboot. Now he gets to play the most offensive, adorable, ass kicking support character with no pressure. Kudos for stealing a very crowded and busy show.

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The carnage is here too. There are two cracking, prolonged swathes of action. All the characters cross paths early on. There’s a joy in watching a Predator tearing up an installation while Munn and the Loonies try to escape being permanently redacted. And the grand finale where the survivors have to stop a Predator spaceship from leaving Earth moves briskly and plays nicely with the warped physics of forcefields and crashing UFOs. All the skirmishes in between are chunky and meaty too. There’s enough glowing green blood and spattering red blood to justify the swearing and the hard R legacy.

As for dafter moments involving an explosion at Halloween, a thumbs up with a severed arm, a Predator dog playing fetch… all stuff that would been a two page “comedy” moment in a Dark Horse comic book in 1990s. This ain’t serious, this ain’t Shakespeare. It is however bonkers and enjoyable. Park your brain at the door, your expectations with Carl Weathers and devour the most ludicrous Predator entry yet. Like the derided Justice League or Tom Cruise’s The Mummy proved, just because a botched movie is very easy to slate doesn’t mean said movie can’t still be crudely pleasurable. “I’m Gonna Have Me Some Fun… Have Me Some Fun!”

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None But The Brave (1965)

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Frank Sinatra directs himself, Clint Walker and Tatsuya Mihashi in this WWII parable about a Japanese and an American set of soldiers abandoned on an island together.

Sinatra’s only work as a director is a relaxed and prepossessing affair. He gives equal light, screentime and sympathy to the Japanese battalion, even allowing room for their culture and customs to shine through. There’s a couple of duff performances in the ensemble and it ain’t exactly subtle but all in all this is a decent little anti-war movie.

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Babylon (1980)

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Franco Rosso directs Brinsley Forde, Trevor Laird and Karl Howman in this tale of a young black British man struggling with prejudices in Thatcher’s London. 

The acting isn’t going to win any BAFTAs… but that aside Babylon is an evocatively shot (Chris Menges is DoP) and thoughtfully insightful youth drama. Excellent dub soundtrack and derelict London locations.

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‘Breaker’ Morant (1980)

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Bruce Beresford directs Edward Woodward, Bryan Brown and Jack Thompson in this historical recreation of the British Army’s kangaroo court-martialling of three Australian soldiers during the Boer War. 

What should be a simple courtroom drama opens itself up for fine acting and complex, unresolved questions about culpability and ethics in the dehumanising theatre of war. The condemned are definitely guilty (as is everyone), yet they are equally not given a fair trial. The action sequences have heft. The flashbacks and finale have a lyrical magical realism. There are times when it feels like the witnesses’ stilted recollections are being filtered directly and purposely into the actors’ performances. And the greatest last words ever come out of Woodward’s mouth in the closing moments, he’s a dab hand at iconic final act fatalism. “Shoot straight, you bastards. – Don’t make a mess of it!” Rule 303. One coffin fits all in war, no room for personalities or conscientiousness.

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Pride (2014)

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Matthew Warchus directs Ben Schnetzer, George MacKay and Faye Marsay in this period drama about the London LGBT community’s attempts to support the miners during Thatcher’s suppression of them. 

I was expecting this to be mawkish crowd pleasing stuff. Like Billy Elliot or The Full Monty, a slightly cartoonish and fairy tale view of working class issues. But no… it has real heart, wit, scope and ambition. It gets the emotions flowing. Not just sentiment but political nostalgia and empowering self worth are renvigorated by it. Warchus colourfully marshalls a perfect ensemble of actors, the new faces holding their own among the gems of a British screen acting. The soundtrack manipulates masterfully, the time and the place is recreated down to the biscuit packaging. It won me over utterly. Joining Brassed Off for its harsh yet entertaining revisitation to one of Britain’s darkest hours and matching the far more agit prop 120 B.P.M. in its popularisation of the gay rights struggles of the last century. Treat yourself if you haven’t already beaten me to this.

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My Top 10 LGBT themed films

1. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
2. Battle of the Sexes (2017)
3. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
4. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
5. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
6. Mulholland Drive (2001)

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7. I Love You, Phillip Morris (2008)
8. Paris is Burning (1990)
9. The Crying Game (1992)
10. Victim (1961)

 

 

Tank Girl (1995)

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Rachel Talalay directs Lori Petty, Naomi Watts and Malcolm McDowell in this post apocalyptic adventure film based on the cult British independent comic. 

Unambitious anarchy. I used to own Tank Girl on VHS. As a teenager I enjoyed its scrappy energy. I was aware but not in love with the source material. And I also knew about its troubled production process. Various sequences were not filmed or cut out so that the comic’s original creator had to animate sequences to fill in the blanks… including the ending. These moments actually work really well, they fit the spirit of the endeavour and actual add a little extra mature edge to the slightly softened bite of the satire. Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin were openly vocal about the finished product despite being active participants in the process.  I always took umbrage at Jamie Hewlett’s snide comments in Empire on release about a test screening that resulted in dildos and burps being cut out. “It’s ridiculous having a bunch of snotty little 14-year-olds deciding how a film should be made. They were probably just snogging their bird or pulling each others’ hair throughout the whole thing” Yeah, fair enough. But who was this film for -butchered compromise or artist’s unadulterated vision – if not teenagers? It is a mid level action comedy about an immature girl driving a graffitied tank through desert populated by stoners and stoner kangaroos. Did you think massive prosthetic cocks were going to be part of the marketing campaign? Was he hoping for Oscars? Even on its best day, Tank Girl was made for the youth market. It is a rebellion flick with a day-glo colour palette. How would he have improved it? “The script was lousy,” Hewlett recalled, “me and Alan kept rewriting it and putting Grange Hill jokes and Benny Hill jokes in, and they obviously weren’t getting it.” Of course not… as those were limited and dated references even back in 1995. Homage to 70s sitcoms and 80s parochial kids shows would have really sunk what little wit the wacky, OTT shenanigans did retain. The film already is a dog’s dinner. Jokes rarely land, action never thrills. It is edited within an inch of its life. It feels like an overlong trailer for an actual film rather than a narrative itself. But Petty, Watts and McDowell all bravely go big rather than go home. The imagery taken out of context is a rich junkyard. The soundtrack is a belter. Stan Winston’s Ripper make up design is beautiful. It is silly. It is rubbish. Just not very entertaining. Not even misplaced nostalgia for when I was a “snotty little 14-year-old” can save it now I’m middle aged. And yeah, Tank Girl herself is chaotic and combative enough to be considered a feminist action hero. But imagine if they actually gave her some obstacles to overcome… then she’d have been a feminist action hero worth remembering.

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