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It seems that Hollywood, and it’s not that I’m guilty of this I’ve just been fortunate to have made some very successful films, but it seems like everybody in studio positions with the power to say yes and the power to say no wants a home run with everybody on base. They want a grand slam during the last game of the World Series with the games tied four and four. They want, everybody wants to be a hero and they want to ride into Hollywood at the eleventh hour and pull a piece of shit out of the closet and turn it into some sort of silk purse and you have a last minute hit. Everybody wants that hit to be a $100mil hit. There seems to be an attitude among the people who run the studios - not all of them - but a lot of people who run the studios seem to have an attitude that if a film can’t at least hit third base, let alone home, then we don’t really know if we want to make this picture. And that’s the danger. The danger’s not from filmmakers, the danger’s not from the producers or the writers, it’s from the people who are in control of the money, who essentially say, “I want my money back and I want those returns multiplied by the powers of ten. So I’m not really interested in sitting here and seeing a movie about your personal life. Your grandfather. What it was like to grow up in an American school. What it was like to masturbate for the first time at thirteen or whatever. I want a picture that’s going to please everybody.” In other words, I think Hollywood wants the ideal movie with something in it for everyone. And of course that’s impossible. - Steven Spielberg

Chambre 666, 1982 (dir. Wim Wenders)

Short Reviews (The Raid 2, The Winter Soldier, This Sporting Life, The Bishop’s Wife)

The Raid 2: Berandal (2014)

Dir. Gareth Huw Evans

This is a better and more ambitious film than the first Raid. Whereas the first film was a relentless exercise in action minimalism (and I don’t mean this in a bad way), this one aims for a stronger dramatic spine, trying to be a complex crime drama that incorporates action. It occasionally strains, but for the most part works very well. The material here (an undercover cop/gang war plot) isn’t exactly new, but it’s brought to life by a respect for good storytelling, through strong performances, characterizations and pacing. But the real reason that most people will seek this out is for the action sequences, and on that front it does not disappoint. The action is staged as expertly as in the first film, and the kinetic camerawork still adds to the energy level without detracting from the coherence. I may still be giddy from the movie, but I’m tempted to call the car chase in this one of the best I’ve ever seen. The violence frequently reaches the ludicrous heights of the first one, but this time around is enlivened by some gallows humour. And overall, the film is stronger on a visual level – it’s clear Evans has been steadily improving as an image maker between the first film, his segment in V/H/S/2 and this. The film is peppered with sharp editing (near-invisible edits and a roving camera during a prison riot come to mind) and effective visual touches (I like that one of the villains seems to exist in his own extra-sinister netherworld). If I have any complaints about the movie, it’s that it feels its length and that the material has more or less been done before, but overall I found this an immensely satisfying action picture.

★★★★ 1/2 (out of 5 stars)


Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Dir. Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

This movie seemed to go out of its way to address a lot of the issues that I’ve been having with the recent Marvel movies. The plot, while existing in the larger universe of these movies, is fairly self-contained and handles its own setups and payoffs. The characters are properly developed and the actors are given interesting things to do. And despite its large scale, there’s enough specificity and closeness to the stakes (in the story as a whole and in the action sequences in particular) for them to feel tangible. That all makes it sound competent and serviceable, which would undersell what an entertaining package this movie is. It’s got a strong screenplay full of intelligent plotting and humour that naturally emerges from the characters, and the incorporation of contemporary real world anxieties creates a personal resonance for its hero. The action, while occasionally hard to decipher, is energetically assembled, with several thrilling set pieces. And the performances are very good, with the actors bringing unexpected depth to their roles. This is now easily my favourite from the Marvel movies.

★★★★ 1/2 (out of 5 stars)


This Sporting Life (1963)

Dir. Lindsay Anderson

I wouldn’t be surprised if Martin Scorsese has seen this film, because it has a lot of similarities with Raging Bull, namely the brutality and kineticism in its depiction of sport (rugby here, boxing in Raging Bull) and the unflattering examination of the hero’s masculinity. (There’s even a mirror scene.) The lead performance by Richard Harris is raw, forceful and immediate. Not to knock the rest of the film, but it’s pretty much drowned out by how compelling he is. The film is done in a naturalistic, gritty style – it was Anderson’s first fiction feature as a director after having started out making documentaries – which is in stark contrast to the other films I’ve seen from him (If… and O Lucky Man!). Given that I have little negative to say about it, I’m a little surprised that it didn’t grab me more, but it’s still a fine film.

★★★★ (out of 5 stars)


The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

Dir. Henry Koster

The surface message peddled by the movie is about the spirit of Christmas and learning to appreciate what’s important in life, and that’s all well and good, but the real message here is what a suave motherfucker Cary Grant is. He was initially cast as the bishop, but on his suggestion was changed to the angel sent down to help the bishop with his problems. This was a wise decision. Grant is effortlessly charming but also brings with him an element of mischief. Sure he’s gonna help you save Christmas, but he just might try and steal yo girl, and this gives the movie some much needed tension. This isn’t a great movie by any means, but I found it fairly enjoyable on the basis of Grant’s performance.

★★★ 1/2 (out of 5 stars)

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