Film Club Lockdown / April

Hi everyone

While we’re all in lockdown you can just post up whatever thoughts you have about whatever film you happen to have been watching at the moment. Doesn’t matter if it’s brand new or came out years ago – if you’ve watched it in lockdown and you’ve got something you want to say about it then you’re very welcome to post about it here. Just make sure you include the title and the director’s name in bold at the start so everyone knows what you’re talking about. 

Obviously don’t know how long this is going to run for – but once Lockdown ends I’ll post it all up on the website.

I hope that’s all cool and all makes sense. 

Stay safe and stay well. 

I’ll start…

Breakdown 

By Jonathan Mostow

Now it’s been said that I’m a hard man to please. Overly critical some might say. Other might opine that I’m a perfectionist: looking for things that don’t exist. Whatever. Point is: you should realise that it’s a pretty big deal when I say that this movie – Breakdown (directed by Jonathan Mostow released in 1997) is actually a perfect film. 

(It’s actually even more perfect if you imagine it’s a remake of The Vanishing (1988) that’s been beefed up for an American audience – but I’m guessing that’s a joke that’s only funny to me lol). 

I mean – yeah it doesn’t reinvent the wheel or anything and all of it’s ambitions are small-scale at best but whatever – for what it is and for what it does I don’t think another could have done it better. There’s no rough edges. Nothing ungainly. Everything is exactly where it’s supposed to be and every part every cut every line has been engineered to produce exactly the right results.

Yeah – it’s a very certain type of film. I think as long as the Film Club’s been running it’s been pretty obvious that I do have a sweet tooth for what’s often been described as “rollercoaster movies.” But while most people tend to say that dismissively and wield it as a pejorative I only ever use it in a praise-worthy kinda fashion – mainly because I love the dark magic that enables a single square of moving pictures overlaid with sound to cause me to grab both sides of my seat and scream “holy shit! Run faster you fucking moron!” at characters who I know can’t hear me. And yeah ok maybe you prefer a movie that’s a bit more delicate and has people looking at each other through eyes of unrequited love or whatever: but as far as I’m concerned cinema is a weapon that works at it’s best when it’s turned up all the way and is bludgeoning you right in your stupid open-mouthed face.

A confession: I’m actually one of the those freaks that thinks that Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (also directed by Jonathan Mostow) is a pretty good film (although far from perfect obvs). I got somekind of weak coronavirus offshoot at the start of March that still had been confined to bed for two weeks and left my head in such a state that the only thing that I could concentrate on where movies that didn’t require much thinking (I watched Oceans 11, 12 and 13 and wouldn’t really recommend any of them lol). And yeah ok Terminator 3 is no Terminator 2 or 1: but it’s still marvellous and exciting in all sorts of ways with a car / giant crane chase that crunches and feels weighty in all the ways that today’s action scenes just… don’t. Not to mention the sublime genius of having a Terminator movie where the final twist is: Judgement Day actually happening (how many other major Hollywood blockbusters can you think of that end with the sight of full-scale nuclear war? The only other one that comes to mind is Doctor Strangelove which is good company indeed)

Also – fact – it has one of the best deleted scenes of all time (you’re welcome). 

So yeah after watching that I thought I’d give Breakdown a shot as I remembered it being very good back when I first saw it on Channel 4 or BBC 2 way back in like 1999 or something… And see there’s a part of me that thinks that maybe seeing it at such an impressionable young age is part of what makes me think it’s so perfect now: like it actually shaped my aesthetics and drew all sorts of lines in my head between whats good and whats bad. But fuck it – even so: watching it last night the whole thing is just so knife-sharp and exact. You don’t learn much about Kurt Russell or Kathleen Quinlan: in fact as the film got going I realised that I didn’t know what their jobs where which always seems like such an important detail now when you’re introducing a character in a film (the most you learn in fact is that they’re “between jobs” – which you know: is a very nice example of the economical way the film works – everything is there for a reason: and all the reasons are there to stick all different types of needles into you. 

(Don’t worry – that’s just a metaphor). 

And yeah ok maybe it’s because in terms of it’s iconography (deserts, trucks, roadside cafes, harassed leads) it’s very similar to Duel and obviously time has shown this to be foolish – but even watching it now I can’t help but be like: wow – this Jonathan Mostow guy is such a canny little film-maker – I think he’s going to be the next big thing! I mean just in the way that he films Kurt Russell walking down the street with the camera sliding up towards a ringing payphone just feels – confident and assured. And the way that the film is structured so that every scene is basically like a cool little set-piece – the Jeep in the water, climbing under the truck, gaffer tape interrogation, the trip to the bank. I can’t help but think that before he started writing it – he just drew up a list of cool things that he wanted to do and then worked out a way to tie them altogether in a way that felt natural and obvious. And just so we understand each other here: I’d say that’s exactly how you want a film to work – no?

Don’t know if I’ll get in trouble for saying this: but it’s way up there with Kurt Russell’s best films (in fact the only one I can think of that I prefer is The Thing – but maybe that says much more about me than him). Again – in terms of refreshing changes to how most movies are made now: it’s very cool in how not very cool Kurt Russell is in it. Like: he fucks up a lot. Makes mistakes. Gets played. And often comes up short. But while it does mean that you don’t come out thinking he’s a badass motherfucker or whatever – it does mean that the film can play your nerves like a xylophone because every time he gets into trouble you’re basically like: oh fuck oh fuck – he’s not going to make it!! (Which is: what you want no?

I mean – I know this is a very typical move to make when you’re talking about a thriller but the hell it’s true: it’s like a really muscular Hitchcock film. Like: if Hitchcock spent a year going to the gym, pumping weights and getting shredded then Breakdown is the type of movie he’d make. According to the official records it’s 93 minutes long – but I swear to god it feels like it’s only half an hour because as soon as it starts it just doesn’t stop. I mean – in a sense Breakdown is completely the wrong title for it. The should have called it: Unstoppable. Or The Film That Couldn’t Slow Down. Or something similar. 

But what the hell – it’s still perfect anyway. 

12 Monkeys (1995)

My Lockdown move of choice has to be 12 Monkeys. Leaving aside that it is an excellent film in seems to have captured the contrasting moods between pre and post Pandemic societies.

In 12 Monkeys the future is claustrophobic, shrink-wrapped in plastic, and run by overbearing medical experts. In this society their knowledge of the past is a kaleidoscope of pop-culture and dramatic news footage as 20th Century populations fizzled off each other and the inhabitants of global super-powers preoccupied themselves with dreams of self-fulfilment while their governments marched around the world unimpeded. Meanwhile in the present as Bruce Willis’ James Cole dares to go outside, the earth is covered with snow and wild animals roam freely – nature has purged itself of humanities violent desires and the animals have returned  as nature begins to heal itself. 

Meanwhile the past itself is a cultural overload, with grimy cities (over)populated with dissatisfied people who either ignore the rapatious environmental destruction or alternatively end up in mental institutions, join rebel gangs, or seek to end humanity – ”I think, Dr. Railly, you have given your “alarmists” a bad name. Surely there is very real and very convincing data that the planet cannot survive the excesses of the human race.” And yet despite this barely suppressed rage at what humanity is doing there is a celebration of what has been achieved. The film manages to create a nostalgia for the present such as Cole weeping at Blueberry Hill to the location of Philadelphia – grand and forbidding even in its state of decay. Just as we may wonder at the Pyramids or the giant heads on Easter Island as colossal achievements rather than monumental follies. 

This duality is the film’s real genius. Madeline Stowe’s character Dr Kathryn Reilly ultimately falls in love with James Cole’s childish delight in her present, but he is not the innocent of the pair. In spite of Reilly’s wise-ass 90s defensiveness it is Cole who is the apocalypse survivor. While the film makes a point of Cole witnessing his own death, the audience also notes that on the original timeline he has also seen everyone else’s. 

In another 90s time travel film Austin Powers, upon reawakening from cryogenic preservation, says: “As long as people are still having promiscuous sex with many anonymous partners while at the same time experimenting with mind-expanding drugs in a consequence-free environment, I’ll be sound as a pound!” Which is a joke of course, but is (perhaps unintentionally) poignant. It’s a joke about pandemics which in just 20 years have already profoundly altered basic human interaction and poisoned countless lives. Similarly the aching bittersweet regret in Blueberry Hill is not weirdly about impending and rapid societal collapse but the fleeting intensity of teenage romance which, we presume, was cruelly snatched from Cole before he even had the chance to have regrets about it. 

Cole his not Cassandra, for starters several people believe him, and his knowledge of the apocalypse is not the tragic element of his story. As Louis Armstrong plays over the credits the sting is the missed moments of intimacy snatched from Cole and Reilly because they wasted their precious time trying to save humanity from itself. 

Infection (2004)

The beleaguered staff of a decaying and underfunded hospital are already fraying at the seams when they are confronted simultaneously with a medical accident and a new patient with a mysterious and horrifying infectious disease. Extremely turn of the century J-Horror, completed with a somewhat muddled plot and odd mix of genuine horror, style and borderline camp production value. Anxious, queasy, easily overlooked and a lot of fun and feels like an appropriate recommendation for the times.

Already had this in my library before COVID set in and after hearing some stories of conditions in hospitals decided, morbidly, now was perhaps the time to finally revisit this movie I hadn’t seen since I’d picked it up as a random rental in my early teens. I’ll probably do my Kairo (Pulse) rewatch soon, which I think is an even more salient and eerily prescient (and outright better) film for the Pandemic Era. Still though I definitely recommend Infection if you’ve made your way through the classics (of J-Horror or Supernatural/Surreal horror in general) and are looking for a deeper cut, or specifically looking for a bit of medical drama with your spooks. 

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