I feel a little daft posting these so late. But really they don’t lose much by me doing so. All of these films are still out there somewhere for you to see. March was generally pretty positive, with some good to great new releases and some excellent Middle Eastern #52FilmsByWomen entries being the pick of things. I feel a little daft posting these so late. But really they don’t lose much by me doing so. All of these films are still out there somewhere for you to see. March was generally pretty positive, with some good to great new releases and some excellent Middle Eastern #52FilmsByWomen entries being the pick of things.
- Kong: Skull Island (2017), Jordan Vogt-Roberts – Very Big, very dumb and quite fun. The cast goes a long way toward that with Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston and Thomas Mann all nailing it. John C. Reilly is decent too, saving a character that could have been abysmal. The film looks really good, though I could probably have done with more Kong and less of all the other monsters. In terms of plot, it’s stock standard, though I thought the attempts to make it a Vietnam War film were pretty tame. Overall mildly distracting, no more, no less.
- The Gunfighter (1950), Henry King – The direction, and gravitas-laden performance from Gregory Peck, immediately set up a mythology around the character of Jimmy Ringo. It’s a classic, focussed western tale with great interplay between the characters. Has a lot of those classic western themes going on, especially the struggle between family and the gun. Also when to ‘hang it up’. Though there is a disappointing sense of inevitability to how it all finishes up.
- Keanu (2016), Peter Atencio – Haven’t seen too much of Key & Peele but I loved this. One of the better film comedies of recent years. There’s a cool odd-couple vibe to their characters and both grow really nicely through the film. The film is always engaged with race, but the laughs come from a wide variety of sources. Funny as shit and insightful.
- Mustang (2015), Deniz Gamze Ergüven – A brilliant film. An excellently established portrait of overriding moral conservatism at a societal level, contrasted with the individual spark of the girls. The film flows really nicely. Not plot heavy but still engaging and has stakes. Very good at expressing heightened moments of joy against a torrid backdrop. Technically the cinematography is bright and really reflects each scene whilst the nice brooding score adds weight throughout.
- Somewhere in Time (1980), Jeannot Szwarc – Starts with an awesomely creepy moment – an old woman comes up to Christopher Reeve and implores him to “come back to me”. Reeves is exceedingly charismatic. He fills the screen and physically embodies his character. His performance really carries the film and what could have been an awkward tone. This works really well as a magical realist love story. The time travel elements are explained in-depth but never weighed down with rules. And there’s a great tension to how these elements will resolve themselves.
- Family Plot (1976), Alfred Hitchcock – Late Hitch with a really great ensemble cast. A very different vibe from the director. Crime-comedy in genre terms with hints of farce. There’s a car chase sequence here that’s madcap in a way very unlike anything else the director has ever done. But at the same time very tense. I love how the film and plot just unfold and it’s here that the director’s trademark control really shines. Barbara Harris and a very young Bruce Dern stand out performance wise. It also has a really nice John Williams score that merges nicely with the director’s approach.
- Kung-fu Master! (1988), Agnes Varda – A really interesting thematic exploration of motherhood, with a main character who is a ‘bad mum’. For complex reasons sure, but the interrogation of her heart-wrenchingly poor decisions gives the main drive of the film. She undertakes an affair with a young teenager, the same age as her daughter (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, a remarkable performer even at this age). Deeply disconcerting, the way she treats him as both a little boy and lover.
- Moonlight (2016), Barry Jenkins – Quite simply: as brilliant as advertised. The script is masterful. Each act uniquely bringing the character to life at a different age. The acting is excellent with the three Chirons all succeeding in bringing what the script is doing to life. There’s something quite masterful in the way Jenkins gets the three sections to interlock and inform one another. Flow of the characters throughout is special. Feels as though it is some form of American classic. Uniquely situated as a film about African American homosexuality.
- Logan (2017), James Mangold – A hell of a film. Focused. You can feel it – my jaw dropped, my fists clenched. Deeper emotional complexity to the main character than any comic book film ever. This is the first realistically vulnerable superhero we’ve seen on screen. Three incredible performances – Jackman, Stewart and newcomer Dafne Keen. Feels both small and meaningful. Refreshing contrast to the MCU with a self-contained story and uniquely sparse worldbuilding. Great, extra bloody, action. And villains that actually fit the aesthetic of the film. Really excellent score too.
- Mascarades (2008), Lyès Salem – Algerian film with a great sense of life from the get-go. Liked it a lot. A couple of great female characters. But also some very silly slapstick that comes out of nowhere. Tonally flicks a switch half an hour in. Thematically about pride and saving face within your community. The thrill of being accepted even if you know it’s a shallow acceptance. Also the hilarious heightened consequences of a lie that spirals out of control.
- Wadjda (2012), Haifaa Al-Mansour – Beautifully simple world and character building. Builds this very clear patriarchy, anchored in casual misogyny all round. Such a great, cheeky outlook on life from the main teen girl character. Interesting to consider the parts of this that are universal, and those that are quite Saudi specific. Profile of a young hustler, a schemer. An unfeeling, teen edge to her at times. I adore this film. Especially the second half which is a ripsnorter. A character study of a character I adore.
- Les astronauts (1959), Walerian Borowczyk & Chris Marker – Trippy music and cool bleep bloop sound design. Marker’s technique and aesthetic employed to suggest Melies’ style sci-fi. Cartoony space exploration fun. Visually mixes in high art and silliness.
- Captain Abu Raed (2008), Amin Matalqa – Really nicely composed, both in terms of story and visuals. A character that you really like too. Elderly cleaner becomes a cult hero with the local kids when he convinces them he’s an airline pilot and recounts tales of adventure. Charming, but goes some dark places toward the end. But these two opposites nest together well. Love the unlikely friendship between Noor and Abu Raed. Resolves the different story threads really well with a quite emotional ending.
- Son of Babylon (2009), Mohamed Al Daradji – Takes place in Iraq just after the fall of Saddam. Incredibly desolate, sparse expanses of earth. Conveys very well the early days of the occupation and what that would have felt like. In essence it’s an Iraqi road movie. Captures nicely, without forcing, the ethnic factions and sectarianism of Iraq.
- Paradise Now (2005), Hany Abu-Assad – Two amiable but aimless friends are willing (?) suicide bombers. Really well performed, especially from the two main dudes. An interesting love interest and the occasional nice aside about cinema. The simplicity in the portrayal of prepping for the bombing makes it quite stark. Harrowing. Examines notions of normality and if it’s even possible for that to exist in Palestine. Weaves the emotional, spiritual and political into the plot level of things really well.
Not Worth Watching
- The Long Riders (1980), Walter Hill – The stunt casting of real life brothers is cool. But the film never really immerses you in the world of the old west. Sets and costuming feel really thin and there’s no real weight to anything that happens. Feels like it skips over a lot of the plot, almost skim-reading. Dennis Quaid is unrecognisably young and quite good, whilst Randy Quaid proves that he was never a good actor. A shaggy dog of a film. Wastes a really good Ry Cooder score too.
- Waterworld (1995), Kevin Costner – The first 20 mins or so of this are maybe 90% tops and 10% wild, wild missteps. But by the end that has basically reversed, descending into an inexplicable mess of references and actions that make no sense in the world of the film. Prospects of being a ‘good-bad’ film are hampered by Costner’s character being a misogynist asshole and his emotional arc is dumbfounding. Women are just treated awfully throughout. Which I’m sure they would be in a dystopia, but I don’t think that’s what the film is aiming for. It looks bloody beautiful though, can see why it was so prohibitively expensive. Also I wanted more giant sea monster. So much more.
- A Private Collection (1973), Walerian Borowczyk – Quite literally a tour of ol mate’s smut collection. Gross. Male gazey puppets through to him just rotating old nudey paintings on an easel. Dude gives off a pretty creepy vibe. Though not sure how to avoid that when you just standing there talking about your porno collection whilst hiding your face. Vaguely illuminating about the depiction of sexuality through the ages. Too creepy though.
- Psychohydrography (2010), Peter Bo Rappmund – Shows promise early, but interminable. The use of photos feels contrived here and lacks the ‘animation’ of other films that have used the same technique. Doesn’t tell a coherent story about water flow (or anything else). Though there is the occasional cool piece of haunting, unique imagery. A real battle to get through.
- Equity (2016), Meera Menon – Cool to see a financial crisis story told through the female lens. But it struggles to ever look and feel like anything more than an average TV show. Clunky script never manages to integrate the story strands. And the writing is not strong enough to pull off the shocking big picture intrigue stuff.
If you only have time to watch one Mustang
Avoid at all costs Psychohydrography