Posts Tagged ‘2019’

Context is very important, first impressions too. We have discussed in the past how Netflix’s attempts to copy the traditional Hollywood action blockbuster or special-effects extravaganza would probably benefit from being seen in a traditional movie theatre rather than on a small screen somewhere else, while it does seem to me that the first time you cross paths with a film kind of establishes your relationship with it in perpetuity – when it comes to the handful of films I first watched in a foreign language without the benefit of subtitles, no matter how many times I’ve watched them since in English, all seem to have been marked by the experience – a lingering sense of bafflement, frustration, and vague disappointment.

I still think the best place to watch movies is in a cinema, but there are so many old films I’ve only ever seen on a TV that this is usually less of a problem. The UK archive channel TPTV is currently doing a sterling job of cranking out old horror films, usually by American International, two or three times a week (which is why there’ve been quite a few AIP golden oldie reviews in the last few months). It is, as I say, an archive channel so there shouldn’t really be anything surprising about this. What is a bit unexpected is the appearance of something like Joshua Kennedy’s House of the Gorgon, which premiered in 2019.

The story is set in the late 19th century in the small, indeterminately European town of Carlsdadt (sic). Surprisingly Welsh-sounding local priest Father Llewellyn (Christopher Neame) is deeply concerned that some ancient, monstrous evil is about to descend on the town, mainly because of a recent wedding he officiated at where everyone but him turned to stone halfway through, in rather suspicious circumstances. Could the padre be onto something?

Making her way to the town is innocent young lady Isobel Banning (Georgina Dugdale), accompanied by her mother (Veronica Carlson) and friend Christina (Jamie Trevino). The reason for her trip is so she can finally marry her fiance, Julian (Kennedy himself – he also wrote the script and edited the film, this is that kind of movie). The place seems quite charming, although some of the locals treat them rather strangely, and there is the inevitable warning that they should get straight back on the train and leave. But why?

Well, Isobel and her party find themselves staying with Julian and his benefactor, Baroness Bartov (Caroline Munro), a strange and reclusive noblewoman who, just possibly, has a peculiar hold over Julian. (Shouldn’t she be Baroness Bartova? Probably – but, once again, it is that kind of movie.) Is it somehow connected to the priest’s fears? Might a strange rhyme about the blood of a virgin being required to unleash an ancient evil somehow be pertinent to whatever is happening?

Even if you’d never heard of this thing there is a fair chance, given that you visit this blog in the first place, that you’ve figured out what’s going on here – the fact that the Baroness’ sister is played by Martine Beswick will probably push you over the line. This is very much a film for the initiated – for the uninitiated, Caroline Munro was in Dracula AD 1972, Captain Kronos, At the Earth’s Core, and various other fondly-remembered genre movies. Martine Beswick was in One Million Years BC, Prehistoric Women, and Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde. Veronica Carlson was in Dracula Has Risen From The Grave and The Horror of Frankenstein. (All three also both had stints in the Bond franchise, although Carlson was only in the non-Eon version of Casino Royale.) Christopher Neame’s Bond film was Licence to Kill (though he had a less decorative role, obviously); prior to that he appeared in Lust for a Vampire and Dracula AD 1972. (He’s also one of the very few actors to have had roles in all four of Dr Who, Blake’s 7, Star Trek and Babylon 5.) In short, we’re in cult jamboree territory here; the only film I can really compare House of the Gorgon to is House of the Long Shadows (the similarity in titles may not be coincidental).

Regular readers (seek help) will recall that my verdict on House of the Long Shadows was that it is a terrible movie which makes very poor use of the legendary horror stars assembled for it. House of the Gorgon‘s horror-veteran cast isn’t quite as stellar – how could it be? – but it’s still pretty impressive; you get the sense that Kennedy would definitely have been on the phone to the agents of Ingrid Pitt and Julie Ege, if only they were still with us, just so he could get the full Hammer glamour set. In any case, the script here is probably better than that of the older film, and the cast are properly better served.

And yet, and yet… I really don’t want to be horrible about House of the Gorgon, as it is clearly a labour of love which everyone involved has approached with great enthusiasm. But: how did this production come about, you may be wondering. Well, Joshua Kennedy apparently got to know Martine Beswick on the American horror movie convention circuit, and through her also made the acquaintance of Munro (the two of them are apparently besties). When Munro suggested, jokingly, that they should all make a movie together, Kennedy sprang into action, writing the basic plot outline on the back of an airplane sick bag (sometimes it is necessary to make a joke, and sometimes it is not), and raising $13,000 via crowdfunding to make House of the Gorgon a reality.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen a film made on a budget of $13,000, so you may not know what it looks like. Well, the main thing that such a low-budget film doesn’t look like is – er – a film. Many films aren’t actually made on film any more, of course, they’re shot digitally and put through a process that gives them the look of traditional film. House of the Gorgon is just shot on videotape, which gives it the bright, occasionally garish look of – well, the wedding sequence at the beginning does actually resemble someone’s wedding video. The rest of it inescapably resembles a student film project.

Like I say, I don’t want to be nasty, but the limitations of the production are constantly visible, often jarringly so. Someone is clearly reading a contemporary newspaper in a scene supposedly set on a 19th century train; although this does distract a bit from the obvious back-projection of the train windows. A surprising number of people in ‘Carlsdadt’ (whether the use of this name is because Karlstadt, as featured in Dracula and The Evil of Frankenstein, is under copyright, or simply the result of a typo, is not clear) appear to be Hispanic. Tourist brochure photos of somewhere picturesque in central Europe take the place of establishing shots. The set dressing prominently features paintings (done to monkey-Jesus standards) of not just the main cast but various other horror icons – I think I spotted Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, and Vincent Price, but it’s sometimes not clear whom the artist has been trying to paint. It’s sometimes a bit painful to watch, like an am-dram production of a Hammer horror pastiche, albeit one mounted in a village where various actual Hammer stars live. (Most of the problems are down to the tiny budget, but even so – why does nobody in Carlsdadt have a remotely central-European sounding name?)

I should say that the veteran actors are doing their best, despite the terrible special effects and make-up they generally have to contend with; Martine Beswick’s quite arch and deliberately camp performance is the best thing in it. She certainly seems to have her tongue in her cheek and isn’t taking it entirely seriously – perhaps that’s the best way to approach House of the Gorgon. I know this project – I can’t quite bring myself to call it a movie – has been highly praised in some quarters, and advocates for it argue trenchantly that it’s unfair to hold the project to the same standards as better-resourced productions.

I get that. Really I do. And I suspect that if I’d come across it on the internet, I’d probably have been more inclined to give it a pass on some of its shortcomings, as with most of the Star Trek and Star Wars fan films I’ve come across. But finding it on an actual proper TV channel, it’s almost impossible not to be arrested by all the myriad ways in which even the worst professionally-produced movie outclasses a project like this one. This is the audio-visual equivalent of self-publishing, a fan-made Hammer horror pastiche (with a few famous faces roped in). There’s nothing actually wrong with that, and I can appreciate the impulses which led to it getting made. But by all the usual standards this is pretty thin stuff.

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I don’t usually like to get all navel-gazery, but when it comes to one of these things, I like to stick to a certain minimum level of quantity (quality, as regular readers will know, is another matter entirely). I’m aware you’re giving up some of your precious and limited lifetime to read and assimilate my thoughts (or, and all choices are equally valid, try to make sense of the pun in the title, skim the first paragraph, look at the picture and then leave) and I feel obliged to provide a certain degree of heft. Only in exceptional circumstances, these days, does anything of less than 1000 words get released here – the only exception I can think of is the showy-offy review for Victoria, which (for formal reasons) largely took the form of a single 600-word sentence.

This time, though… I’m not sure if I can find a grand of words to write about Drew Cullingham’s Shed of the Dead, to be honest. ‘Steer clear’ repeated five hundred times? It would have a certain bravura directness to it. Yes, this is not so much a review as a caution, for Shed of the Dead rests comfortably near the very bottom of the list of films I would willingly watch again. (The fact the film was shot in 2015 but didn’t get anything like a release until 2019 should tell you something, possibly that it’s not just the film that should have been shot.)

This is, as you’ve probably guessed, yet another addition to the glut of zombie films we have been bombarded with for twenty years now (if Danny Boyle ever does get back to the project which kick-started all of this, he’ll probably be able to accurately call it 28 Years Later). There is a bit more going on here, though, as we shall see – more proving to be less, on this occasion.

Spencer Brown plays Trevor, an everyman protagonist who is clearly meant to be a loveable loser. The loveable part they struggle with, but the fact he is a loser is coded by the fact that he is unemployed and spends most of his time in an allotment shed painting wargames figures (I imagine Games Workshop’s lawyers were swooping around this project on their winged fell beasts, sniffing for possible IP infringement, but the film-makers weren’t that dumb). When not doing this, he’s round at the house of his slovenly mate Graham (Ewen MacIntosh), actually playing wargames. Both of them are apparently emotionally retarded and incapable of engaging with the real world in any meaningful sense.

Well, where do you start here? Full disclosure: yes, I don’t just get obsessional about cult movies, I play Call of Cthulhu, and I play wargames too (though not as often as I’d really like to). Does this surprise you? Please refresh your memory as to what this blog is actually called. While it’s true that many people who enjoy RPGs and wargaming are living their lives some distance from what the consensus agrees to be the mainstream, they are still mostly nice, intelligent, well-adjusted people, albeit with occasionally questionable political views (hello there, Jock, if you’re reading this). So on one level this movie does seem to me to be an extended act of defamation.

Anyway, as the allotment is a mess, the other users attempt to get Trevor evicted. Their spokesman is a Canadian emigre named Mr Parsons. Why is he Canadian? Mainly because they wanted Kane Hodder to play the part. Kane Hodder, for the uninitiated, played Jason Voorhees in several instalments of Friday the 13th, in addition to a huge number of other culty roles. This is in-jokey stunt casting, and not the last instance of it in Shed of the Dead: other cult actors who turn up in small roles are William Moseley and Michael Berryman. Trevor is unhappy about this and in the ensuing argument Parsons falls onto a rake and brains himself. Trevor hides the corpse in his shed.

Meanwhile, of course, the dead are rising, and this extends to Parson’s corpse – which leads to a lengthy death-struggle in the confines of the shed itself. Trevor eventually finds himself holed-up in the home of his estranged wife (Lauren Socha) and her friend (Emily Booth). Can they survive the unfolding zombie apocalypse, and will you actually care?

Well, the answer to the second part of that question is ‘almost certainly not’. Just getting to the end of the film was a challenge, but you need to put yourself through the fire sometimes, right? It’s not just a cheap, unfunny, lazy film, it’s… well, come to think of it, calling it a cheap, unfunny, lazy film is probably accurate enough. What makes it particularly egregious is the fact it is cynically angling to cash in on the success of a much better film – 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, obviously. Wikipedia lists Shed of the Dead as an actual remake of Shaun of the Dead, and while Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg would probably be within rights to seek legal advice if the makers of Shed described it as such, you can see the similarities.

Apart from the total lack of anything resembling functional jokes, the difference is in the way the characters are depicted without any sympathy or warmth: none of them have any redeeming features, with the two female characters especially problematic – they are essentially sex objects, although Socha’s character also has a streak of vicious shrewishness in her. It all put me horribly in mind of… well, it’s not so much a remake of Shaun of the Dead as a mash-up of Shaun of the Dead with the horrendous Sex Lives of the Potato Men, widely considered one of the worst films ever made. Shed of the Dead would probably be challenging it for that position, if it were more widely known.

The participation of Booth is interesting, as she was for quite a few years the face of the largely-gone-but-not-entirely-forgotten Horror Channel in the UK. There was a degree of thrashing around for content on the old Horror Channel, during the twelve hours or so every day when it was actually allowed to show modern horror movies; some really dodgy films turned up in the small hours of the night just to keep the channel on the air. Emily Booth’s presence here seems to be a tacit acknowledgement that an obscure cable channel at 2am on a Wednesday morning is the natural home for a film like Shed of the Dead.  It really doesn’t deserve any better. Steer clear.

(What do you know, 1100 words. Who’d’ve thought it?)

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Gritty realism crawls into a hole and dies when confronted with Mika Kaurismaki’s Master Cheng (aka A Spice for Life), a Sino-Finnish foodie rom-com (yes, another contribution to that ubiquitous world cinema genre). This is a pre-pandemic film which has only now managed to scrape a minor UK release, although I think the big chains are missing a trick – much of it’s in English, and I would imagine that it might do very well if marketed to the right kind of audience.

The film opens with a passing coach depositing Shanghainese visitor Cheng (Chu Pak Hong) and his young son Niu Niu (Lucas Hsuan) in the small town of Pohjanjoki in remote Finland: Cheng is looking for someone called Fongtron, whom none of the locals have heard of. Not knowing what else to do, Cheng and the lad become fixtures at the local restaurant, run by divorcee Sirkka (Anna-Maija Tuokko): Cheng asks around plaintively for the mysterious Fongtron, while Niu Niu just plays on his smartphone.

Mysterious Chinese wanderers who blow into town unheralded often turn out to have the most unlikely skill set, at least in a lot of the movies that I watch, and it proves to be the case on this occasion too. However, in Cheng’s case his unexpected proficiency proves to be with a skillet – a coachload of Chinese tourists arrives and is somewhat appalled by the boiled sausage, mash, and grated vegetables which are the only things on the menu. Cheng springs into action and whips up lashings of chicken noodles, revealing he was once a top chef before various family tragedies resulted in him eventually coming to Finland in search of Fongtron.

Naturally, there is some suspicion of the newcomers from the grizzled old Finns who make up most of Sirkka’s clientele. ‘It looks slimy and awful – no white heterosexual man would eat that stuff,’ declares one community figure, unpromisingly, as he surveys the product of Cheng’s culinary exertions. However, as coachload after coachload of tourists come to town just for the food, everyone reaps the benefits. Soon even the locals are enjoying Cheng’s sweet and sour reindeer recipe and he and Niu Niu are making friends with everyone around them, especially when it turns out that Chinese food proves to have mystical, near miraculous healing properties. Sirkka soon realises what a fantastic guy Cheng is to have around – and perhaps not just as an unpaid chef…

But then you probably guessed that already: the entire plot is thoroughly predictable, to the point where it almost feels like a film you’ve already seen before, so familiar is every scene. I found myself getting a bit exasperated at the slightly discursive style and languid pace employed by the director – it could certainly stand to lose ten or fifteen minutes, because it is really pushing its luck at nearly two hours in length. It is as plain as plain can be that Cheng and Sirkka are going to end up getting it on, but the film really makes a meal (if you’ll pardon the pun) of building up to this. When the film finally gets around to advancing the plot, it will more than likely already find you there waiting impatiently for it.

Some people have been known to suggest that I can be a bit hard-hearted, even cynical, about what are generally agreed to be feel-good movies. (The average feel-good movie, as I have observed in the past, is most likely to make me feel like slipping off somewhere and opening a vein.) And so you would expect something as calculatedly sweet and inoffensive as Master Cheng to give me the pip in a pretty major way. The movie is certainly so monomaniacally intent on being charming and loveable it should actually be quite annoying and sickly. There’s also the fact that it does play rather like an advert co-produced by the Finnish Tourist Board and the Institute for the Promulgation of Chinese Culture (I just made that up, as far as I know), in that the message of the film – calling it ‘subtext’ is really doing the script a favour – is that Chinese food and philosophy can really change your life for the better, and that Finland is a lovely place to visit. It’s a toss-up as to which element of the film has had more care and attention lavished on it – slavering close-ups of Cheng’s latest sweet and sour creation, or the beautiful landscape around the town. It even plays like a collection of things to do on holiday in Finland – reindeer watching, boating, going to the sauna, tango dancing – all the stereotypical Finnish pursuits get a soft-focus outing (although I admit the degree to which tango dancing is stereotypically Finnish is open to debate). Certainly all the usual gritty little inconveniences which usually accompany living in the real world – needing money, not speaking the language of the country you’re in, needing immigration papers or a work permit – are not allowed to trouble the film’s rustic idyll, at least not until they’re required in order to enable the next permutation of the plotline.

The discerning viewer will never be in any doubt as to exactly what the makers of Master Cheng are up to at any point during the film’s arguably over-generous running time. But… I have to confess that I did find it remarkably pleasant and watchable while it was on in front of me. It’s well-played, and funny, and the cast are charismatic and easy on the eye. Which isn’t to say that the slightly annoying elements of the film weren’t obvious while I was watching it; they were, but somehow the positive points of the film easily distracted me from the negative stuff. It’s just a relentlessly nice and cheerful film. As this sort of soft and undemanding of viewing, Master Cheng is the kind of thing that plays very well on Sunday night TV. It’s utterly dispensable except as comfort viewing – but we all need a bit of extra comfort these days, I suppose.

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I have no idea what I was doing in late summer 2019 when Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir was released; worrying about my career, maybe, or planning a holiday (looking back on those days it seems almost inconceivable that no-one could have had any notion of just how screwed up things would very shortly become and remain, but unwitting pawns of impending events we were – and remain, I suppose). Suffice to say that not only did I not see it, but I have no memory of even being aware of its existence – which is a little unusual given it seems to have been a bit of a critical darling, at least in art house circles.

It’s certainly not the kind of film which tends to receive mainstream plaudits. Some movies are like a highly-regimented coach tour, where you’re never left with any doubt about where you are or what you’re supposed to be doing – characters are being introduced and delineated, plot is being laid in, set pieces are being set up, all you have to do is sit there, pay a minimal amount of attention, and enjoy yourself. The Souvenir is more from the independent travel end of the market. Things sort of happen in front of the camera, some of which may turn out to be significant, some not. You can either sit back and let it all wash over you, initially at least, or you can try and engage with the film and figure out what it’s all going to mean in the end.

It’s not explicitly stated for some time, but the film is set in the very early 1980s and concerns Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), a young woman from what’s clearly a highly privileged background who is going to film school in London – she has an idea for what sounds like a rather clumsy social-realist drama set on Tyneside. She shares a flat with a friend, there are parties; nothing in her life seems to be especially unusual. The camera observes it all steadily and calmly.

It becomes apparent that Julie is in a relationship with an older man named Anthony (Tom Burke) – he is likewise cultured, seems affluent, has a job working in security for the Foreign Office. Julie seems quite happy to let Anthony make most of the decisions in their relationship. He meets her parents, who seem to approve of him. And then they host a dinner party for two of Anthony’s friends, one of whom observes – while Anthony is out of the room – that they don’t seem like two people who would obviously be in a relationship, what with Julie being a nice well-brought-up young woman and Anthony a habitual heroin user of many years’ standing… (Delivering this key bit of exposition is Richard Ayoade, in another of the highly effective cameos he seems to have done so many of in recent years.)

You would expect this to be the inciting incident of the movie – boom! – after which it all kicks off and goes onto a slightly different track, but you’d be wrong. The film just continues in its measured and cool way, although the emphasis is now more clearly on the dynamics of the relationship and its impact on Julie. It becomes clear that she is paying the bill whenever they eat out; she has to borrow money from her mother (Tilda Swinton); what seems like a burglary at their flat proves to be nothing of the sort.

The meticulous attention to detail and restraint of the film never really waver; as a piece of art consistent and intact on its own terms, The Souvenir is very impressive. The question is whether a film which is so understated and so stately in its pace is a sufficiently rewarding piece of drama for most audiences. I watched it with my partner, who was very sure the story could have been told just as effectively in only half the time, while the milieu of the film – wealthy posh people sitting around flats in Knightsbridge not quite discussing their problems – is hardly guaranteed to get the majority of audiences on-side with it. The Souvenir does seem to be wide open to the criticism that it is essentially a kind of cinematic equivalent of a Hampstead novel – events are treated as significant and profound not because of any inherent quality they have, but because of the social background of the people they happen to (and the post code area that they live in).

The film itself isn’t quite as stifling as that sounds, and it does seem to be aware of the potential problem – there’s a scene where Julie is given quite a hard time by a tutor at the film school, who clearly has a chip on his shoulder about the fact she comes from a wealthy background. In the end, while much of the film doesn’t exactly feel essential – for example, a scene where the two main characters bicker in a low-key way about who’s hogging the middle of the bed – it does result in a very authentic and absorbing sense of the reality of what’s going on. Films are life with the boring bits taken out – or so Hitchcock is supposed to have said. But naturalism was never really Hitch’s thing, and Joanna Hogg seems to be trying to make a film which reflects the entirety of life, boring bits as well as moments of passion and heartbreak. (This is apparently a semi-autobiographical story.)

I’m still not sure this is an achievable objective, but before its end The Souvenir does become quite engrossing to watch, if seldom particularly comfortable. This is mainly due to the slow accretion of detail and the strength of the performances, low-key though many of them are. It’s in the nature of this kind of film that the acting isn’t of the demonstrative, awards-chasing sort, and the fact that Honor Swinton Byrne hasn’t given another major performance makes it a little hard to assess her work – but, as noted, it all feels authentic and involving.

That said, while this is undeniably a film with many positive qualities, it’s still one which is arguably slow and reserved and quite bleak for much of its duration. It feels like film intended to be admired more than loved, a piece of catharsis as much as entertainment.

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Someone recommended Paul Solet’s documentary Tread to me last week, very enthusiastically: as it turns out, the film is available for free on t’internet (which must annoy Amazon Prime and Netflix US, both of which seem to have shelled out for the rights to it). The film concerns a curious incident in recent American history – it’s one of those things which was briefly very prominent in the news, before something bigger came along and eclipsed it (in this case, the death of Ronnie Reagan). I don’t remember the story myself, but did become aware of it later for slightly odd reasons (I plead the Fifth Amendment, except to say that I’m a member of some quite oddball Facebook groups).

The film concerns the last decade and a half or so in the life of Marv Heemeyer, an ex-military man who started a car repair business in the small town of Granby, Colorado. Various of Heemeyer’s friends and his former lover paint a generous picture of a hard-working man with a gift for welding, whose real passion was snowmobiling, and who organised his life so he could do the things he enjoyed.

Then – or so the film initially suggests – Heemeyer, an outsider in Granby, ran afoul of the town’s ‘good ol’ boy’ network, comprising several prominent local families, the mayor, the editor of the local newspaper, and so on. Heemeyer bought some land one of these people wanted, as a result of which they conspired to bankrupt him and see him run out of town. Being the kind of man he was, Heemeyer fought it every step of the way, but the level of corruption he encountered made his ultimate defeat inevitable.

Or so the film initially suggests. One of the impressive things about Tread is the way that, having established all this, it then smartly switches to let Heemeyer’s so-called persecutors have their say and give their side of what has turned into a rather compelling story of small-town politics and strong personalities at war with one another. Heemeyer’s account, which initially seemed reasonably coherent, suddenly seems to be shot through with improbabilities and other problems. The people he set himself against were not saints – this becomes very clear before the end – but neither does there really seem to have been a conspiracy against him.

Quite what happened to Marv Heemeyer is the question at the heart of the film, to which the only answer comes from tapes recorded by the man himself: he was sitting in his hot tub, he recalls, when he suddenly became convinced he had been appointed as the agent of divine retribution against the corrupt cowards running Granby.

At this point you would normally expect the story to involve a high-powered rifle, a rampage, and a stand-off with police marksmen – and while all these things do feature, there is another element, and the one which has earned Heemeyer a certain kind of grim celebrity in extremist libertarian circles. When he ‘became unreasonable’ (as he put it), he was sitting at the controls of a heavily modified Komatsu bulldozer, which he had spent months converting into a mobile fortress.

I suppose one of the issues when setting out to produce a feature-length documentary is how you make it properly cinematic and engaging for the audience; I suspect there’s always a danger of everything becoming quite dry and talking-heady. The Marv Heemeyer story is such a gift as source material for a film of any kind that I’m surprised it hasn’t been more heavily exploited in the US before (elements of the story, although notably not the bit with the bulldozer, formed the basis of Andrey Zyagintsev’s acclaimed 2014 film Leviathan, although this was also apparently inspired by the Book of Job). The bulldozer rampage is the bit you turn up to Tread for, and the film indeed starts with news footage of the actual events of that day; a more elaborate reconstruction of part of Heemeyer’s odyssey of destruction features in the closing section of the film.

Most of the film, however, is concerned with the events of the preceding decade or so, going into detail regarding Heemeyer’s character and grievances, and the perspectives of others involved in the story. As I’ve already suggested, this proves to be unexpectedly engrossing stuff, not least because of the almost Rashomon-like quality of the story – there is, obviously, only one set of facts, but Heemeyer’s apologists and the members of his hit list tell quite different versions of what happened.

Despite the fact that some of Heemeyer’s opponents hardly come across well – one of them expresses regret that the ‘killdozer’ was broken up and melted down, believing a museum devoted to the rampage could have been very lucrative – one is still inclined to conclude that Heemeyer was a man who, for whatever reason, simply lost it and cast loose from the anchor of reason. He may have been adopted as a totemic figure by extremist political groups, but there seems to have been very little about his actions that was motivated by a political belief – if anything, there is an almost religious zeal to the voice on the tapes, a man in exterminating angel mode.

It’s the audio tapes of Heemeyer’s own voice which are the most striking thing about Tread, the man’s own testament concerning what he was doing and why, and an extraordinary portrait of a man who was still functioning extremely cogently – planning in great detail, carrying out skilled and demanding technical tasks single-handed – while still apparently convinced he was carrying out God’s will by planning to demolish large portions of a small town with heavy machinery. It does seem incredible that nobody noticed what he was up to – Heemeyer himself took this as a sign that his actions had been divinely sanctioned – but then even after the fact the story seems incredible.

The rampage itself, when the film reaches it, is described with clarity and some decent reconstructions; it’s everything you could hope for from a modestly-budgeted documentary film. However, it’s the material leading up to this which really makes the story come to life and the result is an excellent documentary about strikingly bizarre and ultimately tragic events: a great example of insightful and effective storytelling, and well worth a look.

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A boy (Issa Percia) wrapped in the French tricolor flag emerges from an apartment block in present-day Paris. There is a sense of great anticipation in the air as he joins his friends and they excitedly discuss the prospects for the football match they are eagerly anticipating – France is in the world cup final! They travel to the centre of the city and join with huge crowds also following the game and enjoying the occasion. (As ever at these moments, you can’t help but envy the French their national anthem: the UK’s is such an antediluvian dirge.) No spoilers, but France win and the celebrations are unrestrained and wholly joyful, flags and banners waving. It is therefore unsettling and ironic as the title card for Les Miserables, directed by Ladj Ly, appears over these images.

Soon we find ourselves in the company of Stephane Ruiz (Damien Bonnard), a policeman newly transferred to Paris from the provinces. Ruiz has been assigned to the Street Crime Unit, a special group concerned with monitoring activity in the underprivileged district of Montfermeil (where Victor Hugo wrote and partly set his famous novel, many years ago). He gets a stern lecture from a senior officer about the importance of teamwork and backing up his immediate superior, Chris (Alexis Mamenti) – also known as Pink Pig – before hitting the streets with him and another colleague, Gwada (Djebril Zonga).

It soon becomes apparent that their patch is a tinder-box just waiting for the spark that will cause a major explosion: the mostly immigrant population are living in poverty, and there are constant tensions between the different ethnic crime gangs and the Muslim brotherhood, who also maintain a significant presence in the area (the film makes it clear without labouring the issue that the cops are more comfortable dealing with the crooks than the brotherhood). Ruiz has clearly not received a plum assignment.

Things get even more awkward: there is an abrasive edge to Ruiz’s relationship with Pink Pig practically from the moment they meet – partly due to Pink Pig bestowing the unwelcome nickname ‘Greaser’ on his new colleague – and this only becomes more pronounced when Ruiz is forced to back his colleague up when he attempts to illegally search a group of teenage girls. One of them attempts to film him as he does so: Pink Pig smashes her phone. He makes his position clear to Ruiz: when it comes to his interactions with the inhabitants of his patch, he is never wrong, and never sorry.

Already the film is immensely resonant with issues that have exercised the world this year, about the intersection of race, social opportunity and police power, and this continues as the plot develops. The team are called in to deal with a petty theft that threatens to flare up into a major clash between two of the local gangs. Whatever else they are, Pink Pig and his team are competent cops and locate the guilty party – the boy from the start of the film. But they find themselves under attack by a gang of children, nerves are stretched too far, and an innocent is badly injured. Rather than helping the wounded party, it’s clear that Pink Pig’s priority is covering up the whole incident. Is Ruiz going to support his superior or do his job?

We still seem to be at a point where the big distributors are being very wary about releasing big films into the multiplexes – at the moment the only major ‘new’ films are Tenet and The New Mutants, with the rest of the screens just showing kids’ movies and the odd oldie, though I note that the third Bill and Ted film is due to come out in the next week or so. If nothing else, one might hope this would create an opening for a film like Les Miserables, which might usually struggle to find an audience. (Although one must accept the possibility that all films are struggling to find an audience at the moment.) This is, regrettably, mainly because it is subtitled, although the general tone and subject matter are also likely to put some people off.

By this I mean that Les Miserables, while functioning superbly as a gripping thriller – something like a Francophone version of Training Day – is also clearly motivated by other concerns than the desire to entertain. If it had been made by certain American studios we’d probably discussing it as what they call ‘social entertainment’ – underpinning a solid narrative is the desire to engage with serious issues.

Initially it seems like this is going to primarily be a film about the abuse of police powers, framed as a conflict between Chris and Ruiz. Both actors give terrific performances, especially Mamenti (who also co-wrote the film) – Pink Pig initially seems like a joker with a slightly nasty edge to him, before he is revealed to be a dangerously arrogant and self-interested loose cannon. But the film is not totally simplistic – we see glimpses of a more rounded character, a capable police officer and family man. It’s suggested the job itself has worn these men down and brutalised them. Bonnard, for his part, puts across his character’s awkwardness and increasing concern extremely well, building up to the inevitable confrontations with his colleagues.

However, as the story develops it becomes clear that there is a wider issue being explored here: the extent to which the young people of Montfermeil have been failed and abandoned by adult authority figures. They are at best ignored by the authorities, allowed to slip through the cracks – at worst, they are exploited and treated as a resource by criminals and the police. Only the Muslim brotherhood genuinely appear to have their best interests at heart (which obviously opens up a whole new can of worms about the nature of multi-culturalism in western society). The climax, when it comes, is explicitly framed as a clash between youth in revolt and the men who have failed them, ending on a finely-achieved moment of ambiguity: a horrendously tense moment is left unresolved, as a quote from Hugo suggests that men are not born bad, but raised badly. It’s an entirely persuasive and affecting conclusion to a film which often feels like an roar of anger, but one which never loses focus or control. This is an excellent piece of cinema.

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Michael Winterbottom’s Greed does not get off to the smoothest of starts, although this is really the product of circumstances beyond the film-makers’ control: the film opens with an added-very-late-on caption dedicating it to the memory of the late TV presenter Caroline Flack, then transitions from this into a quote from E.M. Forster. I was still too busy wondering why the film-makers had felt the need to open with the dedication to really focus on the other things that were going on, but it clears up somewhat very soon: Flack is the first person on screen, appearing as herself in the opening sequence. The film includes various other examples of other celebrities doing the same thing.

The movie is clearly being positioned as very close to reality, which I would imagine has occasioned fun times for some lawyers – representatives of Greed are very clear that the film, which concerns the life of a ruthless high-street mogul vilified for his tax avoidance and use of sweatshops in the developing world, particularly after a peevish appearance in front of a British parliamentary committee, is not directly based on the life of Sir Philip Green, a ruthless high-street mogul vilified for his tax avoidance and alleged use of sweatshops in the developing world, particularly after a peevish appearance in front of a British parliamentary committee. Of course it’s not. But you would have to be completely unfamiliar with all concerned not to see a certain resemblance.

The central character of Green – sorry, Greed – is Sir Richard McCreadie, played by Winterbottom’s frequent collaborator Steve Coogan. The bulk of the film is set immediately before and during McCreadie’s sixtieth birthday party, which is taking place on the Greek island of Mykonos. McCreadie is on the defensive and looking to make a big statement following the bad publicity ensuing from his appearance in front of the MP, and a disgustingly lavish and decadent shindig is on the cards: Roman-themed, it is to feature gladiator fights as well as the traditional disco and fireworks. Present for the occasion are various family members and other hangers-on as well as employees – Isla Fisher, Sophie Cookson and Asa Butterfield play McCreadie’s ex-wife and children, Shirley Henderson his mother, while looking on with increasing horror are his official biographer (David Mitchell) and one of the party planners (Dinita Gohil), whose family history has long been entwined with that of the McCreadie business empire. Needless to say, party preparations do not go well: cheap labour to build the gladiator arena proves hard to source, the lion they’ve hired is out-of-sorts, and there is a mob of Syrian refugees on the beach spoiling the view.

Mixed in with the build-up to the party are selected highlights of McReadie’s life up to that point: starting out as basically a con man and gambler, before going into budget fashion, launching a string of shops, and hitting upon a uniquely inventive and ruthless model of doing business (the film explains this in exemplary fashion, but basically it involves buying large companies using money borrowed from the companies themselves, selling off their assets and giving the proceeds to non-dom family members). The exploitation of workers in the developing world is also key.

Greed sounds like a slightly uneasy mixture of elements – knockabout farce mixed with angry, socially-committed agitprop. One of the impressive things about it is the way that it does manage to maintain a consistent tone where these things don’t appreciably jar with one another. Coogan, it must be said, delivers another horrendous comic grotesque, the type of performance he can do without breaking a sweat, and if David Mitchell is genuinely acting it is only to give a minimal variation on his standard public persona, but there is considerably more naturalism further down the cast list, with a particularly good performance from the largely unknown Dinita Gohil. But this is a movie with a notably strong cast, even in some of the relatively minor roles.

You do get a sense in the end that the loud, audience-pleasing elements of the film are there as a delivery mechanism for the more serious ideas which Michael Winterbottom is particularly interested in putting across: the first half is lighter in tone and more comic, focusing more on how awful McReadie is – the second explores how the system facilitates his behaviour, and is notably more serious. Perhaps the film-makers are correct to suggest this isn’t just a thinly-disguised hatchet job on a distasteful public figure, but a critique of an entire ideology. In this sense the film becomes one about people who are unable or unwilling to recognise the consequences of their actions. This applies to the McReadies, of course, who are either too stupid or too morally corrupt to admit they have a personal responsibility towards any of their employers or subcontractors. But many of us who are not multi-millionaires also engage in deeply questionable acts of all kinds – buying big label fashion, eating meat, voting Conservative – and still justify it to ourselves in just the same way. Genius, according to one definition, lies in putting together apparently disparate bits of information. The film suggests there is also a kind of genius in the ability to ignore the obvious connections between closely linked facts.

That said, it does almost feel in places that the film can’t pass by an issue without wanting to take a stand on it. The reality of the fashion industry (perhaps even capitalism in general) is appalling enough without the film also having to suggest this is also a feminist issue, and there’s another subplot about the refugees that feels just a little bit over-cooked. Winterbottom even manages to squeeze in a few breezy swipes at ‘scripted reality’ TV shows – something which now feels slightly less jolly than it once did, given Caroline Flack’s prominence at the top of the movie.

I suggested to a friend that we go and see Greed (he initially wanted to watch Parasite, but I’d already seen it) and he was a bit dubious to begin with: he thought the film looked a bit on the nose, and also that he didn’t need the movie industry to tell him that sexism and capitalism were Bad Things. In the end, though, he rather enjoyed it, as did I: I imagine that most people in Greed‘s target audience will not learn anything strikingly new from the movie, but it should do a good job of making them care more about things they are already intellectually aware of.

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Cultural hegemony can take many forms, not all of them obviously malevolent: it’s there in singers affecting the accent of the hegemon rather than their own, in the hope of getting more air-play on hegemonic radio; it’s there in TV series casting foreign actors, again to improve their chances of sales in lucrative markets abroad. It’s there in the language that we use: I’m sure many British people talk casually of ‘taking the Fifth’ or ‘stepping up to the plate’ even though they have virtually no idea what these expressions originally referred to.

Doesn’t work the other way, of course: if I talked about being on a sticky wicket in Lowman, Idaho, I imagine I would just get stared at, and if I had the presumption to try and release a film about the life of John Noakes or Johnny Morris in the USA I would probably be referred for psychiatric examination. But hegemony is hegemony, which is why UK cinemas are currently screening Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. (The analogy in the middle of this paragraph almost breaks down when you consider that many stalwart British children’s TV presenters from years ago are now disgraced to the point of being outright pariahs. But I digress.)

The movie is set in 1998 and concerns Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a brilliant investigative journalist working for Esquire magazine, whose talents are increasingly failing to the mask the fact that he is contending with his own bitterness and cynicism – almost to the point of misanthropy. Lloyd doesn’t really see the problem, but his wife (Susan Kelechi Watson) certainly does, especially after a trip to a family wedding goes very badly – this is probably an understatement, considering the occasion concludes with Vogel getting into a fistfight with his own father (Chris Cooper) and being thrown out.

Lloyd is less than thrilled, all things considered, to be given the assignment of writing for an issue on contemporary American heroes – especially given that he is told to go and interview Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), a children’s TV presenter based in Pittsburgh.

(Here, of course, we come across one of those cultural and national faultlines which almost seem invisible until they become important. Fred Rogers is virtually unknown outside of the United States: his programme, Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood, was never shown over here, and prior to this movie I was only dimly aware of him, mainly because the show did a set visit to The Incredible Hulk in 1979 and that segment is up on YouTube. In short, Fred Rogers is a beloved icon to generations of Americans who remember him fondly from childhood; there isn’t really a comparable figure in British culture – only adult entertainers like Ronnie Barker or Eric Morecambe come close, I would imagine.)

Well, Lloyd flies off to Pittsburgh to interview Fred, and finds himself nonplussed by the sheer sweetness, gentle kindness, and utter decency of his subject. Can this guy really be genuine? Every instinct tells him that it can’t be the case, and his mission becomes to uncover the truth about Fred Rogers. But what if the truth is what it seems to be? All this time, as well, Lloyd is still contending with his fraught relationship with his father and his feelings of resentment towards him after he walked out on the family. But the benign influence of Fred Rogers seems to be having an effect on him…

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood has only secured a relatively minor release in the UK, probably because it will prove somewhat baffling to the average British viewer: the film is initially staged as an episode of Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood, as Hanks comes on, delivers the opening routine, and then introduces Lloyd and his situation as if it’s an item on the programme (one made for very young children, I should mention). If you or your children grew up watching Fred Rogers, I imagine this is terribly resonant, funny and charming; the same can be said for the way that some of the transitions in the movie are executed using models in the style of those on the show. For anyone else it is just a bit weird and slightly Charlie Kaufman-esque: like a joke you’re not quite in on. This never quite stops being an issue with the movie.

Of course, the main reason this film isn’t just playing in art-houses is that it does feature one of Hollywood’s finest actors and biggest stars in a key role. Tom Hanks, if we’re honest, doesn’t look much like Fred Rogers, even with the wig and so on he’s been issued with, and obviously my own ability to judge how well he’s captured Rogers’ demeanour is very limited. However, given that one of the premises of the movie is that Fred Rogers was – and the word is used – a kind of saint, then he is hugely successful. There is obviously a thin line between radiating the kind of decency, sincerity and compassion which Rogers apparently did and just coming across as absurdly cheesy, but Hanks mostly stays on the right side of it. (The modern world being what it is, there have been complaints that while Rogers’ achievements as a host, educator, puppeteer, and author of books such as Going to the Potty are made clear, the fact he was also a minister and a man of deep religious faith is rather understated.)

I should also say that Matthew Rhys is very good in what’s a much less showy part. His character arc for the movie is not the most original, but Rhys’ performance and a charming script do make this a very satisfying and enjoyable drama, even if you disregard the fact it is largely framed in the context of a children’s TV show you may or may not have any awareness of. Hollywood’s fondness for doing stories about people contending with father issues has become a bit of a standing joke – one wonders what this says about the pathology of the place – but this is a superior one.

The only slightly disappointing thing is that this is billed at the start as being (all together now) ‘Inspired by true events’, but at the end it is revealed that the magazine article on Fred Rogers was written by Tom Junod: it would seem that Lloyd Vogel, his family, and his story are all essentially fictitious, created for the purposes of a film about what a great man Fred Rogers was. I’ve written about this kind of thing before recently: once you start mixing ‘real’ people and fictional characters together in this way, the question of what exactly it is you’re doing becomes a pressing one. You’re either telling a true story or you’re not. I’m sure Fred Rogers was every bit as inspirational a figure as he is presented here: but if so, why not just stick to the facts? If he wasn’t, then why fictionalise the story?

But this is a more general point about the whole genre of films to which this belongs. I thought this was a very warm, charming and satisfying drama, rather more to my taste than Heller’s last film, Can You Ever Forgive Me? The performances and structure are more than good enough to make up for the fact that the film seems to be presuming a familiarity with Mr Rogers and his neighbourhood which simply won’t exist for many viewers. Certainly one of the better films of the year so far.

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As they say in Rome, ‘After a fat Pope, a thin Pope’ – another of those weeks where everyone in the film releasing business seems to be keeping their powder dry. Still, some intriguing prospects on the horizon, amongst them Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, which gets a surprisingly wide UK release this weekend (we shall return to this topic). This is one of those movies I’ve heard various positive things about, not least from Ex-Next Desk Colleague (all things must pass). ‘You’ll love it,’ was his confident assertion. Well, that’s possibly putting it a bit too strong, but I am certainly very impressed.

The film takes place almost entirely on a remote and barren island, somewhere off the New England coast, many years ago. Posted here to maintain and operate the lighthouse are two men: one of them (Robert Pattinson) is on his first tour of duty as a lighthouse keeper – he is intense, quiet, eager to prove himself. The other man (Willem Dafoe) is much older and more experienced; he is also garrulous, demanding, and often crude. There is friction between the duo almost at once, not least because the old man will not allow his younger colleague into the lamp room, although he refuses to reveal why.

The time passes slowly. The younger man finds a carving of a mermaid left by one of the previous keepers. He also begins to have odd visions, amongst them ones of the older man getting up to very strange things in the lamp room after dark. As the days add up and the weather gets worse and worse, isolation takes its toll. But is it all in his head or is there some grotesque inhuman force really at work on the island?

It’s honestly very difficult to give a proper impression of what The Lighthouse is really like to watch. The glib thing to say, which I’m not sure I didn’t read somewhere else, is that it is rather like how Steptoe and Son might have turned out, had the series been written by H. P. Lovecraft: it has two men of different generations trapped together in a toxic, co-dependent relationship, but also an insidiously creepy atmosphere and the suggestion of something fishy going on between people and, well, fish (or other forms of marine life). I mean this as a compliment, by the way, but when you take two such distinctive flavours and blend them together, you’re inevitably going to end up with something, um, distinctively distinctive.

Eggers, who wrote and directed the piece, doesn’t seem at all cowed by this, and doing something a bit different seems to have been part of his intention. The movie is as stark and austere as only black-and-white can be – on top of this, the director has opted to use a 1.19:1 aspect ratio, giving it even more the look of a film from the earliest years of cinema. All of this would normally scream art-house darling, and I am honestly surprised it has managed to land a significant release in mainstream cinemas – but then again, I am probably underestimating the box-office clout of Robert Pattinson.

As with Kristen Stewart, I would suggest that the statute of limitations has expired and we should accept that Pattinson is actually a very able actor and an impressive screen presence, regardless of how he started his career. Certainly he also seems happy to take on challenging projects – whatever else you think about it, the ickily pretentious sci-fi movie High Life from last year was hardly a commercial choice, and you could say the same about this one, too. Every genre movie that Pattinson signs on for seems to mutate into something unexpected and disturbing. Which inevitably leads one to wonder, now that Pattinson (or at least his chin) has signed up to play Batman: how on Earth is that going to work out?

This, of course, is a question for another day. Underneath the period trappings and strange stylistic quirks, The Lighthouse is at heart a horror movie, although saying much more about it is a little tricky. Certainly the most striking moments in it come from the suggestion that something genuinely unnatural and perhaps even mythic is going on: this is one of those movies where not a great deal is explained, but it does seem to be loaded with moments alluding to Greek myth and classic literature. Pattinson has visions of a mermaid, for one thing, while those looking to make the Lovecraft connection will find the appearance of tentacles in unlikely places to be of great significance.

On the other hand, it could just all be a symptom of creeping madness brought on by a combination of factors: isolation, stress, perhaps also guilt. I have to reiterate just how atmospheric The Lighthouse is: a foghorn bleats repetitively on the soundtrack, adding to the sounds of the elements, while you are left with no doubts as to just how bleak and unpleasant the island the keepers are on is. Apparently the cast and crew had a fairly wretched time just making the movie there – I suspect there was not a lot of acting required for many of the scenes.

When the acting is required, however, both Pattinson and Defoe certainly do the business. I suppose we can say that both of them deliver bold, vanity-free performances. Pattinson is playing the point-of-identification character, to begin with at least, but as the film goes on introduces elements of mania into his character quite cleverly and subtly: he goes from being sympathetic to rather alarming almost seamlessly. It initially looks like Defoe has been given quite a ripe old character part, complete with beard and thick accent, but the actor manages to find depth and reality as well, while retaining the edge of ambiguity that the film really requires in order to work. And work it does.

Of course, the thing about The Lighthouse, being a film about madness (and often violent madness at that) is that it does end up being an unreliable narrative. The story comes unglued just as the characters do, and in the end it’s left up to the viewer to work out just what has really been going on in front of them. But the film is impressive and memorable enough for this to be a welcome challenge rather than a chore. This is a movie with some extreme moments, and it certainly won’t be to all tastes, but I found its ambition and focus to be highly laudable. A good omen for the year’s horror movies.

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Crikey, you feel the pressure at moments like these: the characters in Cats are all queueing up for their moment in the spotlight, and in rather the same way the great and the good of criticdom all seem to be competing to deliver the most crushing dismissal of Tom Hooper’s movie. ‘Battlefield Earth with whiskers,’ was the coup de grace of one assessment; ‘a dreadful hairball of woe’ was another; ‘it’s just not finished‘ was the despairing cry of one professional viewer – one of a number of critics who made comments to the effect that there are some sights the human eye simply should not see, and Cats may well be one of them. How am I supposed to compete with that kind of thing? Of course, it is never a good look to spend one’s time feeling sorry for oneself – the charitable thing to do is to spend one’s time feeling sorry for Cats.

Things look about as bad as bad can be for Cats, as the story has become not that there is a new big-budget movie musical, but that there is a new big-budget movie musical which is really terrible.  That said, the film hasn’t exactly helped itself – Robert Wise always used to say that no movie in history ever came as close to not being ready in time for its release than Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but I think that record has been broken. Three days into its release, a new version of the movie is replacing the one that was initially distributed, in an attempt to address issues with the special effects. Various comments including words like ‘sticking plaster’, ‘on’, and ‘a shark bite’ do creep into my mind, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The movie is set in a garish 50s version of London, from which people seem essentially absent, leaving the streets populated by bizarre human-animal hybrids (mostly cat-people, as you might expect from the title). A hideous tinny clanging presages the onset of the music, which honestly does sound out of tune in places, and we get the opening number, entitled ‘Jellicle songs for jellicle cats’. The lyrics of the song seem to largely consist of the word ‘jellicle’, which seems to me to be a bit of a cheat as TS Eliot (author of the book of light verse which has gone through various transformations before reaching the screen in this unlikely form) made it up: it doesn’t really seem to mean anything, but it seems to be a useful all-purpose lyrical filler even though there aren’t many obvious rhymes for it (‘petrochemical’, maybe, and ‘Ecumenical’; one might even suggest ‘genital’, but all of the cats in the film have had theirs digitally erased).

Well, anyway. By this point we have met the main character (or as close as the film gets), Victoria Cat (Francesca Hayward) and a bunch of other cats. Following a quick rendition of Eliot’s ‘The Naming of Cats’ (performed without music and possibly the best bit of the film), the nature of the thing heaves into view: it’s a special night for the cats, as their matriarch Old Deuteronomy Cat (Judi Dench) will be listening to them all sing songs about their lives, with the cat she names the winner being sent off to the Heaviside Layer (the E region of the ionosphere, long used to reflect MW radio transmissions) to be reincarnated. There is something very English and drolly quirky about this, which apparently was derived from Eliot’s writing, but it is still mostly gibberish.

What it basically does is facilitate a structure where a bunch of different cats come on and sing one song each about themselves, in a number of different styles (there aren’t many musical references more up to date than the late 1970s, which is when these songs were written). In technical terms, it’s all ‘I Am’ and not much ‘I Want’; what plot there is concerns a scheme by Macavity Cat (Idris Elba), an evil cat with magical powers, to rig the competition for his own benefit. So, basically, it goes: Song about a cat. Song about a cat. Song about a cat. Song about a cat. The songs don’t really refer to each other, nor do they tell a story; this is why turning collections of poetry into musicals is one of the more niche creative disciplines.

Whatever the problems are with the narrative structure the film has inherited from the musical, they are nothing compared to the consequences of the sheer visual impact of the thing. You can kind of see why they’ve got themselves into such a mess here, but the fact remains that the fatal problem with the film is that it does not appreciate the difference between presentational and representational modes of performance, particularly when it comes to cinematic and theatrical contexts. (And, yes, I did write that myself.) Or, to put it another way, in a stage show with a live audience, someone coming on dressed as a cat can be a magical and moving experience. However, Rebel Wilson with cat ears CGI’d onto her head, eating CGI cockroach people, is simply the stuff of nightmares. The characters in this film are obviously not cats. But neither are they people. So what are they? It’s just all kinds of freaky, and not a little confusing. Faced with Victoria Cat, I wasn’t sure whether to give her a piece of fish, or – well, look, I’m not a cat person, but if they all looked as Francesca Hayward does here, I could well be persuaded.

Cats is such a thoroughly weird experience that for a long time I was genuinely unsure if this is a bad movie or not. As a sort of surreal, hallucinogenic Arabesque fantasy, it has a certain kind of colour and energy, and the cast do seem to be trying hard. In the end it does largely boil down to extremely peculiar stagings of light verse put to music, though. It is telling that ‘Memory’, the big show-stopper of Cats, is only very loosely drawn from TS Eliot, and is not from the same source as most of the rest of the songs. Under optimal conditions it is a very pleasant and possibly even affecting little number – here, however, it is given to Jennifer Hudson, who gives it maximum Streep and maximum volume. The results made me want to hide under my seat, I’m afraid.

In the end I am going to stick with my gut instinct and agree with the consensus: Cats is a very bad movie, not because it is poorly made, but because it is fundamentally flawed. I can imagine that a fully animated version of the show might have done reasonably well, and almost certainly wouldn’t have attracted such eviscerating notices. You can certainly admire the skill, talent and nerve that has clearly gone into making such a bold and unusual film. But the film itself is a freakish mutant, and only really worth seeing because things so remarkably misconceived so rarely make it into cinemas.

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