Thursday, 16 July 2009

It's Been Too Long!

Ok, it's not you, it's me. I have been away, pursuing another of my passions for the past few months, and neglected this fine blog, started with such enthusiasm. Shame to waste all that effort....

I have however, diligently been watching films throughout the year, and I'd like to give you a flavour of what I've been seeing and loving....

1. Magnolia (1999). Intrigued by the movie since I caught a moment of it on TV a few months ago, I was absolutely blown away by this, and particularly Tom "Respect the cock" Cruises' killer performance as a angry, mysogynist self help/sex guru, at the heart of the movie. With an ensemble cast and something like 12 different, connected narratives, this is ambitious film making from a young director (Paul Thomas Anderson) who had just completed Boogie Nights to much acclaim. There's much more to it than just Cruises' performance though. The sheer ambition, confidence, and balls of the film making is worthy of props, with a randomly interspersed musical number in the middle, and a bravely arbitrary, yet poetic ending "shit happens" ending. As the movie says "We may be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us".

2. Total Recall (1990). I know. An Arnie movie surely doesn't deserve respect? Well, my opinion of the man is being reformed as I reconsider his work now, as an adult. With limited acting ability, he made the most of his skills in Terminator, and, a couple of years later, this similarly futuristic / sc-fi dystopia flick. Based on seminal writer Philip K Dick's "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale", as a kid I completely missed the subtle moments of symmetry in this, where dream and reality are played off against each other throughout, and the duality keeps you guessing what's really going on. This got me thinking that Dick's contribution to Hollywood has been massive, from Blade Runner, To I, Robot, Minority Report, the list goes on. Genius, even if it looks hugely date now.

3. Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). I made it my job to sop up the last of the big movies I had missed from Oscar season, and finally got round to this one, which failed at the last hurdle against Slumdog Millionaire, which ended up sweeping this years' awards - it seems like a lifetime ago already. Having seen both, Slumdog is clearly the better movie, though both are somewhat flawed, the latter is less so. Watching Brad Pitt, a major handsome Hollywood star do "ugly", like so many Oscar hunters before him, isn't enough.

The essential premise of a man who is born old and grows young as those around him die is in some ways pointless - it would have made no difference if he had lived his life forwards, the poignant moments of the story would still work the same, and the themes of bereavement, love, and value of each human life would still come through. Still, an enjoyable movie. and worth it partly for the exquisite aesthetics, courtesy of David Fincher, who previously worked with Pitt on mutually their most famous flick, Fight Club.

4. Hard Eight (aka Syndey) (1996). Paul Thomas Anderson's low key debut, I chased this up since, after Magnolia, I'd seen and enjoyed everything he's done in his career, from the seedy glamour of Boogie Nights, to 2008 Oscar winner There Will Be Blood. I'd began to draw some conclusions, self evident stuff. Each film is ultimately a dissection of family, and a critique of patriarchy. Magnolia in particular is the work of someone who is very, very angry at Daddy.

Hard Eight sees a young John C Reilly taken in by father figure Phillip Baker Hall, a classy retiree who teaches him how to work the slot machines and tables in Vegas to find a day's food and board. Hall though, isn't as benevolent as he seems, and behind his kindness lies a guilty secret, in this noir-ish tale, which sees Gywyneth Paltrow and Samuel L Jackson play against type. Paltrow is a cocktail waitress who moonlights as a prostitute, while Jackson is intriguing as as insecure, easily slighted low-level hood who lives among the seedy motels and darkened restaurants of Vegas. A big ask, particularly as only a year earlier in Pulp Fiction he had played possibly the cockiest, coolest, afro-wearing, gun slingin dude in movie history. Hard Eight is a subtle pleasure, slow moving, and compelling.

Well, it's getting late. This past few months, I also enjoyed:

1. Sunshine (2004, Danny Boyle). 7/10
2. The Lives Of Others (2006) 9/10
3. The Wave / Die Welle (2007). 7/10
4. Gran Torino (2008). 8/10
5. Groundhog Day. 8/10
6. Step Brothers. 7/10
7. Role Models. 6/10.
8. Punch Drunk Love. 6/10.
9. RocknRolla. 5/10.
10. The Wrestler. 9/10.
11. Tyson. 6/10.
12. He's Just Not That Into You. (2008). 4/10.
13. Frost/Nixon. 7/10.
14. Paths Of Glory. 8/10.
15. On The Waterfront. 8/10.
16. Slumdog Millionaire 7/10.

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