Lockdown Movies 163-180, reviewed and rated
We’re back in Lockdown, is that right? We were out of it for a bit, striding around with our mates, laughing it up in the pub, then it was back to what I like to call the ‘new normal’ – a term I completely came up with myself. What it means is that what we now know as ‘normal’ is nothing like what we’d have called ‘normal’ in 2019. Back in 2019 ‘normal’ was an orgy of people touching each other and snogging without facemasks, whereas the ‘new normal’ (the term I made up) is us all sitting at home clutching shotguns and peering out of the window. Such a wonderful time to be alive.
Anyway, my ‘new normal’ finds me watching films at every possible moment – when the children sleep, when the children are awake, when I’m supposed to be working. Films, films, films. My plan at the moment is to aim for 202 in 2020 for symmetrical reasons.
Here is the latest batch rated from 1-19, 19 being supersonic, 1 being supershit.
La Strada (1954) – Big themes from Fellini, mixing comedy and tragedy with doctrine and dogma, as two of life’s strays essentially fall in love but don’t know how to channel it. Him a roving strongman her his clownish assistant, their relationship of the cripplingly abusive variety. At the end SPOILER ALERT she’s dead and he’s broken, his life destroyed by his own doing just like the circus chain around his chest. Giulietta Masina, very much channelling a tragic Charlie Chaplin, is one of the best female actors (you might call them actresses) I’ve ever seen.
Covid Rating: 19
Call me By Your Name (2017) – gay love in Northern Italy. The bewilderment of youth, sexual awakenings involving men, women, and the contents of a fruit bowl. Just thank fuck he didn’t eat the peach, right guys? Imagine if he’d eaten the peach. Audiences around the world screaming “don’t eat the peach!” like Brad Pitt doing “WHAT’S IN THE BOX?”. Thank Christ he didn’t eat the peach. Anyway, great film, and apparently set to ape the Antoine Doinel/Before Sunrise model by dipping in on episodes with the same characters over the years.
Covid Rating: 14
A View to a Kill (1985) – Roger Moore’s final bow as Bond and he can barely manage the stairs. There’s a telling scene where Christopher Walken and Grace Jones (bad guy and henchwoman, both completely taking the piss) look out over San Francisco, awed by its beauty – “what a view”, she says, “to a kill” he replies nonsensically. That pretty much sums up the state of things.
Covid Rating: 4
The Lady Eve (1941) – Swindlers on a boat exploring the “hypothermical question” as to whether falling in love is nothing more than a long con. It’s also a fine exponent of the classic theatrical trope where a character becomes completely unrecognisable just by changing their voice (you’ll need to suspend your disbelief is the point). Henry Fonda is excellent as a wealthy lummox, but it’s really all about Barbara Stanwyck – very much the exploding camera-bulb variety of Hollywood star.
Covid Rating: 15
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) – SPOILER ALERT Richard Dreyfuss ditches his family – including the goddess Teri Garr – to go and live on a UFO (take a bow, Spielberg daddy issues). You get the sense that despite being Spielberg’s most obvious masterpiece, it’s been drowned at sea by great whites, extra-terrestrials, big lists, and um, Normandy landings.
Covid Rating: 14
Le Doulos (1962) – cops and robbers, gangsters and snitches, a world where everyone dresses immaculately and no one can be trusted. You’re guessing, then guessing again, then they’re guessing, you’re guessing again after that. Then ta-dah! Loose ends wrapped up like a magic trick. Jean-Pierre Melville’s best yet (that I’ve seen).
Covid Rating: 17
In the Mood for Love (2000) – unrequited love peppered with little moments that could have changed everything, a “romance” between two neighbours who have dotted the tawdry dots and twigged that their respective spouses are having it off behind their backs. There’s undoubtedly a message in there about the beauty and power of restraint, but the real pearl is that it looks stunning. Like, insanely stunning. Like the best-looking movie of all time stunning.
Covid Rating: 16
Harold and Maude (1971) – an existential comedy about a suicidal loner falling in love with an elderly thrill-seeking Holocaust survivor. It’s solid, mostly funny, though the contrasting philosophies of one person obsessed with life and the other with death are totally thrown under the bus with the final twist, leaving you wondering what the point of it all is. Not life, the film.
Covid Rating: 11
Slap Shot (1977) – a Paul Newman sports movie that’s much sneerier than I was expecting. Blue collar fellas play ice hockey, get drunk and like their women loose and their language salty, but if it’s a comedy it’s not funny enough, and if it’s a drama it’s not gripping enough. All it seems to be saying is that if you don’t enjoy fighting other men, you’re probably gay. Seems a little reductive, don’t you think?
Covid Rating: 9
Presumed Innocent (1990) – solid Harrison Ford, nothing spectacular, just a relatively bloodless meat and potatoes whodunit sex thriller – bit of steamy sex, some advanced nipple play, plodding courtroom scene, then a spiky little twist at the end. This does exactly what it’s supposed to do, then politely leaves you forever. I’ve probably seen it 12 times without realising.
Covid Rating: 8
Running on Empty (1988) – a great teen film buried inside a mundane political drama about hippy radicals on the run with their kids. The two main youngsters, River Phoenix and Martha Plimpton, are so completely of their time that if anyone ever asks you what 1988 was like you should just point at them and say “that – that is what 1988 was like. Exactly that – those two teens. The whole of 1988. Plus Bros.”
Covid Rating: 12
Before Sunrise (1995) – even better when you know what happens next. SPOILER ALERT Because now you know that it’s two people falling in love for the rest of their lives (or thereabouts) – they’re young, opinionated, flawed, pretentious. And right at the end when they show the places of significance to them – where they’d sat, chatted, snogged, whatever – which are now just empty spaces with no one around, you realise that life isn’t about where you are, it’s about who you’re with, the geography is just the backdrop. That’s pretty deep stuff, and proof that this is definitely the greatest screen romance of all time. There, I said it.
Covid Rating: 18
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) – an Australian New Wave classic starring the great Vivean Gray who went on to light up our screens as Mrs Mangel in Neighbours. Tis an ambiguous kind of tale about eloquent girls from a posh school going missing at a picnic (clue’s in the title). What happened and where the hell are they? And what’s with their weird headmistress? And why does everything feel so damn creepy? Not quite on the level of Walkabout but not far off.
Covid Rating: 14
She’s Gotta Have It (1986) – famously made in a hurry and on a shoestring, everything foreshadows what was to come from Spike Lee – ambitious camera angles, jazz scores, fourth wall breaks, Air Jordans. There’s a whole heap of Woody Allen in there too, and (though I may be imagining it) microscopic moments of Bergman and Ozu? (I think) Also sexuality, gender, contrasting aspects of masculinity. This is hands down my favourite of the three lockdown Spikes so far (this, Mo Better, Klansman).
Covid Rating: 14
Tootsie (1982) – Dustin Hoffman plays a failed actor who drags up to save his career and unwittingly becomes a soap star. How would that scan now? It’s hard to pick through the points being made, so probably not brilliantly. There’s a clanging suggestion that becoming a woman (or a version thereof) makes Hoffman’s character a better man, but also that failing male actors are better than successful female ones. Though truthfully the gravest sin here is that ANOTHER male lead dumps Teri Garr for a lesser woman. What the hell is wrong with these people??
Covid Rating: 10
Double Indemnity (1944) – considered one of the classic noirs from a time before “noir” had even been coined – back then it was probably just a crime thriller, or a caper. This has got everything you’d want – Barbara Stanwyck, my new favourite, turning her Lady Eve persona on its head to give you something more smouldering as a femme fatale, and Fred MacMurray backing and forthing like Frank Drebin in Police Squad and saying “baby” a lot.
Covid Rating: 15
Battle Royale (2000) – a class of Japanese school-kids is kidnapped, taken to a remote island, then forced to fight one another to the death. Cue axes to the head, mouthfuls of deadly poison, machine guns to the chest, lots of committing suicide. It’s absolute mayhem, but unlike Hunger Games (which “borrows” massively from this), none of it with a view to entertaining the masses, it’s just pure abject nihilism and all the better for it. Is it about the anger and voicelessness of youth? Is it an extended metaphor about being a teenager? Or is it just great cartoon violence for the halibut?
Covid Rating: 17
An Autumn Afternoon (1962) – another one from the master craftsman Yasujirō Ozu, and another one that’s impossible to fault. It’s a portrait of male friendship, and of family, and of how we can bamboozle ourselves into thinking our selfish behaviour is selfless. Ozu wrote this right at the end of his career/life and it shows – the warmth of Tokyo Story or Late Spring is still there, but the central character, stumbling home from the bar every night drunk, feeling increasingly alone, cuts a starker figure than usual. You get the sense that above all things, Ozu just wants everyone to be okay. Himself especially.
Covid Rating: 18