Film diary: 8/20

If you’re on Letterboxd, I’m here.

Films seen: 31

Films directed by women: 5 (down 7)

Strong recommendations: Poltergeist, Aliens, When Harry Met Sally…, The Wizard of Oz, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

Lockdown made us commence Michael Caine Season 2, a sequel to an effort two years ago to watch a Michael Caine movie every Sunday until it was seasonally appropriate to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. The obvious 60s movies were watched in Season 1, but we managed to avoid Christopher Nolan movies altogether in both seasons, leaving a mixed bag of Oscar-winning roles, classic British movies, and sub-par thrillers this time around. I missed the beginning of Season 1, and there are a few films I regret not having watched, but who knows when I will next watch a Caine performance?

Otherwise, a run on Coen films and family movies, and my only cinema trip of lockdown. (Which for some reason didn’t count towards the weekly Caine quota.)

Black Is King (2020, dir. Beyoncé, Blitz Bazawule, Dikayl Rimmasch, Jenn Nkiru, Jake Nava, Pierre Debusschere, Ibra Ake, Emmanuel Adjei)
Beyonce’s album The Gift was probably the best thing to come out of the hard-to-artistically-justify Lion King remake. This visual album, her third, is possibly her least effective. Its honourable intention seems to be to display and glorify Blackness, and push its contemporary display more towards its traditional roots. However, this results in a film which presents itself to you, rather than engages you. It’s more like motion photography than filmmaking, a Vogue cover shoot come to life. There’s a place for this, certainly, but in this instance, I find the final artefact inessential.

As a film, it’s too long, similar, and meandering. It doesn’t make listening to the album richer, the way Beyonce and Lemonade did. It develops an opulent aesthetic pursued since at least Jay-Z’s Family Feud video, which can’t have the same effect after three years and several major releases.

I’m aware this is a work by Black artists, from Black culture, primarily for Black people, and as a white British male I’m the least likely demographic to get much out of it. There are certain sequences I like, and Warsan Shire’s poetry remains excellent. Even so, it feels more like an indulgence for fans than essential viewing. (1/8/20)

RBG (2018, dir. Julie Cohen, Betsy West)
Fun, informative, but somewhat skips across the surface. Closer to a ninety-minute “And Finally” piece than a true reckoning. (2/8/20)

Knock Down the House (2019, dir. Rachel Lears)
Great doc about a grassroots movement trying to make a difference. Strong Verite style, good access, one of the stronger political films that I’ve watched recently. (3/8/20)

Hail, Caesar! (2016, dir. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)
I have the nagging sense that, were I being entirely objective, I would be writing now that Hail, Caesar! is a lesser work from the Coens. Unlike some of their other films, there is nothing below the surface here. It’s the same film every time you see it. What you see is what you get.

However, watching movies is always a subjective experience. What you get in Hail, Caesar! is a joyously funny, tightly constructed film, with quotable lines and freewheeling performances. It is a complete pleasure to watch every time. I think there are other Coen films that are better, but there are very few filmmakers making anything nearly this good. (3/8/20, rewatch)

True Grit (1969, dir. Henry Hathaway)
Mattie Ross: feminist icon. Also, it’s good to see John Wayne acting occasionally in this film. (6/8/20)

Heart Like a Hand Grenade (2015, dir. John Roecker)
They all look like wee babies! (8/8/20)

Carmen: A Hip Hopera (2001, dir. Robert Townsend)
I can’t excuse my previous 3-star rating on this title. This film could have been a cult classic if it had exhibited any charm. As it stands, it works once as a bizarre novelty, watching some talented people struggle with a script and score completely devoid of style, and that’s about it. (8/8/20, rewatch)

True Grit (2010, dir. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)
Tonally speaking, it’s No Country For Old Men but with a dryer form of humour than the Coens usually plump for, which really works. It feels more capital-A Authentic than the 60s version, and there is a keener eye for dramatic moments and minor incidents, but I would hesitate to say one was truly better than the other. In filmmaking, forty years is a long time, and produces two entirely different contexts. If you like your Coens, though, this could well be among your favourites, especially due to Deakins gorgeous photography. (9/8/20)

The Muppet Movie (1979, dir. James Frawley)
A charming evolution of the Muppet characters from dodgy vaudevillians into family favourites. (10/8/20, rewatch)

The Addams Family (2019, dir. Conrad Vernon, Greg Tiernan)
Both the script and animation are consistently funny, but in a cheap way. I have a longstanding affection for the characters but with no real expertise, making me the ideal audience for this film. For everyone else, it’s a more agreeable way to spend ninety minutes than doomscrolling or rotating the Netflix carousel, which is all you can ask for in these times. (10/8/20)

Follow That Bird (1985, dir. Ken Kwapis)
Wonderful songs and great performances outshine the somewhat weak plot. One of the better Muppet movies full stop. (11/8/20)

The Quick and the Dead (1995, dir. Sam Raimi)
A fairly down-the-line western filmed in Raimi’s distinctive style. Quite entertaining. Leo is a baby. (11/8/20)

Whisper of the Heart (1995, dir. Yoshifumi Kondou)
Quietly brilliant. Great magical-realist touches. The only reason I haven’t given this the full whack is that, for some ineffable reason, the story isn’t one that chimes with me personally. I will readily accept that this is a better film than Ocean Waves, but that story does. Ah, the strange magic of cinema. (12/8/20, rewatch)

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008, dir. Dave Filoni)
You know what? More fun than II and III. Clearly a half-decent TV series pilot arc stitched together and put in the cinemas, and I would have been aggrieved at paying full theatre whack for it, but whatever, they punch sassy droids in the face. Good. (13/8/20)

Poltergeist (1982, dir. Tobe Hooper)
Great fun. Almost-perfect level of family spooky, strong recommend. (15/8/20)

Piranha II: The Spawning (1982, dir. James Cameron)
The flying pirhana is better than anything in the Jaws sequels. (16/8/20)

Jack the Ripper (1988, dir. David Wickes)
Objectively? bad. Subjectively? Fun Victoriana schlock with some excellent shouting by Mr Caine. (17/8/20)

A Wrinkle in Time (2018, dir. Ava DuVernay)
A poor script made with heart and intent. (18/8/20)

Aliens (1986, dir. James Cameron)
I can confirm that this film is indeed a masterpiece. (19/8/20, rewatch)

The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz (2005, dir. Kirk R. Thatcher)
I wanted to like it! It’s impossible to like. (20/8/20)

Matilda (1996, dir. Danny DeVito)
The strange paradox of Roald Dahl adaptations is that, while many of them are great family films in their own right (this adaptation being one of the best), they have very little to do with what made the books work on the first place. Specifically, none capture the scabourous, subversive tone, and always want to wrap things s up with a sugary sweet ending. The great thing this one does, though, is to treat certain sequences like they were a horror film, which gets closer to Dahl’s intentions than most filmmakers. (22/8/20)

Half Moon Street (1986, dir. Bob Swaim)
It wasn’t particularly well-liked in the room, but I rather enjoyed this one. Weaver is always a delight, Caine a safe pair of hands, and the many British character actors carry the film along. The plot moves from the extreme-but-possible to the preposterous, with a sheen of social commentary, which is exactly what you want in an erotic thriller (although it is more restrained in the erotic category than later examples of the genre). No need to go out of your way to find it, but perfectly pleasant while it’s on. (23/8/20)

Scooby-Doo! Adventures: The Mystery Map (2013, dir. Jomac Noph)
Better than I expected! Then again, you may need to adjust down for my puppet-based bias. (24/8/20)

Legend (1985, dir. Ridley Scott)
I instantly regretted putting this on. The scenes with Tim Curry are great. It seems like there’s no such thing as a badly-shot Ridley Scott film. However, it was charmless, bottom basement 80s fantasy drivel. Skip it. (25/8/20)

When Harry Met Sally… (1989, dir. Rob Reiner)
On the first watch you have to somewhat plow through the cultural baggage of this film. On the second you can just adore it. (27/8/20, rewatch)

ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway (2007, dir. Dori Berinstein)
Excellent insight into the cutthroat world of puttin’ shows on Broadway. I miss theatre. (29/8/20)

Tenet (2020, dir. Christopher Nolan)
This film is an astonishing achievement, and a great entry in the ongoing saga of great directors proving action films can be better made and more interesting than the audience demands. However, I was never entirely sure what was happening or why that mattered, nor did I particularly believe or was invested in any of the central relationships. That’s a pretty fundamental failing. It looked and sounded magnificent, though, and that alone made it a worthwhile first day back at the cinema. (29/8/20)

The Wizard of Oz (1939, dir. Victor Fleming)
Glinda is a shit-stirrer and the entire narrative is her fault. Good witch my arse. Five stars. (30/8/20, rewatch)

Bullet to Beijing (1995, dir. George Mihalka)
Completely unremarkable. (30/8/20)

Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch (2005, dir. Tony Leondis, Michael LaBash)
As completely superfluous sequels go, this one is comforting and sweet, so it gets a pass (31/8/20)

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2019, dir. Will Becher, Richard Phelan)
Hilarious and wonderful. A modern classic. (31/8/20)