The Avengers
Jeremiah Chechik, 1998
NB: To be clear: we’re talking bowler hats and swordsticks, not a green Mark Ruffalo.
Now, I know this is fairly diabolical (the studio hack-job really doesn’t help), and, yeah, it is a travesty of the series – which I have a certain amount of affection for as I watched it when I was a kid – and specifically of Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg, bu-ut… I kind of love it. I was even one of the, what, seven people who went to the cinema to see it (with my mum; I’m that cool), and we turned out to be the only people in the screening. 
In fairness, it’s no worse than a lot of crappy blockbusters, and though the ‘off-kilter Englishiness’ is mainly fumbled, it does feature, say, Sean Connery getting rapey in a tartan suit (“One should never fear… being wet”); Eddie Izzard (LWLies’ “hapless cine-jinx” tag has never seemed more accurate) remote-controlling a swarm of robot wasps; Eileen Atkins pulling a machine gun from a pram (“Cocky little bastard”); henchmen in giant teddy bear suits; croquet; AND those big transparent ball things you can walk on water in. This is a film which does seem like it was made in a parallel reality where acting hasn’t been invented – or that Icelandic was the actors’ first language and they all had to learn the script phonetically – but those are not things to be sniffed at.

The Avengers

Jeremiah Chechik, 1998

NB: To be clear: we’re talking bowler hats and swordsticks, not a green Mark Ruffalo.

Now, I know this is fairly diabolical (the studio hack-job really doesn’t help), and, yeah, it is a travesty of the series – which I have a certain amount of affection for as I watched it when I was a kid – and specifically of Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg, bu-ut… I kind of love it. I was even one of the, what, seven people who went to the cinema to see it (with my mum; I’m that cool), and we turned out to be the only people in the screening.

In fairness, it’s no worse than a lot of crappy blockbusters, and though the ‘off-kilter Englishiness’ is mainly fumbled, it does feature, say, Sean Connery getting rapey in a tartan suit (“One should never fear… being wet”); Eddie Izzard (LWLies’ “hapless cine-jinx” tag has never seemed more accurate) remote-controlling a swarm of robot wasps; Eileen Atkins pulling a machine gun from a pram (“Cocky little bastard”); henchmen in giant teddy bear suits; croquet; AND those big transparent ball things you can walk on water in. This is a film which does seem like it was made in a parallel reality where acting hasn’t been invented – or that Icelandic was the actors’ first language and they all had to learn the script phonetically – but those are not things to be sniffed at.

Boys in the Sand
Wakefield Poole, 1971
Gay seventies no-budget ‘art’-porn filmed vérité style on Fire Island; the ‘art’ tag is questionable, though it does verge on an almost elegiac sensibility. It’s in no way headed into Pink Narcissus auteur-fantasia territory, but equally it has a stately pace that’s far removed from more workmanlike porn.
It’s hopelessly twee – all bushy pubes and tan lines – but it does acquire a sort of observational artistry; it feels almost like home movies of people having sex – which may be voyeuristic, but doesn’t feel necessarily prurient. It’s certainly not particularly sexy; its slow pace robs it of any sexual urgency, and, in fact, it’s quite sweet, rather than clinically impersonal, pre-Aids cock-and-bum fun.
In fairness, the experience of watching it was made peculiar by the version I’d got hold of having an audio track including the director’s commentary – something I’d never ordinarily have any inclination to listen to, but which didn’t really matter given that that there’s no dialogue. But Wakefield Poole’s leaden and almost astonishingly dull commentary is like a joke in the mould of the deadpan improvisational comedy of Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries. Oh for a Mighty Wind-style tale with Fred Willard as a porn impresario…
Much as the director’s party-bore voiceover becomes oddly mesmeric in its stolidness, I eventually just muted it and essentially rescored the film by playing Liars’ WIXIW and some Light Asylum and Pictureplane – which, actually, was pretty effective. There’s got to be an East London screening in that, right?

Boys in the Sand

Wakefield Poole, 1971

Gay seventies no-budget ‘art’-porn filmed vérité style on Fire Island; the ‘art’ tag is questionable, though it does verge on an almost elegiac sensibility. It’s in no way headed into Pink Narcissus auteur-fantasia territory, but equally it has a stately pace that’s far removed from more workmanlike porn.

It’s hopelessly twee – all bushy pubes and tan lines – but it does acquire a sort of observational artistry; it feels almost like home movies of people having sex – which may be voyeuristic, but doesn’t feel necessarily prurient. It’s certainly not particularly sexy; its slow pace robs it of any sexual urgency, and, in fact, it’s quite sweet, rather than clinically impersonal, pre-Aids cock-and-bum fun.

In fairness, the experience of watching it was made peculiar by the version I’d got hold of having an audio track including the director’s commentary – something I’d never ordinarily have any inclination to listen to, but which didn’t really matter given that that there’s no dialogue. But Wakefield Poole’s leaden and almost astonishingly dull commentary is like a joke in the mould of the deadpan improvisational comedy of Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries. Oh for a Mighty Wind-style tale with Fred Willard as a porn impresario…

Much as the director’s party-bore voiceover becomes oddly mesmeric in its stolidness, I eventually just muted it and essentially rescored the film by playing Liars’ WIXIW and some Light Asylum and Pictureplane – which, actually, was pretty effective. There’s got to be an East London screening in that, right?

Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto | Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion
Elio Petri, 1970
Chicly modernist crime procedural cum investigation of the politics of authority, with Gian Maria Volonté as a dapper, conceited, and homicidal high-ranking police officer, with a customarily eccentric, but compellingly jaunty Morricone score.

Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto | Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion

Elio Petri, 1970

Chicly modernist crime procedural cum investigation of the politics of authority, with Gian Maria Volonté as a dapper, conceited, and homicidal high-ranking police officer, with a customarily eccentric, but compellingly jaunty Morricone score.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1943
There are certain films I avoid revisiting for fear that they might not live up to my own opinion of them, but I rewatched this at the weekend and it was pretty much as sublime as I could possibly hope. The excess consumption of Malibu may have played its part, but, my existent love for the three top-billed actors notwithstanding, I did find salty tears running down my face on more than one occasion for the loss of some nebulously English sense of decency.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1943

There are certain films I avoid revisiting for fear that they might not live up to my own opinion of them, but I rewatched this at the weekend and it was pretty much as sublime as I could possibly hope. The excess consumption of Malibu may have played its part, but, my existent love for the three top-billed actors notwithstanding, I did find salty tears running down my face on more than one occasion for the loss of some nebulously English sense of decency.

The House That Dripped Blood
Peter Duffell, 1970
It’s a cheapy Amicus portmanteau horror – what can I say? Segments starring Denholm Elliot, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee are all quite consistently dour and hackneyed, and not particularly fun even in a trashy way; even such a fab cast feels lacklustre. However - the concluding section, on the other hand, with Jon Pertwee pimped-out as a prima donna horror movie star (ooh, bit of rudimentary postmodernism, there – THE CHARACTER’S A HORROR FILM STAR… IN A HORROR FILM!) is almost indecently fun, even if the lurch into full pastiche mode is slightly baffling. It feels like the production team got fed up of taking such weak genre exercises seriously, and started taking the piss in a way that’s far more entertaining. 

The House That Dripped Blood

Peter Duffell, 1970

It’s a cheapy Amicus portmanteau horror – what can I say? Segments starring Denholm Elliot, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee are all quite consistently dour and hackneyed, and not particularly fun even in a trashy way; even such a fab cast feels lacklustre. However - the concluding section, on the other hand, with Jon Pertwee pimped-out as a prima donna horror movie star (ooh, bit of rudimentary postmodernism, there – THE CHARACTER’S A HORROR FILM STAR… IN A HORROR FILM!) is almost indecently fun, even if the lurch into full pastiche mode is slightly baffling. It feels like the production team got fed up of taking such weak genre exercises seriously, and started taking the piss in a way that’s far more entertaining. 

شرایط‎ | Circumstance
Maryam Keshavarz, 2011
Initially invested with a sense of faintly obnoxious privilege – the blingy, lens-flare-heavy title credits are a bit sus – Keshavarz’s portrait of youth and its underground subculture in modern Tehran comes to form a convincingly damning study of patriarchal persecution and pious hypocrisy.
Incorporating lipstick-lesbian escape fantasies without excessively pushing a queer angle, a sequence showing the recording of a politically audacious Farsi dub for Van Sant’s Milk (…and Sex and the City) also delivers a humorous edge to a film which, given the ramifications of exposing its characters’ lifestyles (the director has subsequently been banned from returning to Iran) could take itself – probably justifiably, but not necessarily dramatically satisfyingly – dead seriously throughout. A sapphic power-ballad sing-along to Total Eclipse of the Heart forms a counterpoint to the Eye of the Tiger sequence from Persepolis – itself a valid point of comparison, though Circumstance lacks perhaps the same level of accessible poignancy and familial relatability.
Woozily sumptuous while also involvingly authentic, this is a film which arguably demands to be as widely seen as A Separation.

شرایط | Circumstance

Maryam Keshavarz, 2011

Initially invested with a sense of faintly obnoxious privilege – the blingy, lens-flare-heavy title credits are a bit sus – Keshavarz’s portrait of youth and its underground subculture in modern Tehran comes to form a convincingly damning study of patriarchal persecution and pious hypocrisy.

Incorporating lipstick-lesbian escape fantasies without excessively pushing a queer angle, a sequence showing the recording of a politically audacious Farsi dub for Van Sant’s Milk (…and Sex and the City) also delivers a humorous edge to a film which, given the ramifications of exposing its characters’ lifestyles (the director has subsequently been banned from returning to Iran) could take itself – probably justifiably, but not necessarily dramatically satisfyingly – dead seriously throughout. A sapphic power-ballad sing-along to Total Eclipse of the Heart forms a counterpoint to the Eye of the Tiger sequence from Persepolis – itself a valid point of comparison, though Circumstance lacks perhaps the same level of accessible poignancy and familial relatability.

Woozily sumptuous while also involvingly authentic, this is a film which arguably demands to be as widely seen as A Separation.

Frankenstein
Danny Boyle, National Theatre, 2011
Tardy to the party, I know, to have to catch up with this through an NT Live ‘encore’ screening, but whatevs. The extreme expressionism of the staging was a bit of a surprise at first, heralded by the early arrival of a steampunk train, a (heavyhanded) intimation of the oncoming industrial revolution, accompanied by a dance routine that suggested an all-singing all-dancing musical version of Shinya Tsukamoto’s body horror sequel, Tetsuo II: Body Hammer.
The monster itself, played, in the version I saw, by Johnny Lee Miller, a man of whom I have no expectations whatsoever, was a wonderful creation: part Peake’s Steerpike, part Perfume’s Grenouille. Erudite, fiercely intelligent, idealistic but eventually amoral, if not psychopathic, he positions himself as a new Adam, but is more of a charismatic fusion of Caliban and Aerial, athletic and lithe, but with elements of stroke patients’ rehabilitation worked into his body language. The scenes between him and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Frankenstein are electric, and, rightly, the (black) heart of the production (I feel like I saw the casting the right way round, albeit accidentally; of the two, Cumberbatch inherently has the right sort of scornful aristocracy to be the scientist rather than the experiment).
Outside of the central pairing, the secondary characters are oddly comedic, in a way that feels almost damagingly misplaced, and there are some puzzlingly eccentric choices, for example in the music; it’s hardly subtle, but I can take the occasional bursts of industrial techno - a flamenco bride-of-the-monster dream sequence though…? This isn’t ‘total theatre’, in the sense of the medium appropriating a full, movie-style sound design palette and complete score, and, ironically, given Danny Boyle’s day job, the filming of the show is rudimentary, full of ‘showy’ aerial shots, but often frustratingly short of the perspectives and full-stage views you’d get if you were actually in the Olivier auditorium. 

Frankenstein

Danny Boyle, National Theatre, 2011

Tardy to the party, I know, to have to catch up with this through an NT Live ‘encore’ screening, but whatevs. The extreme expressionism of the staging was a bit of a surprise at first, heralded by the early arrival of a steampunk train, a (heavyhanded) intimation of the oncoming industrial revolution, accompanied by a dance routine that suggested an all-singing all-dancing musical version of Shinya Tsukamoto’s body horror sequel, Tetsuo II: Body Hammer.

The monster itself, played, in the version I saw, by Johnny Lee Miller, a man of whom I have no expectations whatsoever, was a wonderful creation: part Peake’s Steerpike, part Perfume’s Grenouille. Erudite, fiercely intelligent, idealistic but eventually amoral, if not psychopathic, he positions himself as a new Adam, but is more of a charismatic fusion of Caliban and Aerial, athletic and lithe, but with elements of stroke patients’ rehabilitation worked into his body language. The scenes between him and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Frankenstein are electric, and, rightly, the (black) heart of the production (I feel like I saw the casting the right way round, albeit accidentally; of the two, Cumberbatch inherently has the right sort of scornful aristocracy to be the scientist rather than the experiment).

Outside of the central pairing, the secondary characters are oddly comedic, in a way that feels almost damagingly misplaced, and there are some puzzlingly eccentric choices, for example in the music; it’s hardly subtle, but I can take the occasional bursts of industrial techno - a flamenco bride-of-the-monster dream sequence though…? This isn’t ‘total theatre’, in the sense of the medium appropriating a full, movie-style sound design palette and complete score, and, ironically, given Danny Boyle’s day job, the filming of the show is rudimentary, full of ‘showy’ aerial shots, but often frustratingly short of the perspectives and full-stage views you’d get if you were actually in the Olivier auditorium. 

Town of Runners
Jerry Rothwell, 2012
I can’t pretend to have any interest in the Olympics, or running, for that matter, and I have substantial reservations about the inherent contrivances of documentary as a format. So I really shouldn’t have found this documentary about young Ethiopian runners in training as delightful as I did.
Everyone in it, not just the individuals profiled, are outrageously lovely, pragmatic, and good-natured, but – as far as it’s possible to tell – none of it feels inauthentic, and running as a form of betterment and self-fulfillment for these kids is very touching. As a portrait of a community on the cusp of change (to coin a phrase), as a Chinese-funded road is built through town, Rothwell’s camera discreetly presents a vibrant community in a beautiful country which is almost entirely unknown to anyone in the west.

Town of Runners

Jerry Rothwell, 2012

I can’t pretend to have any interest in the Olympics, or running, for that matter, and I have substantial reservations about the inherent contrivances of documentary as a format. So I really shouldn’t have found this documentary about young Ethiopian runners in training as delightful as I did.

Everyone in it, not just the individuals profiled, are outrageously lovely, pragmatic, and good-natured, but – as far as it’s possible to tell – none of it feels inauthentic, and running as a form of betterment and self-fulfillment for these kids is very touching. As a portrait of a community on the cusp of change (to coin a phrase), as a Chinese-funded road is built through town, Rothwell’s camera discreetly presents a vibrant community in a beautiful country which is almost entirely unknown to anyone in the west.

サマーウォーズ | Samā Wōzu | Summer Wars 
Mamoru Hosoda, 2009
I don’t feel like I have much luck with reliable anime outside of the Ghibli stable, but this was solidly enjoyable – surprisingly, given I couldn’t stomach more than about half an hour of Mamoru Hosoda’s first film, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Admittedly, a lot of the pleasure of Summer Wars derives from the imaginative potential of the characters’ avatars in the virtual world of ‘OZ’, but you can’t knock a train with wings, a squid-ninja, or a hench street-fighting rabbit.

サマーウォーズ | Samā Wōzu | Summer Wars 

Mamoru Hosoda, 2009

I don’t feel like I have much luck with reliable anime outside of the Ghibli stable, but this was solidly enjoyable – surprisingly, given I couldn’t stomach more than about half an hour of Mamoru Hosodas first film, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Admittedly, a lot of the pleasure of Summer Wars derives from the imaginative potential of the characters’ avatars in the virtual world of ‘OZ’, but you can’t knock a train with wings, a squid-ninja, or a hench street-fighting rabbit.

Terri
Azazel Jacobs, 2011
Given the quirky-outsiders thing that’s gained ascendancy in coming-of-agers, it’s pleasantly surprising to find that Terri avoids the pitfalls stagnation has made all too familiar, instead being satisfying for veering away from the student-headteacher buddy movie it initially appears to be.
In so meticulously navigating the familiar devices employed by US indie teen-outsider movies, the film manages to combine a feeling of authenticity – in regard to the crippling awfulness of teen/school life – while also being funny in an unforced way, rather than sliding into pseudo-social commentary worthiness. 
John C Reilly, someone I’ve never given a second thought (apart from, How did that bag Tilda Swinton?), is a major asset, being unexpectedly fabulous in the role of the man-child headteacher who reaches out to the alienated protagonist – to the extent that things do become unbalanced when the movie slides into a perverse Cement Garden-like segment.
[Words: NC, Illustration: LJH]

Terri

Azazel Jacobs, 2011

Given the quirky-outsiders thing that’s gained ascendancy in coming-of-agers, it’s pleasantly surprising to find that Terri avoids the pitfalls stagnation has made all too familiar, instead being satisfying for veering away from the student-headteacher buddy movie it initially appears to be.

In so meticulously navigating the familiar devices employed by US indie teen-outsider movies, the film manages to combine a feeling of authenticity – in regard to the crippling awfulness of teen/school life – while also being funny in an unforced way, rather than sliding into pseudo-social commentary worthiness. 

John C Reilly, someone I’ve never given a second thought (apart from, How did that bag Tilda Swinton?), is a major asset, being unexpectedly fabulous in the role of the man-child headteacher who reaches out to the alienated protagonist – to the extent that things do become unbalanced when the movie slides into a perverse Cement Garden-like segment.

[Words: NC, Illustration: LJH]