Marielle Heller directs Bel Powley, Kristen Wiig and Alexander Skarsgård in this Seventies-set erotic teen drama where a 15 year old begins an ill advised affair with her mother’s middle aged boyfriend.
A film that makes all the right choices about a girl trying out loads of wrong ones. Heller never sits in judgment on the various ways Powley’s Phoebe explores her intense sexuality… the risks and perils are ever present but never unleashed as punishments. And thanks to Powley, in what should have been an A-List star making turn, Phoebe is a pretty complex protagonist… artistic, manipulative, gauche and experimental. We share her thrill in all transgressions and pleasures, never shying from the fact that even emotionally dangerous sex can still be fun and satisfying in the moment. The parallel subplot of Phoebe growing through her comic art is realised with animated intrusions that add a wonderful fantasy dimension to the often seedy reality. This is the second time I’ve watched The Diary of a Teenage Girl and I think it is a real overlooked gem of recent years. Mature, sexy and sensitive. Well worth seeking out.
Josh Trank directs Tom Hardy, Linda Cardinelli and Matt Dillon in this biopic of Al Capone’s last years in exile, under house arrest and suffering from a form of dementia caused by syphilis.
Diapers, carrots, Louis Armstrong, alligators… gold plated Tommy guns! Trank is clearly a director of some unrestrained and unfocused ambition – in Capone’s fleeting superior moments he apes Kubrick and Visconti effectively. I’m going to bet that like Cimino in the Eighties his options are growing desperately limited now as to who will fund his erratic and easy to criticise visions. This gangster fudge wallows in an often incomprehensible and sometimes risible performance from the usually bold Hardy. Some strong visuals aside, you do have to wonder about some of the editing choices, some of acting choices and some of the “how many scenes can we end with the lead shitting himself?” choices. To quote Fonzo himself in one of his rare moments of lucidity… “THAT’S DISGUSTING!!!” This might end up a cult classic in a decade or so time, which is a genuine shame for all involved. I wanted this to be good and you can tell they did too.
Robert Wise directs Marsha Mason, Anthony Hopkins and Susan Swift in this supernatural drama where a mother is convinced her daughter was reincarnated from a girl who died in car blaze.
We laughed our arses off watching this… the acting is awful, with an especially gormless turn from linchpin child performer Susan Swift being the stinkiest offender. The Haunting director Wise seemingly wants to make anything but a horror… the tone is never scary and the plot warps from chamber piece to courtroom drama to hypnotism procedural. Coca-Cola got full value out of whatever product placement deal they signed. Rarely a scene begins without the iconic red can being front and centre in shot. Marketed as a horror then and still now, this is a right old bunch of toot masquerading as a The Exorcist peer.
Carl Theodor Dreyer directs Julian West, Maurice Schutz and Rena Mandel in this early horror where a lodger is stalked by apparitions of the dead.
An eerie spin on Bram Stoker and Nosferatu with plenty of clever shot manipulations and shadow play. It isn’t as genuinely terrifying as Murnau silent classic nor as narratively rigorous as Frankenstein or Freaks but it hits the spot. The kinda of consistently surreal and foreboding visuals that used to be projected on nightclub walls for kitsch atmosphere back in my day. It can feel like a bit of a grab bag of various potent horror legends, and there’s now a perverse fun to seeing all the deep dive critical readings of what essentially is an early spook house ride that has stood the test of time.
Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman direct Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Dominique Fishback in this superhero actioner where three unlikely heroes try to stop a shadowy cabal from flooding New Orleans with a drug that gives any user five minutes of unique superpowers.
Joost and Schulman have directed two of the most unsung seminal thrillers of the last decade; Catfish and Nerve. Both movies are set in milieus that understand how millennials use ever evolving social media, apps and mobile devices. They may not be perfect entertainments but they feel more naturally current than most try hards and stuck in the past wannabes. Project Power often fails to match that scrappy attuned vision to the cutting edge. It feels like a poor man’s X-Men spin off that has been smothered in bludgeoning attempts to be hip and with it. Set in a world where it is an outright injustice if kids are called out for using their cells during class and where dreaming to be a hip-hop star is more important than not dealing drugs. It is a clunky fantasy over reality paradigm that gets in the way of the thrills. The actual concept of the film is robust. A couple of the confrontations the magic pills cause are spirited but the imagination of the set pieces never rises beyond ‘what if this power faced off against that mutation?’ Never even raising the stakes to what if multiple strengths teamed up together or against one. It is always an unwavering one-on-one. And of those ‘ones’, only Joseph Gordon Levitt plays a naturally likeable protagonist. If we were just following his rookie cop (isn’t he forty?) as he used the drugs to stop the drugs I’d say this would be a pretty decent Netflix Original. But he has to share two thirds of his game time with the always unbelievable Foxx and a very mature high school student (isn’t she thirty?). Their subplots are desperately trying to be on trend rather than having JGL’s natural chill to energise them. It becomes very easy to light up your phone and side eye the action when he isn’t onscreen.
Scott Hicks directs Anthony Hopkins, Anton Yelchin and Hope Davis in this Sixties set coming-of-age drama where a fatherless boy bonds with a fugitive psychic who moves into the apartment above him.
Featuring an outstanding early child performance from Yelchin and one of Hopkins less hammy turns, this is a pleasing re-run of Stephen King’s preferred themes, imagery and emotions. Sure, you could watch the superior Stand By Me or IT or The Shawshank Redemption again but this gently spools out everything those classics did perfectly in a neat, heartwarming compilation package. The non-horror King project this seemingly shares the most DNA with though is 11.22.63… ominous men in hats, time displacement, unavoidable fate and Kennedy era nostalgia. It might not reinvent the wheel but it is a nice little film to get lost in and the characters have a rounded complexity that often gets left out in most page to screen adaptations.
D.J. Caruso directs Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke and Gena Rowlands in this serial killer thriller where a FBI profiler heads up to Canada to catch a psycho who takes over his victim’s identities for a year.
Now That’s What I Call A Serial Killer Movie Vol 43. All the tropes you are bored of and a few too many wild swings which fail to connect. Sifting for gold, here are the rare flakes. There’s a pretty brief but undeniably hot sex scene at the start of the third act. There’s a big name actor included as a red herring in an almost mercenarily wasteful way. There’s a good jump shock involving a bed. There’s a endgame finale that is… bonkers, just not very inspired. Yet it is all too slick and tension free to really enjoy. Like someone has xeroxed all the nuance out of a middling peer like Copycat or someone is trying to make a two hour pop promo based on a rental blurb they read about The Silence of the Lambs. But never bothered to watch the actual classic. Frequently laughable, it might work better as a parody.
Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai directs Rocco Siffredi, Gabriele Galetta and Kelly Stafford in this documentary following the final year in an Italian male pornstar’s stellar career.
I’m not going to be bashful and pretend I don’t watch porn or have never heard of Rocco Siffredi but I’m pretty sure I’ve never knowingly enjoyed one of his movies. For rather vanilla heterosexual reasons, male porn performers never really register with me and his particular brand of sex work seems to be a very European form of rough sex… choking, slapping, spitting and endurance gangbangs. If that’s your cup of tea, then ding dong diddly… but it is a bit too consistently pain and humiliation focussed for me. Yet watching his final year be captured by a pair of respected arthouse documentary makers is a fascinating experience. Some intuitive and talented people are using all their skill to spotlight and catalogue the career and neuroses of one of the biggest brands in the ‘lowest’ form of entertainment. It makes for a strange experience that ticks all the current documentary boxes with mixed success.
The best moments are the fly on the wall, behind the scenes working days of a higher end porno shoot. These feel relatively unguarded and certainly show all the movement and fluids you’d expect… if not anything that would be considered gynaecologically hardcore. If you aren’t sure if this is a viewing experience for you then let me set the scene. The movie opens on a high resolution, artistically lit close-up of Siffredi massive schlong in the shower and then holds on it. Then minutes later we are chatting to a just off-shift female performer while she is still on her knees and before she’s had a chance to wash her face. It is fair to say the documentary pushes itself right up to the limit of what can be shown in a mainstream arena. So buyer beware… it is pretty unflinching and not family viewing. The details Demaizière and Teurlai capture though by not being shy are often insightful; the egos of the men, the false romantic intimacy the female performers generate to make the filming day palatable, the masks slipping when there are technical hiccups that prove this is the regular bullshit they have to deal with on what very much is just another paying job for them, Siffredi’s tragically parasitic relationship with his cousin Gabriele – a failed stud who now works behind the camera. Gabriele’s regularly foiled ambitions to add a Fellini-esque set up to the fucking scenes, or his tantrums, or his dedicated mopping of the floor at the close of a day’s work adds much of the humour and humanity to the project. He’s a sad little counterpart to the named star, one who completely forgets he is on camera for the most. Their interactions have the same farcical joys and symbiotic bad blood of the central relationship in the brilliant rock documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil. Two men almost cursed with each other for eternity.
Where Rocco slips up is allowing its star just a little too much rope to hang himself with. There are cringe worthy scenes where he tries to provoke positive acclamations from his sons who clearly do not want to talk about their father’s prolific reputation. Then there are the artier moments when Rocco is filmed alone dealing with his sex addiction demons or praying to his saintly dead mother. Often filmed in a self-consciously chiaroscuro style, they stand in direct contrast to the pleasing awkwardness of the behind the scenes procedural footage. They almost feel like a spoof of the more visually pretentious form of doc that has emerged in the last twenty years. I’m pretty sure they are meant to be taken at face value… or at least show the directors know what a preening, ridiculous figure their subject really is… but they begin to grate very quickly.
Agnès Jaoui directs Jean-Pierre Bacri, Anne Alvaro and herself in this French comedy of manners where a boorish factory owner is immersed in his town’s little art world after becoming smitten with an actress giving him English lessons.
This takes a little while to bed in as there are a lot of characters to introduce but once it coalesces Le Goût Des Autres becomes a very pleasurable satire. One that wittily sidesteps farce when it can. Jaoui has a rare heightened degree of sensitivity for her stereotypes so that by the final turn of events the broader characters have grown and developed while the smarter types have had the sneering mirror they so carelessly wield turned around on themselves. A nice little comedy that never takes the most obvious route.
Steve Zaillian directs Max Pomeranc, Joe Mantegna and Ben Kingsley in this child chess prodigy true story.
Also with Joan Allen and Laurence Fishburne. The sorta release that screams quality now but got lost in the shuffle back then. It possibly needed to be a little bolder in its storytelling choices to make an impact. This feels very much like an exercise in formula screenwriting – with characters existing in shifting opposition to each other until all the luvvies have shared a confrontation with every other piece on the board. That’s no bad thing – I’m pretty sure Ben & Matt stole a lot of the form and stakes from this when crafting their Good Will Hunting screenplay. There are definite strands of shared DNA between the two films. This remains a satisfying curio but it is a building block to the later classic of emotionally intelligent cinema about unlikely geniuses and those who shepherd them to greatness. And yet it isn’t even the best chess film of its decade. That title goes to Fresh… a forgotten 90s movie well worth seeking out.