Movie of the Week: Horse Feathers (1932)

Norman Z. McLeod directs The Marx Brothers, Thelma Todd And David Landau in this college comedy where the gang have to win a rigged football game.

Just a litany of breathless madcap set pieces. From the “Password is Swordfish” to Harpo and Chico sawing themselves out of a tight spot. I laughed loads at this.


Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2019)

Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman direct Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson and Hailee Steinfeld in this animated superhero adventure where Miles Morales takes on the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man job only to find his reality filled with strange variations of Peter Parker from other dimensions.

An absolute joyous blast. The Miles Morales story is effectively realised with emotional intelligence, the animation superb, the adventure aspects spectacular and the self consciously off-the-wall humour never grates even when coming at you at a rate of knots. This is a celebration of all things Spidey, and easily manages to be the icon’s finest standalone cinematic outing yet.


3 Days of the Condor (1975)

Sydney Pollack directs Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway and Max Von Sydow in this paranoid conspiracy thriller where a book-ish intelligence analyst finds himself framed when his station is massacred.

It might not have the daredevil stunt work of The Fugitive, nor the inescapable moments of pure dread of Marathon Man but this “man on the run” thriller is mighty enjoyable. The cold Christmas setting adds to the paranoia, everyone is going about the festive business while our hero’s options narrow proves a creepy juxtaposition. Redford is quite quirky in this. He’s not a company man, nor a man of action which makes his desperate attempts to not be framed or “tied off” by forces he doesn’t understand utterly gripping. Sydow is also excellent value as the casually resigned hitman who instigates the chase. Top notch entertainment.


A Ghost Story (2017)

David Lowery directs Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara and Will Oldham in this arthouse visual poem about a dead lover who haunts his home in a sheet, with two holes cut in it for eyes.

Pretentious but well made, often achingly dull. All the guessable ideas and images churned up from the concept and themes of loss, grief, memory and space time you can get from the trailer. The feature length version just feels like a watered down tautology straining for significance. There is some good music diegetically attached to the slender narrative however.


Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond (2017)

Chris Smith directs Jim Carrey, Andy Kaufman and Milos Forman in this documentary looking back at the Man On the Moon biopic, and how living as comic hero Andy Kaufman drove megastar Jim Carrey over the edge of sanity.

This combined biography of Jim Carrey and Andy Kaufman doesn’t really have enough content to set it out as anything more than glorified DVD extra. As a précis of Kaufman’s unique genius you get the headlines, as a look into Carrey’s descent into method madness it becomes repetitive very quickly. Not that the candid shots of Danny DeVito and Paul Giamatti sighing and rolling their weary eyes in the background don’t have their own perverse pleasures. So there’s 90 minutes of footage if not 90 minutes of story. The documentary works best as a reassessment of Carrey, overnight sensation who hustled on the Canadian and Hollywood comedy circuit for decades before becoming the most bankable star of the Nineties. Star of comedy blockbusters who has unique films like The Cable Guy, The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine and, pointedly, Man on the Moon, filling out his CV at the height of his success. The present day Carrey comes across as a unhinged but adorable figure… aware he made some greats and didn’t take the easy sequel buck too often. He pushed himself when he could have taken a far easier route. The results are the rich yolk of his oeuvre. The famous talking head who stares at us intensely but benignly espouses his philosophies and spiritual justifications for his on-set craziness. He was channelling Kaufman. One feels on a different day the zen and self awareness of such a stand-alone comedy icon might be utterly different. 


Brubaker (1980)

Stuart Rosenberg directs Robert Redford, Yaphet Kotto and Jane Alexander in this prison drama where an unconventional reformer tries to improve a brutal state farm.

Brubaker starts strong. The bleak and violent depiction of the prison is unflinching, incognito new warden Redford poses as an inmate to witness the dehumanising conditions first hand. Once he reveals himself to the administration and inmates the film becomes something a bit more conventional. You can tell it is a later work by Cool Hand Luke director Rosenberg and you can feel its future influence on The Shawshank Redemption. Hell, even a young Morgan Freeman crops up. And by “young” I mean early fifties. The more conventional battle against the system is decent enough, it even throws in a couple of low wattage action sequences, yet the haunting first act does feel a little squandered for the sake of a standard star vehicle.


Lift to the Scaffold (1958)

Louis Malle directs Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet and Georges Poujouly in this Parisian noir where a perfect murder is scuppered when the killer is trapped in the building’s elevator overnight, his partner in crime thinks he has abandoned her and two kids go on a joyride in his car.

Fate. Justice. Miles Davis soundtrack. Jeanne Moreau wandering the Champs-Élysées at night. Supercool.


Mortal Engines (2018)

Christian Rivers directs Hera Hilmar, Hugo Weaving and Stephen Lang in this post apocalyptic adventure which imagines an Earth where people live on motorised, moving cities that cannibalise each other.

Mortal Engines is a blockbuster with many problems but one that I quite enjoyed almost inspite of itself. It blows its load early with a gargantuan chase sequence where hulking London tracks and harpoons a smaller township and swallows it whole. This thrilling 15 minutes is what I bought a ticket for. It delivers but then the concept is never particularly revisited. Why would’t we have a sequence where a smaller habitat manages to out run, outsmart or best the behemoth? A missed opportunity. Instead we get a Romancing the Stone / The 39 Steps odd couple (her – good but underwritten, him – annoying and given too much screentime) traversing the wasteland, trying to stop a conspiracy and defeat the villian. The villian is Hugo Weaving, and while again we aren’t seeing him in his best written role ever, watching Weaving play the heel is one of 21st century’s cinema’s surest things. We get a bonus baddie in Stephen Lang’s Shrike; an undead terminator-like tracking cyborg. His backstory and relation to our lead is the film’s most emotionally resonant mystery. For the half an hour when his palpable threat is the focus, the story comes to life and the pleasing Hera Hilmar proves her ability to carry such a monstrously sized production. Ultimately the production values make this. The Gilliam-esque cities, costume design and the flying machines dazzle the eyes. Frustratingly with all these strong elements the final act gives up on being anything special or satisfying and just apes the finale of A New Hope. Now that ain’t a terrible way to end a movie but Mortal Engines is such mixed bag we really need a distinctively spectacular set piece rather than a “Will This Do?” stop gap. A missed opportunity, difficult to recommend, but I can see myself revisiting it for the steampunk eye candy.


The Lost Weekend (1945)

Billy Wilder directs Ray Milland, Jane Wyman and Doris Dowling in this drama about an alcoholic writer who goes on his final bender.

All of that Wilder wit and glossy tightness but attached to a man’s descent into despair. Wilder puts his lead through through the ringer – taking in his corruption and degradation as he tries to have just one more drink. Sure the ending is a little too tidy but in the main this feels quite daring for its time.


The Old Man and the Gun (2018)

David Lowery directs Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek and Casey Affleck in this true life tale of Forrest Tucker, a career bank robber whose old age meant he was often overlooked by the authorities.

Just a marvellous movie. Slight but never without purpose. Redford shines as the charming rogue, all twinkle, wrinkle and leathery confidence. The movie seems like a celebration and an epilogue to his long Hollywood career. Both nostalgic tribute and playful culmination of 5 decades of handsome excellence in big screen acting. Lowery has assembled a perfect cast for Redford to bounce off of. They all manage to bring their own legacy and backstory to swiftly sketched parts. The movie doesn’t linger on cliche, it knows you’ve seen Out of Sight, Heat and The Hot Rock. So that the police procedural developments almost appear as glimpsed incidentals to the gentler, more endearing character study. Casey Affleck’s cop on the trail isn’t so much a nemesis as a younger man in a career rut who grows to admire his prey… much like the middle aged star himself must envy the back catalogue and creative freedom of his legendary co-star. Lowery adds a warm soundtrack, a lived in 16mm vision and even splices in classic footage of his icon from decades past to create a near perfect cinematic experience. I left the screen with a massive smile on my face.