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Watched: 25 January

A very good, short-ish documentary about the effects that heroin use have had on Huntington, West Virginia, where the drug (and related criminal activity) is widespread. The film concentrates on three local women in particular who are trying to combat the issue in different ways: a judge who presides over a mostly-successful rehab programme; a local fire service chief; and a kind-hearted missionary who drives around at night offering help to those who might need it. It reminded me at times of Kim Longinotto’s Dreamcatcher, and is similarly non-judgmental about and sympathetic towards the addicts, prostitutes and criminals who appear. I’d have welcomed another hour of this, as a result, but it works fine as a concise, to-the-point documentary. (***½)

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Watched: 25 January

John Carpenter’s alien invasion film wears its anti-capitalist message very clearly on its sleeve; in this genre flick the wrestler ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper plays a construction worker who discovers a pair of sunglasses that enable him to see the world ‘as it really is’ – one in which subliminal advertising messages are used to control the people (‘Obey’, ‘Consume’, etc – hello, Shepard Fairey), while wealthy humans collude with disguised alien invaders to widen the gap between rich and poor – an idea cribbed from the earlier TV miniseries V. While the simmering discontent and sense of resistance contained within is as relevant today as it was upon release back in the late 1980s (arguably even more so, given the size of the rich/poor gap now), I can’t really make a case for it aging very well otherwise: the various action tropes seen here felt tired even by the end of that decade (caution: this film contains one-handed machine gun fire), and while Piper tries his best in the lead role – playing a character referred to as John Nada in the credits – it’s a shame that Carpenter regular Kurt Russell missed this one, though I have to assume he was probably sick of playing mullet-sporting, denim-clad heroes by this point. There’s not much info provided on who the aliens are, how and when they got to Earth and how they managed to take over, but I do like the way the film tantalisingly ends at a point in which things are about to get really interesting; perhaps Carpenter thought he might be able to make a sequel at some point in time. Fun at times, but despite its cult status it’s nowhere near as good as the director’s best work of the decade. (***)

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Watched: 24 January

Leos Carax’s third feature – also his most well-known to date – revolves around two vagrants who become lovers while sleeping rough on Paris’s Pont Neuf (‘New Bridge’): one, played by the contorting livewire Denis Lavant, is seemingly struggling with mental illness and has been homeless for a while, while Juliette Binoche’s artist is a relative newbie to the streets, having left her well-off family just before the story begins. I suppose I shouldn’t find it remarkable that the pair share an extraordinary chemistry; they had already starred opposite one another in Carax’s earlier film Mauvais Sang, after all, but still, they do seem a particularly well-matched couple (which is surprising as Lavant has such an unusual look and physical presence while Binoche’s appearance and demeanour is a tad more ‘classic’ by way of comparison). There are some standout, superb sequences in the film: the scene in which the pair dance on the bridge before taking part in a bizarre waterskiing session on the Seine, for example, while bicentennial celebratory fireworks pop in the background; and also the sequence in which Lavant’s character Alex sets fire to the missing person posters in the Metro that feature the face of Binoche’s Michèle. The bridge is under renovation for much of the film (the work spanned the end of the 1980s and start of the 1990s), and it serves as a metaphor for broken lives in need of ‘repair’, or is linked perhaps to the physical condition of the two (her eyesight is failing, he is limping after a road accident seen at the start of the film). A sweeping romance, but also one that’s pleasingly strange. (****½)

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Watched: 23 January

Worth watching for the excellent performance by Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill – which, although it’s absolutely the kind of historical British impersonation many critics and Academy voters lap up, is still undeniably impressive, with convincing make-up work augmenting a showy, shouty but believable portrait of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. The rest of the film is resolutely average, largely set within the murky corridors and rooms of the Cabinet War Rooms as Churchill considers surrendering to the Germans on the eve of the Dunkirk evacuation during the Second World War; much like last year’s Churchill, in which Brian Cox played the former Prime Minister, it’s intriguing to see an emphasis on the doubts that plagued a figure who has been subsequently lionised as an example of stoic, unwavering defiance. The now-infamous Tube scene is every bit as cringeworthy as I’d feared. (**½)

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Watched: 21 January

A low-key, unassuming film by Stanley Tucci about the Swiss-Italian artist Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush), set in a Paris that has been bled of much of its colour. Our way in to Giacometti’s world – principally the basic, backstreet home and studio he shares with his wife Annette (Sylvie Testud), his brother Diego (Tony Shalhoub) and occasionally his lover Caroline (Clémence Poésy) – is via the American art critic James Lord, played in a restrained fashion by Armie Hammer; Lord agrees to sit for a portrait that is supposed to take a couple of days but eventually lasts for several weeks – it turns out, as the title suggests, to be the last one made by the artist. I assume that Hammer’s restraint is purely to keep the emphasis on the character of Alberto, whose gregariousness and sudden fits of artistic pique are occasionally rather amusing to watch, even though they signify a restless and ultimately unhappy mind. So the film relies heavily on Rush’s character and his scenery-chewing performance, but I got a kick out of watching it. (***)

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Watched: 20 January

The intention here, presumably, was to make a women-led version of The Hangover, but Rough Night is inferior to every other ‘girls behaving badly’ comedy of recent years that I can think of – particularly Bridesmaids, but also 2016’s Bad Moms and last year’s Girls Trip. Formulaic to a tee, with Scarlett Johansson heading up a quintet of friends who travel to Miami for a debauched hen weekend, it’s lacking in good jokes, I never bought into the idea that the main characters were friends of many years’ standing, it gets stuck in one fairly boring and oft-used location (a beach house), it’s not particularly offensive (come on, try harder!) and the two oddball characters whose presence briefly improves matters – an awful pair of neighbouring swingers – aren’t used enough. Dire. (*)

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Rewatched: 20 January

I was probably only about 8 or 9 years old when I last saw Jaws, and the more extreme moments of horror, such as the sudden appearance of the bloated dead body underwater, or the severed leg that drops slowly to the seabed, absolutely terrified me at the time. They’re surprisingly gruesome scenes, given that Jaws laid down the template for the big, summer tentpole release, and I cant really imagine a studio in 2018 jeopardising a family-friendly certificate with jump scares like the ones Steven Spielberg included in this proto-blockbuster.

The film is effectively split into two parts. First there’s the build-up of terror as the shark repeatedly attacks bathers frolicking off Amity Island, Roy Scheider’s Chief Brody cutting a somewhat impotent figure as local commercial concerns take precedence over matters of safety. Using Brody as a proxy, Spielberg adopts a somewhat resigned, downbeat view of the corporate world, the needs of which are here seen as being farm more important than the lives of human beings, and it’s no surprise that the shark’s first human victim is a hippie, a character representing a kind of late-60s idyllic naivety who is literally torn apart by while skinny-dipping after an all-night campfire party. It’s the cinematic equivalent of The Stones at Altamont, albeit five or six years too late.

Later, Jaws focuses more on the three main characters at sea, Brody being joined by two men who represent science (Hooper, played by Richard Dreyfuss) and a kind of seadoggy mysticism or spiritualism (Quint, played by Robert Shaw). This is the part of the movie I enjoy the most, and though we see more of ‘Bruce’, the wonky, animatronic shark here, I do think that it adds a great deal to the charm of the film – the sudden appearances of the beast as it attacks the men on the boat come with a certain degree of mood-lightening humour. There are of course plenty of iconic shots, scenes and lines of dialogue within both parts of the film – and while I wouldn’t personally rate it as Spielberg’s best, or even his most entertaining, it is perhaps the most important film he has made and probably will make, as it helped to shaped the future of cinema like few others have done before or since. (*****)