Saturday, March 31, 2018

A month at the movies #29: Army of Darkness

The future apocalypse ending might be the original one, but the s-mart showdown is still my all-time favourite last scene.

I remain convinced that every film ever made would be better if it ended with ‘Hail to the king, baby’.

Friday, March 30, 2018

A month at the movies #28: Singing in the Rain

There is a revisionist take on Signing In the Rain that could be made these days, where poor Lina Lamont is a star trying to make it in the world of the talking movies, only to be crushed by the cruelty of the masses laughing at her distinctive New York voice, (which really doesn’t sound that bad to modern ears – at least her tones have got a lot more personality than the smooth, dulcet tones of everybody else).

From Lana’s perspective, the main characters in the film are conceited little shits, undermining her life’s work with cheerful sneers and dancing feet.

You could make a movie about that these days, but it would still pale in comparison to the original, because holy cow, these kids could move.

Gene Kelly is one of the great movie dancers of the 20th century, and he and Donald O’Connor throw themselves across the screen with joyful abandon, making it all look so effortless as they glide over chairs and shuffle their feet sideways. Debbie Reynolds keeps up with the boys with great enthusiasm, holding her own in the most energetic scenes. Sixty-six years on, and the movie is still alive with their shenanigans.

I made the mistake of watching La La Land not long after this, and the new guys were pretty smooth, but they didn’t have that raw, powerful and uninhibited energy of their predecessors. Chances are, nobody else ever will.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

A month at the movies #27: Raw

My favourite film of last year was almost certainly Raw, the heart-warming tale of cannibalism at a French veterinary school.

I just really like any film that properly commits to its premise, and doesn’t wimp out when that goes to strange and graphic places. Raw takes a fairly ridiculous idea – a young vegetarian develops a sudden taste for human flesh in her first year away from home – and goes all the fucking way with it, no matter how unpleasant or baffling it gets.

The scene that starts off with the world’s clumsiest Brazilian wax, halfway through the film, and just gets more and more ridiculous and crazy, is so good and so unexpected and goes to places few other film would touch. When so many screenwriters are stuck in the predictability of the bullshit three-act structure, it’s so nice to have a movie that is so unpredictable, and so rewarding.

It’s a cold, grey film that still throbs with spilled blood, and repression breaks out into animal-level murder. It’s not a movie I can see myself watching over and over again, because it is genuinely disturbing at times. But in the sea of blandness that is modern cinema, anything that can get any kind of a reaction – even if it is just nausea – is something to be treasured. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A month at the movies #26: Metropolis

Fritz Lang’s masterpiece has come out in several different versions since it was released nearly a century ago, and I’ve seen three of them, but my heart always belongs to the one I first saw - the one with the pop/synth soundtrack from Giorgio Moroder that came out in the 1980s.

It splashes colour across the screen and cuts up classic scenes, but it’s also got Freddie Mercury, and hits that sweet spot in where an unmistakable masterpiece bashes up against something corny and dopey, and I’m always down for that shit.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A month at the movies #25: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

While he may have finally bagged an Oscar by putting on a fat suit and lumbering around the screen as a grumpy historical figure, Gary Oldman's finest performance in recent years was undoubtedly his George Smiley in 2011's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 

He's so quietly brittle, while still super-sharp. Well-composed at all times and unflappable in moments of stress, with just a hint of the human being inside creeping out in moments of tiny weakness. He's a puppet master who takes no real delight in pulling the strings, he just wants to get the job done.

Still, as good as Oldman is, Alec Guinness' Smiley in Tinker Tailor and Smiley's People in the 70s and 80s is even better - more bumbling and avuncular, but it's all an act, using it to trap his unsuspecting prey who walk right into his schemes.

And there is a moment at the end of Smiley's People that is just devastating, where Smiley has defeated his ultimate enemy, but used the target's love for his daughter to trap him, and in order to do it, Smiley has shut away his own love and affections, and his victory is so stale and it's all there on Guiness' face as he quietly melts down in his moment of triumph.

The moral of this story is - if you really need an actor to sell a 'what have I done?' moment, there was never a finer actor in history than Alec Guinness. But Gary Oldman will do for now.

Monday, March 26, 2018

A month at the movies #24: Annihilation

Haven't seen it.

I do want to check it out, because if you're going to rip off anything, I'll take somebody who is trying to do Andrei Tarkovsky, instead of Michael Bay. But I doubt I'll be doing it anytime soon, and that's entirely because it only got a release through Netflix in this part of the world. The internet is our house is rubbish for reasons no technician has ever been explain to me, and watching anything that is streaming is sheer folly because I'll spend most of the time waiting for it to buffer.

But I'm also just really annoyed that this is the only way to see it here, because it was one of the few films coming out this year that I genuinely wanted to see in the cinema. It looks intense and stylish and all I want to do is see that in a dark room on the biggest screen in town. Not my TV.

When people talk about the experience of going to the cinema these days, it's usually told through the medium of moaning. Rude patrons who won't turn their bloody phones off, projection equipment that is sub-standard, and staff who plainly don't give a shit about any of it.

But I still fucking love going to the cinema. Getting out of the damn house, hearing booming sound systems echoing around a large auditorium, enveloping in the darkness and lack of distractions and the way it forces you to pay some damn attention to what's happening on the big screen. I can feel things about a movie in the theatre that never come up at home, I can have a reaction to the story that is more heartfelt than anything I feel on the couch.

Unfortunately, it feels like going to the cinema doesn't love me back, because there is fuck-all on the list of coming attractions that inspires me to get off that fucking couch. It's all cynical kids' movies, endlessly bland blockbusters and a surprising amount about middle-class and middle aged French people fucking. Anything that looks too intense - the best goddamn thing to see on the big screen - is relegated right out of the theatre.

There were some parts of the world where I could have seen Annihilation in the theatre, but this isn't one of them, and that's one less reason to bother going to the cinema. Maybe I'll catch it on some plane sometime.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

A month at the movies #23: Suspiria

Every time I watch a Dario Argento movie, something awful happens to me. The last time I saw Suspiria, it was at a film festival with Goblin performing live, and I nearly died the next night, and somewhere there I convinced myself those fucking evil witches had actually cursed me...

It doesn't stop me watching his films, because they're all amazing, even the terrible modern efforts. I'm just more prepared for the bad shit afterwards.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

A month at the movies #22: The January Man

I try to find the best in shitty movies, desperate to some redeeming feature and anxious that I haven't just wasted two hours of my fucking life on another dumb horror or stone-face comedy. Even the most odious film can have a line, or a shot, or a plot twist that clicks. It doesn't always make up for the time I've wasted on the bloody thing, but I'll take anything worthwhile. This world is a vast, gaping void of existential dread, I've got to try and fill it with something.

It means I can put up with the unbearable schmaltz of Fincher's Benjamin Button film, because the way it captures the tiny amount of time the characters have when they are finally the same age is fucking stunning; and I can ignore the tedious political maneuvering of Zemeckis' Contact, because the 10 minutes of build-up before Jodie Foster steps out into the universe is extraordinary.

And it means I can get through something as bone-crushingly average as The January Man from 1989. It looks like a failed TV pilot with a strong cast it does nothing with, and has no real style or visual wit. It's got a dumbass serial killer plot that hinges on the murderer following a pattern that can be cracked like a code, which it ignores for plenty of scenes of the main character cooking weird food and chatting up his sister-in-law.

But I still watched the whole thing. It's still starring Kevin Kline, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Susan Sarandon, who are all always good value, and has Alan Rickman floating through the movie as an artist neighbour, clearing there for the Hollywood money, but unable to stop himself from being the most watchable and charming character in the film.

And it's got this dopey climax, where Kline's detective finally catches up with the killer, and they have this long, protracted and clumsy fight down a flight of stairs. It's pretty ridiculous, but has just the right amount of irony, and after years of overkill in every action film, it's pleasantly low key.

It didn't really make up for the time I spent on this movie. But at least I got something out of it. I'll take it.

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.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A day in Twin Peaks

Months and months after it screened, I still feel totally fucking traumatised by the ending of the new Twin Peaks.

It was my own fault - I was genuinely expecting some kind of uplifting ending, that Lynch and Frost and crew were going to buck against the unprecedented level of fear and loathing in modern society and end with something hopeful. And when Cooper came out of his Dougie Jones coma and immediately took charge, it really felt like everything was going to be all right.

Then the last two episodes started to undermine that, with the big defeat of the evil Bob undercut by both the absurdity of the magic super-strong glove, and Cooper's blank face superimposed over the resolution.

And then Cooper over-reaches, and while he does do some good by stopping Bob and his doppelganger, he tries to save Laura and he's gone too far.

So in those last moments, with Cooper lost and befuddled, and Laura screaming, and the fucking house lights going out, it was a sharp dose of utter horror and futility that still scratches away at the back of the mind, and a breathtakingly ballsy way to end the story.

Some brave souls have attempted to explain those last few seconds as something good and pure, where ultimate evil is defeated by the detention of Laura's soul or something, but that's a reach. It's a perfectly valid way of interpreting the ending, but it's still wrong.

Because there is nothing good happening here. There is no hope, no optimism, no love, no redemption, no closure and no happy possibilities here, just the never-ending scream of a murdered woman trapped in an eternal, timeless nightmare.

It was always going to end this way, no matter how much it looked like things would work out. We were always going to this hell. If I'd faced up to this sooner, maybe that ending might not have been so gorgeously traumatising.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A month at the movies #13: Raising Arizona

In the past week I've seen the helicopter attack in Apocalypse Now three times, and the big shoot-out in Heat twice, because they've both popped up when I was browsing through the movie channels, and I can never, ever restrain myself from watching those whole sequences all the way through. If I'm lucky, I might be able to tear myself away at the end of the scenes, and not watch the films all the way through, but there are no guarantees. (If any Mad Max film or the Michael Mann version of Last of the Mohicans appears, I always end up watching the whole thing.)

The absolute worst scene for this is the first 11 minutes of Raising Arizona, which I always, always have to watch. I was late for a job interview once because I got stuck watching that opening scene and I don't think I got that job and it was still totally worth it.

It's just such a perfect sequence, front-loading a tonne of story information in the most ridiculously entertaining and vibrant way, with more than a dozen all-time great movie lines - I think about 'her insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase' every goddamn day.

It covers a whole saga of backstory that could be a movie in itself, and the rest of the film is really a sequel. It means that Cage can muck around with those darn babies for ages in the next part and it's actually nice to catch your breath after that exhilarating rush of an opening.

Picking a favourite Coen brothers film is fucking hard, because while they share themes and motifs and all that shit, they're all so different. But if you put a gun to my head, I'd say Raising Arizona, and it's all because of this opening. Okay then.

Monday, March 12, 2018

A month at the movies #12: Man On Fire

We lost Tony Scott a few years ago now and that loss is really starting to bite now, because while watching Man On Fire for the 12th time recently, it became obvious there is nobody else like him left in the modern film industry.

Man On Fire has a totally generic story of revenge, but is a fucking bazooka of a film. A lot of this is, admittedly, due to Denzel Washington once again giving Scott one of his electrifying performances, but it's also largely due to Scott's omnipresent approach to film-making and his willingness to throw in any cinematic trick he can think of to jazz up the story, and give this hoary cliche of a plot a new kick.

This overdose of pure, undiluted style is a signature of Scott's films, it was there in The Hunger, and it was there is every other film he made over the next 30 years. Even when it got overwhelming - and it could, with things like Domino almost choking on a desperate hunt for intensity - it was never, ever boring.

And for somebody who could get so experimental with his movies, he was unashamedly making mass-market entertainment, designed for the absolutely widest audience possible. He shoved a spike into the zeitgeist with Top Gun and was always taking on projects that were made for everybody, not just film-literate snobs or stoned teenagers with short attention spans.

But this is where his loss is really felt, because there isn't any other young filmmakers coming through who have the same drives that Tony Scott had. There are plenty of directors trying to be Scorsese or Coppola or Fincher, and literally dozens trying to be Spielberg. There are several directors who are following big brother Ridley's examples, and there are even some mad souls trying to be the next DePalma (a lesson in futility, because there is only one DePalma).

But there is nobody like Tony Scott anymore. He never really got the respect that his brother had, but he was a unique director, who can never be replaced.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

A month at the movies #11: Star Wars - The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi is the best Star Wars film, and not because it's full of epic moments and some decent attempts to do something new with the Skywalker saga. It's the best Star Wars film because it's the only Star Wars film to feature Adrian Edmondson as a bad guy.

It's actually fairly unsurprising that Vyvyan would grow up to be a space Nazi, because that kind of mindless anarchy inevitably leads to fascism, but he's fucking fantastic in the role. There is one moment where his character is in the shit, and he just smirks awkwardly and cluelessly, because his entire military career has been built on the power of a good smirk, and it's hand-down the best piece of physical acting – outside Tom Hardy's amazing emoting eyes – that I've seen in the past year. Big jobs!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

A Month at the Movies #10: The Founder

Many movies start with an unsympathetic character who slowly becomes somebody you can identify with, but films about successful businessmen always go in the other direction. You're always rooting for the plucky little guy at the start, just trying to catch a break, and all the sympathy drains away as they become dead-eyed and greedy.

The Founder certainly fits that mold, with Michael Keaton struggling to sell his shitty milkshake machines before crossing paths with the McDonald brothers, and going on to create the world-wide behemoth of a fast-food corporation seen today. It's easy to share his frustration at all the impediments on his road to success in the early stages, but by the end he's stealing the wife of a business partner and making handshake deals he knows he's never going to fulfill, and who gives a damn about that guy?

The longer the film goes on, the more sympathy there is for the McDonald brothers, who have things like personal ethics and a pride in their work. There may be a great movie to be made purely from their perspective, especially when they're played by the brilliant John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman, like they are here, but they're just a side-note in this story of a decent man turning into another corporate dickhead.

Friday, March 9, 2018

A month at the movies #9: The Rules Of The Game

My wife was in another room of the house while I was watching this classic French film recently, and had to tell me to calm down because I kept yelling out 'fucking bourgeois scum!' as I watched it.

I couldn't help it, because they really are fucking bourgeois scum. The fatalism in Jean Renoir's film is heavy in every frame, especially when it's made in 1939 and the Nazis are definitely coming, but the cruel cluelessness of the fools in this story still enrages.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

A month at the movies #8: The Apartment

The Apartment is 58 years old, but is just as fresh and biting as it ever was, and has a strikingly relevant message for a 21st century audience about the image we all project.

The main characters in this film are, on the surface, freakishly adorable. They wear sharp clothes and spit out sharper banter, they live in New York at the height of the American empire, and they have all sorts of endearing quirks - the way Shirley MacLaine spins her wrist every time she goes to push the elevator button is infinitely charming.

But behind that cheery facade, they're dealing with real issues, lost in the modern world and just struggling to get by. They're misunderstood and rejected, and just holding onto everything by their fingertips. They're lost and alone, dealing with depression and despair, silently screaming into the aching void and wondering why nobody can hear them.

But it's not all dark and grim, as long as you make some kind of proper human connection, and our heroes in The Apartment do find someone who really understands them. Someone who gets them, someone who makes life just a little bit more bearable, someone they can play cards with.

There was no such thing as social media in 1960, but so many of us would recognise the same drive to look sharp and smart, while never really talking about any underlying problems. We use Facebook and Twitter and Instagram to connect with other people, but most of the time we're just trying to show everybody how windswept and interesting our lives are, no matter how shitty things really are. Behind the grinning profile photo is a human being, just struggling to get through the goddamn day.

There is nothing wrong with maintaining an image of cool, but there is so much more to human relationships than that, and people can not live up to their own facade. We need more than that, and sometimes we just need is somebody who understands us, and can let us know without having to actually have to say it out loud. Just shut up and deal.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A month at the movies #7: Constantine

I could live with Keanu Reeves as the very British John Constantine, and I could even handle the part where Constantine starts blasting the demon scum away with his magic holy shotgun.

But 13 years after it came out, I still can't forgive that ending, where Constantine - having literally faced his demons to cure himself of a very nasty cancer – gets out a stick of gum and starts chewing away, because he has learned a Very Important Lesson about smoking and stuff.

It just so totally misunderstands the character, and is a deep misinterpretation of the scene from Garth Ennis and Will Simpson's Dangerous Habits comic story, which so much of the movie ripped off. In the comic, Constantine lights up another smoke, even after the cancer, because he's cocky and confident enough that if he gets cancer again, he'll just cheat the devil again to sort it out again. Easy. It's what he does, it's what he is.

John Constantine doesn't chew gum, he smokes his life away and then runs away from hell. If you don't get that, you don't get the character, and why the hell are you bothering?

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

A month at the movies #6: Dunkirk

Tom Hardy is a phenomenal acting talent. He has a formidable physical presence, can contribute a deeply impressive vocal performance and has the dreamiest eyes in modern cinema.

Those eyes often get put to good use, with several roles that have required him to cover up most of his face. Christopher Nolan knows this better than anybody, and after using Hardy to give the Bane character an actual personality in one of his Batman films, he slaps another mask over those gorgeous features for most of Dunkirk.

And Hardy still manages to sell one of the film's best moments, when all he's got to work with is a close-up of that masked face. It's when his Spitfire pilot finally reaches the point of no return, and has to turn back if he's going to save his plane, even though it will undoubtedly cost the lives of some of the desperate men down below.

It's fucking magnificent - he goes through a full range of emotions in the few seconds he has to consider his dilemma, from uncertainty to worry to full-on fear, and then, without a word, you can see the exact moment he makes his decision. There is no more second guessing, no more fear, and he just gets on with the job. There is no use worrying about it anymore, once that decision has been made, and his eyes turn to steel as he soldiers on.

One of the best things about Dunkirk is that so much of the cast are really bloody young, reflecting the actual ages of the poor bastards who were trapped on that endless beach. But nobody else could have done what Tom Hardy does in that brief moment, where his eyes do all the talking.

Monday, March 5, 2018

A month at the movies #5: Five Savage Men

Henry Silva spends this entire movie looking really confused about things. Either he's in character and can't figure out why he keeps trying to do the right thing when all these crazy fucking white people keep shooting at him, or he's just being Henry Silva and can't figure out why an actor of Sicilian and Spanish descent is playing a Native American.

Either way, he's got great hair.

He's not the main focus in this movie, also known as The Animals. It's a standard rape/revenge film, with Michele Carey being tormented by the five title scumbags in a disturbingly POV-heavy rape scene, before being nursed back to health by Silva's noble brave.

It takes a while for her to recover and get her strength back, but once she does, the movie doesn't fuck about with the revenge part. After a couple of lines of dialogue settling out where the bandits are all scattering to, she slaughters them without hesitation or mercy. There is no discussion of plans, or motives, or logistics, Michele just shows up out of the harsh desert and blows their bones away.

As it was in the wild west, so it is in Hollywood today. Don't mess with the ladies, or they'll blow your fucking balls off.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

A month at the movies #4: Yojimbo

There is a moment about three quarters into Yojimbo, where Sanjuro has been badly beaten by gang scum, but has got away. The big man is severely injured and one of his pathetic rescuers wonders if he's going to make it, and Sanjuro just sneers at the fool and tells them he's not dying yet. He still has to kill quite a few men.

This scene has been ripped off in literally thousands of films in the past half century, and none of them are as cool as the original.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

A month at the movies #3: I'll Sleep When I'm Dead

The lovely wife saw this film not long after it came out in the mid-2000s, and even though I didn't see it again until very recently, there was one important lesson that we both learned from this movie and never forgot. One lesson that has stuck with us, more than a decade later.

The lesson is this - don't deal drugs, or Malcolm McDowell will come and have sex with you.It doesn't matter who you are, he'll come for you.

And we're not talking about the cute, cherubic Malcolm McDowell of A Clockwork Orange and If... - that might be quite lovely. No, we're talking, old, grizzled, crew-cutted 'I killed Captain fucking Kirk' Malcolm McDowell. Remember how genuinely unsettling he was when he showed up in The Player, or his mad Loomis in the Halloween remakes? It's that Malcolm.

Nobody wants that. Just say no, kids.

Friday, March 2, 2018

A month at the movies #2: Go Tell The Spartans

A weird in-between film about the Vietnam War, Go Tell The Spartans dabbles in the 'war is hell, man' themes of later movies about the conflict, while still occasionally slipping into the 'good v evil' simplicity of an old war film.

There is a suspicious amount of 1970s hairstyles going on, but it's hard to believe this was being made at the same time as movies like the Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now, with a story lacking in arch complexity and some mad attempt at poetic grace - a lot of the film takes place in jungle offices.

But it ain't no Green Berets either, and that lack of poetry means its message isn't blunted. The film asks some legitimate questions about what the hell the US is doing there, and makes no secret of the cruelty and futility of it all. And then it ends with a goddamn Hollywood legend lying dead and naked in the mud.

War is hell, man.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

A month at the movies #1: The Adventures of Robin Hood

As one of the last people on the planet who still loves pay television over streaming, and as somebody who is desperately searching for any kind of escapism in this awful year, I've spent a lot of time recently watching all sorts of movies. I've been watching shitty modern horrors, dopey old romantic comedies and harrowing factual documentaries. I've been catching up on films I saw once in 1996 in the cinema, and blockbuster films that came out a couple of months ago that I didn't bother going to see at all.

I've also been catching up on a lot of classic stuff - movies that books and magazines and essays have been telling me for years are dead-set classics, but I'd never got around to them, for some reason or another. There's just so many great movies out there from the past 120 years of cinema, it can take a while to even get to the greats.

In the case of The Adventures of Robin Hood, it was probably the tights that held me back. No matter how many times I was told it was an absolute foundation stone in the history of the action film, I just couldn't get past the cheesiness of the 1938 movie. All that laughing, all that derring-do, and all those bright green tights.

Fortunately, my taste for cheese has only grown over the years, and I'm far less bothered by camp than I ever was as a serious young movie watcher. I even think those tights look bloody spunky. So it was an easy sell to finally fill that gap.

And it turned out they were right. All those smartarses over all those years, telling me I was a fucking idiot for having missed the greatest Robin Hood film ever, they were totally right, because this movie was bloody amazing.

It's 80 years old and it still moves like blazes, powering through its plot and ricocheting from location to location. It doesn't mess around and there isn't a wasted second. It has some terrifically impressive sets, deeply weird use of shadow and light, and the costume work is far, far more than just green tights. Olivia de Havilland is gorgeous and brave, and Basil Rathbone is ruthless and unstoppable.

It is incredibly cheesy, especially in this far-flung world of 2018, but that just makes it timelessly charming, with Errol Flynn laughing away as he happily murders a bunch of poor henchmen with blade and arrow. This Robin Hood might not have the scowl of later versions, but he's far ballsier, striding into his enemy's lair without fear or real subterfuge, letting all these arseholes know that Robin Hood and his Merry Men ain't taking any more shit from them anymore.

And when the the action kicks in, it's next level stuff. Flynn is bounding and flying about all over the place, and when the sword-fights start, its all on. There are a flurry of blades, and super-fast thrusts and parries. There is no CGI augmentation or cheating - although the film stock is sped up very slightly during the most intense of action - it's just Hood and his crew, fucking going for it.

I've got a bunch of other classic films still lined up to watch, and I have little doubt that they also will turn out to be as good as everybody has been telling me. I have even less doubts that none of them will feature anybody as baller as the greatest Robin Hood of them all.