Precinct Seven Five (2014)

A8717FD4-EBFF-4449-96BB-D38B6584E8B8

Tiller Russell directs this documentary looking at extreme cop corruption in 1980’s Brooklyn.

The sheer amorality of the talking heads interviewed here is what makes this stand out. There’s very little “Poor me! I got caught! Boo Hoo!” and a lot of creepy enthusiasm and nostalgia for just how dirty these retired scumbags were. The director recreates their time and escapades vividly. The fact he gives them enough rope to confidently express their relish at themselves is like nothing you have ever seen on film.

7

Crimson Peak (2015)

C1D6F1DF-3C47-4A53-A41D-9D140F1E6E59

Guillermo del Toro directs Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain in this gory, supernatural, gothic romance.

Like a Tarantino film this cribs shamelessly from everywhere; sometimes the immediately obvious (Rebecca, The Innocents) other times the more unlikely or obscure (Eyes Without a Face, The Age of Innocence). It is a patchwork of other great films yet that does not diminish the enthusiasm and confidence in how Del Toro sews all the silk scraps together. Speaking off needlework – the frocks (and the ladies in them) are magnificent, speaking of piercing – the horror is gloopily persuasive. I really have enjoyed this on all rewatches. In turns it is both high brow and pulp, I find it so very glossily satisfying. My favourite Del Toro.

9

Prevenge (2016)

06352AE5-ACD1-47A3-A664-08B5B3B1D537

Alice Lowe directs herself, Kayvan Novak and Gemma Whelan in this horror comedy about a bereaved pregnant lady out for revenge. 

The strong pedigree of Sightseers and similar positive reviews meant I had high hopes for this. Sadly it wasn’t very funny or scary with only a few brief glimpses of wit in some of the offhand imagery. I know a few people involved in this so won’t labour over the negatives, it just wasn’t for me.

3

The Witches (1966)

23968E73-DF94-448F-9F0A-167E38520B2E

Cyril Frankel directs Joan Fontaine, Alec McCowen and Kay Walsh in this Hammer horror where a sensitive new headmistress begins to suspect the community she has moved to practices black magic. 

A very casual rural horror with very little in terms of scares and shocks. The colonial  set, unnecessary prologue has more terror in its sweaty two minutes than the rest of the feature length entire, even the ritual sacrifice finale has less gore and FX and more interpretive dance than feels in any way sane for a horror film. Yet overall this works for a number of reasons. Fontaine is brilliant as always in her final lead role – nobody does fragile yet curious quite like she did. Nigel Kneale’s adaptation adds a constant air of uncertainty. And it all feels like a tea time dry run for the better but later The Wicker Man. You see I’ve piqued your interest, haven’t I? The Witches may not work as a genre flick but as a supernatural drama it is pretty mesmeric stuff.

7

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017)

22EC926E-8364-4714-BF52-9402AC915A54

Paul McGuigan directs Annette Bening, Jamie Bell and Julie Waters in this recreation of the unlikely romance between a young hopeful scouser and faded Hollywood star Gloria Grahame in the twilight years of her life. 

Benning throws her all into a well conceived role, and Bell supports her charmingly. It is movie that is smartly framed, beautiful to look at (even the obviously studio bound recreations of LA and Manhattan have a fantastical picture postcard quality that feels somewhat appropriate) and boosted by an obvious enthusiasm by everyone present. Having said that, by the final act there doesn’t feel like much of a story left to tell and we are basically waiting for some old name we can barely remember to have her deathbed scene. To get there any faster would be disrespectful but it doesn’t mean what starts out as effervescent and brimming with life should end up dragging its feet.

6

 

Only the Brave (2017)

8E06329C-B27C-474B-A2CB-713368C6348F

Joseph Kosinski directs Josh Brolin, Miles Teller and Jennifer Connelly in this ‘based on a true story’ retelling of the tragic deaths of most of the Granite Mountain Hotshots firefighters. 

The forest fire sequences are immersively realised and a sense of male bonding fun is crowbarred in whenever appropriate. I say appropriate as a terminal maudlin air stifles the triumphs, adventure and inevitable tragedy that justify the project’s existence. Sadly away from the two leads, the other 17 men who died in the horrific blaze that ends the film are blank avatars, yet we spend more time looking at their real life dead counterparts tribute photos before the credits than we do seeing them brought back to life onscreen by anything resembling noteworthy acting or decent screen-craft. It is a sad indictment of this constantly misguided heart on it sleeve worthiness that I wished we could have spent the whole running time with Jennifer Connelly’s flinty wife at her stray horse restoration stables, than we did leaping into hell and risking lives to save lives. Well meaning but forgettable.

5

Aftermath (2017)

3E08161C-5688-4BDA-A84A-784383803F36

Elliott Lester directs Arnold Schwarzenegger, Scoot McNairy and Maggie Grace in this ‘based on a true story’ drama about a widower and an air traffic controller recovering from a devastating plane crash, both of whom holding the latter responsible for the disaster.

A cold, distant, relatively slight procedural look at what happens after a modern aviation tragedy. It is not the meatiest or most complex of cinematic dramas but it has a gripping sense of building suspense and career best turn for Arnie. He kinda has squandered his recent comeback with well made but uninspired product. Sensibly, he should have looked for supporting roles in franchise fare (imagine him as the King of  Atlantis in the upcoming Aquaman movie or having the fun that Kurt Russell does in his Fast and Furious cameos) but instead pursued leads in projects of an unprofitable scale. Oh well… here he is fantastic, both as an actor and a signifier. His importance to a generation of movie goers means the grief he elegantly conveys is devastating. Not to belittle his achievements here but watching The Terminator blankly staring into the abyss of a lifeless house strewn with takeaway boxes is the visual equivalent of watching Big Bird coming to terms with a terrorist attack on Sesame Street. If you are the right age, it is emotionally wrenching in its unexpectedly surreal horror.

7

North to Alaska (1960)

IA5669FCE-98B0-4B93-8940-BCAC5110B586

Henry Hathaway and John Wayne direct Wayne, Capucine and Stewart Granger in this western romance about a prospector who goes to collect his partner’s true love with some machinery and ends up bringing back a charming whorehouse madame instead.

This starts out really well. Wayne and Capucine are not the best actors in the world but they have an unforced chemistry that sparkles. While it is them travelling up river to Alaska, The Duke embodying an all awkward chivalry, it is a spellbinding treat. Once we get to Alaska an overlong cabin bound farce ensues, diluting the purity of the first hour and separating the stars for way too long. It ends in an comical town wide brawl that feels less inventive than the barroom brawl that opens the show. A shame it runs itself down into meh for if Hollywood wanted some untapped source material to remake then I’d wager that popping Channing Tatum and Scarlett Johansson into the leads and just focusing on the first two acts that the suits’d have a sizeable hit on their hands.

6

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947)

01C0EC78-86E6-42D1-8984-2D0E37FC4F8E

Norman Z McLoed directs Danny Kaye, Virginia Mayo and Boris Karloff in this romance about a day dreamer who gets caught up in a real life unbelievable adventure. 

A perfectly pleasant slice of afternoon fluff. It can feel a little like a dog’s dinner, with the naive fantasias we drift off too being charmingly low key distractions but then Kaye’s dated “patter rap” musical numbers feeling forced and unnecessary inclusions. A once inventive movie that has sadly lost much of its freshness.

5

Movie of the Week: Marathon Man (1976)

D0421232-DCF3-4359-B8D1-A2343516FCA7

John Schlesinger directs Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier and Roy Scheider in this paranoid thriller about a nervy post-graduate who finds himself being chased by a Nazi in hiding and the secret government agency assisting him in smuggling his diamonds. 

Infamous for its dentistry based torture scene, Marathon Man is so much more than just that iconic moment. You get a completely frazzled central turn from Hoffman. He seems hounded by all the ills of the 20th century; Nazis, communist witch hunts, urban decay, government cover ups. He’s fantastic here as the persecuted yet resourceful Babe. But Olivier, Scheider, William Devane, Marthe Keller and James Wing Woo all put in inscrutably, oily supporting performances as the cold methodical participants in Babe’s night on the run. As chase movies go it uncommonly takes a good hour before we start our mad dash for survival. A melancholy air of inevitability hangs over us as we watch dominoes knock into each other setting up the rally. We watch the pieces fall into place with increasing speed – gripping, haunting set pieces occurs thousands of miles away from the protagonist yet are just as compelling. Schlesinger uses living city locations and refractural editing to create a sense of tumultuous chaos. The soundtrack whines ominously. We know nice, awkward Babe is eventually going to get chewed up in this whirr of backstabbing and assassinations. This is how you do it. This is how you create a dangerous atmosphere. “Is it safe?” No it is fucking terrifying. Run, Dustin, Run!

10