Five Inspiring First Watches of July

A few words on a few things that have inspired me in July…

 

Face PlacesAgnes Varda

Came out in… 2017

Watched on… Netflix

The first of two Agnes Varda films on this list, and truly a beautiful movie.  I will talk of my affection for Agnes later in this piece, for now, let’s focus on the film.  It is a categorically French documentary, blending soft reality techniques with staged narrative-driven set pieces, guiding us through small-town France meeting the people that actually live in this world.  Agnes and co-creator JR paste large photos on walls, building an adorable relationship, touching on aging, fame, art and the oh so sweet simple life that I am eternally jealous of.  The film is on Netflix, a French stroke of genius, that is incredibly watchable and universal right there waiting for everyone.

 

The Elephant Man

Came out in… 1980

Watched on… Mubi

I have had a level of trepidation about watching The Elephant Man for a while, mostly out of fear, and films don’t scare me easily, but David Lynch does.  He is one of my favourite filmmakers, because of his attitude to the process and the allure of his personality rather than his actual output, so why was The Elephant Man so intimidating to me?  Perhaps due to the image of the disfigured man, that everyone has seen, or the inevitable dull melodrama that a story like this brings.  I was wrong on the second point, and in the end this film might be Lynch’s greatest achievement as an artist, pragmatically at least.  He took the predictable tale of an abused misfit taken in, cared for, and transformed, and made it into a magical experience that is as strange as it is uplifting.  Legendary film critic Pauline Kael praised the film because Lynch created something marvellous from a zilch script, and of course I agree, however I would not recommend watching this at 10am on a Tuesday, it was a teary morning.

Midsommar

New release in cinemas

I wrote a full review of this here, so I’ll keep it brief.  The film is a fishless aquarium, with a breathing ecosystem waiting for it.  Sign me up.  Take your well-rounded characters and structured plot and throw it away, give me the green plant wrapping around the throat of the unsuspecting audience.

The Edge

New release

Rented on… Amazon, also available on YouTube, iTunes and Google Play

It’s very hard to write this without being incredibly biased.  This documentary is about the 2009-2013 England cricket team, a side that was the best in the world for a short time, a side that gave a lot of their life away to get there.  If you are a cricket fan, you will enjoy the film, because it highlights what makes the game special.  I love cricket, and I love that particular era of English cricket even more, so obviously I was gripped throughout.  However, there is space for the non-cricket fan, with the film focusing on the mental toll that the sport takes on a player, showing what it takes to achieve greatness.  Director Barney Douglas does a good job of presenting the mind games and struggles that many of that team went through by going away from archive footage to shoot staged scenes with the actual players.  The film leaves a lot out, and it’s tight in its execution, working for the uninitiated as well as the fanatic.

Varda by Agnes

New release in cinemas

Also available to rent on the BFI Player

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Started with Agnes, and now finishing with her, as she ends her career by creating a retrospective of her own work.  The film is basically the legendary director talking to crowds about her output over the years, and the process, whilst she plays around a little.  What is instantly striking is her genius as a filmmaker, someone who was always messing with the form, trying a new thing with each film.  She is an artist who makes me happy and now that she is gone, this film will stay as a reminder for how wonderful she and her work was.  The sweetest parts of the film are when she talks of her late husband, another French filmmaking hero, Jacques Demy, a man who after decades is still the most important thing to her.  Her friendships and collaborations are also striking, showing that human interaction and love will never be beaten by a camera lens or the relentless passing of time.

 

 

 

 

 

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Film Reviews: Happy Death Day & The Florida Project

These two films are vastly different to one another, but I’m putting them together because they highlight two sides of the film taste spectrum.  Hopefully these short reviews will give you an indicator whether they are the sort of films you’d like to see.

 

Happy Death Day

Jessica Rothe

This movie tells the tale of Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe)  – a classic sorority college girl who is caught in a loop of being murdered then waking up to relive the day again.  The concept of this film is not original, but certainly an interesting spin on Groundhog Day.  Going in, I was expecting a horror or slasher experience, however it ended up being more of a Mean Girls – esque college movie with a murder plot added on.  There was little to no scares and certainly no tension in the murder scenes.  The violence was pretty weak and take a few things out of this film and it probably could have passed for a 12A.  Despite this the murder moments weren’t totally boring thanks to some obvious humour and nods to comic cinema.  The plot moves quickly and overall the runtime went by fairly quickly, with maybe a few minutes in the middle feeling like excess material.  A lot of the film is cliché and obvious, though Rothe does well in the lead to keep you engaged.  The rest of the cast are fine, though not all that interesting.  There are mostly cheap thrills here and the ending left me sort of disappointed.  It felt as though they missed out on a chance to do something intriguing with the concept, and in the end they played it very safe.  Not a terrible 96 minutes, but definitely not something I’ll be rushing to see again.  It’s perhaps good for a date movie, or a group of friends?  If you’re expecting horror though or weird existential themes I wouldn’t bother.

Presentation (look of the movie – cinematography, mise-en-scene etc): 2/3

Performances (the acting): 1.5/3

Narrative (plot & story points): 1.5/3

Effect (Did this film impact me in any way?): 0/1

Final score: 5/10

 

The Florida Project

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Set at a low rent motel in the shadows of Disney-Land, this film follows a troubled young mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) and her daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) as they live recklessly and struggle to get by.  Let me first start of by saying that American poverty fascinates me.  There is something so unsettling and sickly about it.  This film is unsettling in that way, but also has a lot of heart.  On the basic level it reminds me of last year’s American Honey, yet it is far more focused and far more connectable.  The film is gorgeously shot and meanders a long keeping track of a group of young kids just aimlessly having fun in and around the motel.  It spends time with the struggling parents, who are certainly not instantly likeable.  The film bounces around from moment to moment with no real rules about time or scenes.  Director Sean Baker stays on things when he wants to and this gives the film a natural feel.  At its foundations though it has a solid performance from Willem Dafoe, who plays the manager of the motel.  He figuratively and literally pulls the film together to keep it tangent and watchable.  There is no hero in the film, but he has heroic moments, and I think without him the film would drift away into the abstract.  Alongside him is a mesmerising, and often very funny, performance by Brooklynn Prince who is just 7.  She has more personality than your average adult and is the star of the film.  Her mother is a desperate character and you have to realise that there is little redemption for her, so Bria Vinaite does well in a tricky role.  Everything that happens in the film is totally believable, and every scene feels necessary.  It certainly has its moments of boredom like any independent drama and the ending will certainly leave a few people a bit confused.  The film touches on poverty, and capitalist abandonment, yet it is mostly a human film.  It has more love than tragedy and I would recommend this film to anyone who can stand looking at those in society that America has forgotten about.

Presentation: 3/3

Performances: 3/3

Narrative: 2/3

Effect: 1/1

Final score: 9/10

 

Are both films worth your ticket price? The Florida Project – 100%.  Happy Death Day – maybe if it’s a cheaper ticket.

Woody Allen is my hero and it’s horrible

Woody Allen isn’t actually my hero and that headline is a little misleading.  I’m not making money of this though, so it’s fine.  I’m not buzz feed just yet.  He is however a kind of a film-making hero of mine.  And I say that with trepidation, because well he is probably a horrific child abuser.  Emphasis on the probably considering those accusations have never made their way to completion.  This doesn’t mean they’re not true of course, and the overwhelming consensus is that Mr Allen is a huge creep.  A huge creep, who in my opinion, has created some of the best films of the last fifty years.  Not only that but films that have influenced the entire movie business, and myself – how I act and see the world.  Does this mean that I’m a bad person? Does this mean that artistry requires torment?  These are two questions that I am almost certainly not going to answer but the recent Harvey Weinstein scandal has put a distaste of Hollywood in my mouth.  It is definitely a systematic regime of abuse from all corners, and the major question is: is it worth it all?  Is Pulp Fiction worth Weinstein’s disgusting nature traumatising young actresses?  Is The Usual Suspects worth Bryan Singer’s unhealthy relationship with young men?  Is my favourite film of all time Annie Hall worth Woody Allen’s possible paedophilia?

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To attempt to make this more about films, and less about the vile male gender, I’m going to talk about why I’m a fan of Allen’s work.  This will hopefully create distance between the sickness of the man and the greatness of the art…

Play it again, Sam (1972):  Essentially Allen’s first signs of his own neurotic style.  It’s a classic laugh a minute kind of comedy with a weird romantic edge.  Allen himself is great in it – doing his typical paranoid character.  It’s based on his own Broadway play, and this means small concept, which works.  We also get a Diane Keaton in a more subdued role than usual, because Allen really is at the centre.  The simple joys in the comedy and the timing are what make this a great.  Interesting to note that Allen didn’t direct this film, Herbert Ross did, so there is little in terms of the picturesque that you get with Allen usually and it’s the writing where his nature comes out.

Manhattan (1979):  In terms of impact on the film world, this is right up there alongside Annie Hall.  It’s an aloof film, which is full of ideas.  The black and white leads to some really gorgeous cinematography from legendary DP Gordon Willis and gives the film a really obscure quality.  At its core it’s Allen poking fun at himself, being very self referential about his previous films and life.  The fact that it is a film about falling for a 17 year old of course begs a lot of questions but Allen’s other relationships in the film are more interesting to me.  Every time I watch it I find something new in there, and it is a literal cinema classic.

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Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989):  This is an odd film that over time has developed to be extremely appreciated.  It’s odd because Allen’s appearance in the film is incongruous to the rest of the narrative.  There’s a sense that two films have been glued together in a way.  Despite this, I feel like the clash works and the main plot is a tough conflicted look on guilt and I guess murder.  The conclusion to the film makes the strange dramatic ride worth it, and it stands out different in Allen’s filmography.

Match Point (2005):  The first film in this little list where Allen doesn’t feature, I think this an underrated film.  When I watched it I was mesmerised by the way Allen presents the story of love and infidelity.  It’s an incredibly tense thriller really, that is full of these juicy back and forth (like tennis) between the characters.  There’s deceit and fear and I think a wonderful central performance from Jonathan Rhys Meyers that is supported well by Scarlett Johansson.  Them together are totally screen grabbing and Allen’s screenplay design is punchier than it has ever been.

Midnight in Paris (2011):  A return to the typical form of Allen, this film encapsulates everything that is great about his films.  The scenery that is shot with beauty in mind, a thoughtful screenplay, and a sympathetic central character.  It is one of Allen’s more ambitious films of recent times and has a story that surprises but ultimately reflects himself once again.  Owen Wilson does a good job doing his best Woody Allen and following him in this film is properly lovely.  It’s a sign that Allen still has ideas that are intriguing and worth paying the ticket price to go and see.

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There are plenty of other films that I could have mentioned that I also love, such as: Hannah and her Sisters, Radio Days, Mighty Aphrodite and Café Society.  I chose not to write about Annie Hall because I love it so much.  Those five films should start to explain why Allen’s films are special to me and why a world without them would be extremely dull.  There is a magic to his films and whatever he may be as a man, his legacy on artistic level shouldn’t be tarnished.  He has, in the last 20 years, had more rubbish films than good ones and there is a sense of existential crisis in his work.  Perhaps it is time for him to die, perhaps his sins as a father, and an abuser should catch up to him.  He still has talent, 2016’s Café Society proves that, but for me he has given enough to cinema.  If he was to fade away then maybe some of that gross Hollywood masculinity will fade away with him.  Thankfully the future is hopeful because the dinosaurs are dying.  And to answer the ‘is it worth it?’ question I would say that without pain there is no brilliance, and without films like Annie Hall I’m not sure what kind of person I would be.  I’m in awe of artists like Allen, just as I am repulsed by them.