This month: “About Schmidt”, “L’Auberge Espagnole” (pictured above), “Basic Instinct”, “Breaking Away”, “Chocolat”, “Disorder”, “The Founder”, “Get Out”, “Ghost in the Shell” (1995), “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence”, “Ghost in the Shell” (2017), “Hacksaw Ridge”, “The Holy Girl”, “The Host”, “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore”, “Logan”, “The Lost City of Z”, “Millennium Mambo”, “Mulholland Drive”, “Raw”, “Showgirls”, “Turkish Delight” and “Yella”.
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About Schmidt (2002) – 4/10
Director: Alexander Payne
Writers: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor, Louis Begley (novel)
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Kathy Bates
“The other night, I had a dream and it was very real.”
I don’t get the appeal of Alexander Payne, a filmmaker whose sense of humour is half Garfield, half CBS sitcom, except with a charismatic cast to mask the lack of humanity. That said, the final scene is brilliant – more credit to Jack, I think.
L’Auberge Espagnole (2002) – 7/10
English title: The Spanish Apartment
Director/Writer: Cédric Klapisch
Starring: Romain Duris, Judith Godrèche, Audrey Tatou, Kelly Reilly, Cécile de France
“You looked so sad, it made me sad, too.”
From its cheery intro, L’Auberge Espagnole could be a French sitcom (called Sitcom, if Ozon hadn’t got there first). Thanks to ERASMUS, Xavier (Duris) spends a year studying in Barcelona, bunking up with a gaggle of kooky, beautiful multinational students. Hijinks ensue.
Brightly lit and peppered with regular punchlines, the film has, at times, the texture of an enthusiastic TV pilot. In a way, it is, kicking off a trilogy. But Xavier’s frustrating personality lends itself to sudden bouts of sadness, meaning the many arcs have their own ticking clock in the background. These are his best friends, and soon they’ll be whatever people did before Facebook. Pen pals, I guess.
“I only understood later,” Xavier admits, “life can be worse than a bad sitcom.” Still, check out the nod to Mauvais Sang towards the end – it soars.
Basic Instinct (1992) – 7/10
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Writer: Joe Eszterhas
Starring: Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone, Jeanne Tripplehorn, George Dzundza
“Killing isn’t like smoking; you can stop.”
Wrote about it here.
Breaking Away (1979) – 5/10
Director: Peter Yates
Writer: Steve Tesich
Starring: Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, Jackie Earle Haley
Sorry nostalgists – it’s no Premium Rush.
Chocolat (1988) – 8/10
Director: Claire Denis
Writers: Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau
Starring: Mireille Perrier, Giulia Boschi, Isaach De Bankolé, Cécile Ducasse
“They don’t give a shit about guys like me here. Here, I’m nothing. I’m dreaming. If I died now, I’d disappear totally.”
Somewhere between a dream and flashback, the majority of Chocolat deals with France (Perrier as adult, Ducasse as child) and her memories as a lonely white girl in Cameroon. With a black servant, Protée (De Bankolé), as France’s best and only friend, the racism surrounding her was ever present; and yet, from what we can tell, it took decades to sink it.
The film, too, takes a while to work its spell. The immediacy of the landscape and music has an immersive quality, sure, but the languid pace has an emotional slow burn that lingers beyond the credits. As with France (and perhaps Denis, who had a similar upbringing), there’s much to mull over afterwards.
Disorder (2015) – 6/10
Director: Alice Winocour
Writers: Alice Winocour, Jean-Stéphane Bron
Starring: Matthias Schoenaerts, Diane Kruger
“That does not reassure me in the least.”
For the first half, Disorder is a taut, dizzy thriller that toys with audience expectations. Through the eyes of Schoenaerts’ PSTD sufferer, we take in his world of paranoia and lust, zooming in on every minor detail. When nothing happens, it’s the mechanics of cinema playing its usual tricks. Then the more conventional storylines kicks in, reminding us that nothing good lasts forever (or for more than 45 minutes).
The Founder (2017) – 4/10
Director: John Lee Hancock
Writer: Robert D. Siegel
Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carrol Lynch
“You’re not in the burger business; you’re in the real estate business.”
Not even Carter Burwell’s score could save it.
Get Out (2017) – 7/10
Director/Writer: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Lil Rrey Howery, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Lakeith Stanfield
Dave Chappelle complains during his Netflix special that, inhis TV absence, Key & Peele took credit for his sketch show. Well, Get Out is certainly a cut above Half Baked, both in ambition and execution. What the social thriller (Peele’s term) does superbly is root the horror in real-life aspects, targeting how some white liberals behave around black people. “I would have voted for Obama a third time” is a perfect punchline, considering how often it’s been said – sometimes yelled, perhaps for validation – in recent months.
But that reference to Obama speaks to the nuance of Get Out’s satire: racism wasn’t solved with a black president, and the bigotry just became harder to spot. Sounds like a movie, right? Casting Kaluuya and Williams as a couple is also, in itself, a provocative move. It shouldn’t be, and the white characters pretend not to bat an eyelid. But Kaluuya and his black buddy, played by Howery, know otherwise. Saying more will spoil the twists – just note it’s a horror movie of a different, more haunting kind.
Ghost in the Shell (1995) – 7.5/10
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Writers: Kazunori Itō, Masamune Shirow (manga)
Starring: Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Ōtsuka, Iemasa Kayumi
“The net is vast and infinite.”
A cyborg goes swimming to feel like someone else. A film about looking to the future, not a remake that scrutinises – and brushes off – the past. Best of all are the wordless sequences of a city that’s pure robo-poetry: mankind has been left behind. First the toaster burns your bread, then the lamp takes over your blog. Thanks, lamp – I do earn no money from maintaining this website.
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004) – 4/10
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Writers: Mamoru Oshii, Masamune Shirow (manga)
Starring: Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Ōtsuka
Difficult second anime syndrome. (In the series – yes, I know he’s directed other films.)
Ghost in the Shell (2017) – 4/10
Director: Rupert Sanders
Writers: Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, Ehren Kruger, Masamune Shirow (manga)
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbæk, Chin Han, Juliette Binoche
What happens when a beloved, thought-provoking, cyberpunk anime landmark is remade by the director of Snow White & the Huntsman? In a nutshell, ScarJo is lost in translation. At first, her casting seemed ingenious. An alien in Under the Skin, an iPhone in Her, a USB stick in Lucy, and… a white cyborg who feels out of place in Japan? There’s no Bill Murray cameo here, if you’re wondering.
The casting works, in theory, but as a viewing experience it’s distracting. To be a convincing robot, one must be wooden. Which makes for a dull viewing experience, especially when the original’s philosophy has been replaced by thudding exposition. (Speaking of which, Binoche should fire her agent. Didn’t she suffer enough in Godzilla?)
While the visuals are spectacular (particularly in IMAX 3D), it’s aimless when the city ultimately just looks like a Japanese Blade Runner. It’s been done too often. Unsurprisingly, the best scenes are callbacks to previous incarnations of the manga. The new plot strands bored me to tears, and the Spider Tank is woven into the climax as if it’s a superhero villain; the final scene – Major staring into the city with a clichéd voiceover – may as well be from Spider-Man.
Michael Pitt’s stroppy villain is embarrassing, and so is a misguided plot twist that will have you dropping your jaw extremely slowly because the revelation takes 30 minutes to reveal itself. The new score is mostly inoffensive and resists the temptation to add DJ Shadow’s “What Does Your Soul Look Like”.
Hacksaw Ridge (2017) – 3.5/10
Director: Mel Gibson
Writers: Andrew Knight, Robert Schenkkan
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer… and VINCE VAUGHN
An hour of tone-deaf drama, followed by exploding limbs of a deafening volume.
The Holy Girl (2004) – 6/10
Original title: La Niña Santa
Director/Writer: Lucrecia Martel
Starring: Mercedes Morán, Carlos Belloso, Alejandro Urdapilleta, María Alche
“That man has a family. That torments him.”
I go to the same Costa Coffee several times a week to buy a coffee and soak up their Wi-Fi, often around eight hours at a time. They know my order, ask how I’m doing, and in return, I tip and stay behind occasionally to help tidy up. Anyway, they’ve recently installed a password for the internet, and a code – one per coffee – only lasts an hour. I’m taking this personally and it’s ruined by day, but it’s not interesting enough to tweet (imagine that) so I’m writing it here. The film is OK.
The Host (2006) – 8/10
Original title: Gwoemul
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Writers: Baek Chul-bae, Bong Joon-ho
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Byun Hee-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doona, Go Ah-sung
“How much is the tax on the reward money?”
Some films The Host is better than:
a) The Host (2012): Saoirse Ronan is possessed or something, I can’t really remember.
b) Godzilla: Gareth Edwards spent the first few minute of his blockbuster needlessly killing off Juliette Binoche. In that time, Joon-ho has already introduced the monster, a distant cousin of the three-eyed fish in The Simpsons.
The Host is solid fun that proves it isn’t necessary to waste an hour of a building tension just for the sake of it, when the initial impact – the fish thing running through the park – is enough of a 15-minute catalyst to keep Save the Cat enthusiasts pleased. And with this fish, someone will need to save the cat. Who do you call to save a cat? In the way that you’d take cats to a vet, not a hospital, does that mean there’s a separate 999 service for cats? Just wondering.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017) – 6/10
Director/Writer: Macon Blair
Starring: Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood
A Sundance winner should receive more of a roll-out than a straight-to-Netflix premiere, especially when it’s a genre movie designed for midnight screenings. Though it must have been a poor year if this OK-ish thriller won. Lynskey’s excellent, though.
Logan (2017) – 5/10
Director: James Mangold
Writers: Scott Frank, Michael Green, James Mangold
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Dafne Keen, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant
Despite what everyone says, Logan isn’t really a standalone film, and neither is it a western. On the first point, I think only an X-Men fan could possibly care about the fate of a clawed dude, and the latter genre claim is just another way of saying: there’s no exploding buildings. That’s how low expectations for superhero movies have become.
The Lost City of Z (2017) – 5/10
Director: James Gray
Writers: James Gray, David Grann (book)
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Milla, Tom Holland
There’s much to admire in Gray’s overly sincere trip to the Amazon. On a pristine 35mm print, it’s a beaut, evoking the greatest hits of Aguirre, Apocalypse Now and some of my friends’ Instagram accounts. But if you push apart the branches, there’s a similar problem to The Immigrant, namely the emotional distance from the characters. These are talented performers doing Very Serious Acting, and letting you know, one beat at a time. Plus, at 140 minutes, it could have used with – dare I say it – Harvey Weinstein snipping off an hour.
Millennium Mambo (2001) – 6/10
Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Writer: Chu Tien-wen
Starring: SHU Qi, Jack Kao, Chun-hao Tuan
“In 2001, the world was greeting the 21st century.”
Extremely sad and a little dull, it is a mood piece to be seen in a cinema, with the soundtrack reverberating around the room. Riveting at the start, gorgeous at the finish, boring and beautiful in between. I saw it on 35mm, along with some Mia Hansen-Løve shorts, which may seem an odd pairing until you remember Eden – and to be honest, I just wanted to watch that instead for a fourth time instead.
Mulholland Drive (2001) – 9.5/10
Director/Writer: David Lynch
Starring: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux, Robert Forster
“When you see the girl in the picture that was shown to you earlier today, you will say, ‘This is the girl.’”
My interview with Laura Harring can be read here.
Raw (2017) – 7/10
Director/Writer: Julia Ducournau
Starring: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Naït Oufella
“You taste like shit.”
My interview with Julia Ducournau can be read… here.
Showgirls (1995) – 7.5/10
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Writer: Joe Esztherhas
Starring: Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan, Gina Gerson
“You’ve got a low self esteem, baby. You’re a fantastic fuck.”
Wrote about it here.
Turkish Delight (1973) – 6.5/10
Original title: Turks fruit
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Writers: Gerard Soeteman, Jan Wolkers (novel)
Starring: Monique van de Ven, Rutger Hauer
Wrote about it here.
Yella (2007) – 8/10
Director/Writer: Christian Petzold
Starring: Nina Hoss, Devid Striesow, Hinnek Schönemann
“You really know balance sheets.”
Once again, Nina Hoss is affected by a car fatality that follows her around. After Yella (Hoss) escapes the watery grave beset upon her stalkerish ex-husband, she miraculously snags an accountancy job with a description that could easily be confused for a magician’s assistant. In supporting Ben (Schönemann) in business meetings, her instructions amount to timing: when to knowingly glace at her laptop, and when to intimidate executives by whispering in his ear. “It could be anything,” he insists. “They lose their concentration.”
Although the pretend glasses prove to be a prop too far, Yella excels in a fake corporate world where everyone hides behind the comfort of meaningless language and confident body language – almost like a distant cousin to Cantet’s L’Emploi du temps. But Petzold infuses sexual tension between the two co-workers, who develop an extra unspoken layer of deceit between them, namely that there’s zero attraction beyond their hugs that last a few seconds longer than usual.
Yella sees Petzold playing with his favourite themes, but with more existential despair than usual. In Wolfsburg and Ghosts, there was always a sense that life could have had more meaning if it wasn’t for various tragedies; in Yella, both sides of purgatory are equally hollow.
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