No Country for Old Men, 2007 - ★★½

    This film is infuriating. It reminded me of Shallow Grave, at least at the start, in this way: if you find a load of money that's obviously come from a drug deal gone wrong, or otherwise somehow involved in organised crime, there is one thing you should not do. That is try it keep it all, to run away with it or hide it, and expect to survive the wrath of the criminals.

    The safest thing, of course, is to just walk away from it all and call the cops. But if you must get into it, then obviously what you should do is take some of the money. Not a lot. Say, 10%. An amount that the gangsters might plausibly accept as having gone missing during the the shootout, or whatever. Leave the rest, call the cops, and let them handle the aftermath. You might get away with it.

    Here, the main character does exactly the wrong thing. What's worse, in story terms, is that from the start we have no one to identify with: no character who is obviously the 'hero,' if you like. No one to root for. Because it all starts off without us having any particular reason to root for Llewelyn. And as it goes on, and we do start to want him to make it — if only because the focus is mainly on him — he continues to annoyingly make terrible choices.

    Worse still -- and spoilers ahead -- worse still, his story is just dropped on the floor. He doesn't even get the respect of us seeing his end. The narrative hands over to a secondary character (though to be fair, that character, the sheriff, is the first character we meet, if only in voiceover).

    And the end is just... nothing. 

    It is by far my least favourite Coen brothers film.

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    Star Ratings

    Giving star ratings to things I’ve watched, read, etc, is not something I ever did until I started using Letterboxd. It looks like I started logging films in September 2019 (the August ones were a bulk mental dump when I first set up my account). I didn’t start them automatically posting here until the November, and I’m sure I’ve missed one or two along the way.

    My initial thought was just to log the films that I watched, as an aide memoire as much as anything. But Letterboxd encourages you to give the films star ratings. I’ve been doing that, but all the time I wonder what exactly I mean by them.

    Which sounds like a strange thing to say. I made the choices, after all: I set the rating. Surely I knew what I meant when I did it?

    And that’s true enough on each occasion. I know what I mean when I give the rating. But that’s the thing: it’s what I meant at that time. All it means is what I thought of the the film at the time I added the entry to Letterboxd. I’m not trying to make a statement about what is good in absolute terms. I’m just saying something about what I thought about the film at that time.

    I like to think that I judge each film on its own merits. At the very least, I try to judge it in terms of what it’s trying to achieve. A five-star drama and a five-star comedy are very different things. It won’t be very meaningful to compare the ratings I’ve given to different films and see if there’s a hierarchy of my preferences. Though it is fair to say that any film with five stars is one of my favourites.

    While Letterboxd encourages star ratings, it pleases me that you don’t have to give one. Unlike, say in some online surveys, where zero is not an option. I don’t know, though, whether a Letterboxd ‘no stars’ should count as ‘zero stars,’ or just the choice not to rate it. I intended the latter with Can’t Get You Out of my Head, as I made clear in the post.

    It seems that I rarely watch anything less than three-star, though. Either I’m very discerning, or I only watch things I know I’m going to like.

    The Matrix Revolutions, 2003 - ★★★½

    If only in the interest of being ready for the new one, it's worth being up to date with this. But actually it's a much better film than I remembered.

    Sure, the Zion battle scenes go on for much too long, and the overall story is not entirely coherent; but it's much more coherent than I remembered, and just that much better. In the sense that it sits well with the second one, which I loved when it came out.

    Neither of them is as good, as effective, as the first on its own, of course, but the whole ends up being more of a cohesive trilogy than I thought. XKCD notwithstanding.

    See in Letterboxd

    The Manchurian Candidate, 1962 - ★★★

    This is a strange film. I knew the broad outline, or thought I did. An American gets brainwashed and ‘turned’ by the ‘other side’ during the Cold War, and then gets into the position of running for president. That’s not quite it, as it turns out, but it’s not far off. 

    The thing that surprised me, compared to how something like this would be done by a modern filmmaker, was how explicit the brainwashing was. Most modern writers and directors would, I think, be more indirect, so you’d be thinking, ‘Is he or isn’t he?’ throughout. Here it was very clear that he was, so the question was more, ‘What’s he going to do?’

    Which is a perfectly fine way to tell the story, too. It was OK, through not as good as I expected, and there were some very odd pieces of dialogue (‘Are you Arabic?’) and a couple of strange jumps in the plot. 

    Worth a look, though, if you haven’t seen it.

    See in Letterboxd

    Book me a front-row seat:

    … because the new The Matrix movie looks incredible.

    (I know the front row isn’t the best place to sit.)

    The Matrix Reloaded, 2003 - ★★★½

    Watched on Saturday August 14, 2021.

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    Passport to Pimlico, 1949 - ★★★★

    I think I probably saw this classic Ealing comedy, or part of it, when I was a kid, but it was good to watch it properly on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

    Set a few years after the Second World War, it tells the story of the discovery of a hoard of treasure and a royal proclamation that makes Pimlico in London part of the ancient Duchy of Burgundy. The locals promptly claim the treasure and proclaim their independence from the UK.

    Problems ensue for the Home Office -- or does the Foreign Office have jurisdiction?

    The ending is a little weak, but it's a lot of fun getting there.

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    Black Widow, 2021 - ★★★★

    I was last in a cinema in February 2020, to see Parasite. Today I went to the same cinema to see Black Widow. It was great and strange and moving to be back in a cinema at all, and when the Marvel ident started playing at the start... well, it was pretty special.

    And the film itself is great. I'm not going to say too much about it, obviously, but it's a fitting debut for Black Widow in a solo film, and farewell for Scarlett Johansson playing the character.

    At the screening I went to, at two o'clock on a Friday afternoon, there were my daughter and me in row H; one guy sitting two or three rows in front and far off to one side; and somebody sitting right up the back and also far off. So it wasn't like we were crowded in with people like in the old days. That was quite comforting, but I can't imagine the film is grossing the way Marvel ones have tended to. Still, everyone knows why that is.

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    Friends: The Reunion, 2021 - ★★★

    It was fine. Good to see what they're all like now. Some funny bits.

    Slightly surprised to find that this is on Letterboxd, because it's not what you'd normally think of as a movie, but hey.

    See in Letterboxd

    Can't Get You Out of My Head, 2021

    Convention dictates that I should give a star rating to this. I’m not going to, though, because I’m not sure what it was trying to achieve. What I try to do with star ratings is judge how well, in my opinion, the film achieves what it was trying to do. I don’t claim I always manage that, but when it’s not clear what the film’s purpose was, it becomes next to impossible.

    Or: you can’t reduce something as long and complex, audacious and challenging as this, to a mere zero-to-ten scale. 1

    Across six films, totalling around seven hours, Adam Curtis gives us ‘An Emotional History of the Modern World,’ as the subtitle calls it. As I mentioned in my last post, Kerry Thornley of Discordian fame is interviewed early in it. That is, an interview with him is used. He’s dead, so it’s not like he was interviewed for these films. Indeed, as far as I can tell, nothing was shot for these films: the visuals are entirely comprised of library footage.

    Curtis narrates over them — sometimes with quite a disconnected effect, where the images have no obvious connection to the story he’s telling. Similarly, the use of music can be quite jarring. Sometimes it’s completely relevant to the matter at hand, but often there’s no obvious connection. And the titular Kylie song is not used at all.

    It’s not even that obvious why the series is called that, come to think of it. And some of the individual episode titles are even more opaque, notably the last one: ‘Are We Pigeon or are We Dancer?’ I feel sure it’s a quote, and I think it’s probably from a song, but I was alert to it turning up, and as far as I could tell, it didn’t.

    OK, a quick DuckDuck gives mainly hits about the episode, but also some about a track by The Killers called ‘Human,’ which includes the line ‘are we human or are we dancer?’ So it’s probably alluding to that. Oddly that line is inspired by a Hunter S Thompson quote that I’m not familiar with, ‘We’re raising a generation of dancers.’ Which sounds pretty good to me, even if Hunter meant it critically.

    Anyway, what’s this absurdly long film about?

    It’s a bleak, depressing, but nonetheless compelling vision of human history, covering conspiracies and conspiracy theories, wars, revolution, surveillance capitalism, and capitalism more broadly, the tension between the collective and the individual, and a whole hell of a lot more.

    But Curtis never gives a thesis statement. He never tells us, in the news journalist’s way, what he’s going to tell us. Or more to the point, what conclusions he’s going to draw from what he’s going to tell us. And his style is very disjointed: he dots about in time and space, with little more to connect the dots than a ‘but’: ‘But in China…’

    In that particular tic, it’s not at all unlike the postmodern games of Illuminatus!.

    He does come to kind of a conclusion at the end of the two-hour-long sixth episode, but it’s not a very satisfying or convincing one. Which is fair enough, I suppose. One of the recurring thoughts is the idea that society today is too complex for anyone to understand it fully. The problem with that, that he draws our attention to, is that that understanding has caused many politicians to give up trying to change things for the better, which tends to result in burgeoning corruption.

    He does end with a note of possible hope, but I think I might have to watch parts of it again to get all of the nuances.

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    1. Letterboxd supports half stars, so five stars is ten points.↩︎

    Sisters with Transistors, 2020 - ★★★★

    Great look at some of the women who were the unsung originators of electronic music. Tape loops before Steve Reich, backwards tapes before The Beatles, use of feedback before The Velvets… not to mention the best TV theme tune of them all. 

    And all narrated by Laurie Anderson. Well worth a watch.

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    Ocean's Eight, 2018 - ★★★½

    A fun heist romp with a slightly flat ending. And you don’t need to have seen any of the other ‘Ocean’s’ films to enjoy it.

    See in Letterboxd

    Emma., 2020 - ★★★

    Watched on Saturday March 20, 2021.

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    This Is England, 2006 - ★★★★

    A gritty, realist tale of British skinheads in Thatcher times. We get the good skins — into ska, soul, and having Black friends. And then the bad ones — into ska, soul, racism, and joining the National Front. 

    But it’s mainly about a young boy whose dad died in the Falklands.

    It’s good. Kate from Line of Duty (Vicky McLure) is in it, too. Disappointing that the Clash song of the same name is not used, but since that was released in 1985 and the film is set in 1983, it wouldn’t have made sense.

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    Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, 2020 - ★★★★

    A great story about a competition we all grew up with, and then stopped caring about because it was endlessly uncool, and then started taking an interest in again because it was so daft and fun.

    Maybe that's just me.

    Anyway, this film (made with the cooperation of the European Broadcasting Union, which is the body behind Eurovision) pokes fun at the competition in all the right ways, and does it with love and a big heart.

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    Good Vibrations, 2012 - ★★★★

    Great fun story of Terri Hooley, who ran the eponymous record shop and label in Belfast. 

    Great music, and an appearance by John Peel; or at least an actor doing his voice very badly.

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    Palm Springs, 2020 - ★★★★½

    Brilliant time loop film (oh, spoilers, fuck off), let down only slightly by the ending. I’d have rolled credits when it goes black. 

    Not that the ending they did have is bad; just that it’s the weakest part of what is a totally great film.

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    Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle, 1987 - ★★★½

    Watched on Saturday March 20, 2021.

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    Alphaville, 1965 - ★★★

    Watched on Saturday March 13, 2021.

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    I'm Thinking of Ending Things, 2020 - ★★½

    Charlie Kaufman lets us down, by being deliberately, viscerally confusing, to the point of meaninglessness. Yet I find it quite compelling after the first twenty minutes or so. 

    Ultimately empty, though.

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