The Mule (2018)

Clint Eastwood directs himself, Bradley Cooper and Ignacio Serricchio in this crime drama where a cash strapped elderly gent starts ferrying drugs for a cartel.

A solid, stately drama, at its best when Clint plays against type as a doddery old ne’er do well. He’s charming in it. If you come for a gentle evisceration of American values there’s plenty to savour, action fans should look elsewhere though.

7

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The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)


Charles B. Pierce directs Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine and Dawn Wells in this true crime thriller about a sack masked killer who terrorised Texarkana in the 1940s.

A tonally uneven film with more positives than negatives. Some moments don’t work; an inconsequential car chase included to jazz up the trailer no doubt, hick cop comedy, the infamous trombone stabbing. But in the main this matches Zodiac in its paranoid atmosphere. You are gripped by its reportage of sweaty, unsolved, nihilistic desperation. Also for a drive-in cheapie the period location work is stunningly filmed. Ignore its occasional naff bits and this has very lofty intentions and fine quality for a piece of violent exploitation.

7

Alexander (2004)

Oliver Stone directs Colin Farrell, Val Kilmer and Angelina Jolie in this epic retelling of the life of Greek leader who conquered most of the ancient world.

A film so compromised by its own hubris and desire to exist it proves difficult to decide what is good and what is bad. The support cast are all jarringly Irish so that Colin Farrell can pass his native accent off as this reality’s version of Greek. Jolie, Kilmer and Rosario Dawson are camp and OTT but all their scenes have a punching star power madness missing from the bulk of the film. Of the two battles shown one is outstandingly impressive – the sheer scale of the thing roots you to your seat – while the other suddenly douses itself in an oilslick pink for… reasons. Stone clearly is trying to fuck the frame whenever he can, and while I’m no slave to tradition, it just snags the movie here. You can tell his fear is he can’t solve the riddle of how do you make dynamic a film about a man who dominated the globe but lost control by overreaching? How do you sex up a tale where most of the drama is tired warriors discussing whether they plod further into the unforgiving wilds? Stone sexes it up, spunks all over it repeatedly, but never solves that inherent problem. It descends into endless scenes of desperate, bearded men shouting at each other in wine soaked harems and muddy cliffpoints.

5

Lost in Translation (2003)

Sofia Coppola directs Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson and Giovanni Ribisi in this romantic comedy where an ageing movie star and a lonely young woman share an interlude in Tokyo.

The danger of overhype on a slight, beautiful film. Lost in Translation should be my favourite movie. Two of my most beloved movie stars mismatched perfectly in a sensitive and sensuously filmed adventure. Coppola lenses Tokyo to seems both magically otherworldly and yet depressingly overwhelming. She generates strong yearning chemistry in her not quite platonic pair. Yet on every watch it never quite clicks into the perfect, enthralling, laugh out loud symphony it should be. Reputation, ingredients, even now fond memory of the film all suggest it is a five star masterpiece. Shame the actual viewing experience is only, merely “very good”. No idea what it lacks on actual inspection.

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My Top 10 Scarlett Johansson Movies

1. The Prestige (2006)

2. Ghost in the Shell (2017)

3. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

4. The Jungle Book (2016)

5. Lost in Translation (2003)

6. Under the Skin (2013)

7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

8. Chef (2014)

9. Ghost World (2001)

10. Don Jon (2013)

Movie of the Week: The Producers (1969)

Mel Brooks directs Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder and Dick Shawn in this comedy about a down on his luck theatre impresario whose accountant reveals a way to make a fortune from a play… as long as it is a guaranteed flop.

Turns out bad taste doesn’t date. The shocking, transgressive stuff Brooks makes light of here still feels pretty risky. Add to that the OTT mugging heavy double act of Mostel and Wilder and I genuinely haven’t laughed continually out loud at a comedy like this in ages. Everyone is such a self absorbed scumbag that the least you can say about the leads is they know they are rotten. They’ve got that saving grace going for them. Game old ladies looking for sex, camp shitshow artists, Reich tinged Broadway numbers and hippy loons. The Producers hasn’t aged a day, or if it has its delightfully matured. I watched the remake when it came out and was unimpressed. This, and only this, is the real deal… just don’t invest.

9

The New Centurions (1972)

Richard Fleischer directs George C. Scott, Stacy Keach and Scott Wilson in this cop drama showing vignettes from the careers of two LA uniform police; a veteran facing down retirement and his partner who goes from rookie to seasoned survivor.

Episodic. Showing the daily grind of seventies policing. The risks, the excitement, the duty, the comraderies. The destruction of the men’s personal life. The psychological pressures of being on the front line. A few amazing bits of acting from Scott aside, there’s nothing you wouldn’t see here that seven seasons of a primetime policier on TV wouldn’t cover. We just get it compressed into a feature length running time. The anecdotal, unusual busts keep you entertained, the soapy tragedies supply the actors their meat. This might have been revolutionary in it depiction in 1972. Now it’s just a satisfyingly grainy afternoon killer.

7

The Family (2013)

Luc Besson directs Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Dianna Agron in this mob comedy where a family of hoods in witness protection struggle to give up old habits in provincial France.

Luc Besson has many directorial strengths. Visualist. Sentimentalist. Broad, brash performance encourager. But comedy is not his forte. He lacks subtlety. The light touch essential to make a set-up and a punchline chime. So here we get a situation that mutes his positives and amplifies his failings. Every scene ends with one of our leads acting out their aggressive violence. DeNiro has been spoofing himself for diminishing returns ever since Analyse This. That was OK, this is cut from the same two decades torn and worn cloth. Pfieffer has good chemistry with Bobby but feels like the least interesting performance to Besson. The kids get a lot of screentime and take over the incongruous action finale. The final 10 minutes is Home Alone With Uzis. Not as good as Home Alone with Uzis starring Robert Fucking DeNiro should be though, even on a bad day. The strange thing is, as shrill as it all plays out, you consistently see a glimmer of what attracted everyone to the project. “Everyone” is a good ensemble, they work well together. A different director, maybe a TV miniseries length to allow the characters and the comedy space to breathe, and you might have had a very likeable Netflix series.

4

Terror Train (1980)

Roger Spottiswoode directs Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Johnson, and Hart Bochner in this slasher aboard a train.

A killer swaps costumes with his party victims. That’s about as good as it gets in terms of originality. David Copperfield is one of the suspects / potential victims. This is neither a good or bad thing. A waste of Jamie Lee Curtis.

3

My Top 10 Jamie Lee Curtis Movies

1. Trading Places (1983)

2. The Fog (1980)

3. A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

4. True Lies (1995)

5. My Girl (1991)

6. Blue Steel (1990)

7. Halloween (1978)

8. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)

9. Prom Night (1980)

10. Freaky Friday (2003)

Mary Queen of Scots (2018)

Josie Rourke directs Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie and Guy Pearce in this historical retelling of the rivalry between Elizabeth I and her cuter cousin.

An often very sumptuous film (if you like flame red hair, shimmering navy dresses and primary coloured lady armour get ready for an ocular treat) with two strong lead performances that gets lost in the weeds. Ronan laughably never ages during the 25 year timeline, while Robbie almost goes full Freddy Krueger with her pox scared make-up. You kinda hope it might descend into full camp (the dialogue is often fittingly bad enough), and let us just enjoy a historian troubling catfight. This is at heart an awards botherer though wanting to keep its feet firmly in the less splashy puddles of prestigious production and anachronistic identity politics. So we are left with a carousel of short lived coups where every male character gets to shift allegiances and plot, while the powerful icons (and brilliant stars who play them) get sidelined somewhat in the wearying shuffle. “Who is betraying who now, Lady Bird?” “I give up, Harley Quinn.” A bad film posing as a great one, it reminded most of Bohemian Rhapsody. This one just isn’t as triumphant in forcing fact and cliche through the sausage grinder of what it thinks it’s audience wants. So we are left with Ronan and Robbie grand standing, revealing their humanity and suffering the will of the inferiors… and even in a clunky movie, that is worth the cost of admission alone.

6

Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928)

Charles Reisner and Buster Keaton direct Buster Keaton, Tom McGuire and Ernest Torrence in this silent slapstick comedy about a son trying work his father’s ramshackle boat the week before a hurricane is due.

There’s slapstick and visual gags but there ain’t nothing like the scale and fatal risk Keaton puts himself through here for a gasp or a laugh. Astounding.

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