Friday, March 23, 2018

A month at the movies #21: Logan

The last Wolverine film (until the next one) takes place in a brutal and uncaring near-future, and shows just how brutal it can be in the first few minutes, when Logan pops the claws and starts stabbing some poor bastards in the head when they shoot him and try to steal his ride.

It's impressively nasty, but that leaves the movie with nowhere else to go when it comes to violent action, and every scene that follows features the same kind of action, over and over. Eventually, it all ends with Logan running through a forest, shrugging off gunshots and stabbing some poor fuckers in the face, which is what he has been doing in these X-films for a long time.

Even with the addition of a nasty doppelganger, there is no escalation and no anticipation. It all becomes a bit of a slog.

Action films need to be properly paced - you can't just blow your wad at the start. You need to build things up, and you need to have some kind of pay-off. If it's all the same tone, it's a boring-ass song.

Even films with some phenomenal individual action scenes can become blase -  John Wick 2 has all sorts of crazy fighting and gunplay going on, but nothing really matches the opening scene and its car-fu craziness. Fatigue sets in somewhere around the time Mr Wick is fucking about in the tunnels under Rome, and it never really recovers.

The action choreography in Logan isn't anything like the balls-out efforts of John Wick, and doesn't have much idea of what to do with the claws, once they're out.

Weirdly, one of the main source materials for the Logan script - Mark Millar and Steve McNiven's Old Man Logan comic - does actually have some great pacing going on. While it's as typically nasty and weightless as most of Millar's comics (and I say that as somebody who loves Millar's work), one of the main points of that comic is that Logan won't use his claws, no matter how much he is beaten down. But when he is pushed too far, the claws come out in a gloriously over-the-top two-page sound effect, and the story goes into a higher gear for its gratuitous climax, in a way the movie never does.

The Logan of the recent film doesn't have anything like that kind of release, it's just face-stabbing from the start. While the film-makers could argue that the emotional stakes of the ending add to the intensity, it's nothing worth going feral over.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Another day in Twin Peaks

Yeah, okay, so the new Twin Peaks ended on a note of despair and loss unparalleled in modern fiction, but it wasn't all awful, and while the moments of lightness made that ending all the darker, they still shine individually.

Candie - a minor character who only has about a dozen lines in the whole 19 episodes and is played by the magnificent Amy Shiels - shines brighter than most. Sometimes she sounds like she's spouting nonsense, sometimes she's making a super sharp observation, sometimes she's off talking about air conditioning for five minutes, and sometimes she's hitting somebody in the face with a TV remote while trying to swat a fly (a statement on the medium from Lynch that is about as subtle as the smashing screen which started Fire Walk With Me).

It's not that she's dumb or stupid or anything, Candie is somebody who is on another level to everybody else in the story (except maybe Dougie Jones at his most blank). She's having a conversation that nobody else can really hear, and lighting up the screen while she's doing it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A month at the movies #20: Red Cliff

Even after watching the full five hour version of this film, I couldn't figure out why the hell all these people are fighting each other for, but the scene where the good guys gather up all the enemy arrows is still dope as fuck.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A month at the movies #19: Inherent Vice

Some people swear that The Master is Paul Thomas Anderson's best film, others claim that he peaked with Boogie Nights, while many maintain - with good cause - that There Will Be Blood is the best. But I'm all about the Inherent Vice.

This view is, undoubtedly, majorly influenced by the fact that the lovely wife and I saw it in a Seattle cinema during a long cruise up the west coast of America, but I do genuinely think it's a great and somewhat under-rated entry in Anderson's filmography, with the director at the height of his abilities.

It's so cruisy, it's almost dragging its ass on the ground and I'm still not entirely sure what it's all about, but that free-wheeling nature is addictive, with a stoned, paranoiac vibe that papers over most of the cracks. It doesn't matter who the fuck the Golden Fang really is, or why Bigfoot eats all the dope, it's the journey that matters, not the destination. And Anderson makes it look effortless, like making this kind of film is a breeze.

It's also got a perfect cast - Joaquin Phoenix was born to play Doc, Josh Brolin is a fucking nightmare and Katherine Waterston is a vision of ethereal untouchability. There is a typically groovy soundtrack and there are small doses of gritty reality, right down to the filthiness of Doc's feet.

I also don't know what the hell Martin Short is doing, but I could watch a whole movie of him driving around the city while under the influence.

I do have a vague, half-arsed theory that this movie is the Velvet Underground of Anderson's offerings - it isn't the most-admired of his films, but those who do love it find it massively influential and inspiring. Mind you, I literally wrote a 100,000-word novel that was 100 percent inspired by the scene where Michelle Sinclair shows up in Doc's office, so I was probably always going to say that.

Monday, March 19, 2018

A month at the movies #18: The Thomas Crown Affair

A friend of mine used to work as an entertainment reporter for a big British newspaper and I once asked her who the dumbest celebrity she ever interviewed was. She didn't hesitate, and said that while he was pretty charming and devastatingly handsome, she had met cats and dogs that were smarter than Pierce Brosnan.

I wish she hadn't told me that, because it destroyed this film. I can't take him seriously as a brilliant business mastermind who commits the ultimate high stakes robbery and con job, just because he can. All those looks of smouldering intent as Crown studies some of the great art of our time, or his steely determination in the boardroom, and he's probably thinking about what he's having for lunch.

I'm still totally down Rene Russo as the investigator who tracks him down, because Rene Russo always, always looks like she's the smartest person in the room. It makes it harder to think she's outfoxed by Brosnan's Crown throughout the film, because she should be able to clock him with ease.

It's easy to still buy Brosnan's Bond, because James Bond should always be a bit of a brutal thug - a brilliant lateral thinker, but not one for decent small talk. Thomas Crown is supposed to be one of the smartest guys on the planet, and I just can't see it anymore.

(The lovely wife also worked in entertainment journalism for a while and she always maintained that the smartest guy she ever interviewed was Bryan Cranston, which should come as a surprise to nobody and only makes his Hal or Heisenberg even better.)

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A month at the movies #17: Frankenweenie

Tim Burton's idea of creepy hasn't changed much since the first time he made Frankenweenie as a short film in the early eighties - sinister little kids with crooked teeth and big, dead eyes; vintage horror monsters from the movies he loved as a kid; lots and lots of dark shadows.

But the creepiest thing in the full -length version of this story, released a couple of years ago, is hearing the unmistakable voice of a fully grown-up Winona Ryder coming from a girl who is younger than her character in Beetlejuice. Ryder still has a fantastic voice, but it's the voice of a grown-ass woman in her forties, and while many animated films use adults as voice talent for children, it's a little unsettling hearing her play a character she outgrew a long time ago.

Burton definitely has a type when it comes to his female characters, and Winona Ryder will always be the perfect actress to play that character, but she ain't no kid anymore.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A month at the movies #16: The Death of Stalin

I wouldn't have lasted five fucking minutes in the Soviet Union, because my entire life is a case of unauthorised narcissism.

Friday, March 16, 2018

A month at the movies #15: Army Of One

Usually, I'm all for Nicholas Cage completely losing his shit for a movie - I've seen Vampire's Kiss, like, twice in the past 20 years - and he's enlivened many films by giving them more schtick than they deserve.

But this... This was too much damn Cage, and I only lasted 15 minutes before it got too much. It's nice to know there is an actual limit.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

A month at the movies #14: Sin City

Whenever I can't sleep, and find myself unexpectedly wide awake in the small hours of the morning, I like to watch the Sin City movies.

It's nothing to do with the actual stories - the plots of the two films are so big and simple I can follow those with my dumb reptile brain and don't need to use any real thought, so that's not why I like watching them in the night.

It's the way they're made, and the way they're so gloriously hollow. Filming entirely on green screen, with no location work, gives the films the hyper-stylized atmosphere Robert Rodriguez was going for, but also makes everything feel artificial and unreal and incredibly calming.

And it's not just the visuals. Even with the unending voice-overs, constant droning music and the sound of some poor schmuck getting his face pounded into hamburger, there is this dead sound behind everything. No ambient noises of the night or the city, just the kind of nothing you hear in the dead hours.

I find it very relaxing. The movies are not much more than an experiment in style, and it's an experiment that doesn't always work, but there is nothing more I like to have on in the background as I try to get through another long, cold night.