Supergirl (1984)

Jeannot Szwarc directs Helen Slater, Faye Dunaway and Peter O’Toole in this superhero spin-off to Superman where his cousin crashlands on Earth looking for an orb that has been found by an amusement park witch.

It just has no logic to it. Scenes run into each other haphazardly with no rhyme or reason. Supergirl doesn’t understand what horses are but she can forge a high school transcript and file it efficiently. Peter Cook is a warlock / IT teacher who did date the villain but serves no real purpose to the plot and is given nothing vaguely amusing to do. SO WHY IS HE IN THE FILM?! Supergirl faces threats just because she exists – sometimes because of accidental proximity, other times directed at her even though Faye Dunaway’s witch doesn’t know who she is. Are any of these threats exciting? No.

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A Foreign Affair (1948)

Billy Wilder directs Jean Arthur, Marlene Dietrich and John Lund in this romantic comedy set around the dark backdrop of a shelled out, black market post-war Berlin.

There are some graceful comedic storytelling beats here that rocket fuel this bitter love triangle. A personalised birthday cake that makes its way around the black market. Jean Arthur’s investigator pretending to be a dumb fräulein to get two horny GIs to show her the real Berlin. A seduction involving filing cabinets and the ride of Paul Revere. Wilder just has a lovely cinematic hand, that no matter how grim the setting or twisted the characters’ true intentions, he lets them dance their quasi-romantic little dance in impressionable, inventive ways. Arthur and Dietrich are superb, though Lund as the man they circle, is a bit of a place holder. The setting, including real location filming of decimated and occupied Berlin, gives Wilder the chance to land some unguarded blows about the German situation. He has very little sympathy for the Nazis and their silent collaborators, but acknowledges the corruptible weakness of all humans. The final scene has a pointedly chilling moment. The American commanding officer tells a bunch of carousing Russians to go home… they pay little heed. Wilder understood the nastiness of what had happened before and saw the next darkness in Germany’s future. He comments consistently on Berlin’s precarious and compromised existence yet it all feels organic to the seductions and powerplays of our kissing and hustling leads.

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Ratatouille (2007)

Jan Pinkava and Brad Bird direct Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm and Lou Romano in this Paris set cartoon of a rat who wants to become a chef.

Like Marvel I think I’ve been inoculated from the Pixar formula. Built up a resistance that means it takes a particularly unusual or exemplary entry for me to not shrug my shoulders at one. Think of the man hours and passion that went into building the arcs, relationships, worlds, set pieces, simulacrum, the artificial magic, the synthetic emotional resonance here and I just nod along blankly to it. Appreciative but unimpressed. I’m not saying a Pixar contraption cannot get me ever again… but when it doesn’t my opinion of it plummets from masterpiece to standard operating procedure swiftly. There is no middle ground… I need to love it or it rings false and forced. Ratatouille doesn’t feel special enough, doesn’t feel different enough, actually plays out unevenly and slightly ungainly. Like a different shaped beast trying to cram itself into the Pixar mould. There will be Ups and Toy Story 3s again, they work too hard on these fantasias for one not to hook me in eventually. But Ratatouille just felt like more of the gorgeous same. Rats.

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Ingrid Goes West (2017)

Matt Spicer directs Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen and O’Shea Jackson Jr. in this cyber stalking satire where a sociopath ingratiates herself with an Instagram influencer.

My accidental Aubrey Plaza season comes to an end. I reckon this is the entry of hers that could stand the test of time. Gorgeous, accessible, on the nose. It feels like a message in a bottle from this generation to future ones. Wanna see the Fifties then watch Rebel Without a Cause! Explore the looks and concerns of the Eighties then Ferris Bueller is your man! This decade… Ingrid Goes West has it covered. That’s not to say just because it gets the subject matter bang to rights and the hazy / lens flare filters looking on point, it all entirely works. There is no urgency, the conflict is promised but avoided or subdued. The comedy never boils over, and despite being a psycho, Plaza’s Ingrid is far more likeable than the vapid financially vampiric set she idolises and wants to join. It is a film of solid acting and slight moments. The darkness of the leads and the warped mindset of the others is always present but you do yearn for it to intrude a bit more violently into the strangely gentle, predictable plot a little more aggressively at times. That’s how you make us laugh, that’s how you make us revulse at the value system being lambasted.

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Movie of the Week: The Lost Boys (1987)

Joel Schumacher directs Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric and Corey Haim in this Eighties teen vampire horror comedy.

Last time I revisited The Lost Boys, I thought I had outgrown it. There was something about its slightness and style over substance that left me cold. A VHS I watched many times as a kid had become a toy not worth playing with in adulthood. Yet it popped up on a hotel late night channel, and I decided to introduce Natalie to it. And we had fun. The horror is diluted down… only a bonfire attack feels bloody enough to hold its head up in the era that gave us The Evil Dead and Re-Animator. The comedy is a bit more serviceable. It can be witty, gloopy, camp, hysterical. The kids sell the gags better than the scares. Whatever the generic deficiencies are, The Lost Boys is all about attitude. Jack Daniels soaked rocker, comic book reading, rundown boardwalk rides, sax rocker sweat mood. The film has a hazy, ominous, electric feel. The soundtrack and score helps. Foreboding yet headbanging. “CRRRRYYY LITTLE SISTER!… (thou shall not fall)”. The cast is variable. Yet Dianne Weist, Edward Herrmann, Corey Feldman and Nanook the dog all make a little out of a lot. Star of the show is Kiefer though, the leather vamp who sells the seductive tragedy of being an undead immortal. He joshingly tricks us with his Chinese banquet of maggots and worms, bristles into action at a flick of a switch and cries a solitary heartfelt tear when sunlight burns him. He and Schumacher did stronger work in Flatliners, but The Lost Boys is their iconic triumph. And the film has one of the best final lines of dialogue in blockbuster history.

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My Top 10 Vampire Movies

1. Near Dark (1987)

2. Let the Right One In (2008)

3. Waxworks (1988)

4. Nosferatu (1922)

5. What We Do In the Shadows (2014)

6. The Lost Boys (1987)

7. The Hunger (1983)

8. 30 Days of Night (2007)

9. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

10. Dracula (1931)

Wakefield (2016)

Robin Swicord directs Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Garner and Victoria Bruno in this drama where a lawyer goes “missing”, hiding out and spying on his wife for months in the attic of their garage.

A strange unclassifiable film… if I were pushed I would say the film is It’s a Wonderful Life x Rear Window – Jimmy Stewart. Cranston sells an often despicably self-centred character with conniving aplomb. Swincord works within the strict limitations of the concept deftly. There are thrilling moments, sad moments, funny moments. It is a bit too well crafted to become a cult classic… but Wakefield is one of the more unique movies to come out of Hollywood this decade.

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Thieves Like Us (1974)

Robert Altman directs Keith Carradine, Shelley Duvall and John Schuck in this relaxed crime story about three Depression era jailbreakers who go back to bank robbing.

Long before Reservoir Dogs, this was the heist film utterly disinterested in showing the robbery. Instead we sit in the period accurate jalopies listening to the radio, enjoy many Coca Colas (the movie has such constant product placement that the drink almost becomes a character in its own right), hangout in beaten up hide-outs. It is a nothing movie, just happy to let its ensemble hang around. But this produces some lovely moments; Carradine adopts a mutt under the railway tracks, the criminals teach the kids how to act in a robbery, a prison warden greedily eats a banquet lunch while a disguised Carradine waits on him. Inessential but well made.

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Eureka (1983)

Nicolas Roeg directs Gene Hackman, Theresa Russell and Rutger Hauer in this violent mystery about a gold prospector who later gives up on life when the mafia become interested in the island paradise he has bought and his sexy heiress daughter marries a cad.

Whoah! This is about as existentially bleak as cinema gets. A movie of moments… big, indelible colour scream shock moments! Don’t expect a straightforward or generically consistent narrative. We start in the wastelands of the freezing Klondike in conflict. Strike it rich. Then enter a dying fantasy involving a tree of life and witch’s hovel / poorly located brothel. Hackman sells the determination and despair of a man of action in these sequences. His gruff manliness becomes achingly vulnerable to the deadly elements, his macho aggression is broken down by the hopelessness of his greed. That’s Act One. We then get into gangsters, playboys, familial sexual jealousy, a voodoo sex orgy, a murder with blowtorch and machete. We are not certain if this is Hackman’s death dream still (the bloody feathers and hardwood backing board of a key scene visually match his weakened snowy moments of surrender in the wasteland). The third act is a recreation of a real life court case. The victim’s brutalised body becomes a blow-up poster. Both evidence and grisly witness to the proceedings. Justice is subverted and the witness box is used to make power plays, discuss love and fidelity. It feels like the end of a different film… although does give us more screentime with Russell and Hauer – both of whom are as hot as ever. As with all of Roeg’s time hopping, discombobulated works, Eureka is hard to get a true grip on in first watch. But for all its spectacular ungainlyness it is a violent, steamy, well acted experience. You don’t walk away from the cinema feeling you haven’t seen something. Something unique, something cinematic.

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My Top 10 Gene Hackman Movies

1. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

2. The Conversation (1974)

3. Reds (1981)

4. The French Connection (1971)

5. The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

6. Unforgiven (1992)

7. The Quick and the Dead (1995)

8. Superman (1978)

9. Heist (2000)

10. Bonnie and Clyde (1968)

The Little Hours (2017)

Jeff Baena directs Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza and John C. Reilly in this anachronistic farce involving medieval nuns behaving badly – based in part on The Decameron.

I had high expectations for this. A great cast getting up to surreal, goofy shit in vestments and wimples. Yet the film has one joke – classical plot played out with modern voices and self awareness. The end result is fine to look at but tiring… imagine a 90 minutes long SNL sketch. You can’t, you wouldn’t, no one could. The quality of the comedy actors keeps this from being a collosal waste of an afternoon.

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