Paul Thomas Anderson directs Cooper Hoffman, Alana Haim and Bradley Cooper in this romantic comedy about a teen child star turned waterbed entrepreneur who somehow attracts a grumpy woman in her twenties with no direction.
Maybe it is because the central romance is so unhealthy and unlikely that you cannot take your eyes away from it? Scenes happen that are so loved up and adoring that you wait for the needle drop, reality to kick back in, to be shaken from a pimply teenager’s daydream or a loser’s dirty fantasy for any kind of validation. But PTA never flinches… he holds on the strange allure these two improbables have for each other. Teasing us with every foul mouthed falling out and lingering on every slight adjustment towards a consummation we are pretty sure nobody in the cinema but a fictional teenage boy with too much moxy wants. Pretty sure but never certain. A series of stretched out vignettes set around Seventies’ LA that have the feel of Billy Wilder and Cameron Crowe about them. There’s a masterful patience and subversion here. Lots of “Easter eggs” to the PTA back catalogue too. The wit and energy and forbearance of this won me over very early on. I wanted to watch it all again straight away. I wanted to spend at least another 140 minutes in Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman’s gawky company. It looks and sounds terrific. It is a movie that coasts downhill recklessly but never runs out of gas. It made me laugh. Plenty. Last year there was no new movie I instantly fell in love with. I thought I was becoming jaded with current cinema. This year we got a bonafide classic in the very first week. Perfect.
Perfect Double Bill: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Tim Burton directs Jack Nicholson, Jim Brown and Tom Jones in this sci-fi parody where aliens invade with deadly intent and humanity is uncertain how to react.
A ton of affection for this. The Martians are just as cute, chaotic, murderous and anarchic as the gremlins. The original plan was to create them with painstaking stop motion animation but that was eventually decreed too expensive. The upshot of the late in the day decision to realise them as CGI creations is that their design mimics stop motion puppets anyway. The fact that the gleeful green nasties aren’t trying to stretch what technology can do actually means the vision of the movie hasn’t dated clunkily. Mars Attacks holds up because it never aimed for photo realistic monsters. Burton has a lot of joy in killing off most of his all star cast. It is wasteful but democratic. The ensemble is so busy that the first hour feels like a necklace of DVD extras. A string of cut scenes included while a proper movie goes on somewhere else. This lackadaisical approach again works in the movie’s long term favour. Big budget maybe but knowingly throwaway. Cameos from Tom Jones as himself and Lisa Marie as a sexy infiltration assassin stay in the memory. This is Burton’s The Day The Earth Stood Still and Jack Nicholson’s Dr Strangelove. If you can get past the spaced out, lo-fi energy of it all – you’ll have a blast.
Julia Ducournau directs Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon and Garance Marillier in this French body horror where a serial killer is impregnated by a car and then impersonates a long missing boy to lie low from the heat.
As with nearly all French extreme cinema – Is it powerful? Yes. Would I want to repeat the experience any time soon? Probably not. There’s lots of positives- the physicality of the lead performances, the lo-fi hard hitting dance sequence and the gender fluidity. Yet it does feel like two concepts mashed awkwardly together and the serial killer first act doesn’t gel with the body horror fairytale that follows. Luckily everything is left ickily ambiguous so you can take what you like and leave what you don’t. The scenes that require the strongest stomach are executed the most confidently. I hope Julia Ducournau doesn’t move any further away from pure horror than this though.
Jon Watts directs Tom Holland, Zendaya and Jacob Batalon in this Marvel superhero crossover movie where Peter Parker and Doctor Strange cast a spell that accidentally sucks in characters from previous Spidey franchises into the official MCU.
As millennial fan service, this is second to none. And I am also a fan of Spidey. As blockbuster cinema there is far too much sitting around in half lit rooms or standing around poorly lit basements chatting. Reminded me of a Batman 1966 TV show episode where two or three villains team up in a warehouse. Only not bright. The big action finale is a murky blur. I do wonder about what little kids make of the constant dialogue with characters from franchise incarnations they’ve never seen? Made me wish Andrew Garfield was in better Spider-Man entries and Matt Murdock was confirmed for a feature length comeback. Watchable but not very satisfying given the scope and potential on offer.
Ken Russell directs Kathleen Turner, Anthony Perkins and John Laughlin in this erotic thriller where a frustrated investigator and kinky lay preacher are obsessed with a moonlighting prostitute called “China Blue.”
Sticky and stagey. Was quite looking forward to this but it is a hot mess. Feels almost theatrical, aiming for Brechtian but actually achieving pantomime. Perkins is stunt casting and his extreme Psycho retread is given short, almost pointless, shrift. Kathleen Turner looks hotter in her everyday androgynous looks rather than her hooker cosplay. The lead actor is laughably bad. Everyone is aiming for a heightened declarative style (the script is 50% monologue) but he really struggles with any kinda acting mode. Not erotic, not exciting, not insightful. Even as a camp car crash it is found wanting. Awful synth score. Russell’s colour pallette is at least memorable. The shitty sewer between art and trash where everything stinks.
Masaki Kobayashi directs Tatsuya Nakadai, Michiyo Aratama and Chikage Awashima in this expansive Japanese drama following a pacifist’s attempts to reform labour conditions at a corrupt mine during wartime.
“I’m boarding this run-down truck, but you’re trying to catch the train of humanism before it’s too late. I won’t stop you. You seem willing to pay the fare, no matter how high.” Considered one of the greatest film trilogies ever made, part one is an epic in its own right, weighing in at a hefty three and a half hours long. Beautiful movie, clearly an influence on Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. A young idealist becomes a corporate pimp and slave master all to avoid the draft. His indignities do not end there. Really spells out the grind of compromise and powerlessness of the individual in the face of a complicit society. The striking black and white photography turns the oppressive mining landscapes into a bleak form of graph paper, trapping the human figures in impossible sums. The arrival of the Chinese prisoners of war feels more like Romero than arthouse. My only hesitancy about this bona-fide classic is that I think the pace could pick up in the drawn out last hour. This is becoming a common complaint for me at the moment. 8 hours plus of Beatles footage that needed a stricter editor will do that for you. That Peter Jackson miniseries Get Back should have been a tight feature. Do I have epic trilogy fatigue? I’m not going to rush into the next two war films here. No binge this time. If they are as good as this, I want to savour them, not be exhausted by the unrelenting grimness. Give me that.
James Ivory directs Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson and Christopher Reeves in this period drama following the life of an overly dedicated butler before and after WWII.
As unrequited romances go this makes Brief Encounter feel like Basic Instinct. The stunted restraint between Hopkins and Thompson is heartbreaking. She certainly gives her best performance. The fascist and appeasement subplots are nestled well in the mid ground making this feel more like a full fat drama rather than “just a silly little romance.” A film that is not immediately of my tastes but grows on me with each revisit.
Lucio Fulci directs Christopher George, Catriona MacColl and Janet Agren in this extreme supernatural giallo where a town becomes cursed by an ancient evil.
Fulci goes Lovecraft. There are spikes of queasiness and bonkers plotting. Blood pours from eyes, priests hang, there’s a plague of flying maggots. The stunts aren’t strung together particularly well and it runs out of steam long before the finish line.
John Landis directs himself, Saul Kahan and Eliza Roberts in this low budget parody of monster movies where an ape kills everyone and then settles into Seventies’ America.
Don’t really know what I expected from this? Amatuer horror comedy from the American Werewolf in London team of Landis and Rick Baker. I guess I was expecting a spoofier or scrappier dry run of that cherished favourite. This is really one note, stretched out and patience testing. The acting is universally awful apart from the comedy blind girl. I get the feeling she was cast for her hippie era hotness rather than any comedic abilities though. Very poor. If you’ve wondered whether this is worth watching… like I have since I first read about it in the movie guides as a teenager… leave the half imagined film in your head alone. It cannot be any worse than this Schlock.
Nicolas Pariser directs Anaïs Demoustier, Fabrice Luchini and Nora Hamzawi in this French political film about the long standing and dedicated mayor of Lyon who engages the services of a young philosopher to revitalise his thinking.
We (and by ‘we’ I mean English speaking countries) do not really make movies like this. Literate but light, educated but entertaining. It covers politics and philosophy with a neat thread of personable humour and romance. It never descends into heavy handed satire or frothy romcom territory. And while the confidence in the viewer to care about intellectual concerns is admirable, it is only fair to say the script skips through a few too many ideas without landing meaningfully on any. The concept of modesty in politics is raised but we never really spend time absorbing the meat of the content, just the esoteric idea. Maybe that is the ultimate point? Ideas and action make unhappy bedfellows… nothing truly productive can come from ruminating in the modern age. But the pull of the story in the first hour is when the incredibly watchable Fabrice Luchini and Anaïs Demoustie tentatively engage with the conceptual over the practical. It may all add up to disappointment but this is a nice and very very French way to be underwhelmed.
Perfect Double Bill: The American President (1995)