Film: American Sniper (2014)

American Sniper @

American Sniper is a frustrating film.  Chris Kyle is obviously a fascinating individual (no matter what direction you view him from) but seemingly because he is a real person, and recently deceased, the film is entirely devoid of reflection or questions.  Kyle’s viewpoint is prioritised and accepted in every way.  The problem is that this myopia is promoted as ‘authenticity’ apart from when it’s convenient to say ‘screw it’ and turn him into Jason Bourne.

Another reduction.

Another dull movie from the guy who gave us the blistering Unforgiven (1992).

I’m not suggesting that there are valid and invalid views to hold on any given subject but that ‘unflinching’ doesn’t get us anywhere, it’s a dead end.

Film: Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

Fifty Shades of Grey @

Ultimately the problem is a film about BDSM that doesn’t seem too interested in BDSM,  It likes the promise and the paraphernalia of it, the (unused) equipment and that room, but the actual act is beyond the good taste of a mass release movie.  In short, there is no danger here, no feeling of being at the edge, no spark.  Plus it can’t quite make up it’s mind whether sexual exploration is healthy or something practised only by the damaged or confused.

This is not the terrible film that one would expect, not by a long shot, but it needed to either be a damn lot less respectful and contentious or a heck of a lot more confident.  This is a film that should have taken us back to the early 90’s and the debates that pour out of films like Disclosure (1994), Falling Down (1993) or anything else with Michael Douglas…

…it doesn’t get anywhere close.

Film: The Terminator (1984)

The Terminator @

It’s fitting that The Terminator was supposedly inspired by a dream (or, more accurately, some Harlan Ellison stories) because it plays like a nightmare.  From the dreams of a future past holocaust that infects everyday machines to the insanity of Reese’s story and the impossible, unstoppable mechanical man, none of it should be happening if Sarah is awake.  But it is and the film is a classic because it doesn’t let up and nothing feels like a waste.

The next two movies didn’t have the life on show here; the first sequel is a bloated affair and the second feels unfinished although the ending is great.  They have their share of moments but neither is as smart or interesting as the original and both suffer from Arnie’s need to recast himself as a father.

Highly Recommended.

Film: Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

Kingsman The Secret Service @

Once again I’m sat in a cinema wishing I was watching Kick-Ass (2010).  That was a disruptive riot of a movie that got the tone and the disrespect just right.  Kingsman falls flat for being too much in love with what it should be tearing down.  It doesn’t seem to get that being as good as one’s supposed betters is about more than just becoming one of them.  It’s a fatal flaw.

Don’t get me wrong there is a lot to admire, including a jaw-dropping stand-out scene of mayhem, but even that is compromised through forced moral justification.

It’s also 30 mins too long and a mis-judged joke sees the film end on a staggeringly regressive note.

Film: L’Argent (1928)

L'Argent @

“Everybody needs money. That’s why they call it money.”

I love that line from David Mamet’s Heist (2001), the idea that the thing is so important that it can only have been named after itself.  That’s why L’Argent is called L’Argent.

Based around a tale of stock-market manipulation and unrequited love, Marcel L’Herbier’s film is a dive into finance and acquisitions of all kinds that is stunning in it’s drama and technical brilliance.  Made right at the end of the silent-era, it rivals A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929) in it’s daring and movement as it places the camera on the trading floor and throws you into the hustle and bustle whilst never loosing the avant-garde edge that places the best of silent cinema into the realms of purity.

This is the movies and the final line is priceless.

Highly Recommended.


The Masters of Cinema DVD really is fantastic as, along with the usual high quality extras, it contains the contemporaneous ‘making of’ documentary Autour De L’Argent (1928), which is worth the purchase in it’s own right.

Film: Fury (2014)

Fury @

I’ve been thinking about Fury quite a lot since watching it back in November because it’s a hard film to get a handle on.  It’s a solid war film in the cynical tradition of Cross of Iron (1977) with a strong cast and an unflinching approach to the meat-grinder side of warfare.  Away from the blood and mud it’s tank crew as family with Brad Pitt as father and Shia LaBeouf, better than ever before, as mother.  It’s a tough and gripping watch and then there is that scene at the dinner table…

It’s an odd scene.  The strangest family dinner since The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974).  A real knife edge scene that you think is only going one way and then it doesn’t, but what it does instead seems to whitewash what the reality would have been.  Which is strange for a film that doesn’t pull punches… I’m struggling with this one scene but can’t deny it’s what elevates the film into the realm of fascinating.

Highly Recommended.

Film: Young Winston (1972)

Young Winston at

So Young Winston is one of those grand British epics that just don’t get made any more.  It’s pretty much a political / social thing as stories of Queen and Empire get more complicated as the world gets smaller and we all know each other a bit better, but that really undermines interesting lives and history that were never simple in the first place.  We just need to find a way to tell these stories again.

The problem with Young Winston, which is a perfectly serviceable film about a fascinating figure and time, is Winston himself.  He’s played by the wonderful Simon Ward but something just feels off and I can’t figure out if it’s Ward overplaying (not likely) or the fact that Churchill himself was such a large character that even an accurate portrayal feels too broad.  The voice sounds like an impression because it’s become an impression of itself.  Again, I doubt it’s Ward because I can’t remember seeing a portrayal that didn’t feel like imitation.

Maybe some figures are so fixed in the mind that looking at them straight on doesn’t let you anywhere near them.

But damn, what a life!


Film: Mad Max (1979) / Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

Mad Max / Mad Max 2 @

So obviously it’s the roads.  The hot, flat, never-ending roads, the cars and the bikes and the carnage.  This is why you keep going back to the first two Mad Max movies and their low-down, widescreen, undercranked mayhem.

Away from the tarmac, what you remember as soon as you start watching is just how off-kilter these films are.  There’s an underlying crazy to proceedings that seeps out of every frame and performance and in the middle of it all is Mel Gibson looking like a man who is trying to hold it all together, as if he can’t quite comprehend what director George Miller is up to or where Hugh Keays-Byrne’s performance as the Toecutter will go next.  Perhaps he’s just puzzled about what happened between movies to move the setting so quickly from ‘world winding down’ to ‘s&m petrol wars’.

Highly Recommended.

..although I now feel compelled to revisit Bartertown, which, well, you know.

Film: Dressed to Kill (1980) / Mission: Impossible (1996)

Dressed to Kill @ film starts and we are looking over the shoulder of a man watching a screen.  On that screen, in grainy black and white, are two men.  A women lies dead on the bed.  Some sordid business has happened in that room and Brian De Palma is once again reworking the memory of using surveillance to catch his father having an affair.  This is Mission: Impossible, the family movie.  Dressed to Kill, made 16 years earlier and not something to watch with your kids, also sees this obsession being worked through.  Both are fabulous fun.

What I like about De Palma is that he clearly gives very few shits.  His films are his and are pulpy, kinetic, comic book affairs with a wild streak of sleaze, violence and plenty of peeping.  They are, in their own discordant, unsocial, in-spite of themselves way, a real pleasure because they are irrepressibly and undoubtedly ‘movies’.

Highly Recommended.

Offcuts: In (no real) Defence of Sony.

So let’s just get one thing straight.  What happened to The Interview (2014?) is outrageous.  It’s censorship plain and simple.  It’s a gross act.  It’s blackmail.  It’s also a real shame that Sony have pulled the film from release (don’t get me wrong it looks about as funny as one might expect but censorship is not, and never should be, a value issue) but are they really ‘cowards’ or comparable to Neville Chamberlain?

Seems to me that the cowardice belongs entirely to North Korea and it’s demented tyrant child leader rather than Sony, a company that has already been attacked, has done the sums and sees that they don’t add up.  A company that works in an industry where art is a by-product of sales.  Well, this is capitalism folks, this is the ‘market is always right’.  This is a world where we have swallowed the cool-aid and accepted the twisted notion that corporations are people then get all upset when they don’t encompass the best that actual humans (you know, ‘people’) can be.

Have Sony behaved any worse than a film company who spends a year digitally replacing the flag of one nation with another because the bad guys d’jour turned out to be a decent market share (and they all look alike don’t they)?  Or a company that buys foreign film rights in order to block their distribution?  Or companies that prop up a ratings board economically censoring anything that strays outside of the heteronormative and denying a voice / representation to millions?

…but popular sentiment says that Sony, an entity who’s whole reason for being is itself, is Chamberlain and plenty of multi-millionaires who, as well as having the luxury of not having had a demented country attack and threaten them, could buy the film and give it out for free get to spend their days berating them in 140 characters or less rather than actually doing something about it.

So my defence of Sony is that they, sorry, ‘it’ isn’t built to function any differently.  My disappointment is that we think ‘it’ is a real boy.

My money is on The Interview being released sooner rather than later and everyone ends up annoyed, feeling slightly played and people mistake corporate self-interest for bravery.  Meanwhile no one learns any more about the dreadful situation that the North Korean people find themselves in but the leader has a funny haircut so, well, that’s funny.  Right?

Film: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp @

Occasionally things just add up and bring a piece of art to mind that combines all the separate strands.  Lately, I’ve been spending far too much time engrossed in Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast, particularly the current Blueprint for Armageddon series on World War I and the Logical Insanity episode about the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  There’s also the CIA torture report and subsequent declarations for and against etc, plus I’m reading Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)… so it goes… in a weird way this all points me towards The Life and Death or Colonel Blimp.  Well, the crux of it anyway and the scene where Theo explains to Candy what is needed to beat the Nazis.  It’s one of the best scenes in cinema history but, to be honest, that could describe pretty much any scene in this film.

As with all of the films made by Powell and Pressburger, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is a delight from start to finish.  It’s both a grand tale and personal story, it’s vibrant, kinetic and stately, funny, heart warming, heartbreaking and deadly serious.  If ever cinema stands accused, this will be the defence.

Highly Recommended.

Very much.

Film: Skyfall (2012)

Skyfall @

With the news today that the next Bond film will be called Spectre I thought for a moment about what I really liked about Skyfall, Sam Mendes’ franchise reset.  After trying and failing to rewatch the old films (so bad that it seems strange that Roger Moore’s Bond didn’t have a robot companion), the muddled Casino Royale (2006) (‘the world has changed Bond, now go play cards against this foreigner’) and the so dreadful we’ll throw in cheap rape threat Something of Boris (2008), Skyfall was a breath of fresh air that got more and more basic until we’re left with a knife in the back.  Plus Daniel Craig is the best Bond there’s ever been.

The only problem with Skyfall are the ‘women, know your place’ subplots that see Moneypenny go from field agent to secretary and M become ‘im after a cautionary tale about how dangerous mummy can be when she tries to be daddy. Still, I suppose it’s a step up from being slapped and/or molested so ‘how far we’ve come’ etc.

Despite this I’m still excited by the fact that the next film is called Spectre.  I think it’s because when I was little I was allowed to watch to the end if I got into my pyjamas and did my teeth during one of the later ad breaks.  That’s the power of nostalgia.