Spike Jonze directs John Cusack, Cameron Diaz and Catherine Keener in this surreal satire where a puppeteer takes an office job only to discover a portal into Hollywood character actor John Malkovich’s head behind his filing cabinet.
More Charlie Kaufman. A movie that sits better in the memory a few days afterwards than while you are actually watching it. The unrestrained nuttiness of it all churns up some brilliant ideas and moments. Abelard + Héloïse through marionettes. The 7 and a 1⁄2 floor. “Shall we to the boudoir?” The chimp’s flashback. Malkovich in Malkovich. As a whole though, this is pretty bleak and abrasive stuff. Admirable in that it is never happy in itself, constantly moving to the next trap like shark seeking a new cage. Keener and Malkovich are excellent here. He is game in a way that feels like a coup even two decades later. Groundbreaking but not easy to love in actuality.
Charlie Kaufman directs Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons and David Thewlis in this surreal romance where a young lady accompanies her new-ish boyfriend to an awkward Christmas dinner; she is thinking of ending things, he is also lost in thought.
I’m going to give myself a big smug pat on the back for figuring out the solution to the cranium twisting puzzle very early on. What’s left is pretty indulgent – impressed with itself for leaping through a series of hoops ITOET has built only for itself. Then avoiding a satisfying conclusion. You can’t deny the perfectly designed bleak imagination of Kaufman’s world. Whether lurching into horror or sentimentality he pulls at your intellect and gets a deep psychological response. Much like the similarly depressing but accomplished Anomalisa or Synecdoche, New York you can only marvel so much at a film that burns it own rule book, a rule book that no other movie or storyteller bothers to follow. I prefer Adaptation or Eternal Sunshine as they have strong seams of warmth, hope and accessibility. Not in any way to diminish Kaufman’s incomparable achievements in modern Hollywood but much his shtick of a mediocre sad sack whose life falls apart with reality warping results doesn’t sit well with someone who has carved out such a precious and precocious niche within the industry. Comparable to Stewart Lee in stand-up comedy, you are watching an unusually victorious inventive outlier continually bemoan his lot and life in general. It doesn’t ring true when you permanently operate with budgets and technicians at the level his last three releases have enjoyed. You can’t be the voice of the loser AND have this much creative freedom. I find that worldview from people with massive loyal followings disingenuous. For those of us who look forward to his movies but haven’t drunk the kool-aid, this film only really is “entertaining” when Thewlis is behaving boorishly or when the implied terror at an ice cream parlour lurks just out of shot. That maybe adds up to 30 minutes total of a very gloomy, overlong, unruly yet undeniably gorgeous product.
John Huston directs Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet in this detective thriller where Sam Spade takes on a case to find the MacGuffin everyone wants their hands on.
A stone cold classic… that can feel a little stagey at first glance. The final twenty minute sequence is just the five principals waiting in a room and plotting as they do. That’s the movie’s spell though. The Maltese Falcon is what Tarantino would call ‘a hang out movie.’ You get a bunch of cool customers, some at odds with each other, most not exactly what they seem and then let them stew in the pot together for most of the running time. Bogart is pretty spicy as Sam Spade, always happy to try a bluff, not particularly scared even when he has the lowest hand showing. He makes quite a nice score in commissions and retainers off every conniver he meets. Lorre is awesome as the conman Joel Cairo, oily and reptilian – he is like a Disney jungle villain reverse-anthropomorphised. Mary Astor is the untrustworthy damsel. Elisha Cook Jnr. a pitiable bottom rung gunsel. Ward Bond is our friendly police investigator about five blocks behind everyone else on the case… especially when Spade spins him every point on the compass. Lee Patrick is the indomitable secretary cum confidant. You get the feeling she could be running Spade & Archer even if both gumshoes got blasted. And then there is the magnificent Greenstreet – jovial, verbose and predatory. Every gesture and aside is delivered with devilish flair by the master criminal. Allegedly he’s based on a real life overly ambitious swindler. The Fat Man here is a notorious pleasure. The sleuthing plot is impenetrable so just enjoy Spade’s bullshitting prowess when trapped in a room with all these jackals. 90 minutes in this company is “the stuff that dreams are made of.”
Michele Soavi directs Rupert Everett, François Hadji-Lazaro and Anna Falchi in this Italian horror comedy where a romantic slacker is in charge of a graveyard where the dead come back to life.
A bit like Evil Dead 2 or Braindead but with a more wistful, existential air. Everett makes for a quirky anti-hero… a kinda foppish Blackadder. The FX are good, no strange lurch in plot outstays its welcome. There are genuine surprises in this restless cult item.
James Foley directs Mark Wahlberg, Reese Witherspoon and William Petersen in this yuppie in peril thriller; here the family unit is threatened by an unusually nasty boyfriend their teenage daughter unwittingly brings home.
Like a key scene where RW❤️MW on a rollercoaster, this is a lot of awkward build-up, loads of bad choices at the peak and then we are thundering through a squidgy bloody fumble that is invasive and rushed. Marky Mark is better doing his fake little boy lost conwork than when convincing us he’s a full on psycho. Witherspoon and Petersen both struggle with characters who continually choose secret option: awful. The shockingly full on home invasion finale has multiple characters swap from cowardly to heroic to comatose within single scenes. As a teen Fatal Attraction or a slick Straw Dogs, it fills an evening. The cheesiest moments should become iconic if they aren’t considered as such already. Finger bang. Chest thump. Homemade tattoo. Dog’s head. Window toss. That doesn’t mean you should queue up and ride it again.
Daniel Kokotjlo directs Molly Wright, Siobhan Finneran and Sacha Parkinson in this British drama where a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses have their faith tested when both daughters come-of-age.
An immersive drama. You feel like you are taking a convincing peek into a subset of society you only see on high street corners and underpasses. The acting is attractive and uniformly convincing, especially after a couple of brave narrative choices. The cinematography by Adam Scarth is evocative without being particularly fussy. Not my cup of tea but faultless.
Phil Alden Robinson directs Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier and River Phoenix in this caper movie where a bunch of outsiders who test corporations’ security vulnerabilities are forced to steal a MacGuffin.
Hacking. Encryption. Surveillance. The first Brian De Palma Mission: Impossible owes this a sizeable debt. Though here the tone is kept breezily light. It is a nimble ensemble piece that fleet footed skips between comedy and conspiracy without ever wobbling into being too broad or too heavy. I watched this at the cinema as a young kid and it is family friendly only in that it is admirably bloodless and tells its shaggy tale with a clarity lacking from far superior films. I’ll probably be a pensioner next time I revisit it and I’ll gain just as much simple pleasures from it as pre-teen me did and middle aged me has.
Éric Rohmer directs Amanda Langlet, Arielle Dombasle and Pascal Greggory in this romantic comedy where two cousins, both on separate cusps of coming-of-age, go on holiday together.
The punchline is fifteen year old Pauline knows what she wants (and what she doesn’t want) more than the adults plotting their affairs and romantic intrigues. Or it might just be an excuse to ogle a teenager and a model in swimsuits for 90 minutes?
Peter Berg directs Mark Wahlberg, Winston Duke and Iliza Shlesinger in this action comedy where a disgraced ex-cop, recently released from jail, solves a crime.
Burger King – The Movie! Has everything greasy and satisfyingly disposable you want, just not as good as Five Guys, ShakeShack or even Wahlburgers! The action has crunch, the plot is undemanding and warmed over, Alan Arkin and especially foul mouthed romantic interest Shlesinger land easy, saucy giggles. I almost stopped looking at my phone and gave this my full attention for a while.
Frank Pavich directs Alejandro Jodorowsky, H.R. Giger and Charles Foss in this documentary about the Chilean cult director’s failed big budget attempt to make Frank Herbert’s Dune in the 1970s.
I’m a massive fan of lost films. John Carpenter’s Shadow Company. Nicolas Cage’s Superman Lives. Richard Stanley’s Island of Doctor Moreau. The Tourist. David Hughes’ brilliant book The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made is a fantastic read if you are curious about this ephemeral corner of cinema history. This documentary is a solid teaser for one such folly that never got before cameras, it certainly sounds ambitious but I highly doubt we would have actually sat through a nine hour classic if things went to plan. More noteworthy is just how many of the visual ideas and working relationships forged went on to influence modern blockbuster cinema. And it is always fun remembering H.R. Giger sounded exactly how you’d imagine the Alien would talk if he called you up for a chat on the phone.