I’ve often been mindful of the fact that, although I occasionally dare to masquerade as a film writer, I never seem to get watching as many films as I should. I often earmark things I want to see at the cinema, but don’t get round to them (due to either time or money issues) and while I think I’ve got a decent scope and knowledge of classic film, there’s still a vast and neverending pile of things I’ve never managed to see despite knowing I should have. So far this year, however, I’ve done a bit better with film-watching – getting out to the cinema a bit more, seeing a couple of things due to online-press-privileges, and taking better advantage of my Lovefilm account (i.e. being aware that to avoid wasting money I should really actually watch things, or at the very least rip them into MP4 format to watch on my phone, within a week or so of getting them). It’s all been largely accidental rather than a conscious effort, and I’m sure the moment I try and turn it into a conscious effort I’ll stop doing it, but for now, I’ve decided to write a little bit about films I’m seeing, in bursts, as I see them. Just as a bit of a writing exercise, and a way of keeping track of my attempts to keep up with film in general a bit better.

Just don’t ask me where the “listening to every album on my iPod in order” mini-album-reviews are.*

Anyway, Stuff I’ve Watched over the past few weeks or so includes…

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
There are reasons to see this besides Andy Serkis, of course. The soundtrack is, as you’d expect, terrific (and if you don’t like Ian Dury and the Blockheads, you’re really not in any way qualified to comment on anything). The supporting cast are pretty much uniformly excellent. And it’s pretty good fun (though occasionally a bit dark), drenched in “I wish I were 24 Hour Party People“-styled direction. But really… it’s all about Serkis. He is nothing short of phenomenal – close your eyes and he really is Dury (particularly when singing), although to do so would ignore how well he gets the physical mannerisms, too. Anyway, it’s a very enjoyable ride, terrific at times, although it does follow standard “music biopic” style/format a lot of the time. And it’s a shame you don’t actually get “Sweet Gene Vincent” properly in full.

Annie Hall
Yes, I’m a complete and total idiot for never having seen this before. But I cherish the day it finally showed up from my Lovefilm list. What an absolutely bloody wonderful, awe-inspiringly brilliant and clever and touching and sharp film. I knew it was meant to be good, but I stupidly didn’t know quite how all the meta bits would push my buttons (“Wouldn’t it be great if real life were like this?”), and of course I’m exactly the sort of neurotic nerd that Allen’s characters in this era of his career would appeal to. For some strange reason, it reminded me of Eternal Sunshine in its approach to relationships – the basic message being “Yeah, they’re kind of rubbish and they mess you up, but they’re worth going through over and over again anyway” – and I liked that attitude a lot. Oh, and it’s very, very, very funny. Absolute masterpiece.

Blur: No Distance Left To Run
Reviewed here, so there’s not much need to repeat what I said there. But the short version is: damned near essential (if a little self-indulgent and self-satisfied) if you’re a Blur fan, and filled with lots of interesting nuggets of contemporaneous footage. And if you’re not a Blur fan… why not?

I’m not allowed to say anything about this film or my opinion of it, because it was seen for review purposes and said review is under embargo. I’m just mentioning that I saw it, and you can infer whether I thought it actually worth passing comment on. Watch the trailer, though (warning – contains teh swears), for an idea of what it’s like. And the fact that the poster has already spoilered Empire’s star rating of it is a bit of a clue, too.

Up In The Air
Enjoyed this a lot – perhaps more than I was expecting to – and it marks Jason Reitman out, after Juno and Thank You For Smoking, as a Genuine Talent. Can we have him instead of his dad going Ghostbusters 3, please? Anyway, super performances from all three of the main cast, with Clooney in particular excelling at that old-school Clooney charm of his (it’s something you either like or don’t, but I always find myself warming to him, especially in Coen films), and although it seems to lose its way a little bit in a section that at the time feels like a poor last act, it subsequently only turns out to be a third quarter after all, and the coda that follows it makes it work. What’s especially surprising is how refreshingly lacking in “Hollywood cop out” it turns to be – not in a depressing way, just in a realistic way, to the extent that there’s a surprising lack of resolution of any kind. Mega bonus points, too, for using unreleased Elliott Smith demo “Angel in the Snow” extensively at one point.

Role Models
Shhhh. Alright, I wouldn’t have paid to see this at the cinema, but it’s a perfectly justifiable Lovefilm job. A bit of an obvious and lame and predictable sort of a comedy (surprise surprise, the lame man-child-ish lead characters learn a lesson, screw up a bit, then redeem themselves! Shock horror!) on the surface, what makes this work (aside from an excellent running thread involving Kiss) is the quality of the cast – Paul Rudd, Jane Lynch and Christopher Mintz-Plasse are all typically great doing their same usual schticks, and even Seann William Scott is on the likeable side of his usual narrow Stifler-esque range. It’s a bit of fun, basically, fairly forgettable but still enjoyable while you’re watching it. Which is more than can be said for a lot of examples of its genre, to be honest.

Quantum of Solace
This seems to have divided opinion rather more than Casino Royale did, but having finally got round to catching up with it, I found myself falling firmly on the “rather liked it” side. It lacks a lot of the intrigue – and, largely, the fun – that Casino Royale had, and the plot can be a little unnecessarily oblique (also, it’s a bit uninspiring for a Bond film – ooh, the nasty men are going to corner the water market in a single country!) but it’s a pretty uncompromising battering ram of an actioner, with some strong set-pieces, and Craig continues to make the CraigNotBond people look somewhat foolish with assured performances, somehow exuding charisma even as he’s being generally icily detached throughout.

Fun fact: while the line as oft-quoted tends to be “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it any more!”, when Howard Beale actually says it it’s “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this any more!” Anyway, this is a truly bizarre but utterly engaging bit of satire from that wonderful “smart cinema” era of ’70s American film. As has often been said, though, one suspects it was rather more fanciful when it was made – whereas nowadays it simply looks all that more prescient. You could almost actually imagine The Mao Tse-Tung Hour happening nowadays, which is kind of scary. And when Beale wonders what’ll happen “when the twelfth largest company in the world controls the most awesome goddamned propaganda force in the whole godless world”, it’s hard not to think of Mr Murdoch and his gang. Anyway – cracking film, cracking cast (cor, Faye Dunaway’s character is pure evil, isn’t she?), cracking script. Weird-as-hell ending, mind.

Yeah, yeah, another one I should have seen ages ago. In fact, it’s funny – I used to be accused by someone of being “obsessed with the mafia” for no apparent reason other than that “Bart the Murderer” (the first Fat Tony one) is one of my favourite Simpsons episodes. And yet I’ve never seen any of the Godfather trilogy or, until recently, the film I’d now call a challenger to The King of Comedy (yeah, I know, I’m weird like that) for Scorsese’s best. It really is quite stunningly directed, though – even when the plot moves into the less interesting ’80s, losing the seductive charm of the ’60s and ’70s-set sequences, you’ve got such bravura turns as the intensely fast-paced “paranoia” set-piece – and the combination of its visual flair and the across-the-board-brilliant performances are almost enough to make you forget just how brutal it all is. A difficult watch at times, but a rewarding experience, particularly if you’re fascinated by all of the “how it all actually worked” stuff (which I tend to be). I guess I might have to seek out Casino, now…

*the answer is that they will be back at some point. But not yet.


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