Film Club Lockdown / June

Belatedly – Lockdown films

You know what? I’m disappointed. I’ve watched a fair bunch thus far and there’s been nothing that’s made me go “HOLY FUCKING SHIT”. I haven’t been overwhelmed by thrills, undone by tragedy or overcome with laughter. I’ve sort of sat around and gone “solid 6 out of 10 right there” and sidled off to lie in the sun until my colour sinks up with the unwatered grass. But here’s some films that were enjoyable or interesting – if not outright great. I really keep forgetting to watch 12 Monkeys – but first I need to revisit The Martian after that glowing review.

Downtown 81:

Unsurprisingly for a film rescued from a rough assembly some 20 years later, this underground 80s arthouse caper starring none other than a Basquiat that tries to pay his rent with a painting and then stumble bums around town running into cool musicians is a rough, hot mess. But what a mess. While it bores at time like most art house experiments that are too busy expressing to care about holding your attention – it’s a bit of a treat to see so much of such a culturally resonant era and Basquiat, damn the man had swagger – making him tremendous fun to watch. Perhaps the best tribute to a grimy NY modern pop culture has mythologised.

Oceans 12:

I wound up re-binging the Oceans trilogy backwards (possibly the most “lockdown” thing i’ve done thus far barring my failed attempt to learn guitar). 13 is fun – but lacks the visual identity of the preceding two, implying a Soderbergh that had signed on to a film he couldn’t really be arsed with (not disimilar to Nolan and his final Batman effort) and 11, 11 is still a masterclass in stylish fun. 12 though, for all it’s infuriations in constantly resetting it’s stakes and casually invalidating the weight of the story you’ve been watching in the name of yet another fun twist – you have to forgive it. From the meta fun of Julia Roberts trying to play Julia Roberts, to Soderbergh using a series of European heists to pay gorgeous homage to various european filmmakers – it’s a cocky treat and it has Vincent Cassel chewing the scenery with immense swagger.

Columbus:

It’s slow AF and owing to having watched it on my PC monitor on a Monday night, not as enjoyable as it should have been – but I’m including this one on the grounds that the director, the creator of the every frame a painting YT series, truly lives up to the series that made his name with a film that quietly composes some of the best shots i’ve seen this year. In no small part is that down to how he takes perhaps the best advantage of sparsely occupied architecture since maybe Alphaville. The drama might not have quite matched up to the visuals owing to a fairly standard indie dramedy plot – but it was pretty to gaze at.

Strangers on a Train:

As an avowed fan of Joker stories, Hitchcock’s rendition of a charming, imaginative and seemingly unstoppably clever psychopath is brilliant fun to watch – particularly owing to Robert Walker’s performance – setting the template for psychopaths that would shadow everyone from Lecter to the aforementioned Clown Prince.

Good Morning:

Ozu is known for Tokyo Story and for being the classic Japanese filmmaker film nerds like to reference when they realise their in a room where they won’t sound clever for talking about Kurosawa as the greatest film maker ever (come on let’s admit he’s a bit glacially paced). Where Tokyo Story is a sad, sweet and mournful tale of children growing up and not giving a fuck, Good Morning is a fun, joyous and observational tale of a small village that finds itself surprisingly affected when a pair of kids decide to do a protest of silence when their parents refuse to buy a TV for the sake of not aceding to Western values. Thoughtful, playful and with a gorgeous sense of depth, colour and composition (not to mention some hilariously cute kids) – it may not be the lingering heart breaker that is Tokyo Story but it a treat of an insight into a completely different world. Oh and Godzilla turns up at the end to time travel the kids into a quest into saving Pearl Harbour.

Okay, I’m going to retreat into my rampant video games addiction.

ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Pointless lists of things are one the few cultural legacies that Generation X can lay claim to and ET often comes up in recommendation list for “movies for the whole family” and on the face of it you can see why – directed by Spielberg, features a cute alien, a non-annoying kid, and flying bicycles (it’s not spoilers if it’s on the poster and the logo of the production company), what more could you want? Rewatching this week it’s a very singular movie which, apart from a few obvious examples (and outright rip offs) has rarely been copied despite being a gigantic box office success. That era of film releases meant ET had the perfect conditions to embed itself in the nostalgia part of the brains of everyone born before 1978. This was a film that was the most popular film in cinemas for ten weeks, was re-released in 1985 but was not available on home video until 1988!  Imagine enjoying a movie and knowing that you had to either catch it again in the cinema or fuck off for 6 years. So with millions of people with fond memories of an internal trailer constructed of the best bits mingled with childish emotion: the result is the ET in people’s heads is much more poignant and thrilling than what they actually saw.* 

Not that what they actually saw was bad; say what you like about Spielberg but he has a gift for memorable set-piece moments and building tension for those moments so that they burrow deep into your brain. Watching the movie compared to today’s output is very strange because the pacing and structure seem bizarre. My youngest spent the first half an hour asking where ET was – because as with the shark in Jaws he is basically just a silhouette for the first 30 minutes of the movie and doesn’t say anything until about an hour in. 

Despite being a cultural phenomenon at the time this film is one of those that people enjoyed but which was perhaps not inspiring for other film makers largely because it actually spends a lot of time taunting people who have seen a lot of films. That first half an hour is All tense build up with lots of Alien style horror-movie audio cues and the image shrouded in mist and shadow and populated by those X-Files lights that are bright but don’t actually illuminate anything. This deliberate work to heighten curiosity, and build mood and tension makes me wonder that if ET himself turned out to be The Alien xenomorph you would not have to change the tone for that first part of the movie much at all. 

That being said the other weird thing the movie does is give you the pay-off shot at the beginning – they show you the whole massive spaceship right there. No shadow on the moon, no mysterious light, just “here’s the climax, it’s not gonna look any better than this.“ It’s hard to know if that was a story decision or whether they wanted the spaceship for the trailer to associate the film with Star Wars or, as with the T-Rex in Jurassic Park they were just so happy how the effect turned out they wanted to see more of it. Maybe it was part of some inter-textual dialogue with Close Encounters, but it’s the equivalent of having the Alien Queen just appearing in the first shot of Aliens. 

The main thing I had forgotten though is that the baddies are actually pretty good guys and the film is a complete dick about it. For the entire movie the alien hunters are deliberately portrayed as the Stasi with Spielberg refusing to show any close ups or faces, but instead just showing a man with jangling keys who gets closer and closer to ET in relentless pursuit. And these guys are terrifying not only are they chase ET from the outset but they have spy vans that indiscriminately listen in on conversations of Elliot’s family and neighbours, they invade their property completely unchecked, and ultimately turn their house into a hermetically sealed quarantine unit, but it turns out they are super nice. They even try to save ET’s life, they let the family wander around the top-secret quarantine area, and presumably don’t press charges when they steal a van and run off with one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs in history. The chase is exciting but it feels like Elliot could have just said “ET has a flight to catch lads, so can you call us a taxi?” And it would still have been OK. 

But here’s the thing: while the tense build up fell flat for them and felt almost like a parody to me, by the end my daughter was crying real tears when ET died, and once the jeopardy came along and the John Williams score really kicked in my youngest, was suddenly completely hypnotised. Certainly with Pixar and Marvel you rarely give a moment to be distracted by your own thoughts, and so I admire the patient confidence of early kids films to be like “sit still and wait, you’ll appreciate it more at the end.”

*Not me though. I was only 3 when it was released and I am pretty sure I read the novelisation before seeing the film in 1990 when the BBC has it as their Christmas premiere. 

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