garethcrook

IMDb member since June 2006
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Reviews

The Human Voice
(2020)

A lot to live up to.
This has quite a lot to live up to. The 1966 version with Bergman is a masterpiece. Plus this is directed by Pedro Almodóvar AND it's his first English language film. I've been itching to see this for a long time. Delayed like many films due to the pandemic, my expectations have been heightened. Always dangerous going into a film. This was interestingly shot during lockdown, behind the scenes shots showing the crew in masks. I suppose this might be the perfect film project for social distancing. In place of Bergman is Tilda Swinton. She's not in the same intimate setting as her predecessor. In fact she's a lot more freedom, starting browsing axes in a hardware store. The premise is the same though. An unnamed woman, alone after being left by her lover. Only a dog for company. Even here though, things are dialled up, the dog can act! Also pining for the now missing man, seriously the dog is great! What's also great is her apartment. It's gorgeous! Modern clean lines, bold colours. It screams taste and control. Inexplicably though, it's not shown to be a real apartment. It's a set, built in a warehouse-like sound stage. I've not yet decided why, other than it looks wonderful as we see aerial shots, Swinton moving from room to roofless room smashing things in anger and frustration. We're a third way in before the phone rings. This time an iPhone with AirPods. Here we get closer to Bergman's portrayal. The monologue taking centre stage as Swinton wanders in and out of hers. It's a much more stylised interpretation and feels a little soulless in places for it, but it still works. The relationship described is much more modern, less traditional, less conservative, but the emotions are just as raw and Swinton delivers with just as effective might. Is it better than the 1966 version? No, but I think it might be as good, or very very close. I might need to watch it a few times to appreciate it fully. Swinton though is undoubtably brilliant and Almodóvar has updated the premise with all the invention you'd expect. It might even have a better ending. My expectations were high and I wasn't disappointed.

The Human Voice
(1966)

Captivating.
This is what used to be called a TV Movie or Straight to TV Film. Do we categorise films this way anymore or has streaming done away with such things. It's a slight cheapening of the feature film in that the production values are much lower, the run time clipped and the expectations reduced. Now true, this is clearly filmed on different stock to what you'd expect from 60s cinema, but it's bright realism actually helps. As does the 4:3 ratio that makes modern eyes feel as trapped as the woman on screen. Ah yes, the woman. The only character here, that's seen at least. She remains simply 'A Woman' throughout, but this is Ingrid Bergman. Even if you're not a cinephile, I'm sure that name instantly suggests class and this oozes it. She awakes in a room in Hampstead according to the rotary telephone, alone for only a dog. Chain smoking and distressed. Clearly she's troubled. We're searching the room for clues as the telephone rings and we learn of her lover on the other end. We only ever hear her side of the conversation and her inner thoughts. Slowly picking through the details of events that have lead her to this frazzled person before us. Bergman is magnetic. Running through a dizzying array of emotions and portraying each magnificently. Holding the camera that only moves when it really needs to and always effortlessly. It does look very simple, but the camerawork is gorgeously understated. Interacting with Bergman like a dance partner. We learn that the lover is now a recent ex-lover. Torn photos next to the overflowing ashtray. Based on a play, it's set like a stage. A life in a small apartment single room. A bed, a chaise, a sink, a chair, a desk and a table... with the telephone. The telephone is the device by which we learn everything. Props around the room only used to heighten her distress. But the telephone is also her anchor. Whilst the conversation continues, she clings on to hope, before another wave of reality washes over her. At 50 minutes, it's essentially one long scene, playing out in real time. Giving us a window into the cruel world of a break up. Bergman was 50 when this was filmed. She looks great of course, but she uses her age to inject an extra neurosis to her panic at being left alone. It's heartbreaking stuff, as she descends further into a wallowing grief. It's hard not to project where we're headed and it's quite agonising. Every word rung for as much tension as possible, but there's an understated control here. As staged as things are, it's feels honest, truthful... and captivating.

Dog Day Afternoon
(1975)

Not what I expected!
I've never seen this all the way through before. I've seen clips, but I've got the gist... right? Bank robbery goes wrong, based on a true story. Pacino chewing the scenery. Nope, there's a whole lot more going on here and as always with great films, it's the details that make them shine. We're in Brooklyn, New York in it's 1970s squalor. Summer heat, dirty streets, that undercurrent of slight desperation. Desperation that leads Sonny (Pacino) and Sal (John Cazale) to walk into a bank in broad daylight, sporting classic cheap 70s suits, concealed guns and in Cazale's case an iconic haircut. They're in over their heads from the get go, the panic palpable even in the opening lines of dialogue. It's not supposed to be funny, but they're so shambolic it's hard not to chuckle a little. They're small time, nice guys really just doing something stupid for what turns out to be very little money. This is America though and some things don't change. How do you resolve a fairly minor criminal situation... yes, more guns! Enter the cops. All of em I think. If Sal wasn't jittery before, he is now. It's got a weird tone to it. Grimey and lo-fi, but with a bizarrely large cast, one that rallies with our two assailants, siding with the little guy oppressed by the gun crazy police authorities. But it's clear pretty quickly that it's much more than a mere stick up and more a commentary on haves, have nots, the role of the family, societal structure, celebrity culture. For what's essentially a bit part, Sal pulls focus whenever called upon. It's the Sonny show though and Pacino really does go all in, playing the trapped and troubled wannabe bank robber. That's just it though. He doesn't really want to be there at all and neither does Mulvaney (Charles Durning), the cop he's negotiating with. They both want it over, but Sonny does have a purpose. The money is for his husbands sex change. I really didn't expect that and it seems like a interesting role for Pacino in 1975 to go for following The Godfather and Serpico. He pulls it off though, the whole cast do, normalising the situation remarkably quickly, everyone keeping cool. Time is a weird thing in cinema. I often look at older films, the simplicity in the storytelling, in the production and wonder would it work as well today. Can modern filmmakers do this, or do we simply expect more, certainly in production values, but I think a modern take would bury it in grit, blood, serious drama. This is enjoyable entertainment. People are waving guns around, but it doesn't exactly feel dangerous. Again because it's much more than a heist movie. The hostages become friends of a kind. There's emotional depth, both in Sonny's reasoning for the robbery and in the way it plays out. It's hard to believe it's a true story or based on one and I certainly was well wide of the mark on my assumptions going in. It's great. You might want to take a shower after though, it's one of the sweatiest looking films I've watched in quite some time.

Zappa
(2020)

Winter has done Frank justice.
Who doesn't like Frank Zappa? Probably quite a lot of people, but do they know Zappa, have they listened to his records? He's one of those divisive artists that I think a lot of people don't give enough time or respect to. Getting into Zappa is daunting. There are a lot of records, over a hundred (seriously). I've not heard them all but some can be quite... challenging. That for me sums up Zappa, challenging. If indeed he can be summed up at all. I suspect director Alex Winter (yes that one) has listened to them all and loves every one. A prolific recording artist, targeting politics, social issues, pretty much anything he tuned his brain to, he's an interesting guy. Musically he was all over the shop, but it's the scale of Zappa's output that's, well... quite daunting. This doc tells Franks life in his own words. Thanks in large to an incredible self curated archive that Frank introduces us to. Recording masters, photos, videos, all labelled on shelves. I like Franks dedication to his work. Considering it's scope, there's an amazing clarity and focus to it. Inspired by Edgar Varèse as a teen, he's drawn to the weirder side of music, alongside some rhythm and blues. Self taught on the guitar and pretty much everything else, Zappa wasn't constrained by rules. It's a dizzying trip, there's a lot going on in Franks early life. Scoring b-movies, illustrating greetings cards, buying an old studio, seriously don't blink or you'll miss some interesting detail that makes up the fabric of the man. 1965, The Mothers of Invention are born and this is probably the beginning of how most people identify Zappa. He's he's the source at the centre of the band, of everything really. A workaholic perfectionist. Uncompromising and not afraid to go against the grain, piss people off and generally be very demanding. It was a trippy time in California though and there was an audience for Zappa's far out experimentation. An articulate composer creating undefinable music, whilst also keeping an eye on the business side of the industry. Zappa was savvy. Perhaps a control freak, but a capable one. There's a real sense that Frank was the most capable in any room he put himself in. Genius might not be a ridiculous word by any stretch. The centre of the music scene in West Coast America, he's the artist that others want to be and be with. The Stones, Beatles, Clapton, Bowie, Alice Cooper all get a mention... oh and Charles Manson. He's not concerned with success, with hits, just expression. Be it through music, animation, theatre or perhaps most of all, everything together at once. This covers Zappa's dizzying life remarkably well. Never getting too bogged down in any one place and although it's the albums that make him (in)famous, there's a ton of fantastic live footage to enjoy here. If you're not a fan, it probably won't convert you, but I think will give you an appreciation to a genuinely interesting musical icon. A serious man, realistic, artistic, funny, principled and political. Winter has done him justice.

Leave No Trace
(2018)

A real immersive treat.
I'd forgotten why this was on my watch list, but I think it's the director Debra Granik responsible for Winter's Bone that brought me here. There's an outdoorsy feel there, as there is here. Where Winter's Bone is bleak and desaturated from the start. Leave No Trace at least starts with an idyllic feel. Will (Ben Foster) and his daughter Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) live off grid in the wooded forests of Oregon. It's not clear what's brought them here, but they seem content, self sufficient, despite the rain. Something isn't right though... they're hiding and when you hide. Well sooner or later... "We know who you are and what's going on" the arresting officer says. Tom doesn't remember her mother. Doesn't remember anything but her life with her dad in the woods, but now finds herself answering questions about their lives together to social services. It's a stark contrast and the film plays up to that. There's no background score, the sound like the cinematography is sparse, simply, incidental. Minimal dialogue, it feels natural and therefore almost voyeuristic. Will and Tom going through an upheaval that maybe we needn't be privy to. Rehoused, everyone doing what they're supposed to within the system. That should be it right? Acclimatising can be difficult though. Walls, possessions, church, school. Tom takes it in her stride. Will not so much and he struggles with Tom finding some independence. His reluctance to adapt, sets them on a dangerous path and causes a tiny rift between father and daughter that is only ever going to deepen. It's slow and purposeful. A tale of practicality, stubbornness, alienation, consumerism, all with the backdrop of the harsh Pacific Northwest. Films like this have an odd feel. It's not entertainment in the traditional sense. It's not documentary despite its themes and situations being real. Like Nomadland it sits in someplace in between. As we reach further in though the drama increases as the stakes get higher, the pace still slow, begins to grip as the first score I recall drifts in. You need to be patient though. There are a lot of questions, some are answered, but the viewer is expected to immerse themselves and trust that Granik will deliver as much or as little as needed. Foster is great as the disenfranchised loner focused only on their freedom. McKenzie though steals the film. She's fantastic. For such an understated role, it's amazing how much gentle power she conveys. Just as cautious, but she's the open warmth. The light and the beating heart of a remarkably touching film. It really is quite a journey.

Greenland
(2020)

Good dumb fun.
Now let's get this straight, I don't like Gerard Butler. I'm not big on action films either, but they can be fun and I've heard this is. Butler is John, alpha male truck driving construction dude. Not the oily bloke with a spanner and lunch pale, he's the boss, living in well to do suburbia. Well he was until he and Alison (Morena Baccarin) separated. The opening act does all the set up of the new awkward family dynamic with their young son. Dad home for a day, helping with homework while the TV News announces some trivial matter of a comet, that's breaking up into small pieces. Dun dun duuuunnnn. To say it's a little clunky is an understatement and Butler is that improbable balance of both wooden and over the top, basically whatever the scene calls for, he's the opposite. You're gonna have to let it go to enjoy it though and it's worth trying. The same way Independence Day shamelessly dials everything up, so does this. Although it's a bit more Dante's Peak than Independence Day. The music sets to dark and doomy, John and family get secret messages from the government that they've been selected for shelter. Those small pieces of comet aren't gonna be small after all. This is where this film wins. It nails the disaster film tone perfectly. It's an "extinction level event", the lucky few are being flown to safety, but the family gets separated and the race is on in the midst of societal breakdown and the end of the world. There's very little extra fluff. It's focus is the action and John's chance to play hero. Despite the yahoo stuff, I like stories like this. There are a lot of explosions. Every other actor seems to military and the soundtrack will give you a headache, but it's exciting and gripping. The pace is spot on and regardless of the fantastical nature, it feels unusually authentic, this is how Americans react in an emergency. John's in a race to find his family and get to Greenland... that being deemed as the only safe place on earth. It hits every branch on the trope tree. Well meaning people turning into utter child snatching scumbags, racist hicks with hammers, countdowns to the planet killing comet's impact, it's a real emotional rollercoaster and half way through I'm itching to see how it plays out. I mean I already know, it's generic stuff, but it certainly pushes all the right buttons. I well up on more than one occasion and feel the blood pump faster as the action kicks in. I'm torn though. It's shit really. Totally unoriginal, terrible dialogue, generally below par acting right across the board. Over the top intrusive score... but I enjoyed it. Go in expecting very little and I guarantee it'll make you smile. I still don't get why Butler has an acting career though.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind
(1977)

Classic but disappointing.
I've never seen this before. How have I not seen this before? It came out the year I was born and I guess I just slipped through the net. I'm pleased to be filling this cinematic hole though. It starts in the desert with swirling sands and swirling strings accompanying a load of blokes that have found something. That something being a fleet of near new looking planes that went missing 30 years ago, now all neatly parked minus pilots out in a sandstorm. It's the sort of Bermuda Triangle stuff that raises the hairs on the back of your neck and I'm in. A mere 5 minutes and I'm totally sold. So these planes are are on the ground, but there's stuff in the sky, we're just not sure what yet. UFO sightings were still a big thing when I was a kid, the stories always originating in America of course and often from some backwater town, like here, in Muncie Indiana. Where toys and TVs turn on in the middle of the night and young kids chase strange visitors into the darkness as all the lights go out. Enter Roy (Richard Dreyfus) a lineman (you can sing the song if you like, I did), brought in to get the electric grid back after the blackout. Instead he has a, yep Close Encounter. Lights in the sky, power cuts, everything going loco. It's classic cinema. All caught in camera, meticulous attention in building a scene, crafting the tension. It'd be easy to dismiss this as hokey and tropey, but it still packs a punch over 40 years on. Maybe it doesn't have the edge the way it might've in the 70s, but there's still a gripping sci-fi mystery here. Largely because it doesn't concern itself with flashy effects (aside the flashing lights), it focuses on the story. To start with at least. So we've missing planes turning up, UFOs in Indiana and a missing Russian frigate (that's a big boat) dumped in the Gobi Dessert. I like the mystery stuff, but it starts to play second fiddle to Roy's increasing craziness after his sighting and the stresses it puts on his young family. It's really quite disturbing, with a lot of screaming and children crying. Dreyfus does crazy well and small town America loves to gawk. His craziness leads him to Devils Tower, Wyoming. A natural landmark out in the dessert that looks like the perfect landing spot for a spaceship. A fact not lost on the boffins in the sub plot that found the planes and the frigate, along with a catchy tune with some coordinates hidden in it, handy. The boffins find Roy snooping around and quiz him about his encounter. It's Roy who wants answers though. The answers get delayed by some Moonraker style stuff on the mountain, but it's clear that the boffins aren't as clever as they thought and... well I get a little board. It loses some of its energy in the reveal. Although it looks and sounds beautiful throughout and I'll admit the finale is sci-fi gold. It just throws all the suspense away for a sentimental ending. It's Spielberg at the helm, I shouldn't be surprised but this lays it on thick, even for him. A lot of promise, ending with a bit of disappointment, but it's not bad. I just wish I'd seen it as a kid. I might've enjoyed it more.

Singles
(1992)

Time can be cruel.
Singles feels like an episode of Friends, minus the canned laughter and added grunge soundtrack plus lots of silly hats. That's to say we're faced with a cast of 20 somethings navigating the world... or at least Seattle. The hats I can't explain. Linda (Kyra Sedgwick) is single, dances to Pearl Jam. Same for Steve (Campbell Scott, no me neither, looks a bit like Elijah Wood) who likes to talk directly to camera, because it's the 90s and we're trying to be edgy. We go on like this adding to the cast that includes Bridget Fonda, Matt Dillon, Bill Pullman, Eric Stoltz, Paul Giamatti, Chris Cornell and half of Pearl Jam, promising names. I'm sensing disappointment though, largely because half of these are at the start of their careers and are criminally underused. Not Pearl Jam, they're here because they'd already struck gold. I've not watched this before. Maybe it seemed good in '92 but it's aged terribly... like Friends. We do get a nice interlude with Alice in Chains playing a club which is superb and threatens to take over the 10 minute sequence it soundtracks. It's got power and substance (and sounds better than Soundgarden who appear later). The rest of this feels like listless surface fluff. Steve is a traffic planner. Linda is, you know what I've forgotten already but something to do with the environment, but they both like talking, about their feelings, their lives, the songs they love. The music feels like the only glue, with a dizzying amount of needle drops from REM, The Cult, Jane's Addiction, Pixies, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, Smashing Pumpkins. It's clearly trying to be cool. An execs idea of how this 'demographic' behaves. All our singles are looking for love, Janet (Fonda) fancies Cliff (Dillon). Steve fancies Linda yada yada yada, that's about the size of it. It's like When Harry Met Sally, but more muddled, better music and no Billy Crystal, which means despite it trying to be funny in places, it's not. It's awkward and quite annoying. Take the nostalgia away from this and it's pretty thin, but it does have some enjoyable moments, fleeting as they are and it is sweet in a way. It's still pretty terrible though.

Sisters with Transistors
(2020)

Prepare to have your mind blown.
Okay so before we start, can we agree that Sisters with Transistors is a wonderful title. "This is the story of women who hear music in their heads. Of radical sounds where there was once silence. Of dreams enabled by technology". If that doesn't whet your whistle I don't know what will. It's the story of early electronic pioneers, all women. Suzanne Ciani, Clara Lockmore, Delia Darbyshire, Daphne Oram, Eliane Radigue, Bebe Barron, Pauline Oliveros, Maryanne Amacher, Wendy Carlos, Laurie Spiegel. Electronic music is often thought of as a male domain, but this music and the ability to make it on your own, without the need of anyone else, including men set it perfectly for women to express themselves openly when other area of music and society were closed to them. Still, too many of these names are largely unknown. Sisters with Transistors sets out to change that. It's a deep dive into the origins of electronic music. Analogue machines, brought to life with patch wires, switches and flashing lights. The music is warm, open, energetic, unpredictable, but it's as much about women's struggle to be seen in the world as it is to harness their creative potential. It's 90 minutes are packed with fascinating archive footage, the only new elements are voice narration with everyone from Jean Michel Jarre and Holly Herndon to Kim Gordon. It's all very DIY. Delia will run you through the concept of waveforms and tape loops, foley, pitch shifting and how The Blitz influenced her ideas of abstract sound. It's quite incredible, from Oran's Drawn Sound to Radigue's feedback experiments. Spiegel's hole punched computer music and her invention of the first music software on the Apple Mac to Barron's score for Forbidden Planet being credited as 'Electronic Tonalities' instead of music, because the establishment was scared of what was happening and Darbyshire then blowing the doors off the whole damn thing with the Doctor Who theme. I don't like Doctor Who, but my god that score is spine-tingling. Can you imagine sitting in your living room in 1963 and that sound coming from the TV in the corner. There's only one word, Powerful. To which Thurston Moore can attest to with his fingers in his ears as Maryanne Amacher threatens to make them bleed. It's exciting stuff! The Beeb is a common thread that pops up in several of these stories, with the fabled Radiophonic Workshop, a throwback to when the BBC was much braver in its programming choices. But the main thread is these woman are confident. They are the experts in their field and they know it. There's no arrogance to them though, even in the face of the sometimes condescending men interviewing them. It does what any good documentary does in being informative, but it's a journey of these women's lives, of gender inequality, of their ingenuity. "How do you exercise the cannon of classical music of misogyny with two oscillators, a turntable and tape delay" and like any good doc, it's left me wanting to research further. Not least by finding a vinyl copy of Switched On Bach, which sounds like something I need to hear with a bit of authentic crackle. There's not a single mention of seeking commercial success, it's pure art, pure expression. Sit back and let these wonderful musicians transport you.

Kimetsu no Yaiba: Mugen Ressha-Hen
(2020)

Wild
It probably would've helped if I'd seen the TV series that spawned his film. I've had a little background from my clued up daughter, but really I'm going in cold. We're at the cinema though, this is the first film I've seen on a big screen in nearly two years. It needs to be seen on a big screen really, it's all about the spectacle. This is a shame seeing as it's only screening for one day in the UK. The plot. It's pretty straightforward. There are demons, that are bad and demon slayers, that are good. Some young slayers including Tanjiro, his sister who's in a box with a muzzle because she's a demon (but a good one) and a dude wearing a boar mask (I thought he was a boar for a large part of the film) are boarding a train to meet and learn from a Hashira who's some kind of demon slayer master who doesn't blink. He's there though to protect the passengers from a demon on board, who seems styled on one of Tim Burton's fantasies, with a detachable hand with its own mouth that's reminiscent of Thing from the Addams Family. It's very trippy, our heroes attacked in their dreams as they're put to sleep, the demon taking over the train in a weird flubber meets The Abyss tendrils, with millions of eyes that pop out of nowhere. It looks very cool. There is an odd mix of animation styles though, from quite simple flat comic book stuff to scenes with beautiful depth. The fight scenes though of which there are many are where it excels. The pace is blistering, the screen awash with colour as as techno rock score blasts away. It's pretty frenetic and to be honest the story is very simple at its core. It's fun though, but I'm not sure I'll be getting into the TV show. I've already missed three seasons. So it's good guys killing bad guys, moral codes, fighting with honour. I feel like I've missed a lot of the back story, but it still works as a stand-alone film.

Minari
(2020)

Just wonderful
Well you can tell from the opening shots that this is going to be a joy. Beautifully shot, calming score, a nice young Korean family starting a new adventure in 1980s Arkansas. Jacob (Steven Yeun) has a dream to build a farm on the land they've bought, a 'Garden of Eden'. His wife Monica (Yeri Han) is less impressed with the trailer they'll live in and it worried how far from the city they are... and the hospitals, their young son David (Alan S. Kim) has a heart condition. Nevertheless, they've hope and seem sensible, resourceful. God I hope they're okay. It's not fancy, but uses the landscape to paint a picture of idyllic potential. Beautiful sunshine, lush earth, a family learning to enjoy it's freedom. There's tension though, both with David's health and the marriage of his parents. You'd think that maybe the arrival of Monica's mother would add to the simmering unease, but Grandma (Yuh-Jung Youn) is an absolute treasure. David, born in America is reluctant, but Grandma and her Korean traditions wins him over. In many ways it's David and his Grandma that's the central story, but it's a broad tapestry of family dynamics and social interactions. Even with Paul (Will Patton) a crazy Bible enthusiast that helps Jacob on his farm. It's sweet, charming and funny. From Paul carrying his cross on Sundays to David's instance that Soonja isn't a real Grandma because she doesn't bake cookies (but does lift money from the church collection plate). She's the spirit of adventure, a reckless abandon in her very nature. It's exactly what David needs in his life. What they all need. Family is all you need. It's not action packed, but there's real heart and drive to this. That's not easy to capture, but director Lee Issac Chung does superbly. It looks gorgeous too and the acting is fantastic right across the cast. It's not all joyful, but there's a subtlety to even the darker moments and even when things get really bad. It will make you smile, it'll make you cry. Come the end I'm beaming through the tears. It's wonderful. Truly wonderful.

Climax
(2018)

When the party's over.
This starts with our cast, all dancers being interviewed. Their VHS recordings played back on an old CRT TV framed with DVDs and books. It's impossible not to pick out titles like Suspiria, Un Chien Andalou, Possession and books from Kafka, Fritz Lang and Nietzsche and not begin to expect a wild ride. Gaspar Noé is at the helm, so expect the unexpected. To be honest, it's hard to get a handle on to start. The group is large and have a habit of dancing everywhere so you have to keep up. Everyone's getting to know one another at a party after rehearsal. The music loud, the camera moving fluidly through long takes, sweeping around as they drink sangria and complement each other's dance moves. Before it morphs into a series of confessional vignettes, two characters at a time in corners of the room, amplifying the brewing tension, mostly sexual and setting the dynamic of the group. The setting is some abandon theatre space. It's not rundown, but it has character and along with the frenetic choreography and camera work, it's a heady mix. Something is going to go wrong. The first half is a swirling messy set up, punctuated at the half way point by the credits in the now typical Noé graphic style. It's a bit jarring, but works well for what's about to come. The room is reset. The party dwindling. Our dancers exhausted. The tone muted and menacing. The sangria is spiked with LSD, the messy narrative is about to be usurped by murderous nightmarish rampage that spirals far beyond any semblance of control. The one take long shot returns with a devastating sequence that runs unfathomably long, a magnificent piece of hellish choreography in itself, soundtracked by Aphex Twin, M/A/R/R/S, Daft Punk and screaming... a lot of screaming. There's a lot asked of these actors and they all deliver. Totally believable in their debauched craziness. The whole thing is magnificent though, from the obvious to the less so. The lighting crew for instance, bloody phenomenal. I have to be honest though, despite its successes. It's structural mess makes it hard to enjoy and for all the chaos, it's oddly linear. That said, it's certainly one to be seen by anyone who appreciates challenging cinema. It's not my favourite Noé, but it certainly is a wild ride.

Irréversible
(2002)

Devastating.
A film entirely in reverse. Starting with end credits with all the letters back to front, slowly twisting the perspective. This is exactly the sort of film school schtick that got me excited about cinema. It's more than clever execution of a simple device though. It takes art and wraps it in a mysterious dramatic nightmare. Unnerving from the start, with the camera restlessly shifting. Not so much hand held as just hung on a wire and left to swing around in a tornado. Marcus (Vincent Cassel) is lead away on a stretcher from a gay S&M club as Pierre (Albert Dupontel) is cuffed by the cops. There's no Tenet shenanigans thankfully, but what we witness is the conclusion to an event that we're waiting to happen. "Time destroys all things" a naked man says. You certainly have to be careful how you play with it in cinema. Too self indulgent and you'll lose the audience, but director Gaspar Noé keeps this together wonderfully. Marcus is out for revenge, chaotically looking for Le Tenia (Jo Prestia) in a red lit spawling sex dungeon. It's the first in a sequence of violent vignettes that lead us back in time to the brutal origins of this horrendous tale. As we pick up little details along the way, the bigger picture unfurls. It's dark, visceral nightmare fuel with Alex (Monica Belluci) in a catalytic rape scene that's probably one of the hardest things I've ever watched on screen. The frenetic camera work that signifies the chaos to come, now painfully locked static on the horror. It's the devastating first half (that's really the second) that makes the more conventional end (that's really the start) carry so much weight and pack such a punch. It's not an easy watch by any means, but it is brilliant.

Possession
(1981)

Enter at your own risk.
Mark (Sam Neill, a very young Sam Neill) and Anna (Isabelle Adjani) are having marital problems. That's only one part of this crazy rollercoaster, but it's where we start and it's the catalyst for what's to come. Mark is something of an obsessive and when things get frosty with Anna, he starts searching the couples apartment near the wall in Berlin. So far, so standard domestic discomfort. To be honest this side of the story would be enough. Shot in the stark East Germany of the Cold War. The camera lingers and circles around it's subjects as they deliver overblown heavily scripted drama one minute, followed by acts of uncomfortable chaos. Chaos that Neill in particular does very well as he struggles to cope with the separation, but to be fair Adjani is every bit his equal as things quickly come apart at the seams. It's intense. Very very intense. Running much like a play on a sparse stage, it's all about the raw emotion of a family breaking up. Marks inability to accept it, to lose control of his world. But it's increasingly obvious that as Mark is having his issues, Anna's are all the more severe. It's aggressive and violent. Disturbing and confusing. With an excellent supporting cast. Most notable Heinrich (Heinz Bennent) Anna's new pretentious lover... who lives in an amazing apartment and is quite nifty with balletic martial arts. The focus though remains on the increasingly deranged couple at the core. If Possession isn't brilliant in its opening act (it is) whats to come is unexpected and spectacular. Take all the dramatic tension of the first half and dial it all the way up for the second. It's a wild ride with blooded otherworldly creatures writhing on squalid beds, theoretical riddles and Anna's video nasty manifestations. Which is captivating and terrifying to watch. You'd struggle to find more visceral cinema anywhere. The effects truly shocking until like many of the red paint horrors of the era. It's Lynch and Argento rolled into one and I suspect an inspiration to both. There's a lot going on. I know I've missed half of it on one viewing, this is most certainly one to revisit. It's not for everyone I fear with several scenes of pure nightmare fuel, but I'm enthralled and need to find out more about director Andrzej Zulawski and the making of this monster. I'm still a little too confused to declare it a masterpiece worthy of full marks, but even still it's clearly an amazing piece of cinema by any yardstick. Great, but enter at your own risk.

Stowaway
(2021)

Starts well and loses its way.
Yet another space drama. Visually we're in the realms of SpaceX here rather than NASA. Sorry NASA but SpaceX looks cooler... and this does look cool. Three astronauts are off to Mars. It feels remarkably contemporary and kinda everyday in way, almost unremarkable. Although not to Zoe (Anna Kendrick) who is very excited with even the mundanities of her first mission. She's the doctor on board with Marina (Toni Collette) who's in charge and David (Daniel Dae Kim) who gets travel sick on take off. They're a nice bunch and get on well. Good thing seeing they'll be out in space for 2 years. All is well until they discover Michael (Shamier Anderson) hiding behind a panel. Not a surprise of course, it's in the title. His arrival sets in motion a series of events that threaten the crew and tests everyone's moral compass. With damage to the ship, inadequate supplies, it's the classic life raft situation. Other films may add some sinister twist, something to unhinge the narrative, but what's interesting here is there's none of that. The circumstances are a mere accident. No fault, no blame. It's a lesson in calm rational thought and it's really quite engaging because of it. That rational thought is put to the test when they realise the life support is goosed. It gets a bit A-Team, but without the pacy cuts and blow torches. "Keep your cool. Over communicate and take your time. Do not rush." Nothing about this is pacy. It's slow, methodical, but it works for the most part. The production values are spot on and the cast all hit their marks. It boils down to 4 people on board a ship built for 3. Something or someone's gotta give. Full on guilt trip, what would you do stuff. There's some real head scrambling questions posed and it relies heavily on the cast to put some weight into them. That's not to say there's no peril, danger or tension. It's hard to avoid it in space and it makes for some great cinematography. Sadly all the good will it builds, it does give away as the finale plays out rather hackneyed and fizzles out disappointingly. Shame, but it's worth a watch.

Prospect
(2018)

Good DIY Sci-fi
There's something to be said for a gritty sci-fi story. Sure 2001 is beautiful and there's lots of grime in Alien. Prospect is nothing like either. I suspect it's gritty partly due to a DIY aesthetic and a small production budget. You can make stories like this work without money and slick visuals though. A small isolated cast, cut off and isolated in space. Cee (Sophie Thatcher) and her father Damon (Jay Duplass) are in an old crate of a spaceship that looks like it was built by a production dept in the 70s and it performs as such, crash landing on a planet far from where they're supposed to be mining for gems. This is the genius. They're on 'The Green Moon' so instead of desolate red planets, full of dusty mountains, they're in a lush green forest world... and they're not alone. Father and daughter are suited up, helmets, oxygen and all the equipment they need for mining the gems, which is more a process of alchemy than digging. They stand to make a lot of money, but they don't have much time. If they miss the space station, that's their ride gone. That's not the only danger of course. I said they weren't alone. There are other miners, it's like the Wild West in a space forest. One such lawless creature is Ezra (Pedro Pascal), a desperate man who with his mysterious partner threatens to compromise Cee & Damon's mission and lives. It looks gorgeous, with a muted grade, retro tech of analogue switches and the forest environment. It would've sat well in the 70s sci-fi boom. It doesn't mess about either. With Cee finding herself in a battle for survival against all the planet has to throw at her. Hostile natives, deadly toxic atmospheric dust, but in Ezra she finds an unlikely friend. It's not overly original and it's steadily paced, but the characters are likeable, the scenery simple and effective, the plot direct. The two leads work well together. Pascal bringing the aloof cool he delivered in a The Mandalorian. Thatcher conveying the naive unease we feel as strangers on this world. It's does play the action card a little unnecessarily, but I still enjoyed it.

A Glitch in the Matrix
(2021)

How does crap like this get made?
Are we really alive? Is the world real, or are we just batteries for the robots that are controlling our simulated fantasy world? I'll save you the bother of wondering, the answer is no, but some here are keen to at least ask the question. There's no definitive proof of course, just lots of "well how do we know". This is at the geeky fringe of sci fi hypothesis. Citing everything from Philip K. Dick to Elon Musk. I like both these guys, both are genius' in their own right, but you have to draw a line. I'll admit it's fun to speculate and where this sticks closer to the philosophical concepts and debates it's all the stronger. It's harder to connect with Paul Gude, Alex Levene and a host of other talking heads, who are shown as digital AR avatars. Seriously bonkers avatars, from lions, to suspended brains, to god knows what! I've no clue what the purpose of this is or who these people are or what they're hiding from. They seem like people who just don't like the real world or its constraints and would rather imagine something different, anything different. Wrapped up in the simulation theory stuff, we get 'Why are we here?', What's the meaning of life?' and a few half baked religious inflections. They want to believe, desperately so. It's a messy edit. I don't know whether it's intentional to try and mask the holes and patch the vagueness of the arguments being made. Half of which feel like someone explaining the dream they had last night and what they think it means. Sometimes with sad and devastating consequences. If you want to dive into the rabbit hole of simulation theory, I've no doubt there's tons of content out there to devour. Don't start with this though, avoid this in fact. It's utter crap. It's amusing crap though, like watching viral videos of stupid people saying stupid things, but ironically it doesn't do simulation theory any favours. Instead of offering any credence it just pedals conspiracies. I don't think I've heard the word 'Maybe' this many times in a 2 hour window. Absolute drivel.

Ils sont partout
(2016)

Misguided
Yvan (Yvan Attal) is French, atheist and lots of other things as he describes himself to his councillor in the opening scene... including being a Jew. He also wrote and directed this. Being Jewish and not religious, not bound at the heart to Israel, not fluent in Hebrew seems to confuse a baffling amount of people. Yvan finds this and does what many Jews do, which is not hide his jewish identity, but doesn't broadcast it either... until he made this film. Being Jewish bizarrely seems to hold a stigma still in some countries... certainly in France. Anyway Yvan is a remote narrator in this tale. He's talking to his counsellor and their sessions hypothesise on a number of Jewish stereotypes, each depicted by a short vignette. So we get the far right politician and her downtrodden husband who discovers he's Jewish on his grandmother's death bed and starts checking the size of his nose, only to realise he's now got the perfect ammunition to get back at his wife. Then there's the divorced woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg), cursing her ex for being the only poor Jew, making him think there's been a mistake and he can't possibly be Jewish until his dad wins the lottery and everyone starts chasing the money. Conspiracies that Jews only help one another, rule the world etc. The usual antisemitic crap. The problem here is it's supposed to be inventive, insightful satirical and funny... it's not. Not even the time travelling Mossad hitman mistaken for The Messiah on a mission to kill Jesus, that falls in love with Mary. Or the chaos started when a ginger guy annoyed that Jews get sympathy for the Holocaust starts a movement to promote the suffering of redheads. Or a referendum to make France a Jewish state and convert all citizens. I guess the idea is to mock the stereotypes, but because it's so cold and uninspired it really doesn't achieve that. I'd hate to think it fuels further antisemitism. It's thankfully too crap for that, but it's seems like a vanity project that's really missed the target.

Pengin haiwei
(2018)

Penguins!!
Aoyama is a studious young kid, he loves to research things, weird things and with the help of a couple of school friends and his dentist, he finds something very weird. Penguin energy. Onê-san, the dentist can conjure penguins from thin air. She's no idea why, but together they all try to solve the puzzle. On the way they find an idyllic meadow with a large floating orb of water that seems connected and soon realise that everything is linked by some cosmic phenomenon. It looks gorgeous, the water and lighting in the animation are wonderful. The plot although typical Japanese fantasy holds together really well with a good dose of mystery and some cool ET vibes. Plus it's full of penguins! Culminating in a psychedelic stampede finale as the young heroes vow to save the town from the giant orb and jabberwocky's!

Nomadland
(2020)

Full of subtle beauty.
There's quite a fuss being made of this on release, I can see why, it does stand out. It's the sort of dramatic entertainment focused on social struggle that Frances McDormand does so well. She plays Fern. Life is hard for her, living in America's interior with industry failing and her husband passed away. It's slow, purposeful, real. Not a doc but most of the cast are essentially playing themselves, giving this a disarming reality, living in a van, trying to find work... where there's little work. Despite the bleakness, this isn't looking for sympathy. It's a world of open skies and people looking out for each other. People like Fern that are faced with a sense of loss, a life that's no longer there for them. For others though it's more of a choice, recognising that the American Dream is failing and it's up to them to forge ahead, shunning materialism and embracing a tranquil peace. It is a film, there is an arc, but it's also a window. A world that most of us have no clue about. Fern doesn't either, she's learning fast though and we learn with her. How to look after herself, after her van. It's tough. Very raw, very honest and perhaps surprisingly very exciting. The stories that are told, the people Fern meets, it's really humbling and there's an inherent sadness and melancholia. I really can't emphasise enough the positivity in the community though and that's what sticks with you. It feels like these a real friendships being forged, that McDormand and the cast have made real connections. There's a lot of alone time. The camera solely on McDormand, but she's perfect, subtlety commanding every shot. The only other 'actor' aside McDormand, certainly that's easy to spot at least is David Strathairn who plays Dave, not as much a love interest as a positive anchor. One that's sorely needed when things take a tough turn. There is a moral tone, a defiance against corporate America, but it's truly at its core a story filled with wonder and a sense of freedom. Many won't enjoy this, will find it too bleak, too slow. Each to their own, but in my opinion it deserves the praise it's getting.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
(2020)

Hot, tight, brilliant.
All stories are best when you go in cold and I knew nothing about this. Within seconds though we're introduced to some black men running through a forest at night in 1920s Georgia... it's hard not to make some instant assumptions. They're off to a tent to watch Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) sing and boy can she. Clearly from the outset Rainey is a powerhouse, not just the voice but the attitude and as we're transported to a Chicago recording studio, the heat cranks up. She's the 'Mother of the Blues', a big claim. One that requires a big setting and this in its way is a big production. Its world looks fantastic, a perfectly pitch period piece that would make any golden age of Hollywood studio proud. Everyone looks fantastic too, probably none more so than horn player Levee (Chadwick Boseman) who introduces himself to the picture in a whirlwind of confidence. I can't take my eyes off him. Together with his band mates Cutler, Toledo and Slow Drag we get some wonderfully paced scenes in a hot rehearsal room, the players bouncing off one another without playing a note and making it clear that this tight film is based on a play as they put forward their world view whilst pitching in some personal history. I'd probably be happy with this for 90 minutes, but Ma Rainey is in the title and this, despite what Levee has to say, is her show. As great as Boseman is, Davis is a powerhouse and every bit his equal. A dead eye bluntness and confidence that shrivels nearly every other player on screen. Yes there's racial tension, but it's largely addressed by the black characters amongst one another and the stories they tell. It's one one big hot mess power play. Tension palpable between everyone... until the music begins and then, perfect harmony. The music though is bizarrely secondary. Classic tension driving, building and brewing, you know something's going to pop, but even when it does, even with the heat depicted on screen, your skin will prickle with the cold. Really fantastic stuff... and the music is cool too.

His House
(2020)

Not as scary as the reality at its core.
A young Sudanese couple manage to escape from the war ravaging their country and make it to England, but lose something on the way that will follow them wherever they go. It's not exactly a warm welcome, but they're released from a detention centre to a nondescript dilapidated terrace, that wouldn't look out of place in Trainspotting. It's all theirs though, just Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) and Matt Smith who gives them the keys thinks "You two are gonna be alright, as long you can get along, fit in". To be honest you could make a much scarier film just documenting the refugee process. Instead though we have our new residents in a haunted house. The haunting is their own though, brought on by the trauma of their loss or if you want to play along, the spirits they've invoked. Their surroundings are suitably eerie to set the tone. With strange noises in the walls inside the house. Racial tension outside them, all with a heavy dose of jump scares as Bol and Rial find themselves tormented by supernatural visions. There's some fun stuff, scenes that do raise the pulse, but it does feel a bit slow with a thin plot that struggles to hold attention until the next slightly trope laden scary bits. It's a shame as both Mosaku and Dirisu are good. Believable as their collective psychosis takes hold. As we get further in though, there's a real sense that we've seen it all and it's a simple case that things will just get louder and jumpier until the couple pop. Even a little twist that leads us into the final act isn't enough. Ultimately the reality at the base here, is far more terrifying than the standard horror fare it builds upon it. I've not seen anything intercut these themes before though and for that I applaud.

Being a Human Person
(2020)

Fred Scott, thank you x
They say you should never meet your hero's. I'm not exactly meeting Roy Andersson in watching this documentary of course, but there's such mystery in the Swedish auteurs work, that having never before looked at any content other than the films, I'm a little concerned about lifting the veil. Coming to the end of his career, at 76, this feels like the best time to make and enjoy a film about one of my favourite directors though. First of all, it's got to have that sense of detail, of meticulous artistry. Fred Scott, the director here thankfully understands this perfectly. Giving us as much an insightful walk through Andersson's life as an homage to his work. Much of the focus is on the making of what's planned to be Andersson's final film 'About Endlessness'. A real behind the scenes look at how this magnificent film was made, the good side... and the bad. It's astonishing to see that mix of vulnerability shown on screen, with the masterful control behind it. Each scene built in the townhouse studio in which Andersson lives and works. I really can't convey how incredible these sets are, but I'd go so far as to say they're some of the best in cinema and as a collection, probably the best in cinematic history. Whether you like Andersson's work or not, for the love of god watch this. I assure you you'll jaw will be on the floor and a huge smile on your face. The same smile we get from Andersson behind the camera as he sees his visions come to life. That's what his films are about, Life. People and their lives. It's a broad scope, but the way he works, allows him the time and patience to indulge and have control without any interference. Truly inspiring. At same time, this bubble creates its own challenges. For all Andersson's brilliance. It's not a solo endeavour. There's an equally amazing team behind him. Pernilla Sandström, Anders Hellström, Frida Ekström Elmstrand to name the few that share the screen here. These are the people that hold production together when Andersson loses his way. Through a lack of confidence, too much drinking and perhaps in terrifying sadness that this will soon all be over. There is a sadness in his work though. Sometimes masked with humour, but still ever present and the picture he paints here gives some understanding to why that may be. A reaction to early success in the 70s. A stubbornness to kick back at expectation. The origin of his own space at Stockholm's Studio 24. It's an intimate look at Andersson and the world he's created for himself. Not least in regard to his drinking, that sees him struggle with rehab and possibly alienating his team. It creates a volatile dynamic on set that's sometimes painful to watch. Everyone is so damn nice, the work so damn good, it feels wrong for it to be anything but damn good fun! Sets are stressful places though and what's captured is so emotionally visceral. Maybe this is just part of the story, of Andersson's story... it really is fascinating. It's probably better if you're familiar with Andersson's work, but at the same time, maybe this would be an interesting place to start. Andersson at an even more reflecting time in his life. So unsure of himself and the work. A surprisingly emotional ride. It's clear Andersson is driven by the work in the same way he drives it. The two are one and the same. To retire... unthinkable. But at the very least "We should be grateful that art exists". I needn't have been nervous going in. If I loved Roy before. I adore him now.

Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché
(2021)

Think you know Poly?...
I'm reasonably clued up when it comes to the origins of punk. I know Poly Styrene and X-Ray Spex, but only really as fronting a great band. This goes deeper, her story told by Celeste Bell, her daughter. It's very personal with Bell narrating, slowly going through Poly's belongings and history, an impressive archive of her life. Marion Elliot. Brixton. Late 70s. Mixed race, confused in a volatile society fuelled by hatred and the NF. She was a fighter. Proud, defiant, but still with a youthful fragility. If punk was about anything, it was taking a stand and claiming an identity and Poly managed that brilliantly in what's still a almost exclusively male world. Poly was more punk than most, she was clearly having a blast, but it still meant something. A pure DIY ethic. Home made clothes, hand drawn album art. Certainly more punk than half the hangers on that the scene created. It's mostly made up of photos, old footage, lyrics on scraps of paper, all with the occasional respite of Bell looking wistfully over books, trying on clothes, visiting locations that tie the narrative together. There's plenty of music, live clips, easily proving her punk icon status and a roll call of names all singing her praises, Kathleen Hanna, Don Letts, John Cooper Clark, Pauline Black, band members and family. These voices together with Poly (Ruth Negga bringing Poly to life via her diaries) and Celeste make up the backbone and give it a real honesty and authenticity. Sadly it's not in any way as original as Poly, but it's enjoyable and informative. Much in the same way White Riot is about the Rock Against Racism gig that X-Ray Spex played. Poly's story is interesting, both from the band perspective, the music and the person. The vacuousness of fame, fake and plastic, ultimately finding weaknesses that would haunt her. It takes a toll. Thought that she went mad. Diagnosed with schizophrenia instead of bipolar, aged 21. She wound up in a psyche ward, tranquillised. It's really sad, not only for Poly, but for Celeste recounting the feelings of her 4 year old self. Forced to walk away for herself after just 1 record. She recognised what she needed to do to survive. Continuing to write, there was a solo album that didn't do well and Poly was dropped by EMI. A career over, married with a child at 24, looking for an anchor and finding one with the Hare Krishna via a trip to India. An about turn perhaps, but one that worked for a time. There's not much music left behind, but this proves there was a life fully lead. Thrown a myriad of obstacles from that formative racism to the cancer that took her. Remarkable woman.

In Fabric
(2018)

Blimey!!
A film about a haunted dress. A brilliant film about a haunted dress. It may have been released in 2018 but it has all the hallmarks and style of an early 80s indie thriller. Set in that decade, it really is thrilling. A time warp of glitchy TV, bad wallpaper and a synth heavy score. It's not cheap feeling though. This is brilliantly put together. No great surprise from director Peter Strickland, who's Berberian Sound Studio sets a similar disturbing tone. Shelia (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) is divorced. Living with her teenage son, working an unfulfilling job. She's lonely. Answering personal ads in the paper she gets a date. She needs a dress and buys one from Miss Luckmoore (Fatma Mohamed), a smooth, mysterious, poetic sales assistant with an air of something supernatural who works at Dentley & Soper's. A weird store that seems to have a perpetual sale. We're in the realms of Lynch levels of weirdness, with an Argento vibe, which is of course wonderful and it's not long before I'm completely on board. The dating scene is tough, certainly for Sheila. Who only manages to only find deadbeats. That's the least of her problems. She's got her son's bitchy girlfriend living with them, her bloody weird bosses, including the dark comic genius of Julian Barratt and... the haunted dress. The dress seems to be giving Sheila a rash, but top tip, don't put possessed garments in the washing machine! It's a fun, slightly schlocky, dramatic and packed with LSD infused fantasy. The kitchen sink politics of home life, cut with the cult B-Movie of the department store where Sheila shops, run by a group of goth inspired, mannequin loving sexual deviants, really does create a wild ride. It's obvious that Sheila has got herself into something a bit unusual. Fed up with the dress related injuries, she tries to get rid of it. Maybe not the way she thought though. The whole town seems to be being drawn under a spell of the freaky shop or more to the vampiric staff. It's great. Quirky, disturbing, surprisingly funny. Things take a twist as we enter the third act with the dress finding a new reluctant owner, Reg (Leo Bill). I've seriously not a clue where this is all going, which again is brilliant. If you like weird atmospheric cult cinema. This has you covered and then some. Whatever I was expecting, it wasn't this. The sort of film that lives with you... like a vacant dress floating above your bed as you sleep.

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