Movie of the Week: Porco Rosso (1992)

Hayao Miyazaki directs Michael Keaton, Cary Elwes and Kimberly Williams in this animated adventure were a gruff WWI fighter pilot has been turned into a pig but carries on battling seaplane pirates.

Thrilling action, broad comedy and sexy romance. The lead pig is a brilliant mixture of Humphrey Bogart or John Wayne. I watched the dubbed version and was glad I did for once. Keaton’s voicework really imbues a tough, taciturn manliness to the part. There are elements that are bonkers and fantasy stylings that come quite left of field but this is often as big and as captivating as an Indiana Jones adventure. The animation of the moving landscapes in particular is seductive. Thoroughly enjoyable blockbuster spectacle.

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Seberg (2019)

Benedict Andrews directs Kristen Stewart, Anthony Mackie and Jack O’Connell in this biopic of the Sixties movie star whose private life was hounded by the FBI after she showed support to black militant groups.

So…. there are two ways to approach Seberg the film. 1. An opportunity to see Stewart – a magnetic movie star who makes daring choices of projects – in loads of lovely, chic outfits and a role that stretches her quiet, introspective persona. 2. A fumbled biopic that lacks veracity and prosecuting bite. When not focusing on Jean Seberg the movie does struggle. The depiction of the various men who exploited, abused and defamed her certainly lacks purpose. All but Vince Vaughn’s brutish fed are gifted a little too much humanity. These men either stalked her or abandoned her, they don’t deserve the strange objectivity the film affords them and it steals focus from the main event. Likewise the writers try a little to hard to disentangle Seberg from the Black Panther Party… a violent organisation even if you agree with their ultimate goals. Does anyone in 2020 care? And maybe that’s the hurdle Seberg the movie truly cannot leap. The similar Judy or Stan And Ollie appeal to a nostalgic older Grey Pound market, affording the lead mimics juicy roles and trading on the cache of still iconic figures. The persecution of Jean Seberg is a far more fascinating, heavy story to tell as she is hounded and destroyed by powers beyond her recognition. But the subject matter is no longer a household name. The tale of a forgotten star driven mad by a government agency she only became aware of when it was way too late means a lead role that lacks heroics and intercession. The biopics takes pains to change that or distract from it but then we wander too far away from the star attraction in doing so. I like Jack O’Connell, I don’t care that his fictitious spook had reservations about the lies and damage his surveillance was generating. In all honesty, I ignored a lot of Seberg’s flaws and inherent handicaps and enjoyed it the first way. Watching a luminous Stewart quietly dominate scenes of seduction and martyrdom was what I bought a ticket for and she delivered. Dial back the noise and Seberg is a solid showcase for her unique gamine talent. Like her subject matter, she is a mesmeric, risk taking star.

7

The Gentlemen (2020)

Guy Ritchie directs Matthew McConaughey, Hugh Grant and Colin Farrell in this London crime comedy where a retiring weed magnate finds his empire under threat just as he puts a pricetag on it.

Not Snatch or Revolver level but sits happily above Rock’N’Rolla which was perfectly adequate. It is all just a chaotic pantomime of The Long Good Friday. Silly as it is saucy, indulgent as it is incorrigible, naff as it is naughty and unoriginal as it is unoriginal. Imagine if Tarantino kept remaking Reservoir Dogs between gun for hire work on franchise fare for decades on end? It works to be honest (we took my parents and they both enjoyed it) and I think the main attraction of these dated, daft shaggy dog stories with hard man posturings is they give beloved stars showy turns where the pressure is off. Charlie Hunnam has never been better as the prim bagman. Farrell is a riot in a role that takes him away from his current mid budget arthouse community and let’s him misbehave a little. Michelle Dockery impresses as our queen of crime. A camp and verbose Hugh Grant walks away with the film in a body bag with his skeevy tabloid hack / narrator… the brilliance of ironic casting. Only McConaughey, the defacto headliner, feels a little underserved and lost in the shuffle. Ritchie’s formula still works for an undemanding, chuckle heavy, laddish night at the multiplex… even if attempts to obfuscate the plot and update the vibe (Drill! Fight porn?!) feel baggy rather than improvements. Probably the best thing you can see at a multiplex this weekend, certainly the finest attired cast.

7

A Taste of Cherry (1997)

Abbi Kiarostami directs Homayoun Ershadi, Abdolrahman Bagheri and Afshin Khorshid Bakhtiari in this Iranian arthouse drama where a man drives around the outskirts of his city trying to find someone to help him with a mysterious task.

Eating my greens? A Palme d’Or winner about a man contemplating mortality in a car on an obscure quest. Should be boring? Doubt I would have gotten much out of it back in 1997 with The Fifth Element and Face/Off frazzling my receptors. Even now these kind of pretentious, minimalist works aren’t my cup of tea but this one has a decent simple hook that keeps you attentive until the end. If you can avoid reading synopsis then the slow drip revelation of what Mr Badii wants from the men he picks up and the glimpses of their working lives on the outskirts of society are all pretty worthwhile. Philosophical discussions are awkwardly had, landscape explored. I wouldn’t hold this kinda thing to the high standard film critics and award panels do but if you did want to dip your toe into non-genre foreign cinema than this is about as good as it gets. Just have patience with it.

7

Red Sonja (1985)

Richard Fleischer directs Brigitte Nielsen, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sandahl Bergman in this fantasy adventure where a flame-haired warrior woman hunts the witch who destroyed two of her homes.

Red Sonja is a homeless film. Abandoned, no one wants it. The box office flop that killed the Conan franchise… even though Arnie’s mercenary thief is travelling under the name Kalidor here. The Schwarzenegger often labels this his worst movie – though this might have more to do with financial resentment that Dino De Laurentiis sharply stretched his contracted cameo role into a full supporting part rather than any qualitative judgement. The film clearly is the first cinematic live action feature release based on a Marvel Comics property but you’ll struggle to find any list or article that doesn’t bestow that crown to the equally begotten Howard the Duck from 1986. I’m a regular reader of the comics and while this lacks the curvy, hard drinking, bisexual in a skimpy chainmail bikini the juvenile in me adores… it feels like a solid adaptation for the She-Devil With a Sword. Sure, there’s none of the feminist revisionism, time travelling fish-out-of-water shenanigans and epic empire facing down of recent arcs but you get bog standard Sword and Sorcery. Questing, cliffhangers, mechanical beasts. The production design is strong… the battlewear of even minor characters is visually impressive and the artificial sets add wondrous scale to the convincing Italian countryside shoot. Nielsen is a bit bland as our titular lead, statuesque but maybe lacking the sex appeal and over-confidence of her comic counterpart. Florence Pugh would be a good modern fit if they got the hair dye out. Lack of charisma aside, the sidekicks make up for things – Arnie’s bullish rescuer, a deposed child prince who knows kung-fu and his head smashing faithful man servant. The film hits the fantasy genre target if not the bullseye deserving neither scorn nor particular praise. Perfectly adequate Friday night thrills.

5

Spotlight (2014)

Tom McCarthy directs Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo in this true story drama where the investigative journalists of The Boston Globe turn their attentions to paedophilic abuse in the Catholic Church.

First time I saw this at the cinema I admired McCarthy’s restraint and unfussy storytelling but found it all rather dry and felt maybe he didn’t fully utilise the acting talent present. When it won the Best Picture Oscar that year, I didn’t begrudge Spotlight… an intelligent, adult and unsensational piece of filmmaking… even if it wasn’t my favourite. C’mon, we all want this kinda quality outlier to be recognised over bait and mediocre flavour of the months. Fast forward four year and I popped it on late night for a revisit and was utterly gripped. I couldn’t switch it off and save the second half at 3am. I had to get to the end. The slow dedicated chase of the cover-up is quietly enthralling. The ensemble work subtle. The tragedy breaks your heart without ever tugging at it synthetically. A modern great.

9

Dracula (1958)

Terrence Fisher directs Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Michael Gough in this Hammer retelling of Bram Stoker’s vampire classic.

Fantastic casting of oddballs who would become icons. Lashings of red. A bouncy sexiness to the doomed conveyor belt of brides who exist in this adaptation solely to heave, get bitten, turn and get staked… preferably in as few scenes as possible. The book is altered in strange ways… you do sit there wondering what was the thinking that necessitated that swap or that quirk. It isn’t going to scare anyone anymore and these day even Hammer’s best are reassuringly naff rather than any high watermark of quality. A camp, nostalgic, fun take on a better told elsewhere tale.

6

Last Embrace (1979)

Jonathan Demme directs Roy Scheider, Janet Margolin and Christopher Walken in this thriller where a grieving secret agent finds himself in a Hitchcockian plot.

A pastiche of the Master that only makes fleeting sense in the passing moment. A cinematic tone poem of parody and imagery. You spend the first half of the film puzzling whether it is all in Scheider’s head… the paranoia convinces… then the second half trying to not look too hard at the explanatory mystery as it is random, unguessable and kinda dumb. The set-pieces are solid homages. Scheider is great manly value as always. Margolin makes a lot out of a very uneven, underwritten role – shifting from untrustworthy good girl to sexy fatale. Walken does impressive stuff in one fantastic scene. He’s so young here but confident in his mannerism. It is like the old legend has used that en vogue de-aging technology and sent his CGI performance back in time from 2019 to 1978. Great score and opening credits.

5

Death on the Nile (1978)

John Guillermin directs Peter Ustinov, David Niven and Bette Davis in this all-star Agatha Christie ensemble murder mystery.

“All-Star” in that it features a lot of the willowy rake-thin beauties of the era but it is only really any scene with Bette Davis or Angela Lansbury that holds the attention. Poirot taking on a cobra – meh. Bette Davis been mooned by Egyptian kids – YEAH! An adequate afternoon waster.

4

10 Rillington Place (1971)

Richard Fleischer directs Richard Attenborough, John Hurt and Judy Geeson in this true crime docudrama which recreates the serial murders of Ladbroke Grove sex killer John Christie and the miscarriage of justice that saw one of his victim’s husband’s sentenced to death.

My mother grew up in the shadow of Mister Christie. She was born just down the road from the notorious murder site and these slum buildings, where this film was shot on location, still existed on her doorstep throughout her entire childhood. When we went to the basement of horrors in Madame Tussaud’s, the animated waxwork that has stayed in my memory is Mister Christie wallpapering a body into his walls. Remembrances of the police looking for a murderer and finding the rooms at Rillington Place growing smaller and smaller as more bodies were hidden in the walls were the gruesome folk tales of my West London childhood. Don’t linger near that strange house, Mister Christie will get you. This well acted, unsensational film has the same sleazy, creepiness as Hitchcock’s Frenzy. Fleischer had done similar work with his take on The Boston Strangler case but this is the superior product. He lets the ghoulish details speak for themselves and presents the tragedies that unfold like an ambivalent god watching unfortunate fate tumble into its pre-ordained slots. There is a persuasive creepy voyeuristic tone – you do often find yourself sharing the thrill and desperation of disgusting John Christie. The legal elements of the case are just as fascinating… it doesn’t take a genius to see that Fleischer knowingly omits the moments where the police would have falsified statements and evidence to frame the wrong man. But this was made when those incompetent and corrupt figures of authority would still have been in power and a Hollywood production still wouldn’t out and out attack those the government chose to turn a blind eye to. Powerful stuff.

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