Older films seen in 2018, continued from the 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 editions. Most of these are really quick comments - typically scribbled down in 10-15 minutes without benefit of notes - and any resulting wit or insight should be viewed as an accidental by-product. Slightly more thoughtful capsules may be found on the now-defunct old reviews page.

All films, both from this year and the 15 previous ones, can be accessed alphabetically. Most can be viewed ranked by rating as well, though I'm still not sure what that's all about.

[Addendum, February 2009: I've now stopped doing reviews of new movies, but I'll continue to update this page; however, this is purely for my own benefit - since I can't always remember when I watched an oldie, so it's handy being able to find them here - and I won't be going any deeper or writing any more than I used to (probably the opposite). I am not reinventing this as a classic-movie site, nor do I set myself up as an expert on oldies. Or anything, really...]

GOD TOLD ME TO (76) (Larry Cohen, 1976): A hurtling, headlong, entirely fearless movie. Cohen works in short jagged scenes, packing in plot with such frenzied shorthand it sometimes topples over into the ridiculous - the guy whispering "God told me to" on his hospital bed, then expiring, is pure Bad Movie - the initial burst of Charles Whitman-inspired policier (amusingly, the shooter's mum falls back on JFK conspiracy theories) soon giving way to disturbing, occult and increasingly outlandish elements. Cohen makes insanely bold choices, and embraces them fully; a flashback ventures into science fiction, there's hippy psychedelia (a few years late), unexpected body horror and a big dollop of Erich von Daniken - yet also earnest drama amid the insanity, our hero's Catholic guilt and deep compassion (his unusual behaviour in the beginning, climbing up the tower to talk to the gunman, is no accident) marking him out as, literally, too human for his own good. Cohen's mid-70s work (also J. EDGAR HOOVER) increasingly looks like a mad-genius phase that was just too much for this world: "This is the most confused feature-length film I've ever seen" - Roger Ebert, in a one-star review.

OPENING NIGHT (58) (John Cassavetes, 1977): "Let's not phony it up anymore." The suggestion is that Gena Rowlands' disintegrating actress Myrtle Gordon brings "something real" to the phony world of theatre by making her neuroses public - a notion undermined by the fact that Cassavetes' world is never real, always artificial (his version of the world has people bluntly telling other people what they think of them: "You're not a woman to me anymore. You're a professional"); the world of showbiz may be the worst setting for one of his films, offering nothing to balance the indulgence. Doesn't convince for a moment, though admittedly that's not entirely fatal; Myrtle becomes more nakedly emotional partly as a (semi-conscious) way to feel young again - at 17 "my emotions were so close to the surface," she laments; now, "I'm finding it harder and harder to stay in touch" - which is interesting, then the film threatens to turn into a horror movie on demonic possession (!), which is even more interesting, then you have some rich colours and visual coups (one moment cuts from Maurice, played by Cassavetes himself, onstage - a shot that's almost entirely yellow - to a shot from the door of the auditorium, which is blood-red, with the stage itself glimpsed in the distance; the sudden change in colours and shot size is bracing). The final act builds what looks like a lose-lose situation, having Myrtle turn up catatonically drunk to opening night - if she manages to rally because The Show Must Go On, etc, it'll seem cheesy; if she bombs, it'll seem unsatisfying - then gets out of it by cheerfully copping out, focusing instead on the "something real" Cassavetes and Rowlands bring to the movie as husband and wife, i.e. their rapport and real-life relationship, all but shrugging off the world of the characters. Quite fitting, really.

HOW TASTY WAS MY LITTLE FRENCHMAN (54) (Nelson Pereira dos Santos, 1971): Pretty-looking, rather random historical jape (not quite satire, despite the title), notable for not taking sides: the natives are undoubtedly cruel - it's really just our knowledge that they're doomed which makes them sympathetic - but their titular prisoner is venal and not very admirable. All quite watchable (if becalmed compared to, say, Glauber Rocha), with Amazonian landscapes, flute-heavy score and a flowing camera, but then, almost at the end, it does something truly exceptional - the sensual scene where the girl lovingly describes the process of being killed and eaten, and it suddenly becomes clear how apparent barbarity, once ritualised, can become both a token of love and a vivid and necessary part of the life of the community - and you realise how tentative and not-very-focused the rest of it is.

DANCE, GIRL, DANCE (66) (Dorothy Arzner, 1940): My first Arzner, and the obvious game is to try and figure out what a female (and lesbian) director brings to this material - though in fact the game may obscure what's an airy, enjoyable movie in its own right. Most striking change is the absence of a conventional romantic male hero, the leading candidate turning out to be erratic and neurotic (i.e. 'like a woman'!); men do end up resolving the plot, admittedly, but in this case it's a no-nonsense judge and an affable ballet director who's arguably coded as gay (his cohorts include a rather flittery dance instructor and a butch older lady). The emphasis isn't on love but career (and art), the difficulty of making it as a serious artist, which is partly related to being a woman - men in charge always ask "Where's the hot one?"; the male gaze is nicely sent up via a cigar-smoking minor player with a most lugubrious mien - but mostly related to a philistine culture that'll always take burlesque over ballet; the tension comes from un-confident Maureen O'Hara suffering artistically (as a "stooge") instead of making the most of her talents, Art being a sanctuary for unusual people - as it presumably was for Arzner herself, an unspoken undertow that adds something touching to the mix. Lucille Ball also scores as "the hot one", evincing a certain solidarity even when exploiting her friend; clearly another consequence of a female director.

MARCH 1, 2018

MANHATTAN (68) (Woody Allen, 1979): Necessary note: this slight downgrade has nothing whatsoever to do with current controversies, I've never had a problem separating life and art. (Also the Tracy-Isaac relationship is beautiful (*), and the film is unimaginable without it.) Fact is, I've always been up-and-down on MANHATTAN: this was my fourth viewing, and I've only ever loved it once - on the previous viewing, which was also the only one on the big screen, possibly implying that the film is great when seen 'properly' and I'm wrong to downgrade it. Maybe so - but Woody's films often exist around the tension between his wordy, querulous, rather annoying persona and whatever he chooses to play it off: it works when played off zany comedy (as in ANNIE HALL, made in the style of the early funny movies) and surreal conceits, it also works when Allen cordons off the Allen persona as relief from more sombre plots (as in HANNAH and CRIMES) - but here the 'other' element is visually glorious romanticism and it's used in tandem with the comic kvetching, not to create tension, which doesn't wholly work for me. (Simply put, the film's characters seem unworthy of its visuals.) That said, the Planetarium scene and the final 2 minutes are great, great moments.

(*) The girl is obviously idealised ("Tracy's face..."), but youth and innocence have been idealised since the beginning of time. Making Tracy so nice - and either directing Hemingway to be awkward or exploiting her natural awkwardness - probably does speak to something in Woody, viz. the fact that he's easily threatened (he's a competitive, self-absorbed person; in short, an artist) and is drawn to powerlessness and vulnerability (I assume this also plays a part in the Soon-Yi relationship, and e.g. his recent, sincere comments about having given her so much), but that only makes it more fascinating. Finally, note that the relationship isn't seen as normal, Isaac spends the whole film stressing about it and other people also think it's weird ("Somewhere, Nabokov must be smiling!"); they're just not as self-righteous as today's people.

A MARRIED COUPLE (75) (Allan King, 1969): Think I must've underrated SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE when I saw it, but whatever, I like this one more (and of course it came first), its married couple goofier and more playful than Bergman's. Billy seems to have a problem with authority - or at least punctuality - and admits to having been "unhinged" in his youth, Antoinette jokes (?) about buying a harpsichord and joins her husband in a wild dance in the living-room to 'A Day in the Life'; they're bohemians (King apparently met them when they were living in Ibiza in the early 60s) who don't balk at the idea of an open marriage - though Antoinette floats the idea near the end, as a possible solution since it's clear there's "never going to be anything marvellous" between them, which is rather heartbreaking. King adds a contrived-looking scene with Antoinette talking to a friend about the couple's long-standing sexual problems and her own love-hate relationship with weak men (she's drawn to them, yet also despises them), his strategy being to shape his "actuality drama" like any other drama, but of course it's the documentary aspect that gives it its edge; the couple argue over trifles, their arguments starting off civilised (because of the presence of the camera? who knows?) and becoming increasingly savage, culminating in "You stupid cunt!" followed by a shocking moment of borderline-abuse - yet the marriage goes on, the couple looking for imaginative ways to make it work, this being a moment in time when people had changed but institutions still hadn't caught up; Antoinette and Billy play at being their parents, having sown their wild oats and now looking to 'settle down', but expectations are different now, or perhaps the problem lies with this particular couple. Bonus points for Billy's outlandish dress sense, obviously.

THE PROUD VALLEY (61) (Pen Tennyson, 1940): What's most startling, from our perspective, is how little is made of Paul Robeson's skin colour; one Welsh coal miner does complain about a black man having come to sing with them, but another retorts "Aren't we all black, down the pit?" and no more is said about it. (Granted, it's wishful thinking, but it still makes it seem like racism was something the world was on the cusp of solving in 1940, instead of still struggling with it 78 years later.) Local detail is excellent, from the singular way of speaking - "Hurried I have, with my breath in my fist," says one woman, having rushed to deliver some news - to the tender picture of a loving marriage, family life in general (a precocious little girl named Dilys steals some scenes) and class distinctions within the village; the problem is that all the big sensational stuff (esp. the disasters down the mine, but also e.g. the sequence where the men walk to London) seems rushed and stilted, as if struggling to create dramatic impact out of thin air. Robeson's role doesn't demean him, and of course his voice is a wonder; meanwhile, Alfredda Brilliant - on whose story it's based - joins my shortlist (along with folks like Anton Grot and 70s producer M. Smedley Aston) of Magnificent Names from the Past.

FEBRUARY 1, 2018

SIGNS OF LIFE (58) (Werner Herzog, 1968): Forgotten German soldiers in a kind of oasis from war. Hens are hypnotised (anticipating the dancing chicken in another Herzog film with a hero named Stroszek), flies and cockroaches tortured. There are life hacks and magic tricks. The locals are old men playing backgammon (the setting is a Greek island) and kids sitting on the dock - though they're also at one point massed in the village square, stilled as if by magic; "Can't you feel it in the music?" asks a Chopin-playing private, and the sound cuts out suddenly, Stroszek and the private looking round as if to discern what 'it' is. Herzog finds an elusive something - the force "at the bottom of it all" - in the stillness of the island, the rocky landscape and insistent mandolin score - Stroszek a quixotic figure, trying to express the inexpressible, and indeed Quixotic, undone by windmills - though the film seems quite tentative compared to what he's accomplished in the years since. Fun to imagine it with his own unmistakable drone doing the matter-of-fact voice-over, if nothing else.

JANUARY 1, 2018