Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A month at the movies #20: Red Cliff

Even after watching the full five hour version of this film, I couldn't figure out why the hell all these people are fighting each other for, but the scene where the good guys gather up all the enemy arrows is still dope as fuck.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A month at the movies #19: Inherent Vice

Some people swear that The Master is Paul Thomas Anderson's best film, others claim that he peaked with Boogie Nights, while many maintain - with good cause - that There Will Be Blood is the best. But I'm all about the Inherent Vice.

This view is, undoubtedly, majorly influenced by the fact that the lovely wife and I saw it in a Seattle cinema during a long cruise up the west coast of America, but I do genuinely think it's a great and somewhat under-rated entry in Anderson's filmography, with the director at the height of his abilities.

It's so cruisy, it's almost dragging its ass on the ground and I'm still not entirely sure what it's all about, but that free-wheeling nature is addictive, with a stoned, paranoiac vibe that papers over most of the cracks. It doesn't matter who the fuck the Golden Fang really is, or why Bigfoot eats all the dope, it's the journey that matters, not the destination. And Anderson makes it look effortless, like making this kind of film is a breeze.

It's also got a perfect cast - Joaquin Phoenix was born to play Doc, Josh Brolin is a fucking nightmare and Katherine Waterston is a vision of ethereal untouchability. There is a typically groovy soundtrack and there are small doses of gritty reality, right down to the filthiness of Doc's feet.

I also don't know what the hell Martin Short is doing, but I could watch a whole movie of him driving around the city while under the influence.

I do have a vague, half-arsed theory that this movie is the Velvet Underground of Anderson's offerings - it isn't the most-admired of his films, but those who do love it find it massively influential and inspiring. Mind you, I literally wrote a 100,000-word novel that was 100 percent inspired by the scene where Michelle Sinclair shows up in Doc's office, so I was probably always going to say that.

Monday, March 19, 2018

A month at the movies #18: The Thomas Crown Affair

A friend of mine used to work as an entertainment reporter for a big British newspaper and I once asked her who the dumbest celebrity she ever interviewed was. She didn't hesitate, and said that while he was pretty charming and devastatingly handsome, she had met cats and dogs that were smarter than Pierce Brosnan.

I wish she hadn't told me that, because it destroyed this film. I can't take him seriously as a brilliant business mastermind who commits the ultimate high stakes robbery and con job, just because he can. All those looks of smouldering intent as Crown studies some of the great art of our time, or his steely determination in the boardroom, and he's probably thinking about what he's having for lunch.

I'm still totally down Rene Russo as the investigator who tracks him down, because Rene Russo always, always looks like she's the smartest person in the room. It makes it harder to think she's outfoxed by Brosnan's Crown throughout the film, because she should be able to clock him with ease.

It's easy to still buy Brosnan's Bond, because James Bond should always be a bit of a brutal thug - a brilliant lateral thinker, but not one for decent small talk. Thomas Crown is supposed to be one of the smartest guys on the planet, and I just can't see it anymore.

(The lovely wife also worked in entertainment journalism for a while and she always maintained that the smartest guy she ever interviewed was Bryan Cranston, which should come as a surprise to nobody and only makes his Hal or Heisenberg even better.)

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A month at the movies #17: Frankenweenie

Tim Burton's idea of creepy hasn't changed much since the first time he made Frankenweenie as a short film in the early eighties - sinister little kids with crooked teeth and big, dead eyes; vintage horror monsters from the movies he loved as a kid; lots and lots of dark shadows.

But the creepiest thing in the full -length version of this story, released a couple of years ago, is hearing the unmistakable voice of a fully grown-up Winona Ryder coming from a girl who is younger than her character in Beetlejuice. Ryder still has a fantastic voice, but it's the voice of a grown-ass woman in her forties, and while many animated films use adults as voice talent for children, it's a little unsettling hearing her play a character she outgrew a long time ago.

Burton definitely has a type when it comes to his female characters, and Winona Ryder will always be the perfect actress to play that character, but she ain't no kid anymore.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A month at the movies #16: The Death of Stalin

I wouldn't have lasted five fucking minutes in the Soviet Union, because my entire life is a case of unauthorised narcissism.

Friday, March 16, 2018

A month at the movies #15: Army Of One

Usually, I'm all for Nicholas Cage completely losing his shit for a movie - I've seen Vampire's Kiss, like, twice in the past 20 years - and he's enlivened many films by giving them more schtick than they deserve.

But this... This was too much damn Cage, and I only lasted 15 minutes before it got too much. It's nice to know there is an actual limit.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

A month at the movies #14: Sin City

Whenever I can't sleep, and find myself unexpectedly wide awake in the small hours of the morning, I like to watch the Sin City movies.

It's nothing to do with the actual stories - the plots of the two films are so big and simple I can follow those with my dumb reptile brain and don't need to use any real thought, so that's not why I like watching them in the night.

It's the way they're made, and the way they're so gloriously hollow. Filming entirely on green screen, with no location work, gives the films the hyper-stylized atmosphere Robert Rodriguez was going for, but also makes everything feel artificial and unreal and incredibly calming.

And it's not just the visuals. Even with the unending voice-overs, constant droning music and the sound of some poor schmuck getting his face pounded into hamburger, there is this dead sound behind everything. No ambient noises of the night or the city, just the kind of nothing you hear in the dead hours.

I find it very relaxing. The movies are not much more than an experiment in style, and it's an experiment that doesn't always work, but there is nothing more I like to have on in the background as I try to get through another long, cold night.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A day in Twin Peaks

Months and months after it screened, I still feel totally fucking traumatised by the ending of the new Twin Peaks.

It was my own fault - I was genuinely expecting some kind of uplifting ending, that Lynch and Frost and crew were going to buck against the unprecedented level of fear and loathing in modern society and end with something hopeful. And when Cooper came out of his Dougie Jones coma and immediately took charge, it really felt like everything was going to be all right.

Then the last two episodes started to undermine that, with the big defeat of the evil Bob undercut by both the absurdity of the magic super-strong glove, and Cooper's blank face superimposed over the resolution.

And then Cooper over-reaches, and while he does do some good by stopping Bob and his doppelganger, he tries to save Laura and he's gone too far.

So in those last moments, with Cooper lost and befuddled, and Laura screaming, and the fucking house lights going out, it was a sharp dose of utter horror and futility that still scratches away at the back of the mind, and a breathtakingly ballsy way to end the story.

Some brave souls have attempted to explain those last few seconds as something good and pure, where ultimate evil is defeated by the detention of Laura's soul or something, but that's a reach. It's a perfectly valid way of interpreting the ending, but it's still wrong.

Because there is nothing good happening here. There is no hope, no optimism, no love, no redemption, no closure and no happy possibilities here, just the never-ending scream of a murdered woman trapped in an eternal, timeless nightmare.

It was always going to end this way, no matter how much it looked like things would work out. We were always going to this hell. If I'd faced up to this sooner, maybe that ending might not have been so gorgeously traumatising.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A month at the movies #13: Raising Arizona

In the past week I've seen the helicopter attack in Apocalypse Now three times, and the big shoot-out in Heat twice, because they've both popped up when I was browsing through the movie channels, and I can never, ever restrain myself from watching those whole sequences all the way through. If I'm lucky, I might be able to tear myself away at the end of the scenes, and not watch the films all the way through, but there are no guarantees. (If any Mad Max film or the Michael Mann version of Last of the Mohicans appears, I always end up watching the whole thing.)

The absolute worst scene for this is the first 11 minutes of Raising Arizona, which I always, always have to watch. I was late for a job interview once because I got stuck watching that opening scene and I don't think I got that job and it was still totally worth it.

It's just such a perfect sequence, front-loading a tonne of story information in the most ridiculously entertaining and vibrant way, with more than a dozen all-time great movie lines - I think about 'her insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase' every goddamn day.

It covers a whole saga of backstory that could be a movie in itself, and the rest of the film is really a sequel. It means that Cage can muck around with those darn babies for ages in the next part and it's actually nice to catch your breath after that exhilarating rush of an opening.

Picking a favourite Coen brothers film is fucking hard, because while they share themes and motifs and all that shit, they're all so different. But if you put a gun to my head, I'd say Raising Arizona, and it's all because of this opening. Okay then.