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Watched: 19 January

This thriller about the Second World War assassination of Reinhard Heydrick (Jason Clarke) in Czechoslovakia was always going to struggle; it’s the umpteenth telling of said story, the most recent iteration being 2016’s Anthropoid, starring Cillian Murphy, Toby Jones et al. There’s more of an emphasis on the character of Heydrick here than in Anthropoid, with a prolonged attempt to explain just how this monstrous, murdering Nazi fuckstick became a monstrous, murdering Nazi fuckstick (it’s all a woman’s fault, apparently, with Rosamund Pike playing Heydrick’s wife Lina, who slips him a copy of Mein Kampf early in the film, thus introducing him to Hitler’s ideology). After joining the party and ‘distinguishing’ himself through cold, brutal violence, Heydrick then meets Heinrich Himmler (played by Stephen Graham, now sadly typecast and pretty much the go-to man whenever someone is required to portray a deranged psychopath), and subsequently rises further within the SS, eventually taking on a key role in the perpetuation of the Holocaust as it spreads across Europe.

Clarke is fine in a role that requires him to ‘go big’ with regularity, as is Pike as Lina, but the first half of director Cédric Jimenez’s film is never anything other than a perfunctory affair, and there’s a certain casual matter-of-factness to the way that various violent acts are stitched together in a throwaway passing-of-time montage that I’m not altogether comfortable with. The second half concentrates more on the killing of Heydrick – Operation Anthropoid – and the aftermath, and at this point Jack Reynor and Jack O’Connell come to the fore, playing two of the Czech agents who carried out the task. Again, nothing particularly bad and nothing particularly great about this part of the film, but it lacks much of the tension that steadily built in 2016’s take on the story, made by Sean Ellis. Prior to this Jimenez made the entertaining cat and mouse gangster film The Connection, which I think was unfairly brushed aside and underrated, and I had been looking forward to seeing what he came up with next; sadly it’s a bit of a disappointment. (**½)

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Watched: 18 January

A striking, vibrant portrait of the artist Frida Kahlo that’s perhaps most notable for the energetic, effervescent performance by Salma Hayek, though it did win Oscars for score and make-up too, and Kahlo’s artwork informs the production design and certain flights of fancy that occur.

Typically, for a movie about an artist, it concentrates a little too much on Frida’s love life (at the expense of her artistic process and working life) for my liking, but I do appreciate that the time spent on Kahlo’s affairs with Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush, accent and all) and Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina) serves adequately as a way of portraying her as a person who was full of passion and emotion. I expected, and wanted more, but it’s fine. (***)

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Watched: 17 January

It feels a bit weird to finally sit down and watch the documentary about the ‘end’ of LCD Soundsystem and their farewell show at Madison Square Garden given that they’ve since reformed and released a new album, but Shut Up And Play The Hits is still a poignant, emotional and often thrilling film nonetheless. Live footage is interspersed with singer and songwriter James Murphy going about his daily business in New York, as well as an interview with the perceptive Chuck Klosterman, and highlights of the concert – which I’ve watched in full online a few times – are well chosen. This is a two-hour snapshot of an excellent band at the peak of their powers, but it would have been nice to have heard from other band members like Nancy Whang or Pat Mahoney, though. The additional discs in the three-disc set (ie The Long Goodbye) show the full concert. (****)

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Watched: 17 January

At this point in time Warner Bros’ ongoing attempts to fashion a cinematic universe to rival that of Marvel Studios feel increasingly rushed, slapdash and desperate, and it seems that the studio is now starting to abandon its model of dark and lengthy films in favour of lightness and brevity. Or is it? And does anybody actually know what the long-term plan is anymore?

The latest, Justice League, depicts the allegiance of several heroes and is heavily reliant on the assumption that the audience has prior knowledge of each one’s origin and background: Superman and Wonder Woman are familiar and have admittedly had their own recent standalone intro movies, and it’s not like we need another run through the early history of Bruce Wayne and Batman, but sadly Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash – the three less well-known superheroes appearing here – are thrown in with very little fanfare, and as such seem to me like secondary concerns that are only present to make up the numbers; the brief attempts to give each one personal issues to deal with, and motives, are half-hearted at best.

That all said, Ezra Miller’s Flash does have some good lines, and that’s one key factor in terms of the levity in this film, which must surely have resulted from the late introduction of Joss Whedon as both a writer and director (his employment being the clearest sign yet that Warner Bros have realised they’ve been getting these films wrong up to this point). It’s welcome.

The rest of the film is absolutely Zack Snyder’s, and like his other recent work it’s po-faced, gloomy, full of slow-mo and not really much fun to sit through at all. (While Disney has rejuvenated its Marvel cash cow post-Age Of Ultron by focusing for the most part on a different set of heroes, becoming increasingly cosmic in its outlook, it’s as if Warner Bros are stuck in an eternal loop of murky mediocrity, albeit with last year’s Wonder Woman bucking the trend by not being set mostly at night – and indeed by not being shit.)

The story here – which revolves around some boxes that may as well have ‘Mac’, ‘Guff’ and ‘In’ writ large on them – involves yet another all-powerful alien being who is naturally easier to defeat than he initially seems, although anyone with knowledge of DC’s comics will realise that he must have originally been penned as a mere harbinger of something worse to come.

Personally, I think that every time these characters are ushered away from more ‘everyday’ crime-fighting scenarios in the likes of Metropolis and Gotham they instantly become much less interesting. As such, the two fleeting scenes I enjoyed the most in this film involved Wonder Woman rescuing a load of innocent hostages from deranged terrorists in London and Superman saving a building (presumably full of people and not empty, though that would have been pretty funny) during the big final battle. The rest of it, aside from the occasional spot of Whedon’s hero-on-hero banter, is a sloppy, cheap-looking mess that has presumably suffered because of too much studio interference. The problem is, it’s probably too late to start again. (*½)

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Watched: 16 January

Hugely enjoyable and pulpy Brian De Palma thriller, in which John Travolta’s sound artist witnesses and manages to record the murder of a high-profile politician, subsequently launching his own investigation when the authorities seek to cover up the killing. Travolta is really good here, and although John Lithgow’s performance as a brutal hired killer veers from silly to terrifying (sometimes within the space of a scene), the villain does seem to fit snugly with the piece as a whole, which is lurid and menacing, hinting occasionally at giallo and American exploitation cinema.

De Palma’s adoration for the work of Alfred Hitchcock is evident throughout, but particularly during the tense set pieces, and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond is on good form, using a variety of canted angles to signify all is not well with the world. Cheapo exploitation flicks are crucial to the story and dealt with wittily at times (in fact, from the very first scene), and you get the sense that De Palma is having some fun at his own expense here, while the ‘peeping tom’ theme, the name of the film, the overriding sense of paranoia and the shots of tape being wound back and forth etc. recall suspense-heavy mysteries from the previous two decades like Blow-Up, Klute and The Conversation. (****)

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Watched: 16 January

Though running close to 200 minutes in length, this early-1960s anthology of shortish films by notable neo-realist directors never really felt like a chore to get through, although I must admit I enjoyed the first two – by Mario Monicelli and Federico Fellini – much more than the latter pair by Luchino Visconti and Vittorio De Sica. Each piece or quarter features a different beautiful actress of the day (Marisa Solinas, Anita Ekberg, Romy Schneider, Sophia Loren), playing characters caught up in then-modern tales of love and morality, though the sexual politics of Italian film (and, presumably, Italian society) have since changed considerably. Certain comments on the objectification of women in each screenplay are dealt with a little half-heartedly, and it’s notable that all four of the directors cannot resist the opportunity to film Loren, Solinas et al in their underwear. The 45-minute long melodramas are all undeniably full of life and energy, though, and it’s well worth watching for the performances of the four stars. (***)

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Rewatched: 16 January

I think even more highly of Good Time than I did when I first saw it in 2017, and was impressed again by its relentlessness, its wired energy and the constant twists and turns of the story; there are so many coups de cinéma here it’s hard to keep up at times, and although a few of the plot holes became more noticeable the second time round I don’t really care, to be honest – it all gets lost amid the wild, buzzing energy of the film anyway. Pattinson is on fantastic, career best form, but there are several excellent supporting performances – some of which are delivered by non-professional, street cast actors. Looks great, sounds great and if I see a more thrilling opening 25 minutes to any film this year I’ll be a happy man indeed. (****½)