I’m going to try to keep track of what I watch and what I’m up to this year, and then post one of these every Sunday. Seems like a relatively simple concept, so let’s see how badly I can fuck it up. This week’s a short one, since I’m taking it from 01/01/15. And I didn’t see anything brand new this week, so maybe it’s fitting to start with some prime Joe Dante…
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (dir. Joe Dante, 1990)
22 Jump Street was good, but this will always be the original and best meta-sequel. Things I love about Joe Dante’s Gremlins 2: Haviland Morris vamping it up like she never would again; the Batman (1989) logo produced when the Bat Gremlin smashes through a wall; Actual Gremlins interrupting Leonard Maltin’s TV review of Gremlins; the perfectly prescient response to the snarky analysis of movie logic (a murderous Gremlin erupts, with excellent timing, from a computer terminal); Ticking off the Danteverse cameos from Henry Gibson (The ‘Burbs), Paul Bartel (Hollywood Boulevard), Rick Ducommun (The ‘Burbs), Jason Presson (Explorers), Archie Hahn (most everything after Innerspace) and even Dante himself; The Hulk Hogan-assisted messing with the fourth wall a la Hellzapoppin’; the unrivalled and unrepeatable mixture of physical (Dick Miller takes the secret entrance into Clamp Enterprises) and stop-motion effects (Bat Gremlin, Gizmo’s dance), CGI (Lightning Gremlin!) and puppetry (Tony Randall’s Brain Gremlin); the Busby Berkeley homage; pretty much every single thing about it.
Locke (dir. Steven Knight, 2013)
The main thing I love about Locke is that Tom Hardy appears to have chosen a Welsh accent on a whim – it’s irrelevant to the plot, the film isn’t set in Wales and none of his character’s family or associates appear to be Welsh – which is the kind of touch I always tend to appreciate. The economy displayed and creativity employed is impressive, with almost the entire film being shot in one confined location – it cheats even less than Phone Booth on this score – Ivor Locke’s car, as he makes a midnight run while his entire life falls apart. I’m not sure I have much more valuable to suggest about Locke from this distance, except the relatively mundane point that it wouldn’t have worked at all without Hardy’s subtle and nuanced execution of writer-director Knight’s admittedly elegant and purposeful script. It reminded me of the disingenuous statements you often hear employed by established filmmakers when they make a film with next to nothing – but draw on all their experience, industry contacts and, most importantly, the largesse, talent and box office draw of their stars. Locke lives and dies on the performance of Hardy, whose strengths it perfectly capitalises on. If nothing else, the depth of emotion and intellect Hardy manages to squeeze from the material suggests he’s going to have absolutely no problem conjuring a charismatic Max Rockatansky from the rumoured 20 lines of dialogue he’s been given in Mad Max: Fury Road.
50% of Role Models (dir. David Wain, 2008)
“You white, then you Ben Affleck.” This was on TV Saturday night when I got in from work and made dinner, but I managed to pull myself away halfway through, having already seen it a bunch of times – and owning it on DVD. On his worst day I love a bit of Paul Rudd but he also co-wrote this, so it’s actually approaching Peak Rudd (previously recorded in a special few facial expressions in Wet Hot American Summer). Role Models reminded me I have this gem on my shelf to watch at some point:
To confirm, that is (a) a DVD menu screen someone has uploaded to YouTube (b) Paul Rudd – not a Brian Singer life model decoy – in pole position ahead of a lot of Asian actors, all of whom we can comfortably predict have a lot more to do in this film, which is (c) a Hong Kong film starring Rudd as an FBI agent named Ian Curtis. It’s generally understood the action chops he displayed in Gen-X Cops 2: Metal Mayhem swung him his upcoming Ant-Man role. (By the way, I lied, I watched the whole thing.)
Cosmopolis (dir. David Cronenberg, 2012)
Maybe it’s because of Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, but when Robert Pattinson’s Eric Packer, a bored and tail-spinning billionaire, taxes himself with the eternal question, “Where do all these limos go at night?”, my interest in this film sagged appreciably (everyone knows they go to a depot and chat to each other). Like Locke, although to a less successful extent, the majority of Cosmopolis takes place in a vehicle – one of those limos – and most accents are not inherent to their employers. Robert Pattinson, Jay Baruchel, Kevin Durand, an Englishman and two Canadians, all employ the kind of American accents only found in movies. However distracting, I really don’t mind this artifice, nor even Pattinson’s occasional De Niro-isms. In fact, I love these things the way I love Ryan Gosling’s fake American-tough-guy real voice. The real problem with Cosmopolis is almost everything else about it – it’s mannered and alienating and not in a particularly interesting or worthwhile way. It’s written – adapted by Cronenberg from Don Delillo’s novel – and shot like one of Max Fischer’s plays, although Fischer seems to have had more of an effects budget. The only sequence that truly broke the malaise for me was Matthew Almaric’s brief appearance as André Petrescu, the Pastry Assassin (“Ah, son of a bitch, I glop you good!”). Otherwise there’s a whole lot of work required from Pattinson in drawing anything remotely compelling from the turgid dialogue. Paul Giametti is the engine of the almost successful climax, and it’s equally awe-inspiring and terrible that he should be able to elevate material like this so persuasively to such a level of (mock) profundity. However, despite Giametti’s best efforts, there’s more truth and depth in Big Fat Liar than this, a fundamentally annoying film.
Next week: The Night Is Young AKA Mauvais Sang, Ant-Man teaser, Birdman.
Two weeks hence: Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer, Matchbox Cineclub @ The Old Hairdressers and Werner Herzog in Conversation with Paul Holdengräber: “Guidance for the Perplexed”.