Movie of the Week: Priest (1994)

Antonia Bird directs Linus Roach, Tom Wilkinson and Cathy Tyson in this controversial drama about a priest struggling with the real world problems of working class Liverpool and his own forbidden desires.

An infamous film in its day as it depicted, sympathetically and explicitly, a gay priest engaging in a loving relationship. Roach’s straight-laced and conservative parish newcomer’s travails of having to work through his feelings and beliefs forms the backbone of the film. Yet the drama takes in a lot more scope than what the headlines focussed on. It is an exploration of the ethical and philosophical problems of faith, the hypocrisy of certain tenets and the pull of dogma over humanity. Jimmy McGovern’s script scrabbles at the four or five powerful issues, big nasty dilemmas that crossover with each other. The sacrifices and compromises men of belief must make when faced with harmful realities and their own natural needs is the grand theme. McGovern offers no easy answers, approaching the conflicts with passion and an erudite earthiness. For all its inherent heaviness, Priest is a funny and very involving drama. I kinda prefer McGovern’s approach to the working class over Ken Loach’s and certainly over Mike Leigh’s. You get the feeling McGovern wants to celebrate us for what we are, approach our flawed, dark sides and hypocrisies unvarnished and know that pity only exacerbates our problems. I like his poetic anger and his fight and his superior understanding over Leigh’s caricatures. They feel more approachable than Loach’s binary bureaucrats and worthy martyrs. Which is ironic given the subject matter here. Shout out to the excellent Antonia Bird too, a female director who made a couple of great movies in the 1990s – her Face is also due a re-evaluation. Adept at marshalling rich performances from her British casts and capturing the harshness and silliness of urban life. There are a few moments of disruptive strangeness that elevate Priest from merely being a piece of celluloid agitprop. A wild lad chases some seagulls, a strict vegan housekeeper delivers a cold welcome. Small respites of magic, captured perfectly. Someone should give her a decent budget to make this kind of firey, involving, mature work again.

10

Knives Out (2019)

Rian Johnson directs Daniel Craig, Ana De Armas and Chris Evans in this ensemble murder mystery were a private detective tries to solve the death of a millionaire crime novelist.

Chris Evans > Daniel Craig. Toni Collette steals the show. They’ve been spoofing this form since the 1930s. In fact, I’m struggling to think of a completely straight faced release in my lifetime, away from prestige Agatha Christie adaptations. A wonderful cast and some nice wriggles keeps this chugging along steadily but I’ll be honest and admit I never felt lost. Knives Out never reaches a head of steam where you feel overwhelmed by the tightening tale. Part of the joy of these things, beyond seeing a load of good faces bounces off each other, is to have the rugged pulled from under you a few times. Knives Out is so painstakingly soft furnished you get the feeling the production designer wouldn’t allow the carpets to be tugged at, blood stained or even ran across. A very beautiful Cluedo board is set-up, the rules are certainly subverted but you end up spectating the board game rather than rolling the dice and mucking in yourself. Bright larks, all the same. That Rian Johnson sure dictates bold, colourful images.

6

L’Enfant Secret (1979)

Philippe Garrel directs Anna Wiazemsky, Henri Du Maublanc and Cécile Le Bailey in this semi-autobiographical arthouse recreation of a hipster couple in freefall – one is addicted to filmmaking, the other the heroin.

As boring as cold turkey.

2

Le Mans ‘66 / Ford V Ferrari (2019)

James Mangold directs Christian Bale, Matt Damon and Jon Bernthal in this sporty retelling of Ford Motors attempt to design and race a winning car at Le Mans, using non-corporate mavericks rather than suits.

A solid bit of Dad Entertainment. Maybe it lacks the emotional pull of Mangold’s best mainstream work. There isn’t the unforced gruff sensitivity and throbbing dedication here that elevated Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma or Logan… even if it is told in the same sweaty, dusty, scrubby accent. Yet the racing flick is a well constructed piece of adult fluff, macho melodrama. I had three problems that left me personally outside the film.

1. Bale’s performance is cranked up to 11 and not always consistent… he enters into Nicolas Cage levels of intensity and gurning without any of that naive charm. He certainly doesn’t gel with Damon’s more robust genial turn. He took me out of the story often… that laboured accent and face contortions…UGH! A fine actor, trying something that didn’t land with the ensemble or me.

2. You get the feeling the real life character with most agency and allure is actually risk taking Ford executive Lee Iacocca (played by a warm and stout Bernthal). To use the perfect film Moneyball as an apt comparison: he is the Billy Beane of the piece, and he kinda sinks into the background once he gambles and puts his team of wildcards in place.

3. I’m not a petrolhead.

Hey-Ho! It is still probably the most well crafted, assured crowdpleaser on at your local multiplex currently. So give it your money.

6

21 Bridges (2019)

Brian Kirk directs Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller and J.K. Simmons in this police thriller where a trigger happy detective closes down Manhattan to catch a pair of cop killers… but what is the bigger picture?

I guess there is a whole generation to whom the words Serpico or Prince Of The City mean nothing. Will they be surprised by twists and turns this takes? Anyone with wrinkles knows the route this narrative flows along, recognises the scenery and the landmarks. This is Lumet-lite though, smoothed and gritless. Soft play urban corruption, set in a world that achingly does not exist outside each individual camera set-up. It is flat, it is slick, it is perfectly lit. As uninteresting as it’s lead actor, 21 Bridges is a film where characters literally idle in the foreground waiting for their line of exposition to click around, where stand-offs feel so preordained that we might as well just skip a chapter to the next location. There’s just no excitement or love or verisimilitude to this. A fine support cast and couple of thumpingly kinetic moments aside and you have baby food rather than spicy junk.

4

A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)

Ching Sui-Tung directs Leslie Cheung, Joey Wong and Wu Ma in this horror romantic comedy where a sexy ghost who entraps wandering men falls for a hapless tax collector.

Loads of bonkers madness. Claymation zombies, tongue demons and a limbo otherworld full of demons surround a sweet slapstick romance featuring political satire and rapping killer monks. The central pair are delightful, the tone utterly random. If you like The Evil Dead or A Touch of Zen or Splash then you’ll find something to absolutely adore here. How do you say BeetleJuice in Cantonese?

8

Water Drops on Burning Rocks (2000)

François Ozon directs Bernard Giraudeu, Malik Zidi and Ludivine Sagnier is this toxic sex farce based on a play by notorious German cokehole director Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Léopold is a middle aged man with a knack for seducing people, controlling them, sissyfying them and eventually pimping them out. A young soon-to-be-wed lad falls under his dark spell. Gets bummed. A lot. It is a pretty blunt, unsophisticated play with not a lot going for it apart from some retro wallpaper and a talismanic use of overcoats. I’d write this off as a complete waste of time if Ludivine Sagnier didn’t rock up in the second half and spend nearly all her screentime either in the nude or pale blue lingerie. I’m a man of simple pleasures, and even that doesn’t save this naff film.

3

A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995)

Martin Scorsese and Michael Henry Wilson direct Martin Scorsese as he talks us through and presents scenes from the American movies that formed his sensibilities as a filmmaker.

Essentially a three hour clip show of stuff you’d struggle to access today in the age of limited libraries of digital streaming. Spoiler filled too. Marty is an erudite and passionate guide and just listening to him playfully espouse about the movies that made him is a joy.

9

Frozen II (2019)

Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck direct Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell and Josh Gadd in this animated sequel to the Ice Queen sisterhood adventure comedy.

Fails to recapture the magic and, going by how restless the theatre full of kids were in our showing, the joy. It is actually quite galling in its OK-ishness. Technically the same stellar effort has been put in, what is up there on screen looks and sounds wonderful. There’s just no sense of urgency, care or essentiality to the cash-in. Fan service aside, …Kristoff and Sven get a power ballad, everyone from the original gets a cameo… the banger Into the Unknown is the only artistic reason for this to exist.

5

The Souvenir (2019)

Joanna Hogg directs Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke and Tilda Swinton in this semi-autobiographical period romance where a Sloaney film student enters a toxic relationship with a mysterious, aloof older man.

This is the film that is topping the critics’ 2019 “best of” lists that you hadn’t really even heard of. I expected to hate it. Posho problems, arty dandyishness. Yet I was gripped and seduced for a lot of it. The London of my youth is evoked in cleverly framed shots and nicely populated scenes. The slow drip reveal of the darkness inherent in the elusive, scarred Anthony is expertly deployed. Honor Swinton Byrne puts in a fine shift – conveying that horrible but all too universal sensation of falling for someone who is bad for you but you love anyway. It is a film of half glimpsed moments, an emotional puzzle and I recommend you give it a chance.

7