The Silencers, 1966 - ★½

When I was a little kid my family used to go on holiday to Millport, on the Isle of Cumbrae, in the Firth of Clyde.

We didn’t go to the cinema often, if ever, back then. But Millport had a small cinema, and we always went once or twice when on holiday.

I don't recall any of the films we saw in the four years we holidayed there. What I do remember is the film posters, because they were always there, so I saw them year after year. And unusually, they were round the walls inside the auditorium. So while you waited for the lights to go down, you saw adverts for films that once shown there.

It's where I first heard of the Dollars trilogy. Only the first two then, in a double poster for A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. When Eight Bells Toll. I think Ice Station Zebra.

And one called Matt Helm Gets it in Denmark. I eventually saw all the others, but not that one. As I got a bit older, if ever the name came back to me, I wondered what kind of ‘getting it’ the title referred to. I probably kind of looked like an adventure film, so it was probably more likely to be a threat to his life, than any other interpretation. But the entendre was clearly double.

I recently found that our Roku has a strangely-named channel called ‘Movieland Tv’ [sic as far as the lowercase ‘v’ goes]. I had a poke around, and it seems to specialise in old movies from the 60s and 70s that are not what might now be called classics. Though there are a couple of Bond films: Thunderball (the first Bond film I ever saw) and Diamonds are Forever.

But I came across one called The Silencers. The blurb described it as ‘The first Matt Helm movie’. Well! Here was the mysterious figure from my childhood. If not getting it in Denmark, then at least in danger of being silenced. The blurb also told us he was an agent who’d got out of the game and his superiors wanted him back.

Fair enough, sounds like it could be OK, and I fancied something like a spy film tonight.

The first surprise was the star: Dean Martin. Now, that poster back in Millport might have shown his name in large type, and if it did you’d think the collision of his last name with my first would have stuck with me. But if so, that fact is lost in the mists of memory.

After an opening where four hit men are given bullets with ‘Matt Helm’ written on them, it starts with a woman dancing. And, basically, stripping. It’s obviously trying to be like a Bond opening scene, but, way sub-even-that-standard.

And then another woman starts singing, and the credits include original songs by Elmer Bernstein, and a choreographer. Is this a musical?

Well, no, but if you’ve got Dean Martin in the studio, you’d be daft not to get him to sing a bit. Which he doesn’t do in character, but does in a couple of scenes in voiceover, in effect. Oh and there’s a joke with Sinatra coming on the radio and Helm saying, ‘Turn that off, I can’t stand his voice.’ They retune, and a Dean Martin song comes on, and he says. ‘Now this guy can sing.’

I know, it’s not much of a joke.

It's a daft spy romp, and from Helm’s amorous adventures, I think it's now clear which kind of ‘getting it’ will be happing in Denmark. Though probably a bit of both.

I'm giving it one star for making me laugh several times, though mainly at the ridiculousness. And half a star for the fantastic mobile bed. Why move to answer the phone when you can flick a switch and have your bed rotate you to where it is? And when you want to have a bath, just let your bed take you there and drop you in.

Honestly, that bit wouldn’t have been out of place on Tracy Island.

Other than that, it’s complete mince.

The Banshees of Inisherin, 2022 - ★★★★

Martin McDonagh’s latest is sad, hilarious, tragic, and true. Or feels like it could be true, even if some of the decisions characters make are baffling, to say nothing of gruesome.

On a rugged, beautiful island off the coast of Ireland in 1923, with the civil war going on on the mainland, two friends fall out. Or rather, one says he doesn’t like the other any more. A whole sequence of events flow out from this simple, almost child-like choice.

The funniest part happens when one of them goes to confession.But that’s only to be expected: confession’s a pretty funny kind of thing, when you think about it.

(Updated 2022-12-11 at 18:47:58)

V for Vendetta, 2005 - ★★½

Reasonable filmic conversion of the graphic novel. It doesn’t really do a lot with it, but it’s fine.

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Easy A, 2010 - ★★★

Another US high-school comedy. Not a John Hughes 80s one, but one that makes explicit reference in-universe to things like The Breakfast Club. It’s a pretty good example of the genre.

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Baby Driver, 2017 - ★★★★

I saw this at the cinema when it came out back in 2017. Loved it then. Loved it even more now. Incredible soundtrack, amazing (daft) car chases. Crime.

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A Room with a View, 1985 - ★★½

It's an old Merchant-Ivory period piece. Pleasant enough, but kind of stilted in places. In part. some of that may be deliberate, to reflect the buttoned-up nature of the times, but it's hard to say.

Amusingly, the image that's shown as I type this on Letterboxd — which may or may not be the image that accompanies the post when it reaches my blog — is from the very last scene of the film, if I'm not mistaken. An odd choice.

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Pitch Perfect, 2012 - ★★★½

Fun story about competitive acapella singers at a US university.

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Miss Sloane, 2016 - ★★★

Decent story about a US lobbyist who takes on the support of a bill to restrict some tiny amount of gun rights. She quits one company and moves to a smaller one to do it.

An absurdly fanciful ending, sadly. The sadness is in American society, not the film.

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The Velvet Underground, 2021 - ★★★★

There's a lot to like here if you're already a fan — or at least, have some interest. Probably not too much if neither of those apply.

It has interviews with those who are still with us (or who were when it was made). Not just John Cale, Moe Tucker, Doug Yule, but members of Andy Warhol's Factory crew (the 'Superstars'), like Mary Woronov and Gerard Malanga.

I'd like to have heard more of the songs, especially the less well-known ones, and seen more footage of them, such as there is. It uses the documentary style that just films people speaking and edits those interviews together. That has a certain power, but I feel it might have helped to have a narrative, a voiceover elaborating on the story.

Recommended, though.

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Withnail & I, 1987 - ★★★★

Long time since I saw this, so all I remembered really were the quotable bits ('We've gone on holiday by accident!')

The high dinginess and run-down state of Britain as the sixties ran down is skilfully evoked. It's very male, though. The only female character is the woman in the tearoom who refuses to serve our heroes. If that's the right word.

It's not laugh-out-loud funny, but it has aged surprisingly well.

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13th, 2016 - ★★★½

A documentary about the prison-industrial complex, this is a tough watch. The title comes from the 13th amendment to the US Constitution. While abolishing slavery, that amendment also allowed for slavery to continue — at least for those incarcerated for a crime.

Tough, as I say, but it should be seen.

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Legally Blonde, 2001 - ★★★

We’ve been enjoying the more recent work of Reece Witherspoon lately, in The Morning Show and Big Little Lies, so it was interesting to go back to see her in her younger days. 

It’s a fun enough film. There were no surprises, in part because I’ve seen the live musical, but mainly because it’s not the kind of film that offers surprises.

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Nomadland, 2020 - ★★★½

The scenery is bleak, and the setup is sad, but in the end this movie is neither. Frances McDormand's character may have lost her home, job, and even town — she comes from a company town called Empire, which is closed down when the business fails — but she finds companionship along the road.

Sometimes that companionship is herself: she is someone who is happy in their own company, and that's okay. She lives in her van. She's not homeless, 'just houseless,' as she says.

I spent parts of this film wondering if something terrible was going to happen, but it's not that kind of story at all. The worst thing happened before the start, and all the rest is — just life. There's no plot to speak of, but that's okay too.

And though the scenery is bleak, it's also beautiful.

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Don’t Look Up, 2021 - ★★★½

Fun, if bleak, satire about the end of the world. Two astronomers try to get people — though mainly a Trump-esque US administration — to believe that a civilisation-ending comet is on course for Earth. With predictable results.

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Mary Poppins Returns, 2018 - ★★★½

Fun sequel to a Disney classic. Good songs, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Probably not as memorable as the original.

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‘Spider-Man: No Way Home, 2021 - ★★★★’

Pretty good follow-on from the earlier Spider-Man films. My daughter tells me ‘All the fan theories were right.’ I wasn’t aware of them, so I hope that’s not a spoiler for anyone. 

Turned out Doctor Strange (long my favourite Marvel character) wasn’t being quite as idiotic as I’d thought from the trailer, so that was good. Sets things up nicely for his next film.

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‘The Beatles: Get Back, 2021 - ★★★★★’

I already wrote about watching the first part, but the whole thing is just as fantastic.

The middle episode does feel like it has some 'middle volume of a trilogy' longueurs. It definitely dips a bit. But that reflects the state of the band at the time. They're trying to bounce back from George walking out and returning, they've moved from the Twickenham warehouse to a new studio in their Apple HQ, and they're rethinking the whole project.

They're contemplating what it's all about.

The third part leads up to the famous rooftop live performance, which is glorious, and delightfully presented with split-screen images showing interviews with people in the street below and two bobbies coming in with 'Thirty complaints about noise.'

I wrote before that this is only for the true fan, but I think the third part would work even if you only have a passing interest.

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The French Dispatch, 2021 - ★★★★

Wes Anderson's latest is a wild romp, slightly incoherent at times -- or, not incoherent, exactly but confusing in a good way. Until you realise afterwards that it did all hang together and make sense.

It tells the tale -- several tales -- of the eponymous fictional magazine, which is loosely based on The New Yorker. Here, it is a supplement to a Kansas newspaper, published from a city in France.

There are four stories, wrapped in a framing sequence of the editor-in-chief dying and his will saying that the magazine should cease publication.

There's chaos, slapstick, wild events, and Anderson's usual painterly visuals. It's loads of fun.

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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.

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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.

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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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