Márta Mészáros directs Kati Berek, Gyöngyver Vigh and László Szabó in this Hungarian drama where an unmarried factory worker, after her married boyfriend refuses her a baby, takes a rebellious teen under her wing.
Like The Girl, this is almost more fascinating as a snapshot of everyday life behind the Iron Curtain as it is a narrative in its own right. Just seeing how this society operates -its sexual politics, bureaucracy and cafe flirting – is movie enough. The main plot is well performed. There’s an unspoken generational attraction between the two lead women… are their private moments supposed to be so sexually charged?
Craig Zobel directs Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker and Pat Healy in this based on a true story drama where an anonymous caller poses as the police and convinces the manager of a fast food restaurant to strip search and confine a teenage employee.
At its scariest and most compelling when it is a procedural, some find the restrained sexualised moments distasteful. I’d wager the nudity and unease aren’t just the key marketing points but also the most successfully unnerving elements. There aren’t many mainstream movies that make you feel complicit and seedy for wanting to ogle a teenage girl. Zobel completely understands both what his audience wants to see but also what they don’t want to feel while they do it and he plays with both keys expertly to get a visceral reaction from you. Too finely acted by Dowd, Healy and Bill Camp to dismiss as exploitation, too gripping to file away as arthouse posturing.
Jane Campion directs Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw and Paul Schneider in this romantic biopic following the chaste romance between dying poet John Keats and steadfast society woman Fanny Brawne.
Hampstead when it was still a country village rather than the interior of London. The characters ramble and trudge through its leafy copses and heathland not quite touching but clearly connecting. Cornish is grand here and her resolute admirer has three distinct obstacles. The object of her affections is a penniless ditherer… who happens to churn out poetry that will stand the test of time. His best friend (played memorably by Paul Schneider) is a cad who wants to keep the talent and companionship all to himself. She being a woman in upper society can easily be excluded from the salons, decisions and interactions that will define her happiness. All that said, Campion’s touch is almost too light here. Excessively delicate. It is brave for her to ease up and try to make a film that wears its inherent feminism less obviously but little takes it place. There’s not nearly enough but beauty to sustain our attention for two hours and I can’t be the only one who checked out long before the inevitable began to shut the narrative down. It feels like a film solely for girls who like their men helpless, sickly and dewey eyed. Non-Threatening Boys readers will get the most out of it.
Francis Ford Coppola directs Frederic Forrest, Teri Garr and Raul Julia in this art musical where a Las Vegas couple break-up and go on dates with fantasy figures.
The flop that bankrupted American Zoetrope. Allegedly Coppola directed this from inside a caravan full of video monitors, avoiding stepping on set to interact in person with human cast members. It cost $26 million and that money is all there onscreen. It made less than a million at the box office during its entire run and that’s completely believable too. Overspend, hubris and distant humanity define every soulless frame. A fantastic looking film about boring characters. There are moments of magical realism, surprising nudity and dictatorial excess that make you feels like you should like or at least respect this more. But the basic plot is wafer thin and those populating it such unrepentant losers that it all feels like visual dazzle dazzle in the service of a cynic’s wank fantasy. As an off key ode to the MGM musicals of old, the completely studio bound recreation of Las Vegas is a magnificent folly, the intoxicating use of colour means there’s rarely a boring shot and the Tom Waits soundtrack has it mumbling, whisky soaked charms. However, much like Teri Garr’s window dressing shrew of a protagonist, this is all artificial diorama building that goes nowhere. Attempts to revive this as a cult item or an overlooked jewel will always hit the brick wall that it just ain’t much fun to sit through. Frustrating.
Shaka King directs LaKeith Stanfield, Daniel Kaluuya and Jesse Plemons in this dual biopic of young Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and the secret FBI informant by his side, Bill O’Neal.
What a movie! Even though it stays completely within the realms of veracity, every other scene, nearly all interactions, simmer with the threat and peril of a great psychological thriller. The movie is pregnant with doom and risk, enveloping you in a world and a mindset of justified rebellion. Fred Hampton’s short but worthy life gets the lead performance it deserves in Kaluuya’s persuasive and charismatic powerhouse. LaKeith Stanfield continually impresses in all his projects but here he stretches every muscle of his acting core playing the tragic and conflicted snitch. Shaka King’s visual sensibilities are unshowy but impactful, I was often impressed by the unfussy luxury of his shot compositions and eye for period detail. This can’t have had the biggest budget in the world for its recreation of Sixties urban America but there’s never a detail that feels forced, cheap or fudged. The one stylistic choice that feels less organic but wholly successful is Craig Harris and Mark Isham’s foregrounded music. The discordant jazz score moans, swipes and bides it time throughout scenes, like being trapped in a room with an unseen wounded predator. Easily the finest Black Panther movie to date but also probably the best undercover movie ever made.
Michael Chaves directs Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson and Ruairi O’Connor in this period horror sequel based on a true story where paranormal investigating couple, The Warrens, try to help a possessed boy accused of murder.
A brave but unsuccessful attempt to open the franchise out and away from the haunted house genre. Farmiga and Wilson seem underserved by the script, the moments of gentle wholesome campness in their ghostbusting marriage are markedly absent. Where James Wan would put you through the wringer with 15 to 20 minutes of sustained scares as one sequence, Chaves goes for little regular bursts which lack the patient escalation that is the series’ hallmark. There’s plenty of shock imagery seeded throughout the investigation narrative but these arrive with minimal tension. You’ll remember the possessed contortions, the rats and a charging corpse. Whether the lack of chills also had something to do with our continually chatty, whispering audience can’t be discounted. It appears that cinema etiquette has vanished over lockdown going by my last two visits. And here was a movie that needed optimum silence and darkness at points to work.
Simon McQuoid directs Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee and Josh Lawson in this video game adaptation reboot about a violent tournament of fighters with supernatural powers.
I was the only person in my cinema screen without a top knot haircut, the only person in my socially distanced row not checking their phone for half the movie. It starts strong with a period prologue that feels like Takashi Miike’s Mortal Kombat but once we are in the present the plot takes the form of a Saturday morning kid’s cartoon. There is way too much exposition, the shooting style is murky and fuzzy whenever not a close-up and the fights are edited poorly. Yet the production values have merit – the Outworld sequences neatly evoke the fantasy stylings of Masters of the Universe or Army of Darkness. As a casual fan of the games I relished seeing the gory fatalities and the character designs. At near two hours, there’s not nearly enough “FINISH HIM!” or “GET OVER HERE!” to really make you again want to sit through the painstakingly set-up sequel. And permanently wisecracking Aussie Kano is mercifully put to bed after simultaneously stealing your attention and swamping the film in poorly written quips. After his grating omnipresence is defeated, you might look forward to a Mortal Kombat movie populated only by the silent, gruff and bland. Personally this scratched an itch that I hope I never have again. A mess but adequate given its pedigree.
The Coen Brothers direct Tom Hanks, Irma P. Hall and J.K. Simmons in this comedy remake of the Ealing caper movie where an unlikely bunch of hoods have to kill the indomitable little old landlady they are using as a cover for their heist.
Raising Arizona and The Hudsucker Proxy aside, I don’t really rate Joel & Ethan’s broad comedies. I know they have their fans but for me they feel like shaggy dog wastes of their rare talents. Nobody makes movies like those Coens so to see them squander their technical perfection, sunny nihilism and syllable perfect way with words on fart gags and pratfalls is kinda galling. When they season their darkest thrillers or eccentric dramas with a bit of dumb comedy I’m fine with that, only they can seemingly get away with such daring shifts in tone. When, like with The Ladykillers, it feels like two geniuses goofing off at the back of the classs between bigger project I’d personally rather they took a year out rather than dilute the brand. One of the more universally unloved of their back catalogue, The Ladykillers isn’t actually without merit. It looks the part, has that delicious Coen-esque dynamic where pure good and true evil is defined and personified but we are stuck with blowhards and schmoos somewhere in the middle, and Tom Hanks delivers a game slice of hammy villainy. His scenes with a wonderful Irma P. Hall crackle, together they make the first half an hour sing. Then the crime plot kicks in and we halfheartedly watch the goons one by one get their just desserts. The heist and the deaths that follow feel roughly sketched. The zings and repartee get left behind. An hour in, all the pep has abandoned the project, then 90 minutes in we finally, at long last, start “ladykilling” in full knowledge the finishing line is already in sight. It all closes on a whimper, never once achieving a crescendo. Too well cast and visually well crafted to deserve its rotten reputation but not a patch on the original. It just deflates so early, as if The Coens too realised after the strong set-up, remaking an Ealing classic wasn’t probably the best use of their powers after all.
Nagisa Ōshima directs Yusuke Kawazu, Miyuki Kuwano and Yoshiko Kuga in this Japanese teen thriller where a schoolgirl and a student fall in love over a scheme to rob middle aged drivers who try to rape the hitchhiking bait.
Seedy but poppy. This is a very vibrant film with a very dour view of humanity and first love. As the ensemble slowly expands, the troubled lovers seem beset by all corners of society, a jagged worldview forms. Oshima defines everyone older as a mass who don’t just want to crush the ill fated union, but suck it dry like vampires. It makes for a pessimistic and ugly prosecution of teen lust and all the generations. A bit tabloid hyperbolic at times but this straddles the line between exploitation and arthouse with a rare deftness. Shame it is so continually bleak really.
Jean Negulesco directs Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable in this romantic comedy where three fashion models go for broke and give themselves a year to each snag a man of exclusive means.
Opulent fluff in then revolutionary CinemaScope and Technicolor. Monroe and Grable go for laughs with broad characters that suit their personas. This is Bacall’s movie though. She’s marvellous as the mastermind too shrewd for her own good. The men don’t really deserve these stunners, only old hand William Powell can keep pace with them on screen, but that’s part of the joke. When we get off of the obvious soundstage sets there are wonderful Joseph MacDonald shots of Post-War Manhattan.