50 Words for Film

Films old and new reviewed in fifty words

Repo Man

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Alex Cox

1984

Here we have a comedy indie crime science fiction thriller kind of thing. Maybe. It’s “repo” as in car repossession and Harry Dean Stanton is Yoda to Emilio Estevez’s Luke. Highly praised on its release Repo Man has aged badly and frustrates in a way Darren Aronofsky would presumably adore.

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In A World

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Lake Bell

2013

In a world where black is white and right is wrong or Hollywood if you prefer, Lake Bell stars, writes and directs this likeable comedy about voiceover artists. The jokes inspire smiles rather than split sides and like many light-hearted films, this feels closer to a sitcom than a movie.

It

It 2017

Andrés Muschietti

2017

Every 27 years murder and carnage come to a town in Maine. A group of friends in their early teens realise they must come together to fight this thing; a shape-shifting entity that feeds on fear and dresses as a clown – one of the old fashioned scary ones who has no interest in theatre in education or circus skills workshops – only terror and children’s flesh.

Stephen King’s enormous novel was due a remake. The 1990 made for television mini-series was disappointing and was not especially frightening but there was something about IT. IT got under your skin. IT lingered in the memory. When you consider the generation who saw the show would have been around the same age as the gang in the story and would already be thinking they’d like to make horror films one day; a fresh take was inevitable.

However, this is not a remake. Apart from an evil clown the two have little in common. Comparing the two feels unfair on the actors, Tim Curry (1990) and Bill Scarsgård (2017) but we can’t help ourselves. Curry’s is an angrier clown – more emotional and funnier. You begin to suspect there’s a complex demon beneath the face paint. Scarsgård’s is simply pure evil but he looks fantastical, and frankly fantastic, against Curry’s more believable and drab appearance. If Curry had Scarsgård’s costume and make-up team we would be looking at the best movie monster since Alien.

The child actors are all excellent. One of them, Finn Wolfhard, also appears in VoD Netflix series Stranger Things and this can be distracting. Stranger Things is a horror and supernatural show made partly in tribute to King’s stories and films, especially Stand By Me and It. All feature friendship, monsters and bikes. Influence has come full circle.

Hugely enjoyable and yes quite frightening IT is not frightening enough. IT feels like a ghost-train ride. This is slick and surprising but the horror of childhood and the terror of loss never quite dig deep enough. But then I’ve thought of little else since seeing it. Get back to me in 27 years.

 

 

It

Pennywise

Tommy Lee Wallace

1990

A group of pre-teen friends in Maine are terrorised by some kind of inter-dimensional creature who takes the form of a clown called Pennywise and lives on fear and child murder. It’s unclear who started the evil clown trope but John Wayne Gacy and Stephen King didn’t help. Clowns are the perfect and natural choice for personifying childhood terror. For King’s generation, a child-eating clown is an Action-man zombie, a My Little Pony with rabies.

If something needed a remake more badly I’d be surprised. The two-part mini-series is a letdown. Watching It again you realise you forgot how sentimental it is, how blandly directed it is and how the child actors are better than the adults. Thank goodness then for Tim Curry. With his style that could only have come from English theatre and his unusually large mouth, Curry creates one of the greatest monsters ever filmed.

The Exorcist III

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William Peter Blatty

1990

Ignoring the dreadful Exorcist II this is almost a decent film but one damned from conception by the greatness of its parent. Basically a serial killer movie with a supernatural twist, this is too long and needs editing. Unfortunately, its greatest claim to fame is it’s Jeffery Dahmer’s favourite film.

The Transfiguration

The Transfiguration .jpgMichael O’Shea

2017

Milo is a teenage vampire but thankfully not remotely Twilight-like. He kills people in public toilets and underpasses. He uses a knife and has a reflection. Like Raw this is a more realistic take. Perhaps closer to Ken Loach than The Lost Boys, this is a melancholic and thoughtful film.

 

A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly

Richard Linklater

2006

An animated film about paranoia that actually looks paranoid. One of the more accurate adaptations of a Philip K Dick novel and it works surprisingly well. Has much to say about drug addiction and the nature of truth but the best scene is an argument about a bike’s missing gears.

Murder By Contract

Murder by contractIrving Lerner

1958

Vince Edwards plays a hitman who, although clearly a psychopath, shows reluctance at killing a woman. On the surface this is typical 50s B movie noir but in fact it’s a years ahead of its time existential masterpiece. Martin Scorsese is a big fan. Of course he is. Watch it.

 

The Reflecting Skin

Refecting SkinPhilip Ridley

1990

An eight-year-old watches things fall horrifically apart. It would be impossible to review this without using the words “American gothic” so I won’t. This is a prime example, albeit one seen through the eyes of British and Canadian filmmakers. It echoes slightly the films of David Lynch but very quietly.

Playtime

Playtime

Jacques Tati

1967

Perhaps the most visually stunning comedy ever made and certainly the most hypnotic, Playtime is a must. Tati plays his famous character Monsieur Hulot (imagine a not-awful Mr Bean) trying to cope with the ultra-modern world of work and architecture. A gently philosophical film, filmed to the millimetre of perfection.

 

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