In The Cheap Seats With The Popcorn

Image result for stan and ollieEarlier this month I spent the most pleasant of afternoons seeing “Stan & Ollie” at the local multiplex. A film about cinema’s greatest comedy duo couldn’t be anything but affectionate & respectful & this one hits those notes perfectly. The twin heartbeats of the film are Steve Coogan & John C Reilly’s outstanding impersonations of Laurel & Hardy. Set in dreary 1950’s Britain subtle direction smartly blurs any lines between the real blokes & these new guys. It’s no “Sons of the Desert” (1933), nothing else is but it’s a fine, warm piece of work. The cinema has reduced all seats to £5 ($6.60) so I’ll be returning next week for Tim Burton’s live action remake of “Dumbo”. I’ll take a couple of kids with me because the sight of a tearful, solitary old man is never a good one.

 

There’s not been a movie post for a while so here are some recent films that not only held my attention but I would be happy to watch again in my home cinema complex (I have a TV AND a sofa!).

 

 

It’s stating the obvious that “Green Book” was not the best film of 2018 despite the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences deciding it was. I’m not getting into the whole “white saviour” thing, that’s imposing an unnecessary critique on to a film that renders the developing relationship between an odd interracial couple as broadly & as inoffensively as possible. Race relations in 21st century America deserves a more nuanced perspective & we were never going to get that from writer/director Peter Farrelly whose last two films were “The Three Stooges” & “Dumb & Dumber To”. The film introduced me to the cool piano music of Don Shirley so that’s good.

 

Image result for blackkklansmanHaving been a fan of Spike Lee since “She’s Gotta Have It” I much preferred “BlacKkKlansman”. Denzel’s boy John David Washington was prominent in the TV series “Ballers”, he & his perfect afro star in the unlikely but true story of Ron Stallworth, the black cop who infiltrates the Klan using only a telephone & Adam Driver. Spike’s characteristic energy & commitment to his viewpoint makes for an exciting ride. The clip above, cutting from a violent assault by racist cops to the joy of a “Soul Train” line dance (“It’s Too Late to Turn Back Now” – Cornelius Bros & Sister Rose) shows the director at the top of his game. Lee will, I hope, never lose the agitprop aspect of his films, “BlacKkklansman”, set in the 1970’s, has plenty to say about contemporary America. The denouement may stray from actual events, the closing link to Charlottesville & the President’s refusal to condemn the actions of racists is elementary but a necessary & effective reminder that things are same as it ever was.

 

 

Image result for sorry to bother youBoots Riley’s frantic, deliriously absurd anti-capitalist satire “Sorry To Bother You” is a “what the heck is happening here?” eruption & marks the debut of a strikingly talented new writer/director. Riley’s mad, mad, mad world is packed with ideas, maybe too many,  understandable for a film-maker eager to take his chance. “S.T.B.Y.”, set in a skewed version of Oakland, California, made plenty at the box office, the bottom line in the business & there will be more from Boots. Oakland, across the bay from & connected by bridge to San Francisco, has a history of radical ideas, it’s where the Black Panther Party was founded. The success of Silicon Valley & the subsequent squeeze on affordable housing in S.F. has brought gentrification to working class neighbourhoods in Oakland, a major concern in “Blindspotting” the best American film of 2018.

 

Image result for blindspottingThe script of “Blindspotting”, by Daveed Diggs & Rafael Casal, both actors, friends since high school, evolved over 10 years & it shows. Every scene is lean & mean, the dialogue crackles, Collin (Diggs) has just days to go on his probation, anxious that his future should be jail-free, disturbed when he witnesses the murder of a young black man by a white cop. His best friend Miles (Casal), short-tempered & violent, is unhappy about the changes to the city, happy with the life he lives but does he really need that gun? “Blindspotting” skillfully blends the comedy with the drama, the friendship between the pair, one black, one white, feels like the real thing. Important issues, loyalty, class, race, police violence, are dealt with smartly, pertinently & without forcing it. When Miles’ young son finds his father’s gun you are on the edge of your seat, it happens again when Collin, the same gun tucked into his waistband, is on a street late at night with the cops for company. Collin’s closing flow, ” How come every time you come around you monsters got me feeling like a monster in my own town? I say it while I’m rapping, nigga, ’cause everyone conditioned to listen to a rapping nigga”, says it loud. “Blindspotting” has got the bounce.

 

Image result for shoplifters movieAlfonso Cuaron’s “Roma”, a beautifully shot remembrance of his childhood in 1970’s Mexico City, won this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. An early release on Netflix expanded the audience for a finely detailed, impressively observed story. Another nominee in the same category was “Shoplifters” which concerns the struggles of a poor Tokyo household (really a family but it’s complicated) with the law, Love, morality & survival. Intense, involving, subtle, the film attracts a list of adjectives, all of them good. I certainly must include the word “Humanity” here. Director Hirokazu Koreeda has been ranked with leading exponents of neorealism like Ozu & De Sica & I will be checking out his earlier films. In my opinion “Roma” is a very good movie while “Shoplifters” is a masterpiece.

 

 

Finally a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do & pick a Western. Much as I enjoyed “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”, the six story anthology by the always dependable Coen Brothers, its fragmentary format made for some unevenness. As is the case with most of the pair’s movies more of its strength & charms will be revealed on repeated viewings.  Anyway it was always going to lose out to a cowboy film I had been eagerly anticipating for the whole of 2018.

 

Jacques Audiard has been making excellent films for over 20 years. The last three, “A Prophet”, “Rust & Bone” & “Dheepan” are among the best of the 21st century. I was always going to be at the front of the queue for “The Sisters Brothers”, his first in the English language. Charlie (Joaquin Pheonix) & Eli (John C Reilly again) Sisters are enforcers, stone-cold killers for the Commodore who trek across the West to San Francisco & the California Gold Rush in pursuit of their target. Like other European directors who go to Hollywood to make a genre film Audiard, who is French, respects the tradition of the great Westerns he saw when they were “a l’affiche” in Paris while adding  stylish flourishes to a well-trodden path.

 

Image result for the sisters brothers“The Sisters Brothers” has an Old West shabbiness bringing to mind “McCabe & Mrs Miller”, classy Peckinpah-like ultraviolence, scenery courtesy of John Ford & the director’s own sense of epic story telling. The extreme gold prospecting really is something that you haven’t seen before. Pheonix is good as the murderous Charlie, Reilly better as the reflective, protective Eli, Riz Ahmed & Jake Gyllenhaal add fine support. It’s not the first time that a European co-production has suffered at the hands of its American distributor. The big bucks promotional budget isn’t forthcoming when there are too many hands in the box office returns till. That’s a pity because, as you may have guessed, I think it’s a very good movie & if you are a fan of Westerns then I think you will too. “The Sisters Brothers” opens in the UK in early April & I’ll be handing over my £5 to enjoy it again on the big screen then I’ll be waiting for the “Deadwood” movie.

 

Well that’s a lot of films, things got a little out of hand there. No mention of “The Favourite” either because we all knew that one day director Yorgos Lanthimos was going to crush it. He & his triple threat stars made an outstanding modern period drama but you knew that already too.

Music and Movies II

Spike Lee’s no-budget debut “She’s Gotta Have It” proved to be an imaginative and successful calling card for the director and his cinematographer Ernest Dickerson. Hollywood studios were eager to bankroll his company 40 Acres and a Mule and it was way past time that African-Americans wrote films, pointed the camera and got to shout “Action” and “Cut”. I was out of the UK for 1988’s “School Daze” so I did not see it at the cinema. It was 1989 before we got the chance to see a “proper” Spike Lee movie. We did the right thing and went to a flash movie palace in the heart of London’s West End to see “Do The Right Thing”. This is how it started…

The cinema was running some new-fangled THX, George Lucas, sound system and Public Enemy in full effect was the very thing. The highest fidelity for the best music around at the time. It was all very well going round to Run’s House to shake our thang to “A Salt With A Deadly Pepa” but come on. Public Enemy were talking loud and saying something with “Fight The Power”. “Elvis was a hero to most but he never meant shit to me”…and that’s the truth Ruth ! Here was our first view of Rosie Perez, all dressed up like a female Marisa Tomei, love (or something like it) at first sight. Spike could have gone with the B-Boys on the corner, all head spins and busting moves but he went better than that. A strong, athletic, aggressive, beautiful young woman totally into the thing she does so well, a release and a statement of intent…perfect. As the movie started we were already on Spike’s side. We settled back to enjoy a day in Bedford-Stuyvesant with Mookie, Buggin’ Out, Radio Raheem, Sweet Dick Willie and the rest. ” You wanna boycott someone ? You ought to start with the goddamn barber that fucked up your head”.

You know that the word “chic” is French right ? Jean-Luc Godard’s 1964 film “Bande a Parte”  is Gallic insouciant cool transferred to celluloid. The scene where Anna Karina and her unlikely partners in crime dance in the cafe is fascinating, funny and straight from the fridge. The movie is maybe not as good as “A Bout de Souffle” or “Une Femme et Une Femme” (no Belmondo) but it obviously affected at least two of America’s best young directors. Quentin Tarantino paid his own homage to the scene when Vincent Vega and Mrs Wallace threw some shapes in “Pulp Fiction”, a film produced by his company A Band Apart.

Hal Hartley took a chance with “Simple Men” in 1992. His first two films had starred Adrienne Shelly, a luminous new star. Without her could Hartley deliver the enigmatic smartness of  “The Unbelievable Truth” and “Trust” ? He could, “Simple Men”, a story of finding love in the unlikeliest of places at what is probably the wrong time, is a more complex and mature film than those two and is a cracking watch. Hartley finds the time for his own tribute to “Bande a Parte” with his protagonists dancing after an all-night drinking session, always a good way of bonding and moving a relationship forwards I find. His masterstroke for this fealty is to use Sonic Youth’s “Kool Thing”. It’s a great and modern choice. Americans may not do “chic” like the French but they do “kool” pretty well.

I had been on to David Lynch since “Eraserhead” so “Blue Velvet” (1986) was a delight. OK  strange, disturbing, even perverse but a delight none the less. This is a trip to the dark side of small town America and a whole lot more. This scene, Roy Orbison’s masculine and assertive “In Dreams”, Dean Stockwell’s commitment to the charade and Dennis Hopper’s enchantment is just perfect. It is hypnotic, it is memorable and it is “what the hell ?”. It is my favourite use of music as more than background, more than mood enhancement, in any film.

When we saw “Blue Velvet” the three of us brought more than a little of Frank Booth back home with us. For the rest of the week our house was a profane, aggressive, a little mad and bad. Is that usual after you have seen a movie ? I mean, it was just a movie, Booth was just a character right…right ?