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A Film Diary

Posts tagged Jan-Apr 2017

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A short film that wears its melancholy lightly. A doctor says that a young woman will die of consumption when the last of the autumn leaves has fallen; there are very different interventions from a doctor and the woman’s young sister. It’s obvious that Alice Guy-Blaché – and narrative cinema itself – had taken great leaps forward by this point in time, and this is clearly the work of a more mature and – perhaps – more confident filmmaker than the three shorts I watched a few nights back. Less than 12 minutes long, on YouTube, and worth a look. (***½)

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I’ve seen Kathryn Bigelow’s tense, muscular Iraq War movie before, but rewatched it in late January 2017 as it’s the first film covered by a distance learning course I’ve enrolled in. We used it to examine signifiers of genre, looked at various The Hurt Locker DVD covers from around the world, analysed the opening scene and more. Jeremy Renner is very good and there’s something relentless in the way that Bigelow moves from one taut, dread-filled sequence to the next, reflecting with her pace and structure the main character’s inability to slake a thirst for adrenaline-producing situations of extreme danger. For me this is hands down the best war film of modern times. (*****)

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My first ‘Blind Spot’ movie of 2017 is a big ‘un. Seven Samurai is only the second film I’ve seen by Akira Kurosawa, and it is deserving of its lofty reputation, though I do prefer his later masterpiece Ran (and have a feeling that I’ll lean more towards other Kurosawa films as I get round to them). Plenty has been written elsewhere about its pioneering (but now-common) narrative techniques, the innovative use of telephoto lenses and all that, so I can’t be bothered to add more, except to say I know that I will get as much out of a second viewing as I did out of the first. And lots has been said about the performances of Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune in particular, who are both excellent as the noble samurai leader and humorous wannabe respectively. Yes, it’s brilliant. (*****)

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As an early filmmaker, Alice Guy has a lightness of touch and a sympathetic outlook that I like very much. I’ll have to investigate more. Her first film – The Cabbage Fairy – is also the first film made by a woman; it’s a sweet, brief and simple fantasy. In Madam’s Fancies a pregnant woman smokes, drinks absinthe and eats herring while two men fuss; afterwards a baby is safely born in a cabbage patch, so it has links to that first film. All three of these are short and fun and available on YouTube at the time of writing. (**½ / *** / ***½)

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A rewatch. This time round I saw it at a drive-in. Not the American kind, where I presume people still pull up in Ford Thunderbirds before ordering chilli dogs and watching, I dunno, Space Vixens vs Dogzilla, or something similar. I mean the English kind, where slightly miserable-looking families steam up their Renault Espaces in a big, concrete car park that probably returns to being the most notorious dogging spot for miles around 20 minutes after the screening. At least the current success of this particular drive-in means I’ve been able to see way more films on the big screen since my daughter was born than I expected I would, and for that I’m very, very grateful. She is as quiet as a mouse every time she is in the car, which is an added bonus; I think (and hope) she will be a considerate cinemagoer in due course. As for La La Land, I liked it nearly as much second time round. (*****)

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Mel Gibson is the cinematic equivalent of Tom Jones: his speciality is full-on bluster, but there will always be a need for quieter, subtle moments, which he can’t manage quite so readily. And so the calmer, scene-setting first half of Gibson’s World War II-set Hacksaw Ridge – which requires plenty of subtlety and nuance – is sadly little more than a boringly-adequate collection of war film cliches: we get the brief glimpse into a (partly fabricated) home life, where only significant rows between young Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) and his father are seen, and innocent first dates evolve into marriage within the space of a couple of minutes; we get the run through boot camp, after conscientious objector and pacifist Doss has realised that he can serve his country by saving the lives of soldiers, and thus enlists in the US Army (it’s very Full Metal Jacket-lite); and we get a subsequent court case involving Doss, which has a faint whiff of A Few Good Men about it.

Suddenly – via the age-old transition of fresh-faced grunts eyeballing grizzled, injured or dead compatriots as they swap places on the front line – we’re on to the meatier second half, which is where all the restaged conflict footage sits. In real life Doss served in Guam and the Philippines, earning the Bronze Star for helping wounded soldiers under fire, though none of that appears in Hacksaw Ridge. He subsequently distinguished himself during The Battle of Okinawa, reportedly saving the lives of 75 US soldiers despite being injured four times by enemy fire himself; so his achievements are the stuff of legend and well worth enshrining in a big Hollywood movie. Gibson is on surer footing as he recreates the ferocious battles on Okinawa, which we already know is something that he can do very well. Though concentrating for the most part on the experiences of Doss, he also includes long sequences of battlefield chaos in which the sheer amount of explosions, blood, screams, gunfire and entrails goes a little way towards illustrating the hellish nature of warfare for those of us who will hopefully never have to experience it. It’s visceral, tough cinema but, as plenty of critics have commented, the director’s glee at getting to make this punishing hour of violence is palpable. What this means is that on the one hand you have a gripping sixty minutes of faux-combat to salivate over, which I enjoyed in the moment; however, on the other hand, it is difficult to escape the uneasy feeling that washes over as you watch yet another highly fetishised slow-mo shot of someone burning Japanese soldiers alive with a flamethrower. Is this not supposed to be a film about a pacifist? In seeking to emphasise Doss’s resistance to killing, Gibson is way too happy to revel in all the carnage, and as such in my opinion fails to do justice to everything that Desmond Doss stood for. But he does bluster very well indeed, and well done to Vince Vaughn for not sucking for the first time in ages. (***)

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An entertaining documentary about the Soviet ‘Red Army’ national ice hockey team and its many successes during the late 1970s and 1980s, examining the players’ relationships with the Russian authorities, each other and their stringent, much-disliked coach Viktor Tikhonov, as well as the team’s significance in relation to the Cold War. The footage of the team in action – slick, devastating passing moves with an end product being their speciality – makes for a superb highlights reel, and the interviews are never less than fascinating; the prickly conversations between the American filmmaker Gabe Polsky and the Russian former captain Slava Fetisov are a highlight. I know very little about ice hockey but it didn’t stop me from enjoying the film at all. (***½)