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My Letterboxd reviews for October 2017

The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl

October’s viewing was a mixed bag: a handful of cinema trips, one of them a press show (for Brawl in Cell Block 99, as previously linked); a few dips into Netflix and other streaming services; genres all over the place; and one classic rewatch that stands the test of time.

The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl:

Went to this sight-unseen as part of the Anime House season at Dublin’s Light House, and was delightfully surprised. The quirky animation style may take some getting used to – think The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine crossed with Tex Avery – but the charming story (basically a string of episodes depicting a night on the town for a tangentially connected group of college grads) has familiar echoes of offbeat slice-of-life stories like Durarara!! and Toradora!, but also Scorsese’s After Hours and the loopier end of the ’80s American teen comedy spectrum.

All the President’s Men:

Six years since I last saw this, really? Anyway, my opinion hasn’t changed: it’s one of my all-time favourites. And an appropriate choice both for the times we’re living, and the season that’s in it: there’s something so autumnal about this one, even though the timeline is really all over the place.

Falling Down:

One of a slew of major ’90s movies that I’ve somehow never seen before, and it’s a doozy. Michael Douglas is incredible in the lead, fully understanding the mythos (or in this case, the ugly truth) of the put-upon white-collar husband and father in his odyssey across the sun-bleached city to see the wife and daughter who would rather he stayed away. That he’s often quite reasonable, and even likeable, in his righteous anger at ‘the system’ makes his more insidious characteristics and desires all the more chilling.

The film around him falls by comparison, as the narrative is pretty much trope city (down to the ‘last day on the job’ cop routine by Robert Duvall, though in fairness it’s kind of an in-joke that’s taken to its extreme). But it’s never less than thrilling, helped by a tangible sense of the oppressive dirty heat of a hot summer day in LA; only Spike Lee, of the big US director bunch, has captured a similar atmosphere in his films. Joel Schumacher really caught lightning in a bottle here.

And it still says a hell of a lot about US/western culture today, too, even if that wasn’t necessarily intended. Specifically, there is so much blatantly obvious social commentary in the film that it’s probably a stretch to tease out glossed-over points like Douglas’ character’s actions being ignored or dismissed because he’s white, or his ex-wife’s fears being discounted because she’s a woman. Yet they are there to read nonetheless.

Draft Day:

Only Americans can imbue such sporting drama in what’s essentially a statistics nerd’s fantasy.

The Babysitter:

McG might be on to a winner here with this silly (and ridiculously gory) coming-of-age horror comedy that actually has a hint of wit to it.

Gaga: Five Foot Two:

There are two sides to the subject of this documentary. There’s the real, unvarnished Stefani Germanotta, the one who’s self-aware and comfortably imperfect and can just about manage her celebrity status without freaking out. And there’s Lady Gaga, rich-and-famous-lifestyle-living pop superstar, whose latest incarnation is as a real, unvarnished version of her. So it’s hard to know at first whether to trust what we’re getting. Maybe that’s just the way she wanted it, until not even half-way through, when the pain of her now-diagnosed fibromyalgia cuts through the artifice. Major props to her for not letting that obvious discomfort affect her resolute self-confidence in knowing herself as a performer, and what she needs to do her job. She’s a good egg, and better than this film, technically speaking.

Alien: Covenant:

Better than Prometheus, but about as unnecessary: a just-the-hits reboot, of a kind, with a modern CGI sheen yet with a meaner spirit that won’t take the franchise anywhere good. And for what it’s worth, Katherine Waterston should have been the star; instead, she has to make room for Michael Fassbender’s self-consciously bravura bullshit.

The Fate of the Furious:

The Rock and Jason Statham earned their salary and then some. Roll on their deserved spin-off.

Robot Jox:

Another ambition-exceeds-the-budget classic from Empire Pictures and one that, in spite of its vintage, still manages to be a more satisfying giant mech picture than Pacific Rim.

Arena:

It would be some coincidence if this Charles Band production wasn’t an inspiration to the brain trust behind Deep Space Nine. It’s not just that Armin Shimerman and Mark Alaimo appear as quasi-prototypes of the characters they would make legendary just a few years later, when its vibrant sense of space station life feels foundational to the spirt of that show (and of Babylon 5, whose lead Claudia Christian also stars here). Yes, I took all of that from what’s essentially a budget Rocky or Bloodsport in space, with unfortunately near-fatal glacial pacing that belies its rich imagination — not to mention remarkable practical effects that blend early animatronics with a charming rubber-monster aesthetic (care of John Carl Buechler and the inimitable Screaming Mad George).

The Visit:

I’ll just say it: M Night Shyamalan did a much better job (glaring plot holes notwithstanding) with this what-a-twist thriller (and a found footage film and all, gasp!) than Denis Villeneuve with his similarly themed but profoundly mean-spirited Prisoners.

Perfect Blue:

Points off for a dodgy scan of this 20th anniversary re-release, as seen at the Light House on Hallowe’en night. It’s a film that I’ve wanted to watch ever since it first came out but for whatever reason didn’t get to it till now. That’s probably for the best in retrospect, as greater familiarity with the cultural mores explored in Satoshi Kon’s rightfully regarded classic was needed.