May began in a funk of April’s promise of rain and cold – perfect cinema weather in my book. The success that Avengers Assemble enjoyed was down to great direction and script but it also had luck on its side being released bang in the middle of this dank climate too. As I write, the heatwave most of Britain is going through has all but killed the UK Box Office figures for films such as Men In Black 3 and Moonrise Kingdom. Sacha Baron Coen’s The Dictator on the other hand made the most of a mid-May release date, avoiding any of the truly hot weather. There were a couple of great remastered classics and even a rare 35mm showing of a Russian masterpiece with what seemed like half the UK’s film industry in attendance – a real event. May kicked off in style however with Joss Whedon’s Avengers Assemble.
I strive to see well-made films with a good story, good direction and good acting. Not much to ask you may think but films that tick all four of those boxes make up about ten percent of all product released every week in the film distribution market. Too many films achieve one or two elements and fall short of the rest but some films fail on all fronts. They fail deliberately sometimes and these films tend to be blockbusters. Their desire is to put bums on seats through explosions and effects; there is no time for a story or its characters to evolve lest there be less time for another building to decease. What you have with the Avengers however is a BIG blockbuster of a film that never forgets a truly great piece of work has to let the viewer be involved in the film and uncover its secrets and plot developments and THEN allow New York to blown up in the payoff sequences. The Avengers was enjoyable, fun and funny and although, yes, New York was blown to smithereens in the end, Whedon’s script allowed for enough plot development before then for it to be acceptable. Robert Downey-Junior as Iron Man and Mark Ruffalo as Hulk get the best lines but Captain America’s stoic heroism hits the right note too. If the Dark Knight Rises can give us something similar, 2012’s blockbusters may prove to be a fine crop.
Similar in length to the Avengers two and a half hours but different in almost every other way was A Nos Amours screening of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker in 35mm. I am ambivalent about the 35mm versus digital argument in the same way as I am about vinyl versus CD or Cd versus MP3. Sure it’s nice to be able to see the grain of celluloid or hear the crackle of vinyl but too much degradation and the spell of the experience is destroyed. The print of Stalker however was superb and the rare availability of a Tarkovsky print made sure that there were many luminaries in the crowd. I spotted an Oscar nominated actress, two British directors at the top of their game, the founder of Second Run DVD and a host of film critics, all salivating at the Russian master’s film. And the film itself? It’s not my favourite and although I adore the its look and its slow pace, I’m just not sure I truly get what it’s trying to tell me. Three men search for a room in an unpopulated Zone which, if you can access, your most heartfelt desire will come true. It’s a philosophical piece but having seen it twice now, doesn’t stay with me as much as many, less thought of films do.
One film that has stayed with me however, is the beautiful documentary Bombay Beach, set in a Californian town of the same name. Much like last year’s Darwin, Bombay Beach fills itself with characters who are marginalised from mainstream society due to the remoteness of the town and a self-imposed morality takes control over their lives. Unlike Darwin however, there are those who want a different life, who are looking at the world through the right end of the telescope like the teenager Ceejay who will happily live through years of adolescent boredom in the town in order to fulfil his dream of becoming a pro footballer and the Parrishes who want to find a way of helping their bipolar son Benny after both parents have served time in jail in the preceding years. It’s a wonderfully heart warming film with a great soundtrack from Beirut and Bob Dylan too.
Sacha Baron Coen’s The Dictator is altogether less heart warming but fiendishly funny in many places. It details the story of General Aladeen of Wadiya played by Coen, as a military dictator whose identity is stripped when he is the subject of an assassination attempt by his own generals so they can sell off the country’s oil reserves to the world’s petroleum companies. Taking cues from Chaplin’s Great Dictator (even down to the monologue at the end) and last year’s Devil’s Double as well as Coen’s own brand of on-the-edge humour The Dictator is a funny film with many laughs and although it is only as cinematic as a highly polished TV show, it serves its purpose well and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Much has been said about its humour and whether we should find it funny or not but I’m firmly in the camp that believes there is almost no subject that should be shied away from when humour is involved, it merely depends on the delivery of that joke and Coen is becoming a master of knowing when to pull the comedic trigger.
I’ll end on May’s finest remastered rereleases; the BFI’s Le Quai De Brumes (The Port of Shadows) and Park Circus’s the Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Marcel Carne’s 1938 film of a French deserter (Jean Gabin) arriving in a coastal town trying to forget the war and his part in it is a fantastic example of French Poetic Realism and is firmly left-wing in its politics promoting a pacifism when it comes to war but not when it comes to sorting out your personal troubles with a knuckle sandwich. Gabin is excellent as is Michel Simon, one of France’s cinematic treasures who plays an ultimately un-redemptive guardian to Michele Morgan’s Nelly, who is equally superb as the male veterans in the cast. The script and direction has poise and balance and by the end, we are on the edge of our seat willing our heroes to get the life they want, even if they don’t necessarily deserve it.
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp was Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s second directorial collaboration and is a quintessentially British film precisely because of this collaboration of an Englishman and a non-Brit, in this case Pressburger a Hungarian born German who loved Britain and who could question and evoke it in a way that Powell could not on his own. Roger Livesy gives a towering performance as Clive Wynne-Candy – a sort of cross between a British Captain America and less pompous Captain Mainwaring. The film is extremely political, evoking the evolution of war as an environment where the martial rulebook must be dispensed with if victory is to be secured. Wynne-Candy represents the old guard who, when he gets kicked out from the army forms the home guard – a 21st Century viewer enjoys the role John Laurie plays as Wynne-Candy’s butler Murdoch who joins the home guard at the end and gets ready for his Dad’s Army role of Fraser some twenty-five years later. As always with Powell and Pressburger, the Technicolor photography is stunning and the performances of the cast including Deborah Kerr who plays three different women in the film are fabulous. As much as I enjoy the current releases on offer, there have been no films released in the last few years that match the dazzling brilliance of Le Quai De Brumes or Blimp but I am ever hopeful that the next masterpiece is just around the corner waiting to be discovered.
The Substantive Football Columnist Mel Gomes’ new e-book ‘Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley’ is now available to buy from Amazon and Smashwords. With echoes of Glory from American Cinema to Bruce Springsteen, it covers a journey over land and sea in the 2010-11 Champions League, documenting football at the highest level in the shadow of a sport where money is now the driver. New, independent writing on popular culture, it is being backed by The Substantive.