Tuesday 23 August 2016

The Last 5 Films I've Seen

Read all about it: Godard's hugely influential debut

Every week I watch a bunch of movies then write about five of them here. Some are films I've never seen before, some are old favourites I'm watching for the umpteenth time, others are pictures I've maybe seen once but haven't been entirely convinced by. From Buñuel to Bay, I'm happy to give anything a chance... 

1. À Bout De Souffle (1960): Jean-Luc Godard ushered in the French New Wave with this ridiculously cool and hugely influential homage to Hollywood gangster films. Jean-Paul Belmondo is Michel: handsome, cocksure, stylish and a shit of legendary proportions. On the run in Paris, the murderer/thief/liar/womaniser plans to flee to Rome if only he can collect the money he is owed by a criminal acquaintance and persuade old flame Patricia (the radiant Jean Seberg) to go with him. Despite its dark subject matter (Michel shoots and kills a policeman in the first five minutes), À Bout De Souffle is light on its feet, fully living up to its anglicised title – Breathless – as Godard ups the pace with deliberately jarring jump cuts, and Michel and Patricia flit from Parisian landmark to seedy bolt-hole, staying just one step ahead of the gendarmerie. Unfortunately, when you live your life on fast forward, it's likely to end sooner rather than later... Rating: WWWW

French bliss: À Bout De Souffle

2. NEDS (2010): Set in 1970s Glasgow, writer/director Peter Mullan's hard-hitting film tells the story of John McGill (Conor McCarron), a bright, studious schoolboy who is slowly dehumanised by exposure to bullying teachers, violent street gangs and familial friction. His transformation is heartbreaking as he goes from a boy who has his head permanently buried in a book to one who thinks nothing of almost killing a school-mate who had previously bullied him. Although McGarron is excellent and reminded me at times of a young Ray Winstone, the problem is that I never quite bought into the way in which John devolves into one of the Non-Educated Delinquents of the title almost overnight. I suspect the idea is that McGill – having reached an emotional and mental critical mass – has suffered some kind of breakdown, but the sudden, massive behaviourial shift just doesn't quite ring true. It's like the real McGill has been replaced by an alien doppelganger or evil clone. That said, the film's point – that a brutal society produces brutal, brutalised people – is a very powerful one. Mullan – a fine actor who you may recall from the likes of War Horse and Tyrannosaur – proves adept as both writer and director, adding some inspired images and storytelling flourishes, none more so than John's bizarre and hilarious punch-up with Jesus Christ. Rating: WWW

Glasgow kiss: Peter Mullan's brutal NEDS

3. Black (2015): Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah are two Belgian film-makers well on their way to the big time. This, their debut feature, brought Hollywood to their door and the pair were quickly handed directing duties on Snowfall – a TV pilot for US cable network FX – and Eddie Murphy's return to the big screen in Beverly Hills Cop 4. Black is the story of two immigrant street gangs in the Brussels district of Molenbeek: the Congolese Black Bronx and the Moroccan 1080s. But what happens when – West Side Story style  a Black Bronx girl falls for a 1080s boy? Nothing good is the answer. It's a very slick and hard-hitting piece of work, full of powerful, perfectly composed images (the final shot is an absolute doozy), while night-time Brussels – all shimmery neon and foreboding shadows  is like something straight out of a pop video. The two leads – Martha Canga Antonio and Aboubakr Bensaihi – are both newcomers and sell their budding relationship perfectly. That said, whilst Black may have been compared to Mathieu Kassovitz's masterful La Haine, it doesn't contain enough of that film's charm, humanity or political edge. Many of the characters – especially the members of Black Bronx – are portrayed as little more than savages, most notably during a gang-rape (the film contains two such scenes) which is a truly unpleasant mix of the horrifying and the crassly titillating. Rating: WW½

Kiss Kiss Gang Gang: Black is compelling but flawed

4. Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse (2015): We've had zombies versus cockneys, strippers, Santa Claus and plants, so I suppose it was only a matter of time before the undead got around to menacing boy scouts. Surprisingly, though, this is a lot of fun: a great big dumb gross-out comedy with the odd gory thrill chucked in for good measure. The plot couldn't be more basic: for some reason or other, there's a zombie outbreak and three teenage scouts – plus their gun-toting, abundantly-chested stripper pal – are caught up in the middle of it. The gags are uniformly crass, almost all obsessed with genitalia and boobs, but at least have the decency to raise a chuckle or two. Among the hackneyed George A Romero homages, there's a sliver of the anarchy Dan O'Bannon brought to bear in 1985's The Return Of The Living Dead, including one genuine 'WTF Have I Just Seen?' moment. Rating: WW

Dead good: Scouts Guide is hilariously crass

5. The BFG (2016): I'd have probably liked Steven Spielberg's rather ponderous movie a whole lot more if I hadn't, only a couple of years ago, reacquainted myself with the brilliant Roald Dahl story upon which it is based. Like most of the late writer's tales, The BFG – a story of friendship between a lonely giant and the young orphan girl he kidnaps – is shot through with savage black humour, the inventiveness and daffiness of its language concealing something both raw and disturbing. Spielberg's film, on the other hand, sands down too many of those spiky edges and replaces what's left with treacle and cosiness. My alarm bells started ringing the moment I realised it was set in 'American London', that mythical place where mist hangs permanently in the night air and people threaten to "call the coppers" on drunken louts. Furthermore, in Dahl's story the monstrous giants that menace the BFG and Sophie are truly the stuff of nightmares – their names alone make you flinch: Fleshlumpeater, Bloodbottler, Childchewer, Gizzardgulper. Here they're little more than big ugly bullies, about as terrifying as Raymond Briggs' Fungus The Bogeyman. On the plus side, though, Mark Rylance as the eponymous giant and newcomer Ruby Barnhill as Sophie are an utter delight, while the eye-popping CGI deserves every plaudit that has come its way. Rating: WW

Big deal: The BFG is a visual treat if little else

WWWW - Wonderful
WWW - Worthwhile
WW - Watchable
W - Woeful

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