Paul Thomas Anderson directs Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore and Burt Reynolds in this expansive black comedy following a company of adult entertainment makers at the tail end of the Porno Chic era.
And Philip Seymour Hoffman. And John C Reilly. And tinkerbell with her titties out Heather Graham. And cowboy Don Cheadle. And Melora Walters. And Luis Guzmán. And cuckolded William H Macy. And Nina Hartley. And Philip Baker Hall. And moustachioed Thomas Jane. And crazed Alfred Molina. What a cast! For many this was their jumping off point into above the title fame… or a course correction after a few years in the career doldrums. Everyone is fantastic here. Even if you put a gun to my head and I had to pick one standout performance I could probably only whittle it down to four names. BANG! I haven’t actually watched this since a late night cinema trip on release. I remember we used to go to the Park Royale multiplex after the pubs closed and maybe an almost three hour movie was a bad idea to start watching at least five pints in and that late. I remember almost dozing off, then the firecracker sequence jolting me back to attention like a line of cocaine. BANG! I knew it was good, and nearly all of it attached itself to my consciousness the morning, year and decades after. The DVD copy I bought is degraded and shitty. Gonna have to invest in a Blu-Ray. PTA is still finding his feet here, Boogie Nights is one of his best but it also apes Altman, Scorsese, Ashby, De Palma and Tarantino too slavishly. He would need a few more features to make these moves his own, out grow his influences. For example, he tries to get away with the same bad situation ending in bloodshed but also redemption twice in the same act. Sloppy. Yet all this is exactly my jam. You are left wanting more from every character. Every situation. You wanna watch a Reed Rothchild and Rollergirl double feature. BANG! You wonder where they all are now? We are already further away from 1997 now than Anderson was from 1983 where we leave them. Boogie Nights 2 really wouldn’t be that limiting a choice for his next project, would it?
Chloé Zhao directs Frances McDormand, David Strathairn and Linda May in this road movie exploring a section of America’s ageing population who tramp in camper vans, travelling to and from seasonal jobs and communal campsites with no fixed address.
Often a very beautiful and affecting piece of cinema but not something that you’d rush to rewatch with any regularity. I’m all for a sincere light being shone on the financial dispossessed and this feels in direct conflict with those unquestioned upper middle class values of nearly all of Hollywood cinema. Watching Oscar winner McDormand shit in a bucket or be moved on from a deserted car park at night, one is reminded of the vanishing freedoms of Lonely Are The Brave or Easy Rider… and further back to a sub genre of movies about American diasporas, the economic refugees in adaptations of Steinbeck and London. I’ve read two criticisms of the film, one I disagree with, the other I don’t. Does Amazon get off lightly? I think it is just left wisely uncommented upon by Zhao that the warehouse gig Amazon offer the ageing camperforce is work just as menial and labour intensive as the deep fat fryers, beet harvest and toilet cleaning we see McDormand also do. None of these jobs are unionised, glamourised, interested in developing their temporary employees… Amazon by association is just a better lit, better branded modern equivalent of graft you wouldn’t want to see your grandmother doing. The other condemnation rings slightly truer. As good as McDormand is in the central role (and I wouldn’t want to see anyone else cast) there are moments when you do feel a well off actress is cosplaying poverty among the genuinely itinerant. It only occasionally occurs but I wonder how the people who lives this tough life out of a mixture of choice and lack of economic options feel when a Hollywood star wanders around their campsite with sparklers and a gormless grin on her face, telling them to enjoy life? All in all though, this much needed alternative look at the US landscape is the most palatable of the weaker Oscar crop I’ve seen so far this year.
Bryan Singer directs Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen and Rebecca Romijn in this superhero sequel where a human general exploits brainwashed mutants to plot towards their own genocide.
Still a pinnacle of comic book adaptations, this hasn’t started showing its age so much as it no longer feels particularly special. Singer’s strength was his ability to do a lot of storytelling in a single definitive image; Magneto dropping a dozen grenade rings after a squad self destructs, Lady Deathstrike cracking her knuckles in a White House reception room, a glow beneath a lake. In the previous movie it meant he masterfully cut through swathes of exposition and introduction with a brevity many confused with impermanence. Really though at over two hours this feels a tad baggier rather than a supersize upgrade. The grand finale spends ten minutes too long in bunker corridors, cross cutting between five threats and subplots that seemingly freeze to a halt when there is no camera rolling. Urgency is sapped in the attempt to overload our senses. I personally try very hard not to mix up the work of hundreds of talents and technicians with the disgraces of a single author but even a cursory watch of this film sees scenes and motifs match up unfortunately with the continual allegation of Singer’s sexual abuse of underage actors. Watching it post #metoo and his firing from Bohemian Rhapsody reveals a harvest of suggestive content. The weirdly sexual bottle blowing encounter between Wolverine and Iceman, a universe of characters who have to hide in plain sight from their dark secrets, Mystique’s more risqué disguises to seduce Logan under false pretences, Magneto’s silent recruitment of the teenage Pyro. It is a well made product left vulnerable to the worst readings… you don’t have to dig too hard for easy (mis)interpretation. Which is a shame as the story has many glossy popcorn highlights – Nightcrawler’s presidential assassination, Magneto’s escape, an adamantium claw-off. Brian Cox makes for a grand boo-hiss chief antagonist. Jackman, McKellen and Romin continue to standout in a busy ensemble who all want an arc and their big moment. And let’s not forget what is only slightly muddled now was a seamless theme park attraction back in its long forgotten summer slot.
Peter Watkins directs Geir Westby, Gro Fraas and Kerstii Allum in this faux documentary biopic of the Norwegian painter.
Exploring the sexual anxiety, paranoid dread, fatalism, critical revulsion and bohemian callousness that influenced the painter of The Scream and The Vampyre. If you can get past the first hour of family members coughing up blood then this proves a particularly interrogative deep dive into the psychology and schisms that guided such a revolutionary figure.
Thomas Vinterberg directs Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen and Annika Wedderkopp in this Danish drama where a kindergarten teacher is accused of child abuse when his best friend’s young daughter makes up a lie about him.
Missed this on initial release which is strange as Festen was such an important film in developing my arthouse tastes. This is kinda a reverse switch mirror image of that – here a community blindly believes a man they know and love is a pedophile based on a half hearted, vague accusation. Genuinely a stomach churning watch for straight middle aged men… though obviously there should be more movies this compelling about victims who are not believed… which we know is the overriding reality. A career best turn from the always impressive Mads, who quietly endures a rapidly unfolding pariah like status in his formerly close knit community. Vinterberg seems to know exactly when to let things reach boiling point without ever allowing the drama to spill over into incredulity. Pretty flawless stuff, it all seems to be making some silent judgment on modern masculinity that is never didactically spelled out.
Deran Sarafian directs Charlie Sheen, Nastassja Kinski and James Gandolfini in this action thriller where a pro parachutist gets dragged into a conspiracy of faked deaths, ex-KGB sleepers and hidden planes.
Do not waste one single iota of attention to the plot. It really is just a binding agent for half a dozen action sequences involving flying paraphernalia. Mainly parachutes. Every wrinkle of this safety equipment is rinsed to the extreme. Nowhere near as brilliantly as Point Break did but nowhere near as uninspired as Drop Zone, this is a super solid beer and pizza evening killer. The final big stunt done for reals ends things on a nerve jangling high and Charlie Sheen’s ostensible hero pleasingly comes from the Jack Burton school of macho uselessness. Following the Big Trouble in Little China rulebook, the overconfident all American male is subversively the least useful and heroic of all the players. Watching a dumb coward have to survive what an alpha male probably couldn’t is always good value.
Sean S. Cunningham directs Shannon Presby, Lori Loughlin and James Spader in this teen thriller where two orphaned teens find their new school is overrun with some psychotic bullies.
Goes all out Straw Dogs in the fairground siege finale and I’m up for that in so many ways. The key Friday the 13th selling points are here; bosomy girls, inventive deaths – but the overall package is more competent and unpredictable. We watched for Spader and he delivers as a teen Gary Busey clone, some strange albino van predator who runs a pack of dicks. Both he and a Lalo Schifrin’s score elevate this into the “undiscovered gem” category.
Robert Altman directs Sandy Dennis, Michael Burns and Susan Benton in this sex mystery where a lone woman takes in a seemingly homeless boy she sees sitting out in the rain from her window.
Even after you’ve watched it, it is hard to fully say what That Cold Day In The Park is. You’ll be surprised where it ends but likewise struggle to think of any other satisfying outcome. A kinky thriller boiled down to its basics, a gender reversed Psycho or The Collector… only a lot more civil than those films… with a sympathy for its devil. For the first hour it could easily be the prelude for a Harold and Maude-like romance. Sandy Dennis makes this watchable, her timid but yearning performance dominates. The few times we leave the apartment for the boy to show his spoilt hippy true colours feel wasteful.
Richard Donner directs Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster and James Garner in this blockbuster western where a card sharp teams up with a lady thief and a cowardly Marshall to get to a big poker tournament on a steamboat.
Silly and episodic, unashamedly a vehicle for its three headliners to bicker, pratfall and bond. It gallumps along on a lavish budget and the easy going energy of its stars. Always fun but you do miss the long abandoned quick fire, stunt spectacular chutzpah of the first half once we are churning through every possible derivation of double and triple crosses by the end. Big screen reboots of creaky telly shows were big business in 90s, this is one of the stronger reimaginings.
Adachi Masao directs Michio Akiyama, Yûji Aoki and Masaaki Hiraoka in this Japanese pink film where a school girl, who is pregnant and suicidal, tries to replicate the obscure feeling she felt having sex with her teacher, through orgies and prostitution.
Some atmospheric shots of Japanese counter culture get overwhelmed by the nasty unrelenting grimness of the exploitation. Even if you came for nudity and unsexy sex simulations you’ll be sick of them by the end. Adachi is definitely trying to say something about art, youth, nihilism and female sexuality… he doesn’t find his sentiments, gratingly so.