Film diary: 7/20

If you’re on Letterboxd, I’m here.

Films seen: 43

Films directed by women: 12 (up 9, thanks documentaries!)

Strong recommendations: Hamilton, The American President, Blade Runner 2049, Dracula, Little Women, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Jaws, A Town Called Panic, O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Yes, this is six months late, but that just makes it more interesting right? In a year where sport didn’t happen a lot, and the Olympics got cancelled, I watched a whole load of 30 for 30 documentaries during an ESPNplayer free trial. I also further dipped my toe into cinema from Black American filmmakers, and watched plenty of comfort food too. A good month!

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015, dir. Stanley Nelson)
Traditionally told, but comprehensive and interesting account of the rise and fall of the Black Panther party. (1/7/20)

Hamilton (2020, dir. Thomas Kail)
Quite apart from anything else, it’s among the best filmed stage performances I’ve ever seen. (3/7/20)

Norbit (2007, dir. Brian Robbins)
I can’t say it was never funny, but it’s definitely not worth your time. (3/7/20)

The American President (1995, dir. Rob Reiner)
This fictional land of America sounds amazing. They should make a country like that. (4/7/20)

Persepolis (2007, dir. Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi)
Lightly funny and very moving. (6/7/20)

A Few Good Men (1992, dir. Rob Reiner)
I’m not necessarily one for legal thrillers, but this film is well made good fun. (8/7/20)

The Shootist (1976, dir. Don Siegel)
John Wayne’s final film, which is the main curiosity. The use of a handheld camera in certain boarding house scenes is also notable. You’d expect Steadicam from the style of the rest of the film, which had been invented at this point, but was probably not in wide circulation. As it stands, the camera shake adds a contrasting verite feel to those scenes, breaking up the static nature of the rest of the framing, but not in a way that makes it look like a choice. The story wouldn’t be out of place at a local amdram theatre, but the cavalcade of stars makes it worth turning out for. (8/7/20)

13th (2016, dir. Ava DuVernay)
Fleet-footed and strongly argued primer on how the US prison system is simply the latest tool of Black oppression. This doc nudges just above the talking-heads/archive-footage format we’ve come to expect with its interesting framing, propulsive editing and precise use of appropriate music. It’s not designed to be a deeper dive than those on the talk shows it pulls clips from, instead providing a great starting gun for your own research. (9/7/20)

My Mic Sounds Nice: A Truth About Women and Hip-Hop (2010, dir. Ava DuVernay)
Great short doc following the rise and fall of female voices in hip-hop. Would happily watch a follow-up now we’re ten years later, or an extended remount of the project. (10/7/20)

This Was the XFL (2017, dir. Charlie Ebersol)
Wild. (10/7/20)

Catching Hell (2011, dir. Alex Gibney)
A fascinating insight into scapegoating through the lens of a sporting disaster. The intro in the radio studio and the Boston subplot makes this Chicago story all the more effective. (10/7/20)

Blade Runner 2049 (2017, dir. Denis Villenueve)
The rare sequel that treats its source material and its audience with respect, while delivering a novel and gripping story. (10/7/20, rewatch)

Dracula (1992, dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
Such good fun. Blood, sex and death, what more can you want from a Dracula? Tony Hopkins’s dry-as-all-hell Van Helsing is a particular highlight. (12/7/20)

The Wind in the Willows (1995, dir. Dave Unwin)
Charming, but not exactly film-shaped. (13/7/20)

Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL? (2009, dir. Mike Tollin)
Came in knowing nothing, only having watched the XFL doc, left reassured that Trump is a cancer, destroying everything he touches. (15/7/20)

Straight Outta L.A. (2010, dir. Ice Cube)
Snappily told, great soundtrack, smart counterpointing of the sports and music worlds. (15/7/20)

Little Women (1994, dir. Gillian Armstrong)
A comforting chocolate box of a film. Worth it for Winona Ryder’s big eyes and the excellent pets throughout. (15/7/20)

The Price of Gold (2014, dir. Nanette Burstein)
Fascinating, compellingly told, evenhanded. (16/7/20)

The Day the Series Stopped (2014, dir. Ryan Fleck)
Powerful, emotional, cinematically told documentary about the 1989 World Series and the devastating earthquake which interrupted it. (16/7/20)

The House of Steinbrenner (2010, dir. Barbara Kopple)
Mainly watched this so I can understand Seinfeld better. The film makes the fundamental mistake of assuming its audience cares about the Yankees. I can’t even take the concept of a baseball World Series seriously. Some social interest in the capturing of a stadium move on film, but it’s the first 30 for 30 film I’ve watched that didn’t really connect with me. (16/7/20)

The Band That Wouldn’t Die (2009, dir. Barry Levinson)
A great story of how sports and music can unite a community. (16/7/20)

Ponyo (2008, dir. Hayao Miyazaki)
Oh so very wonderful. (16/7/20, rewatch)

Little Women (2019, dir. Greta Gerwig)
Watched it again, still a masterpiece. (17/7/20, rewatch)

Mamma Mia! (2008, dir. Phyllida Lloyd)
Still great. (18/7/20, rewatch)

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018, dir. Ol Parker)
Still brilliant. (18/7/20, rewatch)

Jaws (1975, dir. Steven Spielberg)
What a historical moment to watch Jaws for the first time. (19/7/20)

Barton Fink (1991, dir. Joel Coen)
The Coens are a known quantity for me, having watched a representative sample of their films. but I’ve done so in a disorganised fashion over many years. So, it’s difficult for me to give this one the credit it may deserve. It’s one of their most cohesive and imaginative films, and is distinctive even within their filmography. However, it was difficult for me to watch it without seeing echoes of their later work, which I may admire more, which makes this film seem worse than it is.

In simple terms, I wish I had watched this one earlier, so I could enjoy its pleasures and then enjoy again how they are developed and improved upon in later years. I’ll just have to program a chronological Coen Brothers marathon in a few years time to get some semblance of that experience. (21/7/20)

National Theatre Live: All About Eve (2019, dir. Ivo van Hove)
All About Eve is a natural stage play made, despite itself, into a great film. This production is impeccably cast and played, and van Hove’s direction is smart, and grandly dramatic. However, I had to have two goes at watching this broadcast. Not only because I find the story cynical and bleak, but also I’m more grateful for the opportunity to watch something on National Theatre Live than I actually enjoy doing so. I’ve seen a number of productions this way over the years, and all of them make me feel like I’ve missed out on a great night at the theatre that I would never have had access to anyway. In contrast, Hamilton was shot in a way which shared the joy of being in the space without the FOMO baggage. I get why the NT does it as live cinema-event-television, but I would like to see them try to capture the production as a film. Also, the NT aesthetic rubs me up the wrong way sometimes, and I’m still not sure whether van Hove, as accomplished as he is, is actually to my taste. Worth tracking down, but don’t overload your expectations either. (22/7/20)

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011, dir. Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor)
Nothing on Crank. (22/7/20)

Educating Rita (1983, dir. Lewis Gilbert)
Empathetic and warm, managing to skirt cliche without avoiding the more difficult moments. Both leads are magnetic, and Dublin looks gorgeous. (22/7/20)

The Three Caballeros (1944, dir. Norman Ferguson)
Slight, but, you know, there was a war on. Entertaining enough. (23/7/20)

A League of Their Own (1992, dir. Penny Marshall)
Great fun. (25/7/20)

A Town Called Panic (2009, dir. Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar)
I have an affection for stop motion filmmaking, and this is amongst the shonkiest you’ll ever see. Which is entirely its charm. Hilarious slapstick, locations straight out of classic Doctor Who, and a great understanding of consequences. Highly recommended. (25/7/20, rewatch)

Strasbourg 1518 (2020, dir. Jonathan Glazer)
Best representation of lockdown so far. (26/7/20)

Bee Movie (2007, dir. Steve Hickner, Simon J. Smith)
This is bad. There are a few good jokes, but they would have worked better on television. Patrick Warburton’s character is the saving grace. It’s closer to being ironically good than any bad movie I’ve seen in a while, but still don’t bother. The fact this sort of film is hardly an anomaly in the Dreamworks catalogue succinctly explains my apprehension with the studio. (26/7/20)

BlacKkKlansman (2018, dir. Spike Lee)
This film has the texture of quality. It achieves everything it sets out to do, and even its more convenient resolutions work. Its use of cinematic technique is often quiet, but always assured. Highly recommended. (26/7/20)

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (2019, dir. Midge Costin)
Excellent doc thoroughly covering an overlooked aspect of filmmaking. (27/7/20)

Friday Night Lights (2004, dir. Peter Berg)
I didn’t take to the Bay-isms of the cinematic language, the characters were only made distinct by what happened to them rather than personality, there were some weird underexplained racial conflict in the final game, and I still don’t understand American Football. However, it’s still pretty good. The high points of this film are when it highlights social deprivation, explains the need for sporting glory in order for these teenagers to find a future, and demonstrates the disgusting amount of pressure these children are under to perform. On the way to a great movie (and I’m definitely more interested in looking at the TV series now), but doesn’t quite win State. (27/7/20)

I, Tonya (2017, dir. Craig Gillespie)
A distinctive and well-suited take on the subject matter, with great performances. However, couldn’t entirely avoid being glib. (28/7/20)

Hillary (2020, dir. Nanette Burstein)
Coming from a position of near-complete ignorance of H. Clinton’s biography (and not much more about B. Clinton) this series was a comprehensive primer on who she is and why she’s important. Clinton is on bolshy form in the interviews, but is always more comfortable with the political than the personal. B. Clinton’s clear guilt about how his actions have negatively influenced her career is also great. My only reservations are whether the series manages to fully pierce through the masks and into her true character, and the fact I still don’t have a great account of what her core political beliefs are beyond feminism. Very worth a watch, though. (30/7/20)

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000, dir. Joel Coen)
Although I watched this a couple of times when younger, it was only on this viewing that I really got what a joy it is. What a flick. (30/7/20, rewatch)

Spielberg (2017, dir. Susan Lacy)
Great, comprehensive overview of Spielberg’s career, More interested in the highs than the lows, but brings in a wide variety of different voices to talk about the work and the man. (31/7/20)

Evita (1996, dir. Alan Parker)
The filmmaking is excellent. The material has significant flaws. RIP Alan Parker. (31/7/20)