M. Night Shyamalan directs Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps and Thomasin McKenzie in this supernatural thriller where a group of holidaymakers find themselves trapped on a beach that ages them fifty years in one day.
No spoilers but Old is far better than you’ve been led to believe… with the caveat that this being Shyamalan there’s plenty to criticise too. If you can put to the back of your mind his house style (overly sincere mood, pointless last minute twists, exposition dialogue that clunks out of characters mouths, an almost deadpan autistic acting requirement, gifting himself extended cameos that wink at the camera with a dastardly blandness) then this manages to rinse plenty of thrills, mystery and moments of iconic shock. The middle 70 minutes on that beach is brightly lit nightmare fuel, served by a storyteller who rarely lets up on piling on the pressure and dread. I’ve read a lot of reviews and am surprised nobody has mentioned Luis Buñuel. Shyamalan traps the bourgeoisie in a place and will not let them exit, they begin to behave erratically, abandoning societal rules and sanity in a series of surreal set pieces. Even if the ensemble is purposefully stiff (after 6 films in this declarative mode we need to accept it as a stylistic choice), Krieps and McKenzie still stand out, sneaking a little warmth and accessibility into their totems. Mike Gioulakis’ outstanding cinematography uses film and it lends the sea and the sand an air of shimmering unreality. Much as those auteurs who chose to make black and white films in the Eighties and Nineties were trying to separate their vision from the pack, it feels like the choice to shoot on celluloid here is done to give the movie an overriding sense of “otherness” compared to contemporary flat digital content. That camera darts around, seemingly untethered by normal rules of editing or shot composition but it allows Shyamalan to achieve some pretty effective sleights of hand. For example, the awkward ageing of the children into adults is cleverly kept just out of frame, tantalisingly so, allowing your own imagination to fill in those body horror blanks. There are a lot of later “surprises” that I want to comment on or at least make snarky jokes about but that’d be unfair. I left the cinema feeling like this was his best work since The Village but also a bit deflated by the underwhelming reveal. Yet Old is certainly this much maligned director’s best movie in a long old time, one I feel might age gracefully and build a cult following. And those finer qualities have stayed at the forefront of my thoughts this week, so I may just join that cult.
Ari Folman directs Robin Wright, Danny Huston and Harvey Keitel in this sci-fi drama where movie star Robin Wright sells the rights to her image and personality to a movie studio and finds herself 60 years later a stranger in an animated hotel which is hosting an event celebrating her continued fame.
What is reality? Every movie that seems to attempt to attack or expose the construct of an artificial existence seems ready made to blow only those unguarded minds already primed for demolition. The Matrix. Mr Nobody. Zero Theorem. A sub genre of over stylised meh that just leaves me cold. They never find a valid enough reason for a world without rules, made from the imagination of a microprocessor. Not my cup of tea. The animation used to conceptualise Robin Wright’s prison of the fake being is colourful, chaotic and with some nice Max Fleischer nods in the population… but the plot around it is incoherent, unworthy of the visual effort. Why is everyone’s face in the future live action “reality” so dirty? Water must exist in some form or they’d be dead. Is it like, The Matrix, just a further layer of fake existence? Do I care? Considering I’m not really sure how we got here after a slew of incoherent but earnest storytelling? Pretentious guff.
Peter Weir directs Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany and Max Pirkis in this rousing sea adventure, where Captain “Lucky Jack” Aubrey enters a cat-and-mouse pursuit with a technically superior French war vessel.
Perhaps the most immersive blockbuster experience of this century already feels like a film from another age. I remember seeing it twice at the cinema on release and both times not completely able to fully unpack the plot and characters as I was so swept up into the expertly realised world we are transported into. Not one moment, prop or extra does not ring true. We are on a Napoleonic man-of-war, of one mind with our crew’s missions and fears throughout. This is completely Peter Weir’s achievement – madness he has only made one movie since. The bonus is Russell’s best performance… surprisingly humane and unbombastic when it could have easily been a rerun of Maximus with a ponytail. He shines just as much in his one to one encounters with individuals in the crew as he does the rollicking period action. None more so than his musical sparring matches with Bettany’s likeable outsider Doctor. Just wonderful. “The Surprise is not old; no one would call her old. She has a bluff bow, lovely lines. She’s a fine seabird: weatherly, stiff and fast… very fast, if she’s well handled. No, she’s not old; she’s in her prime.”
Abel Ferrara directs Peter Weller, Kelly McGillis and Charles Durning in this crime thriller, an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s book about a former soldier who gets drawn into a deadly love triangle.
Possibly not the best Elmore Leonard to adapt, in that the book seems to give up on its more potent plot thread early on just to pursue something more… bog standard. This choppy, often characterless, adaptation struggles to gain any firm footing with such an awkward pairing of plots. Ferrara’s brings a nasty dark edge to a story that would work far better told a few settings lighter.
Mike Leigh directs David Thewlis, Lesley Sharp and Katrin Cartlidge in this urban drama where a troubled but intelligent man travels to London and walks the streets.
“Is it going to be grim and depressing?” asked Natalie. “I remember it being quite funny.” was my response. But no… this is bleak and misogynistic, unrelentingly so… but intentionally… so there’s that. Thewlis remains a powerhouse and his unbridled, acerbic lead performance holds up as one of the great achievements in British acting. The film surrounding it is quite oblique in its intention but it is hard not to see it as damning assessment of humanity. I’ve always found Leigh’s “comical” take on the working classes snide and patronising, his treatment and presentation of those female characters especially in Naked is hard to stomach and tally up. Probably at its best when the camera is just roving the desolate London backstreets, making the last days of Thatcherism look like Lynch’s The Elephant Man.
Jonathan Kaplan directs Claire Danes, Kate Beckinsale and Bill Pullman in this teen drama where two holidaymakers find themselves in Thai prison when heroin is discovered in their backpack.
I watched this pretty much only for Claire Danes back in 1999… and I can’t think of any further motivation behind revisiting it now. It is a pretty uninspired weak tea prison drama with a constant thread of racism to it. Only the surprisingly non-Hollywood ending and a coy refusal to actually let us know if the girls are guilty proving in anyway memorable.
Emma Seligman directs Rachel Sennott, Danny Deferrari and Fred Melamed in this comedy where Jewish student tries to avoid having her bisexual call girl secret life exposed at the funeral afterparty from hell.
Amusing in spits and spots but outstays its welcome – mainly due to an incongruous and near constant horror score track. Rachel Sennott is a sympathetic presence playing a character who would be quite detestable in weaker hands. A solid indie directorial debut with the expertly judged final scene suggesting better things to come. The well observed final set piece of an entire neighbourhood begrudgingly cramming into a single minivan will evoke awkward memories for anyone has had to attend such an event’s aftermath.
Paul Schrader directs Nastassja Kinski, Malcolm McDowell and John Heard in this horror remake of the 1940s ‘woman might turn into a killer cat when aroused’ classic.
I made a previous comment about 1940s horror before that it all seems like a series of classy set ups for sex scenes that never happen. Schrader obviously felt the same way about 1942s Cat People as I did about 1943s I Walked With A Zombie. He expands on the original with excessive, erotic kink. Pumping every scene and entire acts with bonus incest, bondage, full frontal nudity, body horror and bestiality. The atmosphere is steamy, the fantasy elements are heightened. The few moments that recreate faithfully the traditional scares of the original are overwhelmed by fantasias of red desert dreamscapes from pre-history and a hard humping score from David Bowie and Giorgio Moroder. Is Cat People XXX scary? Very rarely. Is it utterly captivating? Yes indeed.
Stuart Rosenberg directs Paul Newman, George Kennedy and Strother Martin in this prison drama where a rebellious new inmate at the State Farm becomes a near messiah-like figure to both the convicts and those who must grind him down.
Peeling the tops of parking meters. For drunken laughs. Fuck you, society! VIOLATION! Harry Dean Stanton – a vision of youth. The man with no eyes. “No grab assin” or its a “night in the box!” That lightbulb’s gonna be annoying. Pa Walton’s pale sad butt. Is Dennis Hopper supposed to be retarded in this? Sexy car wash. “Oh boy, she knows exactly what she’s doing. She’s driving us crazy, and loving every minute of it!” The hairiest man ever in that shower scene. Dragline punches the shit out of Luke – sometimes its better to lose but keep coming (for your own dignity but the ultimate message of the movie suggests otherwise…) Ballsy poker plays earns new nickname. Shitty family prison visit. Tarmacking to Lalo Schifrin… if you are indentured labour then doing the work at a pace faster than the overseer wants is one way to take pride and ownership of it. 50 hard-boiled eggs! Luke means too much to these men, they feast off his rebellion and sense of freedom. He likewise craves being above them… and his vain need to appear free to one and all is his eventual downfall. Mom’s dead. Mourning in the box. The Great Escape! “What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate.” Pranks on the bloodhound gang. Photo from Atlantic City. Fixing a hole. The Christ allegories are overplayed, the breaking of Luke is a painful trudge to endure. I know this is one of the greatest rebellion movies ever… up there with One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest… but it is fascinating that both text end with their stubbly messiah’s being beaten brainless by the system, and abandoned by the outcasts they momentarily inspire? Hollywood likes spending time with a rule breaker but doesn’t want to actually endorse societal change? Possibly the blue-iest blue film ever made: Conrad Hall irradiates the clear skies, the denim, Newman’s eyes. Ultimate take home- You probably aren’t or cannot be a Cool Hand Luke without killing yourself, you are more likely to find yourself a convict or a boss. If you find yourself in the position where you are a boss, remember Luke’s words; “Nah – calling it your job don’t make it right, Boss.”
Everardo Gout directs Ana de la Reguera, Tenoch Huerta and Josh Lucas in this third sequel to The Purge where white supremacists decide to keep the annual night of lawlessness going well beyond the final whistle.
Every further Purge seems like a slight drop in quality from what has come before yet none have never not tickled my fancy nor left me satisfied. I’d rewatch them all (or any individual one) again in a heartbeat. These are a gory, frenetic and oppressive blend of John Carpenter and Mad Max, a seemingly Bobby Carroll tailor made combo of action, horror and social satire. I think in terms of consistency there’s not a modern franchise that can hold a candle to this under-appreciated perennial. This entry has a cowboy theme that is devilishly explored, plenty of Wild West iconography is utilised attractively and it all eventually builds to a race-to-the-border second half that reminds of Mad Max: The Road Warrior. So we’re not going to convert anyone who gave up on these in the Grillo years… but… fuck those jabronis. Bloody good popcorn and I’d wager potent dissertation fodder for Generation Alpha.