Movie of the Week: Ms .45 (1981)

Abel Ferrara directs Zoë Lund, Steven Singer and Jack Thibeau in the New York vigilante flick where a mute Garment District worker takes to the streets to hunt male beasts after she endures two rapes in one mind-shattering day.

A rape revenge exploitation movie that has aged like fine wine. All men are scum, the worst transgressors are hunted down but the others can justifiably picked off in a spree. Valerie Solanas would buy popcorn. This feels more of our time, more sensitive and more stylish now than it probably ever did back then. Lund is an appealing and unfussy lead even when deranged. The guerrilla Manhattan location work produces some fantastic frames, every street scene is brimming with life. And for a slice of cheapo nasty it is pretty on point when detailing the daily, relentless objectification and demeaning behaviour that women go through. The violence is gleefully transgressive, the ironic white man funk soundtrack thumps and the last shot is a killer punchline. Side note: Every poster for this is epic.


And one extra special mention for this one-sheet that I tried and utterly failed to steal from a bus stop as a teenager

Midway (2019)

Roland Emmerich directs Ed Skrein, Woody Harrelson and Patrick Wilson in this WWII epic following the US Navy’s recovery after Pearl Harbour through to their successful retaliation in the Pacific.

Fourth choice actors (Woody and Luke Evans aside) avoid getting in the way of the heartless polygon carnage. A film so flat, so devoid of spark, you wonder if it is the first AI directed film? China chipped in on the budget so we get their personalised China-set subplot sticking out like a sore thumb on a gangrenous foot. Emmerich has done better work, the veterans deserve better, you want the Japanese to win a long ago settled war. Mandy Moore looks nice in a period dress, attracting those heartland, God fearing dollars.


In the Shadow of the Moon (2019)

Jim Mickle directs Boyd Holbrook, Michael C Hall and Cleopatra Coleman in this time twisting serial killer thriller where a Chicago beat cop becomes obsessed with a cold case that keeps reopening every nine years.

The Terminator meets Zodiac. Doesn’t really deliver on that potential but is a neat enough one-watcher. Mickle feels most at home in the chase orientated Reagan-era first chapter – that half hour looks just as good and as just as chilly as Cold In July or We Are What We Are. The story loses its way, overreaching for an emotional resolution rather than an action one. I’m not saying such an approach shouldn’t be appreciated but I’m not sure it is what we bought a ticket for or what the pulpy, familiar storytelling tees you up to enjoy.


Bait (2019)

Mark Jenkins directs Edward Rowe, Mary Woodvine and Isaac Woodvine in this low budget British drama where a boatless Cornish fisherman struggles against gentrification.

A gunless Western. A kitchen sink drama where everyone works. Filmed on 16mm film and hand processed, with dialogue roughly looped in, this handcrafted black and white gem has an appropriate rough hewn quality. The images feel like puzzles, obfuscated by dancing grain and extreme close ups of enigmatic faces. The sound bites lurch in with an intentional comic effect. Tension defused by a humdrum interaction. Like protagonist Martin, when the film speaks it is worth listening to, there’s a blunt humour in its observations. Part of Bait’s thrall is every time you think you know where it’s headed, it switches on you. The editing is teasingly elliptical, owing to Nicolas Roeg and Alain Resnais. You get glimpses of the future, some misleading. Martin for example consistently proves he isn’t the townie brute he is easily seen as. It is a bit of a deadpan gem, a tragedy that undermines its form by often dodging the brewing violence. We used to get a low budget release like this every year. The Cement Garden, 24-7, Following, The Last Great Wilderness. Those micro budget directors went on to great things. Bait feels like an echo from that recent past when we had a new talent nurturing strand of British cinema. Bait is now a rarity. A DIY triumph, a word of mouth hit, a new voice full of promise, that somehow blundered into a cinema run through sheer force of quality. Amid pensioner targeted fluff boxes and popular TV show spin-offs, surely there’s more room for this kinda promising debut on the release schedules too?


The Wrecking Crew (1969)

Phil Karlson directs Dean Martin, Elke Sommer and Sharon Tate in this Matt Helm spy spoof where Helm has to recover a stolen European gold reserve with the help or hindrance of a clumsy cultural attaché from the Denmark Tourist Board.

So much better than the higher rated Our Man Flint. The stunts are done for real deals, the girls are hotter and more fully formed (in every respect), Helm is a figure of ridicule (a lothario who can’t get it, a protagonist left one step behind the plot). Watched mainly due to its appearance in Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood. I’d say Sommer’s villainess leaves more of an impression than Tate’s good girl but I still watched it barefoot, dutifully, as QT would want it. Dusty larks with a jaunty, swinging score.


The Seven-Ups (1973)

Philip D’Antoni directs Roy Scheider, Tony Lo Bianco and Bill Hickman in this cop thriller were a tough unit of NYPD detectives uncover a kidnapping ring who focus on wealthy mob bosses

If you like car chases then this is the retro-flick for you. At the centre of the hard and gritty The Seven-Ups is a full reel car chase weaving around real New York traffic. The brief was clearly “Top The French Connection!” and this is definitely on a par. The story around it is pretty standard tough cop stuff. Scheider stands around on street corners in lovely winter coats, gets balled out by superiors with a resigned “Go fuck yourself” on his face and masters shoot-outs with convincing panache. He’s a great Seventies movie star – wryly humorous and emanating intelligence. The cinematic storytelling is abysmal though. The plot jerks forward and lurches off into subplots with no flow. You constantly feel left adrift in the first half, only really understanding who is who, what is what and why is why after scenes have finished. It boils down to a pretty simple story with lots of cliches but why the tale is spaffed out in such obtuse clunks is anyone’s guess?

Pixote: The Law of the Weakest (1981)

Héctor Babenco directs Fernando Ramos Da Silva, Gilberto Moura and Marília Pera in this Brazilian drama looking at the tough lives of street kids as they move from borstal to criminal careers.

Grim, miserable and unrelenting. We start with the gang rape of a child and eventually end with a whore rejecting her pimp for being too young. Nothing inbetween has any hope or joy in it. Powerful, raw, didactic… and of interest if you are curious to see what the City of God kids’ grandparents were getting up to (surviving, not surviving) a few decades before. But no one’s idea of a good time.


Nightcrawler (2015)

Tony Gilroy directs Jake Gyllenhal, Renee Russo and Riz Ahmed in this neo-noir LA thriller were a hungry sociopath learns there’s big money money to be made in selling footage of police call outs to news channels and starts exacerbating the crimes he films.

“If it bleeds, it leads.” A towering central performance from Gyllenhal. He plays a human abyss who finds just the right urban dystopian conditions to violently flourish – akin to De Niro’s Travis Bickel and Phoenix’s Joker. If not better than those two? I’ll leave that thought there to stew in your head. The satire is unforced and unpredictable. The bursts of threat and fear have punch and lock you in. The city is a sodium glare hellscape; race through it, stop and film some gore, make a buck. Make a fucking buck! Just be ready for that performance review from a psycho raised by corrupt motivational speakers and YouTube business courses. This improved for me, grew into me, on a second watch. Stunning.


Junior Bonner (1971)

Sam Peckinpah directs Steve McQueen, Ida Lupino and Robert Preston in this modern cowboy drama where an itinerant rodeo rider returns to his hometown to take on the bull that threw him.

Natalie and I went to see this at Lisbon’s Museum of Cinema. Dedicated to retrospectives, they have a top floor with an exhibition of old projectors and lobby cards. The downstairs has a dozen worn out leather armchairs for the regulars to wait in, siesta before the film. You could spend the rest of your life there. A retirement home for the cinephile. This was screened as part of their Ida Lupino season and I was keen to revisit the film. I probably hadn’t seen it in twenty years. The cinema itself was wood panelled and well tiered, there was an extra little letterbox screen below the picture to project digital Portuguese subtitles. When You Wish Upon a star was played over the speaker for a few bars, then a warning doorbell… thirty seconds… another bell. Like a rodeo. Lights down, we’re off… the print was crackly, worn, faded with Denmark subtitles. Double subs. The movie was as fine as I remembered – good humoured and manly. Peckinpah with his foot off the pedal. A dusty, elegiac look at changing life in the West. The lonely, endless scrabble that belonged solely to the cowpuncher and the prospector is becoming motor homes and airports. The eyeless man in the bulldozer tearing down history don’t care if you are in his way, he’ll push your freedom and rights off the road. You can’t play chicken with progress. Your brother will sell out the family birthright for a buck, make a TV commercial bragging about this but accepts being punched through the porch window as comeuppance. The wild and charming devil of a father (a fantastic Preston) sees Australia as his only option, America just is too boxed, too sold off and too fenced in. Ida Lupino is the stately abandoned matriarch in gingham and denim. Bonner himself is a motel cowboy. McQueen’s steely blue stare taking in how his world has changed, his family has separated yet he only really cares about staying on the bull for eight seconds. An Independence Day parade, a grumpy dog, a bar fight, a little unjudgemental but jaded romance for young and old. A grand piece of cinema, about as thoughtful and as sensitive as a beer and pizza flick gets.


The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

George Nolfi directs Matt Damon, Emily Blunt and Anthony Mackie in this sci-fi romance where unseen agents of fate try to nudge history so a politician and a ballet dancer do not end up together.

Sold as a chase movie on release this works better as a high concept romance. Damon and Blunt make for a favourable on-screen pairing, their meet cutes have considerable heat. Proper Hollywood chemistry. The Philip K Dick reality altering stuff is well handled and it does build to a mind bending mad dash finale. This is a very classy movie for adults, one that is ageing well with every year due to its timeless visual design. Well worth getting lost in.