Suspiria (2018)

A completely different beast to the original Suspiria but a beast all the same. Some major horror moments here that are legit nasty and upsetting, some of which I’ve never seen the likes of before. It’s a cruel world, full of screaming, skin and (broken) bones.

Guadagnino’s fingerprints are all over this thing as much as Argento’s were the original. His disorientating editing patterns, paired with the gorgeous stately compositions and full-tilt nightmare imagery truly fucked me up. And Thom Yorke’s score? Best of the year. It’s exhilarating to see a vision of horror mounted on a canvas this grand and grotesque. Loved most of the creative choices in how they adapted Argento’s movie (of which, like everyone, I am a rabid fan) but I can totally understand why this is proving to be divisive. The added length and political backdrop worked for me, but I get why so many find them arbitrary.

I thought Dakota Johnson, Mia Goth and Swinton were all extraordinary. Loved how Susie’s hair is often the lone ember of colour in many scenes – a subtle flickering flame which eventually becomes a pagan bonfire in the outrageous finale. This is Guadagnino’s danse macabre and I loved every deranged minute of it. Sometimes you’ve just gotta go and paint the walls red.

Watched at the Leeds International Film Festival

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Possum (2018)

Matthew Holness’ debut is a disquieting character study anchored by a remarkable performance by Sean Harris. As Philip, Harris is something of a shellshocked stray cat, lumbering around like Frankenstein’s monster clinging to a bulging leather satchel which contains…well that would be spoiling it. Possum is a British horror movie in the kitchen sink-gothic mould. Think Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher, Cronenberg’s Spider or, more loosely, Denis Villenueve’s Enemy. The thing that connects all these films is the way they’re told. You always feel like you’re only being given fragments of the complete picture – it’s film language as damaged psyche.

You’re never quite sure if Philip is a character to fear or feel sympathy for. There’s a violent past, a missing boy and a big secret that, if only should it be revealed, will surely tie everything together. And that’s where Holness slips up. The film works best as an elliptical urban nightmare, with excellent atmosphere that soaks through to your bones like damp clothing. So when Holness shows his hand in the final ten minutes, explicitly solidifying the plot the rest of the film has worked so hard to submerge, it feels wholly unnecessary. It doesn’t damage the film entirely though. Everything preceding the ending works wonders, successfully establishing and exploring a hostile 70s Britain with a handful of genuinely unnerving scares and images. Not one for the squeamish.

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Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

This has certainly lost a lot of its spark in the twenty years since its release, diluted no doubt by the gamut of imitators which continue to plague the UK genre and STV markets in its wake. Still, Lock, Stock remains an effective calling card for Ritchie’s rapscallion stylings and the way he manages to tie all of the unruly characters and plot threads together in a nice bow by the end is a nifty trick. Whatever the movie lacks in subtlety and finesse, it more than makes up for in confidence and charisma.

The central quartet of lads are all especially well cast and the assortment of tough guys, numbskulls, dealers and geezers are also well-drawn and colourful. Vinnie Jones’s Big Chris is deservedly the poster-boy and even on this rewatch – I’ve seen this movie dozens of times but this is my first in a while – that character still pops. The soundtrack is truly terrific too, and the one key component all Ritchie wannabes never had the budget – or, I’m guessing, connections, given that this was a pretty low-budget affair itself – to match. They also didn’t possess Ritchie’s sense of style.

I suppose I’ll always have a soft spot for these early Ritchie movies. It was genuinely thrilling to see British genre jams this cocky, stylish and shamelessly entertaining during that very brief window when they weren’t done to death, especially when you were around ten years old when they hit.

Watched on blu-ray.

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Happy New Year, Colin Burstead (2018)

An impressive melange of British talent crashing into one another in the form of an acidic family dramedy, Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is peppered throughout with Wheatley’s signature deadpan wit and bubbling conflict. Things get off to a good start with a hectic opening third which zips along on the strength of its onslaught of character introductions and initial awkward interactions. Once the family dynamic has been established and the film settles in to its running time, however, it starts to feel a bit shapeless and repetitive. When the final credits rolled I was stumped, being convinced we were moving into the film’s concluding movement exactly where it was cutting off. Strange.

Wheatley apparently intends for this to be the jumping off point for a TV series following the same group of characters, but I can’t say it left me with a desire to see the story continued in serial form as much as I wanted to see it concluded definitively. Wheatley is credited as sole writer here, and while I don’t doubt Amy Jump had some uncredited input, it does lack the control and satisfaction of the films of theirs in which she has a leading creative hand.

One of the things I love about Wheatley though is his productivity. I don’t expect, nor need, everything he makes to knock me out, I just want to see him make as many different, esoteric things as possible and this certainly qualifies. He surrounds himself with wonderful collaborators too, each relishing the opportunity to work with the kind of material they aren’t usually offered. The performances here are all excellent, namely Neil Maskell, Sam Riley, Hayley Squires and Charles Dance. My only other complaint would be that it doesn’t look particularly dynamic, with Wheatley and DOP Laurie Rose reverting back to the handheld run-and-gun stylings of Down Terrace rather than the increasingly composed and varied aesthetics of A Field In EnglandHigh Rise or Free Fire. Part of that is probably due to budget and a tight schedule though, but I still wish the visuals were a little more striking.

This is airing on the BBC in the UK on Christmas Eve so I’ll definitely be giving it another go.

Watched at Leeds International Film Festival with Q&A by Ben Wheatley, Andy Starke.

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The Other Side of the Wind (2018)

A bizarre miracle of restoration and a dizzying, bleary-eyed display of Welles’ effortlessly radical technique, quite unlike anything else he attempted. Turns out he was one hell of a 70s filmmaker.

This is a proper full-meal for cinephiles, absolutely punch-drunk with striking imagery and illusory editing as well as featuring an onslaught of on-camera appearances from New Hollywood royalty, which includes but isn’t limited to: Peter Bogdanovich, Dennis Hopper, Susan Strasberg, Mercedes McCambridge, Curtis Harrington, Claude Chabrol and Paul Mazursky. John Huston lords over the entire party with a down-beaten machismo that is sure to enter the ranks of great unexpected performances now that it has been finally resurrected. The real star though, of-course, is Welles himself. While his authorship of The Other Side of the Wind can be endlessly debated given the nature of its completion at the hands of others, it is nevertheless a virtuoso filmmaking performance, and one which left me awestruck. It is Welles reminding everyone from beyond the grave that he will always be cinema’s greatest magician. The film’s final lines, which double up as the last lines of Welles’ oeuvre essentially, are hard to beat. I can’t get them out of my head.

Only in time will we see how important this movie is in the long run, but on a personal level – as a Welles nut and as someone who has read about The Other Side of the Wind for as long as I can remember, only ever dreaming to see it one day – this is one of the most important movies released in my lifetime. It’s a gift.

(And I watched it on fucking Netflix!)

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The Meg (2018)

While basic, The Meg is still a lot more fun and entertaining than the reviews led me to believe. Perhaps not the exact movie we were all hoping for from the concept or trailers (the shark is not big enough to eat a cruise ship sadly) but as far as the Jason Stathan vs. A Big Damn Shark genre goes, it’s a fine start. I don’t mean fine as in “fine wine” I mean it fine as in “meh, it’s fine“. Like a 5/10 fish finger sandwich. This is also shot by Eastwood’s regular DOP Tom Stern, and it has a certain washed out, flat and un-dynamic digital look I find really ugly (see also 15:17 to Paris, or not because that movie is really bad). He did much better work with celluloid. I wish this was shot on 70mm in the actual sea with a practical shark and given a roadshow release is what I’m trying to say.

A few things worth mentioning:
– The Fin title card was a fucking masterstroke of gag placement.
– If you’re a dog called Pippin and find yourself in a shark movie, GTFO.
– I really hope this was a smash hit in China because they were clearly trying really hard!
– I was going to make a Life Aquatic with Jason Statham gag but somebody already did it.

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Combat Shock (1986)

This grimy mutant lovechild of Taxi Driver and Eraserhead is undoubtedly one of the skuzziest movies I’ve ever sat through. Buddy Gionvinazzo’s Combat Shock (or American Nightmares to give it its original title, and the title that appeared on the Director’s Cut I watched) is sometimes just content to watch its lead character, frazzled and greasy Vietnam vet Frankie (Rick Giovinazzo), aimlessly wander the streets to the oddly bouncy electronic score (also by Rick Giovinazzo), but the rest of the time it’s happier squeezing him through an endless ringer of PTSD, torment and misfortune.

Unfolding over just one day but punctuated by hyper-real and hyper-violent wartime flashbacks, this a grim and punishing endurance test. Not because of disturbing violence or gore, but because of the constantly unpleasant headspace it occupies; an overbearing atmosphere smeared over the entire thing like thick grease. When proceedings do finally take a turn for the bloody, it feels like a relief rather than a descent.

Shot on a scrappy budget over a multi-year period, the film was eventually picked up by schlock-house Troma, given a hasty re-edit and released as a Rambo-esque action flick. But this might be the most thoughtful movie Troma ever acquired. Certainly in Giovinazzo’s director’s cut the feat of smuggling an ugly character-study into 42nd street theatres under the trojan-horse of genre is even more devilish. It forces a certain type of audience to suddenly confront and engage with an America they’d rather ignore and escape from. Imagine rabid fans of lurid delights slipping into this thing expecting a good time. Newsflash: they weren’t going to get it.

Full of rough edges, unshapely editing and narrative structuring which plagues most low-budget independent productions, Gionvinazzo nevertheless proves to be incredibly resourceful and inventive with his limitations. The characters all register and there are odd digressions and instances of detail (a man stood in a welfare line with the arm of a mannequin in his pocket, for instance) or cheap rubbery special effects (I didn’t mention it before, but there actually is a mutant baby here), and shaky set design which all manage to enhance the film’s skewed and doomy personality, constantly on the verge of mental collapse.

For all of its ugliness, Combat Shock feels like a barbed blast of frustrated artistic expression, depicting the unfortunate downfall of an angry and helpless protagonist who has no choice but to eventually decorate the kitchen wall with his own brains. Gionvinazzo’s film resembles a wet mass of matter, a sludgy mound held together by scraps of 16mm celluloid. It is the dirt under your fingernails, the stench of a bad day. A nasty and sour movie, but grippingly so.

Watched on Severin blu-ray.

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