Burning


There are layers to Lee Chang-Dong's 'Burning'. So much takes place and yet very little really happens. It’s an appreciation of the minute, an exercise in ambiguous and interpretive storytelling, and a character study about loneliness.

There is a pale ambiguity and melancholia that runs through this film. A deliberate blankness. In the detail of these characters and in their relationships to each other. They tread a fine line between friends and strangers. it is almost painful to witness this disparateness, to see there is so much they don’t know about each other. This ambiguity also suggests something deeper, something brooding, perhaps something sinister.

...Read the full review.

Breathless


A friend once told me they prefer the American remake of Breathless with Richard Gere than the Jean Luc-Godard classic.

I was sceptical to say the least,  A Bout de Soufflé ranks pretty highly up there for me personally, and I'm always cautious with western remakes, but I was open to being proved wrong.

Last week I watched it to see for myself.

Read the full review...

What is a feel good film?


We’re all doing a lot of movie watching lately, our Netflix accounts are being stretched to their limits. Along with that i'm sure i'm not the only one whose found myself a bit fed up from time to time. The fact that it's so damn cold out at the moment doesn't help either. But despite the ennui, my eyes aren't yet square. I still find solace and pleasure in losing myself in a film for an hour or two.
 
Here's a selection of films that make me feel good, when i'm down. They might not be to your taste but then that's not really the point here 😊

Read the full review...

New this month - February 2021


See the latest and greatest from the month of Feb. While we were all under enforced hibernation the streaming gods threw up some wonderful time killers including; Malcom & Marie, Can't Get You Out of My Head,  Assassins,  The Mauritanian, St Maud amongst others.

Read the full review...

Druk - I Thought This Would Be a Film about Drinking


I don’t like bad reviews. I don’t really like to read them. My love for film comes from a desire to discover more movies that I love. If I’m going to read something that tells me I should probably avoid it, well what’s the point in that? There are plenty of things in the world I should probably avoid. I want to find the things I should seek out.

The only bad review I’ve ever enjoyed is Roger Ebert’s one-star take on Blue Velvet. Despite my tendency to nod enthusiastically with almost everything Roger has written; I love this movie. Still, reading this review that condemns the film, I learnt something. In fact, it left its mark just as much as many good films.

Maybe it’s a show of a good writer to achieve interesting discourse just as easily in a good review than a bad one. The best reviews aren’t really about good films they’re about sharing something new and interesting. The films are really just an excuse to write, a jumping off point.

But regarding bad films, and I’ve seen plenty of those, I don’t generally write about them. Once they’re over, I don’t really think about them. I don’t have much desire to dig them back up again either. The measure of a good film for me, is that it remains in your mind after it’s over. It leaves behind some mark, something interesting. It gives you something to think about, or to write about.

Enjoying this read? check out the full review...

Something To Stream - Pretend it's a City


I just finished watching this wonderful series on Netflix. Pretend it’s a City is about the writer and humourist Fran Lebowitz. The show centres around her whimsical and witty observations, but it’s really about wandering New York City, the place she has inhabited for all of 70 years. Perhaps the show should be titled Pretend You Can Walk Around this CIty. At a time when we can only dream of visiting faraway places, this series really fills a void. Lebowitz inspires dormant wanderlust, with her light, conversational and meandering anecdotes about the people of New York and the chameleonic evolution of the city over the past century.

Enjoying this read? check out the full review...
What's left on my 2020 watchlist

Wednesday 30th December

When it comes to this point in the year, I love to look back at everything that’s been released and make a ‘to watch’ list!

Following on from my best of 2020 here are the top films of 2020 that I’m looking forward to watching, including some that i've recently seen and some that have just come out!

See the mailouts; part 1 here and part 2 here

Mario Puzo's The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone - Francis Ford Coppola


I’m about halfway through Coppola’s recut version to his magnum opus’ finale, and it has to be said it’s still a slow burner. I don’t think anyone expected it to be anything better than the worst of The Godfather Trilogy, but I think it’s still an interesting film it its own right. This version may take it from a three-and-a-half-star movie to a four star one, was it totally necessary? Probably not, but am I happy to be given another perspective on this obelisk of cinema? Absolutely.

I’m a huge fan of all three godfather films, in my opinion, part three has always been a great movie but parts one & two are almost transcendental experiences in comparison. I might be slightly biased in my appreciation (I even enjoyed the 4 part TV mini-series, which tells the story in chronological order) and it’s still incomparable to it’s predecessors but alone I think it’s a great end to what is possibly the greatest family drama ever. I would put it on par if not better than something like The Irishman but if you didn’t enjoy that either, you’ll be better served to just re-watch the first two.

Where to watch: Available on Apple TV and to purchase on various other digital platforms

Watch the trailer!

Soul - Pixar, Directed by Pete Docter


Possibly the most hotly anticipated film this festive period. Pixar can hardly do wrong these days (as long as you don’t mention Cars!). Their string of almost perfectly crafted family films is un-paralleled, which is why I thought I’d pass when, yet another came along! With the likes of Up, Coco and Inside Out safely cemented in my warm and fuzzy memory banks, I’m not sure I have the room for another. But considering the reputation Soul is already gathering, I might just have to be pleasantly surprised, again!

Where to watch: Soul is another Disney+ release to skip the cinema release and go straight to streaming, but unlike Mulan (which cost an additional £20 on top of your subscription) this one thankfully has no extra charge. Also available to purchase on some other streaming services but not in cinemas.

Watch the trailer!

Another Round - Thomas Vinterberg


This one definitely looks like a bloke’s film… seen as the premise is essentially what if you were to live your life half cut. On a night out, four teachers discuss the potential of maintaining a steady blood alcohol rate of 0.05% over a prolonged period of time, essentially giving them an excuse to conduct their lives drunk, as an ‘experiment’. Starring Mads Mikkelsen, this Danish made film feels similar in tone to ‘Chevalier’ in terms of its macho masochism. It looks like a hoot, I can’t wait to see what it contains!

Where to watch: unfortunately, due to the pandemic this has received a limited cinema release, look out for it next year on streaming sites and potentially at independent cinemas when they are given an extended opening

Watch the trailer!

Nomadland - Chloe Zhao

I believe all great American movies are truly about ‘the American dream’. Whether by some grand manifestation of destiny like The Godfather or Citizen Kane, or something more transcendental and poetic like Easy Rider or Badlands, it depends on the outlook of the writer and their critique. Nomadland looks like it might be more related to the latter.

In Chloe Zhao's third feature Frances McDormand plays a middle American matriarch who after losing her house and her livelihood, ends up drifting around the stunning landscapes of North West America. ‘Your homeless?’ a little girl asks her in the trailer, ‘I’m houseless, there’s a difference.’ This one looks like a spirited all American road movie; She even ends up working at a place called ‘Badlands Park’ harking back to Terence Malick’s influential masterpiece.

When I was an impressionable young man the film Into The Wild had a tremendous influence on me with its Daoist reflections on western lifestyles. I’m excited to see if Chloe Zhao’s film has a similar effect.

Where to watch: Currently set for a February cinema release, but due to obvious reasons I wonder if this one might come to streaming channels instead. Keep your eyes peeled.

Watch the trailer!

Wolfwalkers - Tomm Moore

Another animated film from Irish director Tomm Moore!? Yes please. Some readers might remember we screened The Secret of Kells a while back. And Wolfwalkers is very much of the same ilk. I was worried this one might be derivative, especially when a large cyclical township took centre stage, with a young protagonist desperate to explore the dangers of the outside world. Despite the big similarities Wolfwalkers is brilliant in its own right. I’m a huge fan of both The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea so was pleased to watch another just as magical addition to Moore’s canon of Celtic folklore.

Where to watch: This one is an Apple original so for the time being it is exclusively on Apple TV. However, loads more Moore films are available on various streaming sites including Netflix, if you haven’t seen them yet definitely check out those mentioned above for similar feels 😊

Watch the trailer!

Never Rarely Sometimes Always - Eliza Hittman

There’s always room for a good coming of age film in the year and this one seems to be top of many critic’s lists. I feel like these kinds of films perform really well when they sum up the times.  Often, they can fade away with the times as years go by, but during the year they hit the tone just right and we remember them in isolation for that reason. The title of Eliza Hittman’s film comes from a clinical and reductive multiple-choice question asked at an abortion clinic; ‘I'm going to ask you some personal questions and you can answer; Never, Rarely, Sometimes, or Always’. After discovering she cannot get an abortion without parental consent where she lives, the main character and her cousin travel the 200 miles to New York City to try and resolve her dilemma themselves. Every year there’s a particular story that represents youth better than the others, I think of 2019’s Eighth Grade, 2018’s Lady Bird, 2017’s Call Me by Your Name. It looks like Eliza Hittman’s film might be 2020’s.

Where to watch: With it’s 2020 cinematic release pulled due to the pandemic, the film was sent straight to premium streaming services. Prime Video/ Youtube in app purchases remain the best bet to see this one for the time being.

Watch the trailer!

St Maud - Rose Glass

Intuitive readers may have detected a liking I have for A24 films. The New York studio have shown us some classics over the past decade (some of which I’ve screened at our movie nights; Moonlight, The Witch.) When it comes to horror, they are especially prolific. As I’ve discussed before the horror genre can be a bit of a tarnished one. There are a lot of bad ones, trashy ones, exploitative and weakly written, ones made only to scare and not to inspire. A good horror should do both! Thankfully, being a relatively independent studio, A24 are interested in artistic ventures and not just commercial successes. Over the years they have produced and/or distributed Under the Skin, Ex Machina, Hereditary, Midsommar, to mention a few. Last year they backed Rose Glass, a promising British director with her first feature St. Maud and a story about a pious but unstable nurse set in an isolated sea-side town. It went down pretty well with viewers who likened it to Polanski, Ingmar Bergman and even the religious imagery of William Blake.

Where to watch: The cinematic release was timed with Halloween 2020 so I’m hoping this will receive a second streaming release this year. Film4 and BFI produced, it may end up appearing there but also likely for Netflix along with other A24 films.

Watch the trailer!

Tomasso - Abel Ferrara

Having recently discovered the films of Abel Ferrara (I’m especially fond of Bad Lieutenant and Pasolini) I can’t pass up this recent contribution, especially as he’s working with Willem Dafoe again. Another good sign is Matt Zoller Seitz’s four-star review (those familiar with RogerEbert.com will know this is the highest rating they give) Another reason this film appeals to me is that it’s a semi-biographical film about a writer/filmmaker. There’s something in films about filmmaking that I can’t resist. They say write about what you know, I often find that at the ends of their career’s directors do exactly this. The fact that their craft is so accomplished at this point in their life means there is a piercing depth to their representations. I’m thinking of the likes of Robert Altman’s The Player (which he made aged 67), Pedro Almodovar’s Pain and Glory (aged 70) and of course Ferrara’s Pasolini (aged 63). All great films about the lives of those working in film but I find these semi-biographical ones especially interesting. I love Ferrara’s Pasolini even if it is simple and inconclusive in areas. He is 69 this year, I wonder if Tommaso is a revisit to some of the themes he and Dafoe explored 6 years ago.

Watch the trailer!

Best of 2020


Monday 21st December

It wasn't the greatest but at least on screen, it's been a good year! In no particular order here are some films from 2020 that I really enjoyed.

See the mailouts Part 1 here & Part 2 here

Mank


Mank is a new film by David Fincher, made for/by Netflix. It is an ode to Classic Hollywood and the magnificent screen writer; Herman Mankowicz. Mank was the man who wrote Citizen Kane, or at least the screen play. It is based on the same controversies that Pauline Kael famously resurrected between Welles and Mank for a share of the writer’s credit for the film. Mank is a story about authenticity, true storytelling and betrayal but one that is heavily romanticised.

I went into this film with two expectations; One, to watch a finely crafted film about Old Hollywood from one of modern Hollywood’s great directors. And two, to potentially be disappointed at the reduction of Orson Welles’ role in the creation of Citizen Kane. Luckily, the strength of the former is enough to suppress focus on the latter.

Despite using some of the same tarnished brushes, to paint Welles as a power-hungry pipsqueak, Mank is not really about Welles. It’s not even really about the famous credit controversy. It’s about the mythology of the Hollywood writer, it is a story about storytelling and namely one obelisk of a storyteller.

Gary Oldman as Mank, is charming, unapologetically fallible, and wonderfully romantic. He plays a sweet old man in the autumn of his years and a true storyteller in the most allegorical way. From writers’ rooms, to film sets, to drunken binges, Mank occupies the peripheries of social groups where most are either ignorant to, or not interested in, the politics outside their own bubbles. Most notably he is included in the inner circle of William Randolph Hurst, where he observes the growing political desires of powerful men, the dramas of which become his influence for Kane.

A charming ability to narrativize the lives of his peers is both Mank’s genius and his crux. He embodies the role of the storyteller like it’s his natural born identity, he soaks up the dramas that surround him as cuts through peoples bullshit with ease, which has its price. Mank's reliance on alcohol to write transcended that of most Hollywood drunks, and along with his creative pursuits he lead a selfish and solitary life.  He neglected the ever-faithful love of his life who was known to his peers as, ‘Poor Sara’. ‘I put up with all your platonic cheating’ She tells him, ‘I don’t wanna be called poor Sara any longer.’ He’s not a bad man, but he wilfully neglects both his health and his wife remaining loyal only to his work, his calling.  

Fincher’s film is about the mythological figure of the Hollywood writer, often tormented artistic types underappreciated in relation to actors and directors. Mank was often uncredited for his work, and his incredible influence on Hollywood was underrated. Because of this he died relatively poor succumbing to his reliance on alcohol. Fincher neglects to credit the many others who contributed to Citizen Kane, none more so that the genius who assembled it with no prior cinematic experience. But he succeeds in bringing light to the life of a magnificent man who wrote the greatest screenplay ever and without doubt the best he ever wrote.

Where to watch: Netflix.

Uncut Gems


This one feels so long ago I almost forgot it came out in January. Prior to its release, where you to hear that Adam Sandler would win the Independent Spirit award for best actor you might be as surprised as I was. Unless perhaps if you’ve seen him in Punch-Drunk Love, then you might be one of the few who don’t think of him as the crude loud obnoxious joker he also is. It’s genuinely shocking this wasn’t up for a single Oscar. It is brilliant. With Uncut Gems The Safdie brothers might have outdone themselves for obliterating typecast actors, and it might just outdo their other masterpiece Good Time but only in the way that Pulp Fiction is a better film than Reservoir Dogs. A film about the dangerous thrill of gambling, a heart pounding ride from start to finish, and a great contribution to American cinema that sits comfortable on the shelf of among others like Bad Lieutenant, California Split, or The Hustler.

Where to watch: Netflix.

Tenet


Christopher Nolan’s Tenet makes my list almost purely out of gratitude for its release. It was the fourth highest grossing movie of the year and it still lost Warner Brother’s $100 Million. It was essentially the only major blockbuster that was out when cinemas first reopened, and although in hindsight it was a bit of a band-aid over a burst waterpipe, It was worth it to put people back in a cinema hearing a Hanz Zimmer-esque score reverberating through a room again. The fact that Bond 25 still hasn’t been released and that John David Washington won’t be considered for Bond 26 for me, means Tenet is the only high-octane, global espionage film we needed this year. I’m sure my reaction was hyperbolic, but I’ll try to keep my rose-tinted glasses on for when the time comes to watch again. A thoroughly enjoyable movie at a time where fun was in high demand.

Where to watch: Still available in some cinemas, available for home media this month.

Da 5 Bloods


It’s no rare opinion to consider Spike Lee a true master of cinema. Da 5 Bloods is Spike at his best. Despite Netflix allowing a 2 hours 35 runtime, the film is in no way indulgent or demanding. Shot in a unique pseudo-documentary way the film is perfect for Netflix and perfect to binge watch. Due to this unique format it’s hard not to becomes extremely attached to the aging African American comrades as they revisit Vietnam to search for the remains of their friend and hero who died in battle (played by the late great Chadwick Boseman who tragically died this year). The film shows how the Vietnamese astoundingly hold no grudges to the GI’s whatsoever. That the Viet Cong and American Troops were the true victims of the war and the US Armed Forces where architects of disgusting unanswered for crimes to humanity. Such crimes are not limited to their disproportionate conscription of African American to the conflict. As Spike reminds us in the closing credits; ‘23% of combat troops in Vietnam where African American, while only 11% made up the US population.’ Documentary learnings aside this is also a gripping action film with a big heart. One of the best films of the year.

Where to watch: Netflix.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things


This one has divided opinion since its release in September. Some consider it a masterpiece, others another pretentious effort from Charlie Kaufmann in his third time directing his own work. Film critic Jack Howard said earlier this year that he believes Kaufmann’s script deserved a better director. I believe Kaufmann is one of the best screenwriters of his generation. I also believe that his best work has been directed by others, namely Spike Jonze (See Adaptation and Being John Malkovich). My favourite aspect of ITOET: The car scene in which Jessie Buckley & Jessie Piemons frenetically dissect the mythology within John Cassavettes’ A Woman Under the Influence. My least favourite aspect: The fact that unless you’re familiar with the material, there’s at least 7 minutes that won’t make any sense. At 2 hours 15, this is an example of Netflix facilitating flawed, pretentious, ambitious and highly indulgent art cinema. It’s terribly, terribly demanding and far from my favourite film of the year but it just might be a masterpiece still. I think it’s worth the watch, but It depends how you like your movies. If you want them to make you feel insignificant or dumb, it might not be for you.

Where to watch: Netflix.

Possessor


Readers of the last newsletter will be aware of this visceral sci-fi thriller from son of David Cronenberg, Brandon’s second feature. A cold but faltering assassin tries to navigate a depressingly familiar dystopian world of corporate espionage and technophobia. Eerie vibes akin to Johnathon Glazer’s Under the Skin this one is more of a gory thriller but heavily influenced by great sci-fi minds.

Where to watch: In Cinemas now.

His House


A spooky thriller about a refugee couple and the horrors that plague them following a traumatic escape from war torn Sudan. The couple must prove their worth to unforgiving officials as by assimilating into English society and showing they can take care of a derelict council house. An unrelenting demon puts their lives and their futures at risk by forcing them to confront their conscience.

Where to watch: Netflix.
Posessor: Uncut Review

Saturday 5th December

*This review contains spoilers* 

Possessor, or Possessor: Uncut is a visceral thriller sci-fi from body-horror auteur David Cronenberg’s Son, Brandon.

Like his father, Brandon appears to share a passion for fleshy violence. This is a gory, and gasp worthy thriller that clearly takes inspiration from the likes of The Fly, Videodrome and Naked Lunch. It also features off-kilter camera work that that resembles Hitchcock and Polanski and the observations of a bloodthirsty female assassin are executed in a creative and cinematically vibrant way. 

With Sci-Fi influences in mind Possessor’s runs in tandem with the tech-wokeness of Black Mirror, and, to a lesser extent the worlds of Her, Inception and even The Matrix. But a brooding mystery that bubbles underneath makes Possessor a much more skin crawling experience. To me this felt the perfect accompaniment to Johnathon Glazer’s otherworldly Under the Skin.

Cronenberg’s not too distant dystopia is straight out of the mind of Philip K. Dick. And a critical view of mass surveillance is uncannily Orwellian but updated to the mundane and depressingly familiar. In one instance, at a large tech firm we see an emotionless line of headset stations where employees enter pristine virtual offices. In these isolated stations they harvest data through non-consensual webcam spying. One eye on recording details as mundane as curtain preference, the other on the private lives of strangers. 

Although the work of Philip K. Dick has been especially influential on the sci-fi genre (see Blade Runner, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Reportto name a fewPossessor, like Cronenberg senior’s early work was conceived by its director. 

Aside from its socio/techno critique, Possessor is a story about loss of identity, invasion of privacy, bloodlust and revenge. Andrea Riseborough gives a chilling performance as a female assassin, who is far from your average killer. She is an imposter, an impersonator, and a parasite. She is employed by a high-tech murder-for-hire organisation who infiltrate people’s minds before framing them for murder and suicide. 

In literally mind-boggling getaway routines, the assassin must commit suicide in order to both kill their host and successfully return to their own body. It is at this moment that the lead shows signs of fallibility. She struggles with pulling the trigger on herself, something she is openly criticized for by her boss. A test, reminiscent of the Voight-Kampff test in Blade Runnner (even more so the one in 2049) confirms the signs of incomplete extraction. She claims to have things in order but on her next assignment she struggles to maintain complete control. She battles with the host, her victim, who begins to take back control of his mind while she still inhabits him. In a gruesome scene they confront each other inside his consciousness in a face off for the lion’s share of control.

Despite containing intriguing and culturally relevant themes, Possessor is a more successful horror-thriller than it is an explorative piece of sci-fi. In the end the film becomes more of a grudge match between host and parasite. And despite playing around with ideas about identity loss and invasion of privacy, it doesn’t really succeed its own identity as a psychological slasher dressed in 21st century anxiety. That being said, it performs within its genre to an excellent degree.

Possessor keeps you guessing like a good thriller should. It seems to answer your questions just as you are beginning to ask them. And each little twist or idea or is done in a particularly thoughtful and cinematically interesting way.

For this reason, I really enjoyed it. The film feels aware of its limitations as a gory thriller and because of this awareness it comes across succinct and well put together.  I think gory films like these get a bad rep sometimes and Possessor appears to be a refreshingly original new film that is far better than your average slasher.

Even films that feel at one time very poignant can fail to stand the test of time. As the zeitgeist shifts you realise that the underlying story was actually told in a very dull way. Possessor feels like it could avoid this simply by being faithful to the genre. Its subject material might not be the most ground-breaking or original, but the film is told in a very fun and creative way. 

If you are into sci-fi, thrillers, or gory jumpers it’s definitely worth seeking out. It’s not so much going to leave you pondering the existential, nor the technological potential but this simplicity means it doesn’t leave you hanging or ask questions it’s not able to answer. It’s a fun ride that doesn’t take you for a ride, it’s highly rewarding cinema and sometimes you can’t ask for much more than that.
When Brilliant Things Become Overrated

Friday 13th October

Some people think abstract art is rubbish, a sham even. It's easy to be put off when trying to find meaning in the scribbles of Kandinsky or the splashes of Jackson Pollock.

Especially in abstract art, this reaction is all too frequent. Just by design the form is demanding, hard to access, deconstructed. Just enough remains for someone who knows how to look, to be able to see. When audiences aren’t familiar with the surrounding material, who can be expected to understand?

At first glance how could anyone be expected to see the genius in Mondrian’s Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow? What is so special about a bunch of coloured squares you might ask? But if you were to first see his tree series, then his Pier and Ocean and finally his Broadway Boogie-Woogie, your experience might be different. You might start to picture a Manhattan crossroads behind the lattice work. As the lines and squares start to dance like pixels in a primitive digitised view of the world, it all starts to make sense. You start to understand why it’s been reproduced across design and fashion worlds so many times over.

This might sound inaccessible, elitist even. But don’t be put off. Overlook if you can, the surrounding attitudes that adhere to highbrow fallacies. Art, intrinsically, is not elitist. It can be misleading, or disguised, or in languages that aren’t familiar. But just because it’s not seen by all doesn’t mean it’s not there for all. Some of the most rewarding mysteries of the world are hidden in plain sight, there to be discovered only by those who know how to look, by those who are ready to see.


Have you ever seen a film or read a book at exactly the right time you needed it? It instantly becomes important. For some reason it sparks your imagination, it sums up all the things you think a good book, or a good film should be.

The person who reads Catcher in the Rye at a young age, for example, might experience something like this. Themes of alienation, superficiality, authenticity are likely to resonate with someone thinking about where they fit in the world. But if you’ve never read it, and you go back years later, your experience could be completely different. That’s not to say it’s a bad book, or even that it’s ‘overrated’ it’s just that the context is entirely different. 

Every now and then a film enters the cultural consciousness and blows audiences away. It oozes with excellence; everyone loves it and it’s clear that it’s a cut above the rest. Think about the effect Parasite has had recently. But in 40 years do you think new audiences will appreciate it as much as we have done now? Have we at all over rated the film in our reaction to it's clear brilliance?

No matter how much recommendation that surrounds it, if you apply a different context, even art once considered ground-breaking can look immensely out of place. It’s true when they say, context is key.


Citizen Kane might be the most overrated film of all time. Not because it’s not good, but because it’s at the top of almost every list titled ‘films you must see before you die.’ To someone just starting the explore film history, it’s often one of the first films you watch. 

Which is ridiculous when you think about it. No fresh-faced film enthusiast should watch Citizen Kane after something like Pulp Fiction, or The Shawshank Redemption . With over 60 years of cinema to navigate between, the things that make Citizen Kane great, at least superficially, are vastly different to the triumphs of modern cinema. The experience would be entirely underwhelming.

Nor should it be compared to other ‘pre-demise-essentials’ like 2001: A Space Odysseyor Seven Samurai or 8 & 1/2. All brilliant but distinctly different creations, with different histories, different influences, different contexts.

Films like these gain elite status almost by reputation alone. As a result audiences are all too often left underwhelmed. It's a shame, because despite the reels that have been written about Citizen Kane, it's not an especially complex films, it’s not demanding or something only certain people can understand. It’s often just been viewed grossly out of context. 

If you were to see it in comparison to the top 10 films that came out that year, or the 20 years before it, or the other films of Orson Welles, or Joseph Cotton, you might start to see it as a special film. If you watch Citizen Kane  alongside say The Magnificent Amberson’s or Shadow of a Doubt, you'd see it stand out. It’s just made of different matter. Every little cinematic detail has been masterfully executed to the highest degree possible for a film made in 1941.

Similarly, watching something like Chinatown (1974) today you might think, ‘Yeah, that is nice enough, the plot was unpredictable, the acting was good.’ But watch it alongside old noirs like The Maltese Falconor The Asphalt Jungle, or 70s detective films like The Long Goodbye or Death on the Nile. It’s a different being entirely. Again, each little cinematic moment is bursting with depth, from the characters to the framing, to the pacing, to the plot. Executed to the point when the film is practically humming on a new visual frequency. It’s just made differently.


Great films are rated highly for a reason. I believe that there is context in which everyone can enjoy films like these and truly appreciate them. But sometimes it’s just not going to be of interest. These kinds of films are so often lost on viewers, simply by being highly rated. If you have to search through the annals of time to appreciate Citizen Kane, is it really worth searching for?

It’s admirable and encouraging to want to read and watch everything, but it’s all too easy to dive off into the deepest depths of somewhere strange and drown out of context.

It’s strange on one hand to write so passionately about great films but then to say, don’t watch them. What I can advocate is to make your own lists, find your own recommendations, follow your own threads of intrigue. Don't feel the need to head down every trodden path, If there is something important out there, it is bound to circle back around again. Films like these are often better at the end of journeys than they are at the start.

If, on the other hand you’re interested in the catalogue of Orson Welles, or 1930s Hollywood, or RKO pictures, or a post-war view on the future of journalism, or the emergence of a talented director with an artistic appreciation for all things cinematic. Then you might find it just as brilliant as those who do put it top of their own lists.
Midnight in Paris - Woody Allen (2011)

October 28th 2020

I’m slightly ashamed to admit that the first Woody Allen film I ever saw was Midnight in Paris. I mean I’m not actually ashamed, I was only born in 1992. Everybody has to start somewhere right?

Looking back, I think it’s actually a pretty good jumping off point. Set in various historical iterations of Paris, the film features a magical taxicab that travels back in time. There are cute, if a little corny, cameos from actors playing various lost generation artists of the 1920’s including Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein and Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali. Antidote to European casting dilemmas Marion Cotillard plays the female lead who teaches hopeless romantic Owen Wilson a valuable lesson about gratitude, and to remember that no matter which artistic heyday you magically travelled back in time to, there will always be another time traveller less fortunate than you!

Those on the trail of bohemian literati might find joy with The Before Trilogy or The Moderns and those digging deeper into the Woody Allen archives should seek out Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanours. Of course, in my opinion, you should never pass up an opportunity to watch Annie Hall (make sure to watch the subtitles) and Manhattan (always worth multiple viewings) and if you’re really down the rabbit hole Match Point and Sweet and Lowdown are also enjoyable films.

The plethora of choice with Woody Allen can be overwhelming when you are not sure where to start. But unless you have a particular distaste of Owen Wilson, (all sofa adverts aside) you are going to have a hard time not enjoying the warm and pleasing Midnight in Paris.
The Handmaiden - Park-Chan Wook (2016)

October 28th 2020

In the increasingly popular selection of Korean revenge films, director Park-Chan Wook’s ranks among the best. His vengeance trilogy that includes OldBoy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance are among others (see I Saw The Devil and Tale of Two Sisters) that have been bubbling under the surface for some time.

Approval from corners of film festivals have allowed directors like Wong Kar-Wai, and Bong-Joon Ho to penetrate western audiences in the 21st Century but none have had quite the impact on underground audiences as the revenge flicks.

Like many of its niche affiliates The Handmaiden encompasses elements of psychological thriller, mystery, violent black humour and an unpredictably insane melodramatic plotline. Alongside these familiar tropes, this unique period drama contains a deeper subtext that explores South Korea’s national identity and themes that aren’t limited to; uprising of the marginalised, a classist society, survivalist mentality and dealing with unwanted occupancy of the oppressive Japanese.

It’s highly likely that the Oscar success of Parasite, is almost singe handily responsible for films like The Handmaiden being so widely available right now. I suspect (and hope) that there are many more to come.
12 Monkeys - Terry Gilliam (1995)

October 28th 2020

A must-see sci-fi flick, especially for fans of curious time travel theories. Recent readers might remember mention of Chris Markers La Jetee, the source material for Terry Gilliam’s adaptation. Gilliam’s feature tells this tale with a distinctly Gilliam-esque spin. More widely used suffixed words to help describe this tautological and otherwise useless phrase are; Python-esque and Kafka-esque. Gilliam would of course be uninspired without the influence of either. A jumbling concoction of Salvador Dali, Ralph Steadman, Philip K Dick, Syd Barett and other Cyber-Punks spill into 12 Monkeys much like they do in his other productions. Perhaps not as ahead of its time as the magnificent Brazil (1985) but just as wild and gripping a thriller. In my opinion a superb and inspired version that expands on the source material via Gilliam’s unique artistic kaleidoscope.
Bad Lieutenant - Abel Ferrara (1996)

October 14th 2020

I’m always interested as to why crime and violence works so well on screen.

What is it about cinema that allows us to entertain situations that would otherwise be traumatic or horrifying? What is it about the audience that entertains this flirtation with danger? How safe are our lines of reality when it comes to enjoying violence on screen?

Of course, there are some films that like to test their audiences. Some directors revel in flicking the microscope lenses until the line between entertainment and repulsion get uncomfortably close. Sometimes close enough to actually make you feel sick.

David Thewlis in Naked has this effect on me, as does Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet, and to a lesser extent Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast. At times, these detestable characters are played uncomfortably close to the bone.

Another performance, just as gripping and nauseating as these is that of Harvey Keitel in Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant. A character study of corruption and abuse in the New York police force channelled through one irrefutably Bad lieutenant. I watched it for the first time a few months back and it’s brilliant.

The Lieutenant is a different kind of bad than we’re used to seeing. He’s not leather-clad lock-your-daughters-up bad, or b-b-b-bad to the bone. Nor is he antithetically bad like Darth Vader, or The Joker, or even Ben Kingsley’s Don Logan, no, no, no, no, no. Unlike these evil characters, who are often counterpoint to the good in stories, there is not a lot of good to the Bad Lieutenant.

This is not a nice film, let's not have any ambiguity about that. I'm not even necessarily saying watch this film. Don't get me wrong, it’s fantastic and I can't recommend it enough, but I can't necessarily assure you'll enjoy it. This film will make your mind race and your stomach churn but if you are willing, it is wholly worth taking in.

Ferrara takes us on an intimate journey, showing us a dark and loveless existence of a man who is hopelessly self-loathing in his navigation of seedy Bronx neighbourhoods. Following the Lieutenant’s destructive habits we are show the worst his world has to offer; snorting cocaine to get through the school run, chasing bets to make up for lost money, abusing his power to steal from thieves, violating young women and consuming enough alcohol just to level out his high and continue what appears to be a sure path to a swift demise.

The Lieutenant exists like he has a gravitational pull of repugnance. He is destructive and hateful, but he is bad in a world that is even bleaker and for all his sins even he has a moral line. A nun is raped, and after hitting rock bottom the Lieutenant seeks her out to tell her he will seek justice. When he is stunned by the nun’s display of mercy for her attacker, he becomes overwhelmed with emotion and is forced to confront his demons. Hallucinating god in a church he breaks down and starts to wonder if there is redemption yet for his own sins. He seeks out the nun’s perpetrators and takes it on his own shoulders to decide their fates.

As well as showing us the most abhorrent characters, Ferrara’s film also sheds a light on the inherent goodness that lies in all of us. It may operate in the darkest recesses of crime ridden New York, but this film is entirely reflective on morality and deeply spiritual in its narrative rhetoric.

Keitel’s performance is unmistakably brilliant. It’s visceral and real and cuts uncomfortably close to the bone. To his huge credit, Keitel’s performance exceeds most character studies. There aren’t many actors who would willingly explore this side to their psyche and go to such dark places to perform a role.

Ferrara certainly digs deep into the reality of criminal activities to pull this one off, but it is really Keitel’s performance that transforms the story. He is raw and at times awful to watch but he is the driving factor in the redemptive power of the Bad Lieutenant.
Bait - Mark Jenkins (2019)

October 1st 2020

Shot in grainy 16mm black and white film, which Mark Jenkins hand edited in his studio in Newlyn, Bait is a film that embraces old fashioned hard graft in search of authenticity.

It’s very obvious nowadays when a film is made in a style that is not contemporary. In times when technicolour was an extravagant privilege, black and white was chosen by unproven directors for its affordability. In today’s cinema this choice carries no necessity, it’s distinctly stylistic. I’m always wary when a director makes an obvious stylistic choice.

As a film lover, the last thing I want to see from a modern director is a misappropriated homage to ‘vintage’ cinema. Heaven forbid anyone undergoes something akin to the product of a self-indulgent love affair with Sven Nykvist. (*Cough* The Lighthouse)

It’s easy enough to take a few pictures of some rugged coastal scenery and contrast it with the hard-working hands of a fisherman, but to make a meaningful connection is a different matter entirely. Jenkin’s appreciation of texture on screen, the stark contrasts he exposes in different livelihoods, plus his resistance to complicate a simple story told well, convince you that Bait is a meaningful film.  
 
It might seem silly to stick something in black and white and expect it to instantly look better, but honestly sometimes it just does. That’s not to say there isn’t a reason for this, but it does surprise me the inherent cinematic power that black and white cinematography contains.

One reason black and white photography looks good onscreen, is when there’s a focus on texture. When you remove colour from an image, texture becomes a huge factor. It’s like what they say about losing a sense, your other senses can be enhanced. It’s also one of the reasons Parasite was released in black and white following it’s Oscar success. In both films the contrast in two people’s worlds is shown in their texture of their environments. In Parasite you don’t notice the clean modern glass house in comparison to the gritty and grimy basement anywhere near as much when seen in colour. Similarly, in Bait the stark differences between the tourist’s glossy range rover and the rugged and ancient stones it is parked over just wouldn’t be as impressive without a lack of colour. It may look like its done ‘to be artsy’, but to be artsy can be a good reason to do something!
 
The main reason I liked bait is that this this film is not only good aesthetically, It’s written very well. It’s a familiar story really, out of towners move in and disrupt the status quo of a small town. It’s about the impending and inevitable drawbacks of tourism, and about the privilege of monetary wealth.

There’s a fiery bar scene in the film that I found really enjoyable. It’s great drama, like something from a David Mamet script. Two separate conversations are taking places that follow the same beats. A young bar maid is arguing with two guys over the rules of pool in the pub. ‘It’s winner stays on’ she says. The young boys, visitors to the area, find her pushy and obnoxious. They’ve reserved the table, so she should leave them to play. Meanwhile the fisherman and main protagonist, Martin Ward is trying to convince the landlady he can make an honest wage through fishing and not succumb to a tourism job. Payment for his pint gets pushed back and forth. ‘You should pack it in and earn some real money,’ she says. ‘I’ve got principles,’ he returns. The pool table argument pushes her to blow her temper. Martin pushes the money back and heads out. Both Martin and the young barmaid are steadfast in sticking to their principles. Both the landlady and the visitors just wish their antagonisers would pack it in. The boiling conflict is representative of the greater issues affecting the town. It’s cut brilliantly and unfolds like a kind of Jacob’s ladder, flicking between characters as the tension boils and escalates, as does the viewers entertainment.

This film reminded me a lot of Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero. There are obvious comparisons with the story of a foreign Oil company that selects a small Scottish fishing village as its next site for industrialisation. But whereas Bait is stark in its condemnation of intervening forces, the Ferness locals in Forsyth’s film comically embrace the foreigners, for they see an opportunity to make a lot of money from them. In comparison I find Local Hero a much more humanistic story due not only to the fact that it deals with both sides of the coin a lot more evenly.

As much as Bait is powerful in its reservation of culture and tradition, at times I felt like this moralistic attitude was almost too insular.

When you look at it, this sentimentality is funnelled almost entirely through one man’s experience, the main character: Martin Ward. It interested me that the attitudes of Martin are only shared by young and impressionistic characters. Only the nephew and the young barmaid side with him on his contempt for the visitors. Not his grief-stricken brother, not the local landlady, who is of course a benefactor of visitors to the area. Not the majority of other characters in the film, and not the other locals. While watching I thought this might be to show a certain immaturity or romanticism in Martin, but with the concluding act of the death of the nephew you are lead to believe he was right to be steadfast all along. Tourists = bad (create death), Small Cornish fishing village should remain completely untouched. It’s a stark position on a matter that is really only explored on one side.

I liked this movie. For a start, it’s not a shallow or formless artsy movie. The stylistic qualities are enjoyable and are essential to the storytelling. It’s not overcomplicated but it still keeps you guessing. it’s told well, and despite the martyrdom of the nephew feeling a bit convenient, it does all comes together at the end. I do think the moral stance is very romantic, and definitely one-sided (the ending of this film confirms this) But the only explanation I can think of is that Jenkins wanted to concretely lay down his stance on the threat of tourism on local culture. Unfortunately for him, the finality of death appears the most appropriate metaphor for how he sees this one playing out.
Short film no.3

L
a Jetee - Chris Marker

September 25th 2020


La Jetee is a sci-fi romance and a real favourite of mine. I remember seeing it for the first time and being astounded by the force of narrative that it contains despite being only 28 minutes long and consisting almost entirely of still images. It can take a bit of getting used to since you're effectively watching a sequence of photographs play out, so I would say just let this one wash over you and try to focus on the narrative, which is highly immersive anyway. Keep an eye out for the singular piece of live action, by the time it comes around you're so used to the sequence of stills that it catches you off guard hauntingly and otherworldly.

For 1962 La Jetee is well ahead of it's time. The time travel theory is definitely worth multiple viewings or reading up on to full understand. If you've seen Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys (a remake/reinterpretation) you might recognise some elements. Stylistically, it manages to accomplish a powerful narrative in little under half an hour with a distinctly minimalism and beautiful black and white photography. Overall the idea of story as told through still images and sequence of images is a really fascinating one and if it interests you, I can highly recommend the photography of Jean Mohr and in particular John Berger's book Another Way of Telling.

This one's available on Vimeo. Hope you Enjoy!
Short film no.2

The Fall - Jonathan Glazer


September 24th2 2020


Johnathan Glazer's The Fall (2019) tells a story of a masked individual hunted down by a gang of similar looking beings. The gang is introduced with stark brutality sending an intense feeling of fear upon the viewer. They capture the individual, tie him up and and send him to a perceived death by tossing him down a well. However, the individual cleverly frees himself and manages to secure himself half way down. He then begins a slow ascent back up to the surface. I find the imagery in this short really effective, especially with the environment that surrounds the character. There's something profound about an exiled man surrounded by cold dripping stone. You can't help but siding with him as he attempts to escape, especially given the fact that the reason for his exile is not stated and the fact that he shows his intelligence by escaping death. 

You can also watch this film on the BBC iPlayer and of course please get in touch if it sparked any interest with you!
Short film no.1

Strasbourg 1518 - Jonathan Glazer


September 23rd 2020


Jonathan Glazer's Strasbourg 1518 came out in June this year, while the country was in lockdown and you will see that it deals very directly with confinement and claustrophobia in an emotional and expressive manner. The title of the film is in reference to a strange event that occurred in Strasbourg in the middle ages where a community erupted into hysterical dancing for a number of days. There is some mystery and myth that surrounds the event and as it's so long ago it's unclear as to why or what exactly happened. From what I have read, the spontaneous and contagious hysteria began mainly in young women and may have been bought about by physiological stress relating to the harsh living conditions of the time. It's definitely one to read up on and a fun one to see what you can interpret. Glazer directly compares it to some experience of our lockdown and the living situations that we can find ourselves in nowadays. 

You can watch the film on the BBC iPlayer and it's well worth checking out. Let me know what you think on social media or via email!
An appreciation of short film.

September 22nd 2020

I don’t watch a lot of short films. I like the format of a feature. I like to be immersed in narrative. I like the craft. I like the experience of losing myself for 90 - 120 minutes or more. I like sitting down and settling in for a good story.  Short films aren’t like this.

Short films are, by definition, succinct. There’s not a lot of time for set up, or foreshadowing, or character development, or story arcs. Because of this, short films can be experimental, they can lack form, or logic and aren’t always concerned with traditional narrative. That’s not to say that I don’t like short films, or haven’t seen good short films, or that short films aren’t as good as features. They are just different. They are made differently.  

To make a feature film, whether it’s successful or not, is a gruelling and arduous process. With commercial pressures, budget restraints, actors and studio requirements, the journey from script to screen is one of many hardships, limitations and constraints. By the time it is complete, the film is often vastly different to the idea that spawned it. It is part of the beauty, the skill and the risk of film making that you don’t always know what the final product will be, or if it will be any good.

Short films will not to the same degree, suffer like this. Yes, they are concerned with images, sound and to a certain degree narrative, but short films undergo a completely different creative process. There’s no bargaining with studios, no major casting call, maybe not even a script. Because of this they often feel looser, less developed, less familiar. They can also feel freer and less processed, or raw and edgy. Perhaps they can even stay closer to the artist’s personal vision.

Filmmakers are in constant conflict with maintaining artistic integrity and bowing to certain limitations. There are plenty of films that suffer due to a lack of constraint. Too long, too inaccessible, too self-indulgent. There are many that suffer at the hands of the studios, who are themselves battling with commercial and financial pressures. But since the short film doesn’t endure this process to the same degree, it can be a place for more artistic freedom. With the short film the artist’s dilemma lies less with how to navigate the limitations and more with where to place their own. 

‘The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.’ Orson Welles once said, who made some of the greatest feature films of the era whilst famously clashing with Hollywood studios. At times when he had more freedom to create, his films often took years to finish, some even outlasted him.

On the other hand, this quote might be read more literally, that without limitation there would be no art. When you think about it, it’s not possible to have art without some limitation, some constraint. You cannot write a sentence without a finite selection of words and letters to choose from. In the same way you cannot make film without a selection of images and sounds. Whichever medium you are working with, you are at the very least bound to the limits of fluency and familiarity. The journey for an idea to take physical form, however crude or beautiful the result, will always be one of limitations. 

All ideas experience a process of limitation to materialise. The beauty of art is how it takes form to be shared in the world. The feature film experiences extreme limitations to be made, and the short film undergoes much less of this process in comparison. All artists’ visions need to suffer in order to materialise. By recognising the limitations of their craft, the artist can empower their knowledge and achieve in some way what they set out to do.

A good short film should not be a short feature. It should explore things that a feature doesn’t have the privilege of doing. Feature films have to be precise and perfect so that they limit the possibility of failure. There is a lot more pressure on features to succeed. This process can mean that the original idea changes almost entirely to complete the project. The fact that the short film endures less constraints allows it to function better as an artistic practise. They can offer a window into a bigger world, or a snippet of a bigger idea. Often, they can come across meaningless, or confusing or not thought out and this is often true. They don’t have to be fully fleshed out because that’s not why they are made. They are more like exercises, made for the sake of creative expression. Watching a good short film is like seeing into the sketch book of a great artist showing a vignette into an unfiltered mind.

La Haine turns 25

September 9th 2020
 

From the moment Bob Marley’s Burning and Looting kicks in over images of riots in a Parisian banlieue, you get the feeling this is a film you need to see. I didn’t know a lot about La Haine before I first saw it (it’s French, it’s in black and white, it stars a young Vincent Cassel) but something told me it was a film I'd enjoy. From the moment the title sequence started playing, my suspicions were confirmed. This was a film that I needed to see.
 
The title sequence is by no means the only scene that stands up on its own. Kassovitz has a knack for creating these highly entertaining and autonomous moments; The housing project DJ blasting a mix of KRS-One and Edith Piaf to his neighbours below. A seemingly meaningless bathroom joke shared between its three protagonists and a fortuitous passer-by. Perhaps most aesthetically memorable is the dizzying dolly zoom shot of the three boys with the streets of Paris shortening behind them. The technique may be inspired by a certain scene in Goodfellas and the influence of Scorsese on the film overall is another reason to love it. It’s a modern classic born straight out of the tenets of the new Hollywood. It feels like a natural heir to someone like Scorsese. La Haine is fictional yet all too easily believable story based on true events featuring young marginalised protagonists, a perfect balance of humour and grim reality, and inexperienced actors given starring roles under their same first names. Vincent Cassell even mimics De Niro’s Travis Bickle in front of his mirror with his ‘you talking to me’ imitation.
 
These moments, brilliant as they are alone, are of course just parts to a much bigger story. A story about the lives of French immigrants, a story about race relations, police brutality, state housing, and what the future holds for young boys living in the banlieues. This is a coming of age story built with conflicts only young people of colour will have experienced. In the same way that children make defining choices in Fernando Meirelles’ City of God, the adolescent boys of this Parisian slum are forced to grow up fast. Their lives are about to change over the course of one night. After a boy is hospitalized in the aftermath of a police riot, three friends are faced with how to react to what has happened. As Vinz deals with his masculinity, Saïd is set up as the impressionable reliant hungry to prove his worth and Hubie’s battle with morality comes to define his character, the trio gain depth and are elevated higher than mere prototypes of misrepresented youth. A series of events following the riots puts the boys in multiple conflicts; with themselves, with each other, with vengeance, and with deciding what is the right thing to do. The strength of their feelings wax and wane but hinge on one piece of vital information; whether their friend (the boy shot in the riot) will survive the night.
 
The other obvious talking point about this film for me, is the context of it's re-release. Watching La Haine today gives the film even more weight than it might've done 25 years ago. It's currency is haunting much in the same way Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing is (released 31 years ago). Among more recent films with with similar subject matter such as Fruitvale Station (2013)Queen & Slim (2019) and recent cinema release Les Miserables (not that one) it feels distinctly pertinent. Political films and social commentaries can struggle to remain significant after so many years. Often, we add exposition, ‘Now, you have to remember that when this came out… and at that time this was very big…’ etc. etc. to contextualise history. It’s a tragedy that this film, made 25 years ago, doesn’t require such context. I don’t think there’s a lot I can add to this that wouldn’t be better said by someone who has directly experienced such tragedies. So I’ll just say this: I look forward and hope that one day films such as these will be read as documents in time and not a reflection of some people’s present circumstances.

Every now and then, a film grabs you and doesn’t let go. This is a film that burns bright from the moment the Molotov cocktail explodes over an image of the earth in the opening sequence, until the ultimate resolution brings things to a perfect close. If you get the chance to watch it, take it.
 
Yours,
The Christchurch Film Enthusiast.

Socially distanced cinema experience - Tenet

September 1st 2020
 

It’s been strange trying to navigate the covid-19 world. In the past month I’ve been to restaurants, shops, supermarkets etc. and experienced vastly incomparable situations. I’ve been refused entry at the petrol station for forgetting my mask, been uncomfortably close to strangers who appear to think they’re immune while wearing one, even seen hordes of conspiracists demonstrate against the idea of them. Then I’ve sat in restaurants, not had to get up to order and at the end of the meal been told my bill had been halved in order to save the economy. It’s been confusing to say the least.

One place that wasn’t so confusing however was the cinema. After some umming and ahhing about whether it would be okay. I recently decided to bite the bullet (a non-inverted one, mind) and buy tickets for Christopher Nolan’s mindboggling new spy epic ‘Tenet’. Compared to some sticky floored multiplex experiences I’ve had; this was overwhelmingly positive. For a start our tickets, purchased online and scanned via QR code, exchanged no hands whatsoever, not even our own. Then, the kind cashier asked if we would show the bar code of our snacks so that she could prevent excessive touching of the packet. Once we found our seats, well let me tell you about that socially distanced cinema experience.

The room was filled to about 1/3rd capacity with easily more than 2 metres between groups. We had enough space to ourselves to even discuss the movie without disturbing others (granted it was mainly ‘Do you have any idea what’s going on? No, me neither.’) and all in all everyone had a thoroughly enjoyable time. Besides a man with night vision goggles entering to scan the room (for the seating arrangement, or capacity I’m not sure!?) we were undisturbed throughout. In retrospect there are probably more appropriate films to execute Splinter Cell impersonations in than a high-octane spy thriller, but we were clearly enjoying ourselves too much to really care.

The experience might well have been enhanced by the fact that this was my first time in a cinema since seeing JoJo Rabbit back in February and I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed it. I take my hat off to Cineworld Poole who had their operation down to a T and I’m sure I’ll be booking for a similar experience again. It’s great to see that some of the smaller venues are slowly opening up again too. The Lighthouse in Poole has screenings in September and The Regent reopens in October with a focus on cinema so keep an eye on that, I know I will!. I’m sure many of you are itching to get back out there as am I. I’m happy that my first experience back was a good one because they’re really going to need our help to survive. If they keep on like they did last week, they deserve to even more so.

Oh… and the film, despite its foreseeably complex and confusing plot, was very, very enjoyable. In its essence it’s a blockbuster spy thriller told alongside a dizzying Nolan narrative structure that I’m sure requires extended viewing! John David Washington’s performance breathes coolness, if there was ever an audition for the next 007 this might be it. Alongside the accomplished Robert Pattinson, who sometimes looks as if he’s walked straight off of a GQ shoot, the pair are perfect as a couple of charismatic youthful protagonists. With them Kenneth Branagh plays a fearsome Russian villain (perhaps written a bit too cliché) and a fragile and muted Elizabeth Debicki is superb despite her story almost entirely orbiting the men around her. Just to top it off Nolan’s old buddy Michael Kane appears for a few minutes as a character called Sir Michael Crosby, whodathunk?

8.5/10 for the movie 10/10 for being back in a cinema.
 

Night On Earth - Jim Jarmush

December 11th 2019
 
Night on Earth is a film that takes place almost entirely within five different taxi journeys. These seemingly unrelated tales occur irrespective of the plot, if there even is one...
 
This story is rich in character and also rich in acting. Various figures from world cinema pop in and out, amazingly they're all cast in locations they learnt their trade in. Winona Rider and Gena Rowlands ride the highway in LA, Giancarlo Esposito and Rosie Perez are seen lambasting in the streets of New York City and foreign film icons, some of whom you're bound to recognise depending on your persuasion, play their part in the final three tales. It shows Jarmusch's commitment to realism, but it also shows how well respected he is world-wide that actors and actresses from so many different places take part in his mash-up.
 
The story reminds me of a couple other films that had an effect on me like The Cohen Brothers 'Ballad of Buster Scraggs', or other anthological stories such as 'Waking Life'. There's something unusually entertaining about a film with no obvious plotline. I reminds me of reading a short story collection. It's somewhat dreamlike. It's easy going and there's no pressure to commit, but this film goes further than that. It's not an exercise in story writing or film making, It is a complete film and it contains something deeper that evolves while you watch. I'm still not totally sure what the links are, I'm not even sure Jarmusch could tell you exactly what they are. They kind of just exist there not necessarily tied down to anything. There's something in there about realism, about existence, about gratitude and probably a whole load of other values people feel in the depth of a night on earth. Maybe there not to be described too explicitly. I'm sure they'll pop up again when I watch next week. Its because of this that I've chosen it, I think great films make you want to watch them again. This one certainly does.

Knives Out - Rian Johnson

December 11th 2019

This one seems to have had a really good reception since it came out (somewhat under the radar) last week. Agatha Christie style whodunnits don't usually do overly well in wide audiences but this one has a completely original screenplay and a modern setting and apparently it's doing well enough to get bums on seats. It features Daniel Craig as a Private Investigator, regrettably I believe he does affect an American accent but I've also heard the character profile is very strong, similar to Poirot or Columbo or other imperfect, self inflated, almost clownish yet brilliant detectives. If it's got as clever writing as other Rian Johnson films it should be pretty good. Johnson was unfortunate enough suffer the aftermath for his Star Wars film - The Last Jedi but I actually thought it was one of the better ones from the new generation! His film Looper is a great timetravelling thriller, dark and brooding with Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, highly recommended.

The Irishman - Martin Scorsese

December 11th 2019

Released on Netflix this week, Scorsese returns to crime glory putting De Niro, Pacino and Pesci on the screen together for the first time ever! It's the second role De Niro has been in this year after Todd Philipps' JokerJoker takes massive influence from Scorsese's New York films, in particular Taxi Driver & King of Comedy which both star De Niro. I recently added King of Comedy to my must-watch list under recommendation from another Scorsese fan. In response to Joker, which continues to provoke varied opinions, critic Mark Kermode explains that De Niro's character can be read as a direct extension of Robert Pupkin in King of Comedy. De Niro plays a struggling lone comedian often seen practising his act at home hoping to get his chance in the limelight. If you've seen or plan on seeing Joker I would suggest watching these two as supplementary to your viewing!

Horror Film Appreciation / The Witch - Robert Eggers

November 4th, 2019

Happy post Halloween Monday film enthusiasts! Remember, remember we have a spooky screening of the A24 horror 'The Witch' tomorrow  (5th Nov) The movie will start at the regular time of 8pm.
 
This film has been described as New England Folk Horror (how's that for niche!?) with occult overtones and themes not too dissimilar to films such as 'The Blair Witch Project' and 'The Wicker Man'. The Director Robert Eggers is part of the talented young crop working for A24 films, keep an eye out for his new film 'The Lighthouse' coming out early next year.

Horror films and I:

I never used to like horror films. Like many I feel that there are far too many slasher happy examples out there. You know the type, usually found occupying good screen space around the end of October, often riddled with bad writing, bad acting and in general they can be pretty insipid watches. Also, in simple terms I don't particularly like being made to feel scared! At least I thought I didn't.
 
When I saw 'The Ring' (far younger than I should have retrospectively) and watched that creepy ghost crawl out of the TV... and into my nightmares. I didn't like horror. Equally as a young child after seeing Angelica Huston reveal her true self in 'The Witches' I had to turn off the video and bury the memory in haste! I didn't like horror. Later, when I watched a plethora of rentals from the DVD racks marked 'scary movies', with underwhelmed eyes, I didn't like horror.
 
But on one of these fateful trips to the movie shop, a copy of 'Silence of the lambs' found it's way into the basket. I thought I didn't like horror. I thought I didn't like horror but when Anthony Hopkins muttered the name Clarice from behind reinforced glass my thoughts began to change.  It happened again with 'The Shining' and then with 'The Omen' and even with 'Paranormal Activity' and especially with 'Under The Skin'. It happened with 'The Descent' which despite it's b-movie appearance, was thoroughly enjoyed with a group of friends who couldn't decide whether to laugh with nervous agitation or scream from behind the safety of their cushions. It got to the point where i found myself castigating a friend for watching the 'Blair Witch Project' in broad daylight with the curtains wide open, he claimed 'It wasn't that scary.' After he watched 'Rosemary's Baby', i made extra care to play 'that music' around him in every unsuspecting moment. 
 
As the years went by, i discovered there is an awful lot of fun to be had watching a good horror, And watching it in the right environment. You must make sure you're comfortable (to begin with), you must turn the lights off ,and you must be in good company, so that you can share both the laughs and the screams.
 
If you feel that the genre is often littered with ill traits, I tend to agree but i urge you not to distance yourself from the experience, for the sake of a few bad examples. If you don't like horror films because you don't like feeling scared, then I believe you just haven't discovered the joys of being scared yet!
The Witch definitely avoids these awful traits. I can almost guarantee it will be the best New England folk horror film you'll see this year. so i encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and come join a group of friendly if ever so slightly masochistic horror-film lovers!

Rear Window - Alfred Hitchcock

October 12th, 2019 

Have you ever thought 'I should watch a Hitchcock movie' and been put off by the sheer volume of his work? Psycho is great but somehow you know that before you've seen it, Vertigo is a masterpiece but it's complexity requires a deep focus, North By Northwest is considered his ultimate American contribution but are you ready for that!? All are great, but Rear Window is simple, clever and fun. Where better to start?

Oldboy - Park Chan Wook

September 26th, 2019

Hello Film Enthusiasts! Hope you're all doing well. Next Tuesday (1st October) we have a screening of Park Chan-Wook's 'OldBoy'. It's a great flick from a Korean director that has really struck a chord with mystery/thriller film fans over the years. It tells the story of a man who is kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years, and then goes on a journey to piece together the events that have happened to him. Comparisons with the Japanese Battle Royale should definitely be made. Although BR belongs to a more chaotic dystopian sci-fi ilk, they share equally intriguing premises. They both get their dramatic roots from manga stories and are two of the most memorable and popular cult films to come out of Asia in the last 20 years. perhaps I'm more of a sucker for melodrama but I prefer them to the modern thrillers of David Fincher or Christopher Nolan.

Do you ever feel that despite an ongoing search for the great, great, Roger-Ebert stamp of approval, well rounded, all encompassing, life-affirming, movies, sometimes you just want to watch a solid, fun film and not care to question why? I remember seeing Taken for the first time and having that simple thirst quenched. There's something real about an unpolished film where the strengths outweigh the faults, something that harks back to the great 90s action movies where melodramatic dialogue is met with celebration and not grimace. Easy to recommend duo-syllabic titles like Point Break, Face/Off or Die Hard, that are just as easy to remember as they are to recommend. The ones you can brand 'Good Film!', hand off to a friend and know they will return to say 'Hey, that was a good film!. They're not especially rich, but they're straight up, polished enough, don't play tricks and tick enough boxes, and that's great.
Other times you watch a movie that tries to go that little bit deeper but disappointingly falls short. It might dig around interesting ideas but later on they seem to just disappear completely. There's nothing worse than going the distance with a film waiting for a resolution, just to find that the story just peters out. There's nothing worse than a bad ending.

Well OldBoy is a rare kind of film, in the fact that it pushes deeper and hits it's marks. It raises lots of questions but they come back around answered. Yes it's full of gore, great fight scenes, action, and all those lovely trimmings. But it's a dense and richly emotional drama too. The story is well crafted and well paced. It throws out ideas that seem to linger at back of your mind craving closure, then they fall into place and come together wrapping you up in warm lovely satisfaction. There's nothing better than a good ending.

Mr Turner - Mike Leigh

September 9th, 2019 

Hello Film Enthusiasts! This Tuesday we have a screening of Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner, a film from a magnificent director and a wonderful biopic of Britain's beloved landscape painter. The film details Turner's eccentric work habits, his life at the end of his career, and his impact on the art world and his contemporaries.

I'm hoping this one will be popular among those who like their biopic. It captures Britain and the art world in the early 19th Century baring some reason resemblance in aesthetic to Mr. Holmes which was released around the same time. However, the fact that it's being told by such a rich craftsman means it has that little bit extra personality too.

Mike Leigh seems to be one of those directors who doesn't make a bad movie. He has films which are undeniably brilliant, then he has films which are less familiar but strike different notes with different audiences. His storytelling is powerful in a personal way. Depending on what you like, you can always find something to read that others might not see. 

I find for a Leigh film, Mr. Turner is actually really well rounded. unlike his raw early work, (for the dark and daring I can recommend 1993's Naked in a heartbeat) it seems to have been made with more commercial audience in mind. Which is refreshing as the production offers a polished big budget aesthetic in comparison to his minimalist early dramas. What makes Leigh films great is the fact that they are real stories, with real drama, told through powerful character performances. These tropes can definitely be found in Mr. Turner if not quite as raw as some of his other films.

Y tu mamá también - Alfonso Cuarón

August 19th, 2019

It would be irresponsible of me, as an obsessive categoriser, to pile all of the 'coming of age' films into one tidy box. I think using this phrase as a genre creates too vast a collection of stories. It takes away too much nuance.

Also when I hear it, I picture an audience of pre-teen mallrats, or spotty no-hopers that you might find in something like The Breakfast Club, or Dazed and Confused. That's not to say these aren't good movies, even personal favourites to some (I can highly recommend Heathers if you're headed down that route) but it's rare that these kinds of films actually relate to their audiences of the times. More often than not they're watched in retrospect as films that captured an era. I find that generations will more likely bond to films that aren't actually about coming of age. You wouldn't put 'American Graffiti' alongside 'Life of Brian' but who's to argue with the group who says, 'Hey man, that movie spoke to my generation!' ?
 
Good coming of age films are relatable because they're inclusive to something we've all experienced, or will all experience. Because we all come of age at different times to each other. The reality is these films aren't really for a group of teens who nobody but the director understands. If they're good, they'll be relatable to all ages. They should be timeless.
 
You may know him as the director behind dystopian thriller Children of Men. Perhaps you were wondering who to account for the recognisably dark turn the Harry Potter films took with The Prisoner of Azkaban. Maybe you even watched the subtitled epic Roma on Netflix last year. Or maybe you've never heard his name. Regardless his early film Y Tu Mamá También is great. It's what you might expect alongside The Motorcycle DiariesWild Tales or Amores Perros if there was a South-American section in the video shop. It's raw and it's heartfelt, it's grubby in it's youthful innocence, it's risqué and fun. Whether you want to call it a coming of age film or not, that's up to you. I think it's no to be missed.

Moonlight - Barry Jenkins

October 12th, 2019 

Tonight we have our screening of Barry Jenkins' 2016 Oscar triumphant 'Moonlight'.

This is the one that infamously trumped 'La La Land' for best picture at the 2017 academy awards, bringing some of the Gosling-Stone hype down to earth. Bandwagoning aside I actually enjoyed 'La La Land' immensely. Maybe I was still chasing some of the jazz crumbs that Whiplash left behind, but as somebody who doesn't particularly go for musicals I will gladly say it was a great movie. Who really cares for academy awards these days anyway?

Well maybe Barry Jenkins does. Moonlight won him three that year and he became the second black person to direct a best picture winner. He then went on to make If Beale Street Could Talk in 2018 (which I shamefully still haven't seen) to perhaps even greater critical acclaim. If it's anything remotely as powerful as Moonlight im'm sure it's worth a watch.

I'm not going to say much more about the film. I haven't seen it since it came out, so I'm very much looking forward to re-watching something that was deeply rewarding the first time. It's A24, it's great acting, it has a nice balanced three act structure, and it's beautifully shot. It's remained fresh in my mind since that first viewing if that's anything to go by. If you're on the fence maybe watch a trailer but honestly it's one of those enigmatic movies that unfolds better with no expectations. Give it a go.

Contact

Get in touch, even if just for the sake of it!

I love to hear about other projects and goings on, you never know what might come of it!

Follow Us
Christchurch Film Enthusiasts