OLDIES!

Older films seen in 2018, continued from the 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 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 16 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...]


WORKING GIRLS (72) (Lizzie Borden, 1986): So much to be thankful for, esp. from the vantage point of 2019: the candid, un-tormented way the African-American hooker is warned that customers will probably go for the white girls more, that's just the way it is (and her breezy response); how little is made of the heroine being a lesbian - a kind of dramatic shorthand for how completely un-arousing the sex is to her - and how Mary, the strait-laced young mother who's "scared of dykes", is still sympathetically treated, even though she doesn't belong; above all, as implied by the title, the matter-of-fact depiction of the brothel's workings, so unfashionable in our neo-abolitionist times. The feminist slant goes without saying but it's a more joyous kind of feminism, and even the cheesy aspects, the fact that the film works like a one-set play (an offstage doorbell constantly cueing the next encounter), the mundane exchanges and bad jokes - "It's a John"; "Which one?" - add to the goofy, relaxed quality. A film to make you love the 80s, though of course it doesn't approve of this free-market whoring (it's not that 80s), instead the emphasis is on working-class solidarity and the girls being exploited by their (female) boss as much as by the customers (who are cartoons, as they should be); that said, the percussive-electronic score - think a piano improvising to a game of Pong - is perhaps a bit too 80s.

FEBRUARY 1, 2019

REIGN OF TERROR (69) (Anthony Mann, 1949): Briefly becomes EXT. DAY for about 15 minutes in the third quarter, our heroes having escaped to the countryside - and it's suddenly revealed as a slightly tedious movie, a B-Western in French Revolution duds. The rest is mostly night-time, interiors or both, allowing John Alton to redeem the tired plot by creating one incredible shot after another. (He's not just a poet of light, he's a poet of darkness; the first meeting between Cummings and Dahl is near-total blackness with only a few chinks of light, the couple trying to suss each other out before a candle can be lit.) For about an hour, it doesn't really matter that astonishing eye-candy like a silhouetted horse galloping across the horizon lives alongside cheesy dialogue like "There is a man in Strasbourg who will help you. Show him this ring" - in fact the characters are actively interesting, especially Robespierre, with his echoes of WW2 demagogues, and the unctuously opportunistic Fouche (despite Arnold Moss' distracting resemblance to Marty Feldman) - but at some point it becomes impossible to ignore that the action is a bit idiotic. Case in point: Cummings finds the secret room where Dahl is being kept prisoner, guarded by a minion - and the guard, standing unseen behind the door, only has to run our hero through with his sword as he stumbles in, but in fact he slashes wildly and misses him altogether (how do you fuck that up?); the next shot, however, has a spotlit Dahl in a corner of the frame, tied up on the floor while the fight between Cummings and the guard plays out in shadow on the wall behind her - a corner of light surrounded by huge, swaying shadows - and all is well again.

BLOODY KIDS (78) (Stephen Frears, 1980): Takes a while to figure out what this dazzlingly fractured movie is 'about' - though in fact a clue is provided after just 8 seconds, the title appearing in small white letters then immediately repeated in huge blood-red letters. Dull reality followed by heightened TV reality, the presence of TV as the film's true theme (being implicitly what governs the more disturbed of the two kids) reflected in its constant physical presence - a TV set on the janitor's desk, a bank of TVs in a smashed-up shop window, etc - though never explicitly acknowledged. Hot neon lighting and spaghetti-Western music build a fantasy world, a dangerous fantasy, the kind that impels the kids' behaviour, then it turns into a loose urban odyssey, deliberately losing coherence and living in kinetic, dreamlike moments. A disco, a joyride, an edgy (but funny) meal in a Chinese restaurant, cathartic climax topped by 400 BLOWS-ish freeze-frame, odd non sequiturs like the early scene in the senior school with the rather androgynous girl - and you may wonder what became of this punkish, abrasive Stephen Frears but in fact the film is just as careful as his more restrained period dramas, note e.g. the quickfire choreography as Ken and the boy flee the club under the eye of the cops - a scream, somebody faints, they run out quickly, a line of other people follow, then a cool dude emerges from a side-door, putting on his jacket, a girl peeks out, then another girl who's been watching the whole thing also departs as the screen fades to black. Harder than it looks, to put it mildly.

THE CHINA SYNDROME (64) (James Bridges, 1979): Second viewing, first since my teens probably. Bridges spikes the Message Movie plot with classic suspense grammar - cutting from face to anxious face to denote escalating crisis, etc - and leans just a little too heavily on Jack Lemmon's anguished Everyman (or maybe Lemmon's anguish is a little too heavy), a precursor of the dad in MISSING in having his faith in the system ("The system works!") gradually dismantled; Jane Fonda is actually a bit more impressive, getting both the fake smile and instant steely focus at the first sniff of a story. Would've preferred more conspiracy thriller, less noisy drama, but still very solid. Best cameo: the nuclear scientist who looks at the footage, looks up with mild concern, and tells our heroes: "I may be wrong, but I'd say you're lucky to be alive".

JANUARY 1, 2019