Lockdown Movies 111-125, reviewed and rated

My two great discoveries of the lockdown, or whatever this all happens to be right now: films, and tennis. I’ve become obsessed with both. I’ve also noted the general transient nature of everything, and how work in many ways is just a state of mind. I wonder how many of us have returned to the fold philosophically-altered? How many have had a little peep behind the curtain and realised that the world continues to spin without them churning out eight hours on the daily grind (churning, grinding, you know what I mean)?

Point being, I wonder if there’s a world where I could do nothing more than be with my family, watch movies, and play tennis. Isn’t that really what life’s all about? Or perhaps that’s the point – it’s just about trying to get there.

Anyway, I’ll shut up now. Here’s the next batch of films – a mixed bag of old and new, great and less great. If you’re new here, the Covid Rating is simple enough: 19 is amazing, 1 is fucking turdballs.

Breathless (1983) – not the lauded Jean-Luc Godard one, the other one. The sleazy Richard Gere cover version that everyone hated apart from three harbingers of excellent taste. One is Mark Kermode, Rockabilly film critic, the other is Quentin Tarantino, Rockabilly film maker, and then now there’s me, erm hairy film watcher (?). Like everything that was great about Gere’s early career, it’s like someone turning up at your house wearing provocatively tight trousers and just standing there staring at you.

Covid Rating: 15

The 400 Blows (1959) – if ever a title had promised so much (arf!). Seriously though, this is another one of those foreign arty ones from Francois Truffaut, the first of his 4.5 movies (one was a short film) about his alter-ego Antoine Doinel. The most common school of thought is that this one – the tale of a hapless and ultimately unwanted teenager, cutting loose on the streets of Paris – was somehow downgraded by the rest of the series, but that’s where my contentious, contrarian view comes in, because I prefer at least one of the later instalments, possibly two (Bed & Board definitely, possibly Stolen Kisses). Still, quite rightfully viewed as one of the great coming of age films.

Covid Rating: 16

Performance (1970) – I had high hopes, having loved Bad Timing and Walkabout, but this was a Nicholas Roeg too far for me. Famous for starring Mick Jagger and his legendary big lips, what people don’t tell you is that what comes out of them barely makes any sense, but that might just be the drugs talking (mine, not his). As a vague nod to Roeg’s later tour de force, I’d probably suggest you don’t watch now.

Covid Rating: 9

Persona (1966) – thing about these Ingmar Bergman films, lads, is they really stay with you. Once they’re watched they stay watched, you’ve really seen them. This one’s in black and white, and SWEDISH, and one of the key players barely utters a word through the whole thing, which is part an exploration of identity, or sexuality, or possibly about how giving someone the silent treatment will ultimately drive them mad (not until after falling in love with you first, as you’d expect) – but it’s spellbinding. There’s ambiguity, experimentation, and the odd flash of an erect penis for no apparent reason.

Covid Rating: 17

How to Build a Girl (2019) – Caitlin Moran has made it her life’s work to blaze a trail for young modern feminists, to tell teenage girls to love themselves more, and who could argue with that? So I’m not going to – this comedy about 90s (though often looking like the nowties) rock journalism and Faustian pacts isn’t aimed at old lumps of coal like me so what I think, ultimately, is moot. Some nice bits though.

Covid Rating: 7

Gabbeh (1996) – a 90s Iranian classic, and probably in terms of ‘cinematography’ (ooh listen to me), the most visually stunning film I’ve seen and that includes all the Mallicks, and the odd Kubrick here and there (more below). The story itself is (presumably deliberately) unclear, one of either sacrifice or romance depending on your take. But truly it’s less about that and more about what’s in front of you on screen, you could meditate to this stuff.

Covid Rating: 12

Barry Lyndon (1975) – a Kubrick looker that’s way too long but does two things extremely well. One is to capture the sumptuous (yep, ‘sumptuous’) landscapes of 18th Century Europe, and the other is to arm you with a yarn that bounces along so entertainingly that you somehow forget that Ryan O’Neal’s ‘Irishman’ comes from a similar lineage as Don Cheadle’s ‘cockney’ and Keanu Reeves’ ‘sophisticated nobleman’.

Covid Rating: 15

Shampoo (1975) – Warren Beatty is a horny hairdresser shagging his way around Hollywood – enjoying sessions with legendary beauties like Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn, and a disconcertingly young, pre-Star Wars Carrie Fisher – going from place-to-place on his cool motorbike minus a helmet. Somewhere in there is an election night party, and possibly some high satire about Watergate-era Nixon, but really it’s only when it’s not being too arch that it finds a groove. LA looks sumptuous in it. Oh god, I’ve said sumptuous again.  

Covid Rating: 13

Knives Out (2019) – an old-fashioned murder mystery just like they used to do, with a cranky eccentric (orbiting a similar moon to Poirot, or Marple, or Columbo) deciphering the case. This ticks all the right boxes.  

Covid Rating: 11

Pierrot le Fou (1965) – for lots of critics, this is considered the quintessential Jean-Luc Godard, one which sticks up a defiant French middle finger (they don’t do two over there), or sweeps the underside of the French chin, at convention. Leaping between genres, daring to look into camera breaking the fourth wall – if there was a fifth he’d probably give that a crack too. In Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina it stars surely the sexiest people ever seen on screen, at least then anyway, in essentially what is the tale of two lovers getting bored while being on the run, but don’t get bogged down in the plot, who needs fucking plot? SPOILER ALERT it also features the maddest suicide in the history if cinema.

Covid Rating: 15

The Seventh Seal (1957) – it’s the Ingmar Bergman everyone goes on about, the one with the chess scene aped in Bill and Ted, but for me, when it comes to the man Bergman (the Berg-man, if you will), it goes something like: Cries and Whispers, then Persona, then this. God, religion, the Book of Revelations, Satan, Death – it covers just about all the best dinner party topics and it also stars a very young Ming the Merciless. Though in this he’s actually more like Ming the Merciful.

Covid Rating: 14

Kramer vs Kramer (1979) – if made in 2020, this wouldn’t cut it – far too skewed against women, far too in support of struggling fathers and their plight (what, are men supposed to sacrifice their careers for kids now? No way, fuck you man!). But you suspect with a late-70s slant this was ground-breaking stuff, a total rejig of a modern gender imbalance within parenthood, a restructuring of the status quo. Whatever way, the lad at the centre of a divorce battle puts in one hell of a shift, and there’s little doubt that Hoffman (Dustin) and Streep (Meryl) might be two of the best we’ve had. Cried like a damn drain.

Covid Rating: 14

I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020) – I wasn’t really taken with Synecdoche, New York also by Charlie Kaufman, a stance which in certain circles is tantamount to social suicide – I’ve been told (by actual people) that I probably just didn’t get it, that I should watch it again. But what’s the point in that? There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to keep reassessing people’s poetry. And anyway, I did get it, I just didn’t like it. And check it out – I got this too. SPOILER ALERT (KIND OF): it’s about regret and missed opportunities, about how we replay alternate scenes from our own lives, and wonder what might have been. The twist here being that I fucking loved it.

Covid Rating: 16

Gaslight (1944) – now part of common vernacular, this is the film responsible for the phrase “gaslighting”. It’s the story of a man (a bastard) attempting to convince his wife (a precious flower) that she’s insane, unfit for public consumption and should be kept behind closed doors, SPOILER ALERT while he rifles around her house for some old forgotten jewels. The gaslight bit being because they live in a relatively grand London pad that’s illuminated by gas lights – this being from the days before we all got electricity sent directly to our front doors. It stars two legends of our time – Ingrid Bergman from Casablanca, and Angela Lansbury who went on to Murder She Wrote about 40 years later and never looked back.

Covid Rating: 11

Blackkklansman (2018) – a Spike Lee Joint that sadly seems as pertinent now as the time it was set in (the early 1970s), starring the potential Riggs and Murtaugh for the new generation in John David Washington (son of Denzel) and Adam Driver (daughter of Minnie) – one thing my journey through a double century of films has taught me is how to spot a star, and those lads have it up to their eyeballs. Some incredibly powerful moments but mostly in the form of news or documentary footage, not least scenes of the white supremacist rallies from 2017, showing just how little progress has really been made.

Covid Rating: 14

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