Philip Kaufman directs Maria de Medeiros, Fred Ward and Uma Thurman in this period erotic drama involving Anaïs Nin’s sexual and literary awakening when she becomes obsessed with Henry Miller and his young wife.
Pulp Fiction’s Maria de Medeiros is well cast and game as Nin, Fred Ward less so. He was a last minute replacement for Alec Baldwin who, rumour has it, refused to shave his head to accurately play Henry Miller. Fair to say the first ever NC-17 rated release has aged poorly. Not in terms of production values, 1930s Paris is beautifully realised. Yet as a movie, this just plain doesn’t work. It is stilted, directionless, slightly laughable. Yet there is plenty of classy nudity, Uma Thurman beguiling us with a creepy marionette and a surfeit of background dogs. You wouldn’t believe how much this movie delivers on the random canine front. Come for the sex, leave with the dogs.
Douglas Sirk directs Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall and Dorothy Malone in this drama where a smart beautiful woman marries into an oil dynasty against her better judgment.
Impotency: The Movie. Like watching three seasons of Dallas on fast forward only with the clean lines and Technicolor lushness of the era. Does squander the always stunning Lauren Bacall once we are in the home stretch but this is, by all other accounts, a classy piece of trash. The butt shakin’ heart attack sequence has to be seen to be believed.
This movie pervs hard on barely legal Diane Lane. This movie looks fantastic but has little to it. This movie loves a clock… tick tock… time is running out. This movie ain’t as good as The Outsiders even though it tries a lot harder. This movie proves that having Dillon, Rourke, Nic Cage, Larry Fishburne, Tom Waits and Dennis Hopper jostling for centre stage can somehow still somehow produce a boring, one-note result.
Denis Villeneuve directs Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson and Jason Momoa in this adaptation of just the first half of Frank Herbert sci-fi classic; following the House of Atreides as they take over the exploitation of a desert planet for a hostile empire.
I went into this with lowered expectations: Denis Villeneuve always directs a lovely looking feature but none of them have risen above a promising “very good” for me over the past two decades… and your Prisoners and Enemy have actually suffered from over inflated reputations when actually watched. Dune isn’t an IP I have any real affection for… but having revisited Lynch’s derided version again relatively recently I at least had my bearings on the plot and unwieldy form. And I’m never going to get excited about a marketing campaign that places the watery and wimpy Chalamet and Ferguson at the forefront…but more on those two a little lower down.
The first two hours blew me away. The clarity of the storytelling. The patience to let the impressively massive visuals work their magic. The marshalling of a potentially cumbersome cast of characters with a certain degree of straight faced presentation. Villeneuve understands just how hard work this is going to be for Spice virgins and admirably leans into the pomposity while blatantly just letting the characters speak in manageable chunks of exposition. If you’ve come for banter or emotion then you’ve come to the wrong shop. Equally for something so slavish to impenetrable nomenclature, clans and imagined sociology this Dune is never confusing say like Tenet or Interstellar or 1984’s Dune. Only the occasional vision of the future used to crowbar imagined action into the stiller sequences feels like it is extraneous, cheating the audience of a neat straight shooting through line.
And in all honesty this Shakespearean style works… you can either switch off from each spoken Wikipedia stub and just absorb the visuals (something I did often and happily) or you can try to fathom all that is going on. Narrative is given a minimal say in how this tale is told. You are either learning about these future societies or you are marvelling at the scope, scale and detail of them. Betrayals, revelations, connections happen in the edits. We are burying ourselves in the vision – an epic of minimalism where humans become stick figures in massive landscapes, weathered polygons glide through faded vistas.
It looks the utter tits. I’d quite happily watch a version where Hans Zimmer’s wailing, bullying score just dominates and the mouths move but are never heard. This is every painted sci-fi novel cover you’ve glimpsed at the mobile library rampaging off the cardboard. Warhammer 40,000 live and in concert. Chris Foss and MOEBIUS masterworks desaturated so that only the fewest colours can fill some previous inconceivable canvas. When we move to a wide shot, which is pleasingly often, Villeneuve’s regular editor Joe Walker knows to hold on that shot for an indulgently stately amount of time. This looks a piece with modern blockbuster from masters like Nolan or Reeves but made by someone has learned their pacing from Kubrick… there’s no confusion here or race to move onto the next piece of visual trickery. We wallow in the unabashed grandiosity of it all. None of it shows flaws or cheats. You never see the strings or joins. And I loved that.
Is it a little humourless? Sure. But messianic prophecies, genocide and future imperialism don’t really feel like the appropriate place for zings and sassy chat. Villeneuve’s has a nice running visual game of including an incongruous prop or gesture here or there. That produces as many chuckles as the “gag” heavy Shang-Chi movie did last month. And the support cast are so on point and game that you relish seeing anyone left standing at close of play getting just a little more screentime if Part Two does ever get before the cameras. Without revealing who survives to the credits Momoa, Josh Brolin, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, Stellan Skarsgård, Javier Bardem and especially Charlotte Rampling leave you wanting more from all of them despite a paucity of individual screentime.
And then we get to the trouble in paradise. While the first two hours are packed with BIG set-pieces the final act narrows down to following the bland Chalamet and Ferguson in a series of smaller perils. You can ignore how white bread and marge they are when smothered by all that world building and great ensemble. But when its just Peggy Hill and Bobby in the desert, your pulse slows and you wonder at what point in the grand arc Villeneuve will lower the curtain and declare the start of a two to three year interval. It is fair to say after gorging us with sci-if brilliance for a 110 minute the veal stops being fatted, the juice pipe is ripped from our greedy mouth. We end on an elongated comma rather than a full stop.
Yet… I do understand why Chalamet has been cast. There were far more teenage girls in our busy matinee screening than Dunkirk or The Last Duel could ever hope for. Would I prefer if someone young and charismatic and with a bit of oomph about them was cast in such a crucial role? Sure. But thinking about names; John Boyega is a little too old to play the callow boy prince, personal favourite Skyler Gisondo too quirky and Barry Keoghan a bit too dark a choice. A complete unknown wouldn’t have done the business. Having Timmy No Chest front and centre for the big finale does leave a bad taste in the mouth, hampers this entry’s genuine five star potential. So Dune ends on a whimper but hopefully if we return to Arrakis he’ll be back to being buffeted by that fantastic returning cast and seamless SFX. The hard slog when he’s carrying the story has now been endured… let’s get back to that grizzled and perfect ensemble as soon as possible.
Marcel Ophuls directs Pierre Mendès France, Anthony Eden and André Harris in this four and half hour documentary to investigate France’s collaboration with Germany after they surrendered during WWII.
All these talking heads are dead now. And as Ophul’s very rarely signposts who we listening to and whether they collaborated or resisted it can feel very overwhelming to start. Part of that must be down to our own historical ignorance, unable to recognise key players in French politics who would have no doubt been infamous 50 years ago. But eventually you get attuned to the rhythm of the monologues and the Pathe newsreel footage… and begin to realise that is the point. Nobody was sure who was against the Nazis and who was for Vichy? Some probably even had their choice made for them. As we go deeper into their lives over four years of occupation you begin to interrogate them less and yourself more and more. Would you submit or even profit from the fascist regime who may have potentially become your long term rulers? Or would you have risked everything and fought back? Watching this I don’t know how anyone who wasn’t there could stand in judgement. And someone please make a biopic of trans British spy Denis Rake! Pretty please!
Ridley Scott directs Matt Damon, Jodie Comer and Adam Driver in this historical epic where an unfavoured medieval knight charges his ally with raping his wife… leading to trial by combat where everyone’s life, word and honour hangs in the balance.
Good Will Hunting legends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck reunited on screen and behind the word processor at long last. Ridders doing big budget historical epic realness. TV star Jodie Comer’s first swing at carrying a movie and potential awards season glory… Twenty years ago this would have been the BIG release of its month. Front cover of Empire, nothing else out that weekend, see it on the widest screen… BIIIGGG!! This weekend it struggled to warrant two time slots in a 13 screen multiplex. Which is a shame as it indisputably is one of the year’s best movie. A really expertly crafted He Said, She Said and He Said #metoo drama punctuated with grand scale sword and shield, ultra violent set pieces. Plus Ben Affleck prancing around in gold slippers as a horny spoilt lord. He starts by doing a Jeremy Irons impression and pretty much steals the show throughout. My only criticism of this fine release is he is absent too noticeably often in the last hour. Treat yourself to a proper movie and get yourself a ticket now before its too late. Venom can wait, Affleck’s albino goatee cannot.
David Gordon Green directs Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer and Anthony Michael Hall in this sequel to a legacy sequel where Michael Myers kills some time while Laurie Strode is recuperating.
Am I the best person to judge a Halloween sequel? I begrudgingly respect the original and my faves of the franchise are the less beloved Season Of the Witch and those extreme Rob Zombie remakes. Clearly I want something different than… this. But I do like a good legacy sequel (see below)! And if you are wondering what I define a legacy sequel as then here I go;
1) Returning to “the well” after a least a dormant decade without fresh cinema releases.
2) Bringing back a retired key creative who was seemingly left behind or too big for previous rushed cash-in sequels.
3) Rolling back the mythology to either retcon studio mandated entries or make obsolete the messier directions other journeymen took the story in when the creator was not rehired.
Listen, Michael Myers is indestructible. He can’t be killed. So like the T-800, there’s always going to be sequels and reboots. But bringing Jamie Lee back as a Sarah Connor style warrior avenger was the exciting new hook last time that made this all spike. That and how well crafted it was. Both of David Gordon Green and Danny McBride’s films so far are impeccably well made in terms of technique. These movies look great, respectful of the aesthetic and sound of the original after so many low budget xerox copies. Case in point, fire damaged The Shape is just wonderfully grotesque to look at. John Carpenter has another pass at his iconic synth theme.
The plotting is pretty random. It is a movie the kicks off with five cold opens. And essentially this is an anthology asking “if you take away Laurie, Loomis and the babysitters, what exactly does the rest of Haddonfield get up to?” “Those other rare survivors… what do they do when Michael has one of his autumnal away days?” So there’s a lack of focus. But it makes sense as we need to give our vintage A-Lister time to recover. And luckily the original Halloween 2 spent most of the runtime in a hospital with Laurie zonked out. It also had Michael trying out inventive alternatives to his big chopping knife. So this is pretty faithful to the 1981 movie it needs to match. Where it swerves majorly is there is even more bodily damage than those unfairly derided Rob Zombie reimaginations. And also bleaker somehow? The first hour is a kill fest. With very little tension. But in a way it is nice to see a slasher that doesn’t ever focus on buxom teens. On that, Andi Matichak ain’t the best actress to be “leading” a franchise, but she is very pretty. You look forward to Greer, Hall and Will Patton’s scenes. And there are some busy moments of chaos when mob mentality takes over the support cast of Haddonfield. A thread not fully explored but which certainly adds a different spin on a moribund concept. And it all keeps Jamie Lee Curtis’ spot warm, ready for her to take centre stage for the already made, yet to to be released, Halloween Ends. And if you believe that, here’s another…
Kaouther Ben Hania directs Yahya Mahayni, Dea Liane and Monica Bellucci in this satire where a Syrian refugee signs a contract with a conceptual artist to have a visa tattooed on his back and be displayed as art so he can get to Belgium.
A very astute satire enlivened by Yahya Mahayni’s light comedy acting chops. Rather than focus on the atrocities and fallout of the Assad regime this finds an allegory that is accessible and universal. Well worth a watch.
Luigi Bazzoni directs Franco Nero, Pamela Tiffin and Silvia Monte in this Italian giallo where a journalist tries to figure out who is killing off the guests of a New Year’s Eve party he also attended.
More whodunnit than slasher, this ambles along until a rivetingly intense finale ramps up. Every shot is beautiful thanks to cinematographer Vittorio Storraro. I know its actually an old noir conceit but the brutalist architecture of Rome is used to trap the characters in a cage of constant lattices and parallel lines. Tiffin stands out as Nero’s suspect bit on the side.