Movie of the Week: Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

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Nora Ephron directs Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan and Bill Pullman in this romantic comedy about a journalist who falls for a widower after hearing him talk on the radio from the other side of America. 

An unashamedly perfect romance, maybe not as zingy as When Harry Met Sally… but still with plenty of quotable exchanges among the intentionally thick and effective schmaltz. This is all fantasy, about falling in love rather than being in a relationship. And how ‘magical’ that feels. As we take in various picture perfect holidays and various touched up iconic landmarks, Ephron basically walk us on a grand tour of warm feelings. Why do I rate this quite so highly? It is endlessly rewatchable, feeling both old fashioned and smart, sincere yet knowing throughout. Hanks is the lynchpin. This was the period where he moved from likeable comedy star to Oscar winning global favourite. It is his most overlooked performance, rivalling Captain Phillips as his best. He sells the loving father struggling to come to terms with the loss of his wife subtly but convincingly. I noticed on this viewing how dark his house is during the first two acts. It is lit like a horror movie set. We, the viewer, are in his depression. But as he moves on, things literally lighten up. The success of the movie is not that he lets his grief define him or Ryan’s Annie (perfect in a stalkery kinda way) settles, but that they both reach a point where they take a risk again. That’s what falling in love is, putting yourself out there and vulnerable and hoping the other person takes your hand. Watch it with An Affair to Remember and melt into its ample charms.

10

 

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The Midwife (2017)

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Martin Provost directs Catherine Frot, Catherine Deneuve and Olivier Gourmet in this subtle comedy about an uptight middle aged woman who reconnects with her late father’s frivolous mistress. 

Not really my kind of thing but I actually enjoyed it. Frot and Deneuve had good platonic chemistry, the romance with Gourmet’s relaxed truck driver was sweetly convincing and, most of all, it made me want an allotment. Visually Provost strikes at some rich poetic gold from gloopy births at the start, to heavily hinted at deaths at the end, and a slide show in-between that is interrupted by a doppelgänger who brings all the mooted concerns about ageing into a neat narrative nexus point.

5

 

Maps to the Stars (2014)

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David Cronenberg directs Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska and John Cusack in this jaded Hollywood satire. 

Too cold to be funny and too classy to be shocking (but it tries) this trundles along pleasantly. I’m not sure that’s what Cronenberg was aiming for though. Wasikowska is endearing and hard working as always, while Sarah Gadon impresses in a small role as a biliously critical ghost.

5

Possession (1981)

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Andrzej Żuławski directs Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill and Heinz Bennent in this psychological horror about a marriage falling apart in West Berlin. 

It is probably best to go into Possession blind, completely unprepared. Initial hints that it might be a Cold War thriller with its along The Wall locations and corporate espionage freelancer protagonist give way to a relationship in freefall. But this manifests itself in self harm, gloopy bodily leaks, tentacle monsters and senseless acts of violence. Rarely a scene goes by where one of the actors isn’t left dripping in their own blood. Does it make any sense? I’m not sure it is supposed to. Characters talk at cross purposes, their language descends into baby talk and guttural wails, the camera circles locations in ways that break the laws of physics, and the fight scenes have an ethereal balletic grace. Essentially everything presented discombobulates and uproots you out of your comfort zone. It would make a fine double bill with Lynch’s later Lost Highway But this is the more satisfying journey into oblivion, mainly due to Adjani’s blisteringly oblique, vicious lead performance.

7

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

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Stephen Chbosky directs Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller and Emma Watson in this darker hued coming of age drama following the loneliness of a boy suffering mental health problems. 

Adapted and directed from the bestselling YA novel by its own author, this is an efficient, well acted teen drama that has a nice eye for an iconic moment. It is, all in all, relatively inoffensive stuff yet it left a bad taste in my mouth. Firstly the big twist involves child abuse but is so coyly hinted at and brushed over so as to be redundant. Either explore an issue or don’t. Secondly, it is kinda hard to care massively about a bunch of rich kids who barely struggle to fuck around and party hard together and get into world class universities. I’m sure their fears, hurt and struggles are just as valid but let’s not pretend their glossy little tragedies are particularly compelling. This is daddy’s platinum card funded misery porn at times. I’ll try to end on some positives as it really isn’t a bad little film. I liked how it showed the kids discovering older music and culture, and not being instantly au fait with it but trying to figure out if it was more authentic than what is directly marketed to them. I also liked the main character’s finding of friends and the importance of that. It was a shame that the romance between him and Watson seemed to be the end goal rather than focussing on the value of belonging.

5

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

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Monte Hellman directs James Taylor, Warren Oates and Laurie Bird in this road movie where a hippy driver and his mechanic pick up a free spirit hitchhiker and engage in a relaxed cross country race with an ageing braggart. 

One of those flicks that are seemingly about nothing and everything at the same time. Both Laurie Bird’s girl in the backseat and Oates’ shlubby fibber make this worth watching. There’s a strong sense of time and place as we drift through rest stops, races and small towns. Nothing really happens, no conclusions are reached, the film just burns up mid race eventually … but the mood is often perfect.

6

 

Wrong Turn (2003)

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Rob Schmidt directs Desmond Harrington, Eliza Dushku and Jeremy Sisto in this gory backwoods horror where a group of glossy youths are hunted by a family of mutant cannibals. 

Standard product. Dushku and Sisto are better than their thinly sketched roles, the bloodletting comically chunky, the set pieces rely far too much on heroics where one character runs off waving their arms to bait the monsters away. They’d probably follow anyway. Just get to running fourth billed so they can slaughter you and we can move onto the next woodland location.

4

Dunkirk (2017)

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Christopher Nolan directs Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy in this gripping recreation of the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940. 

Dementedly powerful stuff. I was sat bolt upright and leaning forward in my seat for the second half. With its propulsive editing, ticking Hans Zimmer score and stoic physical ensemble acting, this cinematic experience grabs you in a stranglehold. I staggered out thinking this has to be one of the greatest movies ever made. Some of you may not like the tricksy temporal structure, others the fact that long periods are dialogue free zones. But no one can deny that Nolan puts you right into the mix and these intentional showy tricks are part of that journey. He has been considered our finest large canvas filmmaker by many for years; Dunkirk finally delivers on that promise. I rarely discuss politics in my movie blogs. I’m uncertain on hot topic issues like representation and feel my own left leaning sentiments are rarely broached in modern studio output for it to be an issue worth raising but… After Dunkirk I was left with a nagging doubt about Britain in its current state. It feels unlikely our population would ever be pulled into such a large scale conflict again but stranger things have happened. Would we fight though? Would we survive the tragedies presented? With our services eroded by self serving governments, British identity divided by both the influences brought in by mass immigration and the media’s bias against what is often a positive change, and a generation brought up on excess and selfish values…  why would anyone still go to war even if needed? Would anyone feel Britain is worth fighting for? Or that if you did, that the person next to you would fight by your side to survive a Nazi advance, a sinking battleship or a crashing fighter? I know Nolan’s intention has little to do with celebrating patriotism and more to do with the collective zeal to endure… but as stukas howlingly swoop over beaches and men desperately plug bulletholes in boat hulls with their hands, has he recreated a lost world of men, bravery and action now completely alien to my era?

10

 

Meet the Feebles (1990)

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Peter Jackson directs Mark Hadlow, Donna Akersten and Peter Vere-Jones in this gross out backstage farce featuring detestable puppets. 

In terms of its juvenile intention to see fake muppets do revolting things this does what it sets out to. You get the joke by the third scene. There are 90 minutes to go.

2

Heavenly Creatures (1994)

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Peter Jackson directs Melanie Lynskey, Kate Winslet and Sarah Pierse in this true crime recreation of the infamous 1950s New Zealand murder by two besotted teenage girls who had entered into their own intense fantasy world. 

I watched this as a spotty teenage boy and was non-plussed by it. It lacked the illicit thrill of The Cement Garden or Sister, My Sister and was nowhere as hardcore in its violence as say Fun or Freeway. Nearly all those flicks are forgotten now, but Heavenly Creatures grows in my estimation with each and every sitting. I rode next to a girl on a train recently and wanted to tell her the Anne Perry novel she was reading was written by Kate Winslet’s killer in this… but she probably already knew… and who wants to be that creepy guy who strikes up a casual conversation about a brutal murder with a stranger. Winslet is great in this, her enthusiastic performance fuelled by huge dollops of Rik Mayall as much as anything else. All the acting seems to be working from a script punctuated solely with exclamation marks. There’s deliberately no subtlety in the reading. Except for Lynskey’s Pauline Parker. Due to her confessional diaries being a faithfully reproduced seam we learn more about her internally frustrated character than the other more enigmatic shouters and creeps. The narration isn’t all that necessary though, with a bite of a lip or a stroppy downward chin buried in a cardigan she speaks volumes anyway. The mutually created dream world and eventual violence of the kids are expressed with Jackson’s usual proud glee. He is no longer working on a shoestring but the deliberate shonkyness remains to match the girls’ handcrafted ambitions coming to life. I’d completely forgotten about a later sequence where a monochrome Harry Lime from The Third Man smirkingly stalks them around their bedroom but it is bloody brilliant. As a wider portrait of a repressive community struggling with intense teenage emotions it is accurate and sensitive. Jackson matures as a filmmaker before our eyes without losing any of his verve or ickyness.

8