Here’s more worth watching from last year. Some solid new releases from last year and a whole bunch of really arty stuff as well. As always hyperlinked titles go through to full (though short) podcast reviews.
- Denial (2016), Mick Jackson – Really well performed, if unsympathetic, look at a trial involving holocaust denier David Irving. Timothy Spall is chillingly good here, one of the best performances of the year. A cerebral courtroom script that teases out legal complexities without making you fall asleep. The ventures to Auschwitz, whilst not the film’s focus, are harrowing and haunting. There are certainly moments of clumsiness. But the performances of Spall, Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson and Andrew Scott mean this is well worth your time.
- Mulheim/Ruhr (1964), Peter Nestler – A town portrait built up through sheer mass of images. Very fast cutting and the images feel almost like stills. The jaunty score didn’t work for me and perhaps more coherent thematic thread would have been nice. But it’s unique and the black & white is lovely and crisp.
- Scream 3 (2000), Wes Craven – Even in this reference laden series, Craven remains the master of suspense. The meta stuff here is legit funny and not too distracting. It also lulls you into a false sense of security at times. A blinding mix of the terrifying and very funny. The camera placement in the film is so spot on, showing how much can be achieved through that. Neve Campbell is incredible as Sidney as always, whilst there is a hilariously written Carrie Fisher cameo too.
- The Burning (1981), Tony Maylam – Camp based slasher. Gross and intense at time, heightened by Savini’s genius. Gardening shears are involved. Decent at capturing that sense of teendom. Surprisingly, does an excellent job at depicting (and attacking) toxic masculinity. Skewers it in a way that I’ve not really seen before in a slasher. The main villain is a bit weak though.
- Live by Night (2016), Ben Affleck – I’m a huge fan of both Affleck as a director, and the work of Dennis Lehane that this is based on. Solidly enjoyable rather than great. Does a decent job of evoking atmosphere, a Boston of Italian and Irish mobs. Solid take on an attempt to have disdain for authority in a world riddled with it. A little laboured, with some strange narrative diversions, but enjoyable.
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), Tobe Hooper – I really dug this. A strange cacophony of a film. Wild, with a totally different tone to the first. Dennis Hopper, industrial vibe, comedy and Savini effects. Hopper is really excellent. The comedy is achieved surprisingly through quite classically constructed jokes. Remarkable that a sequel so tonally different as this not only gets made, but also feels quite true to the first. Feel the tonal choice says a lot about Hooper as an artist. Caroline Williams gives a great performance as the female lead, balancing being a scream queen with some very funny and silly stuff. A rare film that works both as a horror and a comedy.
- Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017), Luc Besson – Saw in 3D which I think added a lot. Colour popping, wondrous vision. The planets feel tactile despite the otherworldliness. Damn creative design of cities/worlds/beings. I though Delvinege was really impressive, she has a real charm. DeHaan’s too cool riff on Han Solo takes a while to warm to, but it works well I think. It’s flabby as fuck, but that sort of just added to it being pretty adorable I thought. Full of delightful diversions just to explore the world that Besson had built up. Besson controls the whole thing pretty well.
- Atomic Blonde (2017), David Leitch – Old school cold war spy flick. Really excellent, heavy use of the compilation soundtrack. The action is supremely well done, which makes up for the story being pretty cold war 101 type stuff. Theron is really good and excels with the action. I found James McAvoy’s character wasn’t played quite right tonally. There is some interesting enough filtering of the story through the reliability (or otherwise) of the narrator. Bummer it ends on a pretty tame twist.
- Starship Troopers (1997), Paul Verhoeven – Derided on release, beloved now. This is pretty great. Really sharp stuff. Analyses the interaction between the media and military complex super astutely. Denise Richards is pretty good aye. Loved this film. Very funny. Takes place I a slightly absurd but anchored world. There’s an interesting superficiality to the film. On one level, can kind of understand why it was dismissed upon release. On the more genre side of things, I dug the effects and they hold up perfectly well, whilst the schlocky sci-fi battling is also great. Rather fab.
- Towards Mathilde (2005), Claire Denis – Love when a film interrogates a different artistic process. Analysis of dance is great, but not all of the rehearsal footage feels particularly worthwhile. That said, there is something hypnotic in observing the work – performance and the construction of performance merging. Interesting to see and consider the final product in relation to the disparate bits of preparation and construction that went into it.
- Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965), Doris Wishman – A earnest shoddiness to the film as encapsulated by the particularly sketchy ADR work. But this still has a fair bit to offer. Very stark, astutely rendered sexual assault scene. Sudden and shows the grossness of the male gaze, with its power and ownership. Hard to watch and quite terrifying. The film functions as an examination of the violent expressions of the patriarchy. Low on plot details which means it feels quite real. Though the intrusive and incessant jazz score works against that. Overall a sickening (as it should be) profile of a woman brutally beaten down by society.
- Motel Hell (1980) Kevin Connor – Something so endearing about a ‘Motel Hello’ sign with a dicky ‘O’. A funny vibe to it all. Crusty old dude plays it perfectly and there are some cool visuals. And some nice little wrinkles in the background. The isolated setting is particularly excellent. Some surprisingly wry stuff about people as animals. Glorious schlock with bonus chainsaw points.
- A Cure for Wellness (2016), Gore Verbinski – About as weird a mainstream film as has been released in recent years. Great, jarring sound design and use of soundtrack to set the mood. A different Dane DeHaan performance from the other one this month – he’s callous and weary here. All atmosphere, creepy imagery (eels and shit) really does go a long way. It is sloooow and looong though, often going around in circles. Disappointingly wanders into some overfamiliar territory around questions of sanity and builds to an underwhelming (though gross) reveal. One weird movie.
Not Worth Watching:
- Logan Lucky (2017), Steven Soderbergh – This was a disappointment. A South of West Virginia, John Denver and construction work. Threatens to be a different vision of the American working class, but then falls into some of the same stuff we’ve seen before. Performances are a mixed bag. Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterson and Channing Tatum are excellent at inhabiting this vibe. But Adam Driver struggles with the Southern shtick, whilst Daniel Craig makes little impression. The heartfelt character moments are nice. But too much time is spent on the tensionless, humourless heist.
- Sunday in Peking (1956), Chris Marker – Day in the life style observation. Market an outsider here to an almost orientalist degree. Glib ignorance rather than anything particularly malicious. Coupled with rapid fire voiceover that more overwhelms than informs. Aside from the early point of Marker viewing a place memorialised from childhood postcard, there’s nothing noteworthy about the imagery or his thoughts on it.
- Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later (2017), Michael Showalter & David Wain – This was a major bummer, I’ve loved all the other ‘Wet Hot’ stuff. Feels too arch/knowing. Lacks the character bits that made earlier iterations work so well. Misses the mark wildly, aside from the occasional individual performance (chiefly Josh Charles & Alyssa Milano).
If you only have time to watch one The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
Avoid at all costs Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later