Movie of the Week: Midsommar (2019)

Ari Aster directs Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor and Will Poulter in this psychological thriller where an on-the-ropes couple go to a remote festival in Sweden; hallucinogenics, constant sun, rituals, dancing, folklore, jealousy and death ensue.

I didn’t rate Hereditary… a horror movie far too in love with itself to deliver. It was the involvement of Pugh and Poulter that got me into this. And if you take it as a horror it will dissatisfy again. Not particularly scary, quite predictable and… I think that’s OK in this instance. It is more a disorienting psychological thriller, akin to Repulsion or Don’t Look Now. The weirder elements belong in the warped service of the relationships we watch play out, reality disintegrates just as any trust or affection or compassion between the tourists do. The results are mad and unsettling, sometimes vibrantly splattering. Shocking, surreal imagery is salted finely throughout the measured runtime. Yet this is an apt drama about fucked up people in an even worse situation. A morality tale where disrespect for another’s culture results in punishment… though the locals expect, predict and need for these transgressions to happen to reach their target. A sad tale of a woman who expects too much from her weak willed lover. A kinky remake of The Wizard of Oz where no one goes home but at the very least a version of The Scarecrow, The Lion and The Man Behind The Curtain are with us by the close of play. A meditation on death, pain and attraction. I really liked it. The long patient pace, trippy set-pieces (pulsating flowers a-go-go, maypole endurance tests) and strange kills. And Florence Pugh is excellent in it. Our screening was slightly ruined by some rude cunts who were let in during the last five minutes and had a lengthy chat on the stairs. But that’s Cineworld Edinburgh for you.

8

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Cop Car (2015)

Jon Watts directs Kevin Bacon, James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford in this thriller where two kids find a cop car in the woods and take it on a joyride but the corrupt Chief of Police is not in a position to be forgiving.

A pretty gripping thriller in The Night of the Hunter mould. Bacon is tastily frazzled and unhinged as the boy’s deadly pursuer. The whole endeavour has the feel and desperate problem solver’s zeal of a Breaking Bad episode. It never clicks fully over into something extraordinary, despite the potential, but equally has the nimbleness to up the stakes or shift focus whenever the plot risks becoming stale. You can see how Watts got his current Spider-Man directing gig off this neat little calling card.

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My Top 10 Kevin Bacon Movies

Climax (2019)

Gaspar Noé directs Sofia Boutella, Kiddy Smile and Claude Gajan Maull in this dance horror where someone has spiked the punch bowl at an after party and taboo busting madness descends on the performers.

I thought I could watch Sofia Boutella in just about anything. When they are all dancing it is alright, when they are screaming down corridors it is unbearable. This film is 70% the latter.

3

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017)

Alexandra Dean directs Hedy Lamarr, Mel Brooks and Diane Kruger in this documentary recounting the many surprising lives of a Golden age Hollywood star.

First actress to simulate an orgasm in a scandalous mainstream film. Trophy wife to a Nazi munitions seller. Refugee Hollywood star. Inventor of a technology to radio control torpedoes that formed the basis for all our wireless technology. Tragic recluse. Such a varied biography was bound to make a spellbinding documentary, though incident packed as it is, the women herself remains an enigma.

7

Beau Travail (1999)

Claire Denis directs Denis Levant, Grégoire Colin and Michel Subor in this arthouse drama about French Legionnaires going mad in the the North African sun.

Sumptuously shot and well acted but can anyone guess the inherent problem with a film about crippling ennui?

5

Gladiator (2000)

Ridley Scott directs Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix and Oliver Reed in this historical actioner where a fallen Roman general fights his way towards a chance of revenge in the coliseum; his target, the new Emporer.

A rousing piece of blockbuster cinema, even if it has reached a vintage where it’s now dated style looks creaky rather than nostalgic. Every element works except a slightly trite script. The production design from ornate helmets to booby trapped battle arenas is awe inspiring. Hans Zimmer’s transcendent score carries you towards Elysium. Crowe glowers and thunders in his A-List breaking turn. Muscular, sensitive, capable… he’s a fine movie star, one of my favourites. Here he gets speeches and set-pieces of equal impressiveness. The support is rich with Richard Harris and Olly Reed turning ham into golden gammon. What a delight! And young Joaquin makes for a captivating villain… as he sticks his tongue out dementedly watching all the chopping, slashing tournaments you can’t help but grow a soft spot for the evil cad. Celluloid world builder Ridley working at full steam on a wobbly bit of writing with a budget that forced creativity and stars that were unruly and committed… It remains a fine piece of prestige entertainment.

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My Top 10 Ridley Scott Movies

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Jon Watts directs Tom Holland, Jon Faverau and Jake Gyllenhaal in this Marvel superhero sequel to Homecoming and Avengers: Endgame where Peter Parker goes on a school trip to Europe and meets Mysterio.

The first solo film of this iteration of Spidey was a blast. Great villain in Keaton, compelling action and smart 1980s teen movie copying. This time everything that works is forgotten. Gyllenhaal is too subdued, having to tread water for over an hour until his true nature can be revealed. Once he’s out, the ruse is revealed, things improve, but it feels too late. The early, wobbly CGI FX saturated action plays out forced and unthreatening… there’s narrative reasons for that… but it doesn’t help a sluggish overly busy film. Once Peter is battling mind bending reality, it does raise the pulse. Until then it is all a bit sitcommy. Those likeable side players from Homecoming have nice wriggles of European Vacation business to distract us but none of it is as sharply written or visually zippy as the Ferris Bueller and Breakfast Club homages a few years back. To say of a Spider-Man blockbuster that the only real highlight is two lower credited characters hooking-up neatly is hardly the stuff of IMAX wonderment. The most shocking and exciting developments happen after the credits.

5

Holiday (2018)

Isabella Eklöf directs Victoria Carmen Sonne, Lai Yde and Thijs Römer in this Danish crime drama where a potential love triangle forms between a trophy girlfriend, a cruel gangster and a traveller.

The film itself is a languid mixture of Sexy Beast and Knife in the Water punctuated by a gruelling sequence of sexual violence. It is not particularly deep nor pleasant viewing; pop nihilism. There is however a scene that after a lower rung henchman fucks up he has to buy everyone at the holiday villa penance gifts. I want to introduce this at work… shit at your job, then buy me a new shirt or the latest Ian Rankin.

5

Breakheart Pass (1975)

Tom Gries directs Charles Bronson, Richard Crenna and Ben Johnson in this Alistair McLean thriller where a steam train making its way through the Wild West contains a conspiracy that is murdering the innocent passengers.

A movie star I could never get my head around is Charles Bronson. He’s wrinkled like a walnut, pugnacious and void of any real personality. I get the feeling he only existed to mop up the leftover projects than Clint and Steve McQueen deemed beneath them. But whereas those two genuine legends brought a charm and buried sparkle to the screen amid their gruff adventuring (they were their era’s embodiment of old fashioned ruggedness combined with a new self-aware cool), he is just a cowpuncher whose response to the changing cultural landscape was the occasional drop kick. Your proper stars felt like they moved with counter culture, kept their heads above the hippy movement by being both a counterpoint and a veiled acceptance. Whereas Bronson probably actively pursued scripts where he could genocide the youth movement or ignore it all together. McQueen has McGraw and Clint Sondra Locke. Their respective partners on and off screen. McGraw was a proper star in her own right. Locke had very little likability. Pointedly Bronson’s wife / perennial romantic interest was Jill Ireland. She’s a million times more charismatic than him. A far better actress than Locke by any measure, warmer with more than one setting on her emotional register. She and the supporting cast are the best thing in this. Charles Durning, Ed Lauter and David Huddlestone too. An ensemble whodunnit on a Western train… that descends into actioner when it turns out nearly everyone still alive is in on the plot. Would it be improved by McQueen being the lead? He probably would have found it old hat, only the later set pieces are passable. Would Clint have elevated it? Nah, he would have swapped out Ireland for Locke. Thus one step forward and two back. Forgettable stuff but those B players and that in-the-wild location stunt work suggest a better man could have forced this project into being an action classic.

5

How the West was Won (1962)

Henry Hathaway, John Ford and George Marshall direct Debbie Reynolds, George Peppard and James Stewart in this all star, era spanning Western epic exploring manifest destiny from lone beaver trappers in the wilderness to the age of law, order and electricity.

Politically iffy as fuck but just marvel at the sheer goddamn scale of the thing. Genuinely all star, wonderous Cinerama action sequences and your afternoon thrillingly devoured. These may be the white man’s words but by God they sure make a big fuck-off movie.

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