Aquarius (2016)

Kleber Mendonça Filho directs Sonia Braga, Humberto Carrão and Irandhir Santos in this Brazilian drama where an ageing music critic finds herself the final holdout when her apartment building is bought up by uncaring developers.

A strong central performance carries a very relaxed yet far-reaching arthouse film. We follow Clara’s memories of her home, current strained relationships (some sexually frank, others joyfully social) and her silent battle with the corporation who want to tear down her building, forcing her to sell through passive aggressive intrusions. Both cancer and termites visually signify the quiet, insidious legal corruption she battles against. You’ll need patience (and a willingness to know that nothing will be fully resolved) to get all the intelligent pleasures out of this meandering film.

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Law Abiding Citizen (2009)

F. Gary Gray directs Gerard Butler, Jamie Foxx and Leslie Bibb in this thriller where a widowed home invasion victim plans an elaborate plot to execute everyone involved in his trangressors’ exoneration.

Two very difficult to like stars play characters with no redeeming features. The intention is for the audience to marvel at evil genius Butler’s diabolically intricate scheme but still want Foxx’s shitheel lawyer to survive it. Imagine watching The Joker or John Doe from Se7en be the hero… and that to somehow result in a rottenly glossy timewaster.

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The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

Wes Craven directs Bill Pullman, Cathy Tyson and Zakes Mokae in this supernatural thriller where an adventuring biologist investigates Haitian voodoo during the real life island coup of the mid-1980s.

Probably the first Wes Craven movie I watched as a boy. I probably found it accessible as it doesn’t really descend into out-and-out horror until the final 30 minutes. Until then it is a looser, coarser Indiana Jones rip-off (bizarrely rooted in an academic factual book). The action can’t hold a candle to Temple of Doom and Pullman is far too silly a screen presence to convince of either heroics or threat. It also has the feel of a truncated epic. The story takes place over a long period of time but characters, plotlines and time shifts are waived off with bolted on narration and cutting room footage. Maybe the longer version has some quality girth to it. Criticisms aside this proves a fine showcase for black character actors of the period; Mokae, Paul Winfield and Brent Jennings elevate limited B-movie parts. And the spookhouse finale has a chaotic relentlessness to it. Craven buries his protagonists alive, resurrects them, owns their soul, unspools reality, unleashes rotting hell on them. He puts us the audience right into their shoes as he does all this. It is a symphony of constant shock sequences and one that absolves The Serpent and the Rainbow of its initial wobbliness.

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The Narrow Margin (1952)

Richard Fleischer directs Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor and Jacqueline White in this film noir where a cop has to protect a mob boss’ wife on a cross country train.

All the moody noir shots, characters and back-and-forth you’d hope for. What makes The Narrow Margin stand out is the big juicy chunks of action embedded throughout and some well hidden twists. It moves without a moments drag or indulgence, making it a superior example of its genre.

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Movie of the Week: Reds (1981)

Warren Beatty directs himself, Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson in this epic biopic of John Reed, the socialist American journalist who covered the Russian Revolution in his seminal book “10 Days That Shook The World.”

A something for everyone movie. If you’ve come for romance then you get two for the price of one. Beatty and Keaton have great chemistry as an on-off couple who want to stake out their place in history. Then you get a side affair with Jack Nicholson’s fatalist romantic Eugene O’Neill. In just a handful of scenes Nicholson does his career best work as the famous playwright. Want historical sweep? Well then Beatty matches Lean in his globetrotting romance. There’s a wonderful shot of reindeer tearing through a snowy forest like lava from a volcanic eruption. Antique trains cross just tamed continents. Beatty and Keaton find themselves dwarfed by the tide of history. Are you left leaning? Then get ready for the giddy excitement of standing up for the working man and calling each other comrade. More right leaning? Watch the communist dream fall apart within a void of Kafka-esque bureaucracy and Python-esque factionalism. Historian?… Marvel at the talking heads reminisces of those who were actually there. Reds has the feel of ghosts narrating history, misremembered gossip becoming legend. It is a fine BIG MOVIE, one that demands return visits.

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The Childhood of a Leader (2016)

Brady Corbet directs Bérénice Bejo, Liam Cunningham and Stacy Martin in this arthouse drama following a battle of wills between a spoilt politician’s son and his uncaring parents during the aftermath of WWI.

The opening montage of the Edwardian age falling apart is a sucker punch. Scott Walker’s score is so threatening that it damn near overpowers the classy, staid visuals. This is very slow burn, obtuse stuff. You have to be patient as the shocks do come and have a powerful effect. Whether the trick would work on a second viewing I have my doubts. It essentially boils down to dislikable people behaving coldly to each other and then worse to each other. Both Robert Pattison and Bérénice Bejo do memorable turns.

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The Beaches of Agnes (2008)

Agnès Varda directs herself, Mathieu Demy and Rosalie Varda in the documentary autobiography where the New Wave filmmaker revisits key moments in her life and recreates them on beaches.

A delightful little oddity that opens up the enviable life story of the quirky and talented Agnès out to us further. Much better than reading a dry book of reminisces. She gets a little distracted and bored of the beach conceit by the end, it feels abandoned. This is the first of her projects I probably wouldn’t rush to rewatch. Reminded me and Natalie last time we were in Paris we visited her husband Jacques Demy’s grave… next time we go they’ll be reunited there.

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Aladdin (2019)

Guy Ritchie directs Will Smith, Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott in this live action reshoot of the Disney animated classic adventure romance about a boy, his monkey, a lamp, a genie, their carpet and a princess with a tiger.

Natalie loved this. I felt it was meh. It seemed redundant, only recapturing the magic when replicating A Whole New World’s wondrous magic carpet ride and “Prince Ali”‘s cast of thousands entrance into the city. Everything else feels fleshed out but flabby. Will Smith does a respectful job of mimicing Robin Williams, but you just wish he got to colour outside the lines more, make the Genie his own. Likewise Jasmine gets more dialogue, a human sidekick, a belter of a song… yet these moments feel wedged in rather than natural embellishments. On the whole, it is a serviceable pastel-hued blockbuster but one that left me hankering for the bolder colour palette and slick nimbleness of the animated original.

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The Faculty (1998)

Robert Rodriguez directs Josh Hartnett, Elijah Wood and Laura Harris in this teen sci-fi horror mash-up where a group of high schoolers realise their school is being taken over by alien bodysnatcher parasites.

This was right up my alley as a teen. A movie referencing pretty much everything I was into from Invasion of the Body Snatchers to The Terminator. It essentially is an unashamed blend of The Breakfast Club and The Thing. I knew the horror wasn’t all that scary, the action never really reached an apex but I liked it. The Faculty was knowingly unoriginal, reconstituting familiar thrills so the fanboys and the uninitiated could have a fine night at the multiplex alike. I never picked it up again. I felt it might suffer under the scrutiny of a revisit. Yet 20 years down the line I had a Friday night blast again. It is probably Rodriguez most anonymous film but he homages with a passion. The cast is tip-top for trash – this made Hartnett a star, Clea Duvall and Laura Harris impress, the excellent Bebe Neuwirth gets a rare movie outing, everyone else rests heavily on their genre back catalogue. It really is a movie of simple pleasures, repackaged simple pleasures, like a covers band working out a smile inducing toe tapping playlist.

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John Wick – Chapter 3: Parabellum (2019)

Chad Stahelski directs Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry and Ian McShane in this direct continuation of the ultraviolent John Wick story, where the retired hitman finds himself on the run from the High Table.

More of the same… maybe a little too much more. The opening salvo of non-stop action for the first half hour is breathtaking. Whereas the final half hour of action maybe contains a beat down too far. Tries the patience just a little. That’s a minor gripe as very few current franchises are delivering mayhem as elegantly choreographed as this, a universe with a satisfyingly defined vibe and giving creaky action stars and character actors a pension plan. Roll on John Wick 4, hopefully with even more charming dog acting and Keanu getting cutely puffier around the jowls.

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