Get On Up (2014)

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Tate Taylor directs Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis and Dan Aykroyd in this biopic of The Godfather Of Soul / The Hardest Working Man In Show Business / James Brown. 

If Get On Up retained the manic energy of the first 10 minutes then we’d have a platinum plated classic on our hands. We meet James Brown in decline, threatening a group of honkys as one has used his personal office bathroom. He gets distracted by a bit of music in his head. The shotgun he casually waves around goes off. He discovers the culprit and after verbally reprimanding her, reaches a moment of understanding. She was just trying to get what was good for her. He gets it. Then he hears approaching sirens. We shift to 1968. He’s meeting the president… and wanting to bring the FUNK to the troops in ‘Nam. We’re flying into a base under fire. And James Brown is still calling the shots… We reach his impoverished childhood… the nonlinear mosaic of incidents continues but the shock factor levels out. We start to get the standard rags to riches, rise and fall, conflicted tribute of a complex creative. That chaotic energy is dialled right back, mawkishness shares its driver’s seat. But even when this biopic loses its uniqueness, Boseman is superb. He captures Brown perfectly. The cadence, the moves, the confidence, the power. The ageing make-up is uncanny. So it loses steam, so it becomes a back-handed hagiography. There’s enough fun, enough recreation of Brown’s brilliant music and a powerful central turn that keeps this keeping on.

6

 

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Revenge (2018)

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Coralie Fargeat directs Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe in this hyper-stylised rape and revenge thriller. 

The imagery is neon, bleached, burned and blistering. We get close-ups of ants being drowned in globs of blood, candy being grotesquely chomped and embedded glass being removed from vagina-like wounds. We get a heroine who goes from defenceless trophy to hardened predator, men who go from lecherous threat to manic incompetence, and a directorial gaze that gives us as much hard bodied man flesh as it does alluring lady butt shots. You are going to have to like your gore to enjoy this, you are going to have to be a fan of Cinéma Du Look to appreciate it. But it works… hard and nasty, but it works. Pulse racing, smartly experimental reverse-exploitation.

7

Juggernaut (1974)

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Richard Lester directs Richard Harris, Omar Sharif and Shirley Knight in this disaster movie where a cruise liner is held to ransom by a mysterious terrorist who has planted seven complex bombs. 

A dull and bloodless airport novel adaptation. None of the characters are given any room to breathe. Lester’s direction is restless – building little tension and completely fumbling the parlour game of guessing who the “Juggernaut” is. There’s a decent stunt sequence at the midway point but in general this is stodgy and lifeless.

2

My Top Ten Disaster Movies

1. Die Hard (1988)
2. Speed (1994)
3. The Taking of Pelham 123 (1974)
4. Captain Philips (2013)
5. The Martian (2015)
6. Con Air (1997)

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7. The Posiedon Adventure (1972)
8. Jurassic Park (1993)
9. Deepwater Horizon (2016)
10. Lifeboat (1944)

Goon: Last of the Enforcers (2017)

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Jay Baruchel directs Seann William Scott, Liev Schreiber and Alison Pill in this sequel to the ice hockey comedy. 

Uh-oh! All the way through this I thought I was watching the first one. I had no idea I was watching the sequel until I went online to read the trivia after and realised I hadn’t seen Eugene Levy in it once. So now I don’t know if a lot of the deadpan, random humour I quite enjoyed are actually just callbacks to jokes and characters set-up in the first film. If not then, this very, very, very violent sports comedy is an off-the-wall amusement that benefits from a likeable cast.

5

 

Lakeview Terrace (2008)

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Neil LaBute directs Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington in this belated yuppies in peril thriller about a mixed race couple who move in next door to a bullying cop who objects to their very existence.

For the first 90 minutes this proves a gripping enough if unoriginal potboiler. Powered by a decent villian turn from Samuel L Jackson (the role suits him rather than stretches him) and a dark satirical take, it threatens to transcended its debt to 1992’s Unlawful Entry. Then in the last 20 minutes things unravel to the dampest ending imaginable. Hollywood fantasy yet awkwardly cliched. Shame, as there is a point where it looks like Jackson’s manipulative tyrant might actually get away with his abuse of the neighbours…  and they may end up misguidedly appreciating him. Surely, that would have proved a far more disturbing conclusion? We’ll never know. Beyond all the forced threat and unbelievable resolution, one does have to wonder how in need we were of a racist black man in authority antagonist to be the centrepiece of a mainstream studio release. We haven’t had nearly enough prejudiced white patrol cops lacerated and demonised in the same way yet.

5

LA 92 (2017)

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Daniel Lindsay and T. J. Martin direct Rodney King, Daryl Gates and Stacey Koon in this collage documentary of news footage and home video depicting the causes and incidents of the LA riots. 

A very powerful motion scrapbook, creating a damning mosaic of what exactly happened in Los Angeles after the beating of Rodney King, the murder of Latasha Harlins and the provocative court decisions that followed these crimes in quick succession. In all honesty, the expansive O.J.: Made in America mini-series explores Police Chief’s Daryl Gates fascistic running of the LAPD and his controversial, black community persecuting CRASH policy with more depth and room. Undoubtedly these were the fuels that burned LA and the controversial verdicts of two high profile court cases in quick succession were the ignition. But the savagery depicted in the riots is genuinely unnerving even 25 years later. Crips and Bloods joining forces, years of gang brutality being mobilised against non-black citizens and businesses. The chaos on the corner of Florence and Normandie, where mobs of youths inflicted recreations of what happened to Rodney King on passing white motorists. The haunting image of truck driver, Reginald Denny, stripped and spray painted black, left for dead after a vicious mass stomping. A disturbed man casually walking the streets, setting light to every tree he passes, no one stopping him. The anguish of small business owners left defend or pick through the rubble of their American dreams. The sight of the LAPD and the National Guard standing back for days, letting the poor areas eat themselves up before moving in – Incompetency? Or a statement? The documentary never comments through narration or talking heads or title cards, though obviously chooses what footage to include and what to juxtapose it with. It makes for a traumatising history. One that puts films like Falling Down, Trespass and even Do The Right Thing in a prophetic context. One that visually informs The Purge films with their increasingly ‘woke’ power.

8

Come Drink With Me (1965)

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King Hu directs Cheng Pei-pei, Yueh Hua and Chan Hung-lit in the Kung-Fu epic about a female enforcer called Golden Swan who has to rescue a general’s son from a bandit gang. 

Typical Shaw Brothers product. The fights are more graceful (Cheng Pei-pei background was in ballet) than violent, the framing of the impressive location work goes for a romantic beauty rather than a mere playground for stunts. Both aims are admirable but after a while I found myself drifting away from the story scenes… was this aimlessness my fault or the movie’s? Then the final 10 minutes focuses on the boys fighting even though there is no reason in the plot for Golden Swallow to be sidelined. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Come Drink With Me but I struggled to engage with it. Considering its high reputation within the genre that feels like a failure to me.

5

Time After Time (1979)

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Nicholas Meyer directs Malcolm McDowell, David Warner and Mary Steenburgen in this time twisting romantic thriller were H.G. Wells uses his time machine to chase Jack the Ripper into the future.

A neat little film, using Disney-fied special effects of the time, to play about in a lot of genres. We get a psycho thriller that owes more to Holmes and Moriarty, as Wells tracks down his nemesis. The Zodiac killer is even mentioned and that doesn’t feel gratuitous. You get a subtle fish-out-of-water comedy as the stuffy yet game Wells (McDowell playing against type – heroic and restrained) experiences McDonalds, escalators and seventies fashions. And a very affecting romance as our anachronistic protagonist falls for a modern feminist bank worker. His and Steenburgen have a palpable chemistry, their instant attraction believable and her life becoming part of the deadly cat and mouse game ups the stakes surprisingly in the final act. It is a film that has the weave and heft of a teatime family adventure yet the daring and grit of an adult entertainment. And while this might have made it a tough sell oddity at time of release, in now feels like a oddity worthy of mass rediscovery. If only for the sight of the always sinister Warner taking to coke and disco era San Fransico with denim clad relish.

8

 

Movie of the Week: Sorcerer (1977)

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William Friedkin directs Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer and Francisco Rabal in this New Hollywood remake of The Wages Of Fear

Where have you been all my life? Remaking a stone cold classic is folly… it almost never works. But this joins Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Magnificent Seven as an attempt to modernise a great movie that actually succeeds as an improvement as well as an update. Fucking alchemy, turning gold to diamonds. Not that it was considered any kind of success on release. Second only to Heaven’s Gate as a death blow to quality adult American cinema. These indulgent, overrunning costly auteur productions of the late seventies got directorial freedom permanently revoked from the mavericks whom Hollywood had rewardingly gambled on for a decade. The budget for Sorcerer grew and grew and grew. And what did Paramount and Universal get for backing the wunderkind behind The French Connection and The Exorcist? A dour, grimy, sweaty, pessimistic tale of doomed middle aged men shipwrecked by geopolitics. Mainly subtitled. And opening up the same month as Star Wars tore up the box office. Oof! The first I heard of it was in Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. His account of the troubled production and fatal release focused on the hubris of making a film like Sorcerer. He neglected to mention just how intensely fantastic this overwhelming experience is. Friedkin adds bookends to the main narrative. Giving us four convulsive mini-thrillers to introduce us to the desperate drivers. Letting us know just how they found themselves cornered in the middle of nowhere. Then we get the practicality and economics of expendable men driving temperamental nitro-glycerin over unforgiving terrain. Like the original, the action is just as gripping but we see constant critical glimpses of the destruction and displacement that the corporate machine has inflicted on this treacherous paradise and naive people. Every rattle, gunshot and rock crack spells death. We go existential. Tangerine Dream’s synth score caresses us and gives voice to our wailing dread. Even the happy ending is brutal. Realistic adventure. Wry political comment. Dangerous filmmaking. An immersive masterpiece.

10

 

The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018)

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Johannes Roberts directs Bailee Madison, Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson in this belated slasher sequel set in an (almost) deserted trailer park.

It is like Scream never happened. Fog and neon dominate. A well selected 80s jukebox soundtrack. Lots of creepy lingering and geysers of blood. A finale that ends on a referential, deferential high. But it takes long time to get going for a slight 80 minute movie. And there aren’t enough victims or sensible decisions to elevate it out of being a faithful delivery system for merely adequate thrills. An average slasher but still a million time better somehow than the recent Truth or Dare’s anaemic grind.

6