It’s 2016! I don’t know about you but I know that the one thing I really need right now is another year to get through! Nothing quite gets me smilin’ like the feeling I’m starting from scratch all over again. Sisyphus ain’t no mythyphus, Camus! Ugh. What is it with time? It just never stops. Ugh. Time. Double ugh. So, before I pull the covers back over my head, here’s some stuff on movies which you’ve all already seen and made your minds up about. I tried to make it even more useless than that even, but it just wasn’t possible. HAPPY NEW YEAR! The movie WHIPLASH (2014) in one panel.
Last year I didn’t go to the movies, they came to me! Which sounds super glamorous and exciting, as though Joss Whedon and JJ Abrams popped round in an ironic flurry to personally preview for me the latest derivative piece of billion dollar budgeted, pulseless shit brimming with lens flare and fan pandering. Alas, the reality is that due to bone idleness and a refusal to accept the fact that the outside world exists I don’t get out to the picture house, and so I relied this year largely on blu-rays and streaming services. Yeah, we know, John, and we know you mostly watch unpleasant foreign films, largely involving women being stabbed in the face, because you are a weird old misogynist forever locked into old horror movies as a coping mechanism for your utter failure to take control of your life, and, also, John, in a vain attempt to stem slightly the bitterly venomous resentment this inculcates in you for people better than you, and we do so hope your mother is proud, John! Ah, uh, well, okay, can’t deny you might have a slight point there, but in my defence I am vast and sometimes I watch other stuff. This year, okay, sure, I was on a bit of a horror kick, but despite my best efforts some proper muck snuck in too. I won’t go into everything I watched (please stem your disappointment) but here are the highlights of John’s Movie Year (2015):
All pictures ripped from the bleeding heart of Wikipedia because I am in a rush. As ever, all “And she said”s are supplied by La Belle Dame sans Merci and used without permission.
THE BABADOOK (2014) Directed by Jennifer Kent Written by Jennifer kent Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West, Ben Winspear Music by Jed Jurzel And she said, “I had my eyes covered! What happened!”
I liked this low key, small scale, Oz set nerve jangler quite a bit. I was particularly partial since it was obviously about something, which is always nice. What it’s about is the horror of being a parent, specifically the horror of being a single parent. Being a single parent is, undoubtedly, more horrible than being one of a pair of parents, but I’d wager they have much horror in common and it’s the intensity that differs. In the interests of balance I should say that being a parent has its upside, but this is a horror movie so that’s not the side it sets its sights on. I mean, yes, THE BABADOOK is about a nasty kind of Struwwelpetery thing which gets out of a kid’s book, and menaces a mom and son duo in a horrific and violent manner, one which escalates towards a seemingly inevitable and tragic ending. But it’s also about the fear of being unable to protect your kid, and even moreso the definitive parental terror that sometimes the person you need to protect your kid from most is yourself. Think of REPULSION (1965) but centred around a stressed and sleep deprived single mother rather than a woman too sexy for sanity. Folk without kids will have a fun and spooky time with plenty of jump scares mixed in with a real sense of threat, but parents get most fun for their pennies as they’ll feel like they’ve been kicked around the room a bit. Noah Wiseman makes for a realistic kid; one at times irritating, at times infuriating, but still a kid for all that. While Essie Davis seizes the screen with her authentic portrayal of a mother clearly aware of the impossibility of what is happening and eaten away by her failure to affect the final shape it seems fated to take. But they are just stand out performances, and by rights everyone involved should be proud they made a movie about a thing in a top hat which jumps out of a kid’s book which not only shit me right up but was GOOD!
GATE OF HELL (地獄門, Jigokumon) (1953) Directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa Written by Teinosuke Kinusaga Starring Kazuo Hasegawa, Machiko Kyō, Isao Yamagata, Yatarō Kurokawa, Kōtarō Bandō, Jun Tazaki, Koreya Senda, Masao Shimizu Music by Yasushi Akutagawa
And she said, “It’s like Powell and Pressburger made a samurai film!”
Oooh, hark at her with her high-toned comparisons! She wasn’t wrong mind. And that’s the highest praise there is Chez Kane – P&P being shorthand for Peak Cinema hereabouts. This was an elegant, stately paced and sumptuously costumed period samurai tragedy. Cinematically this was just operating on another level really; as good as everything else here was, this was better. Sometimes that’s just how it is, no offence to all the other movies here. No one’s ever going to confuse it with 13 ASSASSINS because it’s not that kind of movie, but if it’s the kind of movie that could be confused with Powell & Pressburger then it’s my kind of movie. Like IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE this one was pure cinema. Just lovely, lovely stuff; a movie as colourful and sedate on the surface as it was as dark and turbulent in its heart; all the codes and protocols, all the honour and values of the samurai could not build a society robust enough to resist the evil born of human weakness. Oh, being flash I watched this on blu-ray via the Masters of Cinema series and you should know that the big thing about blu-rays is how variable the image quality can be. I guess people are still getting the hang of the tech or something, but I’ve seen some real stinkers. I’m not going to get sucked into technical specs, but I can assure you the picture quality on this one is magnificent; everything has a slightly faded opulence as befits the subject and the only degradation here is in the souls of the characters. Sure, GATE OF HELL is old, and it wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs and it certainly wasn’t a high–octane thrill ride but it was vivid, captivating, painfully poignant and basically EXCELLENT!
And she said, “I like that top she’s got on.”
This is a B&W romantic/coming of age/vampire movie set in (a hopefully imaginary version of) Iran, I think. I’m letting you know upfront it’s B&W because some people are funny about that. Like they are about subtitles. Oh, yeah, it also has subtitles. So, to recap - it’s B&W and it’s also got subtitles, so it’s maybe not your thing. That’s okay, I’m not judging. Michael Bay’s still working, so you’ll be okay. HA! I was judging you all along! Stealth judging! Christ, lighten up; watch what you want. I do, so I watched this and I just really grooved on this one as an experience. It was just my cup of cinematic tea, seeing as how it was very much like a young David Lynch adapting an unwritten Barry Gifford novel. Yes, it was like that, but that’s not all it was. Lynch and Gifford are some weighty blankets of influence to chuck over a nascent film maker, but Amirpour’s up to it and wrestles free to produce something unique. I’ve not seen a movie so in love with silence for a long time. No, smartlips, silent movies don’t count. It’s not like G W Pabst had a choice is it? Now, I’m not saying it was quiet but I’ve heard more dialogue between Yorkshiremen fishing. So, okay, I am saying it is quiet and the whole embracing silence for large parts of the movie thing worked spectacularly well. It takes some special cinematic magic to make a boy oh-so-slowly crossing a room to a girl feel more thrilling than a Bond pre-credits sequence. My cuticles were screaming for mercy. Just great, great stuff; stepping back and letting scenes take as long as they took really helped with the immersion. If I was still in my twenties I’d be a living miracle, but I’d also have this poster up next to WILD AT HEART (1990) because it’s very much a movie about being Young. Or the particularly romantic view of being Young the Young have. In short the movie was as bleakly romantic and thrillingly unhurried as, er, a girl walking home alone at night. (Also, the bit with the skateboard. Yes!) VERY GOOD!
YOU’RE NEXT (2011) Directed by Adam Wingard Written by Simon Barrett Starring Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, A. J. Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Margaret Laney/Sarah Myers, Aimee Seimetz, Ti West, Rob Moran, Barbara Crampton Music by Jasper Justice Lee, Kyle McKinnon, Mads Heldtberg, Adam Wingard
And she said, “Well, it was better than I thought it was going to be when it started.”
This was a fun one. It’s one of those home invasion movies which by their very nature have to involve an upscale middle class family, since, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, you can get from the front of my house to the back in three steps; any high stakes games of cat and mouse would be severely truncated and somewhat sparse on the suspense fronta s a result. Rich family – big house, makes sense set up wise. Unlike FUNNY GAMES (1997) which wants you to know the director is cleverer than you and wants you to hate yourself for watching people die, YOU’RE NEXT understands that watching people die is just part of modern day relaxing, like candles in the bathroom and Candy Crush. YOU’RE NEXT is supposed to be a pulpy bit of fun and it succeeds in that, but it was also a bit better than that might lead you to expect. It doesn’t mess about and gets stuck in pretty quick, rarely letting up from then on in, but it still draws the characters vividly and as obnoxiously as you might expect of a wealthy family gathering in a horror movie, but when the bad stuff kicks in somehow you start feeling a bit bad for them. I mean, the brother at the start is set up as a major douche and no mistake, but he rallies and you feel a bit sad for him as his evening gets progressively worse. Look, my surprise at the fact a horror movie actually evoked empathy for its victims speaks, I feel, more about the poor quality of modern horror movie making than any lack of humanity on my part. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Fast, funny and pulpy YOU’RE NEXT was like an updated John Carpenter siege movie starring a Joe R Lansdale heroine. Even without the perfectly healthy nostalgic pleasure conjured by the comfortingly reassuring sight of Barbara (RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND, BODY DOUBLE, CASTLE FREAK) Crampton shrieking under extreme duress it would still have been GOOD!
IT FOLLOWS (2014) Directed by David Robert Mitchell Written by David Robert Mitchell Starring Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe Music by Disasterpeace
And she said, “That’s that guy from FRED: THE SHOW!”
Like the thin musk from a faded car deodorizer in a suspiciously shiny ‘58 Plymouth Fury John Carpenter was (again) a phantom but persistent presence during IT FOLLOWS (2014), through the widescreen framing of shots, implacable pacing and the cunning use of music in particular. But no one likes that kind of untrimmed nosehair talk so let’s stick to the fact that IT FOLLOWS was basically a movie about teens who had to fuck to live. Oh, that got your attention didn’t it now, trampyhands. Well, leave the moisturising creme in the bathroom, because this movie is about as sexy as spilt Lilt on a Pound Shop floor. Purposefully so; it’s a horror movie not a skin flick. Unlike the (decent) slasher flick CHERRY FALLS (1999) doin’ it here wasn’t a guarantee of safety but just a stay of execution. Whatever the IT was attracted to was passed via, uh, intimate contact, to the partner who then had to, uh, romance someone else with their groin before IT got them. If IT caught up and got the last person to, er, shingle someone’s roof then it would work its way back down the daisy chain. In a killin’ way. Also, when IT appeared IT would resemble someone you knew such as your Granddad or Mom which made IT’s appearances super creepy. Particularly if IT was grinding IT’s groin against yours as it throttled you like you’d just spent the rent. EeeeW! IT FOLLOWS was stylish stuff which successfully mutated the mundanity of its working class USA setting into an almost surreal theatre of horror, and while the metaphor at first seemed clear (promiscuity!) it was certainly a tad more complex than that (Her Dad? You get that?). Oh my, metaphors yet! Ugh, trim those nose hairs, John! Ignore all that dusty chunter because IT FOLLOWS was an intelligently creepy time, cleverly directed, well-acted by all involved and it set off some real ripples of unease behind my eyes where rumour has it my mind hides. IT FOLLOWS was GOOD!
WHIPLASH (2014) Directed by Damien Chazelle Written by Damien Chazelle Starring Miles Teller, J. K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Jim Neiman, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell, Nate Lang, Chris Mulkey, Damon Gupton, Suanne Spoke Music by Justin Hurwitz
And she said, “D’ya wanna feel the Spirit of Jazz up inside ya!”
This is that movie everyone, even your parents, liked in which J Jonah Jameson shouts at a kid so he will play the jazz drums better. Full disclosure - I’m hardly the most musical of men (check out my
record CD collection for proof. Haw haw haw!), and cinematically the last jazz outing I saw was that episode in DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965) where Roy Castle and Kenny Lynch upset The Spirit of Jazz by nicking his rhythms. (Bad Voodoo ensues.) In essence, then, I’m not exactly Dr. Jazz, you know. But I got the gist of this; about pushing yourself and drive and gifts and talent and, and, and, basically, and all that stuff I’ve never really felt the need for. I’m largely inert ambition wise; I just hope to get through life without killing anyone or starting a war, and maybe having raised a decent kid. It doesn’t sound like much but it sure fills the hours. The world will have to look elsewhere for excellence in jazz drumming, I fear. So, I’m probably not the ideal audience for something like WHIPLASH with its driven jazz drummer and question(s) about how much is jazz drumming worth giving up? Sure, it was extraordinarily well executed visually; at no point was I as bored as I am when people are actually jazz drumming in my vicinity in reality. And it felt like the thing had the structure of a thriller (I didn’t check though; maybe it didn’t, but it felt like it did, and that’s more important) which helped with the whole keeping-the-musically-illiterate-ambition-averse-viewer (i.e. me) interested thing. And the performances were great all the way through. Even the little parts were well done (Paul Reiser!) and the big parts were screen excellence par excellence. I hear old JJJ shouted at the kid so well that he got an Oscar(?), but, you know, Miles Teller as the kid was good too; he had the harder part I felt since he was a dick, but sometimes with great jazz drumming must come great dickishness. I think the idea was to suggest some of that “Oooh, it’s a bit of a Grey Area!” people are so fond of these days. I wasn't convinced by the ending either, but what can you say, a well made movie is a well made movie. Alas, I’m unfashionably hard line on this one; playing the jazz drums well is super special and all that, but I don’t think jazz drumming at any level is worth some kid stringing themselves up from light fittings (Don’t worry, that’s not what happens to him. I don’t do spoiling. Hopefully.) Call me old fashioned but don’t call me trad, Dad. Unhip I may be but I’m no churl, so WHIPLASH was Jazzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz! (Oh, okay, it was GOOD!)
Next Time: COMICS!!!