Lars Von Trier directs Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgård and Katrin Cartlidge in this arthouse drama where a sheltered young woman, who believes she speaks to God, marries a worldly oil worker whom after a debilitating accident asks her to start sleeping with other men.
I have never been Von Trier’s biggest fan. He loves the naughty shock just far too much. Cruel rather than transgressive. Whether you approach him as provocateur or prankster, his movies have a cold, clinical distance that I struggle to connect to. He’s a formalist as much as an enfant terribles, Breaking The Waves contains some of his most wholegrain gambles. The chapter breaks are little marvels – on the nose selections of Seventies glam rock play over moving oil paintings – which punctuate the dour tragedy. The imagery is processed to drain all the vivacity from the shots. Film converted to video and then back to film – giving the whole project the feel of a faded Kodak photo found in a charity shop book… underlit, candid and important to someone once. Yet what truly elevates this above Von Trier’s usual experimentation and irritation is Watson superlative debut performance. The fanatical mischief on her face when she communes with God, the frailty when she stumbles unprepared into the world of men’s desires. One of the greatest pieces of screen acting.
Amy Heckerling directs Alicia Silverstone, Krysten Ritter and Sigourney Weaver in this comedy where two single gals share an apartment in Manhattan and just happen to be vampires.
Strange little production, seemingly filmed on the weekends with whomever was available. There’s a lot of faces packed in here but no sense of cohesiveness. It has the form of those three panel newspaper cartoon when they try to tells a story over days and weeks, one little set-up… set-up… punchline at a time. The gags rarely hit. The SFX are laughable. Yet the leads are cute and willing. The epilogue to all the nonsense is actually quite touching in a cheap but ambitious kinda way.
Rob Reiner directs Kathy Bates, James Caan and Richard Farnsworth in this Stephen King adaptation where a bestselling author finds himself crippled and housebound in the wintery backwoods of Colorado with only his psychotic “Number One Fan” to care for him.
One of those movies that was there for me as I was realising my love for cinema. I know it back to front, shot for shot, line for line. Luckily it is a marvel of storytelling efficiency. King via William Goldman via Rob Reiner leaves not a slither of flab on this two hander. Precision is the nurturer of fine thrills. Bates became a horror icon based on this one performance. Dirty Birds. Flicking lighter fluid. Pig impressions. Heavens to Betsy. Hobblin’. Shit is off the chain. Yet no matter how intense she gets, how grotesque her Annie Wilkes becomes, she remain believable, complex and funny. Like Hopkins’ Lecter, she’s a terrifying creation, seemingly in total control of our protagonist and capable of extreme torture… yet there’s a certain degree of cornball hokeyness. Both Oscar Winning monsters are punchline orientated as much as body destroying hellions. Caan’s bedridden lead is a generous turn – reactive, fragile and in the moment. He is us trapped in that bed, we are him watching helplessly at his ordeal. He is such a macho persona (does he really write Regency romances?) that part of the immoral pleasure of Misery is seeing a brute and a thug immobilised so that he no longer has his strength or posturing to save him. Wouldn’t work with a oily Beatty or suave Nicholson. You’d kinda know they might win the mind game. With Caan we see masculinity neutered and it makes us worried for him, knowing he doesn’t have many other cards in his deck aside from his lost physicality. There is too much to love here, it really puts the viewer through the grinder. Barry Sonnenfeld’s sumptuous yet off kilter photography, Farnsworth and Frances Sternhagen adorable, bickering investigators. I probably know Misery just a little too familiarly to get fully lost in it any more but it is always a comforting rewatch. A movie where a man’s ankles are smashed with a sledgehammer. Like a warm blanket on a cold night. There’s a deep seated part of me that feels all movies should look, feel, move and talk like this.
Fernando León de Aranoa directs Javier Bardem, Manolo Solo and Almudena Amor in this Spanish workplace comedy where a manipulative factory owner jumps through hoops to appear like a top employer on the week an award committee is coming to visit.
Classy satire. You’ve definitely seen this all before but Bardem’s multi-layered performance elevates it.
Leigh Janiak directs Kiana Madeira, Olivia Scott Welch and Benjamin Flores Jr. in this affectionate pastiche of the Nineties slasher revival that self consciously is kickstarting a 500 year spanning horror tale.
A very Gen Z take on the Nineties. The kids taste in music and clothes is squeezed awkwardly through a current filter… I’m pretty sure we were all into Stiltskin, Ace Of Base and U2 back in ‘94? Their needle drops are a little too cool for my era of teenagers, really. The prologue is a direct lift from Scream. Is Maya Hawke the current equivalent of Drew Barrymore? Only if you only watch Netflix (and I type that with a fondness for Maya). This is a tad too over plotted and tad too heavy-footed “woke” to truly seduce. The chase sequences need maybe an extra minute or wrinkle to really build the tension but it is always in a rush to dash off and hint at the next chapter or do some overly mature character work that dampens the energy. There’s no way anyone is getting their fuck on during all this cursed carnage, don’t care how horny you are. But it looks pretty swell, feels pretty cool for targeted product, I liked the ensemble and there’s one very nasty kill in the finale that will become iconic. My appetite is whetted for 1978. And I’ve never read an R.L. Stine book in my life!
Tran Anh Hung directs Kenichi Matsuyama, Rinko Kikuchi and Kiko Mizuhara in this adaptation of the modern Japanese classic by Haruki Murakami about a student in the Sixties who cannot settle on the right girl.
Suicide. Sex. Solitude. Quite a blank, literal (but not literary) take on the source material. Toru Watanabe is quite a feckless and passive lead character… you wouldn’t call him a protagonist… and without his internal monologue his motivations are unfathomable. You end up snoozing through him not really making it with a series of fascinating but doomed young women with no real idea how one scene connects to the next. The emphasis is all wrong, but I only know that as I’ve read the novel… that shouldn’t be a prerequisite for any cinematic adaptation. Kiko Mizuhara’s winning Midori pretty much salvages this.
Gavin Millar directs Coral Browne, Ian Holm and Peter Gallagher in this British drama film where Alice Liddell, an elderly lady who was once the inspiration for Alice In Wonderland, travels to the USA to make a public appearance.
Peculiar little film based on a Dennis Potter screenplay. Three strands – an ageing Alice in the 1930s, landing in New York, her mind going, the press hounding her and her young companion falling for a journalist looking to exploit the situation. Strand two – flashbacks to Lewis Carroll creating the classic story and trying to suppress his clear infatuation with a precocious child. Strand 3 – A grotesque recreation of major scenes from the book using Jim Henson created puppets. Does it all work? Rarely. But it is a controversial and brave attempt to reconcile the distasteful origins of a long beloved tale.
The Coen Brothers direct Frances McDormand, John Getz and Dan Hedaya in this Neo-Noir where a dangerous businessman learns his trophy wife is having an affair with one of his bartenders.
An excellent M. Emmet Walsh was paid cash every day. The Coens avoided showing Frances McDormand the meticulous storyboards they had paid for as the artist they had hired kept drawing her character in the nude. This is very much a calling card debut. A promise of things to come. While Blood Simple doesn’t hold a candle to their best work, the set pieces have the same mordant sense of humour and bold style as later masterpieces. Frances McDormand and the soundtrack make the movie. There’s definitely something extra encrypted into the imagery that you could pull your hair out trying to fathom. Dead fish on an office desk. The under workings of a sink. The Coens have been curve balling us for over 30 years with this kinda deliberate but elusive nonsense.
Perfect Double Bill: The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)
Gregory Hoblit directs Diane Lane, Colin Hanks and Billy Burke in this serial killer thriller where a Cyber Crimes cop needs to stop a maniac who is broadcasting his torturous murders on the worldwide web.
Slick and nasty. This is a Saw and Se7en imitator with very little going for it outside of Lane’s commitment to react classily to the grim set pieces and a couple of serviceable red herrings.
David Cronenberg directs Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams and Martin Sheen in this Stephen King adaptation where a mild mannered school teacher wakes up from a coma with clairvoyant powers.
Walken as a Regular Joe (kinda). Cronenberg without anything that inseminates or pulsates. King going for chilling rather than out and out terror. Nobody is working in their natural wheelhouse. Yet this chimes together quite nicely. It is episodic in its structure but that works well. The finale is satisfying, the wintery, dour tone fitting. Sheen makes for a fine political scumbag, the black mirror image of his saintly President Jed in The West Wing. A movie that always impresses me on each revisit.