PARIS, TEXAS from Axiom films - 8/10
First time watch, and another one inspired by the @letterboxd
Season Challenge 2018-19; a great way to encourage yourself to get through that ever growing watchlist! This is not only my first viewing of the classic PARIS, TEXAS but actually my first Wim Wenders film too. I think this is probably Wenders’ most famous and revered movie as well as holding a massively positive reputation with both European and American cinephiles alike.
The late Harry Dean Stanton is Travis Henderson - a mute, scrappy-looking man who we meet wandering aimlessly across the Texan landscapes, his brain frazzled by the sun, seemingly without any memory of who he is or where he’s going. When his brother, played by the underrated Dean Stockwell, finds him and takes him back to Los Angeles Travis is reunited with his 7-year-old son Hunter, who he seemingly abandoned 4 years earlier. From here the movie is a family drama centred around Travis’ attempts to reconnect with Hunter as the two of them go back on the road to track down Hunter’s mother, Jane.
For the first 2 acts I was kind of waiting for this thing to impress me, to live up to its glowing reputation. I was certainly enjoying the tranquillity and care of the story telling, Robby Muller’s cinematography is stunning throughout, and Harry Dean’s performance is excellent (even more poignant after his death last summer). Then, in the 3rd act, Travis finally tracks down Jane. These two actors work with Wenders to create one of the most affective and astounding conversations in cinema, as Travis finally fills us in on what happened 4 years ago and in doing so gives the proceeding 100mins of film a stinging context. The 3rd act, including the ending which I understand has a few haters including HDS himself, is masterful. I think the ending is perfect as Travis’ sacrifice mirrors the sacrifice Jane herself was forced to make 4 years earlier, in a movie all about connection, loss and redemption. Heart-breaking last 2-3 minutes. I’d also like to throw some credit Hunter Carson’s way – child actors can easily take me out of the movie, especially when so key to the plot, but Carson is really a natural.
MIDNIGHT COWBOY from @criterioncollection
Uh, well sir, I ain't a f'real cowboy. But I am one helluva stud
First time watch. John Schlesinger’s 1970 Academy Award Best Picture winning MIDNIGHT COWBOY is one of a few American films to which the birth of the Hollywood New Wave of the 70s is accredited. With its preference for character and performance over plot, its deviation from linear narrative standards and its frankness in presenting taboo themes, MIDNIGHT COWBOY is a fantastic representative of the style of the best director-driven American movies of the decade
Jon Voight, in the role that made him famous, is John Buck - a Texas stud naively dreaming of making it big in New York City as a male escort to wealthy women. As the pressure of the big smoke, the isolation it brings, and his own stupidity start to weigh heavy on his shoulders he befriends Dustin Hoffman’s Enrico “Ratso” Rizzo, a nickel-and-dime con-man from the Bronx, and the two form an unlikely bond as grime and poverty threaten to bury them forever. As the duo’s situation becomes more perilous, the friendship between them becomes stronger and they scrape and claw for the opportunity to escape to their Floridian paradise
The reality presented in the movie is its most entertaining element and much of the praise must go to Voight and Hoffman who both put in excellent, committed performances as very difficult, often troubled characters. Voight’s starry-eyed cowboy is so effective because he can hint at loneliness and trauma in Joe Buck while presenting his energy and kindness in the same moments. Hoffman clearly does a great job with the physicality of Ratso, the accent the limp etc., but it’s the stutters in his delivery and the way he looks at Buck that makes the final scenes so heart-breaking. Schlesinger’s portrayal of seedy New York, although probably much less shocking today than in 1969, is still tangibly gritty and bleak and hopeless, with fascinating characters around every corner – an exaggerated view of the USA from an opinionated British-born director is a wonderful playground for this tragedy to play out in
Presentation on this disc is class. Loads of cool extras included!
BLACK BOOK from @101.films
I never knew this would happen. To fear the liberation
Paul Verhoeven brings his unique blend of sexual content, overt violence and social satire to the Nazi spy movie genre. Perhaps that’s not an obvious fit but one that works itself into an entertaining movie with plenty of memorable moments, some great character actors and an excellent central performance from Carice Van Houten
Van Houten starts the film as Rachel Stein, a Jew in hiding with a strict Christian family in Nazi-occupied Holland during WWII. When her attempted escape into Belgium ends in tragedy, she works with the Dutch resistance to infiltrate the regional Gestapo headquarters as Ellis de Vries and infiltrates the underpants of SS officer Ludwig Muntze. Ellis plays super spy caught between her affection for Muntze, the political and personal motivations of the resistance and her own crusade for justice against the forces that murdered her family. To recap the entire plot is nearly impossible as this thing twists and turns all over the place with most characters changing motivations and allegiances at least once, but often more
It’s weird to think that a movie that deals with the most intense period of Jewish persecution at the hands of Nazi Germany can be described as good pulpy entertainment… but really that’s what Verhoeven serves up here. At 145 mins it’s not a short film yet it zips along at a ridiculous pace with so much narrative crammed in. Van Houten is the glue that holds this all together and her performance rightly launched her career stateside, where she’s now probably best known for her role in GAEM OF THRONES. The film ends up having an exploitation feel to it at times especially with the sex and nudity that’s included, see topless Van Houten being covered in shit and piss, which can be slightly jarring given the horrific reality of the time period. For me, I would rather have done away with 2/3s of the plot and cast and focussed much more on some specific characters, as we rarely learn anything about who these people are and what’s driving them on
are doing some excellent work with their black label range and this is no exception!
SHERLOCK JR from @eurekaentertainment
My very first attempt at watching and learning about the classic silent comedies of the early 20th century and it couldn’t have gone better. I’ve been taking part in the @letterboxd
Season Challenge 2018-19 for the last ten weeks and it’s opened me up to many cool films that I might not have watched otherwise, and also some absolute dross but let’s not focus on that. This week’s challenge was to watch a classic silent comedy, a somewhat daunting task given the legendary status of the main payers in this genre coupled with the fact that I’ve never seen a second of any of their work before
I turned to the SilentOlogy website, who have a fantastic article on where to start with silent cinema. Their recommendation was to start with comedy, specifically Buster Keaton and specifically a selection of his short films to build up to watching Sherlock Jr as the first full-length feature (although still only 45 mins). So, thanks to @eurekaentertainment
for putting out both a wonderful collection of all Keaton’s short films and then an equally impressive boxset of his best-known features and making it easy for me to follow SilentOlogy’s instructions. I binged THE SCARECROW, ONE WEEK and THE GOAT amongst other shorts before settling down to finally watch SHERLOCK JR
At 94 years old, the most remarkable thing about SHERLOCK JR is that it still genuinely shocked and amazed me. Keaton is one of the most talented performers I’ve ever seen; from his dead-pan, pained, subtle facial expressions, to his ability to perform the most nuanced sleight of hand and skill (see pool table scene here), to his ridiculous, risky stunt work. I’m sure people would be put off by the age or the style of silent cinema, but the hard-work, imagination and innovation on show here is truly magical and puts many modern CGI messes to shame. So glad I’m on board and rolling with Buster and still have more of the boxset to watch next!
Letterboxd Challenge - https://letterboxd.com/bmilot56/list/the-letterboxd-season-challenge-2018-19/
Bluraybuddha Letterboxd profile - https://letterboxd.com/LukieBabie/
SilentOlogy website - https://silentology.wordpress.com/
SEE NO EVIL from @indicatorseries
Richard Fleischer’s 32nd movie (if I’ve counted correctly) sits nicely in the lineage of “run away blind girl” horror movies, tucked snuggly between WAIT UNTIL DARK and HUSH & DON’T BREATH. Although the structure and pattern of these films are all similar, Fleischer’s twist is having the killer’s identity remain a secret until the closing scenes of the movie; a choice that doesn’t really work as well as the director would have intended.
Mia Farrow is Sarah, a jockey who has been blinded after a horse-riding accident and is now moving in to live with her Uncle and Auntie in the English countryside. As Sarah gets used to her new surroundings, she is unaware of a killer stalking her and her family, culminating in her returning from a day out to what she thinks is an empty house but the dead bodies of her 3 family members are in the house with her. The film builds to some good chase and action sequences between Mia and the killer until his identity is finally revealed, fairly underwhelmingly.
Firstly the positives, and Mia Farrow’s performance is the backbone of the movie. She is completely committed to the role, not only mastering the mannerisms and movements of a blind person but also throwing herself feet-first into some quite gruelling physical acting scenes. She runs and crawls barefoot through thick wet mud, is constantly ducking and rolling to hide from the killer and does lots of her own horse riding too. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast are unremarkable, no one stands out as particularly talented or charismatic. It’s an interesting enough slasher and the blind twist is fun, but I think my biggest problem is the decision not to reveal who is committing the crimes until the end of the film. The killer is only ever shown from the knees down and we recognise him as he always wears the same tacky cowboy boots. We only get to know a handful of characters very well, most of whom die in the first half of the film, and so when the killer is revealed as a secondary character we’ve really only seen a few times, it just left me shrugging my shoulders.
deliver again with a cracking presentation
WRECK-IT RALPH - 4/10
Okay so first off, I’m a big fan of Walt Disney Animated Studios movies in general, I was raised on them until the age of about 11 when wrestling took over, and THE LION KING, THE JUNGLE BOOK and ALADDIN are still some of my favourite movies ever. It’s rare for me to be negative or neutral on a Disney film. However, WRECK IT RALPH was released at a time where the Animated Studios were really struggling to release movies of any quality – before its release in 2012 the last great film was probably TARZAN in 99, a run that saw films such as MEET THE ROBINSONS, TREASURE PLANET and BOLT make little impact with audiences. After WRECK IT RALPH the animated studios really hit its stride and the resurgence continues to present day with big hits such as FROZEN, BIG HERO 6 and a personal favourite MOANA. I believe the uncertainty and lack of quality output of the studio at the time is clearly reflected in WRECK-IT RALPH
For starters I think the videogame concept is decent and does lead to some nice nostalgic moments in seeing the different game characters wheeled out in the first act, however the weird mythology of characters hanging out when the arcade closes and plugs sockets connecting them all is weak. Then the film basically forgets about all that as we spend all our time in the headachingly bright Sugar Rush game, featuring uber-annoying Sarah Silverstone voiced Vanellope von Schweetz. From this point on we get a generic “odd-couple must get along” story that kids will probably enjoy, but I’m looking for a bit more from my Disney, especially now that both Disney and Pixar are making such great films about important things, films with interesting messages at their core. What is the message of Wreck-it Ralph? Is there one? Also, the film has no laughs in it at all which is totally unforgivable of a studio that is capable of so much better. Having said all of that, I like the animation itself, especially the different forms of animation used to highlight the different types and ages of game graphics. I also think Ralph is a likeable character, voiced well by John C. Reilly.
I’m hoping for more from the sequel when it’s released later this month!
THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS from @cultfilms.co.uk
Gillo Pontecorvo’s ’66 classic depicts the events of the French occupation of Algeria between 1954 – 62, specifically focussing on the Algerian liberation fighters use of terrorist techniques on the French colonial forces and their retaliation of military brute force. The screenwriters focus on the narrative of Ali La Pointe, played by first-time actor (as the majority of the cast were) by Brahim Hadjadj, showing his journey from petty criminal through radicalisation to become an integral cog in the revolutionist’s wheel.
This is the second time I’ve seen this film in as many years and I’m left as impressed as I was the first time, particularly by the even-handed way Pontecorvo handles such a political and divisive series of events. It has been argued that the film is being told from the Algerian perspective, but I believe the director is honest in showing acts of terror and their consequences from both side of the Casbah. The first third of the movie is essentially the Algerian Front de Liberation National gunning down individual French military personal in acts of simple assassination on the streets of the European section of the city. Pontecorvo doesn’t go out of his way to glamorise or even justify these actions, he just shows us them. The bombing of the Casbah by the French and the devastating aftermath is handled in the same way as the bombing of the French café and bar by the Algerians; composer Ennio Morricone introduces an orchestral, emotional piece in place of the military drumming motif that threads through the movie otherwise. Instead of a political statement, I believe Pontecorvo tries to matter-of-factly present procedurally what happened, and to explore the reasons why. Indeed, this film should probably have been used for the decades that followed its release as a blue-print of how not to marginalise different racial groups to the point of radicalisation and then how not to react once that point is reached.
Fans in the UK who aren’t able to play the @criterioncollection
release should be picking up @cultfilms.co.uk
version asap. Excellent presentation and packed full of bonus content.
THE LONG GOODBYE from @arrowacademy
He’s got a girl, I got a cat
Noirvember becomes neo-Noirvember with Robert Altman’s 1973 cult classic THE LONG GOODBYE, an ingenious adaptation of Raymond Chadler’s ’53 novel. Ingenious because Altman decides to twist the original narrative and imagines Private Eye Philip Marlowe waking up after a 20-year long sleep, trying to navigate the pot, health food and hippies of early 70s Hollywood with his own morality and conscience, more suited to the 50s. The result is a fantastic movie blend that feels like a 40s noir mixed with a “one crazy night” movie like AFTER HOURS, as Marlowe wanders through the plot, meeting and being confused by a host of colourful 70s caricatures
Plot follows Elliot Gould’s Marlowe as he searches for his pet cat… a search that gets Marlowe tangled up in several disparate but eventually linked storylines – his best friend is murdered and he’s a suspect, he’s hired to find a rich alcoholic author by the author’s beautiful battered wife, he’s being hassled by the mob for a bag of money he has no knowledge off etc. Marlowe deals with all this madness with consistently cool smart-arsery as he slowly pieces together the mystery culminating in a very satisfying climax
Gould is my favourite thing in this film. He’s far from the prototypical leading-man with his craggy face and thick curly hair, but he manages to make being a confused, chain-smoking loser seem like the coolest thing going. I’m not sure how he does it; he doesn’t break his calm in the face of a naked knife wielding mobster or a harem of topless yoga goddesses, but always has a clever quip for every situation. Speaking of naked knife wielding mobsters, Mark Rydell’s frantic, insecure gang boss is probably my second favourite thing in the movie; his rapid-fire dialogue both intimidating and funny. Movie manages to maintain it’s hazy, dreamlike feel right until the final scene where it throws cold water over the audience just before its time to go home. I presume this rating is going to get higher the more I re-watch.
presentation of the movie is great and the disc contains a couple of very interesting supplemental features
DOUBLE INDEMNITY from @eurekaentertainment
I killed him for money - and a woman - and I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman. Pretty, isn't it?
Billy Wilder’s third feature-length directorial effort and the first in his string of genuine masterpieces, DOUBLE INDEMNITY is widely credited with being the template from which all other noir films were based. Maybe surprisingly given my love for Wilder’s THE APARTMENT, this is the first time I’d ever seen the movie and, as the healthy rating above suggests, I completely loved it. As with many of the Hollywood classics from the 40s and 50s it’s the dialogue that enraptures me – it’s so witty and layered and so “of a time and place” that it’s almost a different language, like poetry. Wilder, and co-writer Raymond Chandler, are able to tell a fascinating story centred around adultery, fraud and murder in a way that appeased the censors primarily because the depth and double-entendre heavy dialogue so cleverly masks the characters intentions – for the most part they never explicitly say what they’re planning to do.
Selling the dialogue are three tremendous lead performances. Fred MacMurray’s Walter Neff is a very tricky role as he needs to be charming and intelligent, but also gullible enough to fall for Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis – all while keeping the sympathies of the audience. MacMurray is the perfect choice and I can’t think of many others who could pull this balancing act off as well as he does. Same applies to Stanwyck who’s performance became the textbook for all femme fatales to follow. My favourite performance is from Edward G Robinson (maybe best known for playing LITTLE CEASAR) as Barton Keyes, an expert insurance manager who specialises in uncovering fraudulent claims and the one who hunts down MacMurray and Stanwyck. His spitfire delivery makes for some of the most enjoyable moments in the movie and his warm, energetic performance gives the fantastic closing scene its emotional edge.
As for noir – black and white, voice over, sunlight through blinds, femme fatale, smoky urban setting, guns, anti-hero protagonist, murder – check to all the above. A masterpiece.
JABBERWOCKY from @criterioncollection
I keep your potato!
Released in 1977, JABBERWOCKY was Terry Gilliam’s first full-length solo directorial effort after co-directing MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL with fellow Python Terry Jones 3 years earlier. Set in mud-infused medieval Britain and featuring a bumbling and idiotic hero on a quest for glory, there are plenty of comparisons to be made between GRAIL and JABBERWOCKY. However, where the former feels innovative, satirical and most importantly hilarious, the latter is unfortunately none of these things.
Michael Palin’s Dennis Cooper is cooper’s assistant, a maker of casks and barrels (new word for me 😊), whose father dies suddenly and so must make his way to the guarded city at the heart of kingdom to find his fortune. The kingdom itself is being terrorised by the titular fire-breathing monster and the King is trying to find the brave knight who can defeat it. Dennis runs through a series of different adventures with a dirt-caked cast of characters before finding himself as the one to take on the Jabberwocky.
Where the above sounds like a fun plot for a Python-esq comedy, the reality is that there are few laughs to be had. In fact, apart from the knights playing a game of hide-and-seek, I don’t think there are any laugh aloud moments in the movie. Gilliam seems to favour toilet humour and sex-jokes over the intelligent absurdist humour of Python. I know this isn’t a Python film but there is very little water between the two and comparisons are inevitable, not least with Palin and Terry Jones in the movie. Palin still gives a good showing given the material he’s performing, managing to maintain some sympathy despite how stupid Dennis is – his constant courting of fair maiden Griselda Fishfinger another positive in the film. Gillian goes onto direct some fantastic films inc. BRAZIL, 12 MONKEYS and TIME BANDITS, and I’m very excited to see THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE later this year, but this just doesn’t work for me.
Despite my feelings on the film I can’t deny that @criterioncollection
do an excellent job in presenting it here. Fans will enjoy getting stuck into lots of additional content too.
HEATHERS from @arrowvideo
I LOVE MY DEAD GAY SON
Another first-time viewing for me, this time it’s Michael Lehmann’s 1988 teen comedy HEATHERS – a film that completely flipped all the expectations I had as I sat down to watch. It is darkly comedic, confidently subversive and weirdly abstract. HEATHERS is ultimately a very rare thing in that it’s a completely unique movie; I can’t think of any other film like it.
The Heathers are a group of 3 of the richest, most popular, most entitled girls at Westerburg High, are all named Heather and spend their days bullying the rest of the school into submission. Winona Ryder’s Veronica is the 4th Heather but is very much on the outside of the group as she tries to maintain relationships with other students too. When Christian Slater’s JD joins the school, Veronica falls for him and the two quickly get “hot and heavy”. JD convinces Veronica that her friends are awful human beings and that the best thing to do is to kill the lead Heather and make it look like a suicide. This leads to the two repeating the act on several other undesirable classmates until Veronica realises the error of her ways and JD becomes the sociopathic villain of the story
There aren’t many high school comedies where the butt of the joke is teen suicide, and on paper it sounds like a bad idea, but the material is so well written and handled with such irreverence that it works perfectly. It has so many laugh out loud moments and is so endlessly quotable that its no surprise this has gone on to receive such a large cult following. Every character, from the leads to the supporting cast, is given a moment to shine and the dialogue is so spot-on that the world of HEATHERS is both recognisable yet completely alien at the same time. There is a school shooting and a school-bombing plot that haven’t aged well (not through a fault of the film) and the 3rd act is slightly drawn out for my liking
Writer Daniel Waters successfully creates his own language here. I don’t want to come off as a complete pillowcase and maybe my damage is that I had brain tumour for breakfast but really there is only one way to describe HEATHERS – it’s so very! Waters > Tolkien
SEVEN SAMURAI from @britishfilminstitute
By protecting others, you save yourselves. If you only think of yourself, you’ll only destroy yourself
3 hours and 26 minutes of masterful cinema to be reviewed in 2200 character… here goes nothing (and there goes 287 characters already!) Ticking some major boxes here, and this is where I lose any cinephile credibility I may have built up, as this is both my first viewing of SEVEN SAMURAI and my first ever Akira Kurosawa film. The director has so many classics with ridiculously glowing reputations that it is slightly intimidating to jump in and put those reputations to the test. Also, at 3hrs 26m SEVEN SAMURAI does have the feel of cinema history homework i.e. something you should watch for its significance in the history of world cinema rather than something you want to watch for its entertainment qualities. I was roughly 5 minutes into the movie when I realised it’s the furthest thing from homework possible, and that I’m a massive idiot for putting it off for so long. (Brief) plot: Peasants hire hungry samurai to protect village from forthcoming bandit attack.
This is storytelling at its peak and the run-time is a complete red-herring as the driven narrative rips forward and completely captivates. The first hour of the movie is probably the best ‘getting the gang together’ ever, the preparation for battle allows us to get to know both villagers and samurai and includes some beautiful character moments, and then the final battle is an amazing balance of spellbinding spectacle on a technical level then excitement and tragedy on an emotional one. The film is focused more on the relationship between the villagers and the samurai than the team vs the evil bandits, with Kurosawa I think making specific points about Japanese culture and about deciding your own destiny rather than accepting what you’re born into; a message personified by the electric Toshiro Mifune’s Kikuchiyo character who tears through the movie and steals every scene he’s in. Seiji Miyaguchi’s master swordsman Kyuzo is another stand-out character in a film rich with interesting and diverse players
If anyone needs me I’ll be doing more “homework”
DELIVERANCE – 8/10
I wanted to catch up with this again after the recent passing of Burt Reynolds, and because his death lead to the Filmspotting podcast doing a retrospective review of one of his most well-known movies, DELIVERANCE. I first saw this a couple of year ago, but of course I first heard about DELIVERANCE way before then. It’s a film that has given us at least 3/4 well-used pop culture references; from “squeal piggy squeal” to duelling banjos and even the term deliverance is sometimes used as an adjective to describe someone who may look at a bit backward e.g. he looks a bit deliverance (never by myself of course). It’s a movie best remember for its more exploitative elements but the film is certainly much more than Ned Beatty getting raped by “hillbillies”. We follow a group of 4 “city boys” led by Burt Reynold’s fearless beefcake Lewis, on a two-day canoe trip down the rapids of the Cahulawassee river to enjoy the stunning scenery that Northern Georgia has to offer. A run-in with some shot-gun wielding locals ends with one of the group being raped and one of the locals being killed by Reynolds pin-point bow-and-arrow accuracy. From here, the group are on the run as they try to escape the mountain people hunting them and the wild danger of the river itself.
I think the first hour is near perfect cinema. Sure, the pace is a little slow but the duelling banjo scene, which actually comes in the first ten minutes, is one of the all-time great scenes as far as I’m concerned. I love watching the pair of canoes flying down the rapids as the friends shout instructions to each other and celebrate and they traverse certain tricky sections, made even better by the fact it is clearly the actors themselves doing all the boat work. Then the infamous rape scene is as harrowing as it is shocking but works because of the superb acting on show from the whole cast. I think the film has less to say and show in its final third, and it’s perhaps here where the movie could use 5-10 minutes being taken out. Having said that DELIVERANCE has plenty on its mind - nature, technology and masculinity - that means it’s a great film, way past the hicksploitation its famous for.
HALLOWEEN – 7/10
A genre defining, ground-breaking classic that’s adored by die-hards all over the world and has spawned 10 (if I’ve counted correctly) sequels, not to mention the hundreds of movies it has inspired since its release in ’78. This blu-ray release includes a fascinating 60min documentary that follows start Jamie Lee Curtis as she embarks on her first ever horror fan festival appearance a few years ago and does a great job of showing the complete devotion many people have to the entire HALLOWEEN franchise.
6-year-old Michael Myers murders his sister in the sleepy town of Haddonfield and is locked up in an asylum. 15 years later he escapes and on Halloween returns to the town to continue his killing spree. The opening of the movie depicting that initial murder are undoubtedly class – instantly suspenseful it both sets the scene and scares before shocking with the excellent reveal that 6-year-old Michael is behind the mask. These tension-filled moments of dread are where HALLOWEEN impresses the most, especially in Myers’ stalking of the 3 lead females. Like it’s opening, the movie’s closing encounter is masterfully shot and choreographed; I get a shiver down my spine every time I see Myers do that Undertaker style sit up in the background of the final bedroom scene.
Why haven’t I rated this higher? The film is often praised because Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode is a relatable protagonist who acts sensibly and makes good decisions during a stressful attack; a clever female lead who wins out in the end and all points of praise I agree with. Michael Myers, on the other hand, goes from super-stealth murder expert in his stalking of the girls, to essentially bumbling idiot as he continually fails to kill Laurie despite her being unaware of his presence for large periods of time. And why is Myers taking the time to dress up as a ghost and taunt one of his victims, letting her call for help before finally committing the murder? Some of the acting, particularly in the murder scenes, is just funny. These elements will charm some, but it puts me off ever so slightly.
ZODIAC – 7/10
ZODIAC is held in very high esteem by movie-lovers and critics alike with many calling it one of the best films of the 21st century. It has grown from a lacklustre cinematic release, to a highly regarded cult classic, to becoming one of the crown jewels in David Fincher’s amazing filmography. I think SEVEN is the pinnacle of Fincher’s work in crime cinema, and for me Fincher’s recent Netflix series MINDHUNTER is a much better example of a study into the lives of detectives and the killers they hunt than ZODIAC is.
ZODIAC is a very well made and engrossing move, with superbly directed suspense-driven sections that are truly creepy and shocking; accentuated by knowing the real-life detail these scenes are portraying. I’m thinking particularly of the basement scene with Charles Fleischer and the interview scenes with the excellent John Carroll Lynch. Gyllenhaal and Ruffalo both do fine jobs in demonstrating the toll it can take when you become obsessed with chasing criminals over decades of false leads and near misses. I want to like this more but after watching again today I’m still slightly unsure about what makes this so special to so many people. It’s way too long and has several sections which, although I’m sure factually accurate, don’t seem to add anything to story or character and are there just for completeness. The editing and pacing are frustrations too; I understand the film must cover a lot of time quickly, but the repeating text subtitles informing us of the timelines become increasingly tedious. In making a film about obsession with crime I think the downfall here is that Fincher may have been unable to control his own obsession with the Zodiac.
Another issue I have, which is entirely my fault, is that I can’t stand Robert Downey Jr. It doesn’t matter what film it is or which character he’s playing (although he always gives the same performance) his smart-arse, sleazy-cool aura gets right under my skin in a way that negatively affects my enjoyment of the film. His scenes never land with me, which leaves a big dent in ZODIAC given the weight his role carries.
THE NEW CENTURIANS from @indicatorseries
George C Scott and Stacy Keach carry this 70s Los Angeles cop drama from director Richard Fleischer. Scott plays veteran officer Klivinski who is responsible for showing the ropes to Keach’s rookie cop Roy. Roy takes to the grind of the police beat quickly and he and Klivinski form a buddy cop bond that sees them through many mini adventures in the first half of the movie. Around halfway Klivinski retires from the force which, coupled with his wife leaving him, sends Keach on a downward spiral of booze and isolation.
My brief plot synopsis above describes the movie as a story of two halves with a clear tempo change at the halfway point of the movie. This coincides with the point I stopped enjoying and started to get frustrated, and it’s no coincidence that this is also the moment that George C. Scott leaves the movie. Scott’s performance is the best thing in the film and his philosophic mentor character is great to spend time with, particularly as he takes Keach out on the first few patrols and we start to see what life on the streets looks like for these cops. From sorting out domestic arguments to taking hookers on a ride downtown, Fleischer takes these real LAPD scenarios and shows Keach enjoying being a part of their resolution.
My main problem is that this is clearly a film written from the perspective of the policemen themselves. I had guessed that writer Joseph Wambaugh must have been an ex-cop before I knew it to be true because Wambaugh doesn’t write any of the policemen to be bad people in anyway. He certainly shows them making mistakes or going down the wrong path, but he’s very careful to give each one an out that gains them the sympathy of the audience. Examples such as Klivinski beating up the landlord for charging the illegal Mexicans too much rent, or his suicide which comes out of nowhere! Knowing what we know about the LAPD in the 70s, and the racism that is still inherent in the police force today, it seems dishonest to portray all the officers as good 9-5 hardworking Americans who themselves are being corrupted by the streets they work… and in no way the other way round!
KILL BILL VOLUME 2 – 8/10
Pai Mei taught you the five point palm-exploding heart technique?
The 5th film by Quentin Tarantino and the follow-up to the excellent Vol. 1. If Vol. 1 is Tarantino’s samurai / kung-fu movie then Vol. 2 is Quentin back on more familiar ground; dialogue driven story-telling albeit with some genre flourishes thrown in for good measure. The high-octane high-violence of the first instalment is replaced by a quiet patient tension, no more evident than in the final confrontation between The Bride and Bill. Or take the first scene in the movie – we’re back in the El Paso church with The Bride and her wedding party, pre-slaughter, where Bill turns up to wish Uma all the best before the big day. It’s an expertly written 20-min scene that slowly ratchets up the dread to the inevitable, bloody conclusion and can be compared to the opening scenes in INGLOURIUS BASTERDS or THE HATEFUL 8. Vintage Tarantino.
Vol. 2 still has time for some uniquely “Kill Bill” moments though. I love the “Elle and I” chapter and the interactions in Budd’s trailer firstly between Budd and Elle Driver, and then between Elle and The Bride, are so freaking cool. The choreography and camera-work when we finally get to the trailer fight between the two arch enemies is some of the best directorial work in Tarantino’s whole career. The Pai Mei sequence is made with so much love and affection for the genre, it plays as the best 10 minutes of fan-fiction in cinema history, and the 3-inch punch pay-off is just an awesome concept. It’s great to see Madsen back working with Tarantino again 10 years after RESERVIOUR DOGS, but before THE HATEFUL 8 and his rumoured appearance in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD. Madsen gives my favourite performance in a movie full of top-drawer performances – playing the cool hitman cowboy but layering the character with sympathy and pathos that makes him deeply sympathetic.
All said and done I probably prefer the first movie but the pair together are a really special project and represent some of Tarantino’s best ever work.
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