28 Days Later… (2002)

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Ferocious. Shot on pre-HD DV and all the better for it. Boyle goes for the jugular and tears it the fuck out. Even the third-act, which always felt disjointed and at odds with the other two on previous watches (though still effective in isolation, the “In the house/In a Heartbeat” sequence is an all timer), really clicked into place this time around. Boyle’s lack of respect/awareness for Romero and zombie conventions combined with Garland’s total respect for the two results in a film that is unbeholden to expectations and therefore free to scorch its own earth. Less a horror film and more an exercise in non-stop terror. Bleak, sharp in the tooth and oh so relentless. The drop of blood dripping into Brendan Gleason’s eyeball and the high-frame rate infected get me every time. FUCK ME UP, DANNY.

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Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

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Even as a big Danny Boyle fan and someone who gave this five stars once upon a time, I can admit that Slumdog Millionaireisn’t aging well. Still, its total immersion in the textures and vibrancy of India – with all the beauty and horrors intact/heightened/manipulated – make it aesthetically electric. The music, visuals and sense of movement still get my heart racing. It’s also refreshing to not have to watch a bunch of white dudes dominate the screen. It might not be Satyajit Ray, but it is unmistakably cinema.

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Trance (2013)

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I can certainly understand why many find Trance underwhelming but there’s something about Danny Boyle’s presentation I find infectious. The audio/visual experience is far more interesting than the plot, characters and dialogue. Boyle has become increasingly haywire with every film he makes and everything here is pushed to extremes – pulsating, distorting and unwinding. It’s a film that tries to burrow deep into the audiences consciousness, using dream logic to justify every creative decision (locations, sound design, lenses, cutting) and is proudly billed as Boyle’s tribute to Nicolas Roeg. I like McAvoy’s desire to go dark and Boyle’s desire to pin a movie on a female protagonist for a change. The results are mixed, ofcourse, but at least the film works in its primary modes. When it’s violent, it’s violent and when it’s sexy, it’s sexy. Where else are you going to see McAvoy have a conversation with half of Vincent Cassell’s head? Also, probably, the best showcase of Rosario Dawson’s talents to date*. There are images in here I never forget.

*that’s not an allusion to Dawson’s nude scene but yes, damn, that too. McAvoy’s ass aint no slouch either.

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Jerry Maguire (1996)

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I love this movie. I don’t care. Cameron Crowe’s ultimate deconstruction of the rom-com. Beginning where most movies would end (character has a moral epiphany), Jerry Maguire instead punishes its title character for even daring to step outside of the box designated to him. It freewheels through all the tired rom-com tropes which would conventionally offer the main characters happiness, then brazenly digs into the consequences of those tropes. What if the lead didn’t really love the romantic interest? What if he was just a coward afraid of being alone? It’s as if Crowe just can’t let go of his characters, he needs to see things through to the end. I mean, Jerry marries Dorothy halfway through the movie and the film deals with the kind of impulsive, lightning bolt marriage that movies have taught us to see as genuine acts of love, but shows us how stupid and irresponsible they really are.

Everyone is shaded in, you understand who all these people are and where they’re coming from. It’s deconstructive and mapped out like a David Lean movie, but it still glows with a saccharine optimism and delivers a form of escapism only movies can offer. I know this film’s popularity has made it a bit of a laughing stock or a joke, but it is genuinely one of the most complex and unusual films of its kind; both totally conventional and utterly unconventional, carried along by a performance that only Tom Cruise could pull of. You either vibe with Cameron Crowe or you don’t. Yes he makes schmaltz, but he makes the best schmaltz. SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!!

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The Church (1989)

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Dumb and moronic in the way a lot of late-period Argento movies are (he co-wrote this) but the dark fantasy and practical-effects imagery make any groans tolerable. It’s interesting that this as originally inteded to be Demons 3. As a fan of both Demons movies I can say that the concept for this is much stronger as a stand-alone picture. Asia Argento is one of my favourite horror heroines and even here, at 14 years old, she’s a badass screen presence. Setting the action almost exclusively in a gothic church lends the film an excellent backdrop too and places it in a weird, timeless vacuum. As soon as the characters venture outside, the modern backdrops are jarring but in a good way. It’s not a film that will stick with me, but there are images and effects that will.

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Rocky Balboa (2006)

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Sylvester Stallone’s performance as Rocky Balboa across seven movies/forty years is one of my favourite things in movies. His emotional breakdowns in this one absolutely floor me. Also Stallone’s best script since the original Rocky. The ache, the pain, the desire to prove himself is all present and accounted for. He gives an honest-to-god performance here. It’s hammy and contrived in ways the series has always been, but by being anchored to a genuinely heartfelt story all the silliness feels more like a comfort than a hindrance. An almost-perfect bookend to Stallone’s Rocky legacy that is somehow even more impacting in light of Coogler’s Creed.

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The Hired Hand (1971)

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Peter Fonda used his Easy Rider cred to make this, a woozy and poetic western that forgoes the grit and violence of the day to tell a human story that’s more about heartbreak than gunshots.

Shot by the great Vilmos Zsigmond and edited by Performance editor Frank Mazzola, the first thing that strikes you about The Hired Hand is its expressionistic style. Fonda utilises extended dissolves to transition from one image to another and lets the twang of Bruce Langhorn’s guitar do most of the talking, often cutting overlapping images to long stretches of his music like some sort of country-western pop video. All this, combined with Zsigmond’s soft, dusty photography, results in some pretty extraordinary pictures.

It’s unmistakably a 70s movie in the way it feels experimental with mainstream ingredients. Not only have you got Fonda directing and starring, but also Warren Oates, an actor whose face and cadence defines the 70s ethos more than most. On the other hand, the mournful tone and softer male characters make The Hired Hand feel like a weird anomaly among other 70s westerns. Fonda and Oates both subvert their masculine image to play characters who are trying to live up to theirs.

Fonda is curiously feminine here, playing a wounded man dealing with his wife, played by Verna Bloom, being unfaithful while he was away. But her infidelity isn’t treated as a betrayal, it’s more complex than that. The film explores her decisions and actually challenges the idea that a woman must be forever committed to one man, despite him being believed to be dead for many years. The film’s stand out scenes feature Bloom facing down her male co-stars, explaining a woman has needs just like a man does and proudly standing behind her actions, refusing to be judged for them. It’s about men who need the warmth of a woman to feel alive, and how that gives the women of this world all the power despite appearances portraying the opposite.

The film unfolds more like a mosaic or a tone-poem rather than a traditional western, and any semblance of plot is slight. When violence does erupt it’s over fast and usually followed by more montages and guitar strumming. As far as comparisons go Fonda’s film has more in common with lyrical character studies like McCabe & Mrs Miller or The Assassination of Jesse James than The Wild Bunch. The film creates a soulful ambience that marries both the realist and mythic tropes of the western genre in a very unique way. The open-wound performances are all stellar and those cross-dissolves will leave you swooning for days. The Hired Hand is an unusual film that may have faded into obscurity somewhat, but is nevertheless stylistically and thematically fascinating.

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