Film: if…. (1968)

If.... @

if…. is one of the films that made me fall in love with cinema.  I must have first seen it when I was twelve and it opened my eyes to what cinema could (and maybe should) be and to a whole mess of politics, class and revolution.  Re-watching it over twenty years years later, and many times between, the film remains as vital and dangerous as ever.

Beyond the form, the performances, and the Sanctus, what I really love is the conviction of the boys.  ‘Hair Rebels’ and Whips alike know everything and nothing all at once and it’s played perfectly.  From their arrogant, certain declarations to their play sword fights and eventual violence, the film keeps you with them because they are pure and wouldn’t you love to be as unequivocal as you once were in your beliefs?  Before reality set in and introduced you to the notion that two opposing ideas could hold truth?

The kicker is that the really revolutionary idea comes from the History professor.  The boys don’t react, the idea is so big that they can’t even take it in.  They stare blankly and the professor moves on.

This is one of the best films ever made.

Very Highly Recommended.

Film: Robocop 2 (1990)

Robocop 2 @

The problem with Robocop 2 is that it’s just plain nasty.  Gone is the genuine satire of the original and what’s left is mean and generally uninteresting.

…but there are some great moments amongst it all; the prototypes, the brain, Tom Noonan (always) and Elvis’ corpse are all from a much more alive movie (it’s also fun watching corporate mogul Daniel Clamp advertising deadly vehicle security), plus the stop motion is delightful.

Ultimately, the film that doesn’t really seem to know what it’s about and, like the recent remake, keeps opening up interesting avenues and ideas only to ignore them and travel the road most worthless.

Ho hum, file under ‘snark’.

Film: Avatar (2009)

Avatar @

Re-watching Avatar is a bit of a yearly thing.  Since first seeing it in 2009 I think I must have tried at least 5 times and here we are again because it’s a film that I think I should like.

So it turns out that watching the Collector’s Extended Bonus Super Fun Edition was a mistake because the original opening was a great piece of economic storytelling that took us from the gutter to the stars in barely any time.  Here it’s padded out and everything that was already clear is now sledge-hammered.

Beyond the start, the film still struggles with some of the same old tired racial clichés and plotting clichés and everything clichés but this time around it’s also a decent, old fashioned adventure movie with plenty of interesting ideas and impressive set pieces.

Got to admit that I quite enjoyed it.

The big knife is still stupid.


Film: No Way Out (1987)

No Way Out @

Like Dead Calm (1989), Roger Donaldson’s No Way Out appears in the late night schedules so frequently that it’s almost invisible which is a shame because it’s an interesting little thriller.

Okay, so it ends on some properly regressive stereotyping, which you can see coming a mile of because it’s the 80’s, but the hook here is Sean Young.  Her performance is so wonderfully free of pretence and utterly, oddly charming that her absence helps change the whole feeling of the film, she even makes Kevin Costner seem like he might not have a stick up his butt.

Added to that it’s got a nice spiralling panic that consumes the second half all the way past the unfortunate nonsense mentioned above to a genuinely satisfying, self-aware coda.


Film: Before I Go To Sleep (2014)

Before I Go To Sleep @

So here’s a interesting little movie and a fine way to spend 92 minutes.

Here’s the start; Nicole Kidman wakes up and doesn’t know where she is.  Her husband (Colin Firth), who she doesn’t recognise, explains that she has amnesia each day has to restart her life.  Once he goes to work the phone rings and it’s her Doctor who tells her he is treating her but her husband does not know and she should go and look at the secret video diary that she hides in the cupboard.

The Doctor is Mark Strong.

I know, who wouldn’t want to watch this?

Directed by Rowan Joffe, this is a tight and slightly disrespectful thriller that is honest enough to get down and dirty in the final stretch and quick enough to surprise even if its does all seem a bit obvious afterwards.  This is the type of mid-range film, where everyone is on game and all the notes are in the right place, that really qualifies for the question ‘have you seen…?’

Highly Recommended.

Film: The Imitation Game (2014)

The Imitation Game @

So The Imitation Game is a good movie in that ‘Sunday evening, BBC 2, quality drama from the people who brought you Inspector Morse’ sort of way and it breaks your heart because the story of Alan Turing is heart breaking.  All the performances do what is needed etc and it’s interesting because, again, it’s an interesting story.  But, if I’m honest, like Captain Phillips (2013), it tells you nothing more about Turing and the events in question than a decent newspaper article might.

Maybe the film needed a different structure, what if the police investigation was the story with Rory Kinnear’s character as the audience surrogate, realising that people are more than one thing, rather than just an excuse for a flash back? Films should be honest in their dealings with history but there has to be more than the plodding straight line of ‘this then this then this then etc etc and onwards’.

Turing is a national hero who’s story ended as a (continuing) national shame and that’s what this story should have been about.  Sentiment and quality gloss obscures the person and, because we shed a tear, we all get to pretend we’d have acted differently, injustice lives only in the past.  It’s a cautionary tale that warns us that bad things happened once and neglects the lesson.

Still you could do a lot worse and the story makes it worth while.


Film: John Wick (2014)

John Wick @

So here’s a surprise.  John Wick is a fantastic movie.

It’s a clear sighted genre movie that hits all the beats it needs to hit whilst offering up enough discord, oddness and sad Keanu to lift it up to something quite special.  At times almost Point Blank (1967) special.  It’s one of those movies where scenes and moments jump into your head days after watching it when you are least expecting it.

What I like most is the simplicity.  The plotting is A – B – C with nothing needless and the action is clear.   Post-Bourne, the simple notion that the viewer should be able to see what is happening, place people in the space of a scene and follow movement is a revelation.

Highly Recommended.

Film: The Babadook (2014)

The Babadook @

So, as a fan of movies I can only suggest that time spent watching The Babadook is time well spent.  As the father of a slightly pale boy with curly hair and a hint of Quentin Blake illustration about him, I can confirm that The Babadook is a hugely traumatic experience.  My film watching, more accurately the way I see films, has really changed since becoming a parent.  It’s no big revelation, it must happen to everyone, but horror films are getting trickier and violence really has to be just right.

Essentially a story of mental breakdown, Jennifer Kent has made of one the best and most confident horrors in recent memory.  Not a piece is out of place and even the ending, often the tipping point in horror, is wholly satisfying.  This is a genuine and heartfelt story with a strong female lead and it feels right because there is real struggle here and a parent that is tested.  That’s something that I really like nowadays.

Highly Recommended.

Film: Chappie (2015)

Chappie @

So, I know nothing about Die Antwoord but they are just about the most interesting thing in this mess.  Yeah, five minutes in their company is enough but you can’t deny that they bring something interesting with them even if you can’t figure out what that is or if you actually want it.

The real problem with Chappie is that it does not have a convincing bone in it’s body.  Like Elysium (2013), it’s District 9 (2009) reheated and contains a lot of the same furniture minus the solid sense of place that grounded Blomkamp’s first feature.  There’s just so much nonsense here (from ‘I’ve created 97% artificial intelligence, give me a Redbull! yay I’ve created artificial intelligence!’ to someone pulling a gun on a co-worker in an open plan office then pleading ‘joke’ and no one mentioning it again, etc etc in most scenes) that you care about nothing.  And why should you when the film constantly undoes itself?  There’s no ‘off switch’ for the robotic officers, until there is, and it’s a handy device the size of a big gun.  The ‘Moose’ (think ED209) is an invulnerable wrecking machine, until it isn’t.  Why should I care when the writers don’t at any point?  There’s so much stuff here that is ripe for a political, smart, genre crunching, door smashing piece of sci-fi conspiracy gem and it’s squandered, just thrown away.

Sigourney Weaver plays ‘business lady’, Hugh Jackman plays ‘sports / religious bad guy’, no one plays a security guard at any point, so just walk in and take stuff from the weapons firm and Die Antwoord wear Die Antwoord t-shirts.

The worst film I’ve seen at the cinema in years and one of the cashiers knows my name because I go so much.

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.