The Films I've Watched This Year #2

Film Bit of a wibbly-wobbly week:

The Little Mermaid
The Rescuers Down Under
The Juror
The Restless Breed
Repo Man
Time Crimes
In Time
The Broken Circle Breakdown
Silent Running

The #disneywatch finally continues thanks to someone gifting me the dvd of The Little Mermaid for Christmas and it's about as good as I remember, which is to say I remember there being some nice songs and set pieces but nothing especially involving. Frankly I'm probably too old for some of these late Disneys, especially those very much targeted towards a particular demographic. All of which contradicts my reaction to The Rescuers Down Under which I was entirely bewitched by and is represented by a gorgeous HD print on Netflix that makes the most of the expansive vistas as the various birds traverse the outback. The story's pretty much a rerun of the original movie but suffers slightly from not having enough of the actual Rescuers, preferring instead to concentrate on some business with the local inhabitants of the animal kingdom. But it's still a lovely, lovely surprise. Watched in tandem with Mermaid there's a real sense of the studio in transition again, shifting from films in which animals are the protagonists back to fairy tales and princesses and something akin to the animated stage musical (though a decade later they'd oscillate back again) (and again).

In the 90s, Empire Magazine used to cover mount VHS tapes filled with trailers for upcoming features which is when I first got wind of The Juror which looked like it was attempting to coast on the vogue for John Grisham adaptations even though this wasn't one of those (cf, this dvd boxed set). For no particular reason, I've never managed to watch the thing but noticed it in a charity shop for 75p the other day and decided to finally discover if it is as scrappy as it looked from the trailer. It is. It's rubbish, but gloriously so, in that way that only the likes of Bee Season and August Rush also are, where you can't quite believe what you're seeing, wonder how it all managed to go so wrong, but wondering how it turns out.  Demi Moore is the eponymous juror and with a hilariously young, pre-Third Rock Joseph Gordon-Levitt as her son, is menacingly leaned on by coldly lunatic Alec Baldwin to convince her fellow jury members that some mob boss should be found not guilty of his obvious crimes.  Which sounds fine and pretty standard fair, until the film takes a geographic turn for the bizarre in which Moore's character has to become implausibly competent in a number of ways in order to beat Baldwin.

A few round to it entries.  Repo Man hasn't aged well, but that opinion, I think, is mostly based on not finding it when I was much younger and now being able to respect it through some nostalgia filter.  I expect if I saw The Breakfast Club or St Elmos Fire for the first time in 2014 they wouldn't mean quite the same either.  Which isn't to say it doesn't have its moments, but the sci-fi elements intrude on what's otherwise a quite funny satire on that industry.  Silent Running on the other hand hasn't dated much at all, even though it's entirely of its period, perhaps because its green concerns still have disappointing currency.  If it wasn't for the invocation of William Blake and John Constable, you get the feeling that UK politicians and businesses would be quite happy to industrialise the whole country and let the wildlife fly off in space ships, not that it hasn't stopped the whole HS2 business which sure to carve up loads of important nature and picturesque pieces of landscape.  You could almost imagine Silent Running happening in same universe as Blade Runner.  Perhaps given Douglas Trumbull's participation in both that's the idea.  The film's influence on later works like Dark Star, Wall-E and Red Dwarf are also entirely obvious to me now.

Speaking of influences, giant ant b-movie Them! is essentially old school Doctor Who isn't it?  Strange monsters investigated by an eccentric but intelligent scientist with a female assistant.  Indeed it's practically The Green Death featuring the Troughton Doctor aided by Liz Shaw.  There's even a Brigadier and other UNIT analogues in there too.  Like Who, the effects are pretty rudimentary but don't get in the way of the well-paced story with some excellent performances (all things considered) which sell the danger.  But this runs both ways; it's near impossible to watch Time Crimes which was released in 2007 without comparing it to most of Steven Moffat's work on Doctor Who though to go much further would spoil what is a pretty tense thriller with a couple of excellent twists.  In Time feels like a very post-nuWho sci-fi piece too, though given that it reminded me of a couple of Eighth Doctor novels that's a bit of a blind alley.  Misunderstood on release (RT, 36%) where it was unfairly criticised for lacking the depth of director Andrew Niccol's early films as though that's what he always has to do.  It's actually a caper movie akin to Robin Hood or Bonnie & Clyde with a sci-fi twist and really fun.

Not in any way fun but the best film of the week was The Broken Circle Breakdown, a romantic tragedy about blue grass singers in Belgium which is the very expression of the kind of story, I think Phoebe in Friends describes as, "Life sucks and just when you think it can't suck any more, it does."  The poster doesn't prepare you for what's about to happen.  But apart from that I'm not going to tell you much more about it because part of its power is its ability to punch you in the gut at various intervals while allowing you to listen to some of the most beautiful soundtrack music ever recorded (I think).  The performances from Veerle Baetens (who's next job was Margaret of Anjou in the BBC's The White Queen) and Johan Heldenbergh feel utterly real but we're always aware that they are movie constructs, especially when the former is lolling across the hood of the car in a stars and stripes bikini top.  There's also a dream-like quality even when the events were witnessing are sobering and heartbreaking.  My point is that you'll come out at the end depressed and elated which is an uncomfortable combination.  Oh and you'll be reaching for the soundtrack, which luckily is on Spotify, along with its misleading cover.

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