Christian Charles directs Jerry Seinfeld, Orny Adams and George Shapiro in this documentary following America’s biggest comedian hitting the road again to work up new material after retiring all his “gold”.
A decade ago stand-up was a massive part of my life. Between my now wife, movies and gigging I didn’t really have time for anything else. Not even sleep. I travelled the lengths of the country trying to move up off the lower rungs of the circuit ladder. Trying to work up enough material that landed consistently with audiences, suited my voice and hadn’t grown stale from over repetition. So this is a movie I very much understand. It captures the feel of standing in a liminal space, scribbled notes in hand, waiting to try a convince an audience what you have to say is worth laughing at. And although Seinfeld comes from a rarefied position (who isn’t going to be excited if someone that recognisably funny rocks up unannounced on a bill, he doesn’t struggle for stage time to nail down his new stuff, his joke ideas rarely challenge audience expectations), he is working at coal face he no longer has to and with self imposed disadvantage nobody needs to. Except in the U.K. where established comedians are actually expected to work up an hour of new material each year to sate the needs of the Edinburgh fringe critics and, if successful, the now dominant solo touring market. Watching Comedian from an insider’s perspective is mainly pleasure but also a curse. You wonder if the support act who hitches a ride in Jerry’s private jet had to pay his share of the petrol money? You wonder at what point the circuit hacks he is reconnecting with over late dinners got bored of his philosophical waxings and just wanted the cameras off so they could touch base with their most famous friend while he slummed it, stuff their faces between sets and maybe pick up an audience member? But the project stumbles onto gold when it begins to juxtapose Jerry’s humble quest to start from creative scratch with the fame hungry upstart Orny Adams. Where Jerry is convivial and wise, Adams is abrasively ambitious and brashly rehearsed. Nearly every interaction the overconfident loner has with any long established industry player is an utter car crash to watch. For the middle hour Comedian becomes schadenfreude deluxe viewing as two very different creatures briefly occupy the same territory. Of course Seinfeld and his people have complete control over this production, they control the edit and light “Jerry” the brand is shown in. But I bet everyone let out a little unguarded yelp when a person quite so apposite as Orny Adams proved willing to become the counterbalance to the narrative. It is almost a shame that during the lengthy triumphant wrap-up the walking social disaster is suddenly lost from the edit. As someone who was spending every waking hour with such people in my former life, even was such a person on some occasions, I can tell you there are far more Orny Adams than there are Jerry Seinfelds. It takes a special kinda sociopath to keep hustling for your attention. A few obvious conceits aside, this is a startlingly accurate representation of the hubris, self doubt and drive that goes into making people laugh as a vocation.
Ben Wheatley directs Joel Fry, Ellora Torchia and Reece Shearsmith in this COVID-era inspired horror movie where a scientist and a forest ranger find themselves lost in a wyrd woods relying on two hermits who might not have their best interests to heart.
Ben Wheatley is a director who pitches concepts that instantly appeal to my specific cinematic tastes even if the final products nearly always defy or subvert my expectations. This welcome return to folk horror was made in a mad dash. Written just as lockdown began last year and ready to roll in front of cameras before there was any attempt to ease restrictions. Whereas most movies hurried out in the last year have examined couples forced together like cellmates or kept apart like wartime romances, here is a genre film where two strangers are conjoined by a desire to survive and trapped quite ironically by the expansive great outdoors. A prologue makes references to a third wave of a virus, killing society beyond the tree lines. Face masks, lateral flow kits and hand sanitising crop up. But very quickly the hot topic of COVID fades into the background. Instead we find ourselves in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets the Blair Witch kinda situation, or rather more classily Hansel & Gretel as imagined by Nigel Kneale of The Stone Tapes and Quatermass fame.
The earth is mutating, releasing mind altering spores and with esoteric needs. Our hapless heroes find themselves having to encounter the isolated obsessives who run two camps… one a ceremonial artist who wants to pay tribute to a woodland spirit of a necromancer, the other a reclusive scientist trying more organised means to master the strange environment. Neither seem trustworthy, both hide secrets within the forbidden partitions of their tarps. One question left unasked, but seemingly explicit in this exploration, is whether science (the repetition of actions based on a thesis to catalogue and surmise results) is all that different from ritual? Wheatley gently ratchets up the foreboding atmosphere and then unleashes a cacophony of doom, trippy imagery, sensory shock and blackly comical ultra-violence. Clint Mansell warps and shreds every vestige of hope from us with his overwhelmingly bleak score. Tarantino better look away, as feet are mangled and intruded into with near parodical regularity.
The casting of the small ensemble is proudly diverse, skewering expectations. Fry’s imposing male “hero” is the victim of the bulk of the indignities, the least prepared for the terrors that unfurl and rarely in control of his destiny. Torchia makes a strong impression as the more capable and sensible of the harried survivors. The most subversive piece of casting is working class Squires as the posh, uncaring zealot… it is a coup in British film to see a role that would automatically go to “one of them” be played by one of us, and the results speak for themselves. You wonder just how politically loaded this particular alternative casting choice was in the light of just how corrupt yet inept the establishment have behaved during the pandemic? With the least amount of screentime her Dr Wendle remains the most enigmatic but venal caricature. The always welcome Shearsmith delivers his most disturbing straight genre performance yet… and still manages to land plenty of laughs. Fair to say In The Earth’s lack of resolution and more experimental shifts will not be for everyone, but for those of us who spilled blood for the cult of Wheatley early doors, now we are again rewarded with a fresh pagan scripture, one that demands repeat viewings to unpack and process.
Jon M. Chu directs Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera and Jimmy Smits in this big screen adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical about a NY Latinx community facing off gentrification, last chances and unrequited romance during a hot summer week.
Mixing together equal parts West Side Story and Do The Right Thing (and these are the most obvious influences) this aims for hope and positivity over all else. Winningly so. Chu’s brightly hued visual sensibilities are rarely lazy, if he can find an experimental cinematic conceit to open up a stage number then he marries them together with elan. So it can be a little lovey dovey and earnest. Isn’t that exactly the vibe a hit musical should aim for? My main man Detective Bobby Simone cannot sing for toffee. This only adds to the overall spell.
Featuring Nicolas Cage’s first truly out there lead turn and the Coens at their sunniest disposition. Visually the extreme framing and kid’s book illustration colouring have gone on to influence everything from Pixar to Breaking Bad. The long lasting impact on cinema and TV Raising Arizona has had is both immeasurable and not properly conceded. As a rewatch the humour runs a little dry at the one hour mark and a third of it all is voice over narration (an overindulged trope) but you are always circling one of Joel and Ethan’s fertile recurring motifs. Screaming men, unresolved red herrings, characters with a lyrical verbosity. It is a blast, always has been, always will. The editing in particular adds a spectacular energy to the relentless excess of the chase sequences. The yodelling score stays with you for weeks after. Mad Max as a rom com, Runaway Train but sweet and cuddly. Just a lotta lotta fun.
John Madden directs Diane Lane, Mickey Rourke and Thomas Jane in this Elmore Leonard crime thriller where a separated couple enter witness protection together after they square off against a mafia hitman and his protege.
A pretty unspectacular but straight adaptation of a lesser Leonard thriller. Some of the characters who popped in the book are given short shrift (Rosario Dawson’s middle aged moll… middle aged?!?) and the dour tone probably muffles the potency of the source material’s dialogue. Still there are worse ways to spend a Friday night in such classy company and the low energy approach has its benefits too. If the plot were more streamlined and focused, this would become very predictable very quickly. Can’t help but think the second chance at romance under duress aspects between the handsome leads would have been the most fruitful aspect to target directly in on though. But then you’d have less Joseph Gordon- Levitt… and his itchy twitchy scumbag steals the show.
George Huang directs Kevin Spacey, Frank Whaley and Michelle Forbes in this indie drama where a powerful movie executive bullies his new assistant.
“You are nothing! If you were in my toilet I wouldn’t bother flushing it. My bathmat means more to me than you!” Time has been very kind to this insider dark comedy. Whereas there are elements that shows its age (Whaley’s miscasting, the unnecessary discombobulated timeline to fake a twist is very post-Reservoir Dogs), the unwittingly prescient #metoo aspects and the fact that Spacey’s powerhouse Buddy Ackerman is an utter shit actually now chimes so well with his current reputation, mean this has lost little relevance over its 25 years. The bruising wit of the constant nastiness is pretty seductive. What probably started out as a calling card, a poor man’s The Player, now works as a Tinseltown Glengarry Glen Ross. If you are hitting that David Mamet sweet spot and allowing Spacey room to do what he did best then you’ll always have something pretty special on your hands. The first hour is such a haranguing nightmare of insults and degradations you kinda miss the bastard being allowed room to hit full flow when the tables start turning towards a resolution.
Randa Haines directs William Hurt, Marlee Matlin and Philip Bosco in this adaptation of the Tony Award winning play where a speech therapist at a deaf school and a Deaf cleaner start a tempestuous romance.
Marlee Matlin’s Oscar winning performance is still outstanding but the movie it is submerged within is very much “of its time”. People think the worse excesses of the Eighties are crimped hair or synth music, but for me it is narratives like these where issues of “otherness” can be solved by the right over confident posh honky rocking up for a few weeks. For example – why is all of the signed dialogue interpreted aloud by Hurt’s right-on horn dog? It means all the views and declarations of the Deaf characters are filtered through the mouth of a hearing WASP. Ick! If you can move past the dated attitudes (this really should be a story told mainly from the Sarah character’s perspective) then there are good scenes and occasional spikes in heat and grit that interrupt the formula.
Mel Gibson directs Nick Stahl, himself and Margaret Whitton in this coming of age drama where a troubled boy spends his summer being tutored by the town outcast, a mysterious man whose face and body have been scarred beyond repair.
Now I’ve no doubt that Dead Poets Society is empirically the finer production, but I always had a soft spot for this similar story from since I was a kid. Mel stretches himself acting (probably his best dramatic performance) and tries the director’s chair out for the first time. He has proven a dab hand behind the camera ever since – with all his oeuvre sharing a melodramatic tone, a taste for body horror violence and a rebellious humanity that few other modern directors seem interested in. If your very worst film is the all out experiential assault of The Passion then you are a pretty consistent, noteworthy auteur in my opinion. Here’s a movie that never allows its inherent schmaltz enough room to overtake the fine acting and production values, always going for the tougher narrative decisions and therefore yielding some pretty impressive, psychologically astute moments in the heartbreaking last act. Well worth hunting down if you missed out on it back in the day.
Nathan H. Juran directs Kerwin Mathews, Torin Thatcher and Kathryn Crosby in this fantasy adventure where the heroic sailor must take on an island of fantasy monsters to return his cursed shrunken princess fiancée to regular size.
The acting is awfully wooden and the whitewashed casting of characters of colour absolutely damning… but nobody is watching for these aspects. You’ve come for Ray Harryhausen’s “DYNAMATION” creations and this delivers them boys and girls in spades. The double headed Roc bird, early versions of the swashbuckling skeleton and blue snake lady, a cyclops fights a dragon. Even the non-stop motion FX tricks gift us a sexy thumb sized princess, seafaring peril and an annoying baby faced genie. I must have watched this so many times as a child that its vision is hardwired into my soul. The framing plot and characterisation is hokey and problematic but the gems of fantasy embedded within it are priceless, treasures beyond measure. A Bernard Hermann score only adds further shine and sparkle to the adventure.
Larry Clark directs Brad Renfro, Rachel Miner and Nick Stahl in this teen true crime story where a group of hapless Florida teens, some of whom barely know their target, conspire to kill the local bully.
If you can move past the sheer amount of just legal nudity that marinates a Larry Clark joint (and some people enjoy that blasé pornography of his movies) then this is a strong teen drama that is in good company with River’s Edge and Mean Creek. The acting is naturalistic and pretty brave, nobody courts our sympathy excessively, with Miner and a spaced out, unguarded Michael Pitt really impressing. And for a movie that is hardwired to visually exploit its young casts’ flesh and bodies, the murder itself and the aftermath is carried out with a chilling lack of sensationalism. Everyone involved whether giddily enthused or uncommitted to the violence during its lengthy and amateur planning is brought crashing into reality. What seemed as indifferent and wasteful a pastime as going to Pizza Hut, playing Mortal Kombat or driving around on acid becomes a shocking wake up call once the loss of life kicks in. Clark revels in an amoral world but he doesn’t deny these youths the chance to realise their callous, feckless lifestyles have equally over the top consequences.