Mandy (2018)

 

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Panos Cosmatos directs Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough and Linus Roache in this horror revenge stomper about a lumberjack hunting down the demonic cult who made moves on his wife. 

Every frame is a heavy metal album cover come to life. We get some of the most nightmarishly diabolical monster design since Clive Barker’s Hellraiser heyday. We get a no hold barred Cage performance, forging axes or swigging gallons of vodka in his tighty whities. He is to genre cinema what Olivier was to Shakespeare. We get Cheddar Goblin. Because Cosmatos loves himself some ominous, creepy slow build but he thrills in deflating his tension a burst at just the right moment with a gooey gross out punchline. “It didn’t make any sense. There were bikers, and gnarly psychos, and… CRAZY EVIL!”

9

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)

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Rainer Werner-Fassbinder directs  Brigitte Mira, El Hedi Ben Salem and Barbara Valentin in this drama about an ageing German who begins a universally frowned upon romance with a young African immigrant.

Still not fully got my head around Fassbinder as an auteur. His theatrical staging and stilted rhythm stop me from getting lost in his melodramas. Yet he has a non judgmental view of humanity that is rare in cinema. All his population are prone to sin, erratic in their behaviours, fools for love, and brutish in their ability to hurt. This sweet and flawed romance is very endearing, the casual racism it is met with familiar, yet never over the top even when being satirically petulant. With his childish talk and his base urges, Ali isn’t exactly a progressive view of the other. He just wants affection and cous-cous. Is there anything wrong with wanting to feel at home? Even when it means straying from your home? Brilliant seventies colours and frank attitudes win you over. This is easily the best film I’ve seen by the German cokefiend who loved warping “Women’s Pictures”.

9

 

All Is Lost (2013)

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J. C. Chandor directs Robert Redford in this survival drama where a lone sailor battles silently against oblivion when his yacht starts taking on water out in the middle of the ocean.

Patient and dedicatedly crafted, this man against the elements parable is technically a marvel. The increasing impossibility of our protagonist’s survival is captured with a deft simplicity. Cinematic storytelling at its purest. Redford is  almost dialogue free. Barely emoting. So that a focussed look or a suppressed sigh has to carry the meaning of a 1,000 scripted words. And does. In all honesty this is one of my favourite performances of his. Just for its craggy fragility. By the time shipping tankers pass his derelict craft, uncaring behemoths closer to Lovecraftian beasts than signs of humanity finally reached, you are overawed. As good as it all is though it does become one note very early, you know from start to end you are watching an exercise, a high wire act, that exists solely so it can. A clinical triumph. There’s not much here that’d would bring you back for a second watch. Chandor succeeds in putting his icon through an existential wringer without supporting cast or much dialogue. That in itself is impressive, but in a single journey, no return kinda way.

6

 

 

Movie of the Week: Paths of Glory (1957)

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Stanley Kubrick directs Kirk Douglas, Adolphe Menjou and Ralph Meeker in this WWI drama about the arbitrary execution of three soldiers for cowardice after the failure of an improbable assault. 

The gorgeous long tracking shots (the ones in the trenches you’d swear were achieved with a steadicam). The exploration of dehumanisation. The fatalism of rigged game unhappy ending.  The characters defined and dwarfed by their environment. The detached wry subtlety of the humour. This has a whole bunch of what you’d expect from a later Kubrick masterpiece but it is still tellingly a director finding his style. Touching on themes that interest him rather than having the freedom to fully give the movie over to them. Any other director and this would be their finest work though. A tight wartime drama, convincing and superbly acted. Some of the shots are so intricately composed they would be high points in any other auteur’s oeuvre. Not our Stanley. The only moment that feels truly his, rather than prescribed by producers Harris and Douglas, is that coda. The jeering soldiers taking a respite from oblivion in a bar, shaken back into feeling by a scared German girl’s song.

9

My Top 10 War Movies

1. Dunkirk (2017)
2. The Great Escape (1963)
3. The Last Of The Mohicans (1992)
4. A Matter Of Life And Death (1946)
5. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

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6. Apocalypse Now (1979)
7. The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957)
8. Braveheart (1995)
9. Fail Safe (1964)
10. Gallipoli (1981)

 

 

Cria Cuervos (1976)

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Carlos Saura directs Ana Torrent, Geraldine Chaplin and Mónica Randall in this arthouse drama about an orphaned child who doesn’t understand death but might be a murderer.

A summer of mourning as three orphaned sisters play and forget their dead parents; one a fragile mother, the other a cheating high ranking figure in the facist regime. This was made during the last days of Franco. Time shifts between memory, fantasy, haunting and predictions fluidly, often without cuts. The camera moves from the present to another moment in a panning motion. This enjoyable character study is powered by an enigmatic and dark turn by young Torrent and the repeated use of a defiant belter of a pop song; Porque Te Vas by Jeanette.

7

 

 

Venom (2018)

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Ruben Fleischer directs Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed in this super(anti)hero movie about a washed up investigative reporter who becomes attached to a very nasty alien symbiote. 

A daft yet diverting effects movie. There’s a brilliant 45 minutes in the middle, where Hardy talks to his new, deadly split personality and tries to avoid dying from being its host, that are demented and gratifying. The set-up that idles along before it is overlong and cliched. The big action finale lacks tension and personality. Yet a pleasingly black humoured one man double act has been birthed by the end credits that you are hungry to see more of. Hopefully Venom is an amuse-bouche for bigger and better things. The trap is set to capture more Cronenbergian / Jekyll and Hyde carnage if a sequel is ever greenlit.

6

Pacific Heights (1990)

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John Schlesinger directs Melanie Griffith, Matthew Modine and Michael Keaton in this thriller where a couple rent out the flat below their new home to a very disturbed grifter.

There ain’t no better way to enjoy a Saturday night than a bit of yuppies in peril gloss. Pacific Heights has problems but its strength win through. Keaton is superb as the dangerous enigma Carter Hayes. Shifty, charming, intense… this is him shifting his weight after a year stuck in a rubber cowl. And Schlesinger is too good a director for this job. The lighting, framing and camera movement is inventive. He lurks and ducks and shifts focus like its the late sixties. When a dream sequence finally occurs it visually is no massive tonal change from the everyday storytelling of this world. What stops Pacific Heights from being truly great though is the ostensible leads. Melanie Griffiths lacks agency until the final twenty minutes. When she finally gets stuck in and turns the tables you realise the film should have gotten to this pleasure point far, far earlier. While Modine weirdly tries to out crazy Keaton once his buttons are pushed, convincing neither as an  everyman nor as a gullible mark. Part of the joy of this sub genre is watching the entitled go getter be put through the wringer… the wringer in the form of Keaton is satisfyingly punishing and yet you still feel Modine’s dickhead isn’t punished quite enough by end credits. Still nasty mysteries squat within the slick little shocker.

7

Dumbo (1941)

 

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Ben Sharpsteen directs Edward Brophy, Herman Bing and Margaret Wright in this Walt Disney animation classic about an elephant babe with massive ears struggling to find his place in the circus.

Despite being assembled as a cheapie, this is one of the Disney unit’s best. A string of shorter sequences (essentially a circus themed run of Silly Symphonies) through which pearls of the Dumbo story are threaded. Three of these pearls are brilliant. The superfluous introduction of Casey Jnr the steam train, the delirium of Pink Elephants on Parade and the jazzy triumph of When I See an Elephant Fly. The bittyness of Dumbo is really its secret strength. It is fine there are asides and distractions from the central plot. It is not just slight and mawkish, it pulls at the heartstrings unashamedly like an emotional tug ’o war. Walt is better when he is gleefully manipulating the fairytale form rather than the audience directly.

8

A Star Is Born (2018)

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Bradley Cooper directs himself, Lady Gaga and Sam Elliott in this third remake of the new talent overtakes famous lover rock romance.

So this… THIS… is the front runner for the best picture Oscar? I went in open minded, open hearted, ready to be conquered. I was ready for Lady Gaga not to be the best actor in the world (I’d spent 10 weeks watching her awkward turn in American Horror Story: Hotel). Hell, it is not like Cooper is a particularly dynamic screen presence either. But at times this was laughably bad. The poor Parisian cinema goers who heard us chuckle uncontrollably through another sweary, laboured round of dialogue. Was Dave Chapelle going to say “Bro” at the end of every sentence? Do regular folk think endless scenes of smearing cream on each other’s faces is intimate? No one really thinks songs just come together like that and can be performed unrehearsed with a band and a small town’s worth of people eagerly watching , do they? Don’t have LG perform at a drag revue as her intro… it is just too on the nose! This is going to be a heavily spoofed and parodied film. Not just as it can be camp and awful at times, but because it is iconic. It will capture the general public’s imagination. And it ain’t all bad. Sure the talkier interludes are stinkers but the concert moments have a rush of energy. The editing is pleasingly off key. It jerks around a bit. But this twitchy cutting captures the thrill of facing your fears, realising your dream… hell, falling in love. Sam Elliott does a ton with a little. The songs are memorable belters. Cooper the director has a relaxed framing style and a strong sense of colour that captivates. But as a product… and this is a product… base Hollywood… It is just The Bodyguard ain’t it, really? Killer album sales, fluffy yet random movie attached. But that shouldn’t be critically lauded. It shouldn’t win no gongs after Christmas. And just who is Dave Chapelle’s character… a man whose garden Bradley Cooper likes to regularly visit for a drunken shit and a sleep. Is that his character?

5

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)

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Tom Shadyac directs Jim Carrey, Courteney Cox and Sean Young in this comedy about a goofy animal related crime solver who has to find the Miami Dolphins kidnapped mascot. 

Full discolure: I watched Ace Ventura many, many times as a teenager. I know it back to front. And in the last couple of years I’ve caught large incomplete swathes of it when channel surfing in hotels. It is a very juvenile film I can’t help settling on. Carrey shines in it with a OTT star making turn. Like Groucho Marx or Inspector Clouseau he’ll arrive in any normal social set-up and derail it with his wacky behaviour. And on a base level this works. Amusing you in every colorful scene. There’s no sophistication to Ace Ventura and it noticably lacks a killer set piece but as mindless entertainments go this fits nicely into an early evening even as it enters middle age with me. “Liiiike a glooove!”

7

 

My Top 10 Jim Carrey Movies

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

2. The Truman Show (1998)

3. I Love You, Phillip Morris (2009)

4. Man on the Moon (1999)

5. The Cable Guy (1996)

6. The Bad Batch (2016)

7. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)

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8. Earth Girls Are Easy (1988)

9. A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

10. Fun With Dick and Jane (2005)