Vagabond (1985)

Agnes Varda directs Sandrine Bonnaire, Macha Méril and Yolande Moreau in this drama exploring people’s encounters with a free spirited, wandering homeless girl and how their lives where affected by meeting her.

Like Sunset Boulevard, we start with our protagonist dead. Then like a documentary, we hear people remember their temporary interactions with her, often Rashomon style, as their prejudices do not tallying with the footage dramatised onscreen. Yet long after she has moved onto the next part of her journey, we return to the less “free” ensemble, see their lives are often just as vulnerable and limited as her spartan, shelterless movements. Especially the other women. Despite the grim subject matter and muddy look this isn’t all misery and polemic. There are moments of wit, moments where Bonnaire’s magnetic lead turn defiantly inspire you with her pig headed determination. For a film that starts and then circles back to such a doomed destination, the journey is full of pleasure and intelligence.

8

IT: Chapter 2 (2019)

Andy Muschietti directs Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy and Bill Hader in this “27 years later…” horror sequel where The Losers have grown-up and forgotten all about the killer clown beast that terrorised them… until Mike calls them all up and reminds them.

We rewatched Chapter One in the build up to this being released. A solidly entertaining prestige horror motored by a strong child cast. Here the bigger name adults don’t hit the same Stand By Me / Stranger Things vibe. So we get flashbacks (unused editing room trims) to the previous ensemble padding out the middle hour. It forces the plot to bloat, bogging IT 2 into a bum numbing bore. I kinda knew it was never going to be nimble, never pacy, but this is self-indulgent and self-important to deathly levels. For example Muschietti reaches a neato final punctuation shot of the survivors staring at a reflection of their younger selves in a Derry shop window. Then adds four more codas. None of which are particularly cathartic, crowd pleasing or iconic. The two best scare sequences (a genuinely unsettling hate crime and a sadly brutal child murder) do not involve any of the main cast. There are good King inspired moments dotted in and around all this hubris but they get lost in an ocean of spoilt storytelling largesse. And there just doesn’t feel like enough Pennywise… The same ground covered without the charm, the scares diluted and uninvolving, the key brand monster relegated to measly support in his own movie. An overlong, if at least ambitious, misfire. We all bloat down here.

5

Dark Habits (1983)

Pedro Almodóvar directs Julieta Serrano, Chus Lampreave and Marisa Paredes in this comedy where a nightclub singer hides out in a nunnery full of eccentric sisters.

A pleasant, relatively gentle farce featuring heroin, tigers and smutty erotica. Was it an influence on Sister Act?

6

My Top 100 Movies of the 21st Century… So Far!

The Guardian have published their random selection of a 100 films of the past 20 years. It certainly isn’t definitive. There’s only about a dozen the average cinema-goer would have had multiplex or streaming access to. That’s roughly the same amount that overlap with my own personal choices here. I reckon there are a lot more here the unpaid, amateur blockbuster fan will agree with, than not. Though their number one (There Will Be Blood – a great film) probably fell out of the list by only a few places. My own controversial preferences are here; only one Marvel Studios film, Moneyball in pole position, my love of unwieldy, much maligned, ambitious, adult blockbusters become mainstays from entry 38 onwards. Only 5 are from non-English speaking countries though that is very much my bad, though equally I am surprised there isn’t more horror. Happy disagreeing – just please remember about 50 of the best films ever were released in 1999 which is why X, Y and Z are ineligible for this list!

  1. Moneyball
  2. No Country For Old Men
  3. Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2
  4. Dunkirk
  5. Toy Story 3
  6. The Fighter
  7. Zodiac
  8. Kill List
  9. The Bourne Supremacy
  10. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
  11. The Bourne Identity
  12. Mystic River
  13. The Mist
  14. The Royal Tenenbaums
  15. Phantom Thread
  16. La La Land
  17. Memento
  18. Amelie
  19. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  20. The Dark Knight
  21. Whiplash
  22. The Prestige
  23. 25th Hour
  24. Gran Turino
  25. Mad Max: Fury Road
  26. Inception
  27. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
  28. A Prophet
  29. High Fidelity
  30. Children Of Men
  31. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  32. Sightseers
  33. Drive
  34. Green Room
  35. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  36. The Social Network
  37. Black Swan
  38. Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice
  39. Bad Santa
  40. The Illusionist
  41. Battle of the Sexes
  42. Ghost in the Shell
  43. Whip It!
  44. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
  45. Brokeback Mountain
  46. Quantum of Solace
  47. American Psycho
  48. Dragged Across Concrete
  49. The Guard
  50. Captain Philips
  51. City of God
  52. The Martian
  53. Only God Forgives
  54. The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers
  55. The Old Man and the Gun
  56. The Avengers: Infinity War
  57. The Jungle Book
  58. Casino Royale
  59. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  60. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  61. Inside Man
  62. A.I. Artificial Intelligence
  63. Factotum
  64. The Conjuring
  65. X-Men: Days of Future Past
  66. 28 Days Later
  67. Unbreakable
  68. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  69. Prometheus
  70. Best in Show
  71. The Wolf of Wall Street
  72. Comedian
  73. Punch Drunk Love
  74. Dredd
  75. Gone Baby Gone
  76. Frozen
  77. Way of the Gun
  78. Spider-Man: Into the Spidey-Verse
  79. Nine Queens
  80. X-Men
  81. Sexy Beast
  82. Django Unchained
  83. A Bittersweet Life
  84. Crimson Peak
  85. The Cabin in the Woods
  86. The Lives of Others
  87. Birdman
  88. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
  89. Ali
  90. Atonement
  91. Moonrise Kingdom
  92. The Spectacular Now
  93. Miami Vice
  94. X-Men 2
  95. In Bruges
  96. Donnie Darko
  97. It Follows
  98. Open Range
  99. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  100. Seabiscuit

Movie of the Week: Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

Martin Brest directs Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold and John Ashton in this blockbuster action comedy where a fast talking Detroit cop finds himself taking down a rich and respected art importer in Beverly Hills.

Beverly Hills Cop is part of my DNA. A movie that takes me back to my childhood, that feels like one of my true measuring sticks to everything entertaining that comes after it. It is a pretty cynical, executively mandated vehicle, yet it works perfectly. All movies in the mid Eighties had this kinda hero. The wisecracking working joe. Smartest guy in the room, keen on pranks and improvising fake personas, sticking it to the bad guys and authorities with a witty insult, occasionally winking to camera when a plot cliche was essential. Irwin Fletcher. Pete Venkman. Mahoney. Axel Foley. Eddie Murphy is fierce in this. Fantastic in 48 Hrs and Trading Places but those were double acts, this is his sole fucking movie. Every sequence has space for him to breakout and improve the script – and he does. Every montage feels like a good friend sharing the weird shit he saw out and about that day, through the filter that we and Eddie conspiratorially know exactly what shit we find ridiculous. Two men, black and white, wearing matching yet inverted leather jumpsuits. HUUUHHH -HUHHHH- HUUURRHHH- HURRRHHH! BHC is a warm film made for working class people where the grafter takes down the big boys, were we get to treat the posh and powerful like the freak show they are. That doesn’t need to be a fantasy. The soundtrack is post-Motown, post-Disco banger after banger. The Pointer Sisters! Glenn Frey! Harold Faltermeyer! The sheer big dick energy of the tunes, the summer of 1984, the good time sonically defined. The thing is so beautifully cast that it is hard to pick out a best support character. Bronson Pinchot’s absurdly self-important art gallery assistant Serge? Jonathan Banks’ slouching killer? Real life police inspector Gilbert R Hill as Axel’s fatherly but foul mouthed superior? Damon Wayans one-shot camp fruit buffet server? It has to be the odd couple cop double act of Ashton and Reinhold though. They do deadpan banter, they do slapstick. There is so much great shit packed into this film. Even the Reagan era standard of a comedy ending in a 1000 cop cars crashing into each other feels fresh. This is a machine tooled product, yet Murphy with his support ensemble sneak a vibrant soul into it. A standard bit of kit, a suit’s creation, that transcends its committee design and becomes one of the greatest night’s in you can have. And the reason is… Eddie Murphy.

9

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

André Øvredal directs Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza and Gabriel Rush in this tween horror film where some Sixties kids face down the ghouls conjured by a book of horror tales written in blood.

This was an (un)pleasant surprise – nice use of the Nixon / Vietnam era backdrop, unfussy child performances, excellent creature design (with one glaring exception) and some dreadful (in all the right way), prolonged scare sequences. A genuinely fear inducing horror flick. Only the last monster let’s the side down… where as the other threats feel tangible, the final aggressor has that uncanny CGI smoothness that is about as terrifying as an Amstrad CPC loading a game. In the main though, this is well worth seeking out. Although it is less ambitious than the current IT franchise, it actually hits the same genre high notes being aimed for with far more elan and popcorn power. It probably helps that this B-Movie is quite happy to off younger members of the lead ensemble with shocking regularity meaning as a viewer you are left feeling unbalanced. All bets are off by the second kill and no part two feels preordained and saving everyone for some grander narrative. That’s really what a horror should be all about.

7

Certified Copy (2010)

Abbas Kiarostami directs Juliette Binoche, William Shimell and Adrian Moore in this arthouse drama where a middle age antique dealer and art critic go on a first date to a Tuscan Village only to reveal this isn’t their first encounter after all.

The boring shit I’ll sit through to look at a beautiful, talented French actress, hey? Before Midnight for the pretentious. Still she is radiant, ain’t she?

4

The Young Poisioner’s Handbook (1995)

Benjamin Ross directs Hugh O’Connor, Ruth Sheen and Anthony Sher in this true crime tale of the 1960s “The Teacup Murderer” – a young boy who poisoned his family, neighbours and colleagues in two dastardly sprees.

Treats the period and the murders in that slightly parodic, sitcom-my forced style. Part Rising Damp, Part Heavenly Creatures in tone. I think this approach to sympathy-less portrayals of past scandals actually originates with Pedro Almodovar’s early farces. He wraps dark subject matter in a bright, unjudgemental pantomime and 1990s independent directors clearly found this a format ideal to explore real evil and darkness in an emotionally cold, yet accessible way. As unique as the Graham Young story is, it isn’t particularly cinematic. You can’t help but think the ground might be covered better in a decent true crime podcast like All Killa, No Filla.

6

The Wayward Cloud (2005)

Tsai Ming-liang directs Lee Kang-sheng, Chen Siang-chi and Sumomo Yozukora in this Taiwanese arthouse film about pornography, boredom and watermelons.

Some pretty extreme fuck scenes and some playful musical non-sequiturs slice up hours of boring waiting about. There are symbolic points here about the human condition, commodification and lust… but lost in an intentionally draggy whole. A modern classic perhaps, but not for me or the casual viewer. If you own a dirty mac or a Derrida Reader maybe you can jack off a part of your body to it that I just can’t.

5

Gotti (2018)

Kevin Connolly directs John Travolta, Spencer Lofranco and Kelly Preston in this crime biopic of “The King of New York” / “The Teflon Don” John Gotti.

A poorly made film. Not the utter clusterfuck of repute but pretty irredeemable. The wavering positives are Travolta works hard not to rely on his charms and the ageing make-up is award worthy. Yet the structure is random, uninvolving. And the tone seems to suggest this thug and profiteer from misery is some kind of misunderstood folk hero. When the events at best present him as a half hearted bully. Then we waste time exploring his son, suggesting his prison time was some kind of conspiratorial injustice akin to Mandela or Steve Biko. Getthefuckouttahere! He lived the mafia life, was ‘made’, committed violence. Who cares if he wanted to go straight when his Dad got cancer and the Feds got evidence. He was as dirty as the next goombah, and the poor mope playing him can’t play – shit actor.

3